Archive for March 2010

Two Goals for Me, One for Dad

March 29, 2010

Charles P. Pierce”s column in Yesterday’s Boston Globe Magazine section made me laugh out loud.  He referred to this time of year as “Indian Winter”.  I couldn’t agree more.  I rubbed my eyes hard in disbelief and looked again at the thermometer this weekend as I dressed for running.  It read 28 ° on Saturday, 32 ° on Sunday.  Last Saturday I wore shorts and a tank top.  This weekend I dressed in full winter gear, including gloves.  Sue and I ran together, pushing hard against the cold wind as we cranked up the hills.  I saw all the little spring green shoots struggling in the cold; crocus flowers looked shriveled and weak.  It felt like a set back for me as a runner, too.  If I had any little shoots forming, they have been chilled back into dormancy again.  Ice puddles dotted the sidewalk and roads, leaving my toes numb for most of my time out.  I struggled at the end, and because Sue is such a strong finisher, it took every ounce of energy I had left to keep up with her.  We stop our run when we reach her mailbox and walk up the long up-hill driveway to her house as our cool down.  I was cooled down well before we reached her front door.  I could hardly wait to rehydrate and go home to warm up in the shower.

Sunday’s run was just as cold; the wind pushed against me all the way out and some of the way home.  I kept seeing flashes of the Rocky movie— the one where Sly is running in deep snow with sled dogs— in my mind’s eye.  I’m going to be positive about this, though, and know that if I were planning on heading into the ring sometime this summer, I’d be strong enough to knock out my opponent in the first round.  (Since I don’t actually plan on becoming the next “Million Dollar Baby”, though, I’ll take it down a notch and just hope for a 6.5 min/mi instead.)

Although I have adjusted to winter far better since I have become a runner, I still prefer any of the other seasons.  I feel so much lighter and bouncier when the weather is warm!  I am grateful that at least the sun was out this weekend; all the rain last week kept me inside cross-training.  It looks like this week will be much the same—  more rain, so more p90-X, free weight training, and core work.  The end of the week is supposed to be warm and sunny.  My goal is to run 13.1 miles on Friday, so Thursday will be an easy run, Saturday a recovery run, and Sunday will be devoted to speed work.  I am interested to see if the P90-X helps me with my time.  All that explosive jumping has to be working miracles on my quads and hamstrings, never mind my heart.  Another sub-7 mile feels like a good second goal— for a warm day.

Side note:

My dad is dong very well in the rehab facility.  I visited him on Saturday.  He has been working on walking and taking care of himself; he participates in the activities available there, like Bingo, art class, movies, and concerts.  He seems quite happy, although is also glad to see my mom when she goes in to visit and check on him.  His goal is to be ready to go home in a week.   A heartfelt thanks goes out to all the readers who have commented, called and emailed asking how he is doing.  Thank you for sending prayers and good energy his way.


On Being a Glutton with a Touch of OCD

March 26, 2010

Remember the P90X routine of a couple of days ago?  The one that turned me, the speedy little show-off runner into a winded, super sweaty, and exhausted jumper?  The workout that left me unable to run for a couple of days (and I will also admit, unable to sit down comfortably for a couple of days, too)?  I decided, since I have been able to sit down without too much discomfort for the past hour or so, to give the workout another go.

It’s raining again; the hubby is home and happy to be off his recumbent bike for a strength training session with me before we indulge in our steel cut oats.  The weight training feels amazing, as usual, and I love to watch my husband attempt to mirror me as we go through a long series of upper body lifts.  I lead him through a short cardio burst at the end, and some gentle stretches so he will be able to carry on with his work day with a minimum amount of soreness.  I see the issue of Health Magazine on the ottoman in the living room and decide to take a glance at the workout again, wondering exactly which moves put me in such misery.

