Friday, February 07, 2014

Don't be strong!

People mean well when they say to "be strong."    But there may be a time and place when it may be better to say, "You've been so strong for so long that it is ok not to be strong right now." 

Some of us are very good at appearing strong at all times.  The strong-appearing people are probably the ones to whom we say, "Be strong!" when times are tough, but those are instead maybe the very people to whom we should say the latter.  Maybe they are the ones who actually need to be a little "weak" every now and then.  Strong people are good at being strong.  What they are not good at is being not strong. 

So, maybe it would be more helpful for some people at some times to have their friend's or loved one's "permission" to be a little "weak" for awhile.  Or maybe they could even use the encouragement for it,  at least until their "strength" comes back.

Tonia's friend recently posted a saying about being "resilient."  I really like that word!  Having resilience is so much more important than strength, isn't it?  Because frankly, sometimes we simply are not strong, physically, mentally.  And sometimes we are "weak," physically, mentally. And that's ok.  Not one of us can be strong all the time especially when times are hard.

But even when we are weak, we can still be resilient. 

I always see the good in someone saying "be strong."  They are offering comfort and hope.  But it is my hope that when I get tired of being strong, I can be weak enough to say so, and that my loved ones and friends will not remind me to be strong.  I hope instead my loved ones and friends will tell me that it's ok to not be strong.  I hope they remind me that I can be "weak" and resilient at the same time, and that resilience is the more important of the two.

Be resilient, my friends.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Safe Place

Sometimes something happens at work and the experience perseverates in your mind.   Often it is the experience of having to be the bearer of bad news to one of your patients.  Fortunately, on occasion a patient comes back for the sole purpose of telling you how well they are doing and to thank you.  Those experiences stick for a while too.  Sometimes I wish people with positive outcomes were the ones who came back to see us on a regular basis.  But alas, that is not the nature of health care.

Well, something happened earlier this week that was outside the scope of the usual experiences at the clinic.  For some reason, this event is stuck in my head and I am compelled to write about it.  I feel the need to share it with others because, well, I have never experienced this before and the event touched me deeply.

I was in my office dictating the note for the patient I had just seen and I thought I heard what sounded like a quiet sobbing from someone from the lobby area, where patients enter and leave for treatments like massage and acupuncture.  I think I wondered about what it was I was actually hearing, wondered if it was really the sound of sobbing, probably confirmed in my head that's what it was, and probably presumed that a person there to see one of the other providers was having a bad day.  Nothing sounded urgent, and I continued with my paperwork and prep for my next patient.

I went to receive my patient in the lobby and as we walked passed the one of the cubicles, I saw the source of the sobs, which continued steadily from a woman who was collapsed in a chair, her head resting on the table in her arms, as her body heaved in muffled distress.  Two of the therapists seemed to be sharing the act of providing physical comfort and words of comfort, though every gentle touch seemed to open the heart's flood gates, making the sobs louder and a bit more alerting for the moment.

I made eye contact with the therapist as she held her hand on the despondent woman's shoulder.  The therapist gave me a sad but reassuring grin that everything was ok.

I treated my patient and we exited to the checkout desk in a route that provided the most privacy to anyone still around.

On my way back to my office, I heard the continued sounds of sobbing, sobs that now seemed to need some self-encouragement to continue, with less pressure behind the breaths.  Maybe it was the completely clogged sinuses that prevented her from gaining enough oxygen to produce much noise.  But the waning sobs were still leaking from her body.

This time, as I passed the woman whose forehead was still pressed tightly into her folded arms across the cubicle desk, I stopped to try to recognize her.  She was in one of the massage therapist's cubicles, but it clearly wasn't the massage therapist herself.   The other therapists were still checking in and providing quick physical and mental reassurance as they, themselves, flitted between their own scheduled patients.  I moved a little closer and said, "Is there anything I can do?"  The woman looked up.  It was the first time I saw her face and, despite the swollen eyes and tear-drenched face, I instantly recognized her as one of my previous patients who must have been there still doing some periodic massage or acupuncture at the clinic.

"Oh, Dr. Bliss!"  she said.  "I hurt.  My big dog knocked me down and I hurt here and here and here," and she pointed all over her body, each time with increasing build-up for another waterfall of tears.  Her breathing grew rapid, and her face furrowed deeply and she said, "I have so much going on...."  and she put her head down and sobbed with new vigor.

What could I do?

She was physically ok despite her complaint of pain.  She was obviously in quite severe emotional pain.  That was obvious.  It was also crystal clear that she was in the right place to treat her emotional pain.  It was clear that the cause of her pain was not what mattered at that moment.  At that moment what mattered was that she was in pain and she had a safe place to go with that pain.

I put my hand gently on her shoulder and I told her it would be good for her to just let it all out here.  She could stay as long as she needed.  It might be just what she needed before leaving that safe cubicle place and venturing back into the wilderness of whatever it was that she was having to deal with in her world.

One of the gentle-speaking therapists came over and we both walked away together.  "I think she just needs to let it out, right?" she said.  "I think this is a safe place for her to do that."

Yes, I said.  Exactly.  That's exactly what this is, a safe place. She could stay and cry for as long as she needed.  She didn't need to "cheer up" or to "count her blessings" or "take some medication."  No, she just needed to be.  It was ok.  It was just sadness; it was just despair.  We were cautious but we were not afraid.  Who is afraid of it?  Why be afraid of it?  She was in the perfect place for her and her despair.  This was our healthcare facility where we care and where we help people the best we can. Sometimes the best thing to do is to do nothing and just provide safety.

It was just what she needed, a safe place.  The therapists who let her be and checked up on her, keeping everything calm and accepting and safe, provided such kindness... so much kindness that I cannot get the event out of my mind.

The woman eventually ran out of tears, wiped her face and, when she was ready, she left.  She appeared numb but she did after all, lift her own head up, stand up on her own power, and walk out the door when she was ready... to face who knows what.  She clearly left some of her feelings of helplessness, despair, frustration... and who knows what... on that desk top.  She was now clearly a little stronger.

