Friday, February 3, 2012

The Ridiculous Runner

It’s been a few weeks since I returned back to Juneau after completing my run. Friends keep asking me how it was and more importantly, will I keep running?

The night I got back to Juneau, I crept into the girl’s room and draped my finisher’s medal over Lena’s bedpost. It was the first thing she set her eyes on upon waking up. She shot up out of bed, grabbed the medal, widened her eyes and happily said, “So you did win the race! See mom, I told you that you could do it!”

The night before I left for my race, Lena asked me if I was going to win. I told her it was highly doubtful and that I was just running to run- not to win. She wasn’t convinced and went about taking me on training laps around the living room, proving to me that I could indeed run fast.

As she clutched my medal up to her chest, I explained to her that everyone who completed the run got a medal and no, I did not win and I was okay with that. She assured me that coming in 2nd was just as good. (How about somewhere in the 13,000th range?) Then Lena noticed the small icon of the castle on the ribbon. “Did you go to Disneyland?” It was not the Donald Duck Medal, it was not the words, “DISNEYWORLD”, it was the ½” castle logo that got her attention. I dodged this question once and I didn’t want to dodge it again so I admitted that yes, I did go to Disneyland. The next question out of her mouth was whether or not I saw any princesses. I truthfully answered no because I didn’t. Upon hearing that I did not see princesses, she dropped the Disneyland topic and moved on to other questions about the run. Did I wear pink shorts? Did I run fast? How far did I run? And then she asked the mother of all questions:
“Mommy? At any point during the run did you just stop and think: this is absolutely ridiculous?”

Amazed this question came out of a four year old mouth, I sat on the edge of her bed stunned. I thought about it for a second and answered, “Yes. When I was outside freezing for two hours wearing nothing but a garbage bag, I wondered why I was doing it.” Lena seemed satisfied with my answer and asked if she could have cereal for breakfast.

Lena took my medal to school where she told the story of my race, which was upstaged by her story of how I caught fire to our kitchen and melted my shoe on the floor while putting out the fire. Apparently it’s more exciting to talk about your mother setting fire to the kitchen stove and floor than telling about her running 13 miles, yawn. But the kids seemed pleased with the medal nonetheless. After the kids passed it around, it was left at the “polishing station” and the kids took turns polishing it. Got to love that Montessori slave labor!

Later in the week I received the link to the official race photos. In my previous post I mentioned that I smiled throughout the entire run. Yeah, let me take that back. These pictures are proof that I did not. Yes, some are showing toothy grins, but others, well, others look like someone is sticking a hot iron to me, especially the one with Epcot in the background at mile 12. Seriously horrific. I did break down and buy a couple of the good ones. It’s not every day that you get to run through Snow White’s castle with 27,000 other people.

So, the answer remains, am I going to continue running now that I don’t have to train? Yes.

I ran this summer and fall because I had to train for my race. But I will keep running just because I want to. I don’t know if I’ll participate in more races of this magnitude. After all, I did find it absolutely ridiculous I had to stand 2 hours in the cold just so I could run 13.1 miles with a bunch of other people. Nevertheless, I am glad I experienced it.

My first week back in Juneau I went to the gym and discovered every treadmill was being used. I stood there perturbed with my brow knit, wondering how long I’d have to wait for one to free up, when I came to the sudden realization that I can now consider myself a real runner. If I am annoyed that I can’t go running on a treadmill, that really speaks volumes.

Here are a few shots where I’m not looking as though someone is torturing me. I also feel obliged to point out that even though I run very slowly, I ran faster than the 3 hours 4 minutes projected on the clock! That time measures the time the race began, and the first corral of runners crossed the start line. I was in the 4th corral, so shave about 30 minutes off that time.

Running through the castle
This is my "Game-Face"
There are still smiles to be had around mile 10

I am so talented, I can run 13.1 miles with
my eyes closed
Don't stop moving when you cross
the finish line...I crashed into her.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

What dumb ass leaves their medal on the table?

I knew something was wrong as soon as my plane touched down in Orlando at 6:45 AM.  I felt really dizzy and sort of out of it, making it difficult for me to maneuver my way through the unfamiliar airport.

After collecting my bag, I wandered around the airport lost and confused wondering if all I needed was a shot of caffeine to help me focus.  After 45 minutes of riding escalators up and down, up and down pointlessly, I finally found the Magic Express bus to Disney World.  When I boarded the bus, I noticed several families with very excited kids bouncing up and down eager for the fun to begin.  I took a seat in the front row and the bus driver announced it would take 35-minutes to complete the journey to Disney World and the four hotels we needed to stop at.  My hotel was the last stop, and I was in for the long haul.

I started to notice that everyone was complaining about how cold it was, meanwhile, I had beads of sweat rolling down my face as I stripped off layers frantically trying to cool off.  Could I have a fever?  Na…

About five minutes into the drive, my mouth started to water and that oh-so-not-good feeling one gets before they heave their guts out started to take over me.  I quickly scanned the bus wondering what I could throw up in.  Seeing no barf bags, my only option would be my backpack, which housed my laptop and clothes.  I told myself I could not puke in my backpack and I definitely did not want to ruin the other passenger’s trip to Disney World by vomiting in the aisle. 

It was a grueling drive to the hotel with “Yo, Ho, Ho, Ho a Pirate’s Life for Me” blasting over the speakers.  Once in the park, we weaved in and out of palm trees and Ponderosa pines, jolting to abrupt stops at every stop sign.  After what seemed like eternity, the Magical Express from hell arrived at my hotel.  It was about 8 am and I was keeping my fingers crossed they’d let me check in before the 3 pm check in time.  I must have looked fantastic because as soon as I entered the lobby, the hotel concierge took one look at me and very seriously asked, “Do you need me to call 911?”  I told him no, quickly asking where the nearest bathroom was and hastily making my way to it where I proceeded to hug the porcelain god.  Good times are to be had at Disney!

