Monday, August 31, 2009

In the words of the immortal Anthony Michael Hall in "Sixteen Candles" ...

"Aw, c'mon Mom, I've got my headgear on!"

So this is how I feel each and every night when I go to bed. I have joined the ranks of the wheezers, spazzes and adults who still wear their retainers at night, even though they could have stopped wearing it at age 15.

More appropriately, and in keeping with my running theme ... I have turned into Forrest Gump (Wait, I just realized this is my 2nd FG reference on my blog (See: Life is Like a Big Box of Chocolates ...) ... omg, loser!). You know the scene - where he is sprinting from his tormentors, all the while shedding his big, creaky metal leg braces while Jenny yells, "run, Forrest, run!"

Difference is, I strap those babies on my legs every night. So sexy.

Let me explain.

I started upping my mileage maybe six months ago, before I joined TNT. I was on the treadmill or doing the loop in CP nearly every day and logging a lot of miles every week. I felt good, but I had absolutely no direction or professional coaching. So I had no idea how important stretching was. You can see what is coming next.

One day on the treadmill, in the middle of a run, I landed on my left heel and it was as if someone stuck an ice pick up the bottom and through the back. Ouchee! After days of professional medical consultation (uh, WebMD ... duh! Oh, and by the way, I am also pretty sure I have meningitis, vertigo, and I may have contracted bird flu), I diagnosed myself with something called plantar fasciitis. Totally sounds like a skin disease that worsens when you scratch off the scabs, but it's basically when you strain the ligament that supports the arch of your foot.

For once, I was right. When the pain got worse and simply walking would make me wince, I hopped off the treadmill for a few days and saw a real doctor, who took x-rays and showed me a nasty bone spur that had developed on the back of my heel. Apparently, these sometimes turn up with PF and I had a doozie that even hurt to the touch. I did, however, feel quite regal when Dr. Foot told me I had extremely high arches and that I would need to be vigilant about stretching my heels and calves at all times, especially while training for a marathon.

Ooooooh, high arches! I suddenly felt like the pretty girl in school who had been blessed with some genetically superior trait that everyone else wanted but oh so few possessed.

Yeah, whatever. They're feet. Three-quarters of the year, they're covered by shoes.

Anyway, Dr. Foot recommended I wear a "boot" for sleeping. It's designed to keep my toes pointed toward my body - not away - when I sleep, thus stretching out the ligaments around my heel. A few nights with this contraption, he promised, and I'd be on the road to recovery. Just one little caveat: basically, the only other way you would be more uncomfortable when you sleep is if you were wearing a full-body suit of armor.

And because I really don't like blogging with just boring words and no fun and embarrassing pics, here ya go:

(And before the Pedicure Police contact me, please know that this is about as good as it's gonna get and I am truly trying my best. I have, you should note, successfully staved off black toe. So far.)

So every night. I sleep with this. And poor George has gotten used to being kicked in her tiny shih-tzu head at the foot of the bed by a heel belonging to that of Shrek.

But damned if this baby didn't work.

So a few months later, I could feel vast improvement in my left heel, which is about when I got the ice pick through my right heel. Oh yes, I am now the proud owner of not one, but TWO heel spurs. Double the fun of PF! When I could start feeling the spur on the right and it actually became worse than the left, I knew I had to do something about it. I could not, however, bring myself to do the boot on both legs. I know it's like six hours where I am only seen by my husband and my 15-pound dog, but please people, I do have some shred of dignity. After a little research, I checked out the Strassberg sock. Behold:

My review after a few nights? Tres mucho comfortable than the boot. Downside? Freaking hot and I wake up in a stupor at 3am scratching at both of my legs, yanking Velcro left and right to free my poor confined calves. But it's also possible to travel with the sock. I would basically need one whole rollie suitcase for my boot, so this is much more convenient. Unfortunately, I am still working on the dignity thing as this is how I now look every night:

Good thing they make pajamas with pocket protectors.

Monday, August 24, 2009

No hablo "Fuel Belt."

Oh, blog how I have missed you! I've been on the road and haven't been able to update, but my time away provided an interesting new observation. While I learned that "have Sauconys, will travel" certainly applies on work trips, not everyone speaks the language when you get there.