I am proud of the therapists.  The word proud is perhaps not the best word, but my heart swells when I think of the event.  Kindness.  Gentleness.  Acceptance.  Humility.  These are the qualities that come to my mind.

A safe place.  A healthcare clinic where the lines between emotional pain and physical illness are blurred, more than we may realize.  Healthcare clinics should be safe places.  Ours is.  To the therapists who cared for this woman who once was a patient of mine, thank you.  You are a blessing.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

An ultrarunner on wheels: The truth about why I'm on the bike

I was going to title this "It's Not About the Bike," but I think that title has been taken.

 It's true though: it's not about the bike. I am an ultrarunner. It is part of my identity, how people know me and how I know myself. I have been running ultramarathons for 15 years. I think I was an ultrarunner before I ran my first ultramarathon, but I just didn't know it yet. I started before the "Born to Run" craze and the masses of people, before the general public even knew or cared about. In fact, we just didn't even talk much about it back then. We runners just got together and ran long distances. We supported our local "Fat Ass" races and those were often our favorites - the low-keyed, no frills, no awards, no whining kind of races. When somebody new showed up (like when I did), that person was approached by the veterans and taken under their wings. Anything you ever wanted to know about running a 50k or a 100-miler you learned from them while on the course, if you could keep up. So you kept up. They were social events but that doesn't mean there wasn't fierce competition. There was! And yet it was the winners who stuck around at the finish and cheered in us middle-of-the-packers. Sometimes we hung out afterwards, but often we just went home to our families and to our jobs the next day.

I am not old school. I am too young in the sport to be old school. I did, however, grow up in the sport with old-schoolers so I learned the old-school ways of ultrarunning. I am forever grateful I got into the sport then. It was a sport filled with humility and kindness, camaraderie, and mentoring. There were no coaches. You didn't pay to learn. You learned by doing and by failing and by succeeding, and then you shared your lessons. That's how it was done. I loved it. I still love ultrarunning. It is an amazing sport. I call it a sport only by convention; I prefer to call it a hobby. It is my hobby. I did it in my spare time. It is lower on my priority list than the important things in life like a my wonderful supportive husband, my family, our pets, my job, and friendships. So, for me it was a hobby, a hobby I loved. I loved it because I could run and run and run, be outdoors, perhaps run from the stresses of life, but certainly more so running TO the real substance of life like freedom, gratitude, and the love of nature. I loved the feeling of being able to run forever. I loved the sharpened senses. I loved the power in my own body, the freedom of just getting up and going. People who know me know I've run "minimalistic" since the beginning. Other than a bottle of water with a few jelly beans in my pockets if it were a hot day and I thought I might be out there for 4 hours, I never really prepared for a run. My shoes stayed laced up; I just slipped them on and ran.

I ran primarily trails until I tore all the ligaments in my ankle in 2005. After that surgical repair, I had to learn to like the roads. I never did learn to like the roads more than the beautiful wildflower-drenched trails, but I did learn to like them. At least I could run. I did find that through those road-running years that I was decent at the road ultras. I ran Badwater and placed 3rd in 2004, and ran it again in 2007 and placed 1st. That's when I thought maybe I could do well if I tried a little harder. So I did. I ran the Spartathlon in 2009 and DNF'd, and I will never forget those DNF lessons! Those lessons involved suffering on a very intimate level and I have discussed that suffering with one person only, my husband Tim. I learned so much about myself at that race. And I applied that to the next year where I placed 3rd woman overall in a highly talented and experienced international field and I took the podium with pride.

I had also been running 24 hour races, the races that Yiannis Kouris calls the true ultramarathon distance (as opposed to the 100 miler). I am of the Yiannis school of thought here. There is something far different about a fixed time (24 hours or more) that tests you differently than a 100-miler. You may disagree and that is fine. This is just my opinion. I learned to love the 24-hour fixed time event, and I got decent at that too. I placed 3rd at Nationals in 2011 and that qualified me as an alternate for the World Championships in 2012. I was feeling good about my hobby.

Then it all changed.

Fast forward to now. I am on the bike. I am biking a lot (for me). I like the bike very much. In prior years, I have done many century rides with little training in decent finish times. I often supplemented my running with biking because I liked moving faster! But I was still a runner. Now, I am not running and am only on the bike. Being new to the cycling crowd, people ask if I am new. (I must have that look about me.) They do not know me as an ultrarunner. I say yes, "I am an injured runner on a bike." It's a flat-out lie. However, it's the perfect answer. First, it allows me to avoid the truth about why I am on the bike, and second, cyclists (or pretty much anybody for that matter) love to hear about running shutting down an athlete. (Ok, maybe an over generalization....) They feel solace in the blame. It's a sport that "ruins your knees," a sport that they used to once do but can do no longer. It's the perfect answer. Usually, the conversation jumps immediately to a friendly consoling nod and a story about how they once ran. Like I said, it's the perfect answer. But it is a flat-out lie. I am not an injured runner. I am not running because running betrayed my body. I did not suddenly get arthritis in my knees or a stress fracture in my foot. Running didn't betray me. Running is still waiting for me to come home. Only, I don't know if I will ever come home to it again.

I ran my last race in May of 2012. It was the WSU 100k, and I ran it to win. I ran it and I won and I set the Master's Course Record. I felt good about meeting my goals, especially because it was incredibly hot that day. Whatever though. Nobody really cares about that. Nor do I, really. It was just a nice day on the hot and hilly roads with help from my friend Gunhild Swanson and running together with Scott McMurtrey, as we traded places taking the lead through the stiff head wind for 10 miles. That's really what I remember most about the race. The personal accomplishment and the friends.