The hotel graciously gave me a room and told me it was very close, just around the lake. They might as well told me to walk back to Juneau because “just around the lake and over the bridge” ended up being a wild goose chase for an incoherent woman who had to stop at every trash bin to dry heave.  I kept on keeping on, knowing I would be rewarded with my very own toilet when I reached the end of my Shackleton-like expedition.  I did see a hammock along the way and was very tempted to crawl inside it and die, but thankfully common sense resounded and told me that wasn’t a very good idea.

I finally made it to my room and proceeded to spend the next several hours lying on the bathroom floor getting up only to puke.   At about 9 PM, I was able to keep some water down and forced myself to eat some “Gu” gel, which was absolutely disgusting, but full of electrolytes my body desperately needed.

I did not raise $4,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and travel over 5,000 miles to sleep on a bathroom floor.  I gave myself a pep talk and promised myself that I would persevere- no matter what. 

I forced myself out of bed at 6 AM the next morning and headed out for the team run and breakfast.  I managed to run the 1.6 miles around the lake and keep up with the group, but I didn’t feel so hot afterwards.  I wanted to puke, and my asthma kicked in pretty seriously which took me by surprise.  I haven’t carried my inhaler on any of my previous runs and here I was, a good 5-minute walk back to my room and inhaler, and I felt like I was going to hyperventilate and pass out.  I clung desperately to a light post and hung on tight as the world spun around me, repeating in my head, “Don’t pass out.  Don’t pass out.” All my teammates avoided me like the plague and ran inside to get their breakfast.  Word had quickly spread about my illness and no one wanted me near them.  Neither did Brock who texted me a lot the previous day to make sure I was still alive, but warned that unless I needed something, he would not be coming by to pay a visit.  I was not offended. 

When I finally felt like I could walk without passing out, I joined my team for breakfast.  To my surprise, the Canadian Flex team joined our US Flex team for breakfast, which meant Brock was already sitting in the room when I stumbled in.  We “air-hugged” each other, keeping a wide distance between us.  He later told me that when I walked in the room, his first thought was, “Oh, that poor woman.  She looks horrible.  Oh wait!  That’s Franny!”  He also told me I looked more like I had cancer now than I did when I actually had it.  Brock really is a nice guy, really, he is.  I just looked (and felt) like crap and there was no way to disguise it.

After eating breakfast I had a bit more energy, so I picked up my bib and joined Brock and his dad at Epcot.  We went on a few of the more gentle rides, which was a good choice since my stomach was still churning from the previous day.

Later in the evening, I attended the Inspiration Dinner for Team in Training.  There were about 1,000 people in attendance, with teams from different states/provinces sitting at tables together.  I attended one a few years back with Brock in Seattle, and let me tell you, they are tearjerkers. 

Runners are encouraged to contribute photos of the individuals they are running for and those photos are included in a slideshow and displayed on two giant screens during the dinner. I had a very hard time looking at the slideshow.  Not all runners are racing in honor of a survivor; many of us run in memory of someone we have lost.  Many of the photos were young and beautiful children and it is really hard to see the words, “In Memory” written above their names.  I concentrated on eating my salad, while desperately trying to avoid seeing my submissions of Don and Wendy because I knew if I saw them, the tears would start to flow.  Of course, I looked up just in time to see Don’s unmistakable smile followed by Wendy’s cowboy hat photo, “IN MEMORY” printed above both their names. 

I surprised myself and didn’t cry; instead I smiled and felt nothing but love and encouragement.  Later in the slideshow I saw a picture that Brock submitted unbeknownst to me.  The photo was of us at the Seattle race that he ran in my honor while I was undergoing my radiation.  Bald and fifty pounds heavier than I am now, I was unrecognizable, but my tablemates saw my name and cheered. I admit to getting a bit choked up.

The evening proceeded with keynote speakers, including Ethan Zohn who randomly appeared in one of my November blog post.  What a coincidence!

We learned that collectively, Team in Training raised over $3 million dollars in funds for Leukemia and Lymphoma research for this race alone.  Wow! 

Sadly, only some of the names. Not all are were added at this point 
The evening ended with us decorating our jerseys.  I already had Don and Wendy’s names written on the jersey, but I decided to add the names of a few more of my friends and family who are either survivors or currently going through treatment, as well as my Aunt Pat who died two years ago of Ovarian Cancer.  I felt strength and hope as I wrote the names of Eve, Janice, Marr, Brynn, Geri, Kris, Julia, Penny C., my dad, and Emily.  Right as I finished writing the last name on the shirt, I recieved a message on my phone from a friend telling me she was just diagnosed with cancer that very day. My heart sank knowing she too has a young family and she’s going to be headed into one hell of a battle.  I added a twelfth name and went to bed.

After only 4 hours of sleep, I woke up at 2 am, ate a light breakfast and met my team at 3 am to board the bus to the start line.  The first corral of runners needed to start at 5:30 am, and organizing 27,000 people takes a bit of time, which is why we needed to arrive so early.

Thousands of runners bounced in place as we waited, and waited, and waited.  I stood shivering in my tank top and shorts, envious of all the runners who were smart enough to wear layers.  I hadn’t got the memo (or more likely didn’t read it) that if we wore extra layers, we could discard them along the course and they would get scooped up and donated to charity.  Great planning on my part, novice.

After about 45 minutes of depleting my energy supply by jumping up and down to stay warm, someone offered me a garbage bag to wear as a poncho.  It helped immensely over the course of the next 1-½ hour wait until it was my corral’s turn to prepare to hit the road.  The energy was amazing!  It appeared that all the runners surrounding me had a partner or a group they were running with.  I couldn’t find any of my teammates, so I stood there “alone” with 27,000 other people in my garbage bag dress, enjoying the moment, amazed that I was actually here.

