Monthly Archives: April 2010

Confessions of a Hypoceliac

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The problem with being a celiac and a hypochondriac is you don’t know whether you’ve accidentally ingested gluten, or whether you’ve contracted a deadly incurable disease.

I was exhausted and dizzy after walking the dog last night. My mind immediately went back to the conversation my friends and I had about skin cancer. I checked my moles and freckles. Then I worried I couldn’t see them all.

When I got dizzy at the breakfast table this morning, I was certain I had developed insomnia during the night. I went back to bed and slept for three hours.

When I arose from the nap exhausted, and with pain in my lungs, I thought about how I felt when I had pneumonia three years ago. Was it coincidence I had become ill right after our trip to the Blooming Baroque Gardens in Ludwigsburg?  Can community-acquired pneumonia actually be acquired from the same community twice?

Part of this tendency towards hypochondriacism might be from those years of feeling generally unwell but not knowing why. It was only a year ago my life totally changed when I dropped gluten like a hot-cake.

The easy part of celiac disease is avoiding foods containing gluten. The hard part is knowing whether something has been cross-contaminated. It sounds like something only a hypochondriac would come up with, but I can tell when my husband has used the wrong pan or spatula for cooking. Our old Teflon pans, with the gluten-concealing scratches, are verboten for me.

People ask me all the time: “What happens if you eat gluten?” It depends on how much gluten I’ve consumed and what type. Sometimes I have headaches or nausea. Usually, I feel like I’ve been bingeing on thumbtacks. Other times I look five months pregnant. Large amounts of gluten make me feel like someone slipped Oxycontin into my Coke. It just depends.

I’ve been thinking about what I ate yesterday to determine if I’ve been “glutened” (it is a verb in our house), or if I’m just tired from the marathon training. It doesn’t seem possible I’m overtraining, since I reduced my mileage this week to begin my official training schedule.

Regardless of the cause of today’s medical mystery, my body is telling me to rest; and I am listening. I was supposed to run an easy two miles today, but I took a nap instead.

Hopefully tomorrow I will wake up cured. I would hate to miss another morning run.

Stats:

Miles: Tuesday 0, Wednesday 4, Thursday 0

Terrain & Wildlife: I found a new route through the fields. I watched the sun rise as the deer bounded through the hills. I tried to take a picture, but the iPhone can’t possibly do the scene justice.

Weather: it’s been sunny and in the 60s to 70s. I ran at 5am on Weds, so the temp was perfect for running.

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Picture Perfect

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The brochure trembled in my hand. My heart fluttered. Maybe I’d had too much coffee? The men gracing the cover looked like Olympians. Where were the jolly, slightly overweight Hausfrauen? Where were the runners only doing the marathon for the free massage and pasta party? You know, where were the people I could beat?

I had a sinking feeling.

Is it really wise to do a half-marathon as part of marathon training? Maybe I’ll do so poorly over 21 k that I will give up all hope of accomplishing the 40 in July? These thoughts filled my head on Sunday.

Our family spent the morning at the “Blooming Baroque” gardens in Ludwigsburg. We walked around for hours, admiring the gorgeous tulips and daffodils, and breathing the hyacinth-scented air. The children ran and laughed their way through the hedge maze.

By the time we got home, it was afternoon. The number “8” was forbiddingly scrawled on my calendar. I thought about how easy it would be to erase, as I dressed in my hot-weather gear. I headed out the door, oldest child in tow.

The sun, for which I’ve been longing all fall, winter, and spring, now radiated as if I’d suddenly skipped down a few lines of latitude. Fine streams of sweat trickled directly into my eyes. What will I do if it’s this hot the last eight miles of the marathon? I thought.

I live in farm country near the terraced vineyards along the river Main. Name a type of hill: we have it here. We have long slopes so gentle you don’t know you’re running down them until it’s too late; we have wicked steep hills that taunt you like playground bullies. Then there are the seductive hills, both long and steep, which dare you to climb them.

Normally, I opt for the most comfortable path in life. Why face a challenge when you can just take a different route?

