Monday, April 29, 2013

Racing for a Cure, Once Again!

It's been nearly three years since I did Team in Training, the Seattle Half-Marathon in June, 2010.  And was two years ago since I was starting to train and fundraise for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure.  I had just developed plantar fasciitis, and my sister Ann was still alive.  She was my special honoree for the 60 mile walk, and I am glad she knew I was doing this, even though she didn't live to see me follow through on what I promised her.

So it's been a while.  And it is time to do it again.  One thing I learned when I did the Shamrock Half Marathon last year was that I really want to do these races, if I am going to do them at all, for a cause and purpose much bigger than myself.  My goal with the Shamrock was to celebrate 10 years surviving cancer, but it felt a little empty.  All that hard work, the pain and knee damage, and it really didn't do any good for anyone.

So I've been feeling for a while that it was time this year to get involved with Team in Training once again.  Three days ago marked 11 years since I learned I had cancer - or at least since I learned I had a very serious problem that turned out to be Hodgkin's lymphoma.  I always think about this in the spring, what a fearful time those first few days in late April 2002 were for me.  Was I going to live? (Yes.)  Was I going to suffer? (Yes, but not an unreasonable amount for someone with cancer.)  And it just reminds me how many people learn every hour that they have cancer, and that they are fighting for survival.  So if I can raise some money this year through my efforts that may help someone, it is well worth it.

Yes, it's time.  So today, I signed up for another event with TNT, my sixth.  I'll be walking (or maybe running, or maybe running and walking, or maybe crawling) in the Crawlin' Crab Half Marathon in October in Hampton, Virginia.  I'll be trying to raise $6,511 along the way.

Yes, there is a reason why I want to raise that amount.  Yes, there is a specific reason that I decided on that particular race.  I'll be discussing those reasons in the near future.  For now, I am trying to get organized to race for a cure once again.  I'm excited about it, about the chance to give back once more and pay it forward in thanks for my good fortune 11 years ago.

GO TEAM!  It's good to be back!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Sneaky, Nasty Thing!

Cancer is a sneaky, nasty thing.  It lurks in the shadows, building strength, biding its time.  You can think you are all in the clear and then, bam, it strikes.  This happened last week to Donna, who came out to cheer for me at the Komen 3-Day nearly two years ago now.

Donna had breast cancer five years ago, and was in remission.  To anyone with cancer, five years is the magical mark of survivorship.  When you reach five years, you start thinking "Maybe, just maybe, I've beat this thing.  Maybe I will continue living."  Realistically, as you learn more, you know that there is truly not a magical milepost.  So five years is as good as any.

Donna was feeling some terrible back pain.  When she checked it out, she found that metastasized breast cancer had taken up residence in her spine.  Some cells had survived her chemo of five years ago, taken a trip in her blood stream, and stopped at her spine.  Now, they are hard at work replacing strong bone tissue with useless breast cancer tissue.  Not a good trade off.  This was five years and two months for Donna.  Now, she once again is in a fight for her life, this time against stage 4 breast cancer - the most dangerous and hardest to fight stage.  She is starting radiation, which will hopefully be effective for a while, to attack the spinal tumors.  But stage 4 breast cancer is almost never really ever defeated, so there could be many more tough times ahead for her.  She is in my thoughts and prayers.  In my mind, I am now the one holding the sign for Donna.  It says: "Donna - You're the Best!  Fight Hard, and Beat This Sneaky, Nasty Thing!"

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Does Anyone Have a 350 Pound Gorilla?

It had been something like 10 months since I saw a doctor for this pain in my left knee.  But clearly, the things I was doing were not working - including not running for essentially the last 13 months - and it was time for a new direction.  So last week, I saw a new doctor for the problem.

They took X-rays of both knees.  He poked and prodded.  He asked me questions.  Finally, he said, essentially, that he felt the problem originated in leg muscles that are much too tight.  The tight muscles pull on the knee and put pressure on it.  He said, after watching me stretch, "You should be able to touch your heel to your butt."  But instead, between my heel and my butt, there was enough space to put New Jersey.

I thought about this, and came up with two possible ways to make my heel reach my butt:

Scenario A: Start eating a 12,000 calorie a day diet.  In  about a month, my butt should be so big that I won't have any problem touching my heel to it.