And I was only in California.

Let's go back a couple of weeks, shall we?

It's been hot here in New York. Disgustingly hot. Humid, sticky, downright nasty. Not a good mix for long runs. But the team is getting out every Saturday and dutifully logging miles, since our races are just around the corner. My marathon is less than two months away.

(Excuse me while I pass out for just a second.)

I had my most challenging run a couple of Saturdays ago when we started in Manhattan, crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, ran back over the Williamsburg and then back through the city to our starting point. There was very little shelter from the sun and although I managed a self-portrait on the Williamsburg ...

... trust me, I really wasn't this happy. In fact, as we made our way down the West Side Highway, just a couple of miles from the finish, I actually had to walk for a minute. The sidewalk was never ending and the sun was just as relentless. Worse than all of that, damned Elkin kept actually trying to cheer me on. I went from silently cursing him to openly doing so, finally telling him to shut up. I simply wanted to die in peace, without the chatter of encouragement and inspiration. Sometimes those sentiments are overrated. Regardless, we're all good now:

So I know I've belabored the Fuel Belt argument but it's a totally necessary evil in this city. It's big, bulky and fairly unattractive, but if I didn't have my FB that day, I probably would have pummelled Elkin a few miles prior. I emptied all my bottles AND Elkin and Barb and I stopped at a deli for fresh waters about 10 miles in. It's not unusual to see runners all over the city donning their belts because public water fountains are few and far between. And if you don't want to stop your run to pop into a deli, it's the only answer.

Cut to last weekend.

I was wrapping up a work week in California and found myself just a couple hours away from the Bay Area. Since I hadn't seen my family since the holidays, I jumped at the chance. But I was on target for a 16-mile run and wasn't quite sure how to find a route. Enter Kerry, my good friend, triathlete and TNT vet. Turns out, Nike not only sponsors the marathon, but months of training leading up to it. Every Saturday, hundreds of runners meet near the water to head out on various routes plotted meticulously by Nike. One of Kerry's friends from TNT is a pace leader and sent me all the deets.

So I was set! A training run in San Francisco! The type-A that I am, however, would not allow any deviation from my normal routine, which meant zipping to the nearest running shop and getting a brand-new Fuel Belt (hey! now I have two!), a few packs of Gu and running socks that I am certain are essential to differing climates. When I told Kerry I had done this, she openly laughed at me. "Um, you do know you aren't going to need that Fuel Belt, right?" Not need a Fuel Belt? Was Kerry high?

First, props to me for being at a fantastic wine bar in San Francisco on a Friday night with my peeps and NOT getting pie-eyed (in Ramon-speak, I "behaved"):

Yay me! Given the specs, normally this picture would have me leaning to one side, red wine glass teetering in fingertips as I make a pucker-lip face toward the camera (See: If only I had that big set of steps.)

You really have no idea what a feat this is.

So I had a little slumber party at Kerry's and got up early to head to Marina Green. Something else learned here? The Saturday morning routine I follow (breakfast, bathroom, more breakfast, more bathroom) is always a little more delicate when you're in someone else's home. (Kerry: I will totally replace either the toaster or the kitchen cabinets. I thought the bagels had more time on them when I pushed down the lever and hit the head. Let me know.)

As luck would have it, I ended up being in Kerry's friend's pace group:

And Renee was easy to find because Nike is the most organized marathon sponsor ever and she was holding a big sign. (No, she wasn't required to then run with it). We even did group exercises before the run (but for some reason it reminded me of those YouTube videos of Thai prisoners doing the "Thriller" dance):

Before the run, I had the usual nervous banter with a few of the people around me and found they had as many questions about running in New York as I had about running in San Francisco. It was like we were all from different countries but all spoke the international language of Marathon. And at one point, someone pointed to my Fuel Belt and goes, "you know you're not going to need that, right?"

Did people start backing away from me in horror? Maybe I imagined that, but I know I heard a few snickers and whispers. I stammered, trying to explain that in New York, it's too hot to go without water and you never know where there will be a fountain. Still, they maintained, you're not going to need it. No one runs with a Fuel Belt here. You'll see.