Fireworks lit up the sky as each corral was sent off into the black night. Who needs a “ready, set, go” and a gun when you have fireworks to cue you?

Before I knew it, it was my corral’s turn to go and I ditched my garbage bag and headed out under the fireworks.  It was so dark in some places, people were bumping and crashing into each other, not because it was crowded, but because we could barely see each other. 

I hit play on my iPod and then quickly looked at the GPS app and decided not to time my run.  I told myself I didn’t care what my time was, the fact that two days earlier I was lifeless on the bathroom floor gave me permission to just run at whatever pace I needed to finish. (Which is what I was going to do anyway…)

Physically I did great.  My body held up on me, even though my toes went completely numb at mile 10.  I didn’t have a single pain anywhere on my body throughout the entire run, not even my foot that Yasha bit or my shoulder that I reefed falling down the stairs.  I felt very strong and I was delighted that nothing was failing me, except my lungs. 

After the test run the previously morning, I decided I needed to bring my inhaler with me on race day.  I broke down and bought a geeked-out running belt complete with a spot for my phone/iPod, a water bottle, a few Gu gels, and a special little compartment for my inhaler.  I was so glad I did.  I think the humidity got to me because at mile 8, I felt things getting tight and I started to wheeze.  I grabbed my inhaler and took a few puffs, and it cleared it right up.  I needed to use it again at mile 11.  “Sucks to your assmar!”

Having water and PowerAde offered to me at every mile or so was a novelty for a girl who typically doesn’t carry water while running!  I took advantage of it often, even when I didn’t need it or want it.  The volunteers have a job to uphold and they look at runners dead in the eye as they wearily run past, nearly begging them to take it off their hands, like their lives depend on it.  As a former non-profit director, I love volunteers.  Also, I am a sympathetic sucker. Besides, it’s really fun to throw your cup on the ground when it’s empty.

Disney characters were stationed along the course and many runners stopped for photo ops.  Thinking this would later become incriminating evidence against me, leading Lena and Aurelia to discover that I went to Disney World without them, I just kept running, passing by all the characters.  That, and at some point, I lost the use of my hands and couldn’t remove my camera phone from its pouch.

We ran through the Magic Kingdom, which I haven’t seen since a family trip when I was in 4th grade.  Visions of that trip came back to me as I ran by vaguely familiar scenes, including the Space Mountain ride, which my brother and I rode back to back several times.

Before I knew it, the sun had come up and I had made it to mile 12 in one piece, with Epcot being the last area to run through.  And then, it was over. 

I received my finisher’s medal and headed to the Team in Training tent to sign in and find Brock.  He smiled and yelled, “Yay Franny!” and gave me a huge hug and told me he was so proud of me.  I admit I had a somewhat flippant attitude because I was on the verge of busting into tears, and acting coy and flippant is my anti-cry device.  

When Brock excitedly asked me how it was, I shrugged and said “fine.” Seriously Frances.  Flipping “Fine?!”  You couldn’t think of anything else to say?  You, a former “non-runner” just ran 13 miles through Disney World a year and a half after receiving cancer treatment, and all you can say is, “fine?”  Coy and flippant= no tears.

"Winter and Summer of Team Awesome"
Brock moved on and asked me what the clock said when I finished and I told him I had no clue. “You didn’t look at it?” he questioned baffled.  “Nope,” I replied.  I’d later come to find out my time was pathetic (which I figured it would be) but, I was very pleased to see that when compared to all the runners, I came in just slightly under the middle of the pack.  Not bad for my first ever half marathon.

I set all my stuff down on a table and finally had the dexterity to remove my phone, while telling Brock we needed to take a photo of the two of us.  After the photo, I collected my belongings and noticed someone had left their medal on the table.  I thought to myself, “What dumb ass would leave their medal on the table?”

Brock and weaved through the hoards to stand in line for our bus to take us back to the hotel.  We chatted about the race and he remarked how huge the medals were.  “Yes!” I agreed, they were huge, and I grabbed mine to take a look and then realized: I was the dumb ass.

Brock and I quickly exchanged panicked looks and once again wove through the hoards, this time a little speedier and we were delighted to discover that after 15 minutes of being abandoned, my medal was still there.

So there you have it folks.  I did it.  I didn’t lose any bodily fluids on the course (except sweat) and I made it all the way, with a smile on my face.  Seriously, I smiled the whole way, with the exception of when someone tossed a full water cup to the curb, only to hit me instead.  Brock said it’s fairly common and just be happy someone didn’t douse me with a snot rocket.

I smiled because I thought of my friends and family who have overcome, are going through, or have lost their battle to cancer.  They have all taught me so much about strength and courage.  In fact, it was through their examples of bravery that gave me the strength and courage I needed to battle my own cancer.  Which by the way- I was diagnosed with exactly 2 years ago tomorrow.  How time flies when you’re busy kickin’ cancer’s ass and training to run a race so we can continue to kick cancer’s ass by funding research for new treatments.

Thank you to all my friends and family for opening your hearts and wallets to donate to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  Your support of this organization means the world to me.

Thank you to all my friends (especially Cristina) who sent me words of encouragement when I was sick right before the race.   You helped give me the gumption to shake it off.

And lastly, a huge thank you to Brock who has been my cheerleader from afar throughout this past year.  Checking in to see if I was putting in all my training miles (which I rarely did), eating right, taking care of myself and convincing me to do something I would have never thought possible.

I will be there to hug Brock tomorrow as he completes the full marathon in the Goofy Challenge where competitors run the half on Saturday, and the full on Sunday.  Brock has always been a little on the goofy side, which is probably one of the reasons an Alaskan and a Canadian have been able to maintain what is mostly a virtual friendship (with an occasional in-person visit) for 13 years. 

And just so you know Brock, I was pretty stoked about my run.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

ready or not

My run is in four days, and I leave tomorrow to fly to Florida (gulp.) For as much as I’ve anticipated it, it has sort of snuck up on me.