Scenario B: Lie on the floor on my stomach, and bend my lower leg backward.  Have a 350 pound gorilla sit on my shin, resulting in my heel reaching my butt (and beyond, possibly).

I discussed these ideas with the doctor.  He suggested something even worse - stretching.  Lots and lots of stretching.  I don't like stretching (obviously).  If I have an hour to work out, I want to work out for 58 minutes and stretch for two minutes.  Or maybe one.  I just don't enjoy it.

But I can't afford the groceries to consume 12,000 calories a day, and I couldn't find a gorilla, so I am trying it his way.  If that doesn't resolve the problem in about four weeks, the doctor said come on back and we will do an MRI, and see if there are micro tears in the tendon, or something of similar ilk.

I started with the physical therapist on Friday.  She did a lot of evaluation.  "Boy, are you tight!" she said.  Several times.  "I'm going stretch those quads.  It may hurt a little bit."  Seconds later, I was screaming in agony, crying and sobbing like a little boy.  "Whoa!" she said.  "I haven't even touched your leg yet.  Maybe we'd better skip that one!"  Now, that was embarrassing!

So she asked me to touch my toes.  Piece of cake.  I squatted down, and touched my toes with ease.  "Without bending your knees," she added.  Oh.  So much for that.  "Boy, are you tight!" she added, just to make sure I got the message.

So we worked on all kinds of stretches, and using three pound ankle weights to do five different leg strengthening exercises.  I am supposed to do these every day, and I have for the most part.  I even went out and bought ankle weights.  Do I enjoy it?  Not at all, although I know it is not that bad.  It is just one more thing to try to have to find time to do.  Having to keep working for a living sure takes away time for everything else.

But I'll try to keep stretching.  I want to run again, and at the least, I want to walk and hike without my knee hurting a ton.  In the meantime, if you have a large gorilla....

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Plenty has been said, tweeted, and written about Monday's horrific events in Boston, Massachusetts.  There is not much more I can add, other than I find it sickening, and that those injured and killed, and their families, are in my thoughts and prayers.  The levels of evil and depravity that a few of our fellow humans are capable of never cease to astound me.  Yet, among the evil and cowardly few, are the good and brave many.  People who rushed in to help those injured and dying, even as a second bomb exploded - who knew then if there would be a third, a fourth, a fifth?  Doctors who had just run a marathon rushing to the hospital to operate on the injured.  People giving exhausted and stranded runners clothing to keep them warm, and opening their homes to them.

As awful as the mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut were, or the mass shootings at Virginia Tech six years ago yesterday were, in some ways, this was worse.  The mass shootings were done by clearly mentally ill people.  Boston's bombing was done, I would guess, by a rational and sane person (or persons), who meticulously planned the attack.  They are just plain evil.  They took what should have been a fun and inspirational event, one where tens of thousands of people - runners, organizers, and volunteers - had worked their butts off for, and turned it into horror.  They ended three lives and altered the lives of many others for the worst permanently.

Name any disease you can - the most terrible cancer, "Lou Gehrig's" disease, it doesn't matter.  If I had to choose between having that disease and having the desire to inflict pain and suffering the way the person or persons who did this clearly have, I'd pick the disease.  No contest!

Never more than in times like these are random acts of kindness needed.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

My Eight Year Streak Ends!

My eight year streak of walking or running the Ukrops Monument Avenue 10 Kilometer race ends today!  It feels kind of sad.  This is a very fun race, and I think it is one of the top 10 biggest foot races in the United States.  I've done it every year between 2005 and 2012, each time as a cancer survivor, and last year to celebrate surviving ten years. 

My slowest time was about 1:34, and my fastest (twice) was a shade over 63 minutes.  I've done it on chilly days and warm days, sunny days and rainy days.  I've always had fun with it, and enjoyed the crowds that line the route, the costumes that people wear, and the runners and walkers out in force, 40,000 strong.

