Category Archives: Running

wednesday musings

image of a late winter sky with heavy and light cloud streaks over pittsburgh, february 2017

Still with me? I know, I know … it has been a few weeks since I wrote an actual blog post here–besides posting links to several published book reviews, that is. Actually, those are a big part of the reason for my absenteeism in this space. Most of you know I do some freelance workwriting, editing and the like. This in addition to my full-time, pays-most-of-the-bills-and-provides-health-insurance (for now) job, which also involves quite a bit of wordsmithing.

Anyway, to my delight, the freelancing assignments have picked up speed in recent weeks. Definitely a nice problem to have. One consequence (if you can call it that) is I’ve needed to spend more time reading–and since most of those books are for reviews post-publication, I feel I can’t say much about them beforehand.

Which, you know, doesn’t lend itself to having much material for one’s book blog.

Good thing there’s nothing else going on in the world to discuss.

(We won’t talk politics tonight because the whole state of the world has me feeling overwhelmed, angry, sad, hopeless and downright frightened. Often all at the same time.)

Tonight offers a slight reprieve from reading and writing (plus The Girl, who has been using my laptop for homework is finished early) so I thought I’d give you a few updates.


Two weeks ago I made an impromptu, whirlwind trip back to my hometown of Northeast Philadelphia for what was a sad visit. My best friend’s mother died and as I said in my eulogy at the funeral, she was like a second mom to me. I expected it to be an emotional trip–and it was. I’m working on a post or an essay about this because it was a jarring experience to return to my hometown after many years away. I’m really, really glad I went even if it took me a good week to feel back to what passes for my regular self.


On my trip, I listened to the audio of Wishful Drinking by the late Carrie Fisher. Albeit bittersweet, it was the perfect choice for what is a boring five hour plus drive across the red state of T**mpsylvania. (The audiobook is shorter than the drive.) It’s incredibly conversational, as if Carrie herself was riding in the passenger seat. An excellent audiobook. I loved it.


Mrs. Douglas, our cat, had a bout of pancreatitis last week. She’s on the mend now, thank God.


Kids are fine. I’m in summer activity mode. I think The Girl is going to be doing some volunteer work along with at least one or two week-long camps (writing and music).  The Boy is going to camp for four weeks. Thanks to the freelancing, there will likely be a family vacation after not being able to take one last year.


Speaking of The Girl, she has been working really hard to improve in math. At Christmastime, she mentioned she really wanted to see Bon Jovi in concert when they came to Pittsburgh so we struck a deal: if her math grades improved and she sought extra help after school through the tutoring service if necessary (something she has vehemently resisted), I would think about getting tickets. She hasn’t stopped talking about this. She’s been consistently hovering above or close to a B for a few months now so we’ll be seeing Jon in a few weeks.


Can I say how much I love that my girl is a huge fan of Bon Jovi and how grateful I am that she inherited my taste in music? (Because, yeah, twist my arm to take her to see Bon Jovi and pretend I’m back in 1986.)


I haven’t been running. Like, at all. Even though this has been a mild winter by Pittsburgh standards, I’m not a cold weather girl.  I haven’t managed to get myself to a yoga class or anything else I’d intended on doing. Hell, I’ve stopped taking the stairs at work. When the weather gets warmer–maybe as soon as this weekend!–I’m going to start over with Couch to 5K. That means I won’t be ready to do the Pittsburgh Marathon 5K this year, but maybe I’ll aim for the Great Race this fall instead or another 5K.


If you need a good book to read, here are two of my recent Shelf Awareness reviews.

The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff  (she’s a Philly writer, whooo!)

The Dark and Other Love Stories by Deborah Willis

 

Sunday Salon/Currently …Welcome to The Last Week of America as We Know It

Sunday Salon banner

To paraphrase Benedict Cumberbatch’s intro to last night’s episode of Saturday Night Live, welcome to the last week of America as we know it. Regardless of how this election turns out, we’ll be waking up to a different country on Wednesday morning. It will either be a country that will have made history by voting for its first woman President and someone who has spent her entire life fighting for women, girls and families while representing the nation on a global stage … or it will be a country careening down a dangerous path led by an unstable, racist, xenophobic, sexist, egotistical, uninformed hot-headed monster with complete disregard for anyone’s interests except his own.

It’s pretty clear where I stand on this election — solidly, enthusiastically, emphatically 100% and then some With Her, if you had any doubt.  I cannot wait to vote for Hillary Clinton. Yet there’s a part of me that wants to crawl into bed right now and not emerge until all the votes are counted and we (hopefully) know who won this thing. I’m not banking on that being Wednesday, so if that means I need to become Rip Van Winkle, that’s fine with me.

As appealing as that is, however, the anger and vitriol fueling this country’s deep divisiveness won’t vanish overnight. It’s not like we’re going to learn the results, immediately turn to our neighbor and start singing Kumbaya.  (At least, I’m certainly not.) Who knows what kind of America we’ll be living in this time next week? It’s scary and stressful and anxiety-producing.

Still, I feel that I should be chronicling this pivotal moment in history somehow, maybe writing more about what this feels like. I’m not sure why or for whom, exactly; I guess I have this notion of potential grandchildren asking me about this unprecedented time and me not remembering the intensity, as hard as that seems to believe.