People keep asking me if I’m excited for my run. My typical answer is, “yeah” or “sure” and I rarely say it with enthusiasm. I need to clarify that I am super stoked that I raised $4,150 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society thanks to my awesome friends and family. I am also honored to run in memory of Don and Wendy. And, I'm not afraid of running 13 miles as I know I have the right mentality and strength to do it. (Though, I did take a nasty spill down a flight of stairs yesterday tweaking my shoulder to the point I can’t lift my left arm. It will heal by Saturday, right?)

So if it’s not the run that is contributing to my lackluster mood, what is it? Here’s the answer- I’m going to Disney World without my girls, and that totally stinks. 

I’m not a Disney fan. There, I admitted it. I’m not into big crowds, waiting in lines, or commercialized fanfare. And I’m definitely not into princesses. But, I have a four year old who is into them. Lena loves all the princesses, with Cinderella being her favorite. She knows which dress belongs to which princess. She can tell you which princesses fall asleep due to spells and curses, only to be awoken by their prince charming. She can also tell their castles apart and knows which of them have wicked stepmothers. My house has metamorphosed into a pink fairytale and I have been dragged through cotton candy-like muck to the point of submission. I recently accepted it because I finally realized what drives Lena’s passion to become a princess when she grows up. It’s not the gowns or big castles, though she is a mini-fashionista and did ask for her own Kingdom for Christmas. No, Lena is not driven by the glam of it. Lena wants to be a princess because she still believes in magic, and that when you wish upon a star, your dreams can come true. I see nothing wrong with having those thoughts at age four, and I’m willing to nurture it as long as she has hope.

Aurelia is a different story. She absorbs it all with skepticism and intrigue. I think the only reason she puts on a princess gown every now and then is because her big sister is doing it. Lately, her dress-up clothes of choice are a cape and swim goggles- and nothing else. With that said, Aurelia would have fed off Lena’s wonderment of Disney World. When Lena gets excited, Aurelia gets amused and happy herself.

Even though Disney is not my thing, I would have loved to see both my girls bursting with happiness in the Magic Kingdom. I also would have liked nothing more than to give them big hugs after crossing the finish line.

I shared my sadness about the girls with Brock and he quickly replied, “But I will be there to give you a big hug!” Yes. Brock will indeed be there and I can’t think of any friend I’d rather have greet me at the finish line than him. If it weren’t for Brock, I wouldn’t be doing this in the first place. I also happen to know that Brock has a “thing” for Disney, which I’ve never quite understood because he just doesn’t seem like the Disney type of guy. You would never know by looking at this running coach/rockin’ musician/web developer that he is a closet Disney fan who transforms into a kid once he crosses through the park gates. I have a feeling Brock will be just as bouncy as Lena, dragging me ride to ride- though he probably won’t hyperventilate upon seeing Cinderella.

So, yes, I am super pumped to hang with Brock and get a hug from him at the end of the race, but he’s still not my girls. 

It’s more than the hug. What it boils down to is I wanted the girls to see me cross the finish line. I wanted them to see me strong and healthy as I finished with thousands of other runners.

During the year I had cancer, Lena saw me sick on the couch more times than I’d like to recall. She was attuned to my illness, way more than any three year old should be. She would lay in bed with me and snuggle on my chemo days, watching movies while I drifted in and out of consciousness. She held my hand when I got my home Neupogen shots telling me, “This won’t hurt a bit mommy.” I know I’ve been healthy over a year, and I know Lena is aware I’m no longer sick. But deep down, I wanted Lena to be there so she could see me strong and healthy, hoping that would overpower any lasting memories she has of me being sick and feeble. 

My purple Team in Training race jersey came in the mail the other day. After pulling it from the package, I tossed it on the counter and began to mash avocados in a bowl for my starving children to feast on (and fill up on) before dinner.
My Support Crew

Lena responds to the color purple like sharks respond to the faintest tint of blood in the water. Upon seeing the purple haze in fabric form, Lena started salivating. She inquired about the beautiful garment that just arrived in the mail, and if perhaps, she could wear it. To Lena’s surprise, I told her “sure,” hardly looking up as I chopped onions. As soon as Lena pulled the jersey over her head, Aurelia starting chiming in, “Me too! Me too!” It was apparent Lena would have to share the jersey, so I set the timer (the sharing monitor in my house) and told Lena when it dings, it’s Reya’s turn to wear it. The timer got reset several times as the girls swapped the jersey back and forth while I made dinner. They happily munched on greasy tortilla chips and guacamole- using my jersey as their napkin of choice. The jersey was smeared with smashed avocado and salty grease spots. At first I started to grumble, telling them they know to use a napkin and not their, or in this case, “my” clothes, as a napkin. But then I realized, who cares! Having their greasy fingerprints all over my jersey means a part of them will be with me during my race.

Yesterday, I watched happily as the girls dipped their hands in paint and leave their permanent mark on my jersey.  They may not be there physically, but their presence will be felt.  Lena put it well when she said, “When you put on your shirt, Reya and I will be in your heart.”  I finished off the shirt by writing Don and Wendy’s name on the back in bold letters.  I may be running the race in Don and Wendy’s memory, but I’ve also come to realize, I’m running it for my girls who watched their mother fight and beat cancer.  They may not be there to see me cross the finish line, but I know that I will have opportunities to show them on a daily basis that they come from strong stock.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

those crazy runners

Since I started running, I’ve only had one condition: Running must be fun.  However, two Sundays ago, I went for a run that was definitely not fun.

