Saturday, December 31, 2005

Year in Review

In my training log I summarize the end of the year with my weight loss progress to give myself a motivational visual of how far I've come. Very geeky - graphs and everything. While I did make some progress this year, I have to say I'm unhappy with it. Of course, the only way to fix that is to work even harder in 2006, and that's the plan. In the meantime, I'm putting my year-end stats out there for the world to see, 'cause I figure nothing is more motivational than public humiliation.

Original Start: 269
Started 2005: 245
Ended 2005: 232
Lost in 2005: 13
Total lost: 37

I was at 41 lost not too long ago, but a 6 month (and counting) plateau, the holidays and a month of not working out at all to be with my sick dog put 4 back on. I really truly thought that, if I could lost 24 in the first year, I could lose at least 30 in the second. Guess not.

Well, here's to a new year of new challenges and new accomplishments. And hopefully, lots of geeked-out new equipment. Can't wait to see what the future holds.

Thursday, December 29, 2005


Earlier this month I waxed enthusiastic about my new Brooks running shoes, but I have to retract my endorsement. Not that they aren't great shoes... I'm sure they are. And it's not like I was bought them sight unseen or anything; they were super comfy when I tried them on and did the quickie test run down the hall at the running store.

Unfortunately, as often happens with my #%^#$$ goofy shaped feet, the initial test was misleading. I took them for a couple of runs at the gym, and it quickly became apparent after less than 5 minutes of actual running that they weren't going to work. My feet were painfully numb with little shooting pains down the outside. I spent a good portion of my workout off the treadmill experimenting with various ways to tie my shoes to reduce the discomfort.

I was seriously debating just keeping them and living with my mistake; I mean, why should I punish the shoe store for selling me shoes that I said fit me? And I really didn't want to drive downtown with all the snow. But as luck would have it, my bike came back from being repaired just a few days before the shoe return deadline, so I decided the powers that be were telling me to return them while I picked up my bike.

I walked in with my shoes, the cool guy who helped me before remembered me asked what was wrong, I explained, and inside of 30 seconds he'd swapped them out for the other pair we'd debated over. He even knocked off the price difference (of course the new ones cost more) so it was an even trade. The bonus is that the new ones have pink trim instead of acid yellow.

With everything going on I haven't had a chance yet to go running in my new shoes, but I'm optimistic they'll work. Part of the reason I didn't get them before is that the sizing is so funky on that model (NB 1060) I wasn't sure what to make of it; I wear a 6EE, even have other New Balance shoes in that size, but these fit perfectly - even have some extra room in the toe box - at a 7 1/2 B.

Anyway, the morals of the story are that you can't trust shoe sizes, you can't always trust test runs for shoe fit, and the guys at Fleet Feet at awesome.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Getting my feet wet again

Kept that promise to myself and went to the gym for a swim for my first real workout in nearly 3 weeks. For once I didn't mind the absurdly overheated water. Today I let it cradle me like a warm bath. I only swam 20 slow, easy laps of drills (about 600 yards in our inky dinky pool) but it was enough for today.

I felt like the Scarecrow must have when Dorothy brought him the oil can. All the recent work on my stroke has basically gone out the window and I felt tight and clumsy and got more than my normal share of chlorine in the ol' sinuses. But I had moments of smooth graceful motion, and my muscles started to remember what it's all about. Tomorrow will be an easy run workout, and Friday I'm looking forward to some swim coaching from an old friend. Definitely feels like I'm getting back into the swing of things.

Now I'm going to let my husband take me out for a decisively unhealthy birthday dinner. Not sure where yet, but I'm confident that alfredo sauce and tiramisu will be involved.

Happy Birthday To Me

I was exhausted when I went to bed last night, but I lay awake with my mind racing. So, I greeted 33 alone in the dark with my thoughts.

Of course I'm not thrilled to get older - who is? But this time it's different. This time I have a year to look back on with pride of accomplishment, and an even better year to look forward to. For the first time since I became an adult, I don't feel like my life has been wasted and stolen from me by my traitorous health and weak body. For the first time I feel strong and happy and satisfied with where I'm at. And mature enough to realize the source of that satisfaction, at least in part, is the wisdom that comes with age.

Aside from the general dread of getting older, I've always hated my birthday. December 28th. Not much worse that a birthday smack in the middle of the holidays. As a kid, the worst part is you only get one present. Merry Birthday is not amusing to a child when she knows her brothers are going to clean up with twice as many gifts in the spring. Even if you do get a separate birthday gift it’s wrapped in leftover Christmas paper. And it’s right before New Year’s, so as an adult nobody wants to go out with you to celebrate because they’re going out in 3 days anyway.

Most of my life nobody even knew when it was. At my grade school, the big thing was for a birthday kid’s mom to bring cupcakes for the class. Couldn’t exactly do that over Christmas break, could I? So, I got pretty used to being persona non grata on my birthday. I was married for a couple of years before even my husband had the date nailed down. Seriously! He still pauses to think about it if you ask him.

I always tried to be cheerful about it, especially since birthdays generally meant squat in my family anyway. They were barely acknowledged – I couldn’t even tell you when my mom’s is, and that’s after years of asking her repeatedly. She couldn’t tell you when her mom’s is either. Mom doesn’t even call me on mine. You get used to it.

But deep down, I wished that I’d had birthday parties as a kid, and big drunken bar nights in college like everybody else. There have been a few memorable exceptions, like my senior year in college we were on a marching band trip for a bowl game, and my roomies figured out it was my birthday. We were in the middle of nowhere with no transportation so they stole me a poinsettia from the hotel lobby – I just about cried it was so sweet. And my wonderful husband, although he was initially a bit fuzzy on the when of things, did catch on to this concept pretty quick and made it his mission to make my birthday special.

So, even when we’re so broke we agreed to not exchange Christmas gifts this year, he insisted on getting me a birthday present.

Since he’s the king of not taking even the most blatant hints, he often asks me to send him a picture of what I want so he can’t possibly screw it up. (I think this might have started when I found the engagement ring I wanted and made it the wallpaper on his computer.) I must say this year was the easiest ever to answer that question, now that I have a nice long wish list of tri gear. I told him all he had to do was walk into the running store and ask for the pink Timex Ironman running watch. Nope, he wants a picture with vital stats. I gave up years ago complaining that I’d rather be surprised… because I learned early on that surprises are generally of the “that’s what you got me?!” variety.

So, guess what I got for my birthday? My first lap watch! (Were you surprised? I was surprised.) And wasn’t it sweet of him to remember that I wanted the pink one, to match my dream bike? I can’t wait to try it out on my next workout! I’m a big wimp about the cold, so even though it’s ten different kinds of ridiculous, I’ll be wearing it on the treadmill tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Book Reports

I was thinking about this whole blog thing, and how cool it is to be part of such an amazing community. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that some of the best posts aren't even about triathlon. We are a diverse and fascinating group of people, and none of us are so one-dimensional that other aspects of our lives can't creep into the thoughts we put on screen.

In keeping with this little epiphany, I wanted to come up with a recurring feature that simultaneously demonstrated who I am while not stealing from anyone else's innovations.

I've been a voracious reader since I can remember. When I was a kid, getting grounded meant having my books taken away instead of tv. Books are more valuable to me than gold and diamonds, and I can't imagine everyday life without being in the middle of reading one or three or five at any given time.

So, starting this week, when I finish devouring a particularly fabulous specimen I will feature it as a book report. Sometimes they'll be sports related, but that will be the exception rather than the rule. I noticed that a disproportionate percentage of bloggers are also writers (there's an obvious causal relationship there I won't belabor), so my hope is to spread some good literary cheer, and maybe a little support for some writers who don't get enough press.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The fog is clearing

After nearly a month of being more or less trapped in the house dealing with my precious little girl's illness and death, I had a healthy dose of fear that I would not be able to get back into my old routine. What if this bout of sloth stuck and I slid back down the mountain I've been climbing for the last two years?

I was more than a little bit relieved when I felt an urge to go to the gym less than two days after losing her, but that was immediately overwhelmed by two contradictory and undeniable feelings: to not want to talk to anyone, and guilt over taking a step towards my normal life without her in it. So I didn't go.

And so it went, every day for the last several, wanting a little bit more to go work out, and feeling a little bit less guilty about that, and a feeling little bit more able to talk to people in public without melting into a sobbing puddle. I've already learned that, because my gym is so intimately small, any absence on my part is noted and I always get a "where have you been" upon my return. That's the big reason I haven't gone back. I wasn't ready to tell KellyAnnTainaMichelleDebbieSusanKarenMarinaBarb what happened.

