On Endurance

There’s a new employee at the cat store. She doesn’t yet know that I’m there every three weeks to buy lots of food and even more litter. She stood there, a little slack-jawed when I scooped up two 50-pound bags and walked out. “You’re stronger than you look!”

Uh. Oh.

With the post-race blues I sometimes get, Tuesday I got run over with the twin semis of “Not Enough” and “TOO DAMN MUCH”. I don’t usually pay any heed to those messages, like it’s a weird radio station and I can just change the channel, but this time the words stuck.

I planned ahead this fall. I planned to be BUSY. On purpose. So, I had two sprint triathlons on the schedule in September and October. I scheduled all the dentist and check-up appointments and flu shots. I even got to add a mammogram to the mix! Hello 40! I volunteered to chaperone ALL the fall field trips. I made meal plans and stocked the cupboards. I made weekend plans of Ironman WI volunteering, Forced Family Fun time trips to the orchard and camping and mud runs. I signed up for a trial fitness sampler and tried out boxing (NOPE), a rave/cycling class (more NOPE), and yoga in a new studio (eh, if it’s not Ruthie, it’s not Ruthie.) I helped build the school playground and went kayaking and found the one Chinese bakery in town and actually bought moon cakes in time for the Harvest Moon festival.

Moon cakes
It only took four years of poor planning to find moon cakes in town. Thank you Asian Sweet Bakery!

Yesterday was the day I ran out of stuff. My races are over, and I’ve slowed my half-marathon training to head off injury. So….that unsettling emptiness finally caught up to me. There’s nothing on the schedule but absorbing more of the news. The stuff we’re all inundated with that is all so disgusting and terrible and haunting and disappointing.

Honestly, my heart is still broken from the first day I dropped my son off at 4K. It never healed. Back-to-school open house was last night and we walked through his fifth-grade classroom, then caught his kindergarten teachers in the hall. And he got a hug from them. I didn’t know he still wanted hugs from Mrs. B and Ms. F. Oh, my heart.

Fifth grade sucks, guys. State capitals are okay, but learning division amidst a bunch of turd blossoms is exhausting. And, one of his classmates put another in a headlock in P.E. yesterday, and while I admire her spirit, more than one kid was scared to go to school today for fear they would be next. There were tears last night and this morning from my son, saying fifth grade has pushed him too far, and can we have a serious discussion about homeschooling.

There were tears at bedtime from my daughter wondering if she’s always going to be in pain, if she’s always going to be sick. That black hole in my heart is now so deep it’s no longer a separate entity.

This is our standard. I miss them terribly and they don’t want to go. The needle is still tipping to public school, but goddamn it for being so stressful.

And my old cat, my first true love, is getting, well, older. He’s getting thinner and pretty ratty looking. His face is shrinking away from his eyes and his fur has stopped growing in. In his heart, he is wild, and once he escapes the house, he’s in the wind. Two nights ago I made the half-hearted attempt to call him in at dark, knowing I’d either hear from him at three in the morning when he ‘sings the song of his people’ at the patio door, or two days from now. BUT he came. He slowly walked out the bushes and into the house. My son witnessed this and said solemnly, “Stuart has retired.” oh, Stuart.

Do you have a list of what you’re handling at the moment? And is some or most of that list things you can’t actually talk about? And it’s not the real thing, but the last thing that gets you?

For example, I could tell you that Infinity War broke me. I got into Marvel heros just two years ago, and mainlined them, and then curled up in a ball and sobbed in my theater lounger last spring. All seven of us who were in there sat, and sniffled and walked out, absolutely shattered. Screw you, Marvel. We’re done here.

Three times this week, someone has asked me what to do now. As if I know. I had to pull over and throw up while listening to Dr. Ford’s testimony. I meant to sign up for a Mindfulness in Motion class, but by the time I remembered AND found my password, I had lost my debit card. I was dressed like a teenage slob when I went to my mammogram last week. There was a piece of foam pipe insulation by the front door for a week before I realized it was actually cat shit.


I have been reading books about endurance. It started with “Born to Run”, and then “Natural Born Heroes”(both by Christopher McDougall). Then a post by The Oatmeal that drove a sad, yet hopeful spike into my heart, then “Life’s Too Short to go so Fucking Slow,” (Susan Lacke), “RUN! 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss” and “Ultramarthon Man” (both by Dean Karnazes) and finally, “Eat and Run” by Scott Jurek. I find it compelling to know not why people do amazing feats of endurance, but how.

Because I’d sure like to know.

There are lots of reasons I do sprint tris, most which I can’t even articulate, but the one I’ve been thinking about most lately is that it’s good practice for the everyday. And I need the practice. You work hard. You put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes you just do things. You wanted a challenge. No one said it would be easy…. You get the idea.

I don’t know what your list is right now, but I hope you’re enduring.

Me? I’m going to take a shower, go to a going-away party, collect my kids from the bus stop in the hopes that no one got put in a headlock or had their soul crushed or feels terrible, and keep going.

I’m also going to refill the calendar with fuel for the perpetual motion machine of coping. Other ideas:

*Offer to do dishes or laundry for a new mom, but don’t be upset if she wants you to hold the baby instead,

*Walk your dog, or someone else’s,

*Get a kitten,

*Cut up and roast the damn vegetables already and eat like a grownup already,

*Go for a run,

*Volunteer at the polls, or for Meals on Wheels, or in your local school library, or at the next local event,

*Call my dad. Or your dad, but my dad is pretty great,

*Watch Trevor Noah, or The Good Place, or Superstore or The House,

*Drink something warm, or at least hold something warm in your hands, like a kitten. Or a baby.

*Sign up for ice skating or ukelele or bike maintenance lessons to fill November and December and beyond with,

*Hug your kids. Play their games, let them put up garbage decorations, read them the Winnie-the-Pooh story where Owl contemplates pushing Rabbit off a branch, put together puzzles, build a fort,

*and remember what Tom Hanks once said, about waking up each day and reminding yourself to breath in and out until you don’t have to remind yourself anymore.

