Monday, September 15, 2014

To Beth

Today would have been my little sister Beth’s 38th birthday. However, a pain pill addiction morphed into a heroin addiction, which led to her death at way too young of an age.

Before heroin, Beth drove a nice car and had a steady paycheck. She was a single mom for years and did the best she could. After she paid rent and bills, she still managed to buy cute clothes. By the time she died the nice car was long gone, totaled by her second husband one day while he was high on who knows what. It was eventually replaced by a 19-year old Toyota Camry that she proceeded to wreck one way or another. It was one more accident away from being totaled by the time she died. The cute clothes were a thing of the past.

To be honest, I had not had much contact with Beth during what would be the final 18 months or so of her life. She wasn’t at too many family functions. We lived in the same town, less than 3 miles apart, but rarely interacted.  

One day after work I needed to swing through the grocery and pick something up for dinner. But I saw her car in the parking lot and kept driving. I didn’t want to run into her in the grocery. I didn’t know what to expect from her.

She cut ties with me and others – going so far as blocking me on social media (and then sending friend requests later). Her social life was next to nil from what I’ve pieced together. That behavior was very unlike Beth. She was a people person and always ready for the next party. She loved hanging out with her friends.  But heroin changes a person. And she chose that high, time and again.

Sobriety was something that she didn’t maintain very well – pain pills and then heroin became priorities in her life. Those needs surpassed her abilities to work or take care of her only daughter.  The lies she told to maintain a “clean” image grew more and more outlandish. The anger I felt toward her led me to justify avoiding her and yes, judging her. The guilt I have from that feels crippling at times. I like to think I’m very open minded – live and let live. But my sister was addicted to heroin and I didn’t do a damn thing about it.

I talked about doing an intervention. But that’s as far as I got. Just the talk. Again, my anger toward her had me frozen. I kept thinking of all the other times I helped her. I drove her home so many times when she was drunk. I bailed her out of unsafe situations and tried to shield her from people that I thought were bad for her. As we were growing up, I stuck up for her when she needed me. As adults, we were neighbors for a few years. She babysat my kids. We traded books and watched TV, shared clothes, and gave each other advice – as sisters do. Then heroin happened.

When my mother texted me the morning of May 3rd and asked me to call her I knew something bad had happened.

“Is it Grandpa or Beth?” I asked when she answered.

She sighed. “It’s Beth. She’s in a hospital in Michigan. She’s brain dead. An overdose. Alive on machines.”

Within an hour, I had made arrangements for my girls to be taken care of for the weekend. I made the 3-hour drive to Michigan, hoping I would get there in time. There was a DNR order if she coded again. The only thing I remember about that drive is the giant windmills in huge grassy fields on the side of the highway. There seemed to be something symbolic about witnessing those fields filled with sustainable energy devices as I drove toward some little hospital in Michigan, where my sister and Willie, her second husband, were visiting his children for the weekend and she somehow overdosed on drugs that included cocaine and assorted pain pills (but actually not heroin from what we found out later in the doctor's report).

The nurse in Beth’s room gently explained that my sister’s condition. The ventilator she was hooked up to was enabling her to breathe. She’d been having almost constant brain seizures due to the lack of oxygen following the overdose. There wasn’t any hope that she could survive. But the nurse did tell me they believed people in her condition could hear people talk to them. She encouraged us to speak to her and let her know we were there with her.

Beth’s eyes were open but not focused, her heart rate fluctuated wildly, her hands were cool to the touch. The nurses did their best to keep the drool wiped off her chin and keep her comfortable despite the ventilator. They repositioned her every once in a while.  She wasn’t in a coma, but she wasn’t awake. I think the term is “vegetative state.” It isn’t pretty.

The pain my parents had to endure in that room (and since then) is unimaginable to me. No parent should ever have to lose a child. It goes against the laws of nature. The hospital staff was kind enough to allow my parents, Alli, and myself all the time we wanted with Beth during her last hours.  Alli’s quiet strength in the midst of her grief amazed me, but she has always been strong.