I still don't feel prepared to face my weight training class, where we chat for the 90 minutes we're together, because the teacher is a dog lover and that's what we often talk about. And I don't want to go on the treadmills, because you always end up chatting with the girls when they pass by. But I'm starting to feel that itch, that undeniable need for a good workout. I think maybe I'll go for a swim, because that's the one place at the gym I can be alone. Or possibly a bike ride if I can talk my husband into pulling my knobby-tired tank down off the ceiling. It's been unseasonably warm the last few days - almost 40 - and the snow has mostly melted, so a bike ride might not be too bad.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas

Hope all the tri-geeks are having a wonderful holiday weekend.

Since we skipped travel this year to save money, I'm cooking dinner for us and my in-laws. Since I've been wallowing in self-pity over my dog all week there's nothing to post about training, so here's my Christmas dinner menu. It's not as cool as I'd like it to be, but my mom-in-law is allergic to practically everything (corn, wheat, oats, tomatoes, potatoes, dairy, oranges, etc etc etc) so it's tough to make meals that she can eat even a little bit of.

Roast Goose with cranberry port gravy
Wild rice pilaf
Pumpkin bread stuffing (a la Vertical Man)
Steamed asparagus with fresh lemon
Steamed broccoli
Cranberry-raspberry sauce
Dinner rolls

For dessert we're having plain old nothing special pumpkin pie, because that's how my husband likes it.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Last night we did all the things you do after you lose a pet. My husband put away her food dish then threw out the medications, a row of ineffective little soldiers lined up at attention on the counter. By the time I made it to the bedroom he had already removed her crate, which I wasn't ready for. It hit me so hard he actually brought it back. It's hard enough to see the empty bed; I wasn't ready for the huge empty space in our room.

Finding her collar and leash, hastily dropped in the back of my van after it was removed by the critical care clinic, was particularly bad. I gave the collar to my sobbing husband, who cried all the harder on seeing it. And later, when he silently handed me something in the darkened living room, I was once again hit by a crippling wave of tears. Half a soccer ball, meticulously torn to bits over the years, any minute piece of which just as worthy of fetching as the original. Her favorite toy. I slept with it under my pillow.

I lost a cat to diabetes about eight years ago, and I was heartbroken but it was nothing like this. Though I love all my pets dearly, I now have a deep understanding of the fundamental difference between dogs and cats. Cats tip-toe around the fringes of your existence, deigning on occassion to let you bestow affection upon them. Dogs weave themselves into the fabric of your everday life; make themselves indispensable to living it.

I am stunned by the ferocity of my grief. Crying so hard, like my very soul is howling. Not for my sweet, sentimental Grandpa or my beloved uncle, taken too young and too suddenly by cancer, was I this uncontrollably distraught.

The pain of the injustice - losing my baby, my youngest pet - has compounded the loss. My eldest cat has started his decline; of all our pets I fully expected to lose him first, but was fine with that because I have years to get used to the idea. My other dog, my sweet Sable, is several years older than Karma and already gray of muzzle. The first dog of our marriage, we always expected her to be the first dog we lost together. The obvious commonality to my acceptance of their fate is the inevitablity of mortality; we get old and we die, as do our pets. We mourn them, but we cannot with any semble of reason resent the passing of one who has lived their full allotment of years in joy and comfort. But this, this was too fast, too ferocious, too unexpected, too soon.

My husband came into my office last night, unhappy he was alone in his own. Karma followed him relentlessly, her pack leader, her daddy. And Sable followed Karma. Without Karma, we now see that Sable, in her advancing years, is now content to lie at my feet, leaving my husband (the self-described "dog whisperer") alone.

Our 3000 SF, 4 bedroom house has always felt full, crowded even. Ridiculous, really, for two people who have yet to know the joys of children. But now we know it was all her. She filled this cavernous house with her noise and energy, and now, even with 7 souls still living in it, it feels eerily quiet and empty. Lifeless.

We always thought we wanted mellow dogs; our intent had always been to stick with Golden Retrievers. In the early years of struggling with her dominance issues through obedience training and socialization, even our extensive dog handling skills were taxed, and we agreed our next dog would be old and quiet. Now we have one that's old and quiet and it's not enough. Karma brought joyful chaos into our lives and we grew from it.

I was in tears this morning before I was fully awake. There was no sweet face nudging me awake, shoving toys into my hands, pushing aside the covers to plant her head firmly in chest or armpit. When I got up, there was no tripping over her as I stumbled blindly to the bathroom, and no silly face forcing open the bathroom door with a goofy "watcha doin'?" look while I peed. All the little interactions that I took for granted, that in reality defined our relationship. That's what I'm missing most today, my first without her.

Through my grief and my tears I can already feel the pain lessening ever so slightly, the weight on my chest lifting just enough so I can breathe again. And I know that, eventually, I will be able to see her picture clearly, and not blurred by tears.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

She's Gone

It was awful. Even though I knew how bad her condition was I kept hoping we'd get there and she'd perk up, maybe eat something, decide to fight it. She stresses out so much when she's away from home we were really hoping that our presence would calm her down enough for the meds to help her out.

She looked terrified. It was gut-wrenching to see her gasping for every breath. She hasn't slept in a couple of days now because it's been so hard to breath that's all she can do. She calmed down a little bit for us and for hours just laid her head on our laps, but every single breath was a horrible struggle for her. It was painful to see, and selfish to even think about keeping her that way for one minute longer than she had to be. My vet, after talking to the vet there about her status (her oxygenation was at an OMG level of 38), told me that it was the right thing to do, and if we were going to do it then we should make the decision right away, because she was the point that it wasn't right to let her keep getting more anxious, wondering where her next breath was coming from. That helped me a lot, because I felt like it was time to let her go but Scott wanted to wait a little, give her a little more time to fight. I guess I accepted before he did that she couldn't fight any more.

One small consolation is that the doctor made a point of having us wait to make sure she was able to review the labs before we let her go. The thing that has made this so hard is that she has been, as my regular doctor put it this morning, "off the books," Her body was not doing anything it should - her white count was barely elevated and she never even got a fever, yet she tested positive for a serious bacterial infection. They were baffled.

They hadn't had time to send out the slide from the trans-tracheal wash last night (because her condition deteriorated so quickly) so the doctors looked at it in-house. Just to be sure, several doctors looked at it.

They found lymphocytes. At that, six vets went "oooooooooh.". There was some kind of cancer happening, probably lymphoma. Honestly, even though we had to wait an hour or so to find that out before we let her go, it was absolutely worth it to me. Aside from having a little extra time to get used to the idea and say good-bye to her, it made the difference between wondering if I should have done more and knowing I was doing the right thing. Even though the only next step available to us was a $10,000 attempt at putting her on a ventilator she probably would never have come off of, I still needed reassurance that it was time to let her go and I will always be grateful to that doctor for getting me that information.

Even though this bites hard, if it had to happen (which, as we now know, it was going to) then I'm glad it was a quick 2 week acute thing and not a long drawn-out painful chemotherapy wasting away thing.

But I still want my dog back.

This isn't supposed to happen

She's doing much worse. She's probably going to die. We have to go up there so they can talk to us about putting her down.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Dog days

My precious little girl is in critical condition. She took a dramatic turn for the worse this weekend. Even with everything my old job taught me, and knowing what to look for and being in more or less constant contact with the vet, her condition took a major nose dive.

She's at the animal hospital now. Because of her refusal to eat and the endless diarrhea she's now very dehyrated. Saturday night she took a noticeable turn for the worse in general, plus started a constant coughing/gagging thing. Over night last night she started having very labored breathing. Of course they took a picture right away this morning; her lungs are filled with fluid.

There's no good way to know why this happened with her lungs. There are several possibilities, the most likely of which that she is septic.

One big problem is that she's too dehydrated right now to use furosemide (lasix) to help dry her lungs out, but the IV rehydration could cause her lungs to worsen, depending on the root cause.

The only bright spot is that one of the toxin panels came back positive for Clostridium perfringens. Two of the panels are still pending, but at least we now have something specific to target, and a known weapon (amoxicillin) with which to attack it.

She's in such bad shape they won't let me bring her home tonight, and they aren't even comfortable leaving her in their hospital overnight. It looks like we're going to transfer her to a 24 hour critical care facility about an hour from here (Milwaukee) that my vet trusts.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Starting Over

I'm going to apologize up front for the negativity oozing from this one. My dog is still sick - much worse, actually, and we're about to head for the emergency vet. Guess the bad thoughts have temporarily taken over my keyboard.

