About Me

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Runner. Nerd. Relentless reader and documentary watcher. Beer, vodka, and wine lover. Marathoner. Studier. Music Snob. Traveler. Chocolate lab owner.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Guest Post!

My Memphis Marathon race report can be found in the previous post.  After reading my blog, I Love Memphis asked me to write a guest post for them of my marathon experience.  It is an entirely different take on the race than what I said in my race report.  That post can be found by clicking HERE.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


As it turns out, I'm a better marathon drinker than marathon runner.  You're not surprised?  Neither am I.  I've been drinking for a lot longer than I've been running.  I don't judge you for not being able to chase tequila with an Irish Car Bomb in 3 seconds flat after your 12th beer before noon, so don't judge me for finishing in a time that's twice what is required to qualify for Boston.  Neither of those things are exactly true, but they're also not far off.
This is where my snark ends.  This was an exceptionally emotional day for me.  It's only been three days, but I'm not yet at the point where I could sit down and tell you face-to-face what it was like.  I cried when I crossed the finish line (well, it was slightly before, as will be evidenced by my ugly-cry-face finish line photo), I cried sitting on the floor of my hotel room talking to my friends, I cried  when partying on Beale Street and asked about it later, I very nearly cried in BB Kings when talking to Dave.

Props to Dave, by the way, for the very encouraging and wise words, a couple high fives, and a congratulatory hug. It means a lot coming from such a great runner.   I wish you many happy miles, my friend.
I have heard only two questions from everyone I've spoken to since I have been done.  First, I hear "what was your time?"  I don't mind to tell people my time, but this run was about so much more than time for me.  I've never been a fast runner, so it's never been about speed, but that's even more true of my first marathon.  The second question I hear is "how was your marathon?"  Like I said, I can't even sit down and talk about it, so I have no good way to answer that question either.  I hate to feel like I'm disappointing everyone with those answers.  I'll try and rectify that now.  This is a really long post, but 26.2 miles is a really long way, and it deserves all the attention I can give it.

First of all, let me just say thank you to each and every one of you.  In all seriousness, I couldn't have done it without you.  I have spent the last four months training for this marathon.  That means for four months I have turned down happy hours, dinner plans, and weekend plans in lieu of hill repeats, tempo runs, and long runs.  I have annoyed everyone by having the words "marathon training" in heavy rotation in my vocabulary.  I've had to disappoint friends and family by saying,  "I can't, I have a race tomorrow," or turn in early to be in bed for my Saturday long runs.  I even started a running blog that I make you all read.  I'm sorry for that, too.

I became annoyed as people started to say, "did you run your marathon yet?" "oh, you're still training for a marathon?"  "you just ran a race yesterday, what do you mean your marathon hasn't came yet?  What's the difference?"  At the time, it felt as if no one cared enough to pay attention to what I was actually doing.  In reality, there was a lot about what I was doing that the people closest to me didn't grasp.  I get that now.  I have a close family, and a strong and supportive group of friends, but my greatest support was coming from people I had never met.  That's understandable, there are so many things that you just don't comprehend if you aren't a runner.  I don't hang out with many runners, so I heavily relied on the online running community.  These were the people that taught me to listen to my body, how to stretch my Achilles, the importance of taper, and reminded me that every run was more "hay in my barn."  As a relatively new runner, these were the people I looked up to, was inspired by, and sought advice from.

With that being said, I was overwhelmed when support started pouring in from everywhere last week.  All the friends and family that I didn't think understood what this meant, suddenly made it very clear that they understood just how big of a deal it was.  I thought my phone was going to overheat I had so many calls, texts, emails, tweets, and FB posts coming in.  I still haven't caught up on all the thank yous that I owe.

As a back of the pack runner, it can get lonely, but because of all of you, I never felt lonely.  I thought of the friends I've had to spend less time with because of training, who, when it came time, still said, "hey Ash, give 'em hell tomorrow.  I'm so proud of you."  I had almost a hundred people, many of whom I had never heard from before, tell me to "feed the f*cking dog."  I thought of them, too.  I thought of the experienced runners that I look up to and trust, reminding me to start out slow and to trust my training.  As lonely as it can seem out there, no one truly runs alone, so I thank you all for being there with me.

Now that I've let you all know how much I appreciate you, I'll tell you what my race was like.

As expected, I was very nervous on Friday.  My running friends all said basically the same thing: they would be concerned if I wasn't.  You're supposed to be nervous before you run a marathon, especially if it's your first.  My non-running friends were all confused as to why.  They are not used to seeing me nervous, and I wasn't quite sure what to say, but the best answer I could give was that I was nervous because I had no idea what was going to happen out there.  I didn't know what it would be like to run 26.2 miles, and I was nervous that I might be dealt a blow that I wasn't prepared for.  I had a great fear of the unknown.

Friday night, Jenn and I attended the Heroes dinner with Sam and Chris and his wife.  It was great to see Sam again.  He's taken interest in my training, and helped me quite a bit along the way.  That dude is a superhero.  If he can run 61 marathons in a year, surely I can finish one.  It was also great to meet Chris.  He and I have been in touch for the past couple of months, and I was looking forward to meeting up with him in Memphis as well. 

I was not looking forward to going to sleep that night.  I didn't like the fact that I was going to wake up on marathon day.  I eased my jitters with a glass of Shiraz, visited with my other friends in the hotel, and finally convinced myself to go to bed.   After tossing around for an hour trying to tune out the snores of my roommate, Imanaged to procure some earplugs, take a few deep breaths, and I finally sleep.

As expected, I didn't sleep well that night.  Everyone told me to make sure I slept well the week before, because nobody sleeps well the night before their first marathon.  I had two crazy dreams: in the first one I was actually running the marathon, and I woke up at 12:30 soaking in sweat.  I went to the bathroom to wash my face and take a couple deep breaths before going back to bed.  I fell back asleep only to dream that I was trying to run but I wasn't moving, and jolted awake again at 2:00. 
The weather was not what I had hoped it would be.  It was 57 degrees with humidity around 80% and 24 mph winds. It was not terrible, but I was hoping for a cool, calm, cloudy morning.  After checking my bag, we met up with my friends, and then attempted to find Sam in his corral.  I would have liked to see him for one last hug and a snarky comment.  We weren't able to find him, and unfortunately, I turned my phone off early, so it wasn't until after the race that I saw that Sam had attempted to find me, too.