Well, I never recovered from that race. Having always been one to race 100 miles Saturday and Sunday and to go to work on Monday, that was unusual. No big deal. I gave myself time off. My real goals were the World Championships in Poland in the fall and actually making the team, not only as an alternate. I was pretty sure I could do it. I had been sick before that WSU race, a bad flu-like sickness in April that prompted me to see my doctor and eventually to inquire about a tick bite that I got while in Tennessee that month. I hate to say it, but she kind of brushed me off. After weeks of sickness, I asked for the minimum 3-week course of Doxycylcine to treat possible Lyme. It seemed to me a small price to pay to insure that something bad doesn't happen down the road. And for whatever it's worth, I don't usually go to doctors. In fact, I don't like going to doctors at all. So, it took a lot of concern for me to go. And maybe my delay in starting that treatment was detrimental. I don't know.

So, anyway, I got better from a whole body perspective. But I developed a gradual weakness in my leg, in the inner thigh, and over the course of a few months, I watched horrified as the muscle withered away. I developed knee pain (maybe because my upper leg couldn't support my knee) and I also developed a strange foot drop that occurred only when I ran. My foot turned inward and after several falls, I started to pay attention. I still ran. I just moved to the right side of the road where the banking seemed to make up for my lack of inner thigh muscle strength.

I saw my doctor and said, "Hey, I'm worried. Something is very wrong." She said, "Hm, I don't know. What do you think?" Now, I don't mind a doctor that doesn't know. I often don't know. But on the other hand, I never just leave it at that. But anyway, I asked for some labs and she sent me to an internist. The internist was nice but also didn't know. She reassured me my heart and lungs were excellent, and she even did a gyne exam and said all is well there. Great. Thank you very much. I wasn't concerned about that. But anyway.

This started a piecemeal diagnosis process that is not yet finished. The mystery is not resolved. I have spent hours and hours and hours googling this and googling that and reading this and that, and trying to find someone who can help me google this and that. To no avail. Yes, I have had wondering concerned friends who have extended a hand and even tried to get me appointments with doctors or physical therapists, but the hardest part was that I could not devote the time I needed to take to tackle this problem. First, my self-employed insurance had a huge deductible and I burned through that in no time. Then there was the out of pocket pay. By the end of the calendar year, I was broke. I am still paying on those medical bills. That, and every time I wanted to make an appointment somewhere, I couldn't do it because I already had patients on my schedule and, believe me, it is very difficult to cancel patients because you, yourself have a problem to tend to! That is not readily understood by one's own patients. So, my appointments were scheduled one or two months down the road. Hence the drawn-out piecemeal process. I won't bore you with the details. I am not writing to figure out why I am literally losing my leg. I am writing to tell you the truth about why I am on the bike.

In brief, however, I saw a vascular surgeon (thought it may be some clotted artery blocking blood supply). Frankly (I am one to be frank), that exam was a joke. But he didn't think it was vascular. He said maybe I should MRI everything from the waist down. Now, I don't know if you know about MRIs, but everything from the waist down is a lumbar, sacral, pelvis, thigh, knee, leg and maybe foot MRI, if you want to go down that far. Of course, he said I should do both sides so they have a comparison. That's at least 9 MRIs! What the hell is medicine coming to?

So, I got a lumbar MRI. I have a bone-on-bone disc at L5-S1 but it's not pinching nerves. Not the problem. I MRI'd my knee. No problem. (Looks like all my years of ultrarunning kept me arthritis free after all!) I saw an Orthopedic surgeon. He suggested MRI'ing the thigh. I got the MRI of the pelvis, and bilateral thighs. This is what it showed:

Extensive scar tissue consistent with prior high-grade tear/avulsion extending from the musculotendinous junnction of the left gluteus maximus along the posterior aspect of the proximal femur. Scar tissue is also seen at the iliac origin of the muscle. There is moderate associated muscle belly atrophy. The findings are consistent with prior high-grade tear/avulsion injury. And there is atrophy of the left quadratus femoris and adductor magnus muscles, possibly post-traumatic.

Hm. No, I hadn't had a traumatic accident. I called the radiologist. I told him I was a runner and asked if this could be from overuse. He laughed and said, "This is why I don't run more than 2 or 3 miles at a time." Thank you very much for your help.

I went back to ortho. I thought I found my problem. I was happy. I tore my butt muscle. Seriously, I was so happy. Ortho tested everything, scoured the MRI, and told me that the tear wasn't the problem. He felt it was neurologic and that an EMG would help. I tried to do one on myself but it was kind of hard. Ridiculous actually. I just wanted to be the patient for a change!

I went to Seattle and had an EMG done by one of the best. He told me there were "minor abnormalities" but nothing bad, basically. I have since tried over and over again to get a copy of that report to no avail. I also never received a bill. So there.

So, I went to a neurologist, a colleague of mine in Spokane. Before even seeing me, I was escorted to the EMG room and told to put on a gown. I informed the MA that I already had an EMG a few weeks ago. In the end, I was scorned as a "non-compliant patient" that "refused" an EMG. I did get the exam by the neurologist and he said it was an orthopedic problem, that I should go back to ortho. He did note that I was hyperreflexic in my left leg, but he said he didn't think it was a problem. I asked if he thought I should get a brain MRI to rule out MS or something like that and he said "No, with MS you would have trouble walking. You didn't report any trouble walking, only with running, so MS is not likely." I told him I did indeed have trouble walking, but that I noticed it more if I tried to run (and by the way, at this point, I wasn't even able to run across the street without tripping and falling). He said, "Ok, walk." So I did. "Nah" he said, "Looks ok to me. Let me know if you develop trouble walking." (I will not write anything more here because I was taught that if you don't have something good to say....)

So, I went back to Ortho. He said it's Neurologic. I gave up. I literally gave up.

I had already bought a trainer for my bike so that I could bike during the winter months. I had to do something. The novelty wore off quickly when the days got warmer, but then I did survive some cold weather rides in early spring. I complained a lot about the cold because, unlike running, you can't bike faster to generate more heat and stay warm. No, that just increases the wind chill. I made it through those colder days and into the nice warmer days hinting of summer. I love the outdoors! I love the sun! I love the heat! I love nature! I love to move! I love to explore! I love to feel physically tired!