Sure enough, not only were there water stops along the entire 16-mile route, but they had food! Runners stopped and chatted breezily as if they were holding cups of Cabernet, not Gatorade. They took in the beautiful landscape and discussed their plan of attack for the next few miles.

It was all so incredibly ... civilized. In fact, chugging through the hilly Presidio ...

... we would pass cyclists who would primly exclaim, "Excuse us! Bikes on the right!" to which the runners would reply enthusiastically, "Bike up!"

Okay, seriously?

I had to explain that in Central Park, we were usually dodging the loogies spat at us from passing cyclists. That is, if they weren't dropping a few f-bombs at us to stay to the left on the loop. (One might glean that the runner-cyclist relationship is a tad prickly in New York City. It's simple: they haaaaaaaaate us.)

We talked about the differences in climate and topography and agreed that what we suffered in temperature, the San Franciscans suffered in the hills:

(Oh, and that Pac Heights hill was the least steep of the run. At a Fort Mason hill at mile 14 I turned into a cartoon character. My arms and legs spun like mad while it seemed I wasn't making any headway on a 90-degree angle incline. I think little old ladies on bikes passed me with a "ching, ching" of their bike bells.)

When we ran past the Ferry Building, which houses a packed farmer's market on the weekend, several of the gals cursed the crowds. Me? I practically hi-fived them. You call this a crowd?!

And running along the Embarcadero ...

... I breathed in deeply (partly because this was mile 12 and Baby was tired) and took in the smells of freshly ground coffee and a wood-fire oven from a nearby restaurant gearing up for breakfast. I closed my eyes. I was in heaven. This is my beloved city and there was no place I would have rather been right at that moment. "My god, can you smell that?" I remember saying out loud to no one in particular.

(Of course, I then opened my eyes to see a few peeps staring at me as if I had just been released from prison.)

Toward the end of the run, I realized that I hadn't needed the Fuel Belt at all. It was great to keep my Gu and car keys secure and I did finish off the Gatorade I packed, but only because the last water stop ran out. (Ugh! Never coming back! How dare they!)

At the end of the run, Nike welcomed us back with bagels and fixings, cheese, crackers and even fresh juice. There was a group stretch and then we all held hands and sang Kumbaya. Not really. This isn't Berkeley.

But then a bunch of the runners did the coolest thing. Literally. It's a tradition of sorts to "soak in the Bay" afterward. Which consists of stripping your running shoes and hiking up your shorts to wade into the frigid waters. Actually, frigid is an understatement. Arctic is more like it. But it is akin to an ice bath, which is optimum for the muscles after a long run. Surprisingly, there were many brave souls:

Me? Not so much. I screamed like a chick when it hit my toes. This is as far as I got:

Overall, it was The. Perfect. Day. Great run, followed by brunch with my girls, topped off with time with my family.

When I got back to New York, Elkin told me he also ran 16 miles. But he did it in 90-degree, 90-percent humidity weather. And it rained. And because Barb was out of town, he ran all alone. I was feeling smug that I had stayed in California to do my run there when he said, "I was so bummed that I didn't have my crew there with me. I need you guys with me on those runs."

I realized that despite the touristy crowds, the thick air in which the smells of urine and vomit hang and the psycho cyclists who will run your ass over if you so much as think about moving to the right, there really is no place like home. I'm lucky that I have two of them. One that I can visit and feel a tug at my heart when I arrive and then inevitably leave; another where my teammates anxiously await my return.

So while some of us speak Fuel Belt and others speak Water Station, all of us runners have common ground. My advice ... get out there and plot a different route on that ground from time to time. It's good for the soul.

Just don't drink the water.

Unless, of course, it's in your Fuel Belt.

Monday, August 10, 2009

You don't tug on Superman's cape.

Spitting in the wind? Perfectly acceptable on a long run (See: You may think it's funny but it's snot.)

I Am Legend.

In Own Mind, maybe. But really ... how cool is this picture?