I feel like I’m starting from scratch. I’m scared, I’m angry, I’m frustrated. Pick a negative emotion, I’m probably feeling it. Six months. SIX MONTHS. That’s how long this weight plateau has lasted. When I first reached this weight I was thrilled, and got about a zillion compliments. Even though I still need to lose 105-110 more, many friends have said they can’t believe I need to lose more than 30. I credit the weight training for that – I’m almost 2 sizes smaller passing this weight coming down than I was passing it going up, and I’m hourglass shaped instead of blob-shaped. Not one of those skinny little pictionary hourglasses - more like one that will hold about a week's worth of sand - but it's still a decent shape. Anyway, I digress.

I know plateaus are normal, I know you have to expect them. Had a 3 month one last year. But it just keeps dragging and dragging and dragging. And dragging. To be honest, I haven’t done all I could do. But I’ve done a lot more than most, and it’s at times like this that the demons I keep locked deep down come spilling out. And once again I become angry, and bitter, and resentful at the general unfairness of it all. Why can’t I lose weight eating healthy and going to the gym 3-4 times a week? WHY?! I know some folks who, if they ate what I ate and did my workout routine, could be waif models inside of a year. All I can do is try to swallow my anger with my thyroid meds and try to work back up to 6 workouts a week. Because that’s the only damn thing that does any good.

When I first reached this weight, I couldn’t tell you how excited I was. Tempered with the reality of what I’ve got to go, of course, but still, losing 40 is a big milestone and I was proud to have reached it. Was really proud to have exited the land of sizes in the 20s and landed in the teens (women will understand this). Still a far cry from the size 6 I started at… but Rome wasn't built in a day.

I was so excited to buy clothes in these new, smaller sizes. I was blown away to realize that my shirt size (which has gone down farther and faster than my hips) was now at a point that I could shop in regular stores. Hallelujah and break out the Visa card!

But now, after 6 months of no progress at all… I can’t look in the mirror any more and see how far I’ve come. For a while there my brain was stuck on size 24, so when I looked in the mirror and saw me at a size 18, I thought “hey, I’m looking pretty good.” But after all this time my mental picture finally caught up with my physical reality, and now I look in the mirror and want to cry. Sometimes do. Because, while I may be looking better, I’m faaaaaaaaar from looking good. And it’s just so damn hard. Technically, I’m glad that my mental picture has finally updated itself, because I needed that; at this stage it's dangerous for me to be happy with my reflection. But add that to this endless plateau, and I get self-loathing and despair that I will ever succeed.

So, I feel like I’m starting over. Once again I feel like a giant, lazy blob that will never be fit, never be thin, never get back to what I was. I feel like I’m starting an insurmountable uphill battle against my weight all over again. And I know that’s not true – my fitness level is astronomical compared with where I really started. My weight is a lot lower than where I started. My blood pressure is lower. I’ve even been able to wean myself down to 1/3 of my migraine medication dosage; I’ll be off it altogether by spring. Medically, things are looking great. But knowing it and feeling it are two different things.

It’s tough to be cheerful when thinking “hey, in 5 or 6 years I may be thin again” when there’s people out there losing 100 pounds in a year or two. They’re taunting me from TV. Usually on Oprah. And while part of me wants to admire them, the rest of me wants to hate them. Because, inevitably, their story is along the lines of “well Oprah, I realized that if I was going to lose weight I had to stop eating a large pizza for dinner and 4 quarter pounders for a bedtime snack.” This latest weight loss show, she had on several people who never even took up exercise. They literally were able to lose 100+ pounds just by dialing back on the gluttony. (Don’t even get me started on the ones who cop to the surgery.)

How can I even compare with that?! “Well Oprah, I realized if I was ever gonna lose weight I had to eat even less grilled chicken and organic veggies and soy milk on my whole wheat cereal while getting in 6-8 workouts a week?!?!

What chance to I possibly stand? That’s the emotional pit o’ despair in which I am currently wallowing.

Unless you’ve done it, words can’t describe how scary it is to stare a 3-digit weight loss in the face and decide to take it on. When I was younger, I remember my mental “Oh My God” weight was 150 pounds. How ironic it turned out to be my magic number… to lose. It took me years of soul-searching and emotional preparation before I worked up the courage to turn my (and my husband’s) life upside down to do this. But now that I’ve done that part and have gone along for a while now with some measurable success, I somehow lost my momentum and got stuck in the middle. I’m not sure yet what it’s gonna take to get unstuck, but I’m never going to stop looking for it. Can’t, if I ever want to look in the mirror again without cringing. But I suppose if I’m going to find it any time soon, I need to realize I won’t find it at the bottom of this pit.

I’ll have my day on Oprah. It’s just going to take a little longer than I’d hoped.

Saturday, December 17, 2005


Got tagged by Wylee! I think people are fascinating, how we can be so very different in some ways and yet so incredibly similar, so it's been fun reading all the tags.

Haven't been blogging for too long, so the 'stuff you don't know about me' part is pretty easy. It would have been nearly impossible if I'd been around longer 'cause I tend to disseminate information pretty freely.

I've been reading as many of the tags as I could track down but I never found the original rules, so I'm winging it. Since I don't think anybody can top Wil's awesome list, I'll just keep going until I run out of time and call it a day. I've got shrimp waiting to be wrapped in bacon for a Christmas party.

1. I can't stand mushy food. This started as a small child with a 'getting sick in my plate' incident involving mashed potatoes. To this day I can't stand the sight or smell of mashed potatoes - someone else has to make them at Thanksgiving. And the quirk about squishy texture has now extended itself to any kind of soggy bread situation, including strawberry shortcake. My husband thinks it's blasphemous that I eat Italian Beef sandwiches dry, and once referred to my stuffing as 'trail mix' because I don't make it like bread soup.

2. I have a tattoo. It's on my bikini line and it's of Smaug (the dragon from Tolkien's The Hobbitt). I was 21 and thought I was being very cool and literary. Now he's faded and I want to get him removed so I can eventually replace him with an M-Dot.

3. I had a perfect GPA in h.s. and was going to be co-valedictorian (with my 2 best girlfriends) of my class... right up until last semester of senior year. I aced Physics, Calculus, Biology and the like. I lost my 5.0 to Senior Comp (a college prep writing course) and Public Speaking. The teachers and I didn't see eye to eye on what was "good" writing. (I did learn the valuable lesson of writing to your audience). Personally I think I won the battle on principle, seeing as how I went on to earn a BA in Speech Communications and become a professional writer.

4. I'm not afraid of snakes, lizzards, mice, rats, bats, etc... I can even handle spiders of any size as long as they don't surprise me. But show me a cockroach (or a cricket) and I will run screaming like a little girl.

5. I could ride a motorcycle before most kids could ride a bicycle.

6. I was target shooting with rifles before most kids could ride a bicycle.

7. My first pet was a hermit crab named Herman. I was 3 and terrified of it.

8. My favorite drink is a Cosmopolitan.

9. My other favorite drink is a Chai Soy Latte.

10. My favorite color (this week) is dark red.

11. I am bisexual.

12. I hate it if the food on my plate touches eat other. The only exception to this rule is Thanksgiving, when I'm putting gravy on almost everything anyway.

13. I have a biological brother, a half-brother and a half-sister. All younger. I lived with my brothers, my half-sister lived with her mother. I've only seen her twice in probably 20 years - at my brother's high school graduation and at my wedding. She's really sweet and wanted to see me growing up, but her mother never let her.

14. I played clarinet from 6th grade through college. I was in regular band the entire time, and the only year I wasn't in marching band was freshman in college. I auditioned for and made it into the Marching Illini (aka per John Philip Sousa "the best band in the land") the summer before sophomore year. I miss it a lot and am looking to join our local city band; they play concerts once a week in the city park on summer evenings.

15. On St. Patrick's Day 1995 I marched in the parade in Dublin with the Marching Illini.

16. I am a huge U2 fan. When I was 14 the guy I was kind of seeing had tickets to see them in Champaign. He was 19 and it was 120 miles away, so obviously my parents said no. That was right before they hit it huge... after that show Bono walked around the quad and hung out with students. Since then I swore I would not miss a U2 concert if they played nearby, and so far I haven't.

17. The perfect confluence of #15 and 16... Our hotel in Dublin overlooked the parade route. Bono and The Edge checked in to watch the parade. So I can truthfully say that Bono has watched me in a musical performance!

18. I am scared of bridges and white-knuckle it driving over them - especially the kind with metal grates where you can see the water.

19. The year I graduated high school I was invited to be in every beauty pageant in the area. I turned down all but one. I got 2nd runner up.

