Thursday, November 3, 2011

Just In Case

There are millions of distinctive qualities that make my mother such a special, beautiful person, both inside and out. The only quality, however, that made her such a favorite target of the Homeland Security customs officers, however, was her choice of suitcase.

Huge and black, with wheels and a heavy-duty metal handle, that suitcase as I remember it could have easily fit a small child...and judging by the way customs targeted and searched through that thing, that was exactly what they were expecting to find.

Whenever we traveled abroad, Dad's rule for Hanna, Max, Alex, and I was "Whatever you bring, you carry." Instead of the intended effect, lighter and more careful packing, this usually meant we carried about half our things in our small bags and the overflow went into Mom's car trunk of a suitcase. No room for both a heavier and a lighter jacket? No worries, Mom had room. Things packed so tightly there's no room for souvenirs? No worries, Mom had room. Snacks, books, stuffed animals, video games, rolls of toilet paper? No worries, Mom had room. As a result, Mom's suitcase became a "just-in-case." So carefully packed before we left Kansas City, on the return journey it would be stuffed so full it would be misshapen and practically bursting at the seams, groaning along awkwardly on unsteady wheels, and letting off the occasional clank or gurgle as things shifted in its depths. Every time she passed through customs, she was pulled over for searching. And every time they searched her, she'd get that vaguely embarrassed expression that all moms get when caught indulging their children in some kind of unnecessary luxury.

I hate to admit it, but Dad was right. As a result of that indulgence, I've never really learned how to pack. Instead of bringing along what I know I'll need, I bring along everything I think I might need - a "just-in-case" I'm now forced to carry. Packing for the beach house is a prime example. What I wear when I'm there in the summer, historically, is two swimsuits (one to wear while the other dries - I hate putting on wet suits), two pairs of shorts, two shirts, flip flops, running shoes, and a couple running outfits. I've never once needed a jacket, jeans, heels, or anything dressy...but the packing monster insists on planning for every contingency, like snow on Dauphin Island in July or a black tie event at the Oar House, purveyor of fine fried food, beer, and Alabama football. We even have a washer/dryer there and a closet filled with things like jackets and extra sweatshirts...but still, I persist...just in case.

So here I am on the eve of my flight to New York facing an empty suitcase with a brain full of running-related what-ifs, and I have a feeling this is going to make for a very heavy suitcase to haul around for four hours - we land around 11ish and don't check in until 3. I know what I need and don't need...but I also know I can't really just buy whatever I might forget. Going to the beach in a new swimsuit is one thing, running a marathon in a new shirt or shoes is a totally different, different-bad. At least I don't have that many contingencies to plan for, weather-wise - the forecast looks absolutely beautiful for marathon running and I know exactly what I'm going to wear race-day: purple Alzheimer's Association singlet, black Under-Armour shorts, fluorescent yellow compression sleeves, black armwarmers, light gloves, and the turquoise/silver/white Mizuno Wave Runners. (If you're looking for me during the race, that's my outfit!) And we're carrying on, so I don't have to worry about losing luggage. If I didn't have to worry about the size of my bag, though, I'd totally be in the attic right now looking for that black monstrosity of a suitcase. Assuming that thing still zips, of course.

As for the rest of my day, Mom never went on a trip without first cleaning the house from top to bottom - something that annoyed me to no end when I was a kid. "Why are we cleaning?" I'd ask. "No one's going to be here!"

"What if the house burned down or we were robbed?" she'd ask. "Someone might have to come in here and I don't want them seeing a messy house. You know, just in case."

"If it burned down, what would it matter? And who cleans for burglars?"

"JUST. DO. IT." And then she'd give me a look that would send me scurrying off to my room to pick things up off a floor no one would see.

She was right, though. No one would see it, but it was nice coming home to a clean house. So I'll do it too...just in case.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Race Recap - Kansas City Half Marathon

Finishing up with my raceday wingman!
Primary Goals:
(1) Run with Ethan and have a great time! Check.
It's generally a bad idea to run what you want to be an easy-paced race with someone who's significantly faster than you, unless you've discussed your mutual goals thoroughly ahead of time. Fortunately, despite his usual competitive drive, Ethan was amenable to my "have a great time" goal for his first return to "organized running" since acquiring his bionic knee. We had a great time talking and cruising along, without even counting the miles or thinking about pace, and I didn't even look at my watch until Eddie asked me my finish time.

The kinds of details we were laughing about aren't really suitable for a race report, though they were mostly just good-natured jabs at each other or of a people-watching nature. Races are fantastic places to people-watch! Unfortunately, while having a good time and chattering away I didn't actually observe or do any of the things one would usually mention in a race report. Sorry about that.

(2) Finish in a respectable time given whatever limitations the day chose to throw at me. Check.
No limitations for this race! This was my first half-marathon where I wasn't going up against some kind of pre-ordained handicap:
  • 2010 Rock the Parkway - shin splints
  • 2010 Hospital Hill - shin splints
  • 2011 First Light Half Marathon - did not run (PF)
  • 2011 Rock the Parkway - ITBS
  • 2011 Hospital Hill - ridiculous heat!
A more dedicated person might have used that as an excuse to kill it and go for a sub-2 time, but I just wanted to enjoy the day and finish without feeling like I'd run my way to a slow death by suffocation. Though a sub-2 is definitely within reach if I let the Type A monster take over and maybe not walk so much through the aid stations. (I took maybe 15 seconds walking through each - 1 cup Gatorade, 1 cup water, and go!)

(3) See all my friends and wish them luck! Check - sort of.
For me, running is equal parts solitary and social. I enjoy the solitary runs that give me time to think (or not think), observe my surroundings, and appreciate the day. I also enjoy the runs surrounded by friends where there's never a silent moment (unless we're going fast up a hill or something) and no topic is safe from consideration. I tell my running friends things I don't tell some of my closest non-running friends sometimes - I think I'm just so focused on what I'm doing, the filter comes off. Runner's Edge has put me smack in the center of the Kansas City running community, and I'm always thankful for the friendships and the inspiration I've found there.

Plus, when the weather is as "ideal" as it was this weekend, everyone's in high spirits and pleased with their times! Congrats to everyone, especially Mark, Jen, Rachel, Eddie, Blaine, Jeff, Pam, Susie, pacer Ashley, and the Angies!

Secondary Goals:
(1) No bathroom breaks. Check. 
Fortunately, I had enough gas in the tank for a final acceleration and was able to push the gas pedal a little with about 1.1mi to go...just in time for the slight incline to the finish. ("Downhill to mostly flat" my ass!) After the hill, I realized I had to go to the bathroom, so I slowed down a tiny bit but managed a nice finishing kick for the last 0.1. Maybe it was scared out of me last year when Nick threatened to tip my port-a-potty over if I didn't hurry the eff up! 

(2) Debut the anticipated NYC outfit and make sure nothing rubbed me the wrong way. Check. 
One of my last pre-Illinois Marathon purchases was a pair of Zensah compression calf sleeves, since I knew we were going to be driving down to Alabama as soon as the race was over and I wanted to be able to stand up when we stopped for lunch. However, since some of my friends have had luck running in them and since I absolutely hate running in pants unless I absolutely have to when it gets a bit chilly out, I decided I'd give them a try for this race and if they worked, run with them in NYC. After all, maybe fluorescent yellow calves will help my family and friends pick me out of the crowds a little easier!

Of course, they clashed fabulously with my gold-yellow Alzheimer's Association singlet. But shortly after, I received an E-mail saying that they were sending - and preferred if we'd run in - the original Alzheimer's purple. So I'm no longer running in Mizzou colors, I'm running in K-State colors. Oh well.

My arm sleeves are Nike and black. I've had them since I first ran Kansas City last year, but I had a tiny bit of chafing at the tops along the seams and I'm thinking about buying ones that fit a tiny bit looser...but not enough to shift around or slide down. I might look for ones that match my calf sleeves for that extra bit of visibility.

(3) Actually remember to stop my Garmin at the end of the race. ...Whoops.
I make fun of Brian because there's a photo of him stopping his Garmin at the finish line in every single race he's done. He's a lot more diligent than I am. It usually isn't until I've received my medal and am halfway through a bottle of water before I remember to stop my watch. Ryan Hall didn't do it when he ran Boston last year, so I guess I'm in good company.

I finished in 2:02, not 2:06. Stupid gun time.