I try the first one.  Nope.  That’s fine.  The leaping up from the floor with my fists up actually feels good.  Kind of exciting, like a tough, kick-boxing frog.  I do all 25 reps.  Then I try the second one, the wide stance squat that involves circling the arms overhead like giant windshield wipers while leaping up, then landing softly back in the wide plié squat.   That’s fine too.  I hate to do just the couple, so I complete the set, 20 reps.  The third move, where I run in place four paces then jump both knees up to meet my waist-high-held elbows is actually very easy and fun.  It’s almost as good as running, and I only have to do 15 reps.  I’m warmed up, so move on to the flying lunges.  I raise my arms above my head, nice and straight, and drop one leg back behind me into the lunge.  I push off, leaping into the air and switch feet, landing in another lunge.  I can feel my butt complain a little bit; this must be one of the ones that really got me on Tuesday.  It doesn’t seem too bad today, at least not the one rep, so I try a few more.  By the time I reach 10, I figure I may as well go ahead and do the last 15 reps.  And since I have now completed four of the five moves, why not just finish up?  I do 25 reps of the lateral leap, careful to land softly back in the one-legged squat each time.  My fingertips graze the old wool rug, and the roughness makes me glad that at least today I have worn sneakers to protect my sore toe.

I stand panting, waiting to catch my breath for a minute.  Because, as you might guess, since I completed the sequence once and a full circuit means doing the sequence twice, I have to do it.  I cannot leave it half-finished.  I go through all the moves a second time and march in place for a couple of minutes to cool down at the end.  Nothing hurts, at least not yet.

Sub 7

March 25, 2010

I thought it would be cool to wear my Nike Free shoes barefoot when Sue and I ran in Hamilton on Saturday.  The hot sun certainly called for shorts; bare feet seemed to be the next step.  But barefoot in a shoe is not quite the same as barefoot not in a shoe.  After our speedy and sweaty 8 miles, I hopped in the shower and yelped out loud.   Excruciating pain shot through my left foot from the underside of the smallest toe.  Doing my best to keep my balance on one leg in my old, slippery porcelain bathtub, I lifted the foot, turned it upside-down, and examined the toe.  I discovered a round, red, fat, burst blister.  It was only about the size of a pencil eraser, but felt as big as the Grand Canyon.  I stood there whimpering like a puppy until the exposed skin adjusted to the hot soapy water.   The pain subsided a bit; I hobbled out of the shower, dried off and dressed my feet carefully in soft, soft socks and the widest shoes I own.

Sunday was a bust for running; I had not packed running clothes to take to my parents’ house.  I knew I would not have time to run, even though it is such a wonderful stress reliever for me.  I thought Monday might work, but the early rain put me off.  Instead, I hiked in Dogtown with my friends Jane and Judy a little later in the morning.  We followed narrow and twisted paths through the woods, fording streams and enduring some serious drizzle for almost three hours. The toe was fine.  Roomy hiking boots and soft SmartWool socks protected the tender spot.  Tuesday morning presented with heavy rain, so I opted for the crazy workout I wrote about in the piece Intense and Flavorful.

Wednesday morning I did the Mom shuffle, then tied my sneakers, put on music, and headed out the door.  I ran about two blocks and realized I was not quite ready to run— the toe was already throbbing, and to be honest, my butt was killing me from the P90X workout I did on Tuesday.  I turned off the Nike+iPod and walked back home.  I was looking forward to a nice long visit with my friend Judy from Newton.  She came just as I had finished setting up for our lunch.  We drank a cup of tea, then walked my 6.8 mile running route, thus I have managed to get my exercise all week despite the toe.  It’s just that I want to run!

This morning I wrapped a soft Band aid around the toe.  I slipped into medium-weight wool socks, my tights, a couple of top layers, and tied on the Nike Frees.  I headed out with low expectations.  Even so, I started off fast.  The toe was not painful.   The air was spicy and fragrant with earthy spring smells of mulch, flowers, and moist soil.  I kept up the speed, deciding to go for the medium loop.  I knew I could slow down or walk back if necessary, but my body was practically singing out loud with joy with each step I took.  My ankles, knees and hips felt springy, the muscles in my legs flexed elastic and strong.   My lungs filled over and over with the morning air, and my mind melted into the pure pleasure of fluid motion.