20. I'm an alto. I sang in my junior high's choir. I participated in a student effort at the high school to get choir reinstated as a class, then I sang in that. I sang in my sorority's a capella group. When I went back to school I auditioned for and joined the UIC choir because band didn't fit in my schedule.

21. I grew up knowing a family member's (relatively) tame coyotes and timber wolves.

22. I have eaten squirrel, rabbit, venison and goose that was hunted and cleaned right at home.

23. I was born and raised Roman Catholic but have from my earliest memories been an athiest. If pressed for a label, I would say I consider myself a Taoist.

24. I eat my steak just shy of still mooing.

25. I hate needles but I still donate blood.

26. I taught myself to play saxophone to do the talent portion of the pageant because I thought the clarinet wasn't cool enough.

27. My (biological) dad is a 6th degree blackbelt in Judo and is internationally influential in the sport. He's been published in 3 languages in Judo magazines, and he's even coached Olympic coaches. He still coaches, and occassionally competes in the Master's division.

28. I've studied 4 martial arts (Goshin Jitsu, Kuk Sul, Kempo and Judo). Never got past yellow in any of them. Am looking to get back into Judo, mainly for my dad, but he hasn't yet found a local class 'good enough' for me to go to.

29. I have 1 nephew from my biological brother and 2 nieces and a nephew from my half brother.

30. My secret wish is to someday sing the 7th inning stretch at Wrigley Field.

31. I can't leave a bookstore for under a hundred dollars. I want them all.

32. My house came with a fake, light-switch activated fireplace. I hate it so much I put the entertainment center in front of it.

33. For not having had an inordinate number of boyfriends in my past, I have dated a ridiculous number of guys named Jason.

34. In spite of a slight fear of heights and a tendency towards motion sickness, I looooove roller coasters. My weight gain kept me off of them (those seats are made for 10 year old butts!) for many years now, and my husband is totally psyched for my current weight loss because it means we'll be planning road trips to amusement parks again.

35. Starting in first grade I was pulled out for a special advanced learning program once a week. Because of this, in 1981 I was about 8 years old and writing code (in Basic on Apple IIs - remember those?!) before most people in my home town had ever seen a personal computer.

36. My brother and his friends once thought it would be funny to scare me and my best friend, home alone studying for the ACT. They had been hunting, and so snuck up to the house in full camo, wearing face masks and carrying rifles. My daddy always told me if some guy is coming in the door after you, shoot to kill. I got out "my" gun (a 38 special), told my friend to hide in the closet, and stood my ground as my brother and his friends pounded on the front door. I thought I recognized a voice so I did not pull the trigger when he opened the door, which didn't even have a lock. He got in big trouble from dad, who said it would have served him right if I'd shot him.

37. When I go home they say I have a Chicago accent. When I have a few drinks, my friends here say I slip into my redneck accent.

38. I can be super girly and will often re-do my nails several times to get them absolutely perfect. I won't go to yoga if I'm overdue for a pedicure, and the polish on fingers and toes has to match.

39. Even more girly - I recently became a bikini wax convert.

40. I can't stand it if my bra doesn't match my underwear.

41. I am anal-retentive to a fault. I will often catch myself rewriting the grocery list just because some of the entries were sloppy. And I'll stop in the middle of making dinner to re-alphabetize the spices. When we eat at restaurants I often arrange the condiments, which drives my husband crazy.

42. If I was rich I would open a bookstore, coffee shop and animal shelter.

Here's the Holiday themed questions:

1. Your favorite holiday memory. Childhood Thanksgivings - they all sort of blur together into one long, warm happy memory of my Grandma's tiny kitchen full of great smells and aunts and uncles and cousins sitting around and talking for hours.

2. Your favorite holiday cookie or treat. Can't get enough eggnog at Christmas.
Guilty pleasure: the one place I eschew my gourmet aspirations is for the love of that stupid canned gelatinous cranberry jelly at Thanksgiving.

3. Where you will be over the holidays. Staying at home to this year. Maybe starting a new tradition - this year going to attempt roast goose with port cranberry sauce for Christmas dinner.

4. Your favorite holiday song or carol. O Holy Night (sung) Greensleeves (harp or piano) Carol of the Bells (a capella)

5. A special holiday tradition in your family. Didn't have any traditions growing up, but now we have two.
First, we're going on I think our 6th annual Christmas Eve Eve gathering, where all of our friends meet for drinks and appetizers on the evening of the 23rd (either I host it or we meet at a local restaurant). It allows us to have special holiday time together before we all head off to family obligations.

Second, my in-laws have a long-standing tradition of dinner and gift opening on Christmas Eve, which began when my husband was a little kid and couldn't wait for Christmas morning.

OK... I'm going to tag Mipper and Lisa in Madison.
(Update - looks like someone just beat me to them, so I'll try tagging his highness, The Spandex King.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 16, 2005

We interrupt this training program...

This post has little to do with triathlon. It's more of a public declaration, to assuage my guilt, of my excuse for having missed so many workouts lately. (All but one this week, and almost as bad last week.) My work and my workout schedule have been seriously derailed in the past two weeks because of my darling dog, who I love dearly and would do just about anything for. But at the moment, she's doing her best to test the boundaries of that commitment.

Two pieces of information will help put this into context:
1)I am an almost fanatical animal lover. I went back to school for a BS in Biological Sciences with the intent of going on to vet school (my health and finances killed that plan). I have worked as a vet tech and have been extremely active in a local breed rescue program. When I get a pet, I am totally committed to giving it the best care possible, no matter what. I've noticed the problem ones tend to find me, maybe because nobody else wants them, or maybe because the powers that be know I can handle it. Oh, and the vet in the following scenario is where I used to work and I completely trust them.

2) I left a cushy corporate job almost a year ago to start a career as a professional writer. As with any new business, money has been squeaky tight - this year was the equivalent of a 90% pay cut. I met every milestone a first-year writer could expect to meet and business is clearly picking up. However, for now money is incredibly tight, and we'd already decided not to exchange Christmas gifts with our nearest and dearest when this little doggy drama started.

That's Karma on the right. On the left is Sable, my 8 year old Golden mix, who never causes any trouble.

On Sunday, it will have been 2 weeks since my husband woke me at 6am with "Karma's puking aluminum foil." Fantastic. I was kicking myself - when I threw out the greasy foil from the broiler pan I had even remembered to put the garbage can in the pantry (our newest ploy after they figured out how to knock the can of baked beans off the lid), but the door doesn't always latch well and I clearly screwed that up.

That turned into endless doggy diarrhea, withholding normal food, cooking rice and boiling chicken - anyone with a dog probably knows what I'm talking about. But it didn't get better after a day and a half so we called the vet.

That led to a (discounted to) $40 visit to check her temperature, get some intestinal meds and some prescription bland food (so I didn't have to cook as much).

She finished the first course of intestinal meds with no improvement. That led to a (discounted to) $170 vet visit, which included a full blood workup and a different prescription food and a refill on meds. The bloodwork showed only a slightly elevated hematocrit, which is perfectly acceptable in a dog that's slightly dehydrated after more than a week of diarrhea.

After more than a week of treatment it got worse, not better. Now I couldn't even leave the house because she couldn't go for more than an hour without needing to be let outside. The doctor told me if she hadn't improved by Thursday to call back. I had to be gone for several hours yesterday (thank goodness for good friends with house keys) and by the time I got done with the meetings the vet was closed. I was flipping out, because my dog, the queen of 'eat first, think later' (once at 5 months old she broke into the food and almost ate herself to death), was refusing her dinner. Had to be coaxed to eat a tiny bit this morning. So I called first thing this morning and they had me bring her right in - time to start taking pictures.

Today's vet visit was $316 - that's with over $60 in discounts that my wonderful vet gave me on the very expensive toxin cultures and a just-in-case giardia test (already came back negative). It would have been closer to $500 had I remembered to fast her for breakfast so they could pull blood for a pancreatic enzyme test.

Her x-rays today were "not enlightening." How's that for a definitive diagnosis? I think that will replace my current favorite, which was my doctor telling me in August that my wrist "probably wasn't broken." On the up side, there were no obvious foreign bodies - we were all kind of expecting to see aluminum foil in there. BUT, that doesn't mean she didn't eat something stupid that isn't metal (such as foam chicken packaging) causing the problem. However, based on her symptoms a blockage is not likely.

They're now running a special toxin panel ($225) looking for clostridium, salmonella and something else that eludes me at the moment. (Oh yeah! Campylobacter!) These are heavy duty bacterial infections that would be consistent with a garbage can incident, and if we get a positive hit it will be a definitive diagnosis and we can move on to a more powerful antibiotic and be done. Dr. said two of these are persnickety tests that take time and special cultures, so best case we'll get results on Tuesday.

