Thursday, December 30, 2010

Name Recognition

You know you're a runner when:

You see the name "Bill Rodgers" listed as a dissertation committee member and you think, "Hey! How cool that he has the same name as the running legend!"

In other news, I have paronychia. That is what has been plaguing my wee little piggy toe since Thunder Road. My brother took about two seconds to diagnose me when I thrust my bare foot at him on Christmas. A visit to the doctor earlier this week confirmed it. I am taking antibiotics and have inserted a foam wedge between my little toe and the one next to it (is it considered one's "ring toe"?) to allow it to have room to breathe, so to speak. I escaped the lance because I took a needle to it myself about two weeks ago, which opened it enough to allow fluid drainage, but it wasn't healing because it was pressed against its neighbor. Hence the wedge.

When I got up this morning and made my trip to the bathroom, I realized as I was sitting on the throne that I had walked down the hall without limping and without holding my right foot in the awkward, curled-toes-side-of-foot configuration I was forced to adopt in order to keep my little piggy toe from touching the ground. Holy shit, it's actually getting better! I can see the light at the end of the bacteria-infected tunnel.

Last week I went for my first run since the marathon: the third annual Christmas Day 5K. It's not a race, it's just me running in my parents' neighborhood. My toe hurt like hell but I managed the 3.1 miles in just over 31 minutes. Other than that, I have been wallowing in sloth and gluttony and have no plans to cease either until the new year has started.

Have a Happy New Year, everyone!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Charlotte Nightlife

I said I wouldn't find anything to write about before the weekend. Apparently, I lied.

During my first night in Charlotte, I woke up abruptly because of a loud noise. Banging. Hammering. What the hell...? groggy thoughts as I pulled myself into consciousness. A thumping sound in the hallway. I tiptoed to the door and put my eye to the peephole. Some guy was slumped against the door of the room adjacent to mine (for reference, my room was at the end of a short hallway, and the entrance to the room next door was at 90 degrees to mine, so I could see everything). I watched, fascinated, as he swayed and bumped against the wall and doorframe. A limp hand pawed at the handle. Muffled incoherent mumbling. He pushed back and stood upright...or quasi-upright. I realized he was totally drunk and probably had no idea where he was. Another futile jiggle of the door to his room...then he turned and tried my door handle. My face was inches from his, but I wasn't frightened; in fact, I was having trouble suppressing laughter. He turned away and began stumbling down the hall, caroming off the walls. I heard a distinct "FUCK!" as he turned the corner and disappeared...only to reappear about five seconds later, whereupon he threw himself at his door, pounded on it a couple of times (did he expect it to open magically?), leaned against the frame, and then retraced his crooked steps down the hall, bouncing off the walls as he went. I waited at the peephole to see if he would come back, and when nothing happened I went back to bed. About five minutes later I heard noise in the hall: the tinny beeping of the electronic lock disengaging, then the chunk-crash of the door opening and closing. Drunk Guy had returned with a new keycard and was safe. All was well.

It's after noon and I am in my pajamas. Darwin is propped up on my arm on the computer desk, purring madly. I have some Christmas shopping to do, and we're still under a boil water advisory. Yesterday I saw "Black Swan," talk about a twisted (but awesome) movie. Later today I get to see two old friends and tomorrow I am heading to Ohio. Now, if only I could do something about this damn snow everywhere...

Off to shower. I'll try not to get any pathogen-infested water in my mouth.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I Want to See Other Races

Look, marathon, it's not you, it's me. I've just...well, maybe it is you. We've been together for a little over two years, and we had some really awesome times together (remember New York '09?) but lately I've been feeling like you don't really appreciate me. You haven't been very nice to me lately. I think...I want to take a break and see other distances. I'm sorry. I haven't been giving you the attention you deserve and that's not good for either of us. I'm not ruling out getting back together in the future, but right now I need some space to think about things and figure out what I really want from a relationship with you.

There's a hot little half marathon I want to date for a while, and some 10Ks hovering on the sidelines as well. Yeah, there are a lot of races competing for my attention, but you'll always have a special place in my heart, marathon.


So, yeah. I'm breaking up with the marathon for an indeterminate amount of time. I've completed five of them, and I've come to the realization that running that far...