I might never have done the 10K except for Team in Training.  In 2005, I was training to walk my first marathon with Team in Training, and our coaches suggested that we sign up for the 10K to get used to the idea of being in a race, what it is like to move through the corrals, use a timing chip, and so forth.  So a bunch of us signed up for the race.  Probably 2005 was most memorable one, because we did the 6.2 miles as part of a long day of training.  I did my walking with three others.  The four of us walked from the park where we gathered for training to the start of the race - about two miles.  We walked the race, and walked back to the park.  The two who were training for a half marathon were done, but Michal and I were going to do a marathon and had to get in 16 miles.  So we walked six more miles together.  Talk about a long 10K!

As it turned out, I didn't need the 10K experience to prepare for my first marathon.  There were only about 1,300 participants in the 2005 Anchorage Marathon - no corrals, no big crowds to deal with.  But, still, it was a lot of fun to do the 10K and I was hooked.

I woke up early today, about 5:20, even though it was a Saturday.  My biological clock told me that it was time to get up.  But I think part of me was also thinking about all the walkers and runners getting up today anticipating the race, and especially the first-timers being very excited about it.  They have a terrific day for it.  I'll miss not being in it, but I have not run since the last 10K due to knee pain.  I could have walked it - I hiked 7 miles just the other day - but felt like this year, being unable to run, I would just skip it.

I'll do it again some day, maybe as a runner, but if not, as a walker.  It is too much fun not to!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

On Biking (Part Two)

Yesterday, I wrote about some of my thoughts on why I am not really up for switching to cycling right now, even though my left knee continues to have some pain a year after I last ran.  I do try to walk often, of course, although not more than 5-6 miles at a time right now, other than when hiking.  My last really punishing distance on foot was a year ago March when I ran - with some walking - the Shamrock Half Marathon.  The knee pain has made me wonder if cycling would be better at some point.  I did try a bicycle recently, but think I might have to buy a better one, so I guess I need to save my pennies...

My biggest concern about cycling is the traffic.  Most places do not have roads designed to accommodate large and fast cars along with bicycles, in my opinion.  I'd love to see separate bike paths that would keep cyclists away from traffic.  And drivers are often just awful - I see it all the time as a fellow driver and as a walker.  Some are courteous but they are in a minority.  Running red lights is epidemic here in the Richmond area.  I've almost been run over several times while on foot, crossing with a green light.  Once, I got in an argument downtown when a driver insisted on turning right on red (for him) as I tried to cross the street (on green) in front of him.  I see drivers texting, talking on their phones, even doing their nails!  C'mon!  Doing your nails while driving?  Really???  And as to texting - there is no safe text while you are operating a vehicle the weight of a rhinoceros.

Now, let me share some peeves about cyclists.  A lot of them act as if they are invincible and above the law.  If you want to read an account of a cyclist who lived because of a one second difference, go here in my blog.  When I see cyclists do stupid things, I think of this guy and how I nearly killed him when he did maybe the most stupid thing I've ever seen a cyclist do.  If I had taken one less second getting to the point where we almost intersected, he would be dead - and I would be haunted the rest of my life for killing a man.  If he continued to ride his bike with such disdain for safety, he is probably dead by now.

So what are some of the things I see cyclists do?  By the way, these tend to me more what I would call "casual cyclists," not those out doing miles for fitness.  They routinely run red lights in the city.  To my cycling brothers and sisters, the same traffic laws for cars apply to you.  A red light does not mean slow down and then go through.  A red light is not just a suggestion!  Now and then, I will see a cyclist speed up to zip though a red light just ahead of oncoming traffic.  About a week ago, I saw one make it - just barely - with yards to spare.  Insane!

I see cyclists riding on the wrong side of the road - always ride with traffic.  They sometimes go the wrong way on one-way streets, which is a very dangerous thing to do.  Downtown, they often ride on the sidewalks, and from my experience, they rarely let walkers know that they are coming up on them from behind, which is a disaster waiting to happen.  As a walker, a huge peeve I have is when cyclists, runners, and walkers share a path and the cyclists don't warn the pedestrians when they are coming up from behind.  From my experience, about half do call out a warning and half don't.  Bicycles are very quiet on a paved path.  As a walker, facing away and ears oriented forward, one rarely can hear a bicycle from behind.  A bike going 15 mph travels about 22 feet in a second and can be on a walker before they know it is just behind.  So call out a warning - "passing left!" - and/or ring your bell.  Otherwise, it may be you and the walker who's bells are rung!