It had been awhile since I had gone out for a long run and I was well overdue with my half marathon coming up in just a couple of weeks.  The weather was okay, high 30s and a slight mist.  I planned on starting out in downtown Juneau and running out to North Douglas until I hit five miles and then I’d turn around and head back.  I was dressed fairly warm with two layers on top, gloves and a hat. I thought I needed the extra warmth, but by the time I reached my house on North Douglas, I was overheating.  I took off my outer layer top and my gloves and shoved them in my mailbox with the plan to pick them up on the way back.  I kept running along the highway thinking life was good and then I hit five miles and turned around to face what would soon become utter hell.  

About a half mile in headed south, the weather decided to go all ape shit on me.  It couldn’t make up its mind if it wanted to rain or snow, so it did both.  The wind picked up to about 25 out of the Southeast taking my breath away with every gust.  I would run about 15 feet and then WHAM, another gust would come making it nearly impossible for me to run into it and leaving me gasping for air.  Going head first into the wind was the least of my problems, I was now freezing cold, and without any gloves or outer layer, I was in for a long three miles back to my house.  My hands turned as red as tomatoes and I couldn’t move my fingers.  I kept trying to clench them and then stretch them to keep the blood flow going, but they would barely move.  Pretty soon I couldn’t feel my toes and my lips followed suit and went numb too.

I admit I started to panic a bit.  I’m a slow runner to begin with, and being up against the wind, snow and cold, I was at least 30 minutes from my house and I honestly thought I wouldn’t make it and that someone would find me dead alongside the road having suffered from hypothermia.  I started scanning the cars headed out to Eaglecrest hoping I’d know someone so I could flag them down and ask for a lift back to my gloves and shirt.  I didn’t see anyone, but later I got a text from my friend Mendi that read, “Hey!  Saw you running on my way out to Eaglecrest.  You looked pissed!” 

I was.  I was really pissed.  And cold.  Very cold.

I convinced myself that if I made it back to my house, I could grab my gloves and shirt and that would be enough to warm me up enough to finish my run back downtown.  I’m pretty sure I was crying by the time I made it back to my mailbox, but I’m not really sure because I could no longer feel my face.  I grabbed my gloves and tried to put them on- no go.  I couldn’t feel my hands, and though my brain was telling them to do one thing, they were rebelling and not going in my gloves.  I decided to go inside my house and try to warm up before heading back out to run back downtown.  The house was locked and I didn’t have a key.  I found the hidden spare and attempted to unlock the door.  It took forever because I kept dropping the key meanwhile Yasha stared at me through the door thinking I’d gone mad.  

I finally made it inside and went and sat by the remnants of the fire I had made earlier that morning.  I was eventually able to get my gloves on and feeling started to come back to my toes, so I stupidly convinced myself that I could head back out and finish my last two miles.  My body wasn’t hurting after running eight, and I had renewed energy, so I bid farewell to Yasha and sprinted out the door patting myself on the back as I chugged up the hill.  “I am bad ass!” I thought to myself.  I took a beating and I didn’t give up, in fact, I came out for more!  Bring it on!  Yeah me! 

This feeling of empowerment was short lived.  By the time I crested the hill, I was ready to fling myself into traffic and put myself out of my misery.  After a mile, I once again could not feel my body.  Conveniently, I passed by my friend’s Bob and Kris’ house and found myself knocking on their door.  Kris looked and me and could see I was in distress without me needing to say a word, which is good, because I was a little incoherent and couldn’t move my lips to talk.  Kris invited me in and told me her daughter could drive me the rest of the way.  During the five minute ride, I rambled on like a mad woman thanking Jessica for the ride.  I literally could not stop thanking her and just repeated it over and over.

It took me plopping down in front of a monitor stove for a few hours and sipping tea my friend Sonia made for me to finally snap out of it.  I realized my run was not fun.  In fact, I hated it.  I wasn’t even proud of myself for running nine miles in craptastic weather.  I was mad at myself for leaving warm clothes behind in my mailbox and putting my body through a run in a walk in freezer. I had broken my cardinal rule: Running must be fun.

I usually love running.  I sing along to songs, play air drums, and even dance a little when cars are not passing. I’m typically smiling- not frowning and looking pissed.  I’ve seen those runners who are out there forcing themselves to run and hating every second of it.  It’s all over their faces and they are not happy about it.   (I admit to having this face while running on a treadmill.)  My question for them is, “Why?”

The day after my hellish run, I went to Barrow for work, and on the long flights up (It took three), I started reading Born to Run.  I literally  I stood in line at the gate in Anchorage with my nose in the book shuffling forward with the herd to board the plane.  I didn’t even mind that when we stopped in Fairbanks, the Barrow boy's and girl's basketball team boarded whooping and hollering and carrying enough McDonalds to feed the entire community of Barrow.  The kids were toting giant plastic McDonald bags filled to the brim with hamburgers, McNuggets and fries.  They stuffed them in the overhead and under the seats.  They probably even checked a cheese burger or two at the gate.  When the door of the plane shut and the smell really started to circulate, I still didn’t mind because I was still happily reading the book.  I was too enthralled by what I was reading that I didn’t even notice a Happy Meal had slid its way under my chair and was wedged snug  between my feet.  This book is good, and I mean really good.

On the cover there is a quote from another writer that says,  “This book reminds me of why I like to run.”  That pretty much sums it up.  Even if I weren’t already running, this book would have inspired me to start.  Seriously, pick it up and read it, you won’t be disappointed.

On Christmas Eve I started to develop heel pain in my left foot, and my right foot (the dog bite foot) was aching again.  I knew I had to do a long run on Christmas day, and with my spirits recharged after reading the book, I refused to allow myself to dread it.  I dressed for the weather and vowed to not stow my layers no matter how hot I got.  I ran out to Costco and back, which is about eleven miles.  My feet hurt, and of course I blamed it on my fancy new running shoes that I’ve been wearing for two weeks.  (Read the book!) 