I sat on my sister’s bed and cried. I held her hand. I hugged her. I told her how much I loved her. I told her how much I missed her being part of my life. I said all the things I should have said to her while she was still alive. I talked about about memories I would carry with me, confessed my feelings about our recent falling out, told her how much my girls missed “Aunt Bef” being their silly babysitter. I told her I would take care of Alli and watch over her. I told her I loved her. And I would always love her. 

“I’m sorry,” I said, over and over.  I couldn’t stop the tears. To this day there are times when I still can’t.

My sister died on Sunday, May 4, 2014. I miss her every single day. And I like to believe that she heard me as I talked to her during her last hours – that she heard all of us. I want to believe she knew she was loved.

RIP, little seestor. I hope you are somewhere beautiful, smiling and singing along to “Brown Eyed Girl," celebrating your birthday. I love you and I miss you, every day. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Race Recap: Another Dam 50K

Last weekend I did something not many people would think was fun: a little race called Another Dam 50k. No, I am not crazy. (Ok, that’s debatable, but we don’t need to talk about that right now.) And yes, I loved every single minute of it.

This ultra (an ultra is a distance anything over and above the standard marathon distance of 26.2 miles) was at Englewood MetroPark, about a 20 minute drive from my home. I signed up for it a few months ago because the thought of doing something like that scared me shitless. Made perfect sense at the time.

Race day dawned sunny and beautiful with the temps in the low 60s, which gave way to temps in the 80s later. The course consists of 4 loops for a total of 31+ miles. It is mostly shaded except while running across the infernal dam,…which is required twice on each loop. Good times. Most of the race was on the trails, some of it was on pavement. And of course there were hills, including Big Bertha, who makes her salty appearance within the first mile of each loop. She is a bitch.

The race started at 8 a.m., so I got my happy ass up at 6:30 to finish packing my provisions: a couple of PB&J sandwiches, cut into fours (makes it easier to stuff in the face on the go, multi-tasking at its finest), potato chips, water bottle, extra change of clothes, extra shoes and a care package supplied to me by one of my BFFs. (The normal stuff like Vaseline, candy bars, lotion, powder, etc. Things one needs during and after the race, obviously.) And in true Lisa fashion, I forgot my Powerade. I knew Gatorade would be supplied on the course but it doesn’t always agree with me. Enough said. I have better things to do than to get into a discourse on my intestinal issues. Okay, I really don't but I'll leave well enough alone. This time. 

Just before the race started, the race director called the 100 or so participants to the start line and gave us a low-key pep talk. He also warned us not to fuck up the trails – no littering and if you have to be a bear in the woods and can’t get to one of the porta-potties make sure to get far enough off the trail that other runners don’t have to witness it. After those words of wisdom, he turned us loose.

During the first loop I fell into an easy pace. I knew my pacers wouldn’t be joining me until loop 3 or 4, and I was fine with that. As I was running, a few people struck up a conversation – it was all very laid back and relaxing. At one point I started running with a guy who had crewed/paced at the Leadville 100. Seriously, how fucking cool is that? He also had done IronMan 70.3, an event on my agenda for next year. Turns out, he and I had a ton of mutual friends. We chatted and paced each other for 10-15 miles and had a grand old time. Thank you, Doug, for your awesomeness.

By the time I started loop 3, I was on my own again. But my first pacer, Sheila, made her appearance with impeccable timing as I was heading through an aid station. We took off, and I sincerely believe that she made that loop bearable. We talked sometimes, but there were also times of silence. She was an excellent pacer and those miles seemed to fly by.

At the start of loop 4, Tracey (she of the two time Boston qualifier fame) made her appearance and the three of us set out.  If you’ll recall the last time the 3 of us ran together, I puked. There was no puking this time. They told me it wasn’t allowed as it would give them a complex. This loop was the hardest. I was tired. My body hurt. And then I got a weird side cramp. I also felt like I was getting a blister on the bottom of my left foot. My hips hurt. My knees hurt. I didn’t like my sunglasses on top of my head but I didn’t want to wear them, either.  My Garmin quit. The birds were too loud. I think I ate a bug. But I felt as if I couldn’t stop smiling. There’s no other way to describe it: I felt free. Free of the shackles of grief that have plagued me since my sister died last month. Free of the constant stress of budget woes, worrying about my children, fretting that I’m not a good enough mother, daughter, friend, person, …I could go on. I opened up and let the trails just be my therapy.

