December 28, 2008

12.5 Mile Mission Accomplished

by Suzy

Okay, it was actually 12.6 miles. I want every inch of credit for this one because it was hard, hard, hard. I don't know if it's because we ran in the afternoon instead of our usual morning, or because I've been staying up too late doing Santa and fundraising stuff for the last week, or because I've had a cold the past several days, or because I had macaroni and cheese for lunch, or because 12.6 miles is just a really freaking long way. And of course, it doesn't really matter WHY. But it was hard.

We journeyed to San Francisco and ran along the Embarcadero, a big walkway along the bay. It was just Kirsten, Nicole, and me this time, and we figured it would be kind of quiet there late on a chilly, winter Sunday afternoon. Boy were we wrong! There were tons of people milling about, making it hard to fall into a good pace. At one point we were weaving through throngs of tourists and finally had to run along the streetcar tracks. I wish I could say that I was really zen about it, but it actually made me super cranky, and we weren't even that high up in mileage yet. Well, once we cleared the tourist zone and got to Crissy Field, closer to the Golden Gate Bridge, everything was better. The sun was setting and the light was stunningly beautiful on the water and on the bridge. I started hurting a little around that point, probably about 6 miles. Just feeling heavy and stiff. Somehow, whenever I would start thinking about it, Nicole or Kirsten would say something like "Look how beautiful it is here!" or "Isn't this light amazing!" and it would help pull me out of my head, make me look up and notice. Thanks for that, ladies!

So around 7.5 miles, at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, we had a bathroom break and ate a couple of weird energy gummy cube things that Kirsten brought (flavors: cola and margarita. Hmmm.) We admired the view of the bridge, and the city, and marveled at the distance we'd come (we could sort of see our starting point waaaaaaaay out there in the SF skyline). Mixed blessing - because of course, we were mindful that now we had to run all that way BACK to that point in the skyline... and it looked really far away! And when we started back up again, ugh! Creaky body, heavy legs, stiff muscles. Who slipped the anvils in my shoes? I've been sick on and off ever since the last long run of 11 miles over two weeks ago, so I haven't been quite as "on it" with training lately. But still! Owie! Anyhow, after we got a little warmed up again it was better, but pretty much the rest of the time I had to just look ahead, one foot in front of the other, and for God's sake don't think about how much is left.

Mile 10.5, we stopped for a little water break and rejoiced that we only had 2 miles left. This is where I got a little whiny (I'm big enough to admit it - everything just huuuuuurt!) and Kirsten and Nicole were big enough friends to kick my butt a little (just a little, and with affection). I needed a small dose of tough love and they were there to give it to me - that's what friends are for!

Okay, "only" 2 miles to go, but man, it felt like 5. We had to navigate though the tourist zone again, although we made a detour to avoid the worst of it. Kirsten had her fancy new Garmin watch that keeps track of all your stats, and when she told me there was still 1.4 to go, I couldn't believe it! I think that is by far the loooooongest two miles I've run yet.

But, (you guessed it) we did it. Sheesh, I felt so stiff when we finished that I could hardly walk, but we did it! Of course we were super pumped, thinking that this was so close to the distance of the half marathon (it's 13.1) and we knew that we could have kept going that little bit if we had to. So we KNOW we can do it, but I couldn't help wondering (hoping) that eventually I might be able to do it with a little less discomfort!

And now that it's over, I can say thanks again to Kirsten and Nicole for another great experience! Stephanie and Claudia, we missed you on this one, dears...

December 17, 2008

Confessions of an ex-runner

by Nicole
So I have to make a confession here. I'm actually not someone who has never run before. My mom, here visiting from the East Coast, is about to bust me ("Didn't you used to run five miles a day or something?" she chirped immediately), so I might as well come clean. I am, in fact, much worse than a non-runner. I am a failed runner. A runner has-been.

I ran all through high school: cross-country, indoor track, outdoor track. (Train all summer, and then repeat.) I ran all that time, and all that time I was, at best, the half-hearted runner. (Here from off-stage I hear a chorus of high-school friends, so okay, maybe I didn't exactly run "all that time," maybe at some point in my senior year I did everyone a favor and officially dropped out.) Anyway, I never really enjoyed it, all that running. I joined those teams because all my closest friends did -- and what, dear god, was I going to do after school if all of them were at the track?