You might just be stronger than you look.

Catching Ironman Finishers Makes Me A Better Person

I’ve watched dozens of Ironman races and I’ve volunteered at full and half IMs here in Madison five times now. Each time has been an incredible experience.

Sunday was Wisconsin IM 70.3 and instead of handing out water as I have in the past, I was convinced to work the finish line with some friends. We were trained in “catching” participants: You and another volunteer come from each side of the runner to physically help/escort him or her through the next 50 feet of the finish area, stopping for timing-chip removal, getting medal-ed, handing off water, and then checking with them one last time before releasing them back to the world. We learned how to make a two- and three-person “net” to catch and carry wilted athletes in, if necessary. We learned how to stop them if they were running too fast and how to shadow them if they didn’t want to be physically helped.

I love this sport so, so much. I find the mass swim nauseating to watch, but everything else about triathlon just awes me and makes me feel alive. Having done a handful of sprint triathlons and knowing friends who train for 70.3 and 140.6 mile races, I have a basic idea of how much planning and training and perseverance it takes to get to race day (i.e. lots and lots and lots.) The weather, as always, was a factor in the day and while rain delayed the start and made for slick bike conditions, I was happy for the cooler temperatures and cloudy skies. Cooler means safer, and cloudy also meant lots fewer sunglasses, and lots more eye contact with the athletes. It makes a difference to be able to see their eyes. You can see the triumph, the pain, the disbelief. Some are dazed. Some look like this is just a day in the park. It’s an incredible array of emotions at the finish line.

The first wave of finishers looked and felt great crossing the line, with only one person throwing up. To be honest, puke doesn’t phase me. I threw up from conception through delivery for all pregnancies, I have two kids and four cats. Vomit is a part of our lives. Two years ago at an aid station about ten miles into the run, a woman came up, grabbed some gels then gracefully turned and threw up, hard, in a garbage can. And then she apologized. Oh, honey. You have no idea how proud I am of you. Ironman, sure. Throwing up IN THE CAN?!? Way to go!

You get invested in these strangers, and it is thrilling to be so near, watching them work their hearts out. My favorite aid station at the full Ironman is on an out-and-back portion, and since they run the course twice, you can see someone four times. You mentally keep track of people as they come and go, silently praying for them, especially those who are struggling, while continuing to cheer the people in front of you, hawking your Gatorade or water, apologizing for being out of ice or chicken broth. Every year, we end up closing down the aid station, cheering the last person on the course through, then driving up to the finish to make sure “our” last people make it. Sometimes they don’t get there in time. Believe me, if I’ve seen you finish that race at 12:01, you’re still an Ironman to me.

This Sunday, I got to catch a friend after he finished his best HIM yet. His knees buckled a little, but he found his legs quickly and after passing him off to his brother, I rushed back to the twin lines of volunteers waiting for the next athletes.

Like all the races I’ve volunteered at, most of it is a blur that left me wired and tired, but there were a handful of finishers who had an impact. Some lean on you more than others. My last “catch” of the day before my shift was over was a young guy who started to hyperventilate. The station director gave him a good, long look, asked him if he was okay, and told us to keep walking and breathing. We did. At the finish area exit, the other volunteer raised his eyebrows at me, and I said I had it. Then, with arm still around my athlete, I asked him quietly if he was okay, and he cracked and started to cry. Oh buddy. Have you come to the right place. I happen to know someone who sobs at finish lines. She only does sprints, but she’s a real gem.

I walked him out of the mud pit and found him a spot to sit a ways away in the grass. He’s from Chicago. He doesn’t have anyone here except a friend who’s still out on the course. He’s had too much sugar and caffeine. He didn’t expect to cry. He doesn’t have to drive back tonight and plans to have a Spotted Cow or two. I listen and sit next to him and agree that RedBull is the worst, and when I notice he’s stopped shaking I get him up and ask if he wants a hug and tell him how truly proud I am of him. I leave him in the food line, in better shape than I found him.

I tell my leader I’m leaving, then head home on my bike.

Here’s the secret: Volunteering is good for me. My well had run dry. I had almost nothing left for my family. And yet giving and being present at that finish line was easy. You need someone to lean on and get you a soda? You got it. You’re still shaking and you need an escort to the med tent? I’m here. I’ll walk with an arm around you the whole way and won’t leave until I know you’re being taken care of. It’s simple, easy, necessary help that I can give. And then I wipe my hands off and I go help someone else.

Perhaps I haven’t felt useful in quite some time. Perhaps it’s nice to be needed? I’m needed all the time. All. The. Time. The seven-year old has pneumonia for the third time in three months. She felt good for a week? A few days? There is no respite. There is no cavalry. I left the kids home watching videos to pick up her antibiotic, and despite the urgency, I found myself stalled out in front of a magazine rack, in the middle of an interview of …Anna Faris?I don’t know how long I had been standing there.

But… I left that finish area restored. I helped. I did my best. I reminded people to stop their watches and congratulated them on their hard work and achievement. I gave hugs and high-fives and sodas and foil blankets and, it was enough. I can’t explain why helping strangers makes it easier to continue to help my own child, but I don’t need to. I’ll just see you at the finish line at WI IM, this September.

Wrist band given to IM athletes to give to volunteers. Also, a reminder of my best self. She’s not that far away.

Race Report: 2017 Lake Mills Sprint Tri

This was my fourth sprint triathlon, and definitely the hardest yet.

Three things in the last two weeks have jabbed me in the gut, hard, about the way people use social media to enhance their image by deliberately omitting the gritty/real/unattractive bits…..and it got me thinking.  I want to tell the story of this race because it wasn’t all guns and roses, or whatever.

This one was the one I wanted to quit.

I’ve had a week to think about it and I know that everything that was hard about this race, except the warm temperature, was something I created by either not being prepared, or by letting my mind get the better of me.

Anyway….Race morning, 4:30 alarm.  I’m up, confident, moving well.  Dressed and fortified with coffee and breakfast in hand, playlist specially curated by my husband starting up and I drive to pick up a friend.