The night before I made the decision not to run with my friends because I thought they would be faster than me.  I decided that I would stick near the 5:15 pace group.  The two pacers were very cool, and if I grow up to be an old man, I hope to be just like them.  A 12-minute mile is significantly slower than my normal pace, but my plan all day was to play it safe.  For all I knew I would get to mile 22 barely making a 15 minute mile.  As it was my first marathon, I had no idea what to expect, or what my body was capable of.

My pacers.
We started out running 11 minute miles, which still felt slow to me, but I stuck with the pacers anyway.  Typically, around mile 4 or 5, I start to feel really good.  That's when I get in my zone and hit my stride.  To the non-runners, this is what is referred to as a "runners high."  For all the runners, you know what I'm talking about.  It's that place where all of a sudden the miles come easily, your breath is steady, and your legs are flowing smoothly.  It's the same amount of work as always but it feels effortless.  Usually, this feeling lasts for anywhere from 3-7 miles until it starts to become work again.  There was not a single mile of that run that felt like I was in the zone.  Every single step took dedicated, conscious effort from a physical and mental standpoint.  The best I can say I felt all day was "just OK."  For what it's worth, it was a very off day.  Had this been a training run, I would have cut it off far earlier than mile 10.

I prepared myself for weeks for mile 12 when the marathoners took a left turn and headed off on their own.  I was afraid I would mentally crumble to see our numbers dwindle so significantly before the halfway mark.  To my surprise, as soon as we split off I felt a great sense of comradeship and pride with the few people that remained.  I formed a sudden relationship with the few that decided to hang a left and carry on for 14 more miles.  I had found it slightly unnerving to be surrounded by all the half-marathoners, a lone blue bib bobbing in a sea of green ones.  In a way, it felt good knowing that everyone out there was in for the same thing I was. 

At this point, I was still in sight of my pacers, and although I didn't feel good, I was doing fine.  I decided to stop at the aid station at 13.1 to use the bathroom, take another Gu, and prepare myself mentally that I was only halfway done.  I set off up the hill as the sun started to come out.  I prayed to the running Gods that they would send the sun back behind the clouds.  I hate the sun.  It makes me very cranky.  Not only was it going to make it significantly warmer, running in the sun typically gives me a headache.  I also happen to be a vampire.

Just before mile 14 I was dealt the blow I was so nervous about.  Prior to this, I was still keeping near an 11-minute pace, and I wasn't having trouble maintaining it.  Like I said, I didn't feel great, but I did feel like I had several more miles in me.  My legs felt fine and mentally I was hanging in there.

I can't tell you if it came on gradually or if it was sudden, but I realized that my chest was starting to feel pretty tight.  If this was happening at mile 14, I had no idea how I was going to feel in 12 miles.  I kept my pace up hoping it was a fluke, and it started getting tighter still.  I decided to back off a little bit and see if that helped.  Not only did that not help, but my chest continued to clench tighter with every step.

The more my chest tightened up the more I told myself that everyone hits a wall, and maybe this is mine.  Usually, in my long runs I hit my wall between miles 16-18, and it's more of a mental block.  I  just reach the point where I say, "geez, woman, you're still doing this?  Aren't you bored yet?"  My biggest struggle to keep going isn't because I'm not physically capable of it, but because I'm bored as hell.  When you run my pace, it takes a really long time to cover that distance, and no matter how much Nelly I listen to, sometimes I don't want to do it anymore.  Regardless, I had never felt like this in a run of any distance, especially this early.  I remembered my friend Deb, who described the wall as different for everyone, but said your only choice is to just "keep going."  I thought of this repeatedly.  Just. Keep. Going. 

It didn't take long before I reached the point where I didn't even feel like my chest was expanding with my breath.  No matter how hard I tried to breathe, it felt like the air wasn't making it past my throat.  At one point, I remember thinking, "what if I die out here?"  To which I responded, "well then you f*cking die out here, but you better die closer to the finish line than you are now.  Just. Keep. Going."  Then, out of nowhere, I just stopped moving.  I don't know what happened, but I suddnely realized that I was just standing there.  I asked myself how long I had been still, and I didn't know the answer.  I'm sure it was only for a split second, but it felt like I had woken up to find myself motionless in the middle of the street.  My body had made the decision not to move without even consulting me.

I realize that most of you reading this don't know me personally, but those that do know there are three things I'm hardly capable of: fear, worry, and tears.  It's very rare for me to experience any emotion that resembles fear, I've often wondered if it's a problem that I so seldom worry, and I don't know what it takes to make me cry, but it's usually a lot.  It was at this point that I started to do all three.  I don't recall ever being so terrified of anything in my life.  I don't know if I was scared for my health, scared of the unknown, or scared of how much distance remained between me and the finish line.  As my eyes started to well up, not only did my chest get tighter, but my throat started to swell as well.  I stopped, and said, "whatever you do, don't cry, that's making this worse.  You don't have to run, but you have to keep moving."  The more scared I became, the more I wanted to cry, which in turn made increased my worrying. 
I didn't know what was wrong, but I knew that I couldn't fix it.  While I struggled through it, I occasionally stopped, put my hands on my knees, and fought to get oxygen into lungs that felt like they had folded up on themselves.  I was nearly delirious at this point.  How in the world was I going to do this for 12 more miles if this feeling didn't go away?
I have no idea how I made it past this.  I felt this way until just after mile 17.  I don't remember what those miles looked like, my eyes were focused right at my shoes.  Every runner that passed asked if I was OK, to which I just nodded silently and waved them by.  Volunteers at the aid station asked me if I needed help.  In a matter of 3 miles I got passed by the next 2 pace groups.  If the pain I was experiencing wasn't already cracking my spirit, being passed completely crumbled it.

Those few miles I existed at a near standstill.  I don't know how I was even moving.  At some points I wasn't moving, I was just standing there doubled over, attempting to force air into my chest.  I started taking solace in the aid stations as I saw the cups scattered across the ground.  It was comforting to know that one of those cups was Sam's, one was Chris's, and Jo and Mary had dropped their cups on this ground, too.  I found it strangely comforting knowing that their cups would be waiting for me at the next aid station.  Crazy?  Yes, but at that point I was taking whatever I could get, and that was all I had.

