Sunday, June 29, 2008

Pacing: It's Like Racing...Without the "R"...sorta

Today, I had the opportunity to be an official pacer at the Seafair Marathon. I was one of four people assigned to a snail's pace and so, instead of doing one leg of it--the assigned 6.something, something miles--I decided to run with my friend for half of the race (13.1 miles). We looked at it as a "fun run"...a typical long run we enjoy with our group on most Saturdays. We figured it was going to be easy! It was going to be fun! We were going to enjoy the scenery! And what's more, since we volunteered our time and services, we got a free pair of Brooks running shoes out of the deal. What could possibly go wrong? we mused yesterday, as we picked up our schwag at the Expo and watched the temperature climb steadily to record highs.

Apparently, a lot.

The race was slated to start at Husky Stadium this morning at 7:00 a.m., but they wanted racers to come across the water and park at Bellevue Square, across the street from the finish. They hired school buses for shuttles and began taking people across the water as early as 5:00 or so. Given that I wasn't one of the starters, I made my way across the 520 bridge four minutes before it was scheduled to close, so by the time I got to Bellevue Square, it was about 6:55--or five minutes from guntime. Yet there were still hundreds of people standing in line at the FINISH, waiting for a shuttle to take them across the bridge to the START.

I can't accurately report what happened next first hand, because I was across the street in the mall's parking structure with my driver, but by 7:05, an announcement had been made to those who were still on the Eastside that they wouldn't be able to run the full marathon but that they'd be shuttled to the halfway point since there weren't anymore buses to take people to the start. Imagine signing up to run a full marathon; paying the higher fee, and training your ass off for four months, only to be told you can only run half of it. Hmmm...

Anyway, getting back to my little group: Our driver was awesome--a 15+ year-veteran of Seafair. But since the course had changed from the year before, he had a tough time trying to figure out on the map where our rendezvous point would we would relieve people running the first two legs. So after some driving around, we went to the water station in between miles 13-14 because he thought that was where we needed to be. So we figured when it was near our time, we would walk around the corner and down the hill further back in the course to find our teammate. We even called our running group director to ask what the official guntime turned out to be (it was 7:15) so we could re-calculate our handoff time.

So, we waited at the water station with other pace groups, and during that time, one of the runners noticed that the water table looked kind of sparse for such a hot day, and the fact that this was the halfway mark and that there were almost 5,000 people running. So she spoke with one of the volunteers at the water table who said, kind of nonchalantly, that they had run out of cups and that they probably weren't getting any more. Given that it was 73 degrees by 8:30, this did not bode well--especially since runners would be taking more than one water cup to drink and douse themselves. What's more, the table had both Gleukos and water, but there was no delineation between the two. Both were clear liquid and both were poured into the same Gleukos cups, which would have made for a huge, sticky mess of runners who needed to cool themselves off by dousing. But thankfully, the runner from my group took charge, kicked some ass, took names, and whipped the water table into shape before the Kenyans came.

Once the 8:35 min/mile pacer left, follwed by the 9:10 pacers, my friend and I got out of the sleek, airconditioned Seafair Suburban and stood with a bunch of other relay people to wait for our teammate. By 9:33, she still hadn't shown and we were getting a little worried. We waited a little longer (our first mistake) but then made the judgment call to just go. Even factoring out the guntime delay and the heat, we figured we would need to cross the finish line at 12:00 noon to make our pace, but because we waited for our teammate we were 11 minutes behind schedule, which meant we had to up our pace to a full minute per mile faster to try and make up for lost time.

And while the faster pace was one I could hold for a 10 or 12k, it's a little too fast for me for a half marathon distance, particularly when the course is super hilly and it's 78 degrees. We started out strong, but our segment was the hilliest of the course--and between miles 14-20, we encountered some MAJOR climbs. I told my friend that if he could hold steady at our faster pace for the rest of the race, he should just go on ahead because I knew I wouldn't be able to do that for 13 miles in the heat.