Anyways, the 14 minute PR was just icing on the cake, and I had enough left in me for a 7-mile victory lap through the West Bottoms and along the Riverfront Heritage Trail. Because I hadn't taken any electrolytes during the race and because it REALLY started to warm up about three miles in, my stomach started cramping badly for the last two miles...but I made it through for my last 20 miler of the season. Brian and I followed up the successful day with Oklahoma Joe's for dinner - my favorite recovery meal!
Brian eats way faster than I do.
There are a lot of factors that could complicate a 4:15-4:30 marathon finish based on a 2:02:24 half, even though all the race calculators call it pretty much a slam dunk. Bathroom breaks, for example, or a less-than-ideal weather day (two things I haven't learned how to control, despite every effort to do so). So just to be on the safe side, I decided to double down and go for another kind of 4:15 goal...a final $415 in my fundraising account. Shortly after announcing as much on Facebook, I received a VERY speedy donation from my friend Susie. Sometimes doubling down means double the reward! And if not...I still raised $7000+ more for Alzheimer's research than I would have if I'd never tried at all.

Besides, I knew the minute I wrote it that Mom would be irritated with me for backing down from any opportunity to do additional good. Sometimes it's weird, having a voice like that in my head since I don't have the real thing to back it up anymore. It's almost like asking what Jesus would do. Weird.

Friday, October 14, 2011

An Underachiever Ponders Success

One of my favorite lines from my baby book, unearthed from one of the upstairs bookshelves on a recent expedition for something else entirely, is on the page headed "First Talents."
10/84 - You can read - I don't know how - but you can read.
I peaked early. In fact, depending on how high your standards are, one could argue it was all pretty much downhill from there. I combed the entire book from beginning to end looking for SOME sign of the underachieving and often underwhelming adult I would become, but, in the first few years anyways, there was no indication of such. She recorded that I was (tunefully) humming along to Bob Dylan songs at eight months old, and eleven days later, my first sadness was indicated at "the death of Anwar Sadat."

In fact, the only thing in the entire book that sounds like present-day me was my "talent for consuming amazing amounts of food," documented 11 days after my arrival and also under the heading "First Talents." (Thanks, Mom.)

Nor was her language reminiscent of the simpering "proud parent" who's so blinded by love she's convinced her overwhelmingly average baby is, in fact, a budding genius. Just the opposite, in fact. My fecal fingerpainting on the walls in Cancun did not have her rhapsodizing about her young Picasso - she was as irritated as any ordinary person would be and said as much. No mincing of words. I felt so dirty reading the recap, I almost felt compelled to wash my hands.

Fast forward thirty years. If I hadn't heard so many stories over the years about my gifted childhood, I wouldn't have believed the child she was writing about and the all-too-often unspectacular adult I've become are the same person. One of my deepest, darkest fears is that her last coherent impression of me was as a disappointment, and I know I haven't done a very good job in recent years of remedying that - for myself, if not for her. I'm trying...but I wish Mom would have had a chance to know me as a successful adult, not just the adrift one. I have a decent idea of where my gifts and talents lie, I just haven't exercised any of my potential yet.

One of the things I've had a surprising amount of success at, recently, has been my fundraising. Because I've never undertaken anything like this before, I had no idea of what I was capable of. The fundraising minimum for guaranteed entry to the New York City Marathon through the Alzheimer's Association is $3500. I didn't set that as my goal for two reasons - (1) I had the feeling I could do better than that, and (2) I figured I'd be more likely to receive larger donations if people saw I was going for a larger goal. So, having no experience with fundraising on such a grand scale, I picked a number out of the sky - $6000. It's not glamourous, but it's nice and round.

It didn't take long to get to $3500, and I breathed an initial sigh of relief. Before long, it became obvious I was going to hit the $6000 mark with ages to go until the race. I contemplated announcing I was setting myself a small secondary goal of $1000 in the month and a half left to go until race day...but, wondering if I was pushing my luck and not wanting to go into the race feeling like a failure in ANY way, I abstained. I kept it as a high water mark in my head, but did not go public with it...until now.

Of course, there are no stakes to declaring that as my "taper" goal now, because I already exceeded it. After my friend Patti's jacket purchase was processed yesterday and my fundraising account credited, my account is sitting at exactly $7010. And now I'm at a crossroads.

Tomorrow morning bright and early, I'm running in the Kansas City Half Marathon. Not only will it be good for me to get my feet wet in my first race since June, it will be a good test of the feasibility of my race goals for NYC. But after the race, I still have another 7 miles to go to get to the scheduled 20 mile run. I plan on finishing, grabbing my goodies and my medal, meeting up with Brian, and then away I'll go (he's going to pace me on his bike). And that will be my last 20 mile run for this training period. Fortunately I've had a lot of successful, confidence-building runs of 20 miles or more (3 20s including tomorrow, 2 22s, and a 23) so even if the last 7 aren't as easy as I'd like, I don't think I have too much to worry about. And then my three week taper begins.

The First Law of Thermodynamics states that energy can never be created or destroyed, it can only be transformed. Marathon taper periods are designed around this principle - by gradually dialing down the mileage and the intensity in the three weeks leading up to the race, the body can use its energy to repair minor damage incurred during training without losing too much in the way of general fitness. This permits the runner to line up at the starting line with the freshest possible legs. Unfortunately, this surplus of energy can also be expended in alternate ways - going crazy, for one. I'm good at that one, as indicated by my last post. Especially if running is pretty much the only way I keep from going crazy in the first place.

My friend Courtney, who recently ran her first marathon in Portland (and rocked a sub-4, I might add!) designed a taper strategy to keep herself from going nuts - she set herself a bunch of goals related to planning her upcoming wedding. In other words, it seemed to me she was setting out to kill two stressful birds with one stone, but in the meantime, be productive and get something positive out of the whole experience. Insofar as I could tell, her reviews on this strategy are mixed.

So as I approach my taper period over a thousand dollars over my initial fundraising goal, I'm considering setting myself another, smaller, fundraising goal to try my hardest to meet or exceed during my taper period. Fundraising has not been a stressful experience for me - in fact, it's been exactly the opposite - so maybe I'd be able to reap some mental benefits from all the good my loved ones and I are doing. Maybe with something positive to occupy my thoughts, I'll see fewer germs in the air, take less Vitamin C, and drive my friends and family a little bit less crazy with all the second-guessing of myself I'm prone to do when I'm nervous.

I don't want to set too optimistic a goal. Too much and I'll go into the race knowing I set myself a goal and failed at it. I don't want anything remotely RESEMBLING failure occupying any part of my brain on race day. I want it to be a 26.2 mile celebration of everything my friends and family have helped me to accomplish up to now. Basically, this is just a victory lap - the hard work is already done.

But too little, and I'll feel like I squandered the chance to squeeze as much good as possible out of this amazing opportunity I've been given.

Will post more on this later. Incredible amounts of food just showed up. I have a destiny to fulfill.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Attack of the EARLY Taperworm!!!

OCTOBER 2010 - I first knew I was infected as I sat at my desk, gazing down at a small bag of microwave popcorn that, with its seductive, distinctive scent, promised to soothe the hungry monster roaring plaintively from my stomach.

It had been a bad morning to skip breakfast. With hours to go until the close of the commodities markets and the only time a day trader can catch a few bites to eat before diving back into the numbers, the only thing able to drown out the insistent crescendo of gurgling from my midsection was--


His eyes watering, my coworker rubbed at his already red nose with a Kleenex. He dropped it on top of a steadily growing pile in his trash can. "I think I have a cold!" he announced to no one in particular. I sighed, picked up a fork, and began to spear kernels directly out of the protected environment of the bag. When I stood up, I sealed it carefully before walking away.

Having never eaten popcorn with a fork before, I wasn't sure what compelled me to do so, I only knew if I'd dumped it onto the surface of my desk and eaten it with my hands, like I usually do, that something awful was going to happen. My shoulders, already tense from awkwardness of eating in such an unusual way, tensed even more every time he sneezed. I noticed he turned MY direction as well, instead of sneezing facing forward or to the left. Every fiber of my being itched to tell him so, but I was (mercifully?) distracted when another coworker dropped a completed position sheet on my desk for review. Her nose was red as well, and she rubbed at it with her fingers.

I spotted a fingerprint on the sheet, dropped it, and ran to the kitchen, searching frantically for the Lysol bottle. It had begun - my week-long war on germs. Real and imaginary.