“Chatty Cathy” shows up and I talk, talk, talk the whole 40 minute drive and forget to eat my breakfast (rookie mistake #1).  We arrive and bike into transition to set up.  It’s a beautiful morning.  I see the amazing elite athletes we know, and avoid them like the plague.  God bless them, but I’m a straight-up bitch and I can’t handle talking to anyone I know about anything right now.  Tell me it’s a great day to race and I will punch you in the throat.  Ask me if I’m ready and your beanbag will never be right again. Talk to me about something banal like what I’m doing later and I’ll scream obscenities.  Note to Mom, twenty-some years late:  Sorry about all the high school cross-country meets.  

I set up transition, and here, I shine.  I have got this down.  I’m pleasant with my neighbors. There’s laughter and confidence-boosting. I offer my opinion about socks or no socks when asked.  I make room for latecomers.  I am the ambassador of tri.

And now we wait.  I try to convince my friend to pee in her sleeveless wet suit on land to see if the pee will run out her leg or her arm holes first.  She declines, then goes off to warm up.  There’s no one I know in my age group, and so I mill about with strangers for 50 minutes, alternately running to warm up and flinching whenever the start count and horn goes off for the waves ahead of me.  This is exactly like HS Cross Country and “puke” describes how I feel to a T.  Someone is controlling a drone to film the event and I want so badly to have the means and the skill to kill it with a bow and arrow and watch it burst into flame and fall into the lake.  I dwell on this far too long and overstretch my hamstrings instead of drinking any water (rookie mistake #2).  I’m failing at calm.

I finally get in my wet suit, and get in the water to warm up and my heart-rate skyrockets.  Calm the f*ck down, Tiefenthaler. I back float for a while and think about staying in the roped-off swim area forever.

My wave.  Thank god for earplugs that dampen the whole experience because it is beyond overwhelming right now.  I’m positioned close to the front on the outside edge and the gun goes off.  Beach start. We run in and it’s a nice quick drop-off so we’re swimming right out the gate.  For three seconds, I’m holding my own, and then it’s chaos.  Now, I believe my age group, women 30-39 are some of the nicest racers out there.  They don’t deliberately kick you and if they do, they take a second to apologize during the swim.  However, this is the biggest group I’ve ever swam with, it is a full-body press, and I suddenly can’t remember how to swim.  I’m doing a sort of head-up beginner crawl my six-year-old knows.  I’m thinking “ice cream scoop hands” and then I take and elbow to the head and breathe in the lake.  I come back up, disoriented.  We’re only halfway to the first buoy and I’m mentally done.  I’m overheating and let water in my suit over and over and think “And that’s how you get swimmer’s itch in your crotch.” I drift along and let most of the group go. It’s not until midway that I actually start swimming again.  I’m not the best at judging distance, but this is at least 20% too long.  Longest ten minutes of my life.  Excepting all those minutes of birthing my children. Maybe.

Transition.  Shake it off.  Thought there was a water station at the transition entrance.  There is.  But no cups–it’s for you to refill your water bottle with?  How? Get on the bike with just half a bottle of water and can’t remember the way out. (Mistakes #3  and 4.)

The bike course is beautiful.  I’ve studied the map, but haven’t ridden the course, even in the car, and immediately, I see this is another mistake, especially since the course doesn’t have any mile markers.  The road is smooth, with giant divots and cracks now and then, but it’s distractingly beautiful out here.  I see herons and sandhill cranes, adorable chicken coops and wide open farm fields. The adrenaline from the swim is fading and I’m running out of steam.  I run out of water by mile 6-ish.  Very big mistake.  I knew there were no aid stations out here and yet, here I am, ten miles to go with a dry mouth and an unsettled mind.  It’s gentle, rolling hills, and excepting the young bucks on $6000 bikes rocketing past me, I’m alone.  I never expected to be alone so much in triathlon.  Just me and my (now, toxic) thoughts for miles and miles.  I give myself a weak pep-talk, which peters out when I have to wipe the dry-mouth cotton off my teeth and think about how I’ve never, not once, washed these year-old cooling arm-sleeves. Ew.

And then my stomach goes volcanically numb.  I don’t know how else to describe it, but it is the final warning flag for me that I’ve gotten too hot.  It usually goes along the path of the initial nerve damage I got from MS:  Right hand goes tingly, then I lose my grip, left foot goes tingly, then numb, right hand starts on fire, right foot goes numb and then this sort of firework display in my right, low stomach.  This time, it went immediately to highest alert.  And I start to cry.  I can’t do this. It’s too fucking hot and I’m so stupidly unprepared.  If I use the drop handles at all, both legs go numb.

For the second time this race, I quit.

And yet—how can I?  There’s no shade.  There’s not even a ditch to lay down and die in (This is exactly what I’m looking for.)  If I stop biking, it will only get worse, all alone in the beating sun on a remote country highway.

I keep biking.

I get it together for a bit.  The numbness spreads.  I cry again.  I come up on a guy with his whole leg taped up who is moving even slower than I am.  I pass him going maybe 6 mph and tell him to catch me.  He does and we leap-frog our way down the course.  I see a course sign that is just an arrow, but looks like a giant one, and even though we’re four or five miles out I interpret this as “one mile left” and kick my own butt into gear for a while.  I am beyond thirsty.  All I know is hot pain.

And there’s still three miles to go.

I cry on the way in to transition, drop my bike against the fence since the rack, and my spot, is full, and sit down and sob.  I pull on my ice vest and, of course, there’s no spare water bottle packed.  What even??

I quit. Again.

Except…how?  Take the timing chip off and give it to…who?  Where? Saying what exactly?  “This sucks and I’m done.”?  Just pack up and go to my car?  I drove someone else here.  And here is one of the very few times in life that being a non-confrontational introvert helps me—I don’t know how to quit, so I can’t quit.