...basically sucks. Even when I'm in peak physical condition (Cleveland '09) it still sucks. Since I'm not a fan of purposely inflicting pain on myself, I've decided not to do it again for a good long while. Yes, I want to run Chicago, and I'd like to run NYC again, and I dream about completing all of the "big five" marathons (I need Chicago, London, and Berlin, having already done Boston and NYC), but I believe 2011 is going to be a marathon-free year.

I'm going to concentrate on:

1. Losing weight
2. Getting a little bit of my speed back
3. Running and racing for fun with friends and family

I know I will be back in Cleveland for the half marathon in May, but that's the only race I am positive I will be doing. Other possibilities include the Martian Half (April) and a half marathon in Ft. Wayne in September. There is also the usual slew of local 5Ks and 10Ks that I have been doing every year (Shamrocks & Shenanigans, Dexter-Ann Arbor Run). I will have plenty to do, and the prospect of spending the year free of a rigid training schedule is enough to make me feel giddy. The thought of not having to get up early on a Saturday to run 14 or 16 miles in frigid weather...? DO YOU KNOW HOW HAPPY THAT MAKES ME?


My toe.

It is fucked up. I didn't say much else about it in my race report, but after peeling off my sock and peering at the digit, I realized something very bad had occurred. It's been 10 days since the race and it's not any better. I believe the nail is ingrown, it's infected, and still oozing a clear substance. It's extremely painful and makes walking difficult. I messed with it a little bit (poked it with a needle, peeled off some skin) which probably didn't help. I need medical assistance, but I will have to wait until next week after I return from Ohio.

Stupid toe.


Alarming things you do not want to have happen in the middle of the night: being woken up by a loud, strange noise coming from one's toilet. It sounded like my toilet was about to erupt. I was too scared to lift the tank lid to see what was happening so I just turned off the water valve. It wasn't until I got up for work at 7:00 that I learned Chelsea had experienced a major water main break around 1:00 am, which sent a half million gallons of water into the woods on the east side of town. The break was repaired, but my pipes are full of air (hence the bubbling toilet and spitting faucets). We're under a boil water advisory for at least the rest of today. I have to go home and run my faucets to get rid of the rest of the air and restore the water pressure. What a hassle.

In other news: today is my last day of work for six days! I won't be back in Cube World until Tuesday the 28th!

I probably won't find anything to write about before Christmas, so have a great holiday weekend, everyone!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Thunder Road Marathon: The South Rose Again

I knew I was in trouble when I saw the T-shirt that said "Flat is for sissies."

 I'm doomed
It was Friday morning in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I was at the race expo picking up my packet and some goodies (more cute hair bands). I had arrived in the city the day before, taken a taxi from the airport, and settled into my sweet 14th floor hotel room in the heart of "uptown" Charlotte. From my window I could see the Time Warner Arena, where the Charlotte Bobcats play. If I pressed my face against the glass I could just barely see the NASCAR Hall of Fame. I had a king-size bed and FIVE pillows (I love pillows). All this for only $89 a night!? Yes. Note to interested parties: if you ever want to visit Charlotte, I highly recommend the Hilton Center City. It rocks.

I was due to have dinner with one of my oldest friends, Ellen, Thursday night, so to pass the time until she was done with work I ventured down to the hotel bar and sampled some local microbrews from Red Oak (Greensboro) and Old Mecklenburg (Charlotte). At the restaurant with Ellen a few hours later I ate cornbread and grits and had a beer from Asheville's Highland Brewing (Black Mocha Stout, oh yum). I was in the South, after all, an area of the country I had limited experience with, and I wanted to absorb as much local flavor as I could.

Friday after the expo I lazed around my room waiting for Carolina John to show up. After two-plus years of being blogger buddies, we were finally going to meet each other! He arrived, and after some discussion, it was decided we would head to South Carolina for barbeque. I said that I had never been to South Carolina, one of only six states on my "states I have NOT been to" list, and, considering SC is extremely close to Charlotte, it was an irresistable temptation. Off we went in the car, a trip during which I learned about kudzu, the world's largest fireworks store (according to CJ, that's because Southerners like to "blow shit up"), the word "you'uns," (I believe it's a variation of "y'all"), and the giant butt in the sky (actually a water tower painted like a peach). We ended up in Gaffney, where I made my prerace dinner out of South Carolina chopped BBQ, hush puppies, baked beans, and a First Snow pale ale from RJ Rockers (Spartanburg, SC). Of this momentous meeting of run-bloggers, I sadly did not get a single picture of us together. Major fail.