You may wonder, why can I bike if I can't run? The answer is that I do feel the weakness, but it is much easier to compensate on the bike with my feet clipped into the pedals. It is non-weight bearing, there is no impact. I can do it. I must concentrate on keeping my left thigh/knee inward because the ITB is working unopposed, but that is now starting to become more of an unconscious thing. I feel the weakness most on the hill climbs, which makes sense. But I don't really give a.... darn, because at least I can bike.

No, I am not a cyclist. I am a runner. I am not an injured runner on a bike. I am a runner with a weird unexplained weakness that is getting slowly worse over time that is on the bike because that is all I can do. I like the bike, don't get me wrong. But I would much rather choose to be on it than have no choice. I have tried all the cognitive self-talk like, "It could be worse, Lisa. At least you can bike." And while that is true, I am still left with completely unanswered questions about what the hell is going on with my leg. Why? I just want to know the answer. Only then can I deal with the reality of it. I need to know what to expect from the future. If this is temporary, that's great. Though I don't really see how that would be. If it is permanent, then fine, I will never run again. As much as it sucks, I can learn to deal with that. If it is progressive, then what "it" is and what, if anything, I can do. I honestly would rather lose my leg in some traumatic accident than have it slowly wither away while doctors say, "You seem to be able to walk ok..."

Back to the doctors. I did find a good one. I sent a note to my primary care doctor and told her I was sick of the medical community dropping the ball. I said that because it's true. She offered to refer me to another neurologist. I elected to see one of them, another colleague with whom I have worked. I saw him recently. And bless his soul he said there was an obvious and serious problem! He acknowledged the muscle atrophy and weakness, and he also expressed a grave concern about the hyperreflexia (since that indicates a brain or spinal cord problem). He didn't have the answer and I didn't care. The best thing about him is that he listened and he acknowledged and he cared enough to try to help me with where to go from here. He even told me to follow up with him in a few weeks. I was giddy happy when he said that. Follow up? You mean you're not dropping the ball? He is a very good doctor. So, in the end, he thinks perhaps it is thoracic spine in origin, or maybe even a neurologic sequelae of Lyme Disease.

I have my thoracic MRI at 7 am tomorrow morning, and I am awaiting my appointment for the ID doc and maybe I will have the joy of experiencing a lumbar puncture by him (aka spinal tap). In the meantime, I am on the bike. This is why. I am on the bike because I can't run, and I don't have a diagnosis or a prognosis, which is the hardest part.

In any case, for the first month on the bike, I cried every single time I rode. I couldn't help it. No matter how good I felt to be out and moving, I cried. I cried because, as much as I liked being on the bike, I missed running. I was a runner on a bike. It's getting better though.

I am adapting somewhat. I even hired a coach despite my earlier remarks about coaching and "old school" ultrarunning. I hired him because I signed up for the Furnace Creek 508, which is in October, and I'm not sure I can ride 508 miles in 48 hours on a bike! While I may not be able to run, I still have the "overdo it" gene. So, I feel better with this goal. And my coach is great. You see, I need to learn everything about the bike, how to ride, how to train, how to endure, how to get good enough to finish (which is my goal). Fortunately, the best coach for me lives right here in Spokane. And I am pretty sure it's a good thing, because yep, he is a course record holder at the 508 and has won it multiple times! I like him for the structure, the guidance, and the encouragement. I do think, however, that he is going to kick my ass as the months roll by and the 508, which is in October, gets closer. I don't mind having my ass kicked though. So, thank you Coach (Michael Emde at Emde Sports ) I sure do hope you decide one day to run Badwater as I'd be thrilled to coach you! :)

So, anyway, it's not about the bike, but I'm working on that, and I'm on it, and at least that part is getting better.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Is there really a level playing field for women?