I hated running so much that on those unstructured times, weekends and summers, I would procrastinate around it all day, then run at midnight.

I hated competing so much that at one point during a race, I faked an injury and got escorted, limping, to the first-aid tent. Then had to come up with realistic bruising and swelling for the next day. (Fake blood was not involved, but it might as well have been.)

I so infrequently showed up to practice that at one point, my coach was literally taking me aside every time I did. "Nicole," he would pronounce really, really slowly, as if I were perhaps just a little bit hard of hearing, "you could be a really good runner if you tried. So show up. Try." I'd nod slightly and scoot out of the room, unconvinced and unconvincing.

Then in college I fell in love.

I wandered (or was kind of nudged) into a modern dance class. And I loved it, I thought then, for all the reasons I had not loved running. I loved that it was so purely about form. Where the body goes, and when, and why. I loved that it was both logical and creative. I loved that it even at its most frustrating, when you felt the most dorky you've ever felt, it was impossible to leave class in a bad mood. And most of all, I loved that it was so complex and all-consuming, that in that hour-and-a-half or two hours of class, you absolutely couldn't be thinking about one. single. other. thing.

And running? What I would have dismissively told you until about two months ago: repetitive, mindless motion, all too often with no one to distract you but yourself. Quel horreur! Nothing but you and your thoughts and some long-ass miles ahead of you. I don't know how to put this in a way that reflects at all well, but in my teens and my twenties (and, um, a good portion of my thirties), my inner life could not be characterized as peaceful, exactly. And my outer life was in need of some, shall we say, fine-tuning. Thus: the notion of long hours alone with my thoughts? Hell. Actually.

And so here I am, in my forties, and I gotta say, I only agreed to do this run because Suzy asked me to (sheepishly, and kind of giggling, so I could take it as a joke if I wanted to), and have I mentioned that I adore Suzy? And because Mielle is so sick, and -- you gotta meet this kid -- it's been wrenching to watch and not really be able to do anything.

Nothing in me wanted to run again. You know, the actual running part. I might as well have signed up for a chess-athon, if you see what I mean.

And you know what? Well yes -- and I say this not just because I'm writing on this particular blog -- but I too am loving it. So much so that I spend a lot of those long hours pondering what has made the difference. And there are many factors. There's running for a cause: Mielle, and a cure for that shite disease. Which cause makes me, quite simply, not want to give up. Not at mile two, not at mile six, and not, most recently, at mile eleven. (Which, I gotta say, Suze and I -- woo-hoo! -- rocked.) There's running with a goal in mind: a half-marathon. In my previous runnerly incarnation, my only goals were races I really didn't care about winning. But I like long-shot goals -- becoming a professional dancer after starting at age nineteen was one of them. And running a half-marathon after not running for decades (except, in my one attempt last summer, to utterly blow out my ankle), that seemed like a stretch at best. So I kind of had to bite down on that crazy notion and not let go as well.

There's running with really good company -- and this part I do remember. Nothing like a pack of awesome girls to keep you going and keep you chatting. (Only in high school, we'd divert and run right to the local donut store. With the mamajog gang, we're tenacious about sticking to the mileage. Only after it's lattes and pain-au-chocolat, thank you very much.) Not all of us were really close or even knew each other before we started to train, but these five mamas, I gotta tell you, have logged some good miles together. I haven't really had a gal-pack for a while, since moving from the city to Alameda a couple of years ago, and I had been missing that.

There's all that other stuff too, that we all know but, damn, who has the time to pay attention to. Energy. (I don't wilt at four pm every afternoon anymore.) Muscles. (I have them again.) Air. (It feels really nice to breathe it in.) Intangibles. (A friend just glanced at me as we were picking up our kids from kindergarten, and she literally did a little mini-double-take. "Not that you looked bad before," she began delicately, "but you look great -- and completely different since you started running.") So. What could be more gratifying than all that, two kids and forty-two years later?