Let the record show I am not a hypochondriac, nor am I especially susceptible to cold and flu germs. I'm blessed with an excellent immune system and haven't thrown up (from an illness, anyways) since I was very young. But for whatever reason, with a week to go until the Kansas City (my first) Marathon, I was seeing germs in the air the way Neo saw digital numbers in the end of "The Matrix." I could taste them on my food, I could see them on the papers I shuffled through during the day, I could almost feel myself breathing them in I was so hypersensitive to their presence. I knew it - I was going to catch a cold prior to my first marathon and all that training was going to be for nothing.

When I didn't get sick and had successfully completed that first marathon, I thought maybe it was just first-timer stress and unfamiliarity with the whole taper process. I affectionately labeled my mania my "taperworm" - because it started in my stomach as an insane hunger, then went to my brain and made me crazy - and didn't think I'd see it again. But I was wrong. Two weeks out from the Illinois Marathon, I started feeling the germs crawling their way across my face again, towards my nose and mouth, and wondered why the bosses at work, in their infinite wisdom, had sat the heaviest smoker in the room directly behind me. I speculated with friends about whether or not she could feed herself on all the lung butter she coughed up and continued to handle her position sheets carefully, by the corners only. Then she caught a cold, and out came the hand sanitizer.

"Why don't you just go HOME?" I asked.

"I can work, I'm fine," she said. "I just have a cold, that's all."

I bit back the "I'm not worried about you, I'm worried about ME!" reply. People don't seem to take too kindly towards your pointing out how disgusting they are when it's not a comment borne of loving concern for their health and well-being.

Now I know what to expect, but I also expect my third taperworm to be my worst yet. For one, it's already kicked in two weeks prior to my official taper period - a late allergy season has made everyone around me hacking, sneezing snot machines, and while I know allergies aren't catching, a part of me wonders if maybe it isn't just allergies...maybe they have a cold. And if they have a cold, it's one of those month-long varieties, and if it's a month-long cold and I catch it, I'm screwed. And this is the first race I'll have to fly to - and planes are notorious breeding grounds for germs, as anyone who's read "The Hot Zone" knows all too well. I doubt I'm going to catch Ebola from a Kansas City-to-New York City flight, but a nasty flu would have the same effect, as far as my race is concerned.

There's a lot riding on this one. If I, for whatever reason, had to drop out of the race this year, I could always defer to the next year, but I'd disappoint the donors who've given so generously to my cause and expressed such enthusiasm for "seeing" me finish the race. Ten people (Brian, Dad, Alex, Max, Hanna, Jen, Shane, Beth, Megan, and Tom Baddeley) are making the trip to see me run and still more are joining us once we get to New York City. There are flight reservations, hotel reservations, and vacations hanging in the balance. So not only am I shying away a couple weeks early from all the coughers and sneezers, I'm listening very carefully to all the aches and pains and twinges I feel in my muscles. I ran last night and my back hurt - was that a reaction to the awful time I had wrangling the dogs the night before, or was that a sign that something's about to break down? Should I take Advil, or will that just compound the problem? And why in the hell does my shoulder hurt this morning? And why in the hell did I just touch my face?

DEEP breath.

I had a conversation a few weeks ago with a couple of my running buddies, and we all agreed - run-stopping injuries come and go, but the paranoia of being what-feels-like-permanently sidelined persists forever. It doesn't matter if you've had an exceptionally successful training period, like I have for New York City - until you cross the finish line, that fear is always there. For me, it's intensified since my last marathon finish was stolen from me by an unexpected IT band flare-up. So many things could go wrong...but all I know is, as long as I'm conscious and able to keep moving forward, I will. This race is for Mom and I'm NOT giving up. Even if I'm the absolute last person to finish, I will. I guess I'm just hoping for something a little more spectacular than that.

Condition: Taperworm (var: elizabethus marathonosis hypochondrius)


  • Originates in stomach with urge to consume everything consumable in sight.
  • Excessive dependence on Vitamin C (note: distinctive rattling noise emanating from all handbags)
  • Carrying of Lysol bottles
  • Dry, cracked hands that smell strongly of hand sanitizer
  • Marked aversion to eating with hands or touching face
  • Compulsive hydration

Onset: 2-3 weeks from marathon race day. Occurs during "taper" period of training, hence the term "taperworm."

Treatment: Palliative. No known cure. Symptoms will immediately fade on morning of race, once event has commenced.

(Note: This post is a dramatization. Sort of. I DID eat popcorn with a fork, though.)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

It's Official-Official-Official!

Getting "officially in" to the New York City Marathon, when you're running for charity, is a multi-step process:

1. Apply with your charity of choice and pay the applicable application fee. The application for the Alzheimer's Association opened in mid-April with a mid-May deadline. I received notification on June 10. Some may have been accepting applications way earlier than that, but some were also accepting as late as yesterday evening. The fee was reasonable - $50 - and if my application wasn't accepted, I wouldn't have been charged. It, in turn, was applied to my fundraising account.

2.  Register with the New York Road Runners and pay the registration fee. Non-charity runners would have done this all the way back in April, when they found out they'd been accepted, but charity runners received invitations to register in August. This was the kicker for me. For some reason, I'd either confused "guaranteed entry" with "paid entry" or I'd just forgotten that the $196 registration fee was going to come due eventually...but it did, and exactly at the wrong time. I received the E-mail inviting me to register, then received a call from Coach Brian (of Team R2R) informing me there was actually a deadline for this, otherwise I wouldn't be able to run the race. Ouch.

At this point, I was officially "in" - my login showed that I had been accepted and I could pull up the PDF registration card that I have to print out and show when at the expo when I go to pick up my packet. However, because NYRR assigns bib numbers in waves and because I hadn't registered the minute I got my invitation, I had to wait for it to fill in the middle section with all the info I didn't provide.

And wait...and wait...and wait. They don't actually notify you when they assign these things, so of course my OCD self had downloaded about a thousand registration cards with no bib number/wave/corral/start time info, just to see if it was there yet. Coach Brian assured and reassured me that yes, I was actually registered, they were just processing things and I should get my info soon. It's just so hard to wait when most of the people on your team are chattering on the Facebook page about their start times!

But today, I logged on on a whim and found (edited for your viewing pleasure)...

3. I've been assigned a bib number! I'm official now - for real!!!

According to the Corral Chart, this means I'll be starting at 10:10 AM in Wave 2, Corral 35. From what I've heard, Blue and Orange start on top of the Verrazano Narrows bridge and Green starts below. So I'll be in a great position to take it all in, and I'll be starting right in the middle.

So here's the dilemma. A long time ago, when I first filled out the registration form (back in November, when I was a lottery entrant), I was thinking I'd shoot for a 4 hour finish, so that's what I entered. I forgot to change that when I completed Step 2 above and paid my registration fee. Whoops.

Since then, I've adjusted my goal to a slightly more reasonable/attainable 4:15-4:30 finish. (That's 4 hours and 15-30 minutes, not 4:15-4:30 PM, for the uninitiated.) The only reason I initially chose 4:30 was because that's the cutoff time to get your name in the New York Times...and also because it would have me finishing an hour better than I finished Kansas City. I then added the 4:15 when I realized I was actually running pretty well...enough to enjoy a little more of a challenge.

To run a 4:15 marathon, I would have to average 9:43 minute miles. To run a 4:30, I would have to average 10: 17. But in all of my training runs, I've been shooting for a goal pace of 9:15-9:30 minute miles, which would put me right between a 4 hour and a 4:15 finish. Why have I been trying to run faster, you might ask? Because (a) I have a sometimes uncooperative GI tract and would like to have a little extra time to hit the bathroom as needed - in the Kansas City Marathon, this was often, (b) I want time to take pictures with family and friends along the course without being rushed, (c) I want to enjoy myself and the experience and not stress out too much, especially since I'm unfamiliar with the course and what I'm "getting myself into," and possibly (d) I'd like to actually meet - or exceed?!?! - a time goal in one of these things, for once.

The slowest pace group I can run with in Wave 2 is a 4 hour pace group - running 9:09 minute miles. But these pace groups are advertised as running at even pace...and I'm not sure that's reasonable for me. I know I'm not as strong an uphill runner but I can definitely rock the downs, so I was planning on ordering a SmartPace band (see above), which accounts for the layout of the course, and running my own race. But like any runner, I can get caught up in the excitement and the pace of the crowd and totally (accidentally) throw the plan out the maybe starting slower would be a better idea. Usually I line up at the back when I race, in front of the walkers but behind people who run as quickly/slowly as I run, so I can be sure to get a good conservative start. In that case, I'd want to move back to Wave 3. But if I'm not going to run with them anyways, and my goal pace is faster than my finish time, maybe being with the faster folks isn't a bad idea, either. I could probably shoot for 4...probably. But I'm not sure I'm to the point I want to...yet.