Cherie brought up this excellent subject on the Ultralist. I am sure she will not mind that I post her question here with reference to her blog. She says: Hi all, I work at a women's nonprofit that focuses on women's workplace equality. I wrote a blog post about inequality in sports, after thinking after placing first for women in an ultra, how I didn't really win. thanks cherie There were lots of responses, mostly about the difference in biology between the sexes, some about the cultural differences, especially in relation to sports. In case you're interested, here is my reply: I’ve been busy these days. Starting a new practice has taken too much of free time. I just now got around to reading this thread that Cherie started about a level playing field for women. Thanks, Cherie! And the responses have been great. I really, really liked everybody’s input. I am passionate about this topic, and have given presentations on the subject of the history of women in athletics. I have a very long response below. I was going to put it on my blog and just post a link here, but decided, what the heck, you will read it if you want and delete it if you wish. I have my own opinions on the topic that Cherie brought up, and they are just that, opinions. What is below is a long and perhaps boring-to-some stream of thought as well as list of events that have influenced women in sport in recent years. As others have mentioned, it is so important to remember that women have been allowed to participate in sports on a very limited level for such a short time compared to men. I strongly believe that the gender culture significantly impacts the level playing field between the sexes. Of course, I cannot deny (can anyone?) the physical differences between the sexes. Yes, of course men are stronger, faster, and more muscular. That is our biology, period. And that is the reason for the difference in sport performance for sure. BUT… women have only been competing in sport for such a relatively short time, so much shorter than we may even care to realize. So, how do we know how much that gap will close in time? There is so much more that influences competition than just biology. For now, we usually have a women's winner and a men's winner. I think that is good (though in recent years I have not gone to races with the goal of being the first woman; I have gone to races to be first. I have only succeeded a couple of times, but that it not the point.) I am 44. I was raised in a time when there was no question that girls could participate in sports. I was in sports in high school, mostly solo sports like gymnastics, but it never occurred to me that I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. But funny thing is, somehow from somewhere or someone, I picked up this “feminine” influence that I didn’t even know I had. I didn’t know it until 2007, 8 years after running my first ultra. I learned I had it DURING the Badwater 2007 race. It was my friend Dori who was pacing me, who was also a high school girls’ running coach, who pointed it out to me. She said during the race that I had to stop feeling bad when passing people, that passing people was the whole point of my being there in the first place. And she told me I had to stop giving the other runners hugs when I did pass, no matter what I felt. Ha! She called me out, spot on, and it was my first “coaching” experience in how to compete. It was also my first insight into my own experiences and thoughts about competition. The story is a long and funny one and I’ll spare you the details. But I gotta say, it was darn hard for me to learn to pass people without feeling a twinge of guilt, or maybe even a lot of guilt. How strange. That feeling of guilt just doesn’t belong on the race track, right? Where the heck did that come from? Maybe it’s not a girl thing, and maybe there are guys that have felt that way, but the women (usually around my age or older) with whom I have discussed this seem to really get it; they know what I mean. The guys, not so much. I *believe* there are still cultural influences that keep women, in general, from being bad-ass competitors. Now, I know every one of us knows a bad-ass chick who can kick his or her ass at the opportunity, but I’m talking about in general. I *believe* the stereotypes and misinformation of the dark ages still lurks in sports. I think we think we are longer over it, but I strongly believe we are not. And I wonder how narrow the gap between the sexes will become when and if we finally are. Enough of my thoughts and opinions. Here are some facts about the past. All jokes aside, girls were not allowed to run or participate in sports because she had one of these - a damn uterus. It wasn’t a good thing to have “back then.” Even the source of the word is a curse. “The word uterus ultimately comes from the Indo-Europena udero, meaning womb or abdomen. This Indo=European word also developed into the Greek hustera, meaning womb, from whence English gets the word hysteria. This supposed psychoneurotic disorder was once through to be a woman’s disease, somehow caused by a disturbed uterus, and thus the adjective hysterical, meaning deranged by a faulty womb, was invented in the early seventeenth century. The Greek root of these words is also evident in hysterectomy, denoting the surgical removal of the uterus, a procedure that was employed in the late nineteenth century to treat women suffering from hysterical neuroses.” (From The Lover's Tongue: A Merry Romp Through the Language of Love and Sex, By Mark Morton) Oh boy. Uterus = Hysteria. We're not off to a good start from birth. Like I said, all jokes aside.... :) In the early 1900s: When six women collapsed after the 800-meter race at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, an alarmist account in The New York Times said that "even this distance makes too great a call on feminine strength." The London Daily Mail carried admonitions from doctors that women who participated in such "feats of endurance" would "become old too soon." The 800-meter race was discontinued. For 32 years, until the 1960 Rome Olympics, women would run no race longer than 200 meters. 32 years! Ok, so 30+ years go by…. Does anybody know or remember the name Julia Chase? She was born in the 40’s when women weren't allowed to compete in events with men. These are Julia's words: “You rarely heard about women runners in those days. Women weren't allowed to compete in events with men. And they weren't allowed to enter races longer than 880 yards. If a woman ran too much her uterus would fall out. That was the thinking. You never heard of an actual case, but it was just in the air.” But Julia wanted to compete in a ½ mile race in MA in 1961. It was a long haul for her to even get to the start line, but she ran the race and she finished in 33:40, ahead of 12 men. Her time was not considered official because she was a woman. Everybody knows Bobbi Gibb. She is recognized as the first woman to run the entire Boston Marathon in 1966, of course without a number because women were not allowed to run marathons. I wonder why not. You’d think by the 60s that we would have extinguished the fable of the uterus falling out. But that is not the reality. Women were still held back. Of course, Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to run Boston with a race number, and she was allowed into the race only because she used her initials instead of name to enter, so it was presumed that she was a man. We all have seen the famous picture of the attempt by the official to physically remove her from the course. And all that discriminatory nonsense was EONS ago many of the younger people here must imagine, but it wasn’t. Kathrine at the Boston Marathon was 1967. Not so long ago for us 40+ year olds! And just when you think that the notion of falling uteri were a thing of the “dark ages” of the 60s and 70s for women athletes ... It was in 2008 that Gian-Franco Kasper, head of the International Ski Federation said, "Ski jumping is just too dangerous for women. Don't forget, [the landing] it's like jumping down from, let's say, about two meters to the ground about a thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view" A few years earlier, he told reporters that a woman's uterus might burst during landing. Huh? 2008? Surely this can’t be for real…. Or how about, what year was the first year in Olympic history that all 205 participating countries sent at least one female competitor? Yes, this should be a crisp memory in all our minds. Why? Why did it take until *last year* for all countries to have representation of the female sex? The answer lies in the Olympic Committee allowing the athlete’s “uniform” to be altered, that is, allowing women to cover their arms in clothing if that is what their religion requires of them. 2012! Who cares what they wear? Let them compete! Let them be athletes. Let them run their hearts out and sweat and puke and stumble and fail. Maybe one of them will win. But we will never know until we give them the same opportunities that men have been granted seemingly forever and without question. So, my point is, and of course it could have been said in just one sentence: We have a loooong way to go culturally before we declare that women will always be the lesser (slower, weaker, etc.) athlete in a competition, all things being equal. I believe women have a competitive strength that is yet untapped because maybe many (most?) of us don’t even know it’s there. I so hope we can draw on the inspiration of the women who paved this path for us. I believe the best way to honor them is to keep the momentum rolling. I hope that more and more women will start their races with the intent of being the first person to cross the finish line. Who cares what happens in the end; it’s the intent that is super cool. Lisa Bliss (okay, back to work now) Spokane, WA

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Pacific Rim One Day race report (March 17-18, 2012)

I was well-trained for Pacific Rim this year. Our mild winter allowed me to continue training through the previous months. My ideal goal was to break the woman’s course record set by me last year of 118.25 miles.