But -- what of those weekdays where it's just me and the hard road and the endless miles? (Yeah, well, you all see this coming. But I didn't.) Yup, there it is: I love the time alone with my thoughts. Even the difficult thoughts. Because hey, I have two small children, mulling is a privilege nowadays. And maybe, just maybe, I'm liking what I'm finding, in there. Or at least I'm interested enough to want to know more.

So -- four miles to go. Perfect. Just right.

December 10, 2008

11 Mile Mission Accomplished

by Suzy
Today it was just Nicole and me. Just so happens that neither of us can make it on Sunday for the regularly-scheduled long run, so we found the only alternate time that would work for us both - 7 am on Wednesday - because neither of us had any desire to tackle 11 miles, for the very first time, all alone!

It's so strange how different things are from run to run. I wrote about how 9.5 miles turned out to be such a great run, and not actually that painful at all. Well, we both felt immediately that today would be different, but we both kept mum about it for quite a while. Since it was just the two of us, we able to enjoy a couple of really long, meaty conversations, the type we normally never get to have in an uninterrupted fashion. It was lovely, despite the feeling that I was dragging a couple pieces of lead along with me on this run.

We did our best to just keep putting one foot in front of the other and not think about, or talk about how hard things felt... and eventually we made it. We were pretty much totally spent, but we made it. It's a great feeling to think that we are now within striking distance of the actual 1/2 marathon distance - it's not some distant, future thing anymore - we just did eleven, and lived to tell the tale! To think we only started a couple of months ago...

11 miles down. Next long run, 12.5! (gulp!)

To the rest of Team Mielle - good luck on Sunday and we can't wait to hear how 11 goes for you ladies!

December 5, 2008

Sunday mornings, revised

by Claudia
When Suzy told me about her running-idea (you know, the "uhmmmm, I am thinking about doing this...ehhhhm...(mumblemumble) Half-Marathon-kind-of-thing for Mielle"), my first thought was: "I want to do this with you!" Then again - this was immediately followed by "I am NOT a runner, there's just no way can I do this".

The last time I ran was in high-school, and all I remember is that I'd usually give up about 15-20 Minutes in, with painful stitches in my sides, totally out of breath, and redfaced like a fresh-cooked lobster. Needless to say: the running-thing didn't really grow on me back then, and I hadn't ever given it a second thought since. Running just wasn't for me.

On the flipside, the thought of being able to actively do something to help Mielle just made me so happy, how could I pass up this opportunity?

After sitting on this for about a week, and having a lot of back-and-forth arguments with myself about the question of whether I could even think about trying to do this, I decided to do a little "test-run" at the Gym to see if I would fall off the treadmill after 1/2 mile.

To my immense surprise, I was able to make it through 4 miles without too much pain, and at a reasonable speed. That gave me the courage to try again a few days later (this might have been just a fluke, after all), and I made it again.

So the following Sunday, I dared to join the running team for a (gulp) 6.5 mile run, and told myself that I could always walk back after 3 or 4 if it got too tough (did I mention that I never ran on the street before??). I made it. That made me curious: if I could do 6.5 miles, maybe I could do 8? Who knew? So 2 weeks later, I joined in for the 8-miler, and....made that one, too!

I guess that now, I will have to completely revise the picture of myself that I have in my head: I found that not only CAN I RUN, but I also greatly enjoy it, when I have good company. I have been finding out even more things along the way that really surprised me: I actually ENJOY running and chatting with these great women at 7:30 am on a Sunday morning, even though I am not at all a morning-person and usually need my coffee and a 1/2 hour of complete quiet and solitude before I am ready to face the new day.

Sunday is the one day I might get to sleep in a little (my husband works Saturdays, so this is the only chance we get during the week to stay in bed a little longer)....but the world looks beautiful at 7:30 am. The air smells good. The light is so pretty. And making it past the finish-line for the day's run and high-fiving each other because of it, and feeling so proud of ourselves that we made it is just priceless.