I can't be sure what happened, or why, but I do have a theory.  I know most runners swear by coffee before they run, but these are the people that drink 2 cups of coffee with their breakfast each morning.  I'm not one of those people.  I might have 3 lattes a week, and that's just because I like the taste.  That morning I decided to have about 1/4 of a cup just to wake me up enough to keep going.  Not only had I not slept well the past two nights, but I'm not usually a morning runner, and our roommate had decided to get up at 5, a full hour earlier than I was planning.  I woke up on Saturday draaaaggggging.
I'm up early, I haven't slept in 2 days, and I'm eating a banana. I hate all these things.  I'm pissed.
I can't tell you how many times I have been told to change nothing on race day, but I made the critical mistake of thinking that this wouldn't make a difference.  Let me tell you, when they say not to change anything, they mean absolutely NOTHING.  I did carry my own Gu with me, but for sake of simplicity, I just went ahead and took the ones they gave me.  The ones they gave me were 2X caffeine every time.  Again, it didn't even occur to me that this might be a problem.  I just choked 'em down and kept on.

Once I got back to my hotel room I did the math, and I had the equivalent of 2 cups of coffee.  For most people, this isn't a lot, but I may as well have had an entire pot.  One cup of coffee with food in my stomach is enough to make me bug eyed, bouncy and send my insides fluttering.  Two cups of coffee on an empty stomach while running is enough to damn near kill me, apparently.

By some great miracle, I started feeling a lot better just after mile 17.  It must have been the swig of beer I shared with some kind folks in their front yard.  My legs had still felt fine through this whole thing, they were never the problem, so I knew they would carry me to the end.  When the volunteers at aid station 18 asked how I was doing, I smiled and told them I was living the dream.  I didn't mean it, but the fact that I was able to smile was a good sign.  I can't quite say I was happy, but I was as close to happy as I was going to get that day.  I loved that I had single digit miles left to go, and I focused on my run one aid station at a time.

I wasn't moving quite as fast as I was before, but at least I was running.  I walked through the aid stations and for about 1/10 of a mile after each one to finish my drink, but once I was done I told myself to just run to the next aid station, and that worked pretty well for me.  I can't quite say that these miles started to fly by, but comparatively, they weren't so bad.  I could still feel the tinge in my chest, but it had loosened up enough to allow me to breathe, and my heart rate dropped significantly.

I never had any time goal in mind, so I was really not concerned about how long it was going to take me.  Any time I saw a runner in front of me stop running, or saw anyone that looked distressed, I stopped and talked to them.  At this point, who cares?  When miles 14-17 took me at least 20 minutes each, what's a couple more minutes to help a  new friend?  I'm sure that all some of them needed was to have someone next to them.  While I may not be the greatest runner, I am really good at talking to strangers.  It's one of my favorite activities, actually.  So I decided to use it the last few miles of the race.  That's how the rest of the race went for me.  Running from aid station to aid station, cherishing the comfort of the cups on the ground, and stopping every now and then to chat for a couple minutes before carrying on.  It didn't help my time, but even if I had ran my best I wouldn't have had a "good" time.  It was of no concern to me at that point.  In other words, I had decided to "feed the f*cking dog."

I had several people tell me the last 6 miles are the worst.  I think they specifically are referring to the last mile.  That's the mile where you can't think of anything to say to yourself other than, "WHERE THE HELL IS THE FINISH LINE? I'm so over this."  As I was closing in on 26 a lady ran alongside me long enough to say, "you're in the top 1% of the nation by even finishing.  I'm so proud of you."  I don't know who she was, but I've never loved a stranger more.  The finish line was up an on-ramp (yes, by some cruel joke, I had to go up at mile 26) and inside the stadium.  Two men at the bottom of the ramp said, "26 is right at the top!  You really are almost there!" to which I responded, "I fucking love you."  I had suddenly found two people I loved more than the last one.

As I rounded the corner I heard someone screaming like a maniac.  It was Jenn, who had been waiting at the finish line for me all day.  My first thought was, "wow, she sounds legitimately insane right now, " and my second was, "where is she?"  She was right in front of me and I could not focus on her.  She ran me in, and jumped out just as I approached the finish line.  Right under the finish line a soldier gave me my blanket and my medal and then Jenn gave me a huge hug.  I allowed myself to collapse on her shoulder and start sobbing.
After a few seconds of crying, I smiled as I realized, "I just ran a marathon!!!"  She asked me how I felt, to which I responded, "fine, actually.  I'm just glad to be done."  She was very surprised at how good I looked and felt, and so was I.  I got my pictures taken, went right up the stairs (yes, after you finish, you have to walk a flight of stairs to get out), called Jamie and cursed at him for making running sound so much more fun than it is.  I called my sister to let her know I was done, but that I didn't have it in me to call everyone else, and asked her to relay the message.  I needed two hands for beer and pizza.  I was out the door and on my way within 15 minutes.
Jamie was on the other end of that phone call, being cursed at.  He took it well.
I would rather have two beers and one slice of pizza, but oh well :-)
On the one hand, it kills me that I felt so good when I was done.  My legs had a lot more to give. While it makes me very happy with my training, I hate to think what I would have been capable of had I not the experience I did for those few miles.  The first thing I said was, "I'm never doing that again," but I couldn't live with myself without trying to rectify what I consider to be lost miles.  My first half was slower than I normally run a half, which was my plan, but my second half was a full hour and 20 minutes longer than the first half.  AN HOUR AND 20 MINUTES.  That's just unreasonable, and I'm certain that without that fluke I can do much better.

This may sound strange, but around mile 24 I started getting scared to finish.  I didn't want to reach the finish line. I can't even imagine hell being worse than what I had experienced, and I was scared that once I crossed to the other side, it wouldn't be worth it.  I didn't want to get there for fear that I tortured myself for nothing.  Parts of it were the worst things I have ever experienced.  I don't even remember some of the battles I went through.  Mentally and physically, it was the most difficult thing I have ever done.  I had some very dark and scary thoughts.  The same way you recover from a broken heart, it's part of the body's defense mechanism to protect you from remembering such feelings.  It would be too painful.