The vet recommended pretty strongly that we do an ultrasound (at least $270) to try to get a better look at her pancreas. And a special blood test to look at pancreatic enzymes, because if it is pancreatitis (which is highly likely, if not the only factor, at least a contributing one) and it keeps going on like this her enzymes could be depleted. That's another $150 or so. That's the one I forgot to fast her for today. Oh, and that one has to be shipped to the vet school at Texas A&M, and they'll be gone for Christmas, so if we're doing it we have to do it by Tuesday.

Another option, although much lower on the recommendation list because of today's inconclusive xrays, is a barium series. Couple hundred dollars and it might not show a damn thing. So that one's on the back burner.

I'd been wondering if they'd suggest it, and she did bring it up... if we go through all of these tests and nothing pans out and her situation does not improve then we have to talk about exploratory surgery. She's only 5 years old and a happy, healthy dog, so this is a reasonable, if last resort, course of action.

For now the doctor and I decided to proceed with one test at a time because she is still doing relatively well and has not lost any weight. Her attitude is going downhill and she's been sad, mopey and refusing food since yesterday, so we have cause for concern - we didn't think it was possible for Karma to refuse food. If her condition has a precipitous decline in the next couple days then we'll have to rush to do a bunch of the tests all at once to try to find the answer before she gets too sick, and before all the doctors disappear for Christmas.

Oh, and all this happened just a few short weeks after a diagnosis of Pannus (aka German Shepherd Corneal Keratitis) and roughly $350 at the animal eye specialist. If there's a problem that German Shepherds can have, she seems to come up with it (she's also got hip dysplasia, and as I'm learning the hard way, Shepherds are particularly susceptible to pancreatitis from eating stupid things).

The particularly fun part is that, for a dog that will obey us for just about anything, she will not open her mouth to get pilled. She clamps her jaw in a way that would be comical if we didn't need to get the medicine into her. If we hide it in food she eats the food and spits out the pill. Getting these meds in her has meant a bunch of canned food and pinched fingers.

So, let's review:

Dog: Free (looooooong story. let's just say at 8 weeks old her personality issues were already conspicuous. anyway, who could resist those ears?)

Bottle of Resolve Pet Stain Formula to handle the cream-colored carpet accident from this morning: $4

Normal medical regimen:
- Glucosamine once a day (hips) ($85 for a bottle that lasts about 4 months)
- NeoPolyDex eye drops twice a day ($15/month)
- Tacrolimus eye drops twice a day ($40/month)

Meds for this problem:
- Metronidazole twice a day, on 2nd scrip now ($30 a scrip)
- Endosorb three times a day, just finished 3rd scrip ($20 a scrip), think we've given up on this
- Albon once a day ($30 scrip)
- Acidophilus once a day ($9 for a 30 day bottle)
- as of today, adding famotidine (aka Pepcid) twice a day ($15 for a 45 day bottle)
- special prescription food with low fat content to take it easy on her pancreas (~$30 a bag)

- blood panel ($100)
- fecal ($20)
- giardia test ($20)
- xrays ($125)
- toxin panel ($225)
- possible pancreatic enzyme test ($150)
- possible ultrasound ($270)

Special f'ing garbage can with dog-proof lid I should have bought when I saw it a couple months ago even though it was $99 and I was broke: priceless.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Country Mouse, City Mouse

Sat down to blog this morning and saw the neighborhood kids walking to the bus stop. Felt a nagging little guilt... then a conversation I'd have sworn I dreamed came back to me.

Him: Blah blah late, blah blah yadda snow blah driveway.

Me (pre-alarm clock): Hhnnnh?

Him: Just remember blah blah something throttle blah blah choke yadda yadda prime.

Me: Unnh.

(Sidebar: I've known how to get a pull engine going since I was about 5 and got my first dirt bike. But somehow that information is unavailable to me when it comes to starting the lawnmower or snowblower, hence the pre-dawn lesson.)

So I abandoned my blog to engage in my least-favorite alternate cardio activity: snow removal. And I don't care what anyone says - even with the mother-of-all-freakin'-snowblowers (how we acquired this monster is a story in itself) - it takes 1-2 hours, I break a sweat and nearly every muscle in my body is sore the next day from wrestling a machine that outweighs me, so I count it as a workout.

This whole snow removal thing is new to me. First time in my life I've had a paved driveway and sidewalks, let a lone a city ordinance that requires it. But honestly, I could give a rat's ass about the city ordinance - I do it because of the neighbors.

We're already the "house with the scary dog" (she barks her head off and tries to jump the fence when people go by, so they're not coming close enough to find out she's actually a teddy bear) and the "why don't they have kids" house. I'm sure it won't be long before we become the "did you hear they can't have kids" house. Or probably the "they adopted from (insert foreign country)" house. My husband even overheard one kid saying to another "he's that bad man" (thankfully the kid, our next door neighbor, said "that's not a bad man, that's Scott." This was shortly after my husband took to shaving his head, so we can only assume the kid associates the bald thing with bad guys.) I am also the "best Halloween decorations" house, but turns out that's a bad thing to uptight people. I didn't want to add to the growing list of neighborhood whispers the "they never clear the walks" house. Cause the thing is, due to a real estate fiasco the likes of which have seldom been seen, when we were finally able to purchase our second house 2 years ago the only 4 left on the market in our range were corner lots. So we're not only on the (ugh) corner, we're on the corner with the bus stop. Not that I mind the kids one bit - I don't. I kind of dig it when I see them running around my front yard on sunny afternoons after the bus lets off. I'm even planning to landscape that corner of our yard with a shade tree and bench for the mommy brigade. But until then I feel like I have to prove something to our neighbors who have so far only gotten the worst possible impressions of us.

I especially feel guilty when my next door neighbor, with his dinky little snowblower, clears the walk all the way from his house to our corner so his kids don't have to walk in the snow. I make a point of clearing his walk for him when I can beat him to it. But then of course I always wonder if he expects me to clear the walk, what if I'm in a hurry and can't do it, will he think I'm snubbing him somehow? Don't want to screw up getting along with them, because already have a disastrous relationship with the house behind us, even though we've gone out of our way to try to make friends with them. I clear their walks too.

This whole neighborhood politics thing, I dunno but I'm pretty sure I don't like it. I grew up in the country - our closest neighbor was a farm a quarter mile down the gravel road. The closest kid to play with was a half mile. We were on a township road, which meant the road grader didn't remove our snow, which could be 3 feet deep. If we couldn't get the half mile to the bus stop we'd miss school, and it didn't count as snow days. Our neighbors even took us to the bus on their snowmobiles once. My dad has pulled the mail lady out of snow banks with the tractor more than once. Guess what I'm saying is, where I come from, it's not a question of who likes whom or favors or anything - it was a rough place to be and no matter what you could 100% count on getting a helping hand. The kind of place where, if you pass another vehicle on the road you wave, because even if you don't know them, they know you or they're going somewhere who knows you. There were no "but he didn't clear his walks" type politics.

I've lived in Chicagoland for going on 11 years now and I guess the old saying is true: you can take the girl out of the country...

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Running in Circles

I'm just not sure what's up with this running stuff. I freely admit I'm not running as often as I need to, but even with work, the holidays and the crisis of the week with my #$*^# dog (Umpteem vet visits and nearly a thousand bucks in recent months. This week it's pancreatitis from garbage can foraging.) I'm still getting in more gym time than the average guy, so it seems ludicrous to bemoan a dearth of training time when I'm still charting improvement, however slight.

When I first started running I could only run around 4.2 mph, and I was fine with that mainly because I didn't know how fast people actually ran. I still choke when I see some of the girls running at 7+ mph. The trainer mentioned that I should be running at least 12 minute miles, and when I realized that was 5.0 mph I had no idea how I would manage it. That seemed incredibly fast. But she's a personal trainer and I'm not, so I did my best to work at that pace, and have been doing so for a while.

Trouble is, there are days when that pace works great, and days when it just about kills me. And then there are days, like yesterday, when it starts to feel slow and I'm able to crank it up to 5.3, sometimes even 5.4 (~11:10 pace) and it feels great. But that same workout yesterday where I was able to make it up to 5.4 started out running at 4.6 and it felt like I was going to die. I just don't get it.

The other thing I noticed is that I don't find that running zone on the days my body can only run in the 4s. I only seem to reach that floaty place when I'm running my intervals at a 12:00 pace or faster.