As we neared the end of loop 4, I felt like crying. I was beat the hell up but not ready for it to be over. I marveled at every mile covered and felt incredibly lucky to have fulfilled my goal. I crossed the finish with a time of 6:10:31. That includes all the stops at aid stations. I was 3rd in my age group for females and 11th female overall. Not bad for my first ultra. And I can’t wait to do it again.

Thank you again to my wonderful friends and pacers, Sheila and Tracey. (And to fellow Team Grace members – congrats Brett Bogan!). And thank you to TerriAnn, who sent me wickedly funny and inspiring texts all the way from Utah, as well as Steve who texted me to get moving and stop drinking wine in the shade. For the record, no wine was consumed until hours after that race. I stayed hydrated with water and Gatorade. Also, I want it known that I did not make up any new obscenities during this race. That alone is a major accomplishment, thank you very much. 

Until next time….


An ultra runner. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Warning: Puking Is Involved.

I’ve been running for almost two years now. During that two years I’ve ran distances spanning 5k to 26.2. I’ve ran in the predawn darkness during the midst of winter in single digit temps. I’ve run on hot as Hades Ohio summer days with 200% humidity. I’ve gotten the runners trots at the most inopportune times. But during today’s 5k, I had something happen that has NEVER happened to me before: I puked.

This race was to raise money for breast cancer. I had a master plan of hitting below the 26 minute mark, something that I’ve come close to on training runs. This was also my first race after the loss of my little sister, a recent event that has obviously rocked my world to the core. (That is a post for another time. Not ready yet.) So I loaded the girls up and took them with me – another first. They’ve never seen me race.

When we got to the starting area, I signed in and deposited the girls with a friend. Another friend of mine (a two time Boston Marathon qualifier, thank you very much) volunteered to pace me for this endeavor. We made our way to the front of the start line and when the siren sounded, we took off.

The weather was perfect. Cloudy skies, 60 degrees, no breeze, - couldn’t ask for any better running weather. We were keeping an 8 minute pace and if felt good. At the two mile marker, Tracey told me were in the clear for a sub 26 minute time even if we slowed down to a nine minute pace. I was stoked. And secretly relieved, as my lungs were starting to burn like the fiery pits of hell.

But just about ½ mile from the finish line, I started feeling queasy. Thirty seconds later, I was extremely nauseous. I coughed and realized that the next cough was going to bring up whatever I had in my stomach, namely the strawberry waffle that I snarfed down on the way to the race. So I did the sensible thing and darted off the path straight for the bushes. I barely made it before the contents of my stomach spewed toward freedom all over the pretty flowers.

As I was hurling, all I could think about was that I f*cked myself out of my goal time. That led me to pause my Garmin. (No worries, I kept my wrist above the stream so that no puke hit it.) After two more projectile emissions, I finally felt sweet relief. Tracey was beside me, asking me if I was okay and assuring me we could walk to the finish line and try again at the next race in a few days. We walked back to the path and after about 10 seconds I decided to run again. She asked me if I was dizzy and I said no more than usual, so I restarted the Garmin off we went.

We finished the race at 27:09, tying for 11th place overall (small race, just around 100 people) AND first place in our age group. It was also a PR for me. Not bad, considering the puking incident. Plus the fact that I got to see the Spawnderellas smiling faces at the finish line made it even better.

I’ve seen other runners puke during runs and always wondered how in the gay hell they kept going. But after today, I understand. And I realized (again) that running is a lot like life. There are good runs and bad runs. Some days are harder than others. Elation and sadness, much like victories and failures, come and go. But as long as the desire to keep moving forward in life is there, that’s what matters. As long as that desire is there, we have a fighting chance – a chance to find happiness, a chance to find peace – a chance to find (and accept) ourselves.  

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Marathon #2 - Napa!