I am grateful for having joined this really really kind and supportive group of women to run with (it's actually their encouraging cheers that got me going past the 4 miles, as well as their funny-crack-up stories), who make me want to roll out of bed at the crack of dawn on a Sunday to run around town. By the way, who would have thought you could run and talk at the same time?

So here it is, my personal theme for the year 2008: don't listen to that crabby little voice inside that tells you you can't do something. Because you never know.....

December 4, 2008

Turkey Trot!

On Thanksgiving, Kirsten, Steph and I ran the Turkey Trot through Golden Gate Park in San Francisco (Claudia was out with the flu, and Nicole was nursing a tender ankle). It's a 5-mile trail run with an emphasis on fun - people dressed up like pilgrims, etc. (although there was fairly hardcore group of competitors up at the front, as we quickly discovered.)

For Steph and me, it was our first race ever. Kirsten is the seasoned pro in our group, so this was old hat for her. Anyhow, we bought some Nike headbands, glue-gunned some feathers to the back, and made up some special Mielle T-shirts (THANK YOU BILLY, for the awesome design and the hours spent crafting them). Here we are, pre-race:

Right before the race began, we made a last-minute dash to the port-a-potties, which were located just beyond the starting point. So, in our rush to get back into the group before the starting horn sounded, we found ourselves right in the front of the pack with all the really serious, and seriously buff runners. Needless to say, the instant the horn blew, Steph and I got totally dusted, but Kirsten was swept away with the crowd and ended up keeping pace with that front group the whole race. Badass!

Here we are, less than halfway - Kirsten first, Steph and me far, far behind. Note the turkey head on the woman behind Kirsten... we are SO getting those hats for next year!

This race was mostly all trail and meadow, with a few small hills. Nothing major, but enough to kick our butts just a little. We mostly train on totally flat ground - what a difference a few little hills make!

Okay, here we are crossing the finish.

Note Kirsten smoking that gal behind her. Note that I TOTALLY smoked that lady with the jogging stroller - hee-yah! And Stephanie rocked the race despite a cold that was dragging her down...

I found my girl for a post-race hug, which was obviously way more satisfying for me than it was for her.

And the highlight of the day... after a long and sort of droning and tedious award ceremony, there was a raffle... and guess who won? Kirsten won a whole freakin' turkey dinner! (Uncooked, sadly...) And me, I won a pie. We totally freaked out with excitement and made big spectacles of ourselves. But honestly - a pie! (Never mind that I had baked two of them the previous day). WINNING a pie ROCKS under any circumstances.

So, who's joining us next year? ; )

December 3, 2008

That wasn't there before

by Suzy
I was putting some lotion on my legs last night, and when I pivoted my foot in a certain way I noticed this big hard lump of a muscle on my calf. Sweet.

December 2, 2008

9.5 Mile Mission Accomplished

by Suzy
Yup, we did it. Well, most of us did. Claudia got knocked out with a knee issue but as a consolation prize struck up a friendship with two 75-year-old gents she met on the trail.

Here we are, arriving in the wee hours on Sunday morn.

We are so blessed to have such lovely places to run. Nicole had mapped out a loop-dee-loop run that was almost entirely along the bay or the tree-lined estuary. Lovely, and not too painful. We were all pleasantly surprised at how UN-painful this run was (all except Claudia, of course!).

Here we are after the run:

We didn't have anyone to take the pic so we had to do two. I need to dig out this hilarious photo accessory called the ultrapod. My husband mocked me mercilessly when I bought it years ago, but it's a cool little thing that lets you strap your camera to a tree or whatever for self-timer shots. It is AWESOME!!

Next long run? 11 miles....

December 1, 2008

Give a Little, Get a Little

by Kirsten
One of the reasons I’ve picked running back up is that I have two kids. And a husband. And with them come baggage; real baggage. I’m always hauling around something now--a diaper bag, a computer bag, groceries, kids, worries. In the daily grind of life and agendas and deadlines and all the things I pack in bags and cars for “just in case,” there is very little that is more nourishing for me than putting on my running shoes and just heading out in the dark dawn. No watch, no diapers, no sippie cup, no snacks, I just head out to nowhere in particular, with no particular goal. Generally I run about an hour and I usually run the same course everyday. I don’t like to think too hard about it. I don’t need it to be any great experience. Just getting out, being alone, being free, this is the great experience for me. It never really gets old.