Plus, if I move, there's a chance I'll get moved to the lower level of the bridge. I've heard both have their advantages and disadvantages, but most of the fanfare can be experienced on the top level...and maybe it's silly of me, but I don't want to miss that. The time goal, after all, is secondary. I have no problem throwing it out the window entirely on race day, if that's how I'm feeling, and just having a great time. If I finish, I'll be happy.

I still have some time to think about it, but not too much - at some point, I'm going to have to pick a pace and do some calculating so my family can know approximately when I'll be where. Decisions, decisions. I'd love your comments/thoughts on this, if you have any.

But at least I'm in. Officially.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I had a dream last night that I spent the entire last mile of the marathon crying my eyes out. People kept asking what was wrong and all I could say, like a little kid, was that I missed my mommy. I woke up and it was September 21st - Alzheimer's Action Day.

I've spent the morning wondering if what I'm doing here is actually activism in the traditional sense of the word. Honestly, some days, when I feel obligated to say something activist-like that inspires people to some kind of action, I can't help but think what I'm doing is more like a warped kind of mourning that just happens to have positive side effects.

My fundraising letter included a short paragraph about the public health impact of the disease and the economic, social, and even political effects of Alzheimer's if allowed to continue unchecked. But the majority of my message was mostly about my family and how hurt we've been by the withdrawal of Mom from our midst over the past few years. I've limited my fundraising efforts to the people I know and I haven't done anything to raise awareness of the disease or its effects to the greater population. I haven't volunteered my time (or what's left of it) to my local chapter, I haven't participated in any fundraising events, and I haven't told people I don't want to know (i.e. coworkers - only one is on my Facebook page and she rocks) anything about what's going on in my family. Selfishly, I guess I just haven't wanted people to know because there are times I really just don't want to talk about it...and isn't that what an activist is supposed to do? I don't want Mom's condition to be something people ask about just to make small talk or to show they remember something personal about me, but at the same time, I feel like I'm letting "the cause" down if I'm not constantly out there spreading awareness every chance I get...and personal stories of loss are the most effective tools an activist has at their disposal. After all, as Joseph Stalin said, "the death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic."

As I've said before, accepting my invitation to Team Run2Remember was like a partial coming-out for me - outside of the family and a few friends, even the people who knew what was happening to my mother really had no idea how I felt about it until I started the blog and wrote that letter. But I don't want to spend all my time remembering and letting this define me, or I'll be a constant tear-stained exhausted mess like I've been this morning. Sometimes there's nothing I'd like more than to forget, if just for a little while. And that's when the anonymity of this quiet, personal advocacy has been a blessing.

Maybe one of these days I'll be strong enough to stand up in front of a group of people and tell them my story and inspire them to action, or march on the Capitol with picket signs...but I'm not there yet. I just don't have the words. So instead, my request to everyone who reads this is to find the words for me - call your mothers, talk about a favorite shared memory, and tell them how much you love them.

That's my kind of activism.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Vomit in the Mail

When I came home from the office the other day, Recon was so excited to see me he danced around my legs twice, jumped up to lick my face, then promptly ran away and threw up under the ironing board...twice. I cleaned it up good-naturedly and told him I was happy to see him, too...and that I was grateful he licked my face BEFORE he threw up, instead of after.

In my silly, inarticulate eagerness to tell my loved ones exactly how grateful I am for their generosity, I feel like Recon - SO excited to get my point across, it all comes out in a huge wet mass of word vomit. This is probably some of the most awkward-sounding writing I've ever done, but at the same time, it's some of the most gratifying.

As I said briefly a couple of posts ago, Mom was, of course, the one who taught me the art of the thank you note. She said it wasn't supposed to be like a dutiful and perfunctory form letter, it was supposed to make the person doing the giving feel as good as you did when you did the receiving. "Don't be embarrassing about it or they won't think you mean it," she said. "Just be honest and tell them how you feel."

Since I wrote those first early thank you notes for Christmas and birthday gifts, and holiday money sent in the mail by various relatives, real mail - the unsolicited kind sent from someone who loves you (as opposed to bills and junk) - has become something of a rare commodity. But I think it's all the more meaningful for its rarity. It's been such a treat for me to come home to amazing gifts of money and encouragement in the mail the past month and a half (and to have them turn up in my email inbox during an otherwise nasty day at the office), it's an honor and a privilege to send some of that love back through the mail. Even if it's love in the form of word vomit.

Mom would scold me for the timeliness - or lack thereof - though. Sometimes I get into a rhythm and I'm able to get out four or five cards in a day. Other days, it's more like one...or I'm not in the mood and don't send any. But I also consider it an incredible gift that I've been unable to catch up on these notes - for every one I send, I add three new people to my list.

Still overwhelmed and amazed by you all.

Monday, September 12, 2011


As I write this, registration for the 2012 Boston Marathon has been underway for almost two hours. Last year, the race sold out by 5 PM, blowing the previous sellout record out of the water and disappointing hundreds of runners who were either denied by the overloaded BAA servers or hoping to qualify in a later fall race. Recognizing their qualification/registration system as unsustainable for future events, the BAA implemented a rolling registration system for 2011 (for the 2012 race) and stricter qualifying times for 2012 (for the 2013 race). 

There are times I envy fast runners - notably when I'm still slogging away and they're already at the finish line, enjoying their post-run indulgence of choice - but this was not one of those times. My best chances of ever qualifying for Boston have more to do with adding years onto my age than subtracting minutes (or, in my case, HOURS) off my marathon time. At the time, the only person I knew fast enough to care one way or the other was sidelining himself for an imaginary stress fracture (that magically disappeared within a day or two of Boston closing) so my interest in the debacle was purely academic, like watching a college basketball game between two schools I care nothing about.

What DID interest me, however, was the backlash against charity runners. The Boston Marathon, like most races, allocates a certain number of non-qualifying guaranteed entry spots for charity runners. But since most races don't have a qualifying standard for entry, Boston charity spots are particularly contentious. Over and over, I read the story of "Here I am, working myself to death only to miss my qualifying time by a mere 5 seconds, and then I hear Big Butt Bob in my office, who's never run a mile in his life, bought his way in through a charity entry." I asked Brian if this was the way most qualifiers felt about charity entrants into Boston, and he was noticeably noncommittal. 

"All these people who criticize charity runners and say they 'bought their way in,' do they realize the fundraising standards are upwards of $5000? To run with the Alzheimer's Association, I'd have to raise $7500!"

"Mmm," he said. He didn't look at me.

It was then that I ruled out the idea of running Boston for the Alzheimer's Association and focused solely on the idea of the much more charity-friendly-sounding NYC.* I'm no Big Butt Bob, but I didn't like the idea of having my first charity marathon looked down on by anyone, either. NYC's qualifying times are actually more stringent than those of Boston, but the field is composed of far more non-qualifiers than speed demons.  The most popular route to the starting line, from what I've heard, seems to be applying for the lottery and being rejected three years in a row. But with over 200 charities participating in 2011, there didn't seem to be anything either extraordinary or controversial about being a charity entrant. 

And then last Tuesday at my speed session, I was running up a hill with two of the guys in my pace group, and one asked what races we were training for. When I said NYC, he asked if I qualified - a stupid question given the pace group we were assigned - and I said no.

Him: "How did you get in, then?"
Me: "Charity."
Him: "Oh. Cheater!"


Brian contends he was only joking, but that's not how most people respond when I tell them I'm running for charity. Are people just being nice about the charity thing because they know about Mom and Grandma, and about how personal this is for me? Is this the common perception of charity runners in a not-everyone's-invited kind of event? Is he just jealous, or just an asshole? Either way, even if I'd had the breath to debate it, I didn't feel like sharing any of the details of my life with this guy, but I felt like crying the rest of the way up the hill and I'm not sure how I feel about going to speed sessions tomorrow. But even if I couldn't say it, here's what I was thinking:

For anyone out there who considers a charity entry "buying your way in," I have news for you - this is one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do. I kept my thoughts and feelings about Mom's condition and Grandma's death very much to myself until I decided to register for this race, so it's been a bit of an emotional minefield, figuring out how to go public and in what ways. I've spent a TON of time and money (and sweat and tears) trying to sort out my fundraising. And after reaping all the rewards from raising money for a cause that means so much to me, and clearly so much to everyone who loves Mom and loves Grandma, I would have been cheating us all out of an opportunity to squeeze as much good as possible out of an often seemingly horrible and hopeless situation. The difference between running passively and running actively has made ALL the difference for me, and I hope everyone finds something in their life they're passionate enough about to raise money for. 