I ran 5.7 miles and set a new personal record for mile speed.  I am proud to say I clocked a sub-7 minute mile.  Just by a breath, it’s true; nonetheless, it is far more than I expected.  My average speed for the run was 7’34” min/mi.  After four days of not running, today was like coming home.

Follow Up on Dad

March 24, 2010

My father has been transferred to a rehab center about one minute away from my parents’ home.  My mom can pop in any time of day or night; she told me that it’s a five star rated facility which pleases all of us.   The caregiver attending my dad not only brought his lunch on time, but also brought a sandwich for my mom.  Ham salad on “gummy white bread”, but it was a nice gesture.

My mom sounded exhausted but relieved when we spoke on the phone.  There were a million papers to sign, insurance information and drug lists to verify, and she managed to keep it all under control as she plowed her way through it.

Dad loves attention, so will enjoy the physical therapist, occupational therapist, and the myriad of other attendants who will be in to see him daily.  He’s on antibiotics for his infection and is wearing a walking cast.  He has a telephone in his room, so I called him this morning.  He’s in very good spirits!  He knew my voice right away and asked for everyone in my family.  It’s a good sign that he’s not disoriented.  He said his ankle still hurts, but that “the girls” would be getting him out of bed two times today.  He will be able to stay at the facility until he can walk again.  I know my mother will miss him while he’s there, but a break from care-taking will be good for her.  We are hoping he will make it home for Easter Sunday.

Intense and Flavorful

March 23, 2010

Heavy rains motivate me to stay indoors and try a new workout this morning.  This month’s issue of Health Magazine features a P90-X high-intensity jumping workout, promising to torch 350 calories in just 25 minutes.  There are five jumps, each with 15-25 reps, in one sequence.  The pretty young model demonstrating the moves makes it look manageable and it seems like a nice change from the bike and videos.

I don’t know about the calorie burn, but this workout is intense!  By the time I reach the second sequence, my heart is pounding and my shorts and tank are drenched with sweat.  After finishing the second set, I recharge with a chia fresca.  I decide to add double drop sets and some core work to the end of my workout.  That way, if the rest of the week turns out to be perfect for running, I won’t feel guilty about getting enough cross-training!

The rain continues.  It’s chilly and damp here on Cape Ann— a good day for soup.  My daughter and I love traditional Portuguese kale soup, but not the chorizo sausage that goes into it.  I made up my own version, substituting Indian seasonings for the meat to liven it up a bit.  My husband has not seemed to notice the absence of the chorizo; he only flatters me by telling me how delicious this soup tastes.  It’s not spicy, just very flavorful, and loaded with nutrients and protein.  It’s also gluten-free.   Curry and turmeric have natural anti-inflammatory properties, so my muscles and joints (and yours!) will be thankful for a big bowl of this yummy treat!

Vegan Curried Kale Soup


3 Tbsp. olive oil

1 sweet onion, chopped

6 carrots, chopped

2 Tbsp. curry powder (Madras curry powder is perfect for this)

2 Tbsp. fresh ginger, minced

1 tsp. mustard seeds

1 Tbsp. ground turmeric

¼ tsp. cayenne pepper, or more to taste

6 c vegetable broth

1 bag green split peas, rinsed

1 bunch fresh kale, washed and chopped fine

2-3 red potatoes, scrubbed and chopped into bite-sized pieces



In soup pot, combine oil, onion and carrots.  Saute over medium heat until the vegetables begin to simmer and soften.  Add curry powder, ginger, mustard seeds, turmeric, and continue to cook about 2 more minutes, until ginger becomes fragrant.  Add the broth.  Turn heat to high and bring to a boil.  Add the peas, return to boil, lower heat, and simmer until peas are soft, about 45 minutes.

Add potatoes and kale, stirring well until kale is incorporated into soup.  Cook 10-15 minutes more, until kale is tender.

Add water, ¼ cup at a time until desired consistency is reached.  Soup should be thick.

Serves 6-8.

As a dinner, serve with hearty multi-grain bread, and a side salad if you wish.