Both of my kids are very, very engaged with this election, so maybe I feel compelled to capture this moreso for them — so they can remember how it felt and what this time was like.  I am taking The Girl with me to vote on Tuesday evening and into the voting booth itself.  We’ve taken the kids to vote often, especially when they were younger, but I want my girl to be able to tell her potential grandchildren that their great-grandmother cast a vote for Hillary Clinton way back in that crazy historic year of 2016, and that she was part of it.

I want them to remember this.

The election has been the main topic of our dinner time conversations and The Boy, in particular, is very inquisitive.  (For the record, The Boy has been invited to accompany us to vote, too; he’s declined.)  While I don’t want to quash his interest and enthusiasm, he’s like me in that when he likes something, he is ALL IN and somewhat obsessive in his consumption, taking things to extremes at times. There have been several occasions when we’ve had to tell him to dial it down or take a time out from the election talk.

I do think about the impact this election is having on Generation Z (my kids’ generation, those who were born in the mid-late 1990s or early 2000s) but who are taking note of the discourse of this race. I wonder (and worry) about their long-time views on voting, democracy and public decorum.  I think the reality-showification of this election, our politics as entertainment, would be an interesting study or book as it relates to this generation. (I’m available and willing, agents and publishers who may be reading ….)

That’s been part of the reason why, as I mentioned last week, I’ve been trying to be more intentional about limiting my media consumption of election-related news. (I know how hypocritical that sounds; I say this and then I write a whole blog post about the election, effectively contributing to the noise.) That means no political podcasts, no opinion or think-pieces, very little political engagement on social media. Everything that’s said has been said; everything has already been analyzed from every possible perspective. There’s nothing more I can learn, no new insight to be gained, nothing I can offer that you haven’t heard me say already.

Instead, I’ve been listening to music on my commutes to work, running, and reading, so since this is technically a Sunday Salon post, here’s a brief recap of all that:

Reading …

mothering-sundaythe-rain-in-portugalshut-up-and-run

This week I finished three books in TWO DAYS, which is unheard of for me.  My current pace is more like three books in a month, if that. With a total of 37 books read this year, my revised 2016 goal of 50 books feels more doable.

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift will be among my favorites of 2016.  This novella is simply spectacular. Set in England, the story takes place in 1924 and centers on Jane Fairchild, a maid to the wealthy Niven family. They are friends with the Sheringhams, whose son Paul is engaged to marry Emma Hobday.  That small detail doesn’t stop Paul or Jane from having an affair. The entire story unfolds over a few hours, making this the perfect book to read over the same amount of time. In fact, I’d say that this should be required to be read in one sitting, as I did yesterday afternoon while The Girl was at the library’s Anime Club program. It’s resplendent and luxurious, sexy and suspenseful, with hints of Virginia Woolf and reminders of Mrs. Dalloway.  I loved every word and every minute I spent immersed in this. What a decadent way to spend a Saturday.

The Rain in Portugal: Poems by Billy Collins is the former Poet Laureate of the United States’ twelfth collection. It’s a perfectly fine, enjoyable grouping of poems.  Those of us who are familiar with Collins’ work will find his usual fare here as he’s not a poet who surprises in terms of style or subject matter. He’s comfortable, pleasant, an easy read.

Shut Up and Run, by Robin Arzón offers runners of every ability motivation, training plans, practical tips and advice combined with Robin’s personal philosophy of fitness and story of how she left law to become an ultramarathoner (that’s someone who participates in events exceeding the marathon distance of 26.2 miles). Robin Arzón is fierce, strong, a real badass and I really liked her perspective.

Running … 

pile-on-the-miles

Since Labor Day, I’ve ran or walked a total of 26.2 miles — my own personal marathon! — by following Couch to 5K. I’ve also lost 10 lbs. But with the days getting shorter and colder weather making its presence known (not to mention easy access to an abundance of Halloween candy in the house), I felt like I needed additional motivation and accountability to maintain my running progress.  I was excited to see that Run Eat Repeat, a running blog I’ve been reading, is hosting Pile on the Miles, a fitness challenge during November which sounds like a good way to stay on track.  I set myself a goal of 15 miles this month, which may be too ambitious for me.

It’s going to be quite a week.  Go vote, my American friends. (And if you’re in Pennsylvania and need a ride to the polls? Lyft and Uber are giving you a free ride.)

See you on the other side.

 

Starting Line, part 1

clouds-pittsburgh-12-2-2015

clouds over pittsburgh, december 2015, photo taken by me

It felt like someone had punched me in the chest.

I had just walked up three short flights of stairs and I was breathing like I’d just ran the Pittsburgh Marathon.

Goddamn, I’m old, I thought, trying to catch my breath and feeling all of my 47 years.

Thankfully, the feeling quickly subsided but returned with concerning enough frequency throughout the next week. I couldn’t walk up the same stairs with a coworker and have a conversation on the way into the office. Moreover, it didn’t matter if I was simply sitting at my desk churning out all the words and crunching all the numbers. Wham, there it was, the stabbing in the back or slight chest pains. I started keeping a bottle of Tums on my person and on my desk.