Despite it all, it was absolutely worth it once I crossed the finish line.  I was not the same person I was 26.2 miles ago, because, forever, I can say that I AM A MARATHONER.
Goodbye, Memphis.  Thanks for everything.
If you guys don't have a Jenn, you need to get one.  It says something to have someone cry for you when you just ran your first marathon. 
My friend and co-worker ran her first half!

I made the Twitter world angry, because I still had flexibility the day after the race.

We stopped by the Popeye statue on the way home, and of course, I had to climb it.  It would be very typical of me to run 26.2 miles without injury but break an ankle climbing a Popeye statue.

Monday, November 29, 2010

I'm Almost a Marathoner!

As I begin to type this, it's 4 days, 8 hours, 33 minutes, and 54 seconds until my marathon.  My emotions are ranging between nervousness and terror.  As it draws near, I'm trying to win the mental battle, reminding myself that I CAN do this.  One of my coping mechanisms has been to think of all the things I've done that could be worse than running a marathon. I spent several months in a body cast, which I'm sure was terrible, but in all honesty, I remember none of it.  Here are a few examples of bad experiences with good payoffs that I do remember:

What sucked: Going to bed shit-faced at 1:30 a.m. and waking up at 4:00 a.m. to drive 2.5 hours home and work for 12 hours.  I remember thinking that day, "if I can survive this day, I can survive a marathon.  I'm only halfway through my day and I've never felt worse than I do right now."
Why it was worth it: My best friend's Grandma died and she needed me to be there.  She may not have needed us to each take down a bottle of wine, several beers, race in the pool, then go to the bar soaking wet in our pajamas.  On the other hand, that may have been exactly what she needed.

(I have a photo of this event, but it's so terrible that I will not share it)

What sucked: Spending a month of my summer days counting grass in the blazing heat of the prairie and spending the nights picking ticks off myself.
Why it was worth it: I got to meet a great group of new people, live in a cabin on Lake Okoboji in Iowa, and camp in the Badlands of Nebraska and the Black Hills of South Dakota, and explore Wind Cave.  I've never seen a more amazing star-scape than deep in the prairie reserves of Nebraska at Midnight.  Because of this class, I also got to graduate ahead of schedule.
Worth it for the experience...(yes, I do have sunglasses on my head and a headlamp around my neck)
...but no kidding, we were counting grass...

...and analyzing it in spreadsheets.  It was miserable.
What sucked: Taking an anatomy test at 8:00 am after going to bed at 3:30, drunk off my ass with the room spinning around me.  When I took the test, every line blurred together as I attempted to read it.
Why it was worth it: I got to sit in the green seats at the Cardinals game the night before.  For those that don't know, the green seats are the first few rows behind home plate.  Tickets to these seats allow you to have a free dinner and drinks beforehand, and a waiter to bring you anything you want (Budweiser, for the lady) in your seats during the game, free of charge.  Also, I got a B on that test.
You would have done it for these seats, too.
What sucked: My first half-marathon.  I set out with the 2:15 pace group, after 4 miles (3 of which were uphill), our pacer said, "oh shit, I'm running way too fast.  We're on pace to finish in 2 hours."  Not only did I burn out hard and fast, my boyfriend ran my exact same pace 15 feet in front of me for the entire race, but refused to run with me.  He said, "I can't run your pace, it's too slow."  Guess what, buddy?  You were running my pace, just choosing to do it just far enough ahead that I could always see you...dick.
Why it was worth it: Not only did I have the joy of finishing a half-marathon and beginning my life as a runner, but that day also cemented the fact that my boyfriend was a complete asshole, and empowered me enough to leave what was truly an abusive relationship.  BIG win.
My first race medal!
What sucked: Landing in Japan with no luggage, no hotel reservation, in Tokyo instead of Osaka, and our interpreter and friends were on the other side of the country.
Why it was worth it: We barely made our connection, so we were just happy to be in Japan.  Who cares if I hadn't brushed my hair in 3 days?  I had just started running a couple weeks before this.  Had I not been a runner, we would have never made the flight.  We sprinted through O'Hare, from one terminal to the next, just in time to reach our gate as the flight attendant was closing the door.  I'm not a fast runner, but we knew there was no chance our luggage was moving as fast as we were.
After nearly three days in the same clothes, I celebrated when my pack arrived.

For your enjoyment: Engrish

As long as you're happy.
I don't understand it beforehand.
What sucked: getting in a fight with a random old man at the farmer's market.
Why it was worth it: that asshole insulted my mother.  Only I am allowed to insult my mother.
This is my mom, a breast cancer survivor, who, at the time, was exactly one month away from her reconstructive surgery.
This is me and my older sister, and also the cause of the fight.  It went something like this:

Old man: Oh no.  No. No. No.  That's just wrong.
Me: Excuse me?
Old man:  That is so wrong.  I can't believe you. Mom's new rack?  Disgusting.  
(This old dude was up in my face, shaking his head)
Me: Ya know what?  This is my mother standing next to me, and she thinks it's hilarious, so that is all I care about.  Let me just say, the next time you get your balls cut off I bet you celebrate the day you get a new fucking set.  Carry on, sir.
(In all fairness, if I remembered I was wearing it, I might have taken it off to go anywhere besides the Race for the Cure.  However, if that old man was going to be a dick to us, I wasn't going to take it.)

What sucked: Canoeing and portaging through the Boundary Waters, a week after ice-out.  We woke up and our tents were covered in snow, and it rained ALL day, EVERY day, for a week.  We all went on a lichen and moss scavenger hunt to keep us moving through the woods, and prevent us from getting hypothermic.  The real kicker?  We were out there for 8 days, and I dropped my toothbrush in the mud on the very first day.
Why it was worth it: Aren't most outdoor experiences a fine and pleasant misery?  Backcountry camping is always a lot of work.  We had a couple small bouts of sunshine, but unforgettable memories nonetheless.  After freezing my ass off for 8 days, the cold shower and cold Moose Drool I had once we got out was absolutely worth it.

No joke, we were on a lichen scavenger hunt.
We survived under makeshift shelters.

This moment of tranquility made up for every second of misery.
Anytime I get to sleep on a rock, in sunshine, while covered in mud, I'm happy as hell.
What sucked: getting an hour and a half of drunken sleep on the floor of a casino hotel room, then working as a student ambassador at orientation the next day.
Why it was worth it: Jimmy fuckin Buffett.  That's why.
Yes, this is how my friends dress for Jimmy Buffett.