(For those of you non-New Yorkers, if you encounter any city street where cars are not allowed to drive and you can actually run down the middle of the road, you've either a) stumbled onto a movie set and are about to encounter Tom Cruise, semi-automatic slung around his chest, sprinting away from a pack of wild rabid dogs chasing him; b) actually survived the End of Days and are now the last person on Earth and might find a pack of wild rabid dogs chasing you; or c) really pissed off a pack of dogs that have broken away from their dog walker and you're frantically running in the middle of the street, screaming like a girl for the nearest building you can duck into.)

In other words, open space simply does not happen in this city.

I channeled my inner Will Smith this weekend as our team enjoyed a closed-off Park Avenue for our Saturday long run. Turns out, this is done for several Saturdays every August in New York City; it's called "Summer Streets." Had I spent any time awake before noon in previous Augusts, I suppose I may have known about it-slash-taken advantage. It's a long stretch closed to cars from Foley Station (way downtown where the courthouses are located), all the way up Park Avenue to 72nd Street and it's a pretty big deal. This year, our TNT team was picked to kick it off, which meant Head Coach Ramon runs through a ribbon and we lead the pack of thousands of eager runners and cyclists anxious to hit the open roads of NYC.

An obviously jubilant Elkin (possibly excited about the rainbow of Gatorade colors on his butt?) and I enjoyed a totally pleasant 13.2 (so important to get in that extra point-two) up and down Park Ave., even though I was a bit weighed down by (as Ramon calls it) a Fuel Belt Buffet. Two waters, two Gatorades, two Gus and two Sports Beans. But to add insult to injury, I also brought along my camera. Yeah, yeah, the whole empty streets thing was cool ... but I really did it because we were supposed to have an honored guest running with us and I thought I would shove my way over to him to snap a picture of us in cute matching running shorts. Mayor Bloomberg was slated to run with us and there was a buzz in the air. I had breezy conversation starters at the ready and imagined myself dispensing advice on the production quality of his current TV ads.

(But I also had several nervous conversations with Mike beforehand where I was convinced I'd get flustered while near the mayor, have a spaz and suddenly grab his privates, only to be taken down by seven dozen beefy security guards. I cannot explain how my mind works.)

Alas, Bloomie never showed. And here I was, wearing my official TNT t-shirt (grudgingly, since I have a serious case of OCD when I run and simply cannot have sleeves) and oh-so-cute matching black TNT headband. But the change of scenery did wonders and Elkin and I agreed that the run went so much faster when we had different sights to take in. I've also noticed that as my runs get longer, I am much more of a smiling idiot afterward. Not because I'm freaking happy but because I'm freaking tired and freaking glad it's over:

But back to our discussion of superheroes. Not that I'm tooting horns here, but I'm beginning to think all TNTers have to have some superhero qualities. I think back to the first time I had ever heard of TNT. Came from my California girls. See, I have this incredible group of beautiful, smart, accomplished, giving and totally well-adjusted girlfriends I have known since my teenage years. We have stayed close and I consider them my best friends and biggest inspiration. They raise children, have successful careers, find time for family and friends ... and then manage to run marathons and compete in triathlons while raising money for LLS. After seeing my friend Kerry do her millionth triathlon for TNT, I felt woefully slacker-ish. After I made the decision to do the Nike, I knew I'd join TNT as well.

Who knew there would be so many do-gooders in this world. And my favorite kind ... do-gooders who drink. This is us at our TNT trivia night (Mike likes to call them ice cream socials) with our head coach, Ramon, who is a total superhero:

And I've shared all my Elkin and Barbara stories ... they're my running superheros who I actually now need on either side of me for practices:

(Oooh, don't we look clean and pretty when we're not in our running clothes?!)

So I join TNT and then I discover another group of superheroes ... all those people who come out of the woodwork to donate money. People I only casually know or haven't seen in years donated, sharing stories of family members and friends who have battled cancer. My entire family came out in full force. So did my very best friends. Walter challenged my goal by calling me a p---y. (sorry, mom!) so I upped it. And he and his wife Kim donated big time. Every time I get an email telling me I had another donation, I nearly weep like a chick at my desk.

