Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sightseeing Runs

I travel for work, often. Early on in this part of my career, a colleague once said to me, never leave the house without packing your running shoes. It is a bit of advice that I have taken to heart and not once have I gone away since then without them. I may not use them every day that I am gone but I have them as a constant reminder that I should. Sometimes, all it takes is just putting them on.

Before taking this job but after I started running, I also packed my running shoes wherever I went and started seeing the beauty of sightseeing runs. Some of my most memorable runs have taken place on other work related wine trips. I have run through some of the most spectacular vineyards in California - Santa Barbara, Napa, and Sonoma. I have run through the Dundee Hills in Oregon, and atop Red Mountain in Washington. I have taken runs in the dark on a tow path along the Loire river and a spectacular run at dawn through some grand cru vineyards in Champagne. I have even run around a little vineyard in the hills outside of Des Moines, Iowa.

My vacation runs have always been a fun way to get around and see some details that can be missed in a car or on a subway. A memorable long run in Paris stands out. I got caught in the rain in the middle of a 14 mile victory run on the river Seine near the Eiffel Tower. I was celebrating my divorce being final and spent three days in Paris - by myself - doing what ever the hell I wanted to do and not worrying about someone else's agenda. I opted to continue the run rather than dart into the metro. It was February and I would have gotten very cold had I stopped. The rain continued and the streets emptied of pedestrians. By the time I got back to my hotel near Republique, the sun had broken out and I was a completely new person. The rain had such a cleansing effect on all the emotional baggage that I came here to shed in the first place.

Central Park remains a favorite place to run, as I love the energy of the running community there and the beautiful views of Central Park South and West, particularly in the autumn. Runs on the beach in Mexico are always satisfying and a great way to release the tequila toxins from the night before.

My favorite sightseeing runs though, remain bridge runs. Work or vacation, races or leisure runs, I am fascinated by bridges and I will run across them at any given opportunity. The thrill of the start of the New York City marathon, remains, without question, the most exciting moment for any marathon runner. The Brooklyn Bridge is one I always try to run across when I am staying downtown. Portland, which is a place I travel to often for work has a whole assortment of interesting bridges to run and The Steel Bridge is one of my all time favorites. The most recent bridge in my bucket list though, is The Golden Gate Bridge. I have always wanted to take this one on and I finally got my chance yesterday.

According to my training schedule for an upcoming marathon, I needed to run 14 miles this weekend. I happened to be traveling on Sunday to San Francisco and it was 12 degrees in Chicago that morning. I could chose between getting up early and getting it in or postponing it for a day and running in San Francisco. It was the most no-brainer I had ever put before myself. My meetings wrapped up by 1:30 and by 2:00 I was headed down to the bay. Walking down the steep Divisadero street hill, I waited for the terrain to level off before starting. No need to aggravate the shin splints now.

I set out for The Presidio and two miles later, I was beginning the climb towards the bridge on a foot and bike path. It was a lovely day with just a hint of fog starting to roll in and the bridge loomed before me, leaving me breathless by its sheer beauty.

<<<< Not so beautiful image taken with my bad camera phone.

Despite the climbing, and like the start of the New York Marathon, the excitement of being on the bridge makes you forget how hard  your body is working to make the ascent. The tourists taking pictures, the cyclists, the ever present suicide hotline...none of it mattered. What mattered was me, traversing the span, looking down at the ocean and the container vessels coming into port, the transition from open sea to bay and the turgid waters below, the wind coming in, how I felt to be a  part of such a magnificent structure, the human scale of it and how the two of us were interacting with nature. Sheer joy!

I make it to the other side to people asking me if I had just really run across the bridge and how far was it. Yes, I pointed to the other side of the bay, and to the outcropping that is Fort Mason as my starting point and how it was about 4.3 miles away. I couldn't linger long because I didn't want my muscles to start getting cold. After all. I still had 10 more miles to go.

A quick snap with my bad camera phone just to have some proof of my accomplishment and I was off! Back on the other side, I chose to stay along The Embarcadero for flat running. A few miles back to where I started and I still had about 6 to go. An easy three along the bay and then three back. I made it to the base of the hill, where I stopped at a corner store for some recovery fluids and a banana. A four block walk back to my friend's place at the top of the hill were the most brutal 4 blocks I had ever walked in my life. The pitch of the hill acted as a good calf-stretching mechanism though, and I followed this with a long 45 minute stretching routine.

I almost  felt as if I could do it again this morning, almost.

Cancerous Setbacks

( I wrote this a month ago and only now, with some free time from the crazy business I call wine, was I able to finish it up and upload it)

I received some bad news recently. A dear friend and one who I consider to be one of the most influential people in my wine career has had a "cancerous setback", as he put it. Two years ago, I was in New York City for the 2008 Marathon and on the Friday before, spend a wonderful evening at the home of a friend. A simple dinner of roast chickens and a salad, some monumental wines, and lots of conviviality and laughter. My friend and his wife were there and that is when he first began noticing signs that something was not right, complaining to his wife that he felt strange and tired. Two weeks later he suffered a seizure and was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.

Back in 2005, when I ran my first NYC marathon, I became the subject of one of his blog entries. Much of it was tongue firmly planted in cheek, but if you knew this man, you would know that when he chooses you as subject matter in this manner, it is because he really is fond of you or because he has some legitimate gripe with you. Long story short, he has always been a part of my NYCM experience.

Fast forward to 2009 and the cancer treatment progresses. Chronicled in The Amazing Misadventures of Captain Tumor-Man, the blog has become a must-read for all the "wine illuminati". Treatment progressed and the tumor was eventually sent into a quiet dormancy and the outlook was positive. A few weeks ago, he went in for a routine MRI because he had started feeling very tired again and they found two more tumors. This week he will undergo some sort of gamma-knife surgery to try and reduce the size of these tumors. Rather than ask people to contribute to an organization stateside that works for some cancer concern or another, my friend asks that people donate to  Partners in Health, an organization that works towards providing basic healthcare services to those in the most dire need - people in places like Haiti and Peru. Fuck Cancer!