So while I didn’t hesitate for a second when Suzy asked if I might like to run with her for the upcoming ½ marathon in Carlsbad to help raise money for CureJM, I was nervous about widening my circle of one. Because if there is one other reason I run, it’s that running is the one thing I get to be totally selfish about. I do it on my time, at my pace, in my way. This is a 100% contrast to how I live the rest of my life. There are places I have to be, responsibilities I am accountable to. All day long. But running is all mine and I don’t like sharing it. So while I didn’t hesitate, I was a bit worried that I’d opened up my slightly sacred relationship with running in a careless and perhaps dangerous way.

Two months and 5 people later, it turns out I was right to be worried—yet totally wrong. Emails about whatever upcoming run we have that weekend fly around all week long. One person has to run early, another person doesn’t want to run that early, this person isn’t feeling great and might skip out, that person is suggesting a new run that no one else wants to do. And it starts to drive me completely nuts. And I start to get annoyed that the one thing I like to do because of how easy it is, is getting so complicated and I think about maybe just skipping the logistical acrobatics and just go it alone. But the emails keep on coming. We’re all moms and we all work and we all are in this to support Suzy and we all really enjoy the long weekend runs, so we keep the emails going until we decide on a time and a place.

The time and place are basically never my first choice. But I show up because I don’t want to admit to being such a big selfish jerk as to rather run alone that have to accommodate anyone. It’s early Sunday morning. If there is one common sentiment it is that none of us would be there except for how hard we all worked to ensure everyone could be there. There is a flurry of hugs and morning chatter as well as a palpable sense of dread and excitement about the miles that lie ahead.

Before we’re even stretching I’m a little humbled by the pink morning sky, the quiet November light over the bay, and these women with whom I’m laughing and am so grateful for. And as we take our first steps I’m once again reminded that just getting out, being alone with my friends, being free, this is the great experience for me. It never really gets old.

November 29, 2008

9.5 miles tomorrow!

by Suzy
We're following a training schedule to prepare us for the race at the end of January, and basically it goes like this: 2-3 short runs over the course of the week, and an ever-longer long run every other weekend. Technically, you're also supposed to cross train and whatnot on the non-running days... hmmm, does picking up a toddler 400 times per day count? If so, I'm golden!

So far we've conquered the 4-, 6.5-, and 8-mile long runs. Tomorrow we are getting together bright and early for the next frontier, 9.5 freaking miles. For 4 out of 5 of us, each long run represents the farthest we have EVER RUN BEFORE. And this is actually quite an intense feeling!

Kirsten (she's the one that has actually run a marathon and a bunch of other races already) was chatting with me about this, and she made a good point. Each time you run farther than you ever have before, it's like venturing into completely unknown territory. What might happen? Who knows? Maybe you'll spontaneously combust, or turn invisible, or enter a parallel universe. I mean, honestly, anything is possible, right, when you make your body do something it's never ever done before!

So each long run is kind nerve-wracking, but very exciting. In the day or two before 6.5 miles, I got so nervous I couldn't even sleep. But that went fine, so I felt a little more chill about 8 miles. And that went fine. Now we find ourselves at 9.5, which is awfully darn close to 10, which seems like an awfully big number. I'm not nervous in the same way that I was, but I'm getting a little bit of anxiety about the physicality of it - the question, will my body actually do this?

So far I love running, way more than I ever dreamed possible, and I want to keep on doing it for a long time to come. I'm being careful, but I also feel like there is an element of luck to whether one can maintain running without injury. So far, I've been lucky... but will it last?

November 28, 2008


by Suzy
So I had this tiny little glimmer of an idea to run, and then BAM! Instantly came the fear.

So many fears. Fear of taking on one more responsibility when I already felt drowning in responsibility. Fear that I might actually have bad knees, and be physically unsuited to running. Fear of telling the world and then feeling foolish if it didn't work out. Simply put, fear of failing (with some additional fear around how such a failure might damage my already fragile emotional state).