“Ever Have An EKG?” 

I thought back to the last time my cholesterol and triglycerides were checked — about two years ago or more.  Both numbers had been high and I’d promised my doctor I would make some diet and exercise changes. I had good intentions, but didn’t do much to change my ways. I was already gluten-free and vegetarian, and I became even more of a carb-loading machine. Rice, potatoes or pasta — with a generous helping of cheese, please — were part of almost every meal I ate. I enjoyed a mug of ice cream nearly every night.

And forget starting any type of exercise routine because my true nature is Lazy As Fuck. There’s nothing I like better than sitting on the couch or the deck with a good book and a cup of coffee. I am a reader. A writer. I don’t DO exercise, which I HAAAAATTTTTTTEEEEEE with a passion unbridled. I always have, ever since gym class when I was always picked last for dodgeball, which I feel is a sadistic game. I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to graduate high school because I couldn’t run a mile in under 12 minutes. (I could write a whole ‘nuther post — hell, a book — on how the ostracizing of kids in gym class can influence their perspective of fitness.)

So why in God’s name would I want to willingly put myself through that physical and emotional torture three decades later?

In reality, I was playing dodgeball with my health.

Being the summa-cum-laude graduate that I am of the Medical School of Google, I self-diagnosed myself with angina (spoiler alert: I was wrong) and when I called my doctor, she suggested I come in that afternoon. I figured this could be worth leaving work early.

“Ever have an EKG?” asked the nurse practitioner.  I said I thought I had one before my gall bladder surgery two and a half years ago.

“You’re about to have another one,” she said.

A Moment in Time 

Fortunately, my heart was ticking perfectly fine and although there wasn’t any evidence of a heart attack, we couldn’t ignore my concerning symptoms. The chest pains and shortness of breath when walking up the stairs continued. Upper back pains and stomach woes. Fatigue.  A sedentary lifestyle. A ridiculous, off-the-goddamned charts, unrelenting amount of stress and anxiety. (The doctor’s look when I gave her a summary of the past year was…well, something to see.)

I walked out with orders for new bloodwork, a stress test, and an unequivocal command to get myself to the ER if the chest pains happened again.

To no one’s surprise, my cholesterol and triglycerides had gotten worse, with the latter zooming from 150 to 405 within the past seven years. Fortunately, results from the stress test were fine. (“Above average for your age!” proclaimed the cardiologist.)

“Let’s give this six months,” my doctor said. “Six months to lower your cholesterol and triglycerides through diet and exercise. Then, we’ll see where we’re at.”

If things progressed as they were, I knew where we would be at — in the ER (or, worse, in the ground). Best case scenario, we would be talking about statins, something I’d very much like to avoid. I’ve had this conversation with previous doctors, even ones I liked. I know statins work for many people but I just see them as heading down a slippery, cholesterol-slicked road.

Still, something about this particular conversation resonated with me. It felt like a turning point, a moment in time.

Life Doesn’t Come with Lifetime Guarantees 

At 47, I have outlived my father now by three years. He wasn’t an athlete, but he was fairly active. He was always working in our yard or on a project around the house.  He had recently become a volunteer firefighter for our small town. He didn’t smoke or drink. He didn’t die from cancer, a heart attack or stroke.

He died from complications of the flu. At 44 years old.

So, I’m well-acquainted with the feeling of living on borrowed time and how much of life is a crapshoot.  And perhaps that had been part of my exercise-adverse mindset: what’s the point of doing something I hate (exercising) when I could be perfectly healthy one week and drop dead from a virus the next?

Like my father, I have two kids. They are nearly the same age I was when he died. I know what it’s like to feel a parent’s absence during every single major milestone of your life and to miss them on even the most ordinary of days. I don’t want that for my kids.

When put in that context, eating less ice cream and becoming a little more active made complete sense. My motivation may have started with not wanting to go on a statin (and that’s still one of my driving forces in this) but maybe making some significant diet and exercise changes now could ward off serious issues later — or at least make me healthier today, because none of us are promised more than that.

If I’ve learned anything in my 47 years (especially the most recent of them) it’s that life doesn’t come with lifetime guarantees.

Starting Line

All of this happened in July and August.  The diet part seemed easy. Being gluten-free and vegetarian was a good start, but I needed to focus on reducing carbs, cholesterol and sugar. I downloaded MyFitnessPal to track everything I ate. That’s been eye-opening and I’ve instituted some healthier changes. I checked out books from the library. I pursued cookbooks and added more blogs to my overflowing Feedly.

But I knew that diet alone wasn’t going to get me where I needed to be. I needed to step up my exercise game bigtime and an occasional walk around the block wasn’t going to do it.

I had an idea what might be in my future and it hearkened back to not being able to run a 12 minute mile in high school.

Maybe, just maybe, I needed to conquer that voice in my head — the one stuck on repeat that says you aren’t, you can’t, you won’t.

Maybe it was time to start running — towards what I could do instead of from what I’ve always thought I couldn’t.

This is the first post in a series (yet to be named) of my Couch to 5K experience and journey towards becoming a runner.