But just today, I found those totally worthy of red capes. Mike had mentioned my marathon-slash-TNT training to a coworker who, unbeknownst to me, is a cancer survivor. I received an email of thanks from him - thanks from him! - for raising money for LLS and he shared his own story of survival with me. Word got around to another of Mike's coworkers - also a leukemia survivor. She had hoped to run the Chicago Marathon but recent chemo has prevented that. She also sent me an email of thanks with words of inspiration as I continue my training. They told me that I was doing something great. Me? I don't think so. Running 26 miles is dwarfed by what they have accomplished simply by surviving and being strong enough to share their stories.

I'm not known to be an emotional person but reading their emails brought big, giant tears to my eyes.

Superhero? Doesn't begin to describe them. Raising a little money and pinning a ribbon in their honor on my singlet? The least I can do ... and I know I can do more.

As for me? Just because I ran a half-marathon distance (awwww yeah, kick-ass style!) down the middle of a New York City street doesn't mean I'm ready to throw down on aliens invading Manhattan just yet. My friend Claudette and I spent a great Saturday evening catching up but it was the end of a very long day. In not-so-superhero-ish fashion, I was doing a head-bob into my red wine around 10 and was totally passed out by 11:15.

Hey come on, I hear even Wonder Woman was a big advocate of the nap.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

He who laughs last ... just might puke.

Not that I'm not in touch with my competitive side, but there's nothing like running with other people to bring out your inner jock.

We're doing hills this month in our TNT training. They're enough of a challenge that our coaches send out smiley-face emails with sayings like "We love hills! Yaaaaaay hills!" beforehand so that the sheer anticipation of getting your butt kicked on a steep incline on a steamy August evening won't cause you to pitch yourself out your office window before you have a chance to change into your sneakers.

Wait, maybe that's just me.

Anyhoo, this Tuesday was "rolling hills." (Frankly, I think the coaches call them this because it sounds a lot better than "2 to 3 hills in a row that will give you no relief in between.") It was nearly a mile of steep-but-not-too-steep hills that we were to do with a lot of effort. Read: haul ass. Then you have a slow recovery back to the start, where you do it again. And again. However many times the coaches want.

So there's Elkin on one side of me, Barb on the other. First time was tough. The three of us stepped off the the CP bridle path to recover back to the start and I believe I may have actually been wheezing. Who wheezes? It was a good two minutes into our recovery before Barb remarked that not one of us had spoken a word. Probably because we were not able to.

Second time sucked, especially when I started doing that girly-shrieky thing I do (See: Oh sprints, how I loathe thee. Let me count the ways). Pretty sure I freaked out a couple of random park runners. (Poor guys, just trying to calmly blow off a little after-work steam and here comes the mad 6-foot shrieking woman huffing up the hill. I'd be annoyed.)

By the third time up, we were tired. Our recovery was slower as we tried to put off the inevitable "next time" and a water stop was a must. By the time we had gotten back down to the start, however, I had gone into my motivational place (usually reserved for working a strategy at Nordstrom's Anniversary Sale) and was gearing up for number four.

But as the three of us took off, we all seemed to notice at the same time that more people were gathered at the start, some of whom were stretching. Elkin threw over his shoulder with just a touch of desperation, "Wait, are we done?!" But by the time Coach Christine yelled back "Well, yeah ... but you're welcome to go again ..." we were halfway up the first hill.

Crap. That's all my body needed to hear. I immediately downshifted in my mind and laughingly yelled up to Elkin and Barb (I say "up" since I had now slowed enough to speak to their backsides): "I'm done after this hill, guys. Keep going!" I thought it cheery and breezy. Just hop right off, grab a little water, jaunt back to the start, wait for my friends, log a great evening. Done!

But they were not amused.

Quote of the evening from Elkin: "We don't do half-sies."

Okay, I get the whole team thing. I do! But it really sunk in at that moment. There was no way they were leaving me on that first hill. I truly believe Elkin would have grabbed my right wrist and pulled me if he had to. A little aggressive, yes, but I lightened at the idea that we would leave no man behind. (I know, I know, we're not the armed forces but sometimes, we really do do more before 5 a.m. than most people do all day.)

They both bellowed at me disapprovingly and I felt sufficiently guilty, enough that I grudgingly huffed my way through repeat numero four. Out of breath and with legs of pure jelly, we congratulated each other at the end and chatted with relief all the way back. And that's when we realized we had become the annoying last people everyone has to wait for at the end of practice. TNT is an incredibly responsible group and every team member has to be accounted for at the end of practice. (In other words, our little show-off run made everyone stick around a little longer. On behalf of the Smug Three, apologies all around.)