If not, perhaps you're the one who's cheating yourself. Ass.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Few Words About The Most Amazing Friends and Family, Ever.

The Thanksgiving after Hanna's engagement to The Ninja, Dad sat the rest of us down, in true Jacob Marley fashion, to discuss his Vision of Christmases Yet To Come.

"As you guys get older and get married and especially after you have kids," he explained, "you'll discover that Christmas turns into a logistical nightmare. Everyone wants to see you within that same 4-5 hour window, so they can watch the kids open presents and stuff. So I'm going to make it easy on you by surrendering now. Instead of fighting to see everyone at the same time on Christmas Day, I'm staking out Christmas Eve. We can open family presents then and have dinner together, and then you can be free to do whatever else with whomever on the actual day. Your mother and I will go to the beach. Those of you who are free are more than welcome to join us."

To me, unmarried and childless with no real threats in either direction but a love for the beach almost as fierce as my hatred for winter, and a job (for KU) that let me travel between Christmas and New Year's, this was fantastic news. And for a couple of years, it worked out perfectly - we celebrated as a family Christmas Eve, then the rest of us would leave for the beach and Hanna would see to her in-law obligations in town. Then Mom's condition started getting worse and real life started getting in the way, and the Hodges Christmas Vacation, Dauphin Island Edition, was no more. 

Those last few family Christmases at Dauphin Island were, in fact, the last time my family traveled as a family. I see my family often, sure, but I miss the trips. So many good memories were made during those trips. So when Dad announced, shortly after my acceptance to Team Run2Remember, that he would come to NYC for marathon weekend, I was thrilled and my nerves about accepting such an enormous undertaking immediately began to recede. When he said he'd use his plethora of Southwest frequent flyer miles to buy a ticket for whomever of my siblings cared to join (duh - all of them!), the misgivings totally vanished and I started to get excited about another Hodges family vacation. The idea of a trip without Mom makes me sad, but the idea of a trip in her honor is the next best thing I could have hoped for.

So then, when some of my family's longest-time friends, Beth and Shane Coughlin and Tom and Gayle Baddeley, made plans to come join the party, it was icing on the cake. My best friend from high school, Megan, rearranged her plans to visit her boyfriend in NYC over marathon weekend so she could see me run, and the first friend I ever had, Elizabeth Baddeley, a grad student at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, is going to make me my first-ever race signs. And of course, Brian, the one who's seen the blood(y toenails), sweat (with the heat wave, a whole bunch), and tears behind each and every training run, will be making the trip with me and probably wishing he could run it, too. This, on top of the enormous outpouring of love and generosity I've received in response to my request for donations, has me thinking perhaps I was too pessimistic in my initial goal-setting for both running time AND fundraising. Two months out, I'm running better than I ever have, and at the moment, I'm sitting on a cool $5075 in donations - a mere $925 away from my goal of $6000.

Not bad for someone who's uncomfortable asking for money, right? Perhaps I'm warming up.

The other incredible thing about the donations I've been receiving is that although my fundraising has been immensely personal and geared mostly towards the people who know and love Mom and Grandma the best and most, 14% of my donations came from people who've never even MET Mom or Grandma and wanted to show their support for me and for the end of Alzheimer's Disease, and of those donations, 46% are from people who haven't even known me a year. (I even received a very surprising $25 online donation from someone I've never actually met!) I'm trying to come up with a good way to incorporate the names of all my donors - all my heroes - onto the back of my shirt. They carried me to the starting line; it would be my honor to carry their names on my back for the million or so spectators in New York City to respect and admire.

Seriously. Mom and Grandma would be proud. Of me, yes, but especially of all of you.

And in case anyone was wondering, it WAS Mom who schooled me in the fine art of a good thank you note. "It shouldn't be a form letter, it should come from your heart."

I received this photo (among others) along with a generous donation from Joe and Joanne Cox, Mom and Dad's roommates in Paris in 1976, when Dad was taking an international law class. This was also the trip they met my godfather, Uncle Jimmy (in the tie). Click to enlarge.

The city hasn't changed much...and I still have the most beautiful mom ever. :)

Time or Money?

Here's an interesting question for your consideration. If you were given the choice of one of the following every day for a year, which would you choose?
(a) An extra two hours of leisure time added onto every day. This time wouldn't subtract from any of your other activities (school/work, sleep, free time, etc.) but would be available to you for any purpose except additional work/school.
(b) An extra $30 added to your bank balance every day.
While I often find myself horribly short of discretionary cash, I still think I'd go for option (a), as it seems like I'm always hurrying through _____ because I know I need to _____.

All-too-often applicable example: "It seems like I'm always hurrying through dinner because I know I need to get to bed." So if both eating and sleeping are rushed, it goes without saying that the things I really love to do, the soul-building things like finishing an entire book in a day just because I couldn't put it down, have really fallen by the wayside. Multitasking only helps to a certain extent, and I've come up with some odd combinations. I do most of my leisure reading, for example, while drying my hair in the morning.

And I can't resort to the old standby of buying time because, with the exception of work, my presence is required for pretty much everything on my to-do list. Buying time doesn't work if your evening list consists of a 9-mile run, dinner, and 8 hours of sleep. Fortunately, I'm a faster runner than I was at this time last year, so that saves a certain amount of time...but not enough. Blogging is another one of those things I have to be present for, due to the super-specific, super-personal nature of the topic, but because it's not miles on the road, calories in my stomach, time in bed, or money in the bank, it often falls by the wayside. Disappointing, though, because I think I do this a lot better than I do any of that other stuff. Except probably the eating. And the sleeping.

At one point in my eclectic assortment of life experiences, I was a journalist, of sorts, so I know how to operate and write under the pressure of a deadline. I'm also rarely at a loss for ideas. But unfortunately, I'm also a raging perfectionist who doesn't really like to post half-baked or poorly-articulated thoughts. It's like my intestinal troubles on my run last Saturday - if I can't get it out when I have the opportunity to get it out, it just has to wait. (Evocative analogy, isn't it.)

This is my incredibly inept way of saying I haven't given up on this blog. It's been a month since I've posted, but an unbelievably busy and successful one, training and fundraising-wise. I had a little bit of stress from a personal problem I should have taken care of a long time ago, but thanks to help from Dad and a lot of patience from Brian, it's taken care of and I can stop feeling quite so irritated with myself and start moving forward again with a more positive outlook.

So here's to the road ahead. Thanks for your patience. :)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hello In There

Today I took a personal day and Dad and I went to move Mom to a smaller place where they'll be able to take better care of her. I'm glad he was there when I saw her - I knew she'd fallen nine times in six weeks and NO one was stopping it (the reason we moved her) but I still wasn't prepared to see her beautiful face all beaten up like that. She didn't wake up when we moved her, during the car ride to the new place, or the entire time we were there. After I had her clothes situated, while Dad was filling out paperwork, I just sat with her, watched her sleep, and listened to it rain. Guess nature was sympathetic.

This song - by John Prine, a childhood staple riding in Dad's car - always used to make Mom cry, thinking of Great Pada in the nursing home in Lawrence. Now it makes me cry, thinking about Mom. I hope she wasn't alone and scared when she woke up.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Some Like It Cold

Around the time I began training for my first marathon, Christopher Elbow, the genius chocolatier, opened Glacé, his ice cream concept, a couple blocks south of the Plaza. Brian and I became Saturday evening regulars, and my long run buddies knew they'd be treated to at least a mile or two of my flavors-of-the-week commentary the following Saturday. I was pleased to hear reports back from others who'd overheard my rhapsodizing and decided to try it for themselves. It became a running joke (no pun intended) that if I ever went pro, I should seek Glacé sponsorship.

Three weeks into my NYC training program and three Saturday nights worth of ice cream later, it occurred to me that maybe, joking aside, I SHOULD seek Glacé sponsorship. After all, more people have a very poignant and painful connection to the disease than I'd ever imagined, I've been surprised and overwhelmed by the generosity shown so far, and I'm assuming the decision-making process in a small business would be much more manageable than, say, trying to get sponsored by Chipotle. I wouldn't have anything to lose by writing to Christopher Elbow and asking him for a sponsorship, minus the cost of a stamp. If I succeeded, I could truly say I was "powered by artisan ice cream."