I was very tempted to end this post with "Jimmy fuckin Buffett.  That's why."  Humor has always been my coping mechanism.  Currently, it's a mix of humor and denial.  While I may be a better marathon drinker than marathon runner, I've worked hard for this.  The fact is, I'll do it, and it might suck, or it might not.  I doubt it will be as fun as Jimmy Buffett or the Green Seats, but either way, it will be worth it, and I promise to enjoy it as much as possible.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Absolutely, I Will

Like most things that I do, telling my friends my next blog post would be about my bad decisions seemed like a good idea at the time.  There are so many things that seem like a good idea at the time.  This is how I have ended up with some of the most amazing adventures and life-altering experiences.  This is also how I ended up in the ER on at least 15 different occasions (honestly, I’ve lost count).

You certainly do not want my advice as a runner.  I have absolutely no financial advice for you.  It would be most unwise to listen to almost anything I say in regards to your love life.  Regardless of what I am lacking, I do have one very good piece of advice that has led to me having one kick-ass life: It doesn’t matter what you say, just don’t say no. 

Your yes doesn’t have to come out as a resounding, enthusiastic “hell yeah!”  The point is that you don’t say no.  A reluctant, “I guess,” or a whiny “if you REALLY want me to” will suffice.  I’ve even been known to say, “damn you” while heading in the direction of whatever awesome ending awaits our questionable decision.  

Sometimes the end results merely with me exchanging eyeliner tips over bacon and eggs with a drag queen named Jackie in a 4 am diner (the trick is to put a light coat of sheer glitter over the purple).  Sometimes it ends with me packing my bags for a 6-week backpacking trip through Europe, sitting in the backseat of a car with Jack’s Mannequin, getting a kiss on the head from the President of the United States, partying in the all-inclusive seats at the Cards, Blues, or Rams game, or sharing champagne (which I brought in my purse) with fellow partiers on New Years in Tokyo.  Occiasionally, it ends with me saying, “well, that really was stupid.” 

In a perfect world-and I like to think that mine is-it ends with a good story and a stronger bond with someone, be it an old friend, random stranger, or a drag queen named Jackie.  That is, after all, why I always say yes.  I am not the slightest-bit interested in visiting a 24-hour bar only to end up sitting on a curb eating a corn dog at 6 am, even though it's been known to happen.  What I am interested in is being able to call my friend and say, “hey, remember that time we ended up lost at a random train station in Spain on our way to Morocco, sharing a bowl of mayonnaise?  I love us.”

If you need someone to go with you to a potentially awkward work happy hour, I’m your girl.  If you are looking for someone to take those really good Blues tickets off your hands on a weekday, I’m in (that is a hint, by the way.  I would love Blues tickets).  I will hop in the car and drive to Colorado, Minnesota, or Wisconsin for a concert tonight and drive right back if that’s what you really want.  I will also hold your hand while you make a dreaded phone call, help you build your shoe closet, let you stay the night any time you want, and sit right by you at the doctor’s office, if need be.  I have no problem with leaving the Cards game in a tornado to run across the street to a bar, and I will share my snuggie with you once we get there.  The answer is always yes.

Call it optimism, call it a sense of adventure, or call it bravery.  I don't even care if you call it stupidity, it's always treated me well.  Whatever it is, it’s how I ended up signing up for three marathons before I even finished my first.  If I hate my first marathon as much as I hated my first 5k or half marathon, then it will be a really hellacious day.  If I wouldn't have tried it again, I would have missed out on a lot.  I would not have ran more half marathons, participated in relays, or felt such a huge sense of accomplishment.  The real bonus is that I met some absolutely fantastic friends.  I am incredibly thankful for being part of a positive and supportive running community.

Again, call it what you want, but I’ve always been willing to try anything twice.  It’s only fair.  Think about how many things you would have missed out on had you never given it a second chance.

Speaking of trying anything twice, this post goes out to those crazy kids from Maine.  Not only did they convince me to visit twice next year, they convinced me to do it for two crazy-ass reasons: The 200-mile Reach the Beach Relay, and the obscenely hilly Mount Desert Island Marathon. They've also been hollerin' at me to make a new blog post for the past couple of weeks.  So here's to you guys, and all my other friends that are always giving me ideas to say yes to.

Bonus points to the first person to get the Title reference. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Feed the F*cking Dog

(Disclaimer: there are a few swear words in this post.  For those of you that know me in real life, you know that I cuss enough to make a sailor blush, but I try to avoid it in writing.  In this case, I'm quoting and I felt it was necessary.  It's really not that bad, but I felt like I should warn you anyway.)

Jenn begged me to blog again, and this is one of her favorite stories.  It's a story that I wish I could tell you in person.  It requires my particular brand of snark, a little bit of interpretive dance, the happy hour setting, and the kind of wild hand gestures that would lead me to spill a beer in your lap.  Your lap, not mine.  Bear with me, runners, because just like every other thing I say and do, I manage to tie it back into running.  That seems to be the curse of marathon training.  EVERYTHING you do is somehow related to tied back into running.  For those of you that aren't runners, you might actually enjoy this anyway.

When you choose nursing as a career path, it takes a certain amount of courage to walk into that hospital every day.  You have to be brave enough to assume that you can handle whatever is thrown at you, confident enough to trust your instincts and training, and just bad-ass enough to keep your unruly patients in line in order to pass them on to the next shift.

Over the summer I had the pleasure of taking care of a particularly memorable patient.  We'll call her "Miss H."  Miss H was a total disaster.  On a scale of one to ten, with one being a "hot mess," and ten being a "train wreck," she ranked about an eleven ("it's one louder than ten").*  She belonged in the locked psych unit, but she wasn't medically stable enough to be there. She had every blood disease known to man, and if it wasn't transmitted sexually then she picked it up off a used drug needle.  Let's just say, I didn't want any of her body fluids coming anywhere near mine.

Miss H, because of her high risk of falling, had been given a bed that is very low to the ground.  Because of her delusions, she had been assigned a sitter.  The hospital employs sitters, whose only job is to sit in a patient's room and keep them from hurting themselves.  Miss H had a central line (a large IV-like catheter) in her jugular vein that she had been trying to remove on her own.  She had also attempted several times to leave the hospital. She was unsteady on her feet and was not able to stay oriented to her environment. See above: train wreck.