Two Paths

March 22, 2010

My father is in an ambulance on the way to the emergency room.  He fell yesterday while trying to walk into his house.  My mother tried to break his fall with her tiny body.  Miraculously, she’s fine, just a bump on her nose.  He’s not.  He fell because he has another infection and does not have the body awareness to know something’s wrong.  His body finally takes over; he has no choice but to notice something is wrong when his legs give out.  Usually he falls well, but this time, he landed wrong and hurt his ankle.  A neighbor managed to help him inside, and the two of them, my mother and father, decide not to call 911.  They decided to wait until morning and see how he felt before getting medical assistance.

I am on a trail in the woods with Sue.  We have planned a long run, and I know there’s no point in going to my parents until they are settled at the hospital.  I will stay overnight with my mother.  We will go back and forth to the hospital, eat salad in the cafeteria there while we wait and wonder if my father will be kept overnight or longer, and how he will maneuver himself back into their house if they send him home.  We will fret over his going to a rehab facility, and whether insurance will cover it.  Part of me wants to skip the run and part of me knows it doesn’t matter either way.  If my parents waited overnight to decide if  the fall merited a visit to the hospital, I won’t let myself feel guilty for waiting to meet them there.  I take the selfish route and Sue and I cover about eight miles before we call it quits and head home.

We run in Hamilton, starting off in a woodland preserve.  The trail is packed dirt and gravel; we merge onto a lovely country road lined with trees.  The whole time I am running, I’m thinking about my dad, wondering how many more times this will happen.  He’s not that old.  His health issues stem primarily from his weight and sedentary lifestyle.  He’s a great person— a loving husband and father, a talented painter, a loyal friend— but has never been kind to himself.  As my feet pound the pavement, I have a flashback to when I was a kid.

We lived on a main street in a country town.  On weekends, for a short while, my dad  jogged a mile or two along the side of the road, just like I am doing today.  He let me go along with him once.  I rode my bike and pedaled slowly beside him, listening to him huff and puff with each step.  I agonized over the speed, or lack of it, but didn’t want to leave him behind or get into trouble for zooming ahead.  We didn’t go very far, maybe a little more than two miles. I remember he wore old tennis sneakers and nylon shorts.  His big belly pressed against his tee shirt, spotted with sweat  before we even left the driveway.  It was completely drenched by the time we returned home.   Even though I was pretty young, I was old enough to wonder if he would have a heart attack because he was so out of breath.  I remember chanting over and over under my breath, “Please, God, let us make it back home.”  Moving his body took so much effort! I guess that’s why his jogging phase did not last very long.

He tried (and still uses) a recumbent stationary bike but was never able to actually burn enough calories to help him lose any weight.  He yo-yo dieted most of his life until he became a diabetic; my mom is finally able to help manage his food, but the weight stays on him, slowly taking his life away.  It is breaking my heart.  And my mother’s heart.  And my sister’s, and our kids’.

Sue and I pass old farmhouses nestled back from the road; horses meander across fields golden with last season’s dormant grass.  Ponds and streams dot the countryside, swollen from the past two weeks of heavy rains.  We merge onto Route 1A and run along the side of the road.  The sidewalks are lumpy and in some places nonexistent; we hug the soft shoulder as cars whiz by.  Sue motions to a long dirt and gravel roadway and we turn, taking a short walk break.  We chat and drink some water, find our pace again and  continue the loop back to where we are parked.  On the drive home we talk about day trips, summer, our parents.

In the back of my mind, I surrender to the rest of the weekend, and despite my dad’s condition, look forward to seeing my mom and spending a little time with her, just the two of us.  I know my dad will be glad I am there.  He will goof around with me, despite the throbbing pain of his ankle.  He will tease the nurses, doze in between meals, and get better, at least this time.  But I’m scared that next time might be different, and there’s not one thing I can do to change that.