Even though my feet were sore, the pain was not nearly as bad as my brush with hypothermia the previous week.  The only real bummer part of the run was at the halfway point where I stopped at the lake to drink water at the fountain, only to discover they had been shut off. Damn. Eleven miles is a long way to run without water.  Note to self- I need to buy a Camelback if I’m going to continue to go on long runs.

My Christmas day run was probably one of the better ones I’ve had.  My smile stayed on my face throughout as I concentrated on the run, not on my pain. I admit my heel was quite tender afterwards, but it’s getting better now and I’m looking forward to my next long run- in my old worn out running shoes. 

I can’t believe my race is in less than two weeks!  There are days I still wake up and can’t believe that “I” the self-proclaimed non-runner is one of those crazy runners you see out on Christmas day, running through the snow with a smile on their face.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Forcing myself into the spirit

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas and quite frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.  I’m not into it this year and to be quite honest, I wasn’t in to it last year either.  I’m tired of the insane amounts of gifts that pile under the tree, so many that the girls start to glaze over halfway through opening them and we have to take a break.  Take a break opening presents?  Yes, it happened last year and I declared I would never let that happen again.  It’s grandparents.  They can’t stop themselves and tend to go overboard. My mom is starting to get the hang of it and has migrated to the one gift rule.  One gift is all they get from my parents.  God bless them!  God Bless us everyone!  I already know my mom made a sock monkey for Aurelia and Lena is getting a princess dress.  They will love their gifts and they will be able to remember what my parents gave them.  

I want to bring back the simplicity of Christmas.  Cutting a tree down, decorating the tree with homemade ornaments, making cookies with friends, attending a Christmas Eve service to belt out Christmas songs, being around people you love, and giving a few meaningful or useful gifts is all I really want Christmas to be.   That’s it. 

Since moving to Juneau, getting a tree has never been fun.  The most commonly used Christmas trees here are spruce and I don’t like them because they are too pokey and the needles fall out fast. Once, I broke down and bought a tree and it just seemed fake to me.  I grew up with Bull Pines.  A good Bull Pine Christmas tree is hard to find here because they are slightly different from the ones in Ketchikan. 

Growing up, my dad and I, along with another family, would all pile in the skiff and head across the channel over to Gravina Island.  We went to the same spot every year and always had luck.  We would cut down a bunch of trees, load them into the skiff and drive them back to the dock.  I truly feel that getting a tree needs to involve a skiff.  Screw strapping a tree to the top of your car!  Loading a skiff so full with trees that you can’t see the person operating the outboard in the back, is definitely the way to go.
My Mountain Billy Goat

I do own a skiff, but I figured we have a perfectly fine muskeg directly behind my house.  I carried Aurelia on my back, Addison carried the saw and snowshoes and Lena carried her ladybug backpack filled with chocolate.  I was worried that Lena was going to breakdown and ask to be carried, but she impressed me so much!  There wasn’t a trail to follow, unless you count the deer trails, but Lena flew up that hillside with agility and strength. 

Watching her reminded me of the first time I went into the woods when I was about her age.  My dad took me deer hunting and I remember being mesmerized by the rich green damp forest as I climbed over mossy logs, trying to avoid the snapping branches my dad was setting into motion.  When we got back to the boat, my mom asked my dad how I did.  He told her that my new name was “Mountain Billy Goat,” a nickname that stuck, and I held on to it with pride whenever dad and I would go in the woods.  I remember being so happy that my father was proud of me, even though I was too talkative for us to get a deer. 

Lena was my “Mountain Billy Goat” as she climbed over logs, took blueberry bushes to the face, sunk in the mud up to her knees, and kept on going singing all the way.  However, she asked me not to call her a goat and said it was offensive.  Sigh.

Aurelia's Chariot
We hiked about ¾ of a mile up to a muskeg that would hopefully produce a tree.  I strapped on my snowshoes and off we went to find a tree.  The snow in the muskeg was about three feet deep, and Lena was light enough to walk across the snow without sinking, most of the time.  Looking around the muskeg, I got worried because all the Bull Pines were warped and very funky resembling trees from a Dr. Seuss book.  Finally we found one that would do.  It’s a bit “Charlie Brown-ish,” but those are the best kind.  Addison cut it down and we headed back down the hill.  Lena did have a bit of a meltdown on the way back down, but we worked through it and eventually she was jumping off logs and excited to put up the tree.

Today, while Lena was at the Nutcracker, Aurelia and I went to a friend’s house and made cranberry and popcorn garland while listening to Frank Sinatra croon Christmas songs.  Aurelia carefully poked the cranberries with a threaded needle, and with minimal help from me, she made a beautiful garland. 

Swimsuits, the new "it" wear
Tonight we decorated our tree while listening to Handel’s Messiah.  The girls were wearing swimsuits, of course, because that’s the most sensible attire while trimming a tree.  Meanwhile, Chillcat was eyeing the tree, plotting his midnight adventure to climb up it.   It was simple, and perfect.

I can’t control how many gifts the girls are given or how fake Christmas fanfare is jammed down their throats every time they turn around.  But, I do hope that they will see through the plastic garbage and candy coated Christmas goo, and instead hold on to memories of picking out a tree from our backyard, stringing cranberries and popcorn together to create garland, and the Christmas their grandmother gave them a homemade sock monkey. 

There’s the true meaning of Christmas that we’re constantly reminded of, but I also believe the true meaning of Christmas is how it makes us feel and how we make others feel.  We shouldn’t feel overwhelmed or disgusted.  We should just feel happiness, kindness and love.  If I can stay steady on that path, I think I can start digging Christmas again.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Not another restaurant

Club sandwich with nitrate-laden meat?  No.  Hamburger with a bun infused with corn syrup and corn fed beef?  No thanks.  Buffalo chicken salad made from chickens that were fed chemicals to help them be able to survive in an overcrowded chicken pen overflowing with chicken shit?  No way in hell.  This is what was going through my head as I was sitting in Chili’s at the Anchorage Airport trying to decide what I wanted for lunch.  As my coworkers all dished out their orders to the waitress, I was still trying to figure out what I would actually be willing to eat off the menu.  It all of a sudden became quite apparent to me that I have indeed become one of those picky eaters I’ve always made fun of.  No, I’m not on a diet, I’m not a vegetarian and no, I’m not on the gluten-free bandwagon.  I just care about what I eat and what I put into my body.  I also want something that tastes good, which I don’t feel is too much to ask.