I guess I'm just too new at this whole running thing to know what's what. Is it normal to fluctuate over such a wide pace range from day to day? Is it normal to feel like dying in the first 20 minutes of a 30 minute run, and feel like you can conquer the world in the last 5? Is it wrong to be trying to work at a pace someone else recommended, or is it good to have that to push me?

I have no idea. My solution to everything is to read a book about it... but they haven't yet written this book. Even the "Complete Idiot's" running book, which has been a fantastic resource, doesn't cover problems this far from the reality of normal Runners. Hell, the marathon pace table in the appendices only goes down to a 12:00 mile - seeing that was when I knew I was dealing with a different animal.

Maybe someday I'll have an epiphany and it will all make sense. Or maybe not. I guess the only way to find out is to keep running.

Monday, December 12, 2005


[Author's note: This experience, and my need to write about it, was what inspired me to launch a blog. This was originally written (and shared with one person) on October 18, 2005. I put it here today to remind myself during this holiday slump that I can and will reach my goals.]

I drug myself to the gym today, more out of habit than anything. On the way there I was already excusing myself from running because in the last week I've had brutal cramps, several migraines, massive allergy attacks and a cold. I deserved not to run. I reasoned that I was a hero for just going to the gym - I needed another rest day after the week I'd had! Walking a hill program would be more than enough. I even brought a book to read while I walked, I was so sure I wasn't running.

Then I started to warm up, and my body over-ruled my mind. Now to be clear, we're talking about my 5th attempt at a 30 minute workout of Run 3/Walk 1 intervals, but for me it's running and it's hard, and my body never wants anything to do with it.

I started my first interval and something amazing happened. I get it now, what the Runners talk about and write about with cult-like fervor. I was soaring... there was no discomfort, no fighting to breath. Just an easy rhythm of feet and breath and arms and my conscious mind floating peacefully outside my body while it ran. For 20 blissful minutes I made it through interval after interval. There was a voice in my head during the walks, urging me on, pushing me to run through them. I had to fight that urge because I know my limitations, but just to want it was worth almost as much as if I’d actually run it all. For the first time there were no burning lungs, no stumbling feet, no staring at the interval countdown like a starving dog at a piece of meat.

Towards the end, after running more than I've ever done before, I felt like I was sliding backwards to nowhere and I feared a crash landing. I was hanging by my fingertips to an ephemeral cliff to keep from slipping back down into myself. Inevitably I landed in familiar territory, with burning lungs and stumbling feet and eyes glued to the last 45... 30... 15 seconds of the interval.

But it's all different now. All the years of believing it wasn't possible for me to run. All the months of fighting my traitorous body and doubting my capacity and measuring progress in 15 second increments. It was worth it. Because today I glimpsed the promised land and it beckoned to me with open arms. As of today, I don't just want to run a marathon someday, I know I'll run one someday. As of today, I think I became a Runner.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Paradigm Shift

Things have been off kilter for me lately. When I sit down to write, my mood and my mind are like a roulette wheel in a rigged house... always landing on a losing square. I look back at my posts from the last week and wonder at the negativity in them. So unlike me, a happy-go-lucky, roll-with-punches kinda gal. I don't wonder that I wrote them - we all have bad days. But I marvel that I wrote them all together, a string of black thoughts. As annoying as my little equipment dramas have been, to read them you'd think I've been having one bad day after the next, and I really haven't. These things have been like flies buzzing my head at a picnic... a minor annoyance, nothing to pack up and go home over.

I will say that I've come to know in these last few equipment troubled weeks that ignorance is bliss. Had I fully understood my equipment problems during the race season it would have frozen me with fear. I was too new, too scared, too intimidated. Too unsure of my ability to conquer this crazy thing I'd committed to. I had to believe I had the right running shoes, because they would magically get me through the torturous run legs. I had to believe my fancy new bike would get me through the heat and the hills, because I certainly couldn't. I had to believe I was as prepared as I could be and that nothing could have been trained for different or better or harder. But it's all different now.

I can feel a change on the cold, snowy wind. A change in me, a change for the better. A change I know I have to go through, even if it means temporarily venting dark and angry thoughts into cyberspace. Because as I swat these flies, I've come to understand something that changes everything.

I got me through the run legs. It didn't matter that my shoes weren't right.

I climbed the hills and took the heat... and did it without benefit of all my gears.

I did that.

And even though not a single thing is actually different - I'm still the same person who panics at the site of a lake and struggles through every step of a run and still has to lose over a hundred pounds - it's all different inside me.

Now I can see my own strength - the races knew it was there and they showed it to me, but I was blind to it. Swatting at these flies knocked off my equipment blinders.

Now I understand why I suddenly vowed to stop swimming junk yards and started doing every drill I could read about. I used to be perfectly content to swim my 880 yds and be done. Now I understand why I, just yesterday, decided it would be a great idea to try running a hill interval workout. I used to do the bare minimum running required of a given day's plan and be done. Now I understand why I'm accepting invitations to go trail biking in the snow. I used to find that sort of thing just this side of insanity. And now I understand why I'm doing all these things, out of the blue, without premeditation. I just do them, and they're hard and new and while I'm there I sometimes think "how did I get here?!?!"... but at the same time it feels like the natural thing to do.

I get it now. It's my time to move up on move on. I had my rookie experience and with my physical limitations I thought I'd be happy to stay at that performance level forever, but now I know that's not even close to the case. Maybe the equipment problems were a rite of passage, I don't know. But I think they served a larger purpose. I needed the buzzing flies to wake me from my just-doing-enough contentedness, to force reevaluation of the possibilities of me. My body has been leading me in that direction for a while now, and it's time for me to follow.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like... Tacky

[Author's note: I sent this to friends and family last Christmas, but it still applies.]

As my nearest and dearest are aware, I have no patience for the zeal with which people display the most god-awful Christmas decorations. When we drive past a particularly heinous display we will exclaim, with the joy of the season in our hearts, "Look honey! Christmas puked in their yard!"

The newest trend in the annual travesty of taste are those giant inflatable yard decorations. It started a few years ago with a puffy Santa, and has devolved into an absurd collage of holiday-spirit-cum-pop-culture. (Does anyone else have a problem with 10 foot tall Santa Homer or Reindeer Scooby Doo?) As new figures come on the market, some folks have gotten the bright idea to put out little groupings of them - some of which approach what I can only imagine are LSD induced nativity hallucinations. More than once we've joked about declaring open season on these earthbound Macy's parade rejects and driving around town with a pellet gun.

This year, one (well-intentioned, I'm sure) twit has outdone them all. Oddly enough for a season in which people strive to out-garish each other, this blunder is elegant in its simplicity. These aren't folks that shingled their roof with lights or filled their yard with plastic reindeer and blinking candy canes. They have a single inflatable Santa. And at some point, these folks must have asked themselves "how can we make the most of our lonely balloon Santa?" And then they must have gotten high, because their solution was... (drumroll please)... to suspend Santa from a tree.

Yep. A tree. The topmost rope is nearly 40 feet in the air, so this took some serious effort. And, while I assume they were going for a benign "father Christmas looking down on us all" motif, the result falls far short. There's a number of ropes going in various directions off Santa into the tree for a prisoner-on-the-rack effect, and for that special redneck touch they anchored his feet to a wheelbarrow. It's creepy in general, and is particularly disturbing when the wind blows, adding a Santa-having-a-seizure effect. When he's not inflated, it looks like a body that's been on the gallows for too long.

I desperately want to meet these people so I can ask them why they hung Santa in effigy.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

I know I'm short, but this is ridiculous

This was my first race season, and after finishing my second (and final) scheduled race in mid-July, I found I was loathe to let it go so soon. My fear I would not enjoy racing was completely unfounded – on the contrary, I fell in love with it. So, I was excited to learn about a 40K cycling time trial in mid-September. The perfect distance at the perfect time; it went into my calendar.

The farthest I’d ever ridden at that point was 20 miles, and I generally kept my training rides at 10-15 miles since I only raced sprints this year. It's really hot around here in the summer, and on a routine training ride I would always finish my bike bottle and guzzle my back-up bottle when I got back to the van. So before I tacked on another 10-15 miles, I knew I had to address the hydration situation.

I spent the early part of the year searching high and low for a bike shop that not only offered the Trek WSD models, but one that actually had the smallest frames in stock so I could even sit on the damn thing. More than once I found myself staring in disbelief at some clueless teenager in a bike shop as they tried to get me to test bikes so tall I could sit my breasts on the saddle... without bending over. I finally had to cave and drive the 60 miles downtown to score my ride.