But marathon training has flipped a switch in me. I like the challenge. I enjoy the effort. My heart starts pumping when I merely think about running eight miles in the sweltering heat. And the hills: I have a love/hate relationship with them. They’re so beautiful, and yet they maddeningly push me to my limits.

William and I explored some new territory on the Sunday run. When I came to a crossroads, with one flattish road running North-South, and one long, steep hill running East-West, I went for the hill.

I must be out of my mind.

I knew going down I’d have to go back up again. I hit the four-mile mark near a stand of trees at the bottom. I fortified myself with vanilla PowerBar gel, drank some water, and turned around to face the hill.

Halfway up, William began walking his bike. Three-quarters up, he stopped completely. I paused and gave him his first PowerBar Gel pack ever. He washed it down with some water from his Camelpak, and re-energized, he got back on his bike.

My pace became increasingly slower, but I never got to the point of stealing Will’s bike. I kept on until finally, drenched and red-faced, Will and I reached the finish line together.

After my shower, I lay down for a nap, perfectly content with my effort.

The brochure is becoming less intimidating. I can now actually visualize my own face in the mass of runners. I may not be built like a Greek goddess, but giving my best every day makes me picture perfect.

Stats:

Sunday was the first day of the 13 week training schedule from Claire Kowlachick’s The Complete Book of Running for Women. I am doing her “Bronze” schedule.

Miles: Sunday 8, Monday 2 (fast ones).

Extra: On Saturday I did swim training. Swimming is H-A-R-D. I kicked tail-fins in endurance and when we used only the lower body. But the upper body drills left me with legs dragging like sea anchors, while the more buoyant class members (who most likely have skills based upon wrangling farm animals) left me in their wakes. It was a fun class though—and probably good for me.

Overall feeling: I am feeling great this week, especially after last week’s lethargy.

Weight: doesn’t matter, does it? When I pulled on the spandex capris and tank top, my husband said, “Wow! You’re looking athletic!”which I took as a compliment. I don’t think I’ve ever been called that before.

Wildlife: the deer and rabbits are abundant, and the sound of birds fills the air. Lovely backdrop for running.

Health concerns: Though I use the inhaler before exercise, after 60 minutes of running, I start wheezing and can’t get good breaths. Some of it may be due to allergies or bits of microscopic volcanic rock settling in my lungs. I’ll go back to the doc and see what kind of drugs he has planned for me.

Deep-Sea Diving

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Getting ready for a run is like preparing for a deep-sea dive. I squeeze into my stretchy black suit, push my hair into a headband, attach the monitor around my chest, put my gear in the backpack, fasten the watch to my wrist, don the reflective vest, secure the backpack, adjust the water tube, pull on the correct socks, and finally, lace the shoes so they’re not too tight, not too loose.

At this point, I’m ready.

The great thing about running is you don’t actually need all that gear. You can run barefoot in jeans if you want. Ultra-marathoners and triathletes wear apparel resembling loin cloths snatched from jungle tribes. An experienced runner knows his or her body so well, the gear becomes superfluous.

Then there’s me: the intrepid scuba diver.

The GPS is handy when you’re running tractor trails, which are marked only by the occasional compost heap. Compost heaps are notoriously inaccurate for measuring distance.

Because I always think I’m working hard, the heart rate monitor shows I’m not actually in the throes of cardiac arrest.

The backpack holds my water, instant-energy gel packs, and cell phone. The cell phone is so the kids can contact me if the house is burning down, or so I can call someone if I fall into a tractor rut; in which case, I can suck down packets of  “magic juice” while waiting for the rescue helicopter.

A day may come when I am clothed in fig leaves and running like Jane after her Tarzan, but it won’t be until after my first marathon.

There is too much I need to learn about myself first.

Stats:

Miles: Thursday 5, Friday 3 (with Noah peddling his heart out next to me).

Overall feeling: I feel slow & lethargic. It’s frustrating because I want to be back to where I was before vacation. This has been a tough week. I loved vacation, and I love running, but I feel like a big, fat slug.

Weather: sunny & in the upper 40s low 50s. There was frost on the ground this week—thus the Supersuit was pulled from hibernation.