Pac Rim is one of those 24-hour runs though that does not favor high mileage because of the layout of the 1-mile loop and also the notorious fickle weather. The course is fantastic though, a mixture of surfaces of gravel trail, pavement, grass and a short concrete bridge. There are several sharp turns on the course that require you to slow your pace. One is a 270 degree right turn on a slight downgrade and the other two are left turns around the cones before the timing tent. There is little elevation change, but you certainly feel the “inclines” after 12 hours of running. The weather is a competitor leveler here and all veteran Pac Rim runners know this. Always bring your rain jacket and warm clothes for the cold, damp night! In recent years, we’ve been fortunate to have excellent weather with just some light showers, and I knew, given the odds, that we were due for a more typical year this year.

Because my training had gone unexpectedly well, I felt that if the weather turned out to be good, I would have a good chance at my mileage goal. When it really comes down to it though, I always just want to do the best I can in whatever conditions that come along.

I also knew that I couldn’t go too deep into the well because Sunday right after the race, we would be driving the four hours back to Ellensburg, picking up the dogs, and then I would have to make the three hour drive back to Spokane so that I could be ready in the morning to go to a TEDx talk rehearsal. I was one of many speakers the next day and I had to be alert and physically agile and mentally alert enough to stand on stage and present my talk on my Badwater to Whitney crossing titled “No Failure In Trying.” In fact, because of a few very busy work weeks and other commitments, I still had to do a lot of preparation for my talk. So, I went into the race knowing that, even more than possible bad weather, this was my biggest limitation in pushing for high mileage.

Tim, who has won the race four years in a row, planned to run just 50k as a last long run before The Barkley, which was two weeks later. He was then going to help out with volunteering at the timing station and help me and the Ellensburg runners as he was able. We were excited that John Price, our good friend from Virginia, was going to be running too. We headed to Longview Friday and met up with John for dinner, along with David, Ethan, Craig, Tom and Willie, which is always a good time with good friends. This is Pac Rim, the race that is more like a “family reunion” and always an atmosphere of camaraderie, fun, and support among volunteers and runners.

(Tim, me and John Price the evening before the race)

It was raining the hour before the race start at 9 AM. Not good when you have to set up your supplies. But Tim set up the canopy and, as we shuttled our gear from the car to the canopy, the rain let up enough for us to stay mostly dry.

The sun came out by the start of the race and the first hours were delightful for running. There were some light sprinkles, which were nice, and some spatters of showers that got us wet but most runners were able to grab a rain jacket back at their aid to protect from getting soaked. This was the case for me. And the jacket went on and off and on and off several times during the first 10 hours.

I ran at a comfortable, singing pace and went through 50 miles at about 8 hours. I felt great. My running pace was good but I still lost a minute or so every couple of loops when I stopped to get aid, which is always a bit frustrating for me because I don’t like to stop. But I was completely within a comfortable time at 50 miles, and I figured I might as well run while I can while the weather was good because I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to stay that way.

(Stopping for aid after 50 miles. Photo by Emmy Stocker.)

Sure enough, around 7 PM, the skies opened and it rained hard, soaking hard. I was half way around the loop and did my best to hustle the ½ mile back to my aid for my jacket. Tim met me on the course with it saving me a minute or two, but I was already soaked. I knew then that as nighttime came, I was going to have to change completely out of the wet clothes at some point in order to stay warm through the cold, damp night.

I decided to keep running until I felt cold. So, I ran for a few more hours and was ok as long as I was moving, but every time I had to stop for a bathroom break, which was frequently, I got chilled to the bone, the kind of cold that happens from the inside out. I could always warm up by running a few loops but the stops were taking a toll on my ability to control my core temperature, and I knew it was time to get into dry clothes. But because it continued to rain and I had limited dry clothes and I knew sooner or later the rain was going to stop, I kept running. My legs felt great, my spirit was good, I wasn’t tired, and I really felt like running. But the fickle weather won and I eventually retreated to my changing tent. Tim helped me into dry clothes, and I even changed my shoes, something I never do, but they were soaked and squashing at every step.

I felt much better in dry clothes but the long stop chilled me even more as I had already gone into the tank as far as temperature regulation. So, Tim heated up the car and I warmed up in there for about a half hour. He then kicked me out and I got back onto the course, feeling much better. The course was sloppy wet and the puddles unavoidable. In some spots, runners had a choice of either going through the puddles or stepping into the muddy grass. For a few miles, I puddle-jumped to try to stay dry as the rain had let up and I still had about 8 hours left to run.

Then Tim came to the runners’ rescue and, with a broom, literally swept the water off the course, and oh, what a difference that made! Finally, we could run without having to deal with the puddles. So, I ran.

I was surprised, that even with my repetitive breaks to get aid, my long break for changing clothes and my retreat to the car for 30 minutes, I hit 100 miles in about 19-1/2 hours. That was my pace for last year’s record, and at this point I felt good again, so I kept the goal in mind but knew that if the weather turned bad again, I would simply have to modify that goal. It was all good to me anyway because in my mind, the most important thing was to finish the race with enough left to make the drive home safely and to be prepared for the TEDx talk.

The nighttime was nice and I continued to run every single step on the course. I was comfortable doing this and did not feel like I needed any walk breaks, and because I tended to my own aid every couple of loops, I wanted to make up for that lost time on the course. So, I never took a walk break on the course.

Towards the very early pre-dawn hours, it rained again. The runners still left on the course got wet again. Most of us were in rain gear and heavier clothing, pants, hats and gloves, though there were a few brave souls still in shorts and wind-breakers. But we were all cold and eagerly awaiting the sunrise, which took its sweet time. I can’t remember a 24-hour run where the sun was so lazy in coming up in the morning. But eventually the sky turned from black to gray in hopes of a sunrise, but instead of feeling the warmth of a rising sun, the clouds rolled in the rain returned, and it started snowing big heavy, wet flakes. It was quite miserable, but several of us trudged on.