Then it occurred to me - maybe in lieu of a sponsorship check, I should request something a little more ambitious, something that would give more back to his business. Something like, say, an ice cream happy hour, where a certain percentage of all funds raised would be donated to my Alzheimer's Association fund. I could advertise and invite all my friends/family...and instead of feeling vaguely guilty asking people to fork over their hard-earned money as a donation, they could be donating AND getting something that I love in return.

This sounds like a made-up story, but it isn't - after the birthday fiasco, I was terrified to give Mom anything to eat, for fear she'd choke on it, I'd be paralyzed and wouldn't know what to do, and I'd be the one that ended her life. But, as someone who couldn't usually sit through a full meal and tell you she's hungry, it was usually a pretty good bet that she was needing something to eat. So, surveying the refrigerator and trying to decide what I could give her that would be safest to eat, I spotted a pint of Glacé strawberry balsamic ice cream I'd purchased for Dad's birthday a few weeks prior. What could be more choke-proof than something that melts? I grabbed the ice cream and a couple of spoons and led her out onto the back patio. We sat in a couple of adirondack chairs and I brought a spoonful of ice cream to her lips.

At that point, Mom was well beyond pretty much any kind of verbal communication. She would rattle off bursts of speech that sounded like a Dr. Seuss brainstorm, or walk around asking for Michael (Dad), but otherwise, the way she was feeling had to be inferred from her physical responses. Her feelings on things had (and still have) to be mostly inferred from physical cues, and from what we already knew of her likes and dislikes. In turn, communicating with her was usually just as much of a guessing game. For a big talker, like me, and a great listener, like Mom, our gifts had been pretty much reduced to nothing in the wake of her dementia.

But, in merely wanting to give my mother something safe to eat, I'd forgotten that a well-crafted food can speak for itself in a language anyone can understand. After a moment's surprise at the cold sensation in her mouth, Mom's eyes closed, and she smiled. And for a few priceless minutes, we were just a normal mother and daughter, sharing a pint of really great ice cream in the sun.

Keep your fingers crossed my proposal goes over well. In the meantime, I think I'll bring Mom some ice cream this weekend.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Some Like It Hot

Yesterday night at 7 PM, as I was driving to the airport for my run, NPR reported that temperatures were still lingering around 104 degrees. Instead of turning around and going back home, I sped up a little bit. As I drove around the loop and dropped off a bottle of ice at the halfway mark (about 1.75 miles), I noted with pleasure that there were absolutely no other runners either badass OR crazy enough to be out. Gyms, on the other hand, were probably packed, and with all those motors running and people expelling heat, I'd imagine it was pretty miserable inside as well.

Successful summer running is all about calculation. I have to plan ahead carefully - routes that maximize both shade and breeze and access to water, adequate hydration throughout the day, pay attention to the color of my urine and the frequency I'm going, get enough sleep, monitor caloric intake, etc. Even while running, I have to remain vigilant and hyperobservant - How much am I sweating? When's the last time I took an electrolyte tablet? How much water am I drinking? How fast am I going? What changed between this mile and the last that made this one harder? Should I walk? - because by the time the obvious signs of heat exhaustion start popping up, it's probably too late to salvage the workout, and possibly the one after that.

Successful winter running - or really, successful winter ANYTHING - is less about thinking and more about spending power. Stripping down and running in your skin is cheap, but bundling up to run in the winter is anything but. Observe:

$25 featherweight Nike singlet
$50 Nike sports bra
$25 Under Armour shorts
$10 lightweight Adidas socks
$110 TOTAL

$25 long sleeved tech shirt
$50 Nike sports bra
$60 Brooks running pants
$15 heavyweight socks
$40 thermal gloves
$90 Tikka headlamp
$25 Nike headband
$60 Brooks running jacket
$365 TOTAL

And I spent all last winter bent over against the wind and unable to feel my fingers because I was so effing freezing cold and not "adequately dressed." Had I spent another $300 or so, my comfort level would have increased, but so would my consternation with the whole winter running thing. Unfortunately, there's no other way around it - it's either spend the money and be comfy, or don't spend the money and don't be.

So, if evolution has given us all the tools - the ability to sweat, fur-less skin, a respiratory system independent of stride rate, and a big brain - to be effective summer runners, it'd be a waste to not be out there letting my physiology do its thing. As for winter running, the same tools I use in the summertime have me pretty much convinced that I should wait until evolution deals me a nice fat wallet as well. Or, failing that, I can always wait for spring.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Arrival Day

Thirty years ago today, I met Mom and Dad for the first time. It's been a long time since anyone has either observed or celebrated this date, but it will always be a special one to me.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Friday, July 29, 2011


Today, at the recommendation of my dear friend Jami, who works for the KU Alzheimer's & Memory Center and read over my fundraising letter for me, I went sniffing around for some statistics to add.

What I found has me totally pissed off. I tend to focus mostly on the devastating social effects of the disease, but the financial effects are staggering in their magnitude. Alzheimer's is costing our government $183 billion this year alone. That's $11 billion more than 2010, four times the national inflation rate. With new Americans developing symptoms every 69 seconds, by the time I'm 70, this amount will have ballooned to $1.1 trillion. After all, Alzheimer's and related dementias are the 6th-ranked killer of Americans today, and it's the ONLY one without a cure, hope of prevention, or way of decelerating the process.

(Other diseases rounding out that top ten have mortality rates that actually fell between 2000-2008, including heart disease, stroke, prostate/breast cancer, and HIV. Alzheimer's deaths, in contrast, rose 66%.)

Now, this isn't the space for discussing/debating politics, at least as long as BOTH sides are ignoring the issue. But seriously - with all this talk about national spending and expenses and debt ceilings and all this goddamn bickering in Washington, it kind of makes you wonder why the hell finding a cure isn't in the national interest.

I mean, for Christ's sake, REAGAN had Alzheimer's.

So here's my solution. Every time a politician or talking head goes out and throws the name Reagan around in any kind of political fiscal discussion, they should be required to donate $10 to Alzheimer's research. Stop blathering already, do some good, and put your money where your rapidly flapping mouth is.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Of Musicians and Marathoners

In the process of brainstorming for my fundraising letter, I had a thought.

When I played in my first violin recital, I was four years old. Despite a healthy desire to learn to play REAL music, and the beginner's love to practice, I could barely draw the bow across the strings without making a sound like a creature dragged straight from hell. Despite Mom and Dad's enthusiasm for my new undertaking, that can't have been entirely pleasant for them, but there they were, ushering me into the group of other beginners and taking their seats.

When your child can only play the rhythm for Mississippi Stop-Stop on the A string while the piano tinkles out the melody, a violin recital can be a long, drawn-out affair. It's a LOT of time watching other people's kids and clapping politely, followed by three or four minutes where she takes the stage to play the same screechy notes you flinched your way through at home. You cheer wildly, taking all sorts of photos. Then...more watching other people's kids. More polite clapping. You think, "Wow, she could actually be sort of good if she only practiced more." Then it's over and she comes to you and asks how she did, and you ask her how she feels, take more pictures, and tell her she was wonderful.

Dad was there for those early violin recitals, and he'll be in the crowds lining the streets of New York City when I run my second marathon. And really, after raising a violinist, the experience probably won't be all that foreign to him. After months and months of hearing about not-so-pretty training runs, some at a pace that could barely be considered running, he'll take his place on the street around the time I'm being dropped off at the starting line. It'll be a long, drawn-out affair, even if I finish in my goal time - 4 hours and 15 minutes. He'll spent a lot of time watching other people run past, clapping politely. Then, for a few moments, I'll be in his line of sight and he'll be able to cheer for ME, take pictures/video, etc. Then...more watching other people. More polite clapping. He'll probably be thinking, "Wow, she isn't that bad, but she could be pretty good if she trained more."

Beyond that, I can't really project what'll happen. With any luck, he'll be able to see me more than once on the course. Brian will be out there too, and my friend Elizabeth, who's pursuing her master's degree at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. She's promised me signs. I've never had anyone make me race signs before, so I'm REALLY looking forward to that. And with her talent and sense of humor, I'm sure they'll be awesome.

And then, there will be food. Some of the best food in the world, in fact.

100 days to go!!!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Fundraising Letter - First Draft

I have a confession.

