Saturday, August 25, 2012

Back in Norfolk: the Homeless make the Best Fan Base

On a side note, I started this on 8/14. Now, 11 days later, it feels like NO time has past, even though it is been 1.5 weeks.

Monday 8/13 was the first day of class. I got up for a brutal morning run in the heat and humidity of the Virginia beach, with the humidity so thick in the air I think I can see it. A little more than half a mile into my run though I remembered what I missed so much about Norfolk: the homeless people cheering me on when I run. It is the greatest thing ever. I was running past a church garden and in general homeless people get kicked out of the church shelters at ~6 or definitely by 7am at which point they tend to sit at nearby parks. They looked up at me and smiled, so I made a pumping movement with my fist and they started cheering me on. When I came back by a miserable & difficult 6 miles later, the group had grown, and they all turned around and started cheering again, as though they had been waiting for me. This is not the first time I have gotten cheered on by homeless (or apparently homeless) people.

Whenever I run, I pretend that the world is cheering me on. Even if people look down and away, avoiding eye contact. In MY head, they are saying "go get 'em killer". Only in Norfolk is it actually true that the random people ARE cheering me on! Norfolk also has a high density of military population with the Naval Base and Navy Seals here, so the homed population tends to really value fitness. My favorite was when once last semester ~6.2 miles into a 7/5 mile run, a ~70 year old man with the appearance of a military-for-lifer pulled over his car with a Marine Corps sticker on the back as he drove and started cheering me loudly. Apparently he had seen me running ~2 miles earlier and thought that I could run like a cheetah. The combination of military and homeless/underserved population creates a very unique running support system. And that this group of impressive & struggling individuals are inspired by me really compels me to try my hardest... My consistency actually seems to be something positive in other people's lives! It made a group of homeless men stand up and cheer at 7:30 in the morning!

I wanted to go to medical school here because it is a community where the students can make a real difference due to the high HIV/AIDS rate and the high poverty rate. EVMS is also ranked as one of the top community-oriented medical schools, where helping the community is labeled as the top priority (I can go to medical school and become a better person instead of a more self-absorbed jerk!) Unfortunately, I haven't yet done much in terms of direct volunteer service as I have had to work so hard in classes.Last semester I was able to take a weekend class in doing rapid HIV testing and also work a couple nights in a homeless shelter. But that is really inadequate relative to what I could do to help the community. People find my running inspiring, but what made me best at running was spending time in a hospital with people who can't run. So I am in awe of my classmates who find the time to volunteer and truly build the community much more inspiring than myself. They show me how much farther I have to grow. Once I'm not struggling in class I'd really like to work with a run with the homeless program as the consistency can have really positive effects in people's lives like this one:

As one of my mentors said, we are all just a few bits of luck away from being homeless ourselves. I got lucky a lot in life. I really hope I can do more to support the best fan base I have ever had.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Running in Chicago: The Lakefront

As I prep to run my first 16 miler in Norfolk, I really miss the lake front path where I'd run my long runs south and my shorter (up to 11 miles) going north, so here is a photo summary of running along the Lakefront.

The John Hancock tower (shown in the back) was ~0.5 miles from my house, so as I ran up and down the lakefront, I could judge about how far I was from home by looking up and seeing the Hancock tower.

The best part of the Lake Front was the ability to jump in the water at the end of my run. In fact, after the Chicago Rock & Roll half Marathon I waded straight into the water and swam 0.5 miles very slowly back to my apartment. Then I climbed right out of the water with a convenient pool-style ladder and walked the last ~1/8 mile to my apartment.

This was also great for cross training, where my friend Connor joined me for a few aqua jogging sessions where we jogged along and gossiped. He even pointed out that it felt like we were two ladies pushing kids along in strollers; quite a wonderful time!

There was an underpass for me to go under Lake Shore drive onto the Lake Shore path so I did not encounter traffic on my way to my run. Many of these images were taken during my morning run. These two pictures show the beginning, looking out over the water just after the underpass.

If I ran down south, then I would come to the navy pier, a place of tourists where I could only run early in the morning. Otherwise it would be so crowded that it would be easier to play red rover with professional football players than to continue running through that crowd unimpeded.

 This is the North side of the Pier, looking back out over the city and out over the water in the morning sunrise. These pictures were taken ~5:30a.m. during a morning jaunt.

Then the end of the pier, looking over an anchor statue past many american flags towards the light house in the distance.

 The south side of the pier, looking over South side Chicago.

At the end of the pier, you continue south by this statue. Then over the bridge, where you could look back at the pier to continue down the path
Chicago's architecture if you chose to go back along the Riverwalk was spectacular. I really like this building with the rounded car parking below. Sadly, it also meant very long elevator commutes (It can take more than 5 minutes to get an elevator)

On Saturdays, the Rehab Institute of Chicago will take the kids out to go around the track in a big group. Many of these kids have CP and are recovering either from surgery, a seizure, etc to cause a prolonged hospital stay

Norfolk is great for flat, fast runs, but I will very much Lakefront path of Chicago and the track infront of my apartment (seen in the back).