So I'm running pretty much by myself and there are random people running up to me because I have a "PACER" shirt on and they're saying, "HEY! So-and-So (the teammate I'd been waiting for) was looking for you! You weren't at the handoff!" And I'm going, "I most certainly was! Where was she? I didn't see her!" and I see this one guy whom I had seen run past me on the course while I was waiting for So-and-So (he happened to be one of the guys calling out to me) and I said, "Well, I saw you but I didn't see you with So-and-So." So apparently, she stopped at a sign that read "Relay Exchange Point" (makes sense, doesn't it?) and my running partner and I never saw that sign because we were about a half a mile UP from that point, where our driver thought our exchange would take place!

Anyway at this point, we're at mile 18 and I've pretty much caught up to the time I wasted at the water stop, waiting for So-and-So but I am dead tired and ready to collapse from the heat (I heard later that someone had collapsed in the Costco parking lot right around that point of the race) and as we round the corner, this GINORMOUS hill looms ahead...and I see my running partner's green shirt at the top of this hill, sooooooo very far away. I was about to call it quits when a woman calls out, "Heyyyyy! It's a pacer! Boy, I'm so glad to see you!!!" and I think, "There's no way I can quit now. This woman has been running the full 18+ miles and she's ecstatic to have found a pacer." So, I started running with her and it turns out she had been running with So-and-So earlier in the race, but lost track of her, so she was glad to have finally found another pacer.

I ran with this woman from mile 18 to mile 22 when the blister on the ball of my right foot started screaming at me and I told her it was the end of the line for me. She was still going super strong and there was no way I could keep up--especially having spent so much of my energy nine miles earlier. She was great, though, and it seemed she was going to have a pretty commendable finish given that it was her first full marathon and that she had conquered the heat and hills respectably.

At this point, though, I was in Carillon Point and I still had over four miles to go. I slowed to a walk, hoping some wayard official-looking Seafair Suburban would pull up and take me to the finish. Instead, people at every water station kept cheering me on. "Lookin' good! You're almost there!" I had to laugh. This was one of the most unconventional racing situations I'd ever been in. Finally, I get to Mile 23 and straight ahead is the steepest hill of the entire race--over the 520 interchange. It was 11:45 and the sun was just beating down on us and there was no way I was going to run up that hill. I just had nothing left to give. Yet, I was so grateful I wasn't running the race for a goal...I would have been so damned depressed at that point. I just did the only thing I could do--kept going toward the finish line, taking it all in stride, so to speak.

I finally crossed the finish line at 12:33. My running partner waited for me (he finished on pace!) and we made a few phone calls until we reached someone who was with So-and-So, who had wondered what the hell had happened to us at the exchange. But once she heard our version of the story, she wasn't too surprised. "Next year," I said, "we grab each other's cell phone numbers!" This was a debacle that could have easily been avoided.

I will say one thing, though. I DEFINITELY earned those free running shoes today!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Staycation, all I ever wanted...

It's pretty bad when I can't seem to recall the last time I was home alone for more than a few hours. All I can tell you is that it's definitely been years. Several years.

But this morning, Pa and Na headed out for an early flight to Michigan to visit the grandfolks until next Sunday, leaving me here at home with the doggies for a little R and R and W (reading, running and writing). I have to say, it's a win-win situation for all parties concerned: Pa gets to golf with old friends, Na spends quality time with the grandparents, and I enjoy the peace! and quiet! and solitude! Or, in the words of Elmer J. Fudd: West and Wewaxation at Wast!

Now, I don't want you to think I jumped for joy once the taxicab carrying Na and Pa left at 7 this morning, but it was awfully nice to be able to crawl back into bed and sleep for two more uninterrupted hours--at least until Scout decided to pounce on me.

I don't know if I was always like this or if it's been a recent development--but I really do favor quiet time over noise, which is not a good thing when you have a six year-old child or a 71 year-old mother who can't stop talking. I find that when I'm with those two (and it's at least once a week) I have a much harder time processing anything they say because THEY'RE SAYING IT AT THE SAME TIME! And it's not like, "Hey, how are ya? What's new?" it's "I need this" or "I want that" or "Can you do this for me?" It could damn near drive one to drink!