For a long time, a couple of weeks, I told no one about my idea. I just thought about it. I honestly couldn't tell if it was the best idea ever, or the worst idea ever - but I was pretty sure it was one or the other.

Finally, I told my husband. It sounded something like this: Umm, I kind of have this crazy idea, oh I don't know, it's really weird, you see Cure JM does this run and umm... I was sort of thinking about maybe, oh I don't know, possibly thinking about ummm trying to maybe, uh, try to run the half marathon. I could barely even speak the words; I mumbled, I blushed. It was just so far outside of the way I see myself in the world. But hubby understood, and was supportive.

I continued to mull it over. Finally, I composed an email to two fabulous friends, Kirsten and Steph. I knew that they ran, and in fact Kirsten had invited me to try running with her a month prior to all of this. (Which is actually very significant because if Kirsten hadn't extended that invitation, I'm not sure if my glimmer of an idea would have been sparked at all.) Anyhow, I wrote an email describing my idea to run, and then my finger hovered over the "send" key. I hesitated a long time because I knew that sending that email meant I was making a commitment; I knew that they would be completely enthusiastic, and would sweep me up and off we'd go.

Which is exactly what happened. Very soon, Stephanie took me to a good running store (See Jane Run) to buy proper shoes. I felt dorky and self conscious in the store. When asked whether I was training for a particular event, or just casually running, I gave a long, rambling, incoherent answer... well, uh, I'm not really sure, I mean you know, uh, I'm thinking of maybe trying to try a (ahem) half (cough) marathon, but I've never, umm, you know, run, and I really don't know... and on and on. So embarrassing.

A few days after that, I laced up those shoes and went for my first run. I ran for 17 minutes - didn't want to overdo it! - and again, felt incredibly dorky and self conscious the entire time. Like everyone could take one look and tell that I was a faker, that I didn't have a clue what I was doing.

I know it probably seems silly that I felt so excruciatingly awkward about something as simple and commonplace as running, but for me, this was stepping far out of my comfort zone, far out of my own idea of who I am.

The Idea

by Suzy
First, I had an idea. And then, I was afraid.

The idea was this: to train and run a 1/2 marathon (13.1 miles) to raise awareness and funds for research into juvenile dermatomyositis, a terrible autoimmune disease that affects 3 children out of a million. A disease that affects my daughter.

Here's the backstory. Mielle was diagnosed nearly a year prior... so it had been months of doctor appointments, blood draws, and incredibly intense medications - steroids, chemotherapy, and others - with incredibly intense side effects - weight gain, moodiness and rage. At first she got better, but several months in she relapsed. She was getting worse again. We were panicked. We lost faith in her doctor. We found a new one, and Mielle started intravenous steroid treatments and weekly injections. She kicked and screamed herself hoarse with every poke of the needle.

Finally, finally, things began to turn around. Mielle improved. The new regime of meds was working. We were able to pull back on her steroid dose, ever so slowly, and the side effects began to decrease, ever so slowly. Things were going in a good direction.

And then I got an email from Shari Hume, co-founder of Cure JM, a parent and grandparent-led organization that funds research into this disease, and provides critical information and support to families like ours. In Shari's email, she asked me to consider participating in a run.

Cure JM is an invaluable resource for us in SO many ways. I already knew that the Carlsbad marathon was their major fundraising event. And in the past, I thought about running, and dismissed the idea... Yeah, I'll raise money, but I won't run. I CAN'T run. I mean, I have bad knees... I'm sure I do. (Not that I'd ever actually tried to run, mind you.) I really never gave it more thought than that. I'm no athlete. I'm not a runner; I don't run.

But somehow, on that particular day, for whatever reason, a little glimmer of a possibility flickered. Maybe I could run. Maybe I SHOULD run. Dealing with this disease had taken a huge emotional toll. Maybe running would help me cope. Maybe running would make me feel like something positive could come out of this ordeal, that one can be strong in the face of adversity. Maybe, by running, I could show Mielle that she is loved and supported beyond measure; that anything is possible; that SHE can do anything, in spite of this disease. Maybe...