And so I run.  I love to run.  It makes me strong, fit, and powerful.  But I also I secretly worry that I might wind up like my dad, unable to run, barely able to walk.  If I didn’t run, I’d be doing some other activity just as vigorously.  Some days I am tired, and think I should take a break.  Then my dad goes down again, and I jettison that thought from my head.  It’s hard for our family to watch.  It’s hard for my mom to take care of him, counting out all of his pills, reminding him what he can and cannot eat.  It’s hard because I found a way to help myself and it is too late to take his hand and guide him down my path.

Vocal Quads

March 19, 2010

I am having a little talk with my legs.  It goes something like this:  Okay, legs.  That was a pretty weeny bike ride.  What’s wrong?  I know we went at those hills hard, but you are strong!  We ran three days in a row this week, and all has been cool .  The hips are fine, knees are fine, hamstrings are pretty loose.  Relax!  Let’s roll!

They answer back in the only language they know:  body language.  My quads begin complaining as I start the gentle incline on Old Garden Road.  I turn onto Dean Street, another long, slow hill, and by the time I reached South Street, my legs are practically screaming.  I slow down, pulling my pace back to about an 8:30  min/mi.  The bottoms of my feet burn, and I am breathing so easily I might as well be strolling along with my grandmother.  I drag myself up to the second loop of Marmion Way and make the turn there; my quads continue to protest as I push them first up another small hill, then down the long, long slope.  The street levels off for a few hundred yards, and I decide to push a little harder again.  I sprint up the next hill, stop at home for some water, then resume my run, downtown, to the end of Bearskin Neck.  As I crest the tip of the Neck, I feel something give, and my legs suddenly remember they know how to run.  For the last three quarters of a mile I am back on track.  My quads go quiet,  relaxed and settled into the rest of the run.  So— what’s been going on here?

It started last night.   My husband and I decided to cycle outdoors together this morning.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, with a forecast for warm sunshine.   The evening temperature last night hovered in the mid-fifties, which meant the early morning would be fairly warm. On the weekends, I run first, then we bike together.   The cycling has to come first on Fridays to accommodate my husband’s workday.

We haul ourselves from the bed this morning, guzzle coffee and then chia fresca, and prepare for our ride.  I drive the girl to school, so know it is a little cooler out than I had expected it to be.  I dress for a winter morning.  Hubby throws on his blue sweatpants, a long-sleeved tee shirt, and a thick, fleece-lined hoodie.  He dons his wind-resistant goggles to keep his eyes from tearing up.  We buckle into our helmets, strap our water bottles onto their clips, and ride out for our favorite loop.  It’s the first long loop of my running route— Old Garden Road, Marmion Way, Pebble Beach, and Eden Road.

He hollers back to me that his fingers, uncovered by his special biking gloves, are numb.  I holler back, into the wind, that my fingers are fine.  I have worn thick winter gloves.  We pedal along the road, sometimes side-by-side if we are on a back road.  I can’t help but notice how much better shape my husband is in this spring than he was last summer and fall.  All those mornings of riding his recumbent stationary bike this past winter have paid off nicely.  The biggest hills, which I used to peak and then ride in circles at the top until he caught up are equal territory for us this morning.  He wears a pleased and slightly smug grin as I turn to see where he is, only to find him right behind me!  Go, hubby! We take the long loop of Marmion Way back, racing up the last three hills.

While he makes us Irish oats and showers, I decide to go back out for a short run.  I haven’t had enough exercise, and the weather is so glorious that I find not running impossible.  I switch out the trainers for the Nike Free shoes, added a vest and my Nike+iPod and take off.  My legs, accustomed to running, have just finished pumping pedals up a bunch of steep hills.  And, the running/biking summer ritual is to run first, bike second.  The reversal is certainly shaking things up, thus the little talk I have with my body.

I press hard up the last hill, and because my legs finally feel normal, I pass my house one more time to circle the block.  I run until my breath comes hard and fast, then slow to a walk to cool down.  I check my time:  4 miles at 7’53” min/mi.  Whew!  I take time for a good, long stretch session, careful to give extra attention to my quads.  I want them to be happy and quiet all day long, and all through tomorrow’s long run with Sue.  We are traveling out of town to run a new route, and the only vocals I want to hear are Sue’s and the birds’!