All that's a long way of saying I was aware I'm on the short side as cyclists go, seeing as how I'm on the short side as people go. But I thought once I acquired a bike that I had cleared that particular hurdle. Unfortunately, it was not to be.

It was summer and it was hot and like I said, I knew I needed to figure out how to carry more fluids. I’m not thrilled with the idea of a Camelback, at least not for triathlon, so I knew I was looking at ways to carry more bottles. I’ve had my fair share of flats already, so I wasn’t in any hurry to abandon my seat bag for a behind-the-seat bottle rack. In case you're wondering why I don't have an aero drink bottle - I do. But it couldn't be installed because the idiot bike shop put my computer where the bottle should go (this will be fixed soon). I noticed there was another set of contact points on the seat tube, so I popped by my LBS one sunny afternoon for a quickie derailleur tweak and second bottle cage.

Next day I was feeling pretty cool as I prepped my bike for a planned 20+ mile ride. Until I tried to put a bottle in my new cage. It didn’t fit. Specifically, it didn’t fit because it’s too tall.

That’s right, I’m so f%&$* short that my bike frame is so %&*# small that a normal-sized bike bottle will not fit in my vertical bottle cage. Luckily I did have a stubby little bottle that just barely squeezed in. BUT, I quickly learned (while challenging the limits of my ability to balance) that I can’t access it while riding because it's such a tight fit it’s a struggle to get out. And I can’t swap it to the “regular” cage spot when my first bottle’s empty because…. you guessed it… the first bottle won’t fit in the damn vertical cage. So after about mile 12, I have to stop and unclip and dismount to get a drink!!! AUUGGHH.

So, back to the drawing board I guess. This is fine temporarily and for training/pleasure rides only… but obviously I need to work something out before I enter any races with a bike leg over 15 miles. I didn't end up needing to solve the problem by September because I almost broke my wrist playing softball (read: desperately need to work on my fielding skills) and couldn't ride for about a month.

I did see a cool accessory called a Cage Rocket that might solve my problem. It's shaped like a bike bottle but acts like a seat bag. If anyone has tried this I'd love to hear your thoughts.

If I'm able to fit the cage rocket in a bottle cage then I can go ahead and get the seat mounted dual cage I've seen on TV in the longer races. Who knows, maybe having a ridiculous bottle capacity will shame me into longer bike rides and get me to my goals of century rides and IMWI that much faster.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Triathlon touched my heart

Regular doctor running late. Been waiting over an hour, so agree to let New Doctor do exam.

(Checks heart)


(Looks at me funny. Checks heart again. Checks chart.)

"Oh. It must be the Inderal slowing you down."

I've been on Inderal (a blood pressure medicine that happens to work for migraine prophylaxis) for 10 years. Nobody ever commented on a slow pulse before. In fact, doctor comments used to be about elevated blood pressure. New Doctor didn't comment on my now-normal BP, because why would she? Just wish I'd thought to ask what my old RHR was so I'd know how much my cardiac health has improved.

This was one more number - in addition to my weight, BMI and jean size - that triathlon has taken a great big bite out of. Woo hoo!

Friday, December 02, 2005


I opened my eyes and decided I wasn't ready for today. The sun is brilliant, all the more so from the reflections off yesterday's snow. Blinding. Painful. The sky is glacier blue, so beautiful I can't help stare at it before the dazzling light forces me to look away, bowing my head in shame at my state before its splendor.

I'm not ready for such a beautiful day. The gloom of this week, the icky drippy cold, the finger numbing misery, they've suited my mood just fine. I'm never going to succeed. How can I call myself a triathlete. I belong under the covers, in the last bit of dark left in the world this morning. I'm not going anywhere. I'm skipping yoga.


I've worked out three times this week already. I've got two projects I really need to work on this morning. My friends are coming from out of town tonight and I'm knocking off early. Technically skipping my workout is the right thing to do. It's not cheating, it's being responsible.

To whom?

Don't have an answer for that one.

So I went. And it was hard and wonderful and peaceful and exhilerating. All the things that yoga is to me, all the things my fickle memory forgets when I have this argument with myself, in some form every Friday morning, when I feel guilty about taking work time for me time. This is almost a ritual in itself, the searching for excuses to go that trump the excuses not to. How long will this go on, this seeking permission from myself to take care of myself?

So I went, and once again the ritual worked its magic. Once again my aches and pains have melted away, and once again I feel ready to take on any challenge the world has for me. I throw open the blinds and I embrace the sunshine, invite it in to sweep clean the cobwebs of my gloom.

Yeah, it's gonna be a great day.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

If the shoe fits...

I was recently excited to discover I needed a second pair of running shoes; it made me feel like a "real" athlete now that I'd worn out a pair.

Everyone always says that a running store is the place to get running shoes because the staff is knowledgable. The thing is, I have a goofy shoe size. I need a 6 EE. You have no idea how hard it is to find shoes - any shoes. And I love me some shoes... so there are some hidden benefits to me not being able to buy them most of the time. I'm sure my husband is perfectly content that I'll never know the indulgence of Manolos or Jimmy Choos.

Most athletic shoe manufacturers don't carry wide widths. New Balance has always been my refuge, and of course this was where I turned for my first pair of running shoes. This was more than a year ago, before I'd figured some things out - specifically, that the kids who work in these stores don't have a clue what they're doing.

The end result was me buying a pair of $120 running shoes because they were the only ones in the store in my size. The kid insisted they would work for me and I believed him, assuming they got special training on the subject. I did not yet know that you should expect them to look at your feet, watch you run, etc. before making the call.

Those shoes were fine, maybe because I didn't do that much actual running. But I always felt funny in them - like I was strapping high-heeled pillows on.

A few months ago I started to feel some pain during and after running and realized it was time for new shoes. I'd finally located a running store in the vicinity, so that's where I headed. On the surface, the lady seemed very knowledgable. She asked me some specific questions, she inspected my shoes for wear patterns, she looked at my feet, she watched me walk. She made a big show of telling me I'd been wearing the wrong shoes for my type of feet - something about high arches, but she never explained what that meant. She also said something about maybe needing orthotics. That sounded complex and expensive, so I ignored that part.

She then proceeded to have me try on every damn shoe in the store that was the "type" I needed, and after that failed she pulled out the catalog. This really ticks me off - I hear a lot of "try this one, this brand runs a bit wide". I wish shoe salespeople would just accept it when they don't have something to fit and let me move on.

She informed me that Nike's Bowerman series (a men's line) is wide width. She sized me at a men's 5. Then said that Nike shoes run small, and that I should get a half-size bigger. She also said you need to get a half-size bigger to allow for your feet to swell. That put me at a men's 6. Well isn't that convenient, the smallest size the Nike Bowerman comes in is a 6. She special ordered them for me, and I was able to pick 'em up about 2 weeks later.

I went and tried them on... boy, did they feel funky. Loose and slippy in the heel, so roomy in the toe box I feel like I'm sliding around. If I tied it tight enough to keep my foot from slipping, I got shooting pains across my instep.

The lady had insisted that I didn't have to buy them if they didn't fit when they came in; the man who was there when I tried them on was not so nice. He basically told me that I was wrong, they fit fine, they should feel roomy, just tie them tighter. I was so confused and intimidated that I bought the damn things. What do I know about running shoes? This guy does marathons and owns a running store.

I ran in them for a few weeks, and almost immediately I'm limping because the bottom of my foot feels like grinding glass and my heel is tight and sore (plantar fasciitis? achilles tendonitis?). This has been going on for about two months.

I mentioned it to the trainer because I wasn't sure what to do. The other shoes might have been "wrong", but they never caused pain like this. She took one look at my new Nikes and forbade me to run in them ever again. She said that 9 out of 10 people who she knows with plantar fasciaitis were running in Nike shoes. She also said that the woman at the store should be ashamed of herself for selling me men's shoes, because we are so biomechanically different there's no way a men's shoe would be appropriate, especially for an overweight woman.

I was seriously frustrated, because at that point all I had was conflicting opinions on which shoes don't work for me. I wanted some professional advice but there aren't any other running stores in my vicinity. BUT...

I needed to take my bike in, and there is a Fleet Feet two blocks from the bike shop. I decided that would be the perfect way to kill the hour while they fixed my bike.

I took in my old shoes and told the guy there my sob story. He was awesome. He explained things to me, he watched me run, he even got a second person to watch me run to be sure, he explained why he was choosing certain shoes for me. (If you ever go to the Fleet Feet on North Ave in Chicago, ask for Eric.) Best of all, he found 3 pairs of shoes that fit me amazingly well - and had me run in each of them so I could make an informed choice. It was great, and even though it pained me to drop another $110 on shoes when my Nikes are still shiny, I felt confident I was doing the right thing.