So you can imagine my annoyance when, upon hearing that Na and Pa would be gone for nine days, my mother asked, "What are we going to do while they're gone?" I said, "WE aren't going to do anything. I'M taking a staycation!" That didn't go over very well. But I'm sticking to my guns. There will be no family face to face time for NINE WHOLE DAYS! Momma's checkin' out.

If you ask me, I think my staycation is one of the greatest gifts from Pa. I mean, after all, in four weeks, Pa, Na and I will be in Ukraine sweating like crazy (literally and figuratively) and living in pretty tight quarters for four weeks (Na and I are leaving early, after court--if all goes "well") And then there's our joyful addition to the family once Pa and little-person-yet-to-be- determined come home, which means it'll be another several years or so until I can say "I honestly can't remember the last time I was home alone for more than a few hours." So yeah, I'm enjoying the break!

I know, though, that once the weekend passes and the quietness has settled in, I'll really begin to miss them. I've gotten used to the little footsteps going across the hall to use the bathroom in the morning; and the silly songs we three make up together everyday; and my little cooking assistant who was able to work a stand mixer since age three; and how Pa makes my latte in the morning and then puts it in a commuter mug and sends Scout up with it. I think the break, if anything, will help me appreciate that all the more.

Mr. Na at the airport this morning

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin R.I.P.

Growing up, George Carlin was a staple in our household. My brother--a good ten years older than me--listened to the Class Clown record album non-stop. Obviously, not getting the references at such a young age, I would laugh when others laughed. And it wasn't until a good ten years later when I listened to it when I fully realized his comedic genius.

It broke my heart to hear that George Carlin passed away yesterday, from heart failure. He was 71.

His raw humor, coupled with his nicotine-laced, gritty New York attitude can never be matched (although honestly, my Dad's Jamaica-Queens accent comes a close second). He taught me a lot about words and how, if we just stood still to ponder for just a moment, certain words in the English language seemed so ridiculous and filled with double-meanings. But moreover, he broke through major tenets regarding organized religion, claiming, at one point, that he worshiped the sun because it was the one thing he could actually see. But his sensibility about the world in which we lived gave proof that he was so much more than a rable rouser.

Just as he was a staple in my early childhood, he returned to be a part of my son's. His cheeky narration on many episodes of Thomas the Tank gave the stories a whole new dimension of humor, and his hippie-ish character in the Pixar movie Cars, Filmore the VW minibus, reminded me of his 70s stand-up material.

George will truly be missed.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Running in Ukraine?

I had pretty much tossed all hopes aside that I would do some running in Ukraine during our trip in mid-July. Having been there before, the idea of running seemed kind of far-fetched, what with all of the crazy drivers on the road and the lack of sidewalks. The stray dogs, too, kind of puts a damper on any desire to run.

I am a creature of habit and like to run close to home, rather than feeling all adventurous to blaze a new trail--though I will admit I have been bold during certain trips to other cities, and I've run routes in Barcelona, Helsinki, New York, Las Vegas, Honoloulu. But there have been times when I've held back, feeling a little unsure of my safety--particularly in Paris, Madrid, London and Prague. It's mostly because of the high volume of traffic and the layout of the cities.

So, along with my decision not to run in Ukraine, I skipped plans to run in a marathon this fall since I figured I'd be gone most of the summer and would miss at least two or three 20-mile training runs, not to mention the fact that I'd have to consider running up mountains made out of coal slag for hill training since Ukraine is about as flat as Kansas. My decision left me kind of bummed, too, because I've been hankering to do the Portland Marathon so I can finally get a decent finish time.

But this morning, I got home from my run and Pa asked me if I had planned any running routes in Ukraine. I kinda looked at him sideways and said,
"I don't think it's safe, do you?"
He said for sure he'd feel safe in Kiev and that once we got to our child's city or village, I could determine whether or not I'd feel comfortable. And then, of course, a new seed was planted in my brain. I mean, sheesh, we'll have so much down-time during our travel, it would seem a shame not to spend some of that time running. So, I'm thinking about it more in earnest now...but of course thinking means planning, since I'd have to schlep more crap with me (i.e. running shoes, socks, shorts, shirts, sports bras, hats, sunglasses, My Forerunner (GPS), bluetooth headset, water belt and bottles, and packets of Gu. And if you're dying of laughter at the thought of all my "gear" then you should try running 10-20 miles without most of the above. You'd be bored to tears, dehydrated, lost, and low on blood sugar.