Gear:

The Supersuit: Kalenji brand cozy goodness leggings and top for cold mornings. It’s tight, black with turquoise swooshes, and makes me feel like a superhero.

The Shoes: Mizuno 12 Wave Rider size 12 narrow (eek). Silver/Gunmetal/Red (or pink, if you prefer). Feels like running on clouds.

The Phone: iPhone 3G. It’s kind of big for runs, but it’s all I have. On the bright side, I can take pictures and post to Facebook during the marathon, if I don’t have anything else to do, like survive.

The Watch: Garmin Forerunner 405 CX. This is the first device to overcome the technologically challenged area in which I live. The satellites managed to track my run through hill and dale, hither and yon with astounding accuracy. What’s next for my village? DSL? One can only dream.

The Garmin has a heart rate monitor that straps around my chest and is synchronized to the watch. All I have to do is run. This watch monitors everything except my attitude.

The criticisms of the Garmin are that the bevel is touchy and it’s hard to use during a run. I can see this theory. But if people would actually read all the instructions, they could learn how to set the watch so that it scrolls through vital information. Then you lock the bevel so it doesn’t flip out when it’s touched. It’s very easy to do. I LOVE this watch. Thanks, honey for my birthday/mother’s day/anniversary/Christmas gift!

The Fuel: PowerBar Refuel Gel (vanilla). 110 calories, 0 fat, 27 grams of carbo delight to give you a boost: much better than a Snickers bars (and gluten-free too).

The Backpack: Nathan HPL Series #008 Race Vest. 1.5 liter capacity. Ultra-lightweight. It is cool, breathable, and soft as a kitten. This is a vast improvement over sweating under Noah’s Camelbak.

The only drawback is that the cell phone pocket brushes against my arm. It might become a problem during runs over 10 miles.

I nearly took scissors to the ridiculously long water tube. It swoops down across your shoulder and dangles in front of you. However, there is a clip for it, and I noticed during the long runs, the length of the hose makes it fumble-resistant. This vest is MUCH better than the Borg belt with waterpods.

Italian Style

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When a new road is planned in Italy, engineers carefully extract spaghetti from a boiling pot, and fling the pasta at a map. Wherever the noodles stick is where new roads are built. While I cannot be certain of this method of road planning, driving for a week in Italy appears to validate my hypothesis. The Etruscan coast is rugged, and the lush hills of Toscana unflinchingly reject unsightly straight lines. It’s all part of the charm of Italy.

The Italians I met, when not navigating the tangled mass of roads, were friendly, relaxed, and talkative. They seemed to savor each small moment of life. And the Italian runners are fearless. I saw them everywhere: dodging busses on city streets, ignoring traffic through ancient towns, in teams with matching soccer jerseys, old couples, young couples, solitary women at night, solitary men in the morning, some with bright clothing, and others apparently trying to blend in. The baby strollers were reserved for late afternoon, when every mama and papa and grandparent met to stroll the beachfront, and let the bambinos play in the sand.

The most beautiful running trail I’ve ever seen stretched for one mile to the next town—I wish it had been longer. I could have run along the Mediterranean coast forever (at least for 26.2 miles).  

Because it was a short run, I set the pace one notch down from full-throttle. And I flew. I felt swift and light; and the run seemed effortless. I passed another jogger (a man), and was sad when I made it to the next town. I turned around and flew back along the path, listening to the sea gently lapping at the shore. I ran full-speed up a flight of wide steps, startling a deliver man, and stood at the bluff overlooking the ocean. It was the best run of my life; and I’m still trying to let the feeling of it seep into my soul.

That was the only run I did on the entire trip. As on most vacations, we were busy from morning until night. However, climbing the 463 steps of the Duomo in Florence has got to count for something. Then there were three hours of hiking through the Etruscan Archeological park at Populonia. But the best workout arose from sheer desperation.

If you are doing your wash at Camp Darby after 19:00, note that the commissary, the PX, the shoppette, the hotel reception desk, the bowling alley (it was Tuesday), and the Bistro will be closed. Furthermore, the vending machines on post enjoy taking your money, but they refuse to serve food after 7 pm. While we waited for our laundry, I watched the kids play at the park, and wondered how they could be so happy when they’d not had a bite to eat in over eight hours.