Growing up in the Leach family, dining out was typically reserved for occasions such as my father and his crew’s successful and safe return from a halibut or herring trip. Occasionally my brother and I could talk my parents into a trip to the Pizza Mill after church if we were really good.  Because we rarely went out to eat, I used to savor it, drooling over menu items and waiting for my 7up to arrive with a square ice cubes and a straw.  Sometimes if I was really lucky, I was allowed a Shirley Temple!

Oh, but times they are a changin’!  Now, eating out is a chore.  In fact, I’ve pretty much grown to hate it.

I’ve been traveling a lot lately and trying to find a place to eat has become increasingly difficult.  I have this deep seeded need to eat food as close to the real thing as possible.  I wasn’t always this way.  I was raised on Wonder Bread, Kraft cheese singles, Campbell’s soup, canned fruits and veggies and Doritos.  In all fairness, my mother did cook real food, and it was good food.  She made her own spaghetti sauce, schnitzel, enchiladas, homemade mac and cheese (never Kraft), and of course we ate a lot of fish and venison, but there was also no shortage of processed foods in my house.

The evolution of my choice not to eat processed foods isn’t only because I know they are bad for me. I don’t eat them because they taste like garbage.  I can actually taste the chemicals as I’m chewing and after I eat them, I feel terrible.  If you eat this stuff on a regular basis, your body is used to it and you don’t recognize the taste of chemicals that are used to preserve the food.  My body used to be accustomed to the occasional fast food and processed heat and serve food; that was until I lived in Haines and aside from the occasional greasy burger and fries at the Bamboo Room, I made everything I ate.  I rarely bought anything that was premade and I stayed away from ingredients that I couldn’t pronounce or that were not natural.  This was not only a health choice; it was a financial choice.  Salad dressing and bread was expensive, so I made my own.  It was the pre-made things that were the most expensive and I learned buying whole foods was a much better bang for my buck.  Whenever I’d go to the big cities of Juneau and Whitehorse, I’d get excited to hit the restaurant scene.  But, after the second or third meal, I would feel lousy.  My stomach would start to churn, I’d feel groggy and fuzzy headed, and almost always, I developed a headache. Once you step away from the land of preservatives, it’s hard to cross back over that line because the food simply does not taste good.

So what do I do when looking over the menu at Chilies?  I order a soup and salad with dressing on the side feeling a bit like Meg Ryan’s character Sally from When Harry Met Sally.  “Do you make the soup from scratch?  Do you add real bacon to the baked potato soup or the kind of bacon that comes in a bag crumbled and pre-cooked?  Is the lettuce iceberg or something leafy and green that actually contains nutrients?  Is the cheese in the soup real cheddar or processed cheese?”  No, I didn’t ask those things, because I am at Chilies, and OF COURSE the bacon comes in a bag.  I crunch on my tasteless iceberg lettuce and sip the Velveeta potato soup off the plastic spoon and I dream of the old 5 Star CafĂ© in Ketchikan or Mountain Market in Haines, and occasionally Rainbow Foods or Silver Bow in Juneau- that is when I feel like spending way too much money on lunch. 

I’m not embarrassed by my food pickiness.  Why do something that makes you feel lousy and isn’t good for you, especially when you have to pay for it? Maybe initially, that corn dog, all crispy and golden brown tastes wonderful, but you’re going to pay for it sooner or later.  I’m not saying I’m a purist.  I don’t eat everything organic and I admit there are things in the Rainbow Food salad bar that scare me because I didn’t know one could actually eat tree bark and I’m not quite sure I’m willing to give it a go quite yet.  I’ve also been known to scarf down a donut or scrape the leftover Costco birthday cake off the cardboard platter after the kids have had their share.

There’s an argument that it costs more to eat healthy.  When dining out, that may be true, but I’ll immediately call B.S. when it comes to making food at home.  A few months ago I was in Fred Meyers and a young couple in front of me had a week’s worth of groceries which included frozen pizzas, frozen lasagna, bagged salad, a few cans of corn, a box of Pepsi, frozen ice cream cones, frozen burritos, chocolate milk, a few bags of chips, Fruit Loops and a few other similar items.  Their total was over $100.  I was up next.  Now granted, I didn’t have meat because I mostly eat venison and fish, but I did have an organic whole chicken, potatoes, lots of fresh vegetables (some organic, some not), organic yogurt, organic milk, organic eggs, granola from bulk, cheddar cheese, ice cream (Ben and Jerry’s) and a few other things that I can’t remember.  My total was under $60.  Now, I have rice at home that I buy at Costco and other things that I would incorporate into my meal planning for the week, but I’m sure even with those items factored in to my weekly purchase, I’d still be under $100. The other big difference in our shopping carts was that their food didn’t have to be prepared; it just had to be unwrapped and heated.  I have to prepare mine, which does take time.  But, even after working a full day and coming home to two hungry kids, there are meals I know I can make from scratch in less than 30 minutes, and that’s with a 28lb two year old clutching my leg as I shuffle about the kitchen.  It can be done.