For someone who set her fundraising goal well above the minimum amount, I am absolutely terrible at asking people for money. In fact, there are only two people I've EVER felt comfortable asking, and one is sadly no longer in a position to have any to give.

So when I told myself I wasn't going to do any writing here until I finished my fundraising letter - pretty much the cornerstone of my effort - I had no idea it was going to take me THIS long. After all, I knew after last week that I wanted to center it around what I wrote on my fundraising page. That's probably the best piece of writing about this whole messy business that I've done to date, and if they pull out a checkbook instead of visiting my site, I want to make sure they've read that letter. But it was still difficult to get the expository stuff out without sounding like, well, a charity infomercial. I've been banishing images of homeless pets (to Sarah McLaughin's voice), starving Somalians, and harelipped children from my mind all afternoon. Argh.

For better or for worse, I wound up canning the PR stuff about the Alzheimer's Association and the statistics about the disease. I'm not trying to scare anyone into giving money - if they aren't partially intimidated to scared shitless about the deterioration of my mother's mind, they're probably not going to donate anyways. Even in the inevitable paragraph where I actually have to do the asking, I tried to put as much emphasis as possible on the personalized aspects of what's actually being lost here - not neurons or dollars spent on home health care providers or anything that can actually be quantified, but memories, both past AND future. And who can put a price on those?

Anyways, here's my first draft. Too weird? Based on what you've read of me, does this sound like me?

Dear ,

The news coming out of the Hodges household in recent years hasn’t exactly been the kind of stuff Christmas newsletters are made out of, so we stopped the presses quite awhile ago. If you haven’t seen me since Max and Jen’s wedding, you probably know me as a violinist, a writer, a golfer, mother to a huge furry dog Dad hates, a student, or some combination of those things – but probably not as a runner, let alone a marathoner.

With Mom’s mind steadily withdrawing and with Grandma Nancy’s recent passing, I’ve started doing a lot of things I never thought I’d do. A good portion of every day is devoted – whether I like it or not – to worrying about what’s going to happen to my family, especially Dad. I keep my phone on and with me at all times, in case someone needs me. I cry – a lot. And because things lately have a tendency of getting to be too much, too fast, I run.

Maybe I’m biased because she’s my mom and well, she wanted me so badly she sent for me from halfway around the world, but if you’re reading this, I have a hunch you agree – there’s nothing about Janet Elizabeth Henry Hodges that isn’t special and unique and wonderful. When she started losing her memories and her personality and everything that made her her, a big part of everyone who knew and loved her was lost, too. So when I decided I wanted to run a race in honor of Mom, there was no distance for me but the marathon – 26.2 miles – and no stage big enough but the streets of New York City.

So on November 6, 2011, before most people have started their first cup of Sunday morning coffee, I will be shaking off my nerves at the starting line of the biggest, most famous race in the world – the New York City Marathon. I am running as a member of Team Run2Remember, a group of 80something people who run in support of the Alzheimer’s Association to fight back against the disease that has stolen memories from our loved ones. So not only have I dedicated myself to completing a 26.2 mile race for only the second time in my life, I have set an ambitious fundraising goal of $6000, a small amount when stacked against all of the things I’ll never get to share or reflect on with Mom.

This is where you come in. I’ve never once thought this goal was unattainable because of all the people out there who love me AND my family, and who miss the real Mom with all their hearts. I’m writing to request your support with a tax-deductible donation to the Alzheimer’s Association in memory of all of her lost memories and the lost opportunity to make more. I can accept credit card contributions in any denomination on my personal New York City Marathon fundraising page, at, or checks can be mailed, with the enclosed donation form, to my home address: XXXX, Kansas City, MO XXXXX. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch –, or (XXX) XXX.XXXX.

Of course, it would be remiss of me to ask for an “investment” in my undertaking without providing an investor report, of sorts. To this end, I’ve started a blog with the aim of writing about my life as framed by both my running adventures (and misadventures) and my experiences with Mom’s condition and the effects it’s had on my family. It’s usually not a very easy thing to write, and from what I’ve heard, it’s equally difficult to read, but if you’re interested, I’d love for you to join me there –

When I initially received notification of my acceptance to the team, Dad was the first person I called to tell the good news. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later, when wrestling the best way to personalize my fundraising page, that I found the best way to tell Mom – by telling everyone who loves her.

Dear Mommy,
Remember the journal you gave me when I was younger – the shiny red one with the Labradorpuppies on the cover? You told me if there was anything I wanted to know and might be too embarrassed to ask out loud, I could write it in a note to you in that book and you’d write back to me. We only wrote back and forth a few times before one of us lost track of the book…but I found it on a bookshelf the other day. My silly questions – written in teeny tiny handwriting and all signed “Me” – made me laugh, but your careful, considered responses, written so non-judgmentally and with so much love, made me cry. I’ve put the book in a safe place, where it can still be our little secret.

When I couldn’t think of what to write here, that book was the first thing I thought of. Twentysomething years later, confronted with the need to “write something meaningful” on this page, the only way the words are actually coming to me are in a letter to you – and believe me, I’ve tried pretty much every other angle possible. I think this is what they call “coming full circle,” except, in a horribly unfair twist of fate, you’ll be the only one who doesn’t get to read it.

Remember the time you decided to move that ugly white-tiled coffee table from the living room to the family room and you had a 5 year old Max screaming and crying, clinging to your leg, begging you, “Don’t change! Don’t change!” I’m not sure if anyone else actually remembers that, but for some reason, I think of that moment a lot lately. At the time, I thought he was being stupid…but nowadays, there’s a big part of me that screams every time something happens that wouldn’t have if you were still healthy and wholly you. We know you’re not getting your memories back, and that your Mom-ness is gone, but as all of our lives move on without you, I think it’s like we feel the space all the more as time passes. Does anyone ever get used to having their heart broken over and over again? Would anyone ever WANT to?

If I were a more religious person, I could fill that emptiness with my faith in God and my belief that he has a plan for everyone…but I’m not. I believe in God, but I’m also pretty sure that this couldn’t be part of anyone’s plan. It’s horrible and evil and awful and we miss you every day, even though you’re still, in the vital signs sense of the word, with us. There are so many things I’d like to ask you, and so many moments I wish you could have been a part of, that it could crush me if I let it. I know the same is true for Hanna, Max, Alex, and Dad.

It seems like people pat me on the back an awful lot these days and tell me to take care of my family. But really, I think we take care of each other. After all, we learned from one of the best, and I think we do you proud in the way we’ve come together. It’s for you and Grandma that I’m signing up for this, but it’s with the strength of Hanna, Max, Alex, Dad, and everyone that loves you and misses the real you with all their heart that I’m going to be able to finish it. I can’t think of a nobler cause to run for than the end of this terrible disease that’s robbed you of your you, and so many families of the people they love most. I wish you could be there with me, but in a sense, you’ll be with me every step of the way. With any luck, we’ll get a chance to talk about it someday.

In the meantime, don’t worry if you can’t remember. We’ll never forget.

Love always,

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your love and support.



If you read this, would YOU donate?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


I received a Twitter mention and a retweet from Bart Yasso today, in honor of Mom and the cause. Runners are the most awesome, most generous people ever.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Random Thing I Wish I Could Ask Mom

This will be the first of (I hope) many posts centered around the "Random Thing I Wish I Could Ask Mom" topic. VERY random. If anyone has any insight into any of these questions, or thinks they can fill the memory holes, please let me know.

For Memorial Day this year, Brian and I packed up the dogs (both of them) in his single-cab truck and drove to Randolph, Nebraska to visit his mother. The weather was cold and damp and didn't lend itself to doing much outdoors, so we spent some time driving around and looking at the town - the schools, the businesses, the homes of his friends. It took about 20 minutes, tops.

That his city actually has enough kids to support its own school system kind of surprised me - seems like most of the people I know that grew up in small towns have seen their schools bulldozed and students sent to some consolidated school a couple towns over. Brian and quite a few of his high school classmates wound up going to the University of Nebraska and studying engineering, so the Randolph school system must have been doing SOMETHING right, at least in math/science education.

And yet, they never did science projects or had a science fair.

My suburban-raised response: "What do you MEAN, you never had a science fair? How can you consider yourself properly educated if you never did a science project?"

Of course, if you asked Brian, he'd probably tell you I didn't do a science fair project either - Mom did. Which might be about 40% true, and that's a pretty low percentage for where I grew up. Smart parents were the #1 weapon in a Westwood View Elementary School student's arsenal. They may not have technically done the work, but in a time before Internet made all the finer points of a science project and professional-looking presentation available to a fifth grader, having willing/able/eager parents made anything possible.