Thus it was that I moved South Carolina onto my "states I have visited" list. I'm coming for you next, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Washington, and Alaska!

Back at the hotel, I decided it was time to wind down and go to bed. I didn't have to get up ridiculously early, because my hotel was a short walk away from the starting area, and the race didn't start until 7:45. What a welcome change-- not having to get up at 4:30 am the morning of a marathon! I readied my gear, set the alarm for 6:30, and settled in with my five pillows. I can't say I had a particularly restful slumber. It took me a long time to fall asleep, and I repeatedly woke during the night. I awakened at 6:29 and savored a final minute of rest before abruptly sitting up and saying to no one in particular, "Well, let's get this over with."

I got a banana and a cup of coffee from the quick breakfast offerings at the hotel restaurant, strapped on my various accessories, and headed to the starting area. I left the hotel perhaps a wee bit too late, because I was still frantically untangling my iPod headphones as the crowd began shuffling toward the starting line after the gun. I managed to get the 'phones settled and iPod going before I had to start running (but just barely).

I felt good, but I knew it wouldn't last. I was in for a world of pain, it was just a question of when it would arrive. Within a quarter-mile I was running down the street directly in front of my hotel. I thought, "I could just step out and go back in the hotel and forget this whole thing...I could in bed, all warm and relaxed, in less than five minutes."

I seriously considered this option for two seconds. Then I thought, "No, I came here to do this. I have a job to do today, so let's get it done."

Charlotte skyline. Yes, I stepped off to the side to take this picture.

The first half of the course was the nicest, and not just because I still felt fresh. We passed through some lovely residential neighborhoods of big houses, big lawns, and big trees where a lot of people were watching the race still dressed in their pajamas, holding cups emitting lazy curls of steam in the cold morning air. Groups of kids wrapped in blankets huddled on front lawns. I smelled barbeque more than once. I rolled with the hills, taking it super slow and easy. I was in no hurry at all.

I told you: big trees.

 In the early miles, when life was still good

Miles 1-13: 9:40, 10:10, 9:43, 9:43, 9:57, 9:34, 9:52, 9:56, 9:47, 9:50, 9:57, 10:17, 12:35 (first bathroom break). Time at the half: 2:12:57.

If I could hold my pace, I would finish close to 4:30, a time far off my best but about what I was expecting.

When the half marathoners peeled off and headed to their finish, I felt a brief, intense wave of jealously and longing wash over me. I would have done anything to be almost done, but I had half the race yet to run, and I was starting to feel the effects of my lack of training.

I didn't know it, but I would not run another sub-10:00 mile again. My pace started sliding...10:03, 10:12, 10:22...

It was during mile 17 that the shit really hit the fan. My feet were killing me and my quads weren't happy, either. Faced with yet another hill, I walked. I hadn't walked in a race since the May 2007 Blossom Time five-miler in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. I had always taken a certain amount of pride in my ability to power through any amount of pain and exhaustion in order to keep moving, never stopping. However, this time, I was done. I was toast. I walked. This pattern would repeat itself many times over the remaining 9 miles of the race: slow, painful jog, walk up a hill...slow, painful jog, walk up a hill. The knowledge that I had what felt like an insurmountable number of miles yet to cover made me want to cry. My legs were on fire, my feet were screaming in pain, and there was something funky going on with the pinky toe on my right foot (more on that later).