After running the Columbus Marathon in October, I decided that I wanted to run another one. I should probably seek mental help, but that post is for another time.  Anyway, one night I was up perusing the Internet and drinking wine. (Big surprise, right?) I was dreaming of the places that I’d like to go to, such as my version of mecca – Napa. I had the vague idea that I’d like to run a marathon in an exotic locale, preferably outside of Ohio. After all, Ohio is a lot of things but exotic isn’t one of them. Anyway, I plugged “Napa marathon” into the Google machine and BAM! It popped right up. I longingly looked at the pictures on the website (and may have drooled a bit) and thought to myself “Someday, my happy ass will visit wine country and run that marathon.” And thanks to a little luck, a lot of planning, and miles and miles of training, I found myself on a plane white-knuckling it to California a few days before the March 2 race.

After my wine infused search, I mentioned the race to my friend Natalie, who is originally from Ohio but now lives in Virginia Beach. She told another friend of hers about it, and a plan was born – resulting in a grand total of seven of us sharing a rental car and quaint house in Sonoma. Only three of us were brave (or crazy) enough to try the marathon – Natalie, Billy, and me. In the days preceding the race we took in copious amounts of wine at numerous wineries. I won’t tell you how many, but the fact that my liver is still working properly is a testament to the miracle of our bodies. I did not drink too much wine on Saturday, as I didn’t want to be dehydrated and uncomfortable for Sunday’s running event. Being dehydrated can lead to early bonking (that almost sounds dirty but it isn’t meant to) and that can make those 26.2 miles a hellish nightmare.

Anyway, our alarms went out at 3:40 a.m. on Sunday morning and Tracy very generously drove Billy, Natalie, and myself to the drop-off point where we would get bussed to the start line. It was around 45 degrees and pitch black at 5 a.m. Most people had on long pants, long sleeve shirts, sweatshirts…but not Natalie and I. We were wearing our sleeveless shirts, arm sleeves, and shorts. I could tell that very few of those people were from colder climes (such as Ohio), especially due to the snippets of conversations that I overheard about how the weather was “freezing.” Excuse me? Try living through (and training in) an Ohio winter, people. Forty-five degrees is balmy compared to the frigid temperatures I suffered through in recent months.

The race started promptly at 7 a.m. The sun was up but the sky was still overcast and cloudy. The course took us down the Silverado Trail through some of the most picturesque land in wine country. The course description noted a few hills during the first 6 miles but also stated that MOST of the trail was downhill. That was true to a certain extent, but they did not relate the fact that there could still be hills on a downhill course. Good times. I distracted myself with the views of the vineyards and the incredible homes that lined the road.

During the first 6-7 miles, Natalie and Billy and I had some lighthearted conversation. We may or may not have made fun of a man who mooned a thousand runners when he darted off through the thicket for a bathroom break. (All in good fun, it happens to every runner at some point. I’m just glad it wasn’t me.) I do hope he wasn’t having any serious intestinal issues and that he got out the poison very quickly…especially before he was caught crapping on someone’s front lawn.

Right around mile 10, a light mist started. I mentioned that it felt good (temps were in the 50s by then) and that a little rain whilst running never hurt anyone. By mile 14, I was alone. Natalie had to stop for a restroom break (Porta-Potty, not on someone’s nicely tended lawn) and Billy stopped to walk for a moment. I was tempted to walk with him but I wasn’t sure if I would start running again. By the time I hit mile 15, the rain really started coming down. Bye-bye, California drought.

So there I was, running through hilly terrain in a torrential downpour, unable to listen to music (no headphones allowed) and surrounded by thousands of people I didn’t know. By mile 17, I swore off marathons. My whole body hurt. (This might have been a good thing. The nagging IT band injury that I dealt with during the last 4-5 weeks of training took a backseat to all of the other aches and pains that popped up.) My quads and hamstrings screamed at me with every movement. My feet were killing me and they were cold and wet.  My clothes were drenched and sticking to me. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, my armpits started to feel like a million bees were stinging them. WTF? That’s right, a new level of hell – armpit chafing. I think it’s worse than boob chafing. (And as we know from an earlier post; that is no bueno.) But at mile 18, I heard our friends cheering me on. I managed a smile as they snapped a few pictures and told me to keep going. (At this point I was still hoping there would be wine at the finish line, so stopping wasn’t an option.)