The first and pretty much only project stipulation was that we were not permitted to experiment on animals. I understood why that rule existed - the thought of a bunch of budding grade school animal torturers comes to mind - but I was still sorely disappointed that I couldn't do something with dogs, my favorite animals after I figured out unicorns probably didn't exist. So somehow, Mom came up with the idea of working with spiders.

And not just any spiders - specifically, the Spiny-Backed Orb Weaver (gasteracantha cancriformus), a small crab-like spider that looks like it hitched a ride straight out of hell. Apparently, they're quite common in the south, between Florida and Texas, but I'd never seen anything quite so creepy looking in person.

I never remember Mom showing any particular interest in spiders one way or the other. She was neither disgusted nor fascinated - webs were just another thing to clean out of the corners of the ceiling or point out to us, if she saw a particularly large and interesting one. (I also remember carefully pressing an orb web suspended on the back porch into a piece of sun-print paper and laying it out in the sun. As the paper darkened, the web stood out in bright contrast. Pretty cool.) But because she was a teacher, and a good one, she made ordering a bunch of red-and-black monsters from Carolina Biological and observing the effects of light on their web-spinning habits seem...well, normal. So normal I never really thought to ask why she put that particular idea into my head.

Twenty years later, driving down a muddy gravel road in a small Nebraska farm town discussing the merits of science projects as a part of the elementary curriculum, I wished I knew. It's a memory hole - not a big one, but it's there. In this case, not knowing why makes it sound like Mom did all the work and Brian is vindicated.

I know she'd back me up, if she could.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Long & The Short Of It

After last weekend, I'm pleased to announce my IT band and I are no longer on speaking terms.

This is fantastic news. After bitching at me for months and months of training runs and resisting my attempts to tame it with therapy, it finally threw such a temper tantrum that it took me out of the running - literally - at the Illinois Marathon. After a day of legs so stiff I couldn't walk from the car to the front door of the place we stopped for lunch, it went quiet.

After a couple of days, I went for a very easy 4 mile run on Dauphin Island's asphalt trail, just to see if I could. Followed up with lots and lots of walking - on the beach and the streets of New Orleans. No word from the IT band.

I cautiously eased myself back into a regular run routine to see if it had anything to say. Nope.

Against the advice of my sports chiro, I ran the Hospital Hill Half-Marathon (at very easy effort. It was a HOT one!) Still, nothing.

So this weekend, with 14-18 miles on the schedule, I took it for a 17 mile spin at my shiny new long run training pace, just to see if it had any famous last words. Nope. Crickets.

Unfortunately, my GI tract decided to fill the silence - it had all sorts of things to say, and none of it was good. I was in luck that there were 3 bathrooms on the course, instead of the 1 that was marked on the map, because I needed all three of them in a bad, bad way. I'll spare the gory details, but let's just say the subsequent dehydration slowed me down a little and gave me a whole new appreciation for people who die of dysentery. Once I'd emptied my system completely and was sufficiently rehydrated, I was able to salvage the run and picked the pace up for a nice 10:14 average. I consider that permission to proceed from "cautious" to "cautiously optimistic" that the demon has been exorcised and my IT band will scream no more. (Knocking on wood, though, just in case!)

Even with fresh painful memories of an angry IT band, I wasn't too concerned about running 17 miles in the heat. I never have been. I'm a good student of distance running - I know all about conservation of efforts, holding back/settling in/finishing strong, adequately refueling at the aid stations, gauging my effort by my breathing (never over conversation pace!), and running at 9:30, 10, 10:30, and 11+ pace.

What got inside my head and psyched me out was not the prospect of a 17 mile run, it was the prospect of a 2 mile run - a time trial for the speed sessions I'm enrolling in to train myself to be a faster, more efficient, stronger runner.

Confession: I've never run anything shorter than a half-marathon. I limped (shin splints) most of a 4 miler just to get the notch on my belt and the experience of having run a race prior to my first half, and I did an easy-paced 8K a couple weeks after the Kansas City Marathon, but neither left me with much of an impression about what "run all-out for 2 miles" meant...except not to go out so fast that I'd wind up walking - or vomiting - along the way.

It's actually sort of ironic - I have a horrible habit of running down the first mile of a weekday training run like it stole something, instead of warming my muscles up at a lowered, reasonable pace for a mile or two before taking off. It's something I've been trying to train my way out of, but when your runs are the best parts of your day AND the only way you decompress, it's kind of hard not to get started as quickly as possible. So it wasn't really the first mile that scared me - it was the second. Thinking back, I'm not sure I've ever actually run two consecutive hard miles before without SOME kind of stop. 10 seconds, say, for Recon to go to the bathroom, 3 seconds to stretch my hamstrings, fix my hair, get a drink, a traffic light - things so insignificant that the only impression they leave is the tiny dent in the Garmin pace readout, but things that would give me that extra couple of seconds to rest, stretch my muscles, drink, catch my breath, whatever - before I took off again.

Either way, I was going into this with absolutely no expectations whatsoever. Because I'd been so plagued with injuries since I started racing, I knew all about playing it cautious, stopping to walk when it hurts, etc. and had absolutely no idea of what 100% effort feels like for me. I figured with any luck, it'd be something BELOW the lowest mile split of my training runs - 8:45 is the lowest for a mile that wasn't net downhill, I think. (I did an 8:20 last week, but that was with a stop for water in the middle.) But either way, I would have been happy with pretty much anything, as long as I didn't commit either of the above sins - walking, or vomiting. In fact, I'm pretty sure that would have been my first AND last speed session if I vomited. It's weird enough being known as "Brian's friend" by people who don't know me; I'm not sure if I could handle the "speed session vomiter" label.

When I first voiced my concerns, my Boston-qualifying (and speed session veteran) friend Jen reminded me that the time trial is just a jumping-off point from which to improve your times as the speed sessions go on. I tried to remind myself of that as I did a short warmup run with my friend Rachel, who's running her first marathon in September. "Warmup" probably wasn't a good word for what we were doing - it was, in fact, more like a slow wringing out of fluid. The thermostat in my car on the way home read 100 degrees, and the McDonalds billboard on the way to the session read 103. About one-third of the course was in the shade, but of course the breeze was totally cut off on the second third, on the sunny side of the abandoned strip mall. The final third weaved through a couple of medians, then we were back to the start - a 1/2 mile, mostly flat loop. And Brian was recording splits, so there wasn't going to be any hiding how I finished, either.

After warming up (2mi) and then icing down with lots of ice, wet towels, and drinking a few final cups of water, we were off. And yes, it was hot. The first loop was easy - I just let my legs fly like I would in the first mile of a regular training run. The second, I started to try to pick people off here and there, while still keeping an ear on my breathing and effort. I ran the first mile well - my Garmin says 7:47, but the split called was 8:02, so I took that. The third, I backed off a little, and my Garmin data shows it - instead of a pace mostly in the 7s, I ran a pace mostly in the 8s. It's almost like a brain scan - I was thinking, "Do I REALLY want to push this and wind up in a more difficult pace group that's going to kick my ass each and every week?"

For the final loop, I was pretty much out of gas. I started out promisingly with a 7:14 pace but quickly dropped back to 8s and even low 9s when I got in the sun and the breeze died. It wasn't until the finish line was in sight that I started moving my arms to make up for the deficit I was feeling in my legs, not giving a damn about how loudly I was breathing, driven not by time or inspiration or happy thoughts...I just wanted to be effing DONE. My pace jumped up from an 8:21 to a pretty amazing (for me) 5:51 and held there for 30 seconds...and then it was over.

16:18. I did it. My first timed short run, ever. I didn't walk, I didn't vomit, I didn't die. Winner, winner.

The icing on the cake was being told that my NYC Marathon goal - the one having so much doubt cast on it - was probably about 15 minutes...conservative.

"The average finishing time for a female marathoner, believe it or not, is a 4:30. You could probably easily finish in 4:05, 4:10," Eladio said, "or even 4. I'd say 4:15 is very doable."

So, if I can run slightly faster than needed for a 4:15 marathon, I can give myself a little bit of a time cushion. I can drink extra, if needed, at aid stations. I can take a couple of pictures, maybe one with my family. And I can finally stop worrying about getting waylaid by that all-important marathon-goal-time-killing X-factor - my GI tract.

NYC Marathon Goal: 4:15.

...if I can stay healthy, that is.