All these things being said, most cyclists I see - especially those that routinely cycle - are riding in a safe manner.  Sometimes though, there is just not enough room for bikes and cars safely together on our roads - roads were designed to move car traffic, and to move it fast.  So as a taxpayer, I am very much in favor of putting in more bike (to share with pedestrians) paths.  Some cities and regions have a nice network of bike trails, and I'd love to see that for Richmond.

Bike safety is very visible here since a young woman was killed on her bike last year.  From all accounts, she was riding properly.  But she was riding at night (with flashers) about 10PM on a fairly narrow road.  It has raised discussions about safety.  After writing yesterday's post about why I am not ready right now to take up long-distance cycling, I started to read the paper and saw this article (linked here online) about drivers being aware of cyclists, and operating their vehicles safely.  There is plenty of room for improvements among both drivers and cyclists.

As always, I am not trying to offend anyone, and I welcome differing viewpoints.  I know that most cyclists ride safely - their life is much more on the line than that of the driver of a 4,000 pound vehicle.  But I also know that I do see cyclists - frequently - doing really stupid things, especially in the city, and that sometimes their survival comes down to luck - or to a single second.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

On Biking

I've enjoyed riding a bike from time to time, and may yet again, even though I don't own a bike right now.  I have friends who love it, and keep on trying to convince me to take it up and ride centuries with them.  But I just don't know.  One of them badly wanted me to ride the Tour de Chocolate in Hershey, PA with her and her Team in Training group.  "Come on, it will be fun!" she said.  Then, practically in the next breath, she asked "Did you hear about Teresa?"  Teresa in an incredibly fit lady of about 35-40, I would suppose.  She does Ironman triathlons, and all kinds of other challenges.  It turns out that she was out for a easy early morning ride of 30 miles or so and was hit by a car.  The driver didn't see her because she was looking into the sun.  Teresa survived, probably in part because the lady didn't do a hit and run and in part because of her phenomenal level of fitness.  But her spine was fractured in five places and she had a broken leg.  Yup - that sounds like fun!

Drivers do crazy things.  They drive too fast and too impatiently.  They text.  They are inattentive.  They act as if they are the only car on the road.  They feel invincible in their 3,000 - 8,000 pound shell of steel, aluminum, and plastic.  It is tough enough if you are a walker or runner.  Biking would be more appealing to me if there were separate bike paths.  For example, in about another year, the Cap 2 Cap Trail will be completed - 50+ miles each way between the historical capital of Virginia (Williamsburg) and our current capital (Richmond).  Now, that sounds like a lot of fun, especially if there were inns along the way where one could stop for a night, have a good meal, and quaff a cold brown ale!

I also read a detailed article about how biking is not at all good for - how does one put this delicately, gentle reader? - one's "nether regions."  That is male or female, by the way, but most especially male - for obvious reasons.  The pressure put on the blood vessels and nerves by the bike seat from below and one's weight from above can cause sexual dysfunction in both men and women.  When I mentioned that - only a tiny bit in jest - to my friend, she said "Well look at Tim.  He rides a lot and they just had a baby."  Her argument didn't convince me.  I'm not looking for any babies.  By the way, the problem seems to apply more to people who spend a lot of time on bikes - which one must to ride 100 miles.  This article here is not the one I originally read, but summarizes the issue well and talks about mitigation strategies, especially getting away from those narrow seats which maximize the pressure on the perineum.

Then, there is the expense of biking - the bike itself and all the special gear (including that special seat that puts the pressure on the "sit bones" and not on the perineum.)  Compare that to the cost of a pair of good running shoes every few months.  Plus, with running and walking, one does not have to stress over equipment failures.  When you are 50 miles into a ride and have a tire blow out - well, I can't imagine that being a happy time at all.

Hit by cars?  Reduced sex life?  Diminished checking account? Hmm, I think I just might stick to walking (or running if my left knee ever stops hurting).  Seriously, I could see biking as being fun under some circumstances, like maybe as part of a triathlon of sprint or Olympic distance.  The cars still worry me even in that case.  Did I mention that drivers are nuts?

Well, another friend told me that all runners are future bikers, because there comes a time when their joints are too worn out from running.  So I guess I should start saving my pennies.  Maybe the Cap 2 Cap will be ready just in time for me!  Now, about that inn with the ice-cold brown ale....