I tie my shoes and get the fuck up and walk out of transition in tears.  I mercifully walk past the finish line and grab a water bottle over the fence. There’s no shame in walking….so I start running.  The numbness fire in my belly has morphed into regular old cramps and I laugh out loud, alone on a trail in the woods because hell if I can’t handle those.  God bless periods.  I walk.  I run.  I know the course from watching last year and I feel more comfortable now that the trees provide some cover.  Herons fish alongside the berm. It’s a gorgeous day. The mosquitoes are hovering so I don’t even think of lying down to die in a ditch.  A runner coming back in has a t-shirt on that says “GET UP” and I nod.  I see my biking pal with all the KT tape and keep him in my sight.  I try some Gatorade-like stuff at the aid station and cough it right back up. All glamour, all the time.  I finally pass the tape-guy and tell him one last time to catch up.   I run the last stretch in tears.

I finish.

I did it.  Despite all the mistakes and all the doubts.  I finished.* I quit again and again. I’m never doing it again.

Well…until next weekend, anyway.

*Here’s the thing.  Despite all that, I still finished three minutes faster than I had figured I could do it, best-case scenario. Perhaps, I’m stronger and more capable than I thought. Perhaps you are too.

I found my uneaten breakfast and two full water bottles in the van.  Training on a hybrid bike forever gives a bit of an advantage when you then race on a much lighter road bike.  The best way to train for swimming with a pack is swimming with a pack. I need a sleeveless or shortie wetsuit to stay cool. Travelling with someone to the race just might keep me from quitting.  A second and third water-bottle cage is a good idea, but actually putting the water in the one I’ve got is better.  Biking the course beforehand, or driving it in a pinch, is a must.  

Through it all, I remembered the advice someone gave me before my first race:  Look up.  Enjoy it.  You GET to do this.  

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It Doesn’t Get Any Better

I have what could only be described as a fantasy of going out somewhere to, say, Walgreens, or Target, and running into a friend.  Someone I know and trust but haven’t seen in a while and they ask me how it’s going and I tell them.  I tell the truth.  I say I’m unraveling.  I say I go to bed each night thinking about how lucky we are, this posh existence of clean, quiet air, of safe places to sleep, of money to spend on frivolous things and cats to keep us company, the luxury of having two or more of everything.  And I am grateful for those things.  I am grateful for how healthy we are.  And yet I am never free from worry.  She’s sick.  She’s fine, but she’s miserable. She’s blooming, but she’s stressed.  Her tummy always hurts.  Her head almost always hurts.  She never sleeps.  I never sleep and my thoughts aren’t linear or even coherent and that I get lost and dazed in stores and any time I need to speak, but in the hours I am clear-headed and school hasn’t called and I’m not getting something for her, I don’t know who I am.  I’m pretend to be an athlete and go to physical therapy so I can return to running, but I’m already wound tight and getting manhandled and then watched while I exercise is too invasive but I can’t turn my back on my mobility.  I want to run or lift, but she’s home sick and I could only have made it to a class with a new instructor and frankly, I’ve cried and panicked in front of enough strangers already this month.  I’ve out-done myself.  I tell this person that I’m so, so tired.

Today is one of those days when I don’t get to escape into a few hours of oblivion while she’s at school, pretending that she’s doing just fine and won’t come home miserable and complaining of nausea, tummy pain and headaches.  Today she was home sick with the flu.  And while I’m grateful that she doesn’t have pneumonia, I have added another piece of kindling to the fire of worry—how much radiation has she already been exposed to?  A CT scan and three X-rays.  If each picture is about the equivalent of a years worth of sun exposure, and each appointment has two pictures….and a CT scan is supposedly about seven years of exposure….She’s got thirteen years on her tab already.

She’s asleep on the sofa now.  She told me every twenty minutes, on average, how miserable she was today.  In case I’d forgotten.  Each time is like a dull stab in the gut.  We finally have an appointment to see a GI specialist in six weeks.  SIX WEEKS.  A complaint every twenty minutes for six weeks is manageable, right?

I checked the weather just now and apparently we’re not due for more sunshine after yesterday afternoon’s little showing for ten days.  That’s just before we leave to see the Grand Canyon, a trip, which I have been looking forward to for years.  The thing is, I’ve only planned the beginning.  I can’t bring myself to plan anything once we’ve passed the half-way point.  I can’t plan the return home just yet.  Dammitall that I’ve been in this very spot before.

I just spent a while checking out the UV index in New Zealand.  It’s been a growing idea for more than a year now.  A sabbatical or heck, just a life plan of picking up and moving there.  Every time I think of it, which is often these days, but before I even think of the very real road blocks to such a plan (jobs and money, for example), I am reminded of that stupid saying about ‘wherever you go, there you are.’  Well, screw you,  Clint Black and meditation guides and Confucius just to be safe.  I am sure that if we cleared out and moved across the world our lives would change enough so that whatever we are doing wrong, whatever cause behind her stress and pain, would have to disappear.  Is it school?  Is it allergens? Is it all stress?  Is it an ulcer or abdominal migraines or reflux or just a highly acidic system?  It’s not Celiac or IBD, which we knew.  We can’t call is stress until everything else has been eliminated.  I see scopes down her throat and very specific diets in our future.  Maybe one of those things will help.  Or maybe…we should just throw up our hands and leave the country.  UV index aside, it can’t hurt, right?

We could live in a town called Dunedin for crying out loud.  A namesake of the capital of Scotland and just a matter of pronunciation away from the race of men from the west and King Aragorn himself.  How happy we would be to live in a place that makes me think of Edinburgh AND the Lord of the Rings.

I digress.  I do it a lot.  It’s how I stay afloat.  Because despite all the richness in our lives, including the very truth that we could in fact, uproot and drift or move to another country if we were brave/reckless enough, I can’t escape the basic truth that my identity is entwined with taking care of this little girl…and that I’m failing.

Did you hear a high-pitched, hysterical laughter in Target the other day? Me too! So weird.