Seriously, though, all that crap means needing space in my already-maxed-out-luggage or worse--having to pack a second bag. And when you're in Ukraine, climbing four flights of stairs in a post-communist apartment building with a broken elevator that has a spray painted "Anarchy" symbol on it and you're sweating your ass off because it's 98 degrees with 100% humidity, having a second bag just for running clothes really seems asinine.

Aw well, I'll figure it out. For me, running takes the edge off...makes me feel awesome...helps me to sleep like a baby at night...and I'll admit, if I don't plan to run, I will miss it while we're gone. Seems pretty silly to leave behind a great form of therapy during a super-huge stressful time.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The (Kindergarten) Graduate

Ma: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Na: Yes, mom.
Ma: Are you listening?
Na: Yes, I am.
Ma: Plastics.
Na: Huh?

Pa thought it was pretty silly to have a formal graduation ceremony for Kindergarten, but I'll admit I got a little teary-eyed at the cuteness of it all. On the downside, it also gave me the opportunity to have a flash-forward of Na's high school graduation, which I found to be somewhat disturbing. That's 12 years from now and I'll be (gasp! gasp! gasp!) 52!

The tears flowed a little more once the entire class broke into Annie's "Tomorrow" (which is ironic because it's about orphans awaiting a better life--hence my free flowing tears).

This year -- seriously -- went too fast. I just found it amazing that one day, not too long ago, as we discussed his homework, Mr. Na was reading sentences. SENTENCES! In September, he could barely read "the"! And math? Whoa...pretty soon he'll catch up to my math skills! Ha!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

On Friday night, I ran in the annual Fremont 5k. It was my third time running the race and I had hoped to improve my 2006 PR. It looked like I was in pretty decent shape to do just that until I heard this awful noise behind me that sounded like someone had collided with a rollerblader. I turned around, thinking, "what the hell would a rollerblader be doing on the Burke Gilman trail with 500 runners coming from the opposite direction?" but instead, I saw another runner laying on the ground, with a mixture of blood and bile coming out of his mouth and nose. People yelled out to call 9-1-1 and I fumbled for my phone to dial, but I stopped trying to make the call when I saw several people doing the same.

Even though the man's eyes were half open, his pupils were dilated and he was not conscious. I summoned up outdated CPR training--telling people that we needed to check his airway by opening his mouth. When I did, he made a very bone-chilling rattling noise and I feared the poor man wasn't going to make it. I located his carotid artery for a pulse but couldn't find one, so I began compressions on his chest until a firefighter--who had also been running the race--ran up to us and took over. Every so often, the man exhaled and then his chest would rise, so it seemed he was breathing, but then his entire face and neck turned purple, and the firefighter continued compressions while another man gave him breaths. It wasn't easy, though, because there was a lot of blood in the victim's mouth and the man assisting the firefighter wiped a whole wad of it on his shirt after giving a breath.

Within minutes, the paramedics arrived with a Lifepak AED and they took over resuscitation attempts. I figured there was nothing more for me to do, so rather than being in the way, I left and did a half-hearted walk/run to the finish line, where people were smiling, cheering, drinking beer, listening to music--completely unaware of what happened only 1/4 of a mile away. I couldn't help but worry, though, if the man was going to make it. He was relatively young (I'd guess late forties) and looked as though he had been fit; but having worked for a company that made portable defibrillators, I know that cardiac arrest can strike anyone without warning and without proper resuscitation, victims will die within minutes.

After I retrieved my bike, I went back to the scene, where they had just placed the man in the ambulance. I asked a policeman if he was ok--told him that I was one of a handful of people to first respond. He said he thought the man was going to make it, though he himself had just arrived at the scene and didn't know whether or not the man required defibrillation.