But I can chalk it up to yet another lesson learned in my TNT experience. Having a team around you, whether it's the whole 300 of us on the NYC team ... or just Barb and Elkin who are usually on either side of me ... is invaluable when you're doing something that seems impossible.

Heading home, I was tired and drenched in sweat ... but it was all worth it. I smelled like team spirit.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

If only I had that big set of steps.

I would have totally looked like Rocky Balboa today.

Minus the beat-up grey sweats, big bulging muscles and male anatomy. Oh, and this is New York City, not Philadelphia. But whatever ... I was quite studly this morning.

I missed my long run Saturday with my team because Mike and I were out of town for a wedding. So today was my make-up run. And boy, did I sweat the anticipation of it. 12 miles, all on my own. No TNTers next to me, no nervous chatter as we ponder what route the coaches are going to take us on, no high-fives as we finish up. (Yes, we high-five. Builds team camaraderie.) I panicked Saturday when I realized that I would have to do this All. On. My. Own.

Let's back up first and review the previous 24 hours. The wedding we went to on Friday night was a great opportunity to catch up with good friends. That's code for: we drank a lot. And we know this because I start taking pictures like this:

Not only did we drink a lot, a few of us actually did a pizza and beer run at 2 a.m. In Reading, PA. (And if you'll allow me to get all Zagat-y for a second, you wouldn't think you'd have much choice at 2 a.m., but Maria's downtown, while a keeping a "colorful clientele" that seems to be "drinking away their cares - and their paychecks" also serves up a "more than respectable" large 22-inch pie and, even better, "every beer you can imagine" sold in 6 and 12-packs to go.)

So after a long drive back home Saturday, Mike in the passenger seat holding his head in belief that it might keep his hangover from reaching other parts of his body, I started doubting that I would be able to bang out 12 miles on my own the next morning.

See, I've settled into a routine leading up to the Saturday runs. I start worrying Thursday, which leads nicely into a full-blown anxiety attack on Friday night. More specifically, however, I have taken very seriously our coaches' advice on hydrating and eating right in the couple of days before. I drink copious amounts of water and throw in some Gatorade here and there. And I do serious carb loading on Friday night, which consists of a huge plate of pasta and bread that I eat while watching "The Ghost Whisperer." (Don't judge. Jennifer Love Hewitt can act. And I totally believe she sees dead people.)

I'm still researching, but I don't think drinking club soda with your vodka counts as hydration. So I was feeling a little dusty as we got home last night. While I managed to get in a plate of pasta for dinner, I think I was still feeling the effects of a night of complete and total dehydration. Even so, I dutifully got up at 6 a.m. on a dreary Sunday morning so I could eat breakfast and mentally prepare for my solo run.

By the time I got to CP and had stretched to start the first of two loops, it appeared I got my hydration after all. It started to drizzle. And by the time I started my ascent up Harlem Hill, it was a full-blown downpour. I won't lie: it was a tough run. I had no one to chat with, no one to push me up the hills. I used everything in my Fuel Belt. (By the by, I had my inaugural Gu. Vanilla. Kind of like gummy frosting, but I totally didn't gag! Yay me!) It was when I was finishing the first loop, a little slower pace than usual, that I realized the furious storm I had been running in for nearly an hour had me so soaking wet that my running clothes now weighed about 53 pounds on my body.

But while I had to work a bit harder and I'm pretty sure stepping out of my routine for a weekend didn't help, I started feeling really empowered by my rain run. I felt strong and motivated and may have even been smiling as I noticed other runners - mostly men - who were going clockwise to my counter-clockwise on the loop giving me an approving look, probably inspired by my tenacity and perseverance. (Note to self: if it looks like rain, stay away from the white running shirts).

And as I made my way back to where I began at 90th Street, I started feeling a bit of pride in not blowing off a solo run ... and actually finishing over 12 miles. I couldn't help but hum the Rocky theme and raise my fists up a bit.

But not all the way over my head. I may high-five but I'm not a total loser.