I will also VERY much miss my morning workout team (as led by Tre, where we would do pull ups and other functional exercises next to the track to stay strong/ injury-free-ish).

And my support team of Jessica Bauer (who cooks the most AMAZING pre-race German meals).

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Win at Bogus Basin Mountain Race :)

In coming into the Rockies, I was eager to find a race because having the energy to tackle mountains by yourself is a lot easier if you have the adrenaline and companionship that come with a race. The opportunity to really push myself in the mountains was one that I didn't want to miss as I have been running the past year in the amazingly flat Norfolk. This past summer in Chicago seemed hilly in comparison, though Chicago is still noted for its flat runs along the race. Further, I think that the lack of hills is causing my legs to be lazy, so I'm not lifting my knee enough as I run and instead extending my leg past my knee and thus hurting my knee when I run. No matter how hard I've tried to stop doing this, I just need to run up some hills to get that proper stride re-ingrained in my body.

Fortunately I was able to find a race through the mountains that Sunday, about 1.5 days after arising in the Rocky altitude.

The race was held at Bogus Basin ski resort as part of the first ever Bogus Basin Roundup. This opened the ski lifts to the mountain biking community for the day. Worked into the schedule  was a mountain bike race at 8:45 at a running race with either a 6mile or 11mile option at 9:15. I signed up for the 11 mile and my boyfriend, Bryan Kirk, not a runner, not having run since he ran the Rock and Roll half marathon in Va Beach for me without training last September, signed up for the 6 mile. My goal in the race was to gain strength/endurance by pushing myself in a different way, not to win the race. So my plan was to take it easy by pushing myself during the difficult parts like a regular workout. Thus, I planned to (and did) stop and drink water at every water station to 'pace' myself as though it were a workout with friends, not a race. I honestly thought I may come in last while driving up there, as I was up at elevation in the Rockies, running hills/mountains for the first time in over a year and I what it means to run that difficult terrain at elevation on a regular basis.

The runners (I think there were ~50 including 3 kids less than 10 doing the shorter course, so adorable!!!!) started at the lodge and ran ~2 miles downhill to the ski lift. The ski lift then took us to the top of the mountain. I was quite happy for this break on the ski lift because I could feel the elevation and was sore from my 10 mile 'hill run' the day before where I was so eager to run up a mountain, I neglected to consider the race the next day. I got to ride and make friends with Jake Jacobs, a fellow soccer player and medical person while on the chairlift as well, which just added to the feeling of camaraderie that pervaded the race. Jake Jacobs won the 6 mile race :)

At the top we had the choice of chugging a beer or root beer. While I started the race with the full intention of chugging a beer, the burning in my quads and feeling of dehydration quickly changed my decision to rootbeer (and root beer has NEVER tasted so good). Then I took off down the mountain's single track trails.

These photos of me and Bryan were taken just before the 6 mile group broke off I think ~ mile 4 or 5 to go down to the finish, while the longer group continued down the mountain, winding back onto single track. The single track especially on the second part was amazing. As I ran down it, I felt like I was flying and floating like a bird soaring past wildflowers. That feeling and type of experience is what makes running rewarding.

That trail ended about 2 miles below the lodge and the last two miles were a difficult uphill slog. True to my word, I stopped at every water stop and chugged multiple cups of water. Thus, I had a solid workout-race where I pushed myself hard on new terrain and was sore the next day.

To my surprise, in the end, I came in 1st for women and second overall. In my eyes, this is a huge success because I had no clue that I could be competitive in the world of mountain racing while living in Norfolk, Va and running on pavement for 23/24ths of the year. It is wonderful to know that the mountains are so much a part of me that I can be competitive my first race back in the mountains, less than 36 hours arriving at  elevation, and on sore legs :) Yay! I love running and try hard at it every day and that consistency and effort can show even when facing new challenges.

As is normal with a second place, I also wonder whether I could have gotten first if I had pushed myself harder to 'race'. And this I will never know, because if I had I could have gotten dehydrated or burned out of gas. Also if I was less than minute behind the winner Mark Austin (who finished a minute and a half ahead of me), he may have found extra gas in his tank that would have left me in the dust. But as is, I may have taken a bit too long at the water stations so I didn't give my competitor as good of a run for our money as I could/should have under the circumstances.

My boyfriend, Bryan Kirk, shown going over great falls, came in second for the 5 mile race. He is a professional whitewater kayaker who is a team manager for wavesport. The last time he ran more than two miles was last september for the Va Beach Rock & Roll half marathon (which he also did for me). This just goes to show what it means to be an amazing athlete and competitor. Some people (like him) are naturally good, and some people (like me) have to work every day to be good.

I would like to thank Pulse Running Store for putting on this wonderful race. Like I said, experiences like this are what make running, training, and trying your hardest worthwhile!