Incidentally, last week was National CPR/AED Awareness Week--a time when the Red Cross promotes training lay responders CPR and using an AED. Yet, despite the fact that there were at least five people (before the firefighter came) trying to help the man, no one, myself included, had any sort of updated CPR training and so we were all second-guessing one another while trying to provide First Aid. I wanted to start chest compressions immediately, but people were telling me not to because it looked as though he was breathing (I later looked up the AHA guidelines that state that you shouldn't wait to see signs for normal breathing and that you should start chest compressions immediately). I couldn't remember how many chest compressions needed to be administered before giving the victim a breath, but since my last training, the guidelines had changed from 15 to 30. Initially, the victim was on his side, and when I asked for help in turning him over so I could check his airway, someone told me not to because he had been bleeding from his nose and they were worried that he'd choke from the blood. All I kept thinking was that time was running out for this man and if we didn't try to do anything, he wouldn't make it and that it was neither the time nor the place to stand around and argue about what should be done. The man needed to be resuscitated and if I had been more confident in knowing I was doing the right thing, I would have told everyone barking orders at me to shut the fuck up.

Friday night's turn of events left me feeling very sad, but it also prompted me to look into taking another CPR/AED class so I could keep my skills current. I don't ever want to be in the same situation of wondering if I'm doing the right thing.

UPDATE: I was in touch with the folks who organized the race and was told the man was still in the hospital, but doing fine.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Post in Which I Review the Book Skinny Bitch

Having some time to kill at Barnes and Noble the other night, I flipped through some pages of Skinny Bitch and began reading the "Protein Myth" chapter. The authors' profanity-laced language, peppered with statistics lured me in and I bought the book thinking it was a fresh, no-b.s. perspective on nutrition.

It was and it wasn't. On the one hand, they are justifiably quick to bash weight loss fads like the Atkins Diet, and to incorporate more fruits, vegetables and water into the daily diet; but the authors are saying that the only way to become skinny and to stay skinny is to become vegan, which is absolute b.s.. Their "all or nothing" approach sets readers up for failure if they are looking for guidance in weight loss. Sure, it's great if one can completely alter their lifestyle and quit all things meat, dairy and fish, but it's not realistic to most of us who are conscious as to what we put in our mouths but enjoy an occasional steak, salmon or omelet. As a thin person, and someone who had to, at one point, lose some weight, I can tell you first-hand that there's no need to become vegan to shed pounds and stay at a healthy weight. It's practicing moderation, coupled with exercise, that works.

The scare tactics in the book are off-putting as well. It's one thing to inform readers about the ills of factory farming, yet quite another to go into great detail about animal slaughter (watch King Corn--a much better approach). I just skipped those pages because it went from informative to downright gratuitous. They got a hold of some excerpts of slaughterhouse employees talking about the worst things they've ever done to animals and that whole section of the book just became tabloid. So how does a book gain credibility if it turns so many people off? Rather than completely abstain from meat and poultry, I've switched to supermarkets that carry meat from local, range-grazed or free-ranged animals. I pay more for it, but to me, it's worth it.

Same with dairy--the authors are insisting that cow's milk isn't any good for you and that anything dairy is evil. Again, there is middle ground, and it just takes a little research to find stores that sell products from local, responsible dairies.

Oddly enough, I didn't catch any place in the book where they educated the reader on pesticides used on fruits and vegetables--only meat. If you aren't paying attention to your produce selection, there's a good chance you're ingesting high levels of pesticides as well.

There were many places in the book where I felt they were providing less unbiased information and more product endorsement. The funny thing is, their suggestions were extremely limiting. Sure, sodas containing high fructose corn syrup OR aspartame are bad for you, but that doesn't mean you have to give up soda altogether. Why not research alternatives (and there are plenty out there) or buy naturally flavored carbonated water?

Bottom line, there was no balance in this book; it was highly opinionated, unrealistic, product endorsing drivel and I walked away with only two pieces of useful information: eat fruit for breakfast by itself; and remember to drink 64 ounces of water every day.

Somebody get me a buttercream cupcake.