I barely remember anything about the second half of the race. I sank into a fog of pain and barely looked up from the pavement in front of me. I can't remember anything I saw. It's all an indistinct blur of buildings and streets. I know I took another bathroom break, and my Garmin split for mile 19 (16:40) reflects this. Somewhere along the way I passed a group of people with a table set up in their yard; they were handing out shots of beer. Of course I stopped and had one! I'm a hasher through and through, I never turn down small amounts of cheap beer, even in the midst of agony. A few miles later I came across another, larger, more boisterous bunch of folks partying in their yard. Some guy was standing there with a red plastic cup and I immediately pulled over and said, "I'll take that!" He said, "Are you sure, it's beer." He said most people stopped thinking it was water and, once they learned it was beer, continued on without drinking it. I replied, "Fuck yeah, I don't care," and slammed it. Once again, I'm a hasher, I never turn down beer on trail. At that point I was looking for anything to take my mind off the disaster that was my race.

With maybe three miles left, I decided I wanted to put an end to the agony as quickly as possible. It hurt more to walk and resume running again, so I was going to run the rest of the race NO MATTER HOW SHITTY I FELT. I have never wanted something to end as badly as that race, and the more time I spent running, the sooner it would be OVER.

I was crawling through the pain cave, totally immersed in my own suffering. My quads were at terror alert level red and every footfall felt like I was stepping on knives. I cursed all those missed long runs, cursed my flippant attitude toward training over the previous few months, cursed the extra 25 pounds hanging on me that made my knees and ankles ache. I was in as black and foul a mood as I have ever been in my life.

 Not feeling the love

But I was slowly, painfully, closing in on the finish. I was getting it done, the job I had come to Charlotte to do.

Mile 25. One mile to go. One fucking mile. And then: something happened to my toe. It felt like it had been squeezed and popped like an overripe tomato. If I thought it felt weird and uncomfortable before, this was something else entirely. I immediately stopped and started walking (and my feet and legs sent up a fresh chorus of agonized wails), limping badly. Some guy next to me asked if I was all right and I said, "Something really weird just happened to my toe, I think a blister popped or something!" He asked me if I wanted some water and I declined; that was the only thing that had gone right in this race: I was well-hydrated. No, I said, "I just want this to be over! We're so close to being done!"

I ground my teeth and forced myself to start moving again. Oh, my god, the pain in my foot was incredible, unreal. I felt wetness and I knew I was either squishing blood or some other body fluid around in my shoe. I was so tired by now I was bending forward...perhaps gravity would assist me in my controlled fall toward the end.

The final turn of the course was at mile 26, leaving me with a straight shot of less than a quarter-mile to the finish. I saw the banner in the distance and I kept my eyes glued to it while I jog-limped as fast as I could toward it. The pain cave was brightening; I was rising up out of the dark. I was almost...done...almost...

And then I was. Done. Oh sweet baby Jesus, I crossed the finish, I stopped, it was over. OVER.


I have never been so glad in my ENTIRE LIFE to be done with something as I was to be done with that race. That includes: taking the GRE, writing both my undergraduate and graduate theses, driving 750 miles in one day, remodeling my dining room, all four of my previous marathons combined, and shoveling my driveway for two hours in a blizzard. I may even go so far as to say the relief I felt exceeded the selfsame feelings I had when I woke up in recovery after my hysterectomy, knowing my long nightmare was finally over.

  I have a really weird look on my face, but the photographer surprised me. That, or I was too tired to smile properly.

I got my medal, Mylar blanket, a banana, and a bottle of water. I clutched the wrap around me and slowly limped back to the hotel. Thank god it was less than a quarter-mile away. I got to my room, let the door wheeze shut behind me, let the blanket drift to the floor, set the water and banana on the desk, and bookended my comment to myself from six and a half hours earlier with:

"That was the most horrible fucking thing I have ever done."

You know what, though? I did it. I finished. I worked harder and suffered more for that finisher's medal than in any previous race. I shed blood for this marathon, as I discovered when I peeled off my socks.

 Debris of disaster

 Completely exhausted, but strangely triumphant: I DID IT.

After cleaning up (holy god that hot shower felt good), I put on my awesome black compression socks ($5.00 at Meijer), some fresh clothes, and slooooowly limped my way up the street for...


I also ordered the most outrageous burger on the menu, the ULTIMATE BACON CHEDDAR, with "twice the bacon, three times the cheese." I was leaning toward the black bean burger (it's HEALTHY!) and then I thought, "FUCK THAT. I just ran a goddamn MARATHON, I burned at LEAST 3,000 calories, I'm going to get the GIANT PILE of BEEF, BACON, and CHEESE. I EARNED it!"