I am on the upswing following my mother's summer from hell after her own relapse with breast cancer. A spring surgery and a summer filled with chemotherapy has just been bookended with her reconstruction surgery. Signs are positive that the chemo destroyed the cancer. As a result of the outstanding treatment she received at the same facility 28 years ago when they had the foresight (or perhaps took a gamble) to remove all of her lymph nodes, the new tumor was largely contained to her breast and had nowhere to go.  Fuck Cancer!

A few weeks ago, I ran in an inaugural 5K called Matt's Mile. Matt was an active, athletic overacheiver at the age of 13 when he was diagnosed with a rare pediatric lymphoma which took him very quickly. On the day of the 5K, he would have turned 15. His father was a childhood classmate of mine and my very first exposure to cancer and the grief and devastation a loss such as that has on a family was when he lost his mother to throat cancer back when we were 11. We all learned a valuable lesson in mortality that day. Stricken twice and having confronted the agonizing loss of a child, he and his wife started The Twelve Oaks Foundation to help other families facing the same sorts of catastrophic illnesses. Fuck Cancer!

For three years now, my running endeavors have included a fundraising component with Team LiveSTRONG. I continue to believe in this organization for many reasons. Despite the fact that cancer takes people we love from us every day, we need to keep focusing on survivorship and empowering cancer patients to take control of their treatment options. The mission statement is "Unity is Strength, Knowledge is Power, Attitude is Everything". I will be running in the Austin Marathon this coming February. I started my 2010 LiveSTRONG Campaign when my mom was diagnosed this spring. I am starting my 2011 Campaign with the news of my friend's cancerous setback. Fuck Cancer!

My 2011 LiveSTRONG Fundraising Page

Monday, November 1, 2010

Watch Me

I have been parking in this spot way too long now and feel that its time to follow in the footsteps of some of the bloggers that most inspire me.

My runnerversary is March 20, 2003. I turned 39 that day. I was tipping the scales at 200 pounds. I was in a bad marriage and full of self-loathing. I dragged my rather large posterior out of bed that cold morning and decided to change things. It was the day that I started learning how to love myself again. One of those tag lines that I've seen recently is "running changes everything". I am not sure where I saw it but I know that its true and I hold that truth to be self-evident.

It took me a few months, but I got out there every day, each day pushing myself a bit more. Run a block, walk a block, run two blocks, walk a block. Eventually, I meshed the run/walk into a contiguous run and started to build the distance. Several months later, when I finally accomplished my first five mile run, I came home triumphantly. Recalling all those Chicago Marathons I had spectated at, watching Joan Benoit Samuelson, Ingrid Kristiansen and most recently Paula Radcliffe triumph in my city, I remembered that time, back in the 80's when I thought it would be really cool to run a marathon - I proudly said to my now ex husband - "Hey, I think I may want to train for the Chicago marathon." He laughed back at me, in that sneer that I can still picture today and said "You'll never run a marathon." After he walked away, rather than let his words send me back to that place where I hated myself, I said "Fuck you, watch me."

On October 10th, 2004 I crossed the finish line of the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon behind Constantina Dita-Tomescu and all the other great women before me and in that moment I became one of them - a marathoner. I will always refer to this marathon as my "fuck you marathon".

Several years and six marathons later, a chronic injury that I was finally able to rehabilitate, and I am back. 2010 was going to be my year. I was training for Chicago, but not doing all the right things. Constant shin splint pain was my reality and I had learned to live through the pain with lots of ibuprofen and ice. July 4th, a spectacular 14 mile run along the lakefront - except the pain is pretty bad and I spend the rest of the day icing it down. Three days later and its still there, five days, seven days and I am at the starting line of a 15k race in Traverse City on a gorgeous summer morning. At about mile 7, I finally realize that its something more than shin splints, but I keep going, wincing through the pain until I limp off the finish line. I didn't want to hear the words "stress fracture" but I knew that they were the words I had been avoiding for several weeks. I was in denial. I had The Rock and Roll Half Marathon, The Hood to Coast Relay, the Mexico City Tune Up race with my family, and 10-10-10 all lined up.

Two months of no running, intense physical therapy and time in the gym and I tentatively started running again in September. Week one - one mile every other day, week two - two miles every other day - well, you get the drill. A bit of pain along the injury site at first and then, as I got stronger, less and less pain there and more muscle pain in the side that I finally woke up with all the strength training and therapy, but it was the good kind of hurt. The hurt that tells you you are working some muscles that you never knew you had.

A Halloween Half Marathon on the calendar for 10-31 to keep me motivated is looming in the near distance and I am up to 5 miles the first week in October. Can I get to 13? Watch me! I keep up with the core work and runs every other day. Seven miles, then 8, then 10 on the 24th. The last mile is rough because I haven't gone that far since July 4th. By the time the week before the race rolls around, I am mentally ready to do it. An easy week with some short runs and lots of core work and as the weekend gets closer, I am determined. My PR would be anything faster than 2:24, easy. My goal would be anything under 2:10 and my secret goal is to be under 2:05. As luck would have it, some last minute course changes made the last mile long. Most garmins were saying anything between 13.4 and 13.55. My official time was 2:08:49 but in all likelihood, for the half, I probably came in at or very close to 2:05. Double that to 4:10 and it bests my marathon PR by 10 minutes. In a field of 115 women in my age group, I placed 36th too.

My next goal is to run a marathon in 2011 and get a BQ. In my age group, its sub 4. Watch me!