I had been avoiding the trip down to this store because it's a 60 mile traffic nightmare, but when I think about the money I've wasted on inappropriate shoes I realized it's more than worth it to spend the time and gas to get it right. I'll never shop at any other running store again.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


I love my bike. LOVE it. I saved up for it, was over the moon when I finally got it in April, have gone out of my way to baby it. But from the beginning, I've had trouble shifting her. Honestly, I thought it was just me not knowing how to deal with my first "real" bike, and that I would get used to it. But it never got any easier - in fact, it got harder and harder. So when I took it back to the bike shop for the initial tune-up in May, I mentioned the shifting problem.

They tuned it up, and when I asked if they fixed the shifting, the guy returning my bike said he didn't know what they'd done but he'd check it out for me. He took it for a (rather long, so I assumed thorough) test ride, and just like when your car won't make a bad noise for the mechanic, he came back saying it was shifting beautifully and all was well.

But it wasn't, and the very next day when I went for a ride it was giving me hell again. I literally couldn't use the bottom three gears (for most of the summer, actually). The chain just refused to engage them.

It might clarify things to interject that the original bike shop is a 60 mile, heavy traffic, 90-minute-on-a-good-day trip. So, as the story progresses and you're asking yourself 'why didn't this twit just take it back there?'... well, that's why.

So. In June a mechanically inclined friend adjusted things for me. It was better for a little while. (i.e. I could sometimes get into those gears, and it lasted just long enough to get through my first race)

I made it through the 2nd tri with it mostly working, but it was getting worse.

I went for what was supposed to be a 20-30 mile ride shortly after my 2nd tri, but had to cut it way short because the shifting was flat out not functional. Added to this was a new and disturbing angry chain noise mixed with periods of loose, chain-free spinning. I drove straight to my LBS.

The bike shop guy fiddled with it for 5 minutes, spouted some stuff about how whoever fixed it before hadn't done something right with some screw, and pronounced it fixed. It worked better for a little while. But I never did make it back to do another long ride because in the meantime I hurt my wrist, plus I wasn't too keen on another long-distance battle with my shifters. I was starting to think maybe I should upgrade them or something. To my horror, riding my beloved new bike had gone from something to which I looked forward to something I dreaded. I was also questioning my decision to blow four figures on a bike I was starting to believe I didn't know how to handle.

Today I took it back to the original bike shop to get my freebie winter tune-up. I made the trip largely because there's a running store two blocks down I was keen to visit (more on this equipment snafu in my next post). When I went to pick it up, the guy tells me they're keeping my bike because the shifter is defective and they have to send it back to the factory.

They couldn't figure that out 6 months ago?!?!?!

He said something along the lines of I should have noticed it was defective, and I told him that it had given me a lot of trouble and I'd had it worked on several times. I asked him how a first-time owner was supposed to recognize a defective part when the mechanics hadn't. He then had the nerve to ask me why I hadn't brought it to them... if he'd looked at the service record on the counter in front of him he'd have seen that I DID.

I'm glad that it's not just me, and that the darn thing is finally getting fixed. I'm just irritated I spent the better part of this year thinking I was an idiot who couldn't figure out how to shift my own damn bike.

BUT... I did find a silver lining in this frustrating little mess.

Even with all the technical problems, I was beyond happy with how much my cycling improved this year. I can't wait to see how much my bike splits improve next year, when my gears actually work!

Gaining Weight

Had my weight lifting class today. I was so very tempted to skip because I had a migraine last night and was still a little woozy - it's a 75 minute advanced class with a trainer who (we're convinced) has a sadistic streak (but we love her anyway). But during this off-season lazy spell, this has devolved into the only resistance training I get in each week (down from 3x) so I hate to blow it off.

It took me a long time to work up the courage to join the class - for many months I did my own little 30 minute lifting sessions prescribed by the trainer, and that was enough for me. I was intimidated by the clearly athletic folks in the group (they range in size from 4-8, 3 of them are personal trainers), but once I reached a certain stage the trainer kept encouraging me and eventually I gave it a shot.

Of course I loved them all, and they were really sweet to me, and it was fine even though I felt like a huge wimp because they were using weights I couldn't lift for stuff I was using single digit dumbbells on.

Today, everything changed. I've been in the darn class for something like six months and hadn't really noticed any big improvements in what I could handle (what I get for only doing it once a week). Today, when I went to do the things we usually do, I kept checking the numbers on the dumbbells because they felt way too light. I was going through sets that used to kill me without batting an eye. I mentioned it to my partner for today (Susan #2), and she just laughed at me. She said that she remembers when Susan #3 (an awesome lady who lost 140 lbs) went through the same thing and she acted exactly like I was - surprised and confused, like there was something wrong with the weights. She had also needed someone to point out to her that she was ready to move up.

So, yeah, I'm a dork. But on the bright side, today I moved up from 5s and 8s to 10s and 12s and even one set at 15. It's not much, but it's progress, and that's always something to be happy about.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Did run intervals today. Was not feeling it, barely made it through, but that's par for the course of late. Nothing to talk about there.

After my workout - which included warm-up, cool-down and before-and-after stretching (injury paranoia trumps laziness) - I was feeling pretty good. Not 'great workout' good, but 'at least I worked out on this crappy day' good. And I was happy to be ooooh-so warm and toasty. I layered up and headed home.

When I stepped outside I got hit with an icy blast of wind, and the strangest thing happened. It felt like my quads actually froze - I could almost hear the superhero cartoon sound effect (zzzhhhttt!) when it happened.

Made me walk funny - I could feel the muscles very clearly with every step to the car, reminded me of the pseudo-pliability of half-thawed chicken breasts. A couple hours later, it still feels funky to climb the stairs.

This just can't be a good thing.

Monday, November 28, 2005


After months of being a tri-geek alliance groupie, I finally caved to the inevitable and joined the party. Guess I was jealous the other guys were having all the fun.

By way of introduction...

I'm a thirty-something professional writer living with my husband and six pets in the greater Chicagoland area. I was born and raised a country kid in central Illinois, and my family still works the farm in southern Illinois. I was a math team, speech team, scholastic bowl, drama club, marching band, yearbook, NHS tomboy geek who had her own motorcycle from the age of 5. I did manage to outgrow the tomboy thing. I knew in my heart at 14 that I was going to U of I, and I did just that. That's roughly when my health problems started, so everyone kind of thought it was the rigors of college life taking a toll on me.

I spent about a decade with my health in gradual decline and my weight on an exponential increase due to an undiagnosed thyroid condition. By the time I got a doctor to listen, I'd gained 153 pounds. From a size 6 to a size 24. I could barely get out of bed, I had constant migraines, chronic fatigue, was constantly cold, constantly sick, my hair was coming out, and on and on. After a battery of tests I was diagnosed as hypothyroid (among other things) and finally started getting the treatment I needed.

After a couple of years I had to accept that the medication would not be magically taking the weight off. I'm ashamed to admit I took a temporary detour down the route of wallowing in self-pity, and being bitter and angry at the unfairness of it all. I ate pretty well, was fairly active - generally did the things people do to lose weight - but just kept gaining. By the time I got medicated I was so unfit I could barely carry a laundry basket up the stairs. Hell, I could barely get myself up the stairs without a breather. I hated myself and missed my old body. When I looked in the mirror I didn't even recognize me.

After a lot of soul-searching, I accepted the obvious - that it was going to take a lot more to restore my old self than eating right and getting on the elliptical during Oprah. I had to take control and make some big changes. I basically gave up (gasp) TV and replaced it with exercise.

About six months into my adventure I was introduced to the idea of triathlon and it appealed to me in a way nothing else has. I decided right away that I would do a sprint race the next summer. I couldn't run a step, could only swim in an 'at least I won't drown' kind of way, and generally didn't bike more than 3-5 miles.

It took me 13 months to train for my first race, in June 2005, and I still had to walk the run leg. But to my own huge surprise I was irrevocably hooked. The biggest surprise of all is that my situation has inspired several other women who realize if I can do it, there's nothing to stop them. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I'd ever be guiding women through their first triathlons... but I'm thrilled about it. I'd rather walk across the finish line to support someone in their first race than set a PR. The really funny thing is that, once they get going, every last one of them is going to pass me by.

So, even though I'm not a "typical" triathlete, here I am. I'm training, I'm planning races, I'm lusting after bikes and pondering equipment purchases - just like anyone else. I was thrilled to find the tri-geek community, and am ever so grateful at how nice y'all have been to this back of the packer.