I ran in to a friend at Science Night.  A fellow mom.  A woman who looked me in the eye and reminded me that a whole tribe of moms have adopted me and us.    And I felt it last night.  Rather than stick close to the kids’ posters for long, or making small talk with my in-laws, I wandered about and took pictures of kids and their projects.  I saw a lot of my tribe last night.  Making volcanoes with the first graders, clapping for their third-grader’s cloud demonstration with sincere joy, asking my daughter just how should we take care of our teeth, pacing the overcrowded, over-loud gym and making time until we could go home.  Those are my people.  Near and far. Those are the ones I send distress texts and extensive missives to, the ones who watch my kids and feed them vegetables and make them play outside, the ones with a “chocolate here” label on a cupboard and an unlocked door, the ones who meet me for a swim or run or movie or nachos.

I keep telling her that she’s going to get better, that we’ll figure it out.  It’s time I started believing that again, too.


The Cost of Blooming

It sounds like an exaggeration when I say I haven’t slept well in almost nine years, but it’s not.  My son is almost nine.  He didn’t sleep well until he was 4 1/2.  My daughter is 6 and has never slept well.  There were some overlapping years when neither of them slept and I was a zombie;  I would pray every time before I drove my car.  And then he started sleeping like a log and one kid’s needs in the night didn’t seem so hard.

A month ago, she started sleeping bedtime til morning, uninterrupted, a whole 11 hours and it was the strangest thing.  (She’d only slept more than six hours in a row less than ten times in her life before that.Really.)  This happened about ten times in two weeks and then we were back to getting up once or twice every night, like always. And my well of adrenaline or whatever I use to function is dry.  I don’t have anything left.

We haven’t done a sleep study on her despite the need.  I’ve always been put off by her doctors, who say she’s too young or we need to get X under control before we do a sleep study.  X being her headaches, her tummy aches, her sinus congestion or croupy chest cold.  Or we need to wait on what the neurologist says or give her a couple more weeks of school to settle in.  And I’m too tired to argue.

It’s true that I’ve hit bottom before.  With a broken heart and bruised spirit over her, even.  I’ve sent out distress beacons before or sat down on the floor of the grocery store or quit workouts after the warm-up out of fatigue.  I’ve lost hope and been so grateful that this is my work, this raising her is my job, and been all over the map with worry and “solutions”.  None of it matters.  What matters is what happens tonight and how she feels tomorrow and the day after.

“I’m just here to help her bloom.”  I heard myself saying that to a nurse just now over the phone.

I stood up too fast after getting stretched out at PT this morning and had to bend double for a good, long minute to un-fog my head.  Of course he asked if I was okay and what was going on and I, of course, said I’m fine, it’s just a head-rush.  So when he went to type up my new exercises I slipped on my boots and emergency-texted my husband and got a friend to come pick me up because the internal shakes weren’t going away.

I don’t know what your greatest fears are.  I pretend not to know what mine are most of the time, but one of them is being trapped somewhere and another is being incapable of getting my body to do what I need it to.  So when the PT came back and read off the new instructions, those two fears asked just how I planned to walk out of there, and I suddenly couldn’t understand what he was saying or what the letters on the page meant and started to visibly shake and cry and feel deeply embarrassed.  He got me some ice water and talked me down and when I stood up to leave it happened all over again with me leaning against a table.  Turns out he knows panic from the inside and his next patient cancelled, and he’s calm and concerned and can he call my doctor for me. He walked me out to the front doors and I told him that I was one hundred percent, but we both know I’m a liar.

Stef picked me a minute later and I cried and told her I was an idiot.  And she laughed and said I could pin this on anything and bought me a coffee and drove me home.

The nurse from my general physician’s office called while I was napping with the kittens.  My PT was worried.  And so is my GP.  Do I want to come in and talk?  And I broke down on the phone.  “I’m fine,” I repeat.

We talk through what happened this morning and I mention my daughter and sleeplessness and make an appointment for next week for lack of anything else to do, and then in parting, the nurse asks, “How old is your daughter?”

She’s six. No, I don’t have insomnia—She doesn’t sleep and therefore I don’t sleep.  No, home isn’t stressful.  Being away from home is stressful.  She doesn’t speak easily to people she doesn’t know very well and it’s so hard to be in school when you want so badly to be there and to be in front of the class and to show off what you know but you don’t speak, you can’t speak, the words get stuck in your chest and make your tummy hurt and your head ache.  She still wakes in the night and needs reassurance.  Or medicine because her head feels so terrible. And I’m just here to do that, to help her feel better, to let her find her self and her voice, and to make sure she blooms.  Because I’m her mom.

The nurse is one of my tribe, because she pauses and says she feels for my daughter, and for me.  Because that’s what my daughter needs, and me too, I suppose.  We don’t need tough love, or to be left alone in the dark night with our own fears.  We need someone to place a hand on our back and remind us to breathe sometimes.  Or lots of the time, I guess.

I still believe that this is the right path.  That the vitality and sanity and normal interactions with near strangers that have been lost are a small price to pay for her to grow up knowing that she’s safe and loved and most certainly not alone.

She’s my daughter.

First Step

Yesterday marked the beginning of a new chapter for me.  It was the first day I was comfortable talking about my MS.

I hurt my hip doing my own bike-run-bike the beginning of December.  I have big plans of doing a half-marathon for the first time this April 1st, before tri season. (“Before tri season.” Listen to me.) So when the injury persisted after a few weeks rest, I called the UW Running Clinic and amazingly, wondrously, got in to see a Physical Therapist in a matter of two days.  Is this the benefit of being, of thinking like, an athlete?? I’ll take it.

I was expecting to be put on a treadmill and have my gait analyzed, but we’re not there yet.  First we repair and strengthen.  I met a friend in the lobby, a colleague of my PT, and we caught up about our kids and our health and made plans for his wife and I to train together.  It felt like belonging to a special club.  It felt great.

I meet my PT and he’s smart and nice and he asks questions about the injury and my goals and then, “Is there anything else I should know?”  And I don’t even hesitate to tell him I give myself injections three times a week for MS prevention and my hip is one of those injection sites and I’ve got some welts to prove it.  And he nods and asks if I have any mobility concerns related to that and it’s all completely normal.  He didn’t apologize to me for the diagnosis I shared.  I didn’t have to tell him how it started or how long it’s been going on.