In Boise: The Epic Running Movie The Dark Knight Rises

The evening of Friday, July 28th, the last day of my summer externship at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, I flew to the Rockies. I consider the Rockies my home because I LOVE the mountains. That feeling is why I chose to attend Montana State over Johns Hopkins and Georgetown for my graduate degree.

The next day, I ran through the foothills of the Boise National Forest for the first time.


Then I went to see the dark knight rises; an epic event for me because Batman is my hero.

In Batman they discuss how to use the force and strength of pain, fear, and the loneliness of deep alienation for the good of all. Earlier that week, another medical student on my team, a guy from Nigeria who had run track in college at Columbia asked if one day I just woke up and could run really fast. And I replied yeah, pretty much, the day before they removed my mom’s breathing tube and two weeks after I put my cat to sleep I woke up and suddenly I could run really fast.

When I gave up the Rockies and my PhD/schooling to move back home, I was not met with open arms. My presence symbolized that my mom was dying. My dad may love me, but he most certainly hated and resented me being there and made that well known. I also (like cat woman) have a long list of youthful 'indiscretions' to rise above in my parents eyes.

One day in March, I was sitting still for a second holding my mom in her hospital bed, watching “Kitchen Nightmares” (which my sister had put on earlier with my mom).  I had been running around the previous few days because my mom was finally getting discharged after her first seizure. She had been in the hospital for a month because it took over three weeks to get back the results of the biopsy. She couldn’t be released until the cause of illness was determined i.e. cancer, not meningitis/viral encephalopathy/etc. Once cancer was determined as the cause of her seizures, I contacted neurooncologists throughout the world. Saturday, four days earlier I drove 5.5 hours down and 5.5 hours back to consult with Dr. Friedman at Duke about my mom’s treatment. I had also had phone meetings that Monday with people from Sloan Kettering and Johns Hopkins. In touch with more neurooncologists and researchers by e-mail, I was exploring whether to get her treated in Germany or Italy, where the most research on gliomatosis cerebri (my mom’s form of cancer) was being done.

The neurooncologists at the National Cancer Institute would not meet with just me without my mom present. But if she was discharged from the hospital to a rehabilitation facility, she could not leave the rehab center and return. According to the insurance company, if my mother was adequately healthy to make a doctor’s appointment for treatment options, then this woman who could not walk, was on seizure precautions, and living in a house with stairs and no safety features, was perfectly safe to go home. So my role that day was to arrange that she be discharged early in the morning, make it to Bethesda Md in time for an appointment with the head of neurooncology at NCI, then make it to the rehab facility before the close of business so the insurance would never know she was ‘healthy’ enough to be evaluated by a doctor.

To do this I had to have the appointment set up by 10 a.m. at NCI (not an easy task). I had to have the approval of the busy physiatrist at the rehab center, which I did not get until after six the night before the appointment. I had to have the approval for release from the hospital from the oncologist team, the neurology team, the internal medicine team, the primary care team, the social worker, and the psychologist from Fairfax hospital. None of which I had at that time. My family had also been worried about which rehab center, so the day before (Monday) I had spent driving around the rehab centers in DC and VA trying to make sure we picked the best one for my mother’s condition and for my dad to be able to visit her.

So as I sat there, still for a minute, watching a brief bit of Kitchen Nightmares, the guy owning the restaurant had every excuse in the book handy for why the restaurant was failing. My mom looked at me and struggled to get out the words “that’s like you.” I said “what mom?” She repeated “like you” and added “always excuses, you always make excuses.” And I thought for a second about how I was in the hospital, watching TV with my mom, not working on my PhD, not gainfully employed, making another excuse. During the visit the next day to NCI, which the insurance company never learned about, the head of radiation oncology, Kevin Camphausen, offered me a job and took care of me.

But still every night home I was alone, worried that my mom was dying, having a seizure no one would see, unable to breathe, falling out of bed hitting her head. I was worried that I was doing the wrong thing making excuses, not accomplishing anything. Every night I barely slept and every night my heart broke as I faced my mom’s death and my new life not as a graduate student nerd living and playing in the rockies, but as the person responsible for my mother’s life in the busy metropolis of DC. I listened to the Eminem song “Superman” to remind myself that no one was going to save me from the pain I felt. I had to rise to the occasion. I had no Superman. It was only me.

I identify with what it means to be alone and to work to transform that utter alienation into some sort of strength, some sort of character. Despite the fact that the world will always know you for your weaknesses, no matter how hard you try. I identify with and admire the Dark Knight. But it can be hard as Robin says because people get frustrated that you always have that pain, it will always be a part of you. Like Batman, I can’t just go to a party on a Saturday night and feel at peace. So I try my hardest to channel that pain into strength and commitment whether as a runner or as a medical student. And every once in a while when I think of having my mom and my cat with me and the strength of the pain I have experienced, I feel as though I may one day be able to be a superhero and save another person's life.