I had two options: I could go to the bar (the only establishment open), or I could test the physiological benefits of play. Instead of doing tequila shots (just to get the lime and salt, mind you), I opted to join the kids in a game of freeze tag. It was an hour of fun, joy, and tremendous physical exertion.

We made up a story to go along with our hunger. The children were starving orphans. I was the angel sent to guide them to the man who would save them. Once he adopted them, I would turn into a beautiful woman, we would get married, and the man, having washed all our laundry, would feed us dinner.

This story managed to detach the kids from the physical sensation of hunger. Instead of the hunger inciting whininess and bad behavior, it was just a part of the meta-narrative. My six year-old now claims that one of her favorite parts of the trip was being a starving orphan.

I am certain the ability to detach myself from physical discomfort will be of  great value in the marathon.

Whether I am navigating hairpin turns, or pumping my last coin into a dormant vending machine, I can endure these things with grace and a positive spirit. Moreover, in true Italian style, I can appreciate every tattered scrap of goodness that waves itself in front of me.

 These are things that will help me through the marathon.

 Stats:

Overall feeling: flabby due to a week of authentic Italian gluten-free pizza and pasta, steak, gelatto, and Chianti. But I think by the end of the week I’ll be back up to speed.

Miles: 2 last week in Italy; in Germany, 6 Sunday, 5 Tuesday.

Weather: sunny and in the 50s here in Germany. Italy, perfecto (60s & 70s), some clouds, but plenty of sun.

Terrain: back to avoiding tractors along the rolling hills of Franconia

Wildlife: my deer welcomed me home on Sunday. There are also a lot of rabbits & tractors. I’ve not seen a single person on the roads. Maybe they’re afraid of the volcanic ash?

Beautifully Sculpted

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I am going to Florence to meet David, who is, perhaps, the epitome of Renaissance humanism. Larger than life, he stands confident, and cold, in the Galleria dell’ Accademia: a prime example of what inspired man can create.

While most of us couldn’t whittle a decent walking stick, our lives are works of art: finer than any painting ever nailed to a gallery wall. Though our bodies may not be sculpted quite like David’s, the way we live shapes the lives of others; and therefore, our lives shape the world.

If running a marathon builds something beautiful in your life, then it would be a waste to not do it. If exercise and healthy eating help you to be a better person inside, then don’t hold back. As for me, running helps me to shape exquisite relationships with those I love.

There is a painting in the Louvre that covers an entire wall. “The Wedding Feast at Cana” is so enormous, you have to rub elbows with Mona Lisa to take it all in. When you draw near, you see the minutia: everything from the rich cloth of the bride’s gown, to the tiny dog on the table.

Each of us has been given a portion of the grand mural. No doubt we sometimes have to paint a new layer over our earlier work. But while we live and breathe, there is still time to create a masterpiece.

Stats:

Miles: Thursday 0.

Overall feeling: I’ve been concerned about going on vacation because frankly, just strolling down the sidewalk in Italy can be dangerous. So, I don’t know if I’ll do much running. But Chapter 13 of The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer says it’s okay if you miss a run (or a few). I should be able to jump back into the training schedule.

I’ll just have to wait and see what the terrain is like in Tuscany!

Ciao!

Running on Empty

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There are days when you glide across eight miles; and there are days when you can’t fight your way out of a bag of Cheetos. And to the folks at Glutino, for providing gluten-free Oreos for Celiacs, I love you and hate you.

The day before Easter, I had a fantastic eight-mile run. My son went with me on his bike, and he talked the entire time. His narration was so intriguing, the time just flew by. He promised to record something for my iPod (for the marathon).

 By Monday, I was ready to burn off Easter’s marshmallow salad. It was just me this time—nary a tractor in sight. I didn’t even see my deer. It was eighty minutes of joy and praise as the sun rose.