I reviewed my pace and goals and how I was feeling, and despite the cold, I felt pretty good. I had a solid first place position for the women, but that is never really a goal for me. Rather, my goals are mileage-based, and I knew I was going to fall short of my course record. I was in second place overall. The first place runner, Arthur, had slowed his pace considerably and was now sitting under the timing tent bundled up in winter gear. I didn’t know his mileage but I knew he had surpassed my mileage long ago.

That’s when I decided, my mileage was “good enough” and I went into Fred and Betty’s RV to warm up while the snowy rain continued. Tim and John joined me in there and it was actually a fun break. We were joking around and already feeling the relief of the race coming to a close. I spent at least 30 minutes in there. And then Tim started nudging me out again, back onto the course. I was not motivated to respond until he told me that Arthur had stopped running and that he was at 112 miles and I was at 110. We had an hour left to run. Tim talked to Arthur and he said, as running comrades sometimes do after spending 23 hours together on a mile loop track, that if I caught up to him in mileage that we could walk the last mile together for a victory tie.

I took the bait, and headed out in the ice cold rain. I ran and, for the first time, walked a little too for 2 more miles, and when I passed through the timing tent, I asked Arthur if he was still up for a tie, and he said yes. So, we headed out and walked a loop together, sharing our self-proclaimed bravado for sticking out the weather. We had a little time left, so I convinced Arthur to walk an additional 0.25 miles for a total tie of 113.25 miles.

(Final 2 miles of running)

(Walking the final lap with Arthur Martineau for a tie at 113.25 miles.)

We threw on some additional layers over our wet clothes and huddled under the timing tent for the awards. We packed up our aid and Tim took down the canopy while I tried to warm up in the car. I was changing out of my wet shoes when Alex Swenson knocked on the car door window and presented me with a huge cinnamon roll from Stuffy’s Restaurant. We had been talking about food on the course, sharing our cravings, and he said Stuffy’s made the most awesome cinnamon rolls that 5 people could share. Well, he was right! This thing was about 3 pounds! What a fun guy he is!

(1st place award. With RD Wildman Fred.)

We stopped at the YMCA for a quick shower and started our 4 hour drive back to Tim’s with the car smelling like a freshly baked cinnamon roll all the way home. We picked up our dogs, ate dinner, and then I made the long drive back to Spokane. I don’t like driving so far alone after losing a night of sleep (and with 100+ miles on my body), but I was certainly prepared to stop and rest stop if I needed.

The TEDx talk was fun, an entire day of incredible speakers. I enjoyed every one. Fortunately, I didn’t wear my body out too much, though I was definitely shuffling around on stage to keep my sore muscles engaged. I think the muscle and mental fatigue actually helped me relax for the presentation. Maybe it was a little over the top to try to pull off both the race and the presentation, but I am happy that I did.

Go here for Pacific Rim race results.

Go here to watch my TEDx presentation titled “No Failure In Trying.”

Thursday, January 26, 2012

RIP Steely Dan, my best furry friend

(June 23, 2005- January 25, 2012)

Steely was diagnosed with an aggressive type of lymphoma on November 1, 2011. He was 6 years old. I was devastated.

We tried all the different chemotherapy meds but, in the end, none worked. I took him off all cytotoxic chemo drugs and kept him on the prednisone, and made the best of the limited time we had left together.

Steely declined at first by the week, and then by the day. Still, he lived well and was happy and playful for all but the last 2 days of his life. Even now, it's hard to believe that 3 days ago, we went for a 2 mile (slow) walk and played tennis ball.

But then his body systems started failing and he stopped eating. It was a quick decline after that.

In the end, Steely died yesterday at home with Tim and me at his side. He died without pain or suffering. He was free at last.

I feel as if I started the mourning process the day he was diagnosed, knowing then that even the best successful treatment was a one-year remission. Unfortunately, we weren't that lucky.

I am engulfed in sorrow, but there is a glimmer of relief that I remember him in his physical glory running on the trails with his tail up and his ears flopping, always looking back at me especially from the tops of the hills, waiting, watching, as if saying "What's taking you so long? It's just a hill!"

Aside from Tim of course, Steely was for me the best companion in all areas of my life, running being one of them. And boy did that boy love to run! He would regularly and easily run 20 miles with me, crash for an hour or two afterward, and then spring to his feet, scoop up his tennis ball, drop it in my lap, and beg for a game of fetch.

He was a goofy boy, he loved life, and if he wasn't lying on his back waiting for a tummy rub, then he was looking at you with a smile and a wagging tail, which would usually result in a treat.

He was a poser, loved the camera. I have never before known a dog so much a ham for the camera.

I could go on and on about how empty my life will be without him and how I fear my rescued greyhound (who learned everything he knows about the dog world from Steely) will get very depressed without his brother around. I could go on and on about how Steely became my best furry friend and how his life enrich ours greatly, but I have already said enough, and wish to post a link to my eulogy for Steely.

He will always be in my heart and I will remember him for his zeal for life and running, and even more so, for his steadfast selfless companionship.

Rest in peace, Steely.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

I'm back!

It's seems like I've been away from my blog for longer than 2 months. A lot has happened.

Here are some updates:

I have recovered well from my Badwater to Whitney self-contained solo. There is a fun article in this month's Out There Monthly magazine by Jon Jonckers on it:

Click HERE if you would like to read it.

Through August and September, I trained hard for the Northcoast 24 Hour National Championship Run. I ran it last year and eeked out 117 miles, and felt with better training and pacing I could do better.

Well, I was very pleased to log 125.98 miles in 24 hours, nabbing the 3rd place award for women. This is a nice PR for me. Machelle Poole crewed for me and made all the difference! What a fantastic lady she is! Next up... 130. I think I can do it if the stars align. :)

I did not recover well from that race. Maybe I had done too much in the preceding months. Maybe it was because we jumped right on an airplane right after the race to head home and I returned to work without a day of rest. Probably a combination of several things, but my legs remained swollen and sore for about 2 weeks.