There are some really good documentaries out there right now about food that might even scare the McRib out of a McDonald lover’s hand.  I just watched Forks over Knives and I highly recommend.  Others worthy of mention are, King Corn, and of course, Supersize Me. There are some good books out there too.  I read Omnivores Dilemma on my cruise with Penny and at one point, I loudly blurted out on the sun deck, “Oh that’s absolutely disgusting!” when I read what was in McDonalds chicken nuggets.  I then read to Penny that chicken McNuggets contain TBHQ, a form of butane (lighter fluid), which is derived from petroleum gas.  Penny frowned and said that little James and her love chicken nuggets and they are a special treat.  I scolded her and said “You’re feeding your son processed corn and lighter fluid along with thirty-eight other ingredients!”  I think I broke Penny’s heart that day.

I could go on my food rant all day and by doing so, I will probably make people afraid to invite me over to dinner, if I haven’t already ousted myself from all future invitations.  Like I said, I’m not a purist.  However, I do admit that right now, sitting in my hotel fridge is a quiche I made in Juneau that I packed carefully in my suitcase and brought with me to Fairbanks to eat for breakfast for the next four days.  The thought of eating cardboard muffins and sweet over-processed doughy bagels from the hotel continental breakfast was just too much for me to handle.  Okay, maybe I am a food snob.  There are worse things to be.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I know everything and absolutely nothing about you

Thanksgiving- a time of thanks and stuffing our faces with lots of food. I spent the day mostly outside running in the Turkey Trot 5 K and snowshoeing up Mt. Jumbo.  I spent a lot of time in my head thinking about what I'm thankful for.  There are lots of things that come to mind, but one thing that ranks high, is having good friends.

Not too long ago Penny texted me and said, “You know I’m coming to Juneau, right?”  I replied back, “No!?”  The next text I received from her was a photo of her itinerary. This is a classic Penny maneuver and one of the things I really do love about her even though it also drives me absolutely crazy.  Penny’s always been a fly by the seat of her pants kind of girl- which has gotten us into good situations, and some not so good situations. 

-Befriending of the random travelers who hooked us up with sweet situations- good. 
-The befriending of the bikers outside The Arctic Bar in Ketchikan- not so good. 
-Convincing the conductor on the train from Nice to Paris that her friend was sick and needed a room- good and absolutely hilarious. So freaking hilarious.
-The commandeering of a stick shift car in Juneau that she didn’t know how to drive- not so good and definitely not so fun.

There are several Penny stories that I can recount and all of them have hilarious endings even if they were not amusing to me at the time.  I love this girl with all my heart and though it’s sometimes interesting to step into “Pennyland” and fully get where she’s going and what she’s up to, it’s something I’ll never take for granted.

Penny’s visit was a one day only affair so we tried to fill each other in on what each of us has been up to.  We ended the day at the Bubble Room in the Baranof Hotel.  I like it there because it is typically empty and you can carry on a conversation without getting groped by a stranger.  Penny was drinking white zinfandel and I a cucumber martini, informing each other of all the happenings in our lives since we last saw each other when she reached across the table, put her hand on mine and said, “Franny, I know everything and absolutely nothing about you.”

It sort of stopped me in my tracks because I was pretty sure that Penny knew all there was to know about me.  What was she getting at? Did she think I was hiding something from her?  I wanted to say, “What do you want to know and I’ll tell you.” Instead, the conversation sort of fell silent. 

Penny makes a valid point.  How much do we really know about the people we consider our closest friends?  Or our families for that matter?  The reality is, does it even matter?

Penny and I are so incredibly different in every way that it’s often a wonder we ever became friends at all.  We could be used as the primary examples of Type A and Type B personalities.  She tells me crazy stories that I have a hard time following.  She gets mesmerized by the VitaJuicer sales rep at Costco for an ungodly amount of time. And, she will spark a conversation with anyone and everyone.   Meanwhile, I dive into lengthy soliloquies about food and food preparation that leave her wondering what ceviche is. I bore her with politics, and I won’t even make eye contact with the VitaJuicer guy as I walk by fighting the urge to flip him off out of sheer annoyance.  Aside from music, we have completely different interests and views on the world.  Penny is always dreaming of the future and I’m always trying to stay grounded in the moment. 

A friend once told me the whole purpose of a relationship is to take care of each other.  I thought that definition was limited to romantic relationships, but during that snowshoe climb up Mt. Jumbo, I came to the realization that taking care of each other is really the staple to any relationship, be it romantic or friendly.

Penny always has my back- always. While traveling in Amsterdam, a man came up to me from behind, grabbed me and started touching me..  We were in Dam Square in broad daylight and I was so stunned, I just stood there like an idiot unable to move.  Penny was ahead of me and she turned around to tell me something when she saw what was happening.  Immediately she went after the guy and started beating the pulp out of him with her Van Gogh poster tube.  He let go of me and fled down an alley where Penny started after him, prompting me to start after Penny to stop her from getting into an alley fight with the guy.  While Penny brings the guts to the table, I have always brought the voice of reason reminding her to not get in the car with the stranger and to not jump off the dock by herself at 3 AM for “fun.”.  Unfortunately, I often remind her of these things after the fact or while I’m riding in the back of a Porsche with Penny and three guys who don’t speak a word of English.

Penny and I, late 90s resting on one of our singing walks
After dining on camembert cheese baked in puff pastry with a fig jam drizzle and steamed manila clams in a white wine and garlic broth served with crusty sourdough bread (see there I go with the food talk) we left the Bubble Room and drove around listening to music and singing.  Penny mentioned that she was singing in the Monthly Grind in February and I suggested it would be fun if I could come down to Ketchikan and sing a song with her as a guest.  Next thing I know, we’re sitting in the parked car writing a set list, forming a band, arguing over harmonies and rehearsing songs.

Penny and I may not have a lot in common besides our love of music and singing.  We don’t have similar personalities, run in the same social circles, share interests or know everything about each other. What I do know is we take care of each other and we live in the moment enjoying each other’s company.  Knowing that is really all that matters.

…"And maybe that's all that we need is to meet in the middle of impossibility.  Standing at opposite poles, equal partners in a mystery…" -Indigo Girls