I slogged through the next 8+ miles, exhausted…but also happy. Running a marathon is an odd experience – the pain has a way of making a person feel strangely free. Our friends were at the finish chute, again cheering me on and making me smile. I heard them before I saw them and felt very grateful for their support- Trip, Mara, Tracy, Kristin – THANK YOU.

Crossing over the finish line after running 26.2 miles is an emotional experience. The pain is real, but so is the elation. Each time it is a learning experience. I wasn’t happy about the fact that I was 3 minutes slower in comparison to my first marathon, but after analyzing my performance, I think I know why and how to change it for my next one. Yes, call me a glutton for punishment, the next one is only a month away.
Very few people actually run marathons, and even fewer get the chance to run Napa. For me, it was a dream come true. I am proud to be an Ohio girl, but there will always be a special place in my heart for Napa. And on a positive note, this is the second marathon I’ve ran and I still haven’t lost any toenails. That has to count for something, right? 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

More About Running. And Wine. And IT Bands. And Napa!

Anyone who has ever trained for a marathon knows the hellishness of all the miles that need to be logged. And logging those miles (or attempting to) during this winter's brutal temperatures have been damn near impossible. I live in Ohio. I've lived here all my life. Cold winters and summers that are hotter than Hades with 110% humidity are normal. But this winter's weather has SUCKED in a big way. Damn you, polar vortex. Go back where you came from.

To make things more interesting, I also started a new full time job. Plus I spend anywhere from 15-20 hours a week on paid writing gigs. There are days that I'm lucky I remember my name. And running after work is damn near impossible. After all, dinner doesn't cook itself. Well it does in the Crock-Pot. If I remember to turn it on after I toss all the food into it. Sigh. It's only happened once. No judging. Anyway, that means I've been getting up in the morning BEFORE work to run. Now, most people who know me also know that I am NOT a morning person. Oh, I'm better now than I used to be. But the fact remains that mornings are not my favorite.

Anyway, running the streets of my little town at 5 a.m. isn't as hellish as it sounds. First of all, I generally run with a small group of like minded people. The conversation helps to pass the time. Secondly, traffic is light. (Seriously, who else is up at that ungodly hour? Most people are smart and stay snug in their damn warm beds, the lucky bastards. Plus, my little town is quaint. It has a personality to it that I adore. Even at 5 a.m.

However, a recent injury has sidelined me a bit. My IT band (some muscle that runs from the knee to the hip. That's all I know.) has decided it doesn't like me very well and the resulting pain as I run competes with the pain of childbirth. Okay, that may be a bit strong. But it does suck more than running out of wine.

So who trains for a marathon in Ohio during the winter time? A person who is going to run in the Napa Valley Marathon on March 2. Yes, that's right. My happy ass is leaving Ohio at the end of February for the mecca of Napa. Wine. Good food. A beautiful place to stay. Friends. Have I mentioned the wine? Oh yeah...and the marathon. Those are the thoughts that keep me going as I tiptoe through the ice at the buttcrack of dawn or curse my IT band on long runs. And no matter how I look at it, I'm between a rock and a hard place. If I don't train, I'm afraid that I'll bonk during the marathon. But if I do train (especially on runs longer than 8 miles), my knee hurts as bad as my ears do when I'm forced to listen to that train wreck Justin Bieber.

I see sessions with my foam roller in my future, plus lots of icing. (Not the kind you eat. Although that would be nice too. I meant icing as in a cold-pack on my knee as I watch Dexter re-runs.) I can also see MAYBE taking a little mini-break from running directly following the marathon. That will make me sad it it happens, but it might be a necessary evil. Even taking a break for a few weeks will give me time to train for Another Dam 50K in June.

Plus,  I can self-medicate with some of the great wine I get in Napa. See? I've found the silver lining....Happy trails!