So I did. And it was fucking delicious. (So was the beer.)

A few hours later Ellen picked me up again and took me to her and her husband's place for dinner, where I consumed more beer and ate homemade shepherd's pie. I also made the acquaintance of their wonderful cat, Mr. G:

I was cat-deprived so I gave this handsome boy a TON of love. He had the most majestic whiskers and was super friendly.

I felt myself spiraling toward oblivion around 8:30 and I knew I didn't have much longer before I crashed. I hadn't taken a nap after the race and I was seriously circling the drain. I had Ellen take me back to the hotel where I immediately changed into my pajamas and then...WHAM. I collapsed into bed with my five pillows and finally allowed my aching, exhausted body to rest.

The next day I was in the Charlotte airport nervously awaiting departure. I knew a bad snowstorm was at that moment blanketing a large portion of the Midwest; I had seen the flight status boards covered with "DELAYED" and "CANCELLED" and I didn't want my flight to be among them. We boarded on time, left on time, and landed in Detroit ahead of schedule. However, this is what greeted me upon returning to my home state:

Welcome to Michigan!

Driving the forty miles home-- the final leg in my four-day odyssey-- was about as bad as you might expect given the above picture. When I arrived at my home sweet home, I did as little as possible (hang up coat, turn up furnace, retrieve mail, drop suitcase on floor) before crawling into bed and pulling the comforter up to my nose. 

Except for going to work, that's where I stayed for the next five days. The irritating sore throat which had been bothering me before the marathon took advantage of my weakened physical state and dove in for the kill. It quickly erupted into a full-blown chest cold. Monday and Tuesday were...I really have no words. Gruesome. Horrible. Miserable. I could barely walk; what I was doing was more like hobbling. My throat burned and my nose ran like a leaky faucet. My voice was a harsh croak. I came home from work and went straight to bed, totally spent from being awake for nine hours. I could do nothing more than lie there and read while ingesting cough medicine, Nyquil, and various pills. I turned my light off between 8:30 and 9:00 every night. I had no appetite and I lost eight pounds in less than a week. I hung on by the skin of my teeth until Friday when I finally took a day off from work. I was absolutely wasted. The marathon and being truly sick for the first time in years smashed me flat.

Well, there was one bright spot, which was Tuesday afternoon. I met one of my hashing buddies at an Ann Arbor beer bar for their Stouts & Porters Celebration. I had three amazing rich, dark beers. After parting ways I was walking through Nickels Arcade and passed a barber shop. I jerked to a halt, pivoted on my heel, went inside, and fifteen minutes later I emerged with my first real haircut in two years. I say "real" because the last "haircut" I had was the one I gave to myself a year ago with my utility scissors while standing in my bathtub. I had the barber eliminate a couple inches of raggedy frazzled crap and give some shape to the rest, which as allowed my curls to come out and play:

The best part: it only cost $16 ($20 with tip).I am a firm believer in cheap haircuts.

Today, my legs feel okay and the cold has receded, though it has left a sizable amount of flotsam in the form of goopy snot in my lungs and sinuses which I am perpetually hacking up. I still have very little desire to eat and not much energy. That's fine, however, since...


That's the best feeling of all.

Final stats: 4:54:34 (11:15/M), 66/88 F35-39, 1087/1295 OA

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


You know you ran a marathon recently when you have to use a handicapped stall every time you go to the bathroom. Those safety bars are the only thing standing between me and an embarrassing toilet-related incident.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Twelve Hour Shift

Yesterday morning my alarm went off at 5:55. Instead of bounding out of bed to run 3 miles, I reset it for an hour later. The cost of this extra hour snuggled in bed with the kitties was that I would have to run after work. Remember how I mentioned Punishment Runs last week? This was one of them.

I had to take one of the kitties to the vet first, and when I finished around 5:30 it was becoming dark and cold. I allowed myself a small mental whine of "I don't wanna go running's too dark!" before thinking, "Hey, stupid, you run in the morning when it's even darker and colder, so shut up, put the clothes on, and get out there. Jeez, it's only three miles, quit being such a baby."