He asks after my kids and we laugh about him asking if I pick them up, which I hear as “picking up after” and, of course I do, they’re slobs.  I mean, they’re my children.

One little test is while sitting, slouching and dropping my chin, I straighten one leg out and see where it’s tight on each side.  Except that dropping my chin makes the bottom of my feet go numb….and I have to redo the exercise a lot until I notice any other sensation. (It’s L’hermittes’ Sign, a vestige of the initial nerve damage.)  I explain what I can and can’t feel and he nods.

He gives me some homework (clamshells, hip raises, foam rolling) and I’m to stay away from yoga and running for a bit.  He mentions something horrible known as “dry needling” as a possible recourse if things don’t improve and jokingly I ask if it’ll make me cry.  He hesitates too long and I laugh and tell him, don’t worry, I’ll do my exercises.  I ask slyly if this is a good reason to get a new bike, hmm?? And he laughs and says definitely.  As long as I have it fitted.  Deal.

Later, he left me with my new resistance band while he filled out forms and I did some bicep curls with it until he came back (only because I didn’t have my phone and I don’t remember how to sit still, look pretty.)  Then, I needed to sign off on our plan and I couldn’t do it.  I’d been gripping the resistance band and my hand was hot and crampy and I got three letters out before I had to stop and shake it out.  Try again.  Third time, I manage to ink it out and he asks, “So what’s going on there?”  And I tell him “Oh.  That’s damage.  When my hand gets too hot, I lose my grip.”  And he’s a physical therapist who works is sports rehab so he says “Oh.  So running in the winter is actually probably better?”  Yep.
“How do you do with summer triathlons?”
“Good.  Well, actually, it’s a challenge.  I wear an ice-vest for the run, but that only give me about 20 minutes on a warm day. It’s part of why I only do sprints.”

Nods.  He just nods.  And it’s no big thing.  And he doesn’t congratulate me or tell me I’m doing the best thing for myself or tell me anything about how great I am.  And I liked it.  A lot.  This is me.  This is what I do.   I didn’t flinch or soften anything about my diagnosis or the small parts of it that affect my life.  And it was just fine.

Race Report: Door County Triathlon

I’m sure I haven’t mentioned that I did a triathlon this summer, or again this Labor Day weekend.  I kept it pretty quiet.  You know me, so quiet.  So humble.  I was uncharacteristically out of words afterwards…but I’ve finally found them.  Here’s my first race report:

Door County Sprint Tri, July 16th or therabouts, 2016


First, the swim. I was ready far too early. I paced and did some swim sprints to get my heart rate up. I peed in my wet suit a dozen times (while in the water, of course) before my wave went off, third to last. I wade out with the pack when the buzzer goes.  I dove in and start free-style.  I was a pro.  I put my face in the water.  I had conquered the totally rational, everyone-has-it-even-if-they-lie-fear of sea monsters.  I was sailing along. Five strokes, ten.  But there were all these other people in the water.  Polite ones, sure (thanks, ladies!!), but also people in kayaks telling you stuff and a boat and someone with a megaphone, I think, and it was too much.  It was all pulling at my attention and I just couldn’t stop looking around. None of these conditions are trustworthy! All these moving pieces! So I did the side-stroke for a quarter mile to keep my head up and in the game.  No biggie.  I can do a front crawl at the same pace I can side-stroke.  (I’m doing a Masters class now—and it turns out side-stroke is not an actual thing.  When she says 100 yds, free choice, she doesn’t mean side-stroke.  Wut?)

I fall a bit behind my wave and it gets nicer out in the water.  I am a seal.  I am a sylph of the water.  I am a selkie.  God, this is such a long quarter mile.

I schlepp onto shore and someone calls my name and I flash a million-watt smile. I have been advised to find the camera, let it be my friend. Lo! The very woman who suggested this tri thing seven months ago is the wet-suit peeler right in front of me!  She yells “Oh!  I get this one!!” and she and her dad unzip me and rip that suit off and get me back on my feet in nanoseconds and I’m rubber-legging it up the ramp to my bike.

I don’t remember transition.  I’m already out on my bike, and it is quiet out here on the road.  And the bay is to my right and there’s hardly anyone else on the road and it is amazing.  I laugh out loud and startle myself.  What a charmed life, to have this body, this time, this ability to move, this gorgeous earth to speed across.  Then my left arm goes densely, leadenly, numb.  And my toes start to go pins-and-needles and I start to wonder what I’m going to do next.  It has only been five miles.  I put my head down. I pick up the pace.  I fly into the water station at the turn-around at mile nine and ask everyone for ice. Ice.  Ice! They are confused.  I wheel my way into their supply line and grab ice out of the buckets, cooling bottles of Gatorade, and shove it down my shorts and into my left arm sleeve. The volunteers just goggle at me.  I want to tell them to volunteer at an Ironman after 9 pm and they’ll see it all, then.

Coming back in, I am now completely alone.  There are no more waves coming out and me and my trusty 1995 hybrid are streaming through the countryside.  Med-tent stop.  Beg for more ice.  More stunned and confused volunteers.  Someone gives me a glove with ice tied inside, which I shove, again into my shorts.  Someone else picks up on the urgency and helps me stuff ice into the elbows of my cooling sleeves.

Mile 15.  Three to go.  There is no one to yell “Hybrids for the WIN!!” or, “Go get ’em tiger!” at.  There is no one panting “Good job.  You got this,” as they pass me either.  Just me and the road.  And despair. We soldier through, together.

18 miles, done.  Transition is going fine.  I have this small chest of ice holding my ice vest in it.  I have nailed down the motions of one, two, three, dumping the ice water over my head, zipping up my vest, putting on my shoes…and I can’t tie my shoes.  My fingers will not work.  I look for anyone to help and then can’t remember if officials can help or just other participants or anyone or WTF will I do if I can’t tie my shoes??  And I grab two fistfuls of ice from the pavement and hold them for a minute, and I can finally feel my fingers and tie up clumsily and boom, I’m ready to run.