I confidently strolled into her room and said, in my sweetest morning voice, "good morning Miss H.  My name is Ashley, and I'll be taking care of you today. What can you tell me about your night?"  She didn't even look at me.  She was sitting on her low bed with her feet on the ground.  She cried out, as if in pain, and drew her knees up to her chest.  Concerned, I squatted by her bed and said, "Miss H, are you hurt?  What happened?" She again, failed to even glance in my direction as she said, "you know that g*d damn cat from down the street?  They're always letting that piece of shit run around.  No more."

Unsure of what to do, my body frozen in a squat, I pivoted my head to glance at the sitter who let out a combination of a grunt and a laugh.  I was acutely aware that my patient was bat-shit crazy, and it was my job to battle it out for the remainder of the shift.  This was one of those battles that was going to require a little more bravery and strength than I was accustomed to.

Keep in mind, Miss H also had a roommate.  This roommate wasn't so sane herself.  Every time I spoke to my patient, her roommate would answer.  Here was just one of the many exchanges we had:

Me: Miss H, would you like a Sprite?
Roommate: I don't want no damn Sprite.
Miss H: Ma'am, I was speaking to your roommate. If there's something you would like, I'd be happy to get that for you.
Miss H: Who let her in here?  You know she's up here smoking that shit.  Oh hell no! Not in my house.
(It should go without saying that no one was smoking in the room.  Also, Miss H seemed to have forgotten the fact that she was homeless.)
Roommate: Where's my damn Sprite?  These stupid kids...

Much of the day continued like this.

Periodically throughout the day Miss H would burst into tears, start ripping at her central line, or try and get up to leave the room.  I'm not sure if you have ever had to intervene with a person that is having drug-withdrawal hallucinations, but it's near the bottom of the list of my favorite things to do.   Several times that day, Miss H would look in the corner of the room and say something along the lines of, "I'm gonna kick his ass...that stupid mother f*cker."

With anger in her eyes, this would be the point where she would stand up and head towards the corner.  Since she was a high risk for injuring herself we had no choice but to intervene.  There was no one in the corner, but I was afraid that as soon as I stepped near her she would find me.  I'm not sure, but I was afraid that to her I might look remarkably similar to "that stupid mother f*cker."  I'm not keen on putting myself in front of a combative, hallucinating patient that's ready to spit hepatitis in my eye (that's not exactly how it works, but you get the idea), but it's also my job to keep her from hurting herself.

My day progressed from a polite "Miss H, please have a seat," to a very stern "SIT. YOUR. ASS. DOWN. NOW."  I didn't leave her room all day.  She blamed me for missing the birth of her grandchild.  She told me the sitter threw her down the stairs.  She warned me of the dangers of sharing a crack pipe because some of those people have AIDS.  This was not the time to remind her that so did she.

The day climaxed with her simultaneously swinging at me and the sitter as she tried to leave the room, and then burst into tears before taking a seat on her trash can.  After finally getting her back in bed, she started in on her rice crispy treat that was leftover from lunch.  She sat down, got a glisten in her eye as she tore off chunks of her dessert.  She fixed her gaze under her roommates bed while puckering her lips and beckoning with her hand.  She smiled and said, "see that dog?" as she began to throw pieces of her rice crispy treat under the bed while saying, "come 'ere boy!"

I roll my eyes towards the sitter and put my hands in the air.  The sitter and I exchange a brief look.  It is the look of sisters.  It was a look that can only be shared among people that have experienced an epic event.  It was as if we had survived a plane crash, natural disaster, or nuclear fallout.  We had been battle hardened and suffered.  We were at our breaking point.  In exasperation I said to the air, "feed the f*cking dog.  I don't even care anymore."

Nursing is about priorities, and after all we had been through that day, preventing my patient from making it rain cereal treats was not a concern of mine.  If she wanted to make some snap crackle pop confetti I was going to allow it.  I reached the point where I had not choice but to just carry on.  It's not how I pictured my day, and it wasn't pretty, but I knew that I had done everything I could.

"Feed the f*cking dog" has become something that I say a lot now. When I've reached the point where things are out of my hands.  If I've done everything I can, and now I'm just forced to sit back and watch.  I also say it when I just don't give a shit.

You still with me, runners?  Here's where I bring it back:

When you run you have plenty of time on your hands to think.  I think about this patient a lot.  It was such a shit-show of a day, but I can't help but laugh every time I think about it.  I know I have posts that tend to get philosophical, or motivations that can be incredibly corny.  The reality of it is, at mile twenty, I doubt that I will be saying, it's only "about an hour."  When I am miserably trying to suffer through that last .2, I don't think I'll be able to say, "remember why you run!" (<--both posts you should check out)

Just like that day, I have NO idea what to expect when I'm running a marathon.  I will be brave enough to go to the start line, confident enough that my training and rest will get me through, and just bad-ass enough to force myself to finish.  I know there will be some miraculous highs, but I'm dreading the inevitable lows.  Despite what happens, I'm sure that at least some of it will be a miserable experience.  I'm expecting it, and I accept it.  

My mind will quit on my body.  My body will quit on my mind.  Despite the training, and the support, and the motivation, I'm going to be dealt blows that I can't comprehend right now.  I will be battle worn and scarred both physically and mentally.

At that point I will have lost all shreds of arrogance.  I won't be able to turn to my sappy sentiments.  When I've done all I can, I will just have to somehow keep going and say, "Ash, feed. the. f*cking. dog."

*Sorry if you don't get the reference to "This is Spinal Tap."