I was nervous about that because Tim and I had already registered for the Big Dog Backyard Ultra in Tennessee on October 22, a unique race contrived by the sadistic race director of the Barkley Marathons. It was a "last man standing" format, and I knew I needed to be running on all cylinders for this one if I stood a chance at doing well. It was just a 4.167 mile loop through trails, kinda gnarly trails, and on the hour every hour runners had to be at the start line to start the next loop. So, it really didn't matter how fast you ran the loop (except that speed - or lack of - did impact your ability to refuel or change into warmer clothes, etc.). What mattered was who could do this the longest. There was no distance or time cut-off. Many good runners came to run an N number of loops. Tim and I went to run N+1.

But I was worried because my body required lots of rest in the month prior to this race. Instead of training, I was trying to sleep, get some massages and eat well, all to help charge all my cylinders.

That's when a good friend and massage therapist suggested I try Xango, which is just a fruit drink but very high in antioxidants. She suggested I drink it every day. Now, I'd like to say that I eat healthfully every day, and for the most part I do, but no, not always. So, I took her up on this. Additionally, as I was describing to her what I felt to be an "endocrine fatigue," she suggested I try Eleviv to see if it would help. Since both products are completely natural and free of any additives, I gave it a whirl.

Interesting thing, I felt better. Much better. And very quickly much better. My energy returned, even my motivation to run returned. And when I ran, I felt back to my normal strong self. So, I continued both the Xango and the Eleviv and thought the real test would be not so much during the race itself, but in my recovery.

As it turns out, the race was awesome! We had such a fantastic time making one loop per hour. We had no idea how long we were going to be out there - 12 hours, 24 hours, 36 hours? I think most everybody - including us - was expecting 24 hours.

But as the race progressed, runners were dropping one, two, sometimes three at a time. It was a lot tougher than anyone could predict. By nightfall, there were 9 left, and with each additional loop, one would drop.

Until the final 6. And then until the final 4. At that point 16 loops (hours) into the race, it was Tim, Dave, Joe, and me. I was happy to still be playing with the boys. The guys ran together for the most part, and I ran alone far back in the field. They completed their loops in about 50-55 minutes, leaving a little time to regroup and refuel. I had been looping a lot slower, coming back to the start area in 58 minutes and sometimes just as the bell would ring to start the next loop. I loved it! I really did. I felt great from an "endocrine" perspective. I felt strong and healthy. What I was losing, however, was my grace in jumping over downed trees and managing the loose rocks. (Have I ever mentioned that I have a bad unstable ankle that doesn't like unstable surfaces?) :)

So, the 4 of us set out on loop 16 and only 2 made it back in time - Tim and Dave. Joe missed it by seconds, and I missed it by minutes. That meant one of these two was going to run N miles and the other N+1. But nobody knew how many loops it would take. They both started on the bell, but after the short out and back section, they come back through the start staging area, and it was there that Dave decided to drop and not continue the loop. The race director's report said that Dave said, "Clearly Tim is the tougher runner."

So, it was just Tim on the rest of loop 18, and all he needed to do was finish it under the time. He had been running strong and smart the entire race, so I didn't doubt for a second he could do it. Sure enough, he saunters back in 53 minutes...the Last Man Standing. The Big Dog!

While there is only one winner, one last man standing, I at least was the last woman standing. :) So, Tim and I took our winning buckles and sat around the fire with Laz and are old and new friends, some of us smoking cigars and others passing around Laz's moonshine. Near morning, we left, but came back later to sit around and trash talk some more. It was a wonderful event, not just the run, but the entire event.

Here are the race results.

I continued my healthy supplements and I made the quickest, easiest and fullest recovery I have ever made after a tough ultra. I am sold, I love the stuff. It's pure health with no toxins or anything.

So, I approached Xango with my story and they offered to sponsor me! I couldn't be more thrilled. I believe in the product. We have set up a website for information if anyone is interested. I do not sell the products, and I have no financial interest in them whatsoever. Like my Drymax socks, I just believe they excellent quality products, and in my life, they support my crazy ultrarunning hobby.

If you want to check out the products, then you can go HERE.

So, great recovery from that race. Flew back home to Spokane and picked up my dogs from boarding, and Steely Dan was looking lethargic, kind of sick. I thought I'd watch him a bit, but when he didn't get better, I made an appointment at my vet. That vet appointment day, I went to work, and stopped back home after work to pick him up to go, and OMG! the lymph nodes in his neck were nearly the size of tennis balls, and he was very ill, now with a fever, and was vomiting. It didn't take the vet long to tell me, "I have bad news..." She said he most likely had lymphoma and that he would need chemotherapy if I elected to do that. She took an aspirate from the node and sent him home on Prednisone.

The next morning I headed to WSU where I spent the next 11-1/2 hours with him while he received test after test. THe verdict? Yes, lymphoma, stage IV. Chemo provide 90-95% remission for at least one year. Dogs tolerate the chemo well, not nearly the side effects of humans, and his quality of life would be good. So, I started him on chemo that day.


He's only 6 years old. He's my baby. I didn't expect this; it came on so suddenly and he was at death's door.

But now, one week later, he is doing GREAT! No exaggeration. He's his normal self in spirit and energy and goofiness. I can't tell you how much this has affected me emotionally. And yes, I now let him sleep in my bed with me! :)

His treatments will be weekly and will last for 6 months. A long time and lots of money, but it's a decision Tim and I made and we made it easily. We love our dogs.

So, given that, things are now good. There is a plan in place with which I am comfortable. Life is precious.

Being that I stayed home with Steely after that first dose of chemo to monitor him, I had to cancel my trip to the Wilderness Medical Society meeting in Tucson, where Megan and I were presenting on the Badwater Ultramarathon Medical Coverage. I put together my part of the presentation and reviewed it with her and she presented it just last night. Word has it she rocked the presentation!

So, things are settling in now. The days are shorter and there is no longer sunlight to run in after work. My miles will decrease and that's ok; they always do in the winter. But I will still run because I love to run. I can't wait until Steely is well enough to run with me again. Those are some of the moments in life that are most precious to me.