Good lord.  My body doesn’t work.  I did my due diligence, people.  I did brick workouts.  I know this sensation in my legs is temporary.  But this is ridiculous.  My toes have cramped into tight, little snails.  My left leg is going numb.  My hands are on fire.  I am tired and so freaking pumped.  This jolt hits me–this dichotomy of “Oh boy” and “Yass!” is why there are addicts in this sport.  You are doing this to yourself…and it’s miserable and exhilarating all at once.  I stumble past the big crowds.  I don’t see my family, but I do see a sign for me.  For me??  On this road?  And it’s an inside joke from sixth grade.  SIXTH GRADE!?!  Did you ever once think when you were in sixth grade that 26 years later you would do a triathlon with someone in your classroom??  I didn’t.  I loved it.  I cried and kept running.

The road gets so, so hot.  I finally see people ahead.  I have found my way back to the race.  People are walking, drooping, shuffling.  I shuffle right along with them.  I walk some. I pass a woman with a “Baby On Board” t-shirt and tell her “Hell.  I couldn’t even walk to my mailbox when I was pregnant.” (Partial lie.  I could have.  I just would have vomited if I did.) I thought I would run the whole thing, but nah, son.  Not today.  I can’t uncurl my toes.  I run until I’m just about to vomit, then I walk a minute and try again.  I get the shakes.  I’m so, so hot.  My ice vest has thawed.  I’m dumping water on my feet and head and in my bra at every station.  No weird looks here.  Everyone is wilting.  I’ve set my eye on Sparkle Skirt, who is part of a Team Triumph, a superhero up ahead.  If Sparkle Skirt can push a whole ‘nother person through this, I can push my own damn self.  I yell thanks to those Angels for pushing and for pulling me along, too.  It’s a 5K.  And it feels endless.

I finish.  I don’t see my family.  I fumble and panic with getting my ice vest off, then fall into the ice pool with my finisher medal.

I did it.  It was hard.  My first thought was “Aaaand, never doing that again.”  Only to immediately remember I was already signed up for one in six weeks.

I’m a triathlete.




Golden God

A few days ago I read about a man, Klaus Obermeyer, who is 95 and still skiing and generally being awesome.  He swims about a mile every day and says it helps him stretch out and stay young.  And I thought “Yeah!  Swimming!   could do that!” -Me, January 2, 2016

***Turns out the link above will get you to the Wall Street Journal article about Klaus Obermeyer, but you have to subscribe to read it all!  Booo! Sorry.***

You guys! I did it! It took 10 1/2 months…but I swam a mile today! 1800 yards, almost all freestyle.  That’s 1.02 miles!

When I first started swimming last January, I would just get in and go for as long as I could.  No breaks, just full speed.  I would make it about 7 minutes.

When I was training for those sprint triathlons, I had this plan to do 1000 yards, in 400 yd sets.  Or 1600 yards.  And I never did that. Never. I would swim 400 yards and I was done. I would go home and do nothing for two days afterwards.

When I went to my first Masters Swim class, I was exhausted and shaking by 30 minutes and I never went back.

When it came time to swim in my first triathlon in July, I was ready, to a point.  I could comfortably do 400 meters, even had done about 600 m in open water. Aaaand I did five breaths of freestyle and the entire rest of the quarter-mile in side-stroke.

When it came time for my second tri in September, I overheated within 20 seconds (probably shouldn’t have had my wet suit on) couldn’t get my breathing under control, and side-stroked that one too.

And now, four weeks in to twice-weekly swim classes, I finally did it.  I have a stroke that resembles actual swimming more than dragging a canoe through the water.  I do an actual warm-up and cool-down in the water.  I swim further each day.


Two weeks ago, I swam 1550 yards.  I also ran 7 miles the next day, both of which were the furthest distances I’d ever covered.  And then I watched two seasons of Shameless and ate everything, and slept a lot.  I made two false starts getting back in the pool. I missed two weeks of running and dropped out of a half-marathon I won’t be ready for. There’s a small part of me that worries that this is MS, this fatigue I can’t shake.  Fortunately, I have surrounded myself with logical, calm people.  I tell them my worries, and they say, “Uh, didn’t you just do more than you’ve ever done in two different sports, and then travel to a hot place, get dehydrated, get your period, and, uh, get woken up ten times in the night every night for years? Maybe there’s a reason you’re tired?”

I haven’t mastered the slow build-up in training.  I’m either a golden god or a sofa stain.

Today, though, Golden God!

Summer Farewell

June 15

I’ve turned into a hermit.  It’s gorgeous out, but we’re all inside listening to adventure music. Folding laundry is so much more dramatic to the “Dances With Wolves” soundtrack.  Seamus killed a chipmunk and two mice this morning in a matter of 20 minutes so even he’s on house-arrest now, much to the kitten’s delight.  Lexi wants to go to the pool.  Quinn wants to write.  I just feel worried about the heat.  And that we’re going somewhere even hotter in two days.

I’m also coming down from the coconut dream ice cream/Nature’s Bakery cookie pack/Menchie’s diet.  Feeling mean.

I have the energy to take them somewhere, a very refreshing thing, but we stay.  It’s only the first week of summer anyway, and Lexi needs a lot more unstructured time more than she needs an activities director.

I got up at 5:45 to run, and instead sat, cold and half-asleep on the sofa draped with all the baby blankets I’m trying to get rid of.  I sweat through my sheets every night.  It’s been a problem off and on for years now, and I just can’t get it right–the room temperature or the blankets or the pajamas.  So I wake up wet, and tired and cold and uninspired to do anything.

Tried FitMoms this morning and so pleased the kids are on board this year instead of threatening mutiny.  But… I couldn’t do it.  Both my legs cramped up while I was pushing weighted mats around,  (probably from spin class yesterday morning, that one stupid “slide” part of class that you’ve probably seen from a Romy & Michelle trailer.)   And my left arm and right hand went numb too, so I was done.  Ten minutes of class and too hot to continue.  Frustrated.  Sad.