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Post About Nothing

I can't gather my thoughts into one cohesive post. Here's what's been on my mind this week:
  • Do you think I would be a better runner if I liked bananas? I'll choke 'em down before and after a race, but I would be a lot more eager if instead of post-race bananas they gave you post-race tacos. Post-race bacon, anyone?
Now Grandpa, that was a man that liked bananas.
  • Why is my dog always trying to steal my food? She's just tall enough that she can put her front paws on the counter and take anything. I always see her plotting to do this. Taking food from me when I'm in a state of runger is just rude. Marley, not only am I your best friend, I'm pretty sure I'm your ONLY friend. Don't be an asshole.
When she was this size, she couldn't reach the counter, but she was tall enough to knock the trash can over.
Maybe she's still trying to get back at me for the time I threw snow in her face. I thought she liked it.
I also thought she liked learning to long board. Maybe she's still mad about that, too.
Ahh, it must be the hat she's still angry about. Ole!
In all fairness, she walked right into that hose.
It just can't be stopped, this girl's hungry.
  • Here's what my ten-year-old sister got for her birthday: an ice skating birthday party. That's fine. Family dinner at the Japanese Steakhouse. That's also fine. we always get to pick where we eat on our birthday. She got a shopping spree at Justice. OK, that makes sense, she does need presents. Lastly, and here's the kicker...wait for it...she got an iPad. iPad's are unnecessary for millionaire business men, let alone a 5th grader. I would jump in front of a train if I thought it would improve her life, but I would not buy her an iPad. When I get an email from her, I shouldn't have to wonder if it's coming from her personal laptop, her Blackberry, or her iPad.

You have to love her.
  • Speaking of siblings, my little brother is dressing as Michael Jackson for Halloween. I find this awesome for several reasons. First, my little brother is an absolute stud. He's breaking hearts of eight-year-olds all over the state of Iowa. He's a charmer. He bases every choice based on whether or not the ladies will like it. He'll make a perfect Michael Jackson. Second, he can pull it off. Not only is he a stud, but he's a good dancer. He takes hip hop dance classes (He's very wise. Once, when I asked him about his hip hop class he said, "well it's fun, but I like to talk to the other boy. You know I like girls, and girls like me, but sometimes girls are kind of crazy, ya know?"). Lastly, I am thrilled that he likes Michael Jackson. When he was four he would call me and sing every word to the Copa Cabana. As adorable as it was, I disapproved of his choice in music. I'm glad he was able to eventually make good choices despite the fact that my step-dad is a member of the Barry Manilow fan club. I wish I was kidding.
Lock up your daughters.

My step-dad looks like a man that listens to Barry Manilow, does he not?
  • I hate Halloween. What causes our thoughts to change from "am I too old to go trick-or-treating?" to "where can I find stripper shoes to match my lingerie?" Ladies, wearing underwear and cat ears does not make you a cat. It makes you a girl that is most likely inappropriately dressed for the climate, and most certainly inappropriately dressed for public. If you wouldn't wear it in front of your dad (or anyone's dad, for that matter) don't wear it in public.

This is what we looked like last Halloween. You know it's Halloween because that's a man dressed as bacon behind us.
  • Speaking of dads, the older my dad gets, the less he looks like Forrest Gump. I find this disappointing.

When I'm right, I'm right.
  • The Nike Women's Marathon: I told my friend Jenn that I wouldn't want to run a women's marathon. That's too many chics for me. She said, "well, I just want the Tiffany necklace." Excuse me? Tiffany necklace? Apparently when you finish that race a fireman hands you a blue box with a Tiffany necklace inside. Excuse me? Firemen? OK, I am highly interested in running the Nike Women's marathon.
  • Holy Boston, Batman! I'm proud of all my friends that earned a spot there, but I'm not proud of all the ugliness the controversy brought out in a lot of runners. I would be crushed too, I'm sure. So, I'm also sorry for all the runners that didn't get in. Boston is just like anything else, once everybody starts talking about it, I want them to stop.
  • While we're talking about running, let me just say I'm out of my damn mind. I haven't ran my first marathon yet, but I signed up for two more next year. I'll be doing with Cowtown challenge in Ft. Worth in February with Jenn, Lee and Isis (The Running Couple), and some other DM/Twitter friends. I somehow got convinced to sign up for MDI next October. I'm pretty scared of that one. I already asked a friend to run the Cleveland Marathon in May, and I'm trying to convince my cousin to do Rock n Roll Seattle in June. On top of that, I have a Ragnar team for June, Rock n Roll Chicago Half in August, Rock n Roll STL Half in October, and I'm sure I'll somehow participate in the Go! STL Marathon Relay or Half.

This is my friend in Cleveland. He's a Cross Fit and general fitness rock star. He ran a marathon without even training because he said, "I felt like I should just be able to do it." When I asked him if he wanted to do the Cleveland Marathon with me, he didn't even stop to think, he just said, "sure." What a bad ass.
  • You know you're a runner when you have no Saturday night plans, but you have Saturday morning plans. Being a runner interferes with my social life.
  • Whenever I'm running and I approach another runner, I always want to raise my hand to give them a high five. It would make me really happy, but I haven't done it for fear of scaring the other runner.
  • The Halloween 10k was pretty fun. It was nice to see a large mass of sober people moving through my neighborhood for once. The race was poorly organized and the support wasn't very good, but it was only a 10k so I guess that's not a big deal. I felt very popular because I ran into several different people that I knew, some before the race, some while running, some watching, and a couple afterward. They were EVERYWHERE.

Yep, there's my house in the background.

I can barely run in clothes that are made for running. I don't know how people run in paper mache anything.

That's all for now. Thanks for listening, or not listening. Either one.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Why I Run

I have no idea why I'm still running, but I do know why I started. My decision to start running was two-fold. It centered around my job, and my career goals. I'll elaborate a bit on both.

I work in the Cardiac Cath Lab at St Louis Children's Hospital. We treat children with heart defects (congenital and acquired) and arrythmias. I have countless stories of tragedy, and just as many of miracles. My pager has gone off at 3 am to save a child that's being airlifted from Oklahoma, we've had babies rushed the hospital next door immediately after their birth, and had children flown in from as far as Nepal to be treated by us. In short, my job is amazing, and I'm lucky to have it.

This is what I look like at work. We aren't usually hooked up to microphones, but this particular day we were broadcasting a live case to China. That's Dr B., one of the best Interventional Pediatric Cardiologists in the world. He sometimes babysits my dog, refers to me as his surrogate daughter, and calls me "Ash-Hole." He's a hell of a guy and one of my favorite people on the planet.

I've seen plenty of codes, but there's one that really stuck with me. In early Fall of 08 we had a young teenage boy that received a heart transplant as an infant, and was coming to the Cath Lab for his yearly biopsy. I was standing next to him holding his hand as the anesthesiologist was preparing to put him to sleep. I can't tell you why, but something about it didn't feel right. I went to one of our nurses and I said, "something isn't right here. That kid gave me a look like I was the last person he was ever going to see." She responded by saying, "Ash, what is wrong with you? You never get like this." She was right, I never get like that, but something had me very uneasy.