So I did. I left the house at 6:15 PM instead of 6:15 AM. Same amount of light, same temperature, wholly different atmosphere. The traffic was heavier; it was the tail end of rush hour. There were more people walking dogs. The cemetery seemed less creepy. The ambient noise level was higher. I didn't feel as if I were the only person on earth as I often do in the early morning.

While I enjoyed being lazy and getting out of bed at the last possible moment, I prefer running in the morning. I like completing my run before I go to work, meaning I can proceed directly to comfortable clothes and the sofa when I get home in the afternoon. I enjoy the calm and quiet of the predawn streets. And yes, there is a selfish element of "I'm hardcore!" when I get up at 5:45 and run five or six miles, especially now that the temperatures when I leave the house are in the low 20s and it's snowing.

That said...once again, this morning, I didn't get up until 7:00, which means I will be doing another Punishment Run after work. Is this a trend? Will the trend become a habit...and then the normal routine?


Things you do not wish to experience before running a marathon:

Waking up with a scratchy throat and sniffles.

Since I began running, my immune system has become more robust and I rarely get sick. I know from experience that a sore throat, which used to be a harbinger of doom, will rarely morph into a full-blown cold. I hope that with my ample daily water intake (3 liters) and nightly sleep (7-8 hours) this thing will not progress past the minor annoyance stage.This race is going to be difficult enough without throwing a viral infection on top of it.

Tonight I must begin packing for my trip. The forecast for Saturday in Charlotte has race morning temperatures in the low forties, which is perfect. I'll pack clothing for any possible weather event and then I'll probably just end up wearing my trusty running skirt and Chelsea Market short-sleeved shirt.

Returning to Detroit could get ugly. Another major storm is predicted to blow through the Great Lakes region Saturday. I hope it leaves Michigan behind by Sunday afternoon. Nevertheless, I will have plenty of reading material on hand in case I end up trapped in airport hell. 

Only three days left until the race!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thursday Thoughts: Things are Looking Up

Wednesday morning's run was a huge improvement over Tuesday's, meaning I managed to stay upright and did not trip and fall on my face!

My knuckle is a mess. When I fell on top of it, a piece of my flesh was gouged out. There is a divot in the back of my hand. Next to it is a pasty, wrinkly thing I think is a flap of skin, yet I don't really feel like peeling it off. Next to that is an abrasion that perpetually weeps clear fluid. Yummy! My chin is starting to darken. I see the epic bruise approaching.

When I left the house this morning, there were snowflakes lazily drifting through the glow of the streetlight. It looked like the inside of a snow globe that had been freshly agitated. I ran five miles through the falling snow, feeling it dampen my face. I swung through the subdivision on the east side of town, and when I rounded a curve that would start me on my homeward trek, a brisk and cutting west wind smacked me in the face. I had kept the wind at my side or back until then and the sudden pushback and burst of snow into my eyes was an unwelcome reminder that the real meat of winter is irrevocably approaching. In two months when the snow is deep and hard-packed and the wind slices through my warmest clothing, I will long for this kind of morning.

Punishment runs. Who else does this? Hit the snooze button one too many times, thereby missing one's opportunity for a morning run: "I will run after work as punishment." Eat one too many sushi rolls or brownies: "Well, I guess I have to run an extra mile as punishment." I do this a lot. Guilt is a powerful motivator.

Last night I armed myself with my drain snake, a bucket, and a pair of latex gloves and did battle with my ever-recalcitrant kitchen sink drain. I snaked the fuck out of that thing, I snaked it so hard I ran the entire 25-foot length of the cord into the pipe from the kitchen and did it again from the basement. And you know what...I FIXED IT. I FIXED that fucker. FIXED. I solved a problem that had been a constant annoyance for years by making a slight adjustment to something, and it's FIXED. People, you don't know how satisfying it is for me to tackle a home maintenance issue and obtain a positive outcome. I am not a handyman type. I get nervous around tools. Taking things apart-- and having to put them back together correctly-- is frightening. Therefore, to face down plumbing and have everything turn out well is a huge ego boost. Next thing you know I'll rebuild my engine. :)