Tried out my Arctic Heat ice vest this afternoon.  Meh.  80F and humid meant it only worked for 20 minutes.  And I was just walking around, cleaning out the van.  I’ll try it in the ice-slush next time, but simply freezing the activated vest didn’t do it. Won’t do it for class or a run.  Disappointed.

And that is why we are sitting around inside.  Well, why I am, anyway.  The youngest one is waiting for someone to entertain her and the older one is cataloging creatures from the Mesozoic.

I read ActiveMS founder Dave’s blog today.  He talks about the first time he gave himself a (MS medication) shot.  (He fainted.)  And it’s funny and light, but today marks two months until the deadline I’ve set for myself to start injections myself.  Because of the ghost leaving tracks in my brain.  I got my MRI results last week.  I have one new silent lesion in addition to the two I already have.  (What do you call the non-silent ones?  Raucous?)  Well, the radiologist says there’s one on the edge of my cerebellum.  The neurologist can’t see it.  I get to look for myself early August.  So, when I got the news, it had been a few weeks since my MRI, I wasn’t expecting anything, and I was stunned.  I played Spider Solitaire for two days straight.  I did nothing. I told Guy and no one else. I thought about what the next lesion might attack–my vision?  My balance?  My ability to not pee my pants? My ability to pick up my child with a scraped knee?  And I decided I was ready to give myself injections three times a week, if not more.  Although, I get a pass until my appointment, the one set up deliberately after my triathlon, in August.  Ah, the triathlon I’m too hot to train for two-thirds of right now.

I had to unplug from social media, although it’s only been a couple of hours, so we’ll see how it goes…but I just can’t stomach any more news. And I just can’t stop checking. Hence, the declaration. No more details about the heart-wrenching Pulse attack and the horrors that happened there.  No more politics about gun control and how much money and influence the NRA has.  No more about how people have so profoundly failed each other.  No more poignant reminders about MS.  Not even any more summer photography challenges that show you how much you’re missing. But I don’t know how to disconnect.  Social media was my lifeline for all those years in the weeds with two littles.  Now it’s my addiction, my spider thread to the outside world.  And it’s getting in the way.  I needed a break and I’m getting a broken heart.

Hell, I can give that up.  And ice cream substitutes at the same time.  No problem (she said with false bravado.)  Besides, I’ve been typing this up and the result is the same for the kids, this only-sometimes-responsive, crabby, adult sitting on a sofa, staring at a screen.  Does that mean no more GG Chronicles? Maybe.  Baby steps.  I’ll start with Facebook and Twitter.  I’ve got to be done there.  My gut feeling is to go cold turkey until after August 15th.  I don’t know how I’ll keep in touch with my tri team, but I’ll probably cave and go back on before that’s a problem anyway.

Anyway, here’s to best of luck to me, and to all of you. I’m not feeling brave, but I like moving forward.  Have great summers.  Go, do, be. Be with the kids. Soak in the summer in an ice bath if you have to.  You’ll have all winter to clean the house once they’re back in school and you have nothing to train for anyway.  I booted the kids outside with a bag of cherries, and I think they need some help eating them.


One of these times, I won’t get nervous about the good, old MRI.  Apparently this time isn’t it.  Next Monday I get to have another, just to check for any silent lesions that may have occurred.  Since I’m on a precarious edge, here, of having MS, but not taking any disease modifying drugs, this is the path:  MRI, and then review worst-case scenarios with my neurologist every six months.

I can recognize recklessness.  It doesn’t look like you might think.  It looks like ice cream cake and one beer.  It looks like my Sunday afternoon.

T minus one week.

I’ve got to clean up this house and get rid of clothes and toys and pull all the dandelions and then sign up for another triathlon.  And open water swim lessons. And buy a wet suit. And maybe a hitch and bike rack.

Because I’ve been doing new/scary things for a couple weeks now.  First bikini wax (actually, NBD), annual physical, trying on a wet suit (with the dressing room door open, in stages, only zipped for a minute…but I DID it), going back to that damn pool, getting water in my left ear and still swimming.  PTA meeting—the WHOLE thing.

What happens when the Door County triathlon is over?  Sloth.  Feeding frenzy.

What happens when both kids go to school full-time in the fall?  The birth of a black hole.

I know.  As a culture we’re terrible at sitting still.  Well, I’m a child of that culture, through and through.  And yoga says when the stillness is intolerable, perhaps you should sit the bleep down and breathe.  I’ve tried that.  It makes me cry. I kept trying it.  Now, I’m picking swim/bike/run/lift instead.  I make myself take rest days, because I know all too well how injury prone I am and how I tend to push to breaking.  I thought for years that all I wanted was a chance to sit down on the sofa for a half hour with NOTHING in front of me…..and I finally have it for a few hours a week….and I HATE IT.  It turns out I not only DON’T want that, I CAN’T handle it.  YOU do it.  You sit and think about MS and dairy and what now and no, you don’t want to be co-president of the PTA even though you know you should, but you probably can’t if the meetings start at 7 pm and this fatigue that never goes away doesn’t have anything to do with training.  YOU think about limits and do you have any now and are you preserving your energy or just hiding.  YOU think about the distance that grows between you and your precious eight-year-old by the day.  YOU think about the sugar you all eat and the garden you don’t have the heart to plant this year.  YOU think about how you can’t sit still to read.  Even Terry Pratchett! YOU check to see if the valium is waiting for you.

Sure.  There are ways to fill those hours.  I KNOW.  I have the lists to prove that.  But what happens (especially now that all my shows have killed off my beloved characters) is this angry restlessness.  The kids come home and I’m short-tempered and mean. Everyone suffers.

There’s a #WhyITri thread out in the world, and it makes me a little sad to know that why I am training for a triathlon is that I can’t handle sitting still, that I was going to quit, but my neurologist said to keep doing it, and in fact, hey, let’s not meet again til after my race.  And that the MRI is next week and the valium doesn’t really do it, so I’m going out for a swim and a run today and a long bike tomorrow, and I’ll keep repeating that until it works.

See you out there.