When we were done with the case I was standing next to him again as the anesthesiologist was waiting to pull out his breathing tube. Again, I just didn't feel right. I looked at his monitors and saw that everything was fine. I looked back at the patient and said to the anesthesiologist, "he just doesn't look right." As soon as the words came out of my mouth is ECG flat lined and blood started shooting out of his breathing tube.
We immediately started chest compressions, coded him for a couple of hours, and ended up bringing in the surgeons to open his chest and perform surgery right there in the Cath Lab. When codes are going on it's my job to run around and grab whatever supplies the doctors are calling for, assist with compressions, hand off drugs from the pharmacist, hook up drips, prepare equipment, page specialists, etc. My hands were shaking so bad I could barely manage to open sterile supplies.

Another nurse said, "Ashley, what is wrong with you? Your whole body is shaking. You act like this is your first time." This may sound bad, but try to understand: I'm good at what I do because I can watch a child dying and still keep a clear mind and a steady hand. In order to be good at my job I have to be that way. You can't save a life if you're too frantic to hang an IV bag. That doesn't mean that I don't freak out a little once it's all over, because sometimes I do. That doesn't mean it doesn't affect me, because it always does. Regardless, I have to keep my cool in the heat of the moment.

With this kid, I had a really hard time keeping my head on straight. He was put on the transplant list, and luckily received his new heart within a couple of weeks. At his first post-transplant checkup, he came in the room, saw me, and said, "you're the one that saw me die." He comes back often for his post-transplant checkups and refuses to come in on a day that I am not working.

Very cool news stories done on our patients:
Dream Catcher
Camp Rhythm

Work isn't always crazy. Sometimes we have no cases and I get to play HORSE with the docs.

Yes, I shoot like a girl.
Sometimes I even get to put my feet up.

In terms of the things I have seen, that day was very mild. In terms of emotions, that day was off the charts. I'm normally very calm, collected, and low-anxiety. I left that day feeling very guilty. Here's this teenage boy that should be trying out for high school sports and helping his family on the farm, instead he's fighting for his life. Here I am, perfectly healthy and not doing anything to take care of myself.

That very day I decided that it was unacceptable for me to have a perfectly healthy heart and take it for granted. I was always an athlete, but I never worked out without a reason. I played soccer, swam and cheered, but outside of practice I didn't do anything extra. Once I got to college, I rarely, if ever, worked out. I'm not lazy, I just tend to get bored.

I started working with a trainer just to get in the zone. At the start, I had no plans of running.
At some point, I decided that as a 23 year old, I should be able to run a 5K. I started forcing myself to run and I hated every second of it. I couldn't even run the entirety of my first "race." That was two years ago this month. I ran another one a month later and I was able to run the whole thing, but I still didn't like it. I ran every now and then, just because it was a good way to exercise when I wasn't with my trainer.


The reason I decided to start distance running has everything to do with my educational and career goals. I graduated from Iowa State with a degree in Biology and Psychology in '07, and started working at SLCH in '08. I have been working as a Cath Lab Tech since then. I eventually want to work as a nurse in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at SLCH. That's where many of our patients come from, and they are the sickest kids in the hospital. Working at SLCH is very good experience for me, and a great way to get my foot in the door. I was offered higher paying jobs with better hours (no 3 am pager calls!), where I would actually get to use the B.S. I worked for. I turned them down in lieu of the Cath Lab experience, because I knew that it would be better for my future as a nurse.

I was accepted to start nursing school in September of 09. I had a few pre-requisite courses that I needed to take, so I worked full time and took 8 credit hours in the Fall, Spring, and Summer until school started the next year. I have always been lucky that school has never been a struggle for me. I had 14 absences in first trimester of Senior year alone and still managed to graduate as a Salutatorian. It just wasn't that difficult for me. Again, I'm not lazy, I just get bored.

Becoming a nurse was really important to me, and something that I had been heading towards for a while. By the time Spring of 09 rolled around I was incredibly frustrated. It still seemed like it was so far away, and I wasn't accomplishing anything. Work was going well, but there was no room for advancement until I become a nurse.
I couldn't do anything to advance my education other than sit and wait for nursing courses to begin. I was just taking my mandatory prereqs at a Community College. I never had to do homework or study. I just showed up on test day.

I had started to feel really worthless. I knew needed to find a goal that I had to really work for.
I had still been working out with my trainer, but not towards anything specific. We were working together just to keep me in good shape. I heard about some friends that had ran a half marathon, and that's when it clicked. It was March, and I knew if I trained that I could do it by July if I wanted to. I chose to do it because I knew it would be really hard for me. I needed a challenge. I needed to work my ass off for something. Not only would it be a physical challenge, but for someone like me who bores easily, training for and running 13.1 (don't forget the .1!) miles would be an enormous mental challenge.

That first half (Joker's Wild at Westport) was pretty miserable. The course was terrible. Straight uphill, straight downhill, repeat. After that, I didn't run again for months. Eventually, I ended up coming full circle. A year later, I knew some girls that needed another person for a relay, so I agreed to join their team. It turns out they were running the Joker's Wild, the race that I vowed to never run again. I actually enjoyed it this time around, despite being late, the heat, the storm, and the ex encounter. I ran my second individual half a month after.
Somewhere in this dust, one of our teammates was still running.

The weather at the Joker's Wild. This was shortly after a tree came down on the mile 10 aid station.

My running career is still in its infancy. I've only got 3 half marathons under my belt, a couple 10Ks, a few 5Ks and my first marathon is quickly approaching. I have no idea why I keep upping the ante, but I do know that I won't stop. Even when those days come that I don't want to run, I always manage to pull myself out of the slump. Even if I don't always appreciate the challenge, I have accepted that I need the challenge. Unlike most things, running isn't easy for me, but it's not supposed to be.

We all have different motivation that works for us. I ran across the quote
"I run because I can. When I get tired, I remember those who can't run, what they'd give to have this simple gift I take for granted, and I run harder for them." That one really hits home for me. That's the reason I started.

I may not run fast, I may not run well, and I certainly may not always enjoy it, but I will always run with heart.