Then Tuesday happened. It was a frustrating day full of technical and emotional difficulties (thus the Cheetos). Finally, I scrapped my to-do list and took the kids to the park. I sat in the sun, frantically pushing pencil to paper, while devouring a bag of gummi bears. The kids raced and climbed their hearts out, and I slogged my way through my own personal Schwarzwald. By the time we left the park, the kids and I felt better.

Some days, my runs are fueled with gladness. Other days, my runs are fueled with anger. And that’s okay. I can take my frustration, my worries, my fears, and litter the track with them, because God will pick them up.

By the end of eight miles, the dark fuel is gone, and I am left only with contentedness.

As long as you are breathing, there is something in the tank. Whether it is anger and worry, or joy and praise, there is something inside to keep you going. The important thing is to release the negative and cling to the positive.

After all, you are never really running on empty.

Stats:

Miles: Saturday 8, Monday 8.5, Tuesday 1,000 (mental), Wednesday 8

Weather: aahhh…spring! Sunshine and upper 50s

Wildlife: I saw at least 5 tractors today and 2 jackrabbits. By taking a new route, I discovered a large group of deer.

Overall feeling: Today I achieved “flow,” which means you are so focused on running you don’t realize you are running until you are done running. Although, I have to admit, the first two miles were filled with aches and pains. I kept ignoring them until they went away. Now, where’s my ibuprofen?

A Race to Run

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We admire sprinters because they pour every ounce of energy into their brief races. To them, not a fraction of a second can be lost. While time is also important to marathoners, the energy is sustained through the miles. In this way, they endure the pain, in order to discover joy in the long run.

Our courses are set before we begin; but how we run is up to us. If we fall into a ditch, do we stay there until our time runs out? Or, though bruised, do we rise, and press on towards the finish? When weary, do we keep good form, even if our pace slackens? Do we curse the race, or bless it, knowing the pain makes us stronger?

Some run in circles through the barren wastelands. Many emerge from these low places and go on to climb the heights of mountains. There are places of ease and paths of stones. There are places that could overwhelm you, if not for the hope of the finish line.

The finish line is not the end. For those of us whose names have been recorded in the book of the Timekeeper, the finish is when the celebration begins: it is a revelry for all contestants, who have given whole-hearted effort to run well.

Each of us has a race to run.

“(L)et us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1b

Buy the Book

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It is a painful fact of life that everyone has an opinion. If identical twins have the same training plan, run shoulder-to-shoulder for 26.2 miles, and cross the finish line at the same time, they will each have a different story to tell their children, or anyone who will listen.

For any aspect of running, whether it’s what kind of sock you should wear, or the ratio of carbs to protein in your diet, you can find a different opinion. I had no idea there was a controversy over shoes. Some say running barefoot is the best. Others tout the importance of which kind of shoe goes with your particular pronation. Some propose running toe-first gives a better running economy than running heel-toe. One of the books I’m reading (ten years old, by the way), suggests upper body strength isn’t something you need to worry about. That the best runners, in fact, look as if they’ve barely survived famine.

Some training programs have you running four days a week, while others have you running five or more. Some people say cross-training is great, other say it’s detrimental. For each opinion on running, there is a book to buy. These conflicting issues had me feeling confused and frustrated, until my literary background came sprinting back to me.

There’s no reason I cannot apply literary theory, which simply means to dissect and criticize anything in print, to the sport of running. Research is vital, there’s no doubt about it. When you are facing 42 kilometers with a less than sportlich body, ignorance is dangerous. It is important to not only read books, blogs, and websites, but to talk to other runners. When all the evidence is presented, you take what is good for your body type and skill level, and leave the rest.

Caution is the key when going by the book; because the book may not have been written for you.

Stats:

Miles: Wednesday 0, Thursday 5

Terrain: normal run to the next village. Took the long gentle slope instead of the short, steep hills.

Wildlife: My deer were lying in the field (shivering, probably) until I came upon them. I’m always afraid I’ll scare them into the road, or in view of a hunter’s blind.

Weather: 44 degrees with the normal light wind. Overcast and cold enough to wear gloves.

Overall feeling: my mind was dull, and subsequently, the run was dull. It wasn’t spectacular or awful—just kind of blah. I’m chalking it up to the weather.