Monday, March 23, 2015

Love It Out

There are moments... incidental moments where the right thing at the right time end up being eye opening at least if not life changing, hopefully in a positively overwhelming thing. I'm rarely overwhelmed with emotion since I apparently need to go to Greece sometimes since I've been a marathoner, a spartan and am known as a stoic.. Still not too long ago sitting at dinner with a friend, reflecting on some of the tougher parts of my life that have come from all this, with a tear going down my cheek, I said all I wanted to do was run a marathon with my daughter, I didn't expect all this.

Someone once said to me that the universe rarely provides what you're not open to and maybe that's true, I often state that the universe balance itself out in the end, not in any one life or perhaps even one generation but the ebb and flow creates forces that work out. But once in a while, once in a rare blue moon or if you were looking at the sky last night anywhere near me you see a star lined up next to the moon and realize it's a planet, Venus to be specific, that bright things are different and yet both brighter and closer than would be easy to assume with a quick glance.

Not too long ago, an interesting typo was made, one that I've since actually used in personal and professional email and is on my Boston marathon fundraising page. As I have sat here and tried to wonder what is the responsible path given statistics and circumstances and reality, I've made choices, some of which have been commended, others condemned. But a brilliant poetic mind suggested that no matter what the ineffable probabilities were that I should relax and love it out. They meant and corrected themselves to say just  "live it out." But it's a typo, a mishap, a non intended phrase that has stuck incredibly well with me, just love it out is something I've repeated often.

And so I've tried to be open to it in various ways... rather than sign up for my brain rehab on a yearly basis I signed up for the lifetime plan. I got higher scores than I had gotten in a while and the single biggest bump day ever. I've got things further out in the calendar right now than I've dared since before brain surgery. I've even let a daydream dance briefly when Kiana is sitting there talking to the neighbors kids and our dogs together that maybe loving it out will someday be trying to figure out the mystery of how to once again find a kid's name that is easily pronounceable in both spanish/english (don't get too excited mom, it was just a daydream I'm not engaged or anything).

Duke had gotten into the sweet sixteen which meant at least some of my bracket was alive. So on the last night of spring break as Kiana did one last track workout, mostly in hope to wear her out enough to where we could get back to regular bed and wake up time, there was a gorgeous cloud overhead and unlike usual Kiana got to take a break so I could capture the scene. She's a gorgeous kid all around but it kind of made my evening to be reminded that she has an awkward put on smile and so the smiles I generally take pictures of are one that I actually caught.

But then today came up, the appointment where I went to go see my neuro oncologist at his new office which is with a different health care group. Well let me step back a second, my roommate and friend, the cute girl I took on the cruise, a friend from church, a friend from running all reached out to me wishing me well. I didn't wake up particularly worried about this appointment but really more angry because this is the appointment that I have to do so that legal documents have to be turned over to Kiana's mother of an annual summary so that I can keep primary custody. I don't know what I did wrong that the balance of the universe felt the need that someone who left me with stitches in my head and on four drugs gets access to my medical treatment forever, if you can handle that completely calmly then you're better than me. When I'm not completely calm I try to isolate myself in conversation knowing I'll get it out later during the workout. My roommate got the worst brunt of it because even as he kindly tried to come with me just for friendship and company's sake, I said and I quote "This is an appointment that I'm going by myself. Until you have a kid that your doctors have to hand over legal medical summaries saying you're still medically fit to raise them, then today's not the fucking day to talk to me." Yeah, anyone who thinks I'm always a nice guy needs to remember nice guys finish last and well I'm not known for placing last.

Still, on my way to the appointment I stopped to visit a friend who also outlived the odds of her cancer prognosis but is no longer under treatment but in hospice care. It's her birthday today, she's turning 34, my age and having a party at a hospice tonight. There's no good word to describe the emotions she must feel as she shared that it's tough on many levels but also that visitors can be tough because she takes less pain medications when they are there to be cognizant enough. She also can't eat anything right now despite the fact a few people were sending her food. I hadn't brought anything but seeing her room decorated with butterflies I know a little girl who draws decent butterflies that I'll be dropping off at the next visit. So that certainly put it in perspective as how petty my emotions and whining may have been on my way to my appointment.

Still, in this new lobby, I was the only person under 60. It was an amusing moment when the assistant who had never met me before looked up at me worried and asked, "Do you work out because your pulse is 42?" There are things I have no clue what they mean medically speaking but I know that resting heart rate is both better or worse the lower it is. I've actually kept track of this and while 4 years ago at surgery time it was 51, it would be 49 one year later, 47 two years later, 45 last year. But now that it was 42 apparently my heart has finally found the answer to the question of life which obviously is to love it out.

When the doctor came in, we talked about my health, medications and obviously but then I remembered exactly why my doctors are all hand picked and amazing. I thought we would do some formalities and checks about things and then he'd write the letter. Last time I saw him he was asking about the New York marathon. This time he asked about my previous races, my parents and Kiana's races, about the Spartan cruise, about how the Boston training was going. He asked for tips on running routes. We talked some man to man stuff not just doctor to patient stuff. And then he kind of did that fine balance of showing why it seems he has two have two hearts to be such a good doctor. He said both from the memory test he conducted but from the way we were interacting that my memory came across better than he'd ever seen it and I told him about the luminosity scores which were on a streak specifically auditory memory, the most damaged memory function and we discussed some deep in and outs as to why that might be. I told him I'd started reading a lot more and we recommend books to each other, him specifically Brain on Fire about someone who had to reclaim their identity to themselves with mental health issues. He talked about how he was sponsoring once again the Brain Power 5k, appropriately enough the race where we met a few days before I officially became his patient. And then he told me about a study that I actually was already was aware of a new experimental treatment that they're doing on people when the brain tumor is aggressive enough that wasn't even around a few years ago when I first got this. I actually know two people on experimental treatments for this already but currently they are only doing it on people who it's growing aggressively on. He talked to me about how the hope/plan/dream is to get it to where people take it like me and it removes the tumor. My tumor is inoperable but if it gets there the hope would be that MRI's and monitoring would be to see if anything has come back, not to see if anything has grown. Those are gigantically different appointments in my view. We scheduled the next MRI and appointment for early June in order for it not conflict with a trip that I have then to help out in DC. Then when it was all said and done as he always done, he said to contact him if anything felt odd and with a smile on his face, he challenged me to a race but admitted that part was just a joke. Still what was supposed to be a formality appointment in my book is one of if not the happiest medical appointment I can remember with my improved memory.

So what did I do from there? Go get a piece of new running equipment which I'll break out in a bit with Kiana as celebration. And I looked up the book and realized that perhaps the only reason anybody got this far was that incidence of living it out and loving it out may seem like a typo but it's a whole lot better when it's sinonym. So maybe it won't all work out or maybe it will but only one way to find out and that's love it out.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Thinking Out Loud

On my typical runs I run with music but somehow yesterday during my long run, I had forgotten my iPod and had 16 miles to do in preparation for Boston.  I can't say I was upset because luckily I had good company the entire time with friends. I'm  used to singing out loud as a way to distract from the pain from the hills... so there was more time to think than usual.  However, if you'll let me meander here, this blog has always been train of thought, a thinking out loud of sorts, I was amused when talking on the playground with someone about our busted brackets, as we were bemoaning having picked the wrong  upsets, someone who doesn't follow March Madness or understand sports betting, asked why we were choosing any form of being upset anyway?

As has become my typical habit every March, I've picked Duke to win it all, hoping that after a few trips there for brain cancer medical appointments, that if the basketball team would just win it all I'd get a bit of a refund. I happened to have been there in March of 2011 and saw the ramp up to March Madness on campus and while I was a bit confused from brain surgery, steroids and a swollen skull, it was a cool enthusiasm. Like most enthusiasms I've ever experienced one that isn't more contagious by being right next to it. So every year I participate in this activity of trying to make money on college basketball players who aren't allowed to do so themselves but I am getting distracted but my bracket is doing rough so my best hope right now is a side bet in which someone whose not a fan of Duke owes me some Duke gear if my bracket outperforms there :). But this year I did have one of my 5 brackets in three different pools picking Kentucky as the winner... I named it cheating on Duke. (When Kiana and I were at a Sherwood Forest Faire over the weekend and I was wearing my Duke gear coincidentally she was rather amused at the people referring to me as a Duke.)

But somehow as spring 2015 is starting and I've got almost one year of driving under my belt, I'm kind of blown away and thankful by how well life is going. The person I was supposed to competing against for the ARC elections (they were running first) dropped out and so it was really more of an appointment than an election but I am now the Austin Runner's Club President-Elect, a title that when it starts late May/Early June will be a lot cooler when it loses the last couple of syllables. While waiting for that to start, I'm volunteering in Kiana's school coaching chess for a UIL competition so those kids can learn how cool it is to be nerdy like me and think of the long game (many many many moons ago one of the most exciting parts about a trip to India was all the elaborate chess boards I saw in the country where it originated). I am about halfway to my goal for Boston fundraising (I've loved the captions from the very kind to the ones in honor of other people and perhaps amusingly enough the one who instead of donating the $26.20 donated $28.20 since I'm known for getting lost and running extra, something I've done way too many times; if you haven't donated, today's the day to be my hero). 

The ESPN piece may actually get done and air (though it's dragged out long enough you start to realize they have better stories to air) but we're scheduled for the last shooting soon (anyone know why both guns and cameras are referred to as shooting since no one is blasting something out and one is taking something in... and while we're on sidebars, when ESPN said it was their final shooting they meant one with cameras not guns right?). Let me admit a quick secret about the media pieces I've been in... I am a guy who captions most things he shares in social media from pictures to links this blog etc but when I put up something from actual media I usually just share the link with very little if anything commented... Well the reason for that is because a good chunk of them I've never seen or read, my little brother heckled me about when I was on the Today Show that "you're supposed to tell your little brother when that's going to happen." I actually watched that piece this week more because Lester Holt has taken over NBC nightly News and I was a big fan of him and how humble and human he came across while in my house. But I was a yearbook photographer and I rarely take pictures selfies or otherwise cause somehow I am a lot more comfortable on the other side of the camera. Anyway, I'm sure if the ESPN piece ever airs it'll be like at 2 o clock in the morning (that could be a fun demographic) but I've learned my lesson if it happens I'll let people know in advance. 

But the Boston marathon, ESPN, ARC presidency, I am excited about but they are gigantically in

second place to the adventures I'm having with this little girl. It was spring break and we took in some fun times from exercise like her longest bike ride ever (12 miles), her first time swimming laps (500 meters and 300 meters) some runs and track workout and hill repeats. The combination of those things made me think it's time for her to tie me in how many triathlons I've done (1). She made totem poles out toilet paper rolls and glue and art and craft paper. She's had playdates and time with the neighbors newborn infants that makes me realize that maybe a sibling is one of the things in my childhood that is better than hers.  She cuts pancakes into the shape of a bone to hand our Puppy. She takes way too much pleasure in finding those little stickers that stick to my clothes on our walks and seeing how many she can put on me before I notice (someone took one off me at church this morning). She loved that we both wore green for St. Patricks day. I keep hoping that this is as wild as she's going to get during spring break EVER but even if she does grow up to make some of the choices and mistakes we make as teenagers adults, I hope she holds onto many of the simples ones, some which I think I learned from her. She was just talking about how fun exercise was during those things, during the playground, during the recent track and field day in which she was one of three winners for  the hula hoop contest. (The reason there were three was because first they saw who it hadn't fallen off and then they made them take a second hula hoop and in the end some kids still hadn't had either fall off for a while so they told them just to put them down. I saw one of my best/worst qualities in that kid that day when she waited till the other kids had put them down and went a few more seconds before she did).

There are people who have criticized my parenting in encouraging competition or too much exercise but my favorite moment speaking ever was during a Q&A when someone asked when I started running and a baby ran across the room and I said, "Right then, just like everyone else, I just never stopped." I do try to get Kiana to tone down once in a while like during the workouts I have her do the fun one, not the fast one (we always have two at our teams workouts) but still I think the very way any of us were successful at being born was getting to the next change at life with conviction in order for growth to occur and I hope neither her or I ever completely lose that. I mean who says at any point in their life "I wish I was more lazy?"

Still this is one of those times were cancer is annoyingly relevant. I see my neuro oncologist tomorrow... while the poking or prodding will be fairly minimal, the main (only?) reason for this appointment is that by legal decree Kiana's mother gets an annual summary of my health in relation to cancer from my doctor in order for me to able to keep primary custody of my daughter. It's literally in a legal document that it's suppose to come on April 1st and I've never quite decided whether it's ironic or appropriate that it falls on a day known for fools. Now unless there's some gigantic surprise, it will read along the legalese lines of: "Mr. Leon's tumor is stable, there have been no seizures, and his medication has not changed."

Though if I had editing/writing power and you'll indulge me in a fantasy, it would read more like,
"In the last year, Mr. Leon has Pr'ed and/or placed in every road distance between the mile and the marathon. While this has caught some people's eyes, he is far more proud of the fact that it has been months since he's done any event by himself with quite a streak of running races behind or besides his daughter and his parents all 4 of them about to embark on their 3rd month in a row with a 5k together.

While his damaged memory has not shown any drastic improvements, he continues to be focused on making plenty of good memories insuring at least some will hold. His cancerous brain tumor is stable and while it continues to worry him when/if it grows, what helps him sleep at night is that the good part of his life are still growing. He's taken on new challenges in triathlons, bike rides and Spartan races. In these he's reminded whether it be part of a team or next to someone, that you'd jump through fires for people you love. Still you definitely feel the love on a different level when you jump through the fires with them. No seizures have occurred in the last year but he's still trying to seize each and every moment from the tips of the toes to his hairtips. His medication still makes him dizzy and throw up once in a while but that somehow feels a lot more balanced than waking up ambulances.

In fact his only medical appointments and medical imagining so far this year until this one were similar to the ones he had before brain cancer, only due to sports injuries. It may well show that somethings wrong with his brain that with a torn calf he smiled while having to walk with a pink cane. But either way, his daughter is beaming, healthy has straight A's and perfect attendance so it appears that none of the things that are wrong with him are genetic."

Anyone think I can talk my doctor into sending that? Yeah me neither. Still there are tiny moments that don't stop you from smiling. Back in October, I told one of the Leaders that I met at my first out of state Livestrong outing (and we are still friends). I told him that he was one of my heroes and we jointly argued about whether or not heroes should wear capes. He got capes made for Kiana and I that she loves. And then to step up his notch, he had a tile made for Livestrong's tribute wall with her and I drawn in our capes thus ruining our secret identities forever. But one of the stops during Spring Break was to see that tile up on the headquarters wall, a way they remind themselves that the reason cancer matters is not some vague human interest idea but because the people affected by it are each individual humans. I sat and explained to Kiana why some were "in honor of," some "I am a survivor" and the toughest to explain "In memory of." They were also kind enough to give us a copy to take home and when Kiana sat and admired it at home, the thought going through my head was that some very good parts of the future are absolutely in the right hands.

Anyway, it's the last day of spring break and we're heading to a picnic party in a bit. But the song that came on the radio as I was ready for breakfast was where today gets it's title from, thinking out loud. I changed it a bit and posted my deriviation

When my legs don't work like they used to before, 
And I can't sweep anyone off their feet, 
When my hair's all but gone and my memories fade,
And the crowds don't remember my name, 
Well, I'll just keep on making the same mistakes
Hoping that you'll understand
I bet I'll still love every single day,
Maybe that's the whole of my plan.

And I don't know if it's the right song for an actual race playlist but I downloaded thinking out loud about that once upon a time I put off brain surgery to qualify for the Boston marathon.  I'm heading out there once more in less than 4 weeks and while it will be different than the 1st time I was there, I actually imagine and dare do dream when I wake up in Boston on April 20th, I'll be waking up pretty happy to just get to experience it again. Because no matter how the race goes, that day will be great because it will feel like I could do it till I'm 70 and my eyes will be smiling from my cheeks because love of life is my marathon plan.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Never Thought I'd Be On A Boat

Until I'd heard of the Spartan Cruise, the idea of a cruise was not my type of vacation. I'm not a sitting around type of guy so I never thought I'd be on a boat where a good percentage of the point is to enjoy lounging around... not exactly my style. But when I got on the Norwegian Cruise Line, it would only be moments after walking on and enjoying the company on the ship that I realized it was exactly the right decision. I hadn't used a passport since before brain surgery so to be able to use it again for the first time on an obstacle course I'd never heard of back then on a cruise that was it's first time launching felt just right.

It actually started on the flight out that it felt right. Somehow the universe was kind enough to line up that this was the first direct flight American Airlines had ever had out of Austin to Miami. Fittingly they put out breakfast tacos and the trip started out with good food looking forward to good weather.

Still, this wasn't your grandmother's cruise and right from the beginning we were all doing burpees pool side. And then right as we got on the cruise I sat down with Spartan friends among them two cute girls. The one who I thought was cuter (probably because she was the single one that very late in the game had decided to join me on the cruise) was being talked into doing her first Spartan the next day. I offered to join her and do it side by side as I have with the people I love like my mother, brother and daughter and like my first Spartan had been guided for me by my friend Alexander. Enthusiasm can be contagious in many ways but my favorite both on the receiving and giving end is when it's close enough to literally be by your side.

Every Spartan race is different, it's own unique set of challenges in changing orders with no exact distances like road races. I'd never ran this hard on the beach, changing into water, changing into swimming, changing into rocks, climbing up ropes, up beach sides under barbed wire. The water obstacles are usually mudwater so it was different to have them be salty seawater which made for some early mistakes on when I opened my eyes. Still, on my first loop the only obstacle I missed was the spear throw by a smidgeon... I finished smiling as I received my medal knowing that I'd just gotten to experience my idea of a good day on the beach.

The second loop was just as fun as I accompanied the cute girl and we teamed up with someone else from the first heat who was also doing his second wave to accompany his parents. The beauty of the Spartan races is that in road races you really only get to see the people who are approximately your running speed but with the obstacles there are people who crawl under wire better than me (don't believe me check out our respective backs), people who have better upper bodies, people who have more dexterity. It's a test on these courses that tests the balance of all these things themselves, heck it tests balance itself. It is perhaps why I love Spartan so much that it's the closest thing I've ever experienced where an individual sport feels like a team sport as you get the camaraderie back and forth. Second loop around I nailed all of the obstacles including the spear throw though I did more burpees though as we went around together we did burpees together when obstacles were missed. Taking it a slightly slower speed than the first it was cool to watch what a huge range of athletes went out there. In marathons we talk about hitting the wall, in Spartan you have to try to figure out how to get over an 8 foot one and how to balance and grip across a Z-wall. We all finished it and hugged it out becoming Caribbean Spartans, Aroo. Well... I might have given her a salty kiss at the finish line. I had just finished my second loop of the day but it was as refreshing as the ocean to hear people including those who had just finished their first loop talking about doing a second spartan.

But the party was just beginning with acts of acrobatics and drinking being the post race celebration. Guys and girls whose arms seem bigger than my legs walking along tiny boards, holding themselves up, showing that apparently the body has a lot more ability to define muscle than I'd ever realized. When we finally got back on the boat and results were announced it made my day to "place" for the first time in a spartan. They were awarding the top 50 finishers and while Isaiah Vidal had won first place and made 3k which he immediately donated to charity, I took 50th place as the last official placer.

Still, the running I do, the working out I do, the race is just the excuse and the Spartan cruise certainly understood that when not too long after sunset but well into the night, we started the official Saturday night party baby! People think I drain for endurance for running but it's just so I can last longer on the dance floor as is any attempt at flexibility or coordination. So there was dancing and drinking, not necessarily in that order till well into the night. Between participating in it and watching people me the guy with memory problem was grateful that some of this was dancing I'd remember even as those whose dancing reflected shifted more/less gracefully with each mojito would be dancing to forget. Still, on that big blue watery road, believe me when I say... I partied till 4:30 in the morning between the various locations like the dance floor, the casino.

Still, perhaps why this is exactly my kind of crowd despite having been out on the dance floor, we were all up at again with founder Joe Decena doing a workout on the deck first thing in the morning. While it was optional there were tons of people there, planking, burpeeing, push upping, running around the boat. A few people were talking about sea sickness or hang overs or soreness but the solution for all of us was to sweat it out immediately after breakfast. (Or if you're really hard core you take 2 tries to break a 50k time record on a treadmill.)

It took me 4 years to use a passport since brain surgery. Back then I thought I'd never see the day with a big boat coming my way but I am not sure it could have been any better first use than this, from both loops on the course to having it be a challenge I'd never heard of before, consistently reinforcing that if you sign up for challenges you weren't ready for it makes the ones you don't sign up for easier to absorb. But also because of the main reason that even the down time was with people who have helped keep much of me and my spirit up and rising constantly in ways I'd never imagined.

With the awareness that statistically speaking I'm not likely to make 40, I've often made the joke that statistics are like bikinis, what they reveal is interesting but what they conceal is vital and if there's any reason I'm fighting cancer is because of how good people look in bikinis. Let's just say that first night alone much less the rest of the weekend is the most bikinis I've ever seen and how good those Spartan girls looked in bikinis well I'm going to keep fighting with conviction.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Four score

March 3, 2011 was when I had brain surgery to remove some of this dumb brain cancer... Actually what I first typed was damn cancer and hesitated thinking about being polite since I once bothered people by upon celebrating the first month without a medical appointment (after 22 straight) by saying "thank God and fuck yeah." Perhaps there are cancer patients whose journey is such that they only have polite thoughts along mile markers of races or life, but well, I am not one of them.

March somehow has always been a significant month since brain surgery. One year to the date, March 2012, of arriving at Duke was when I would wake up in an ambulance with another grand mal seizure in the middle of a run training for the Boston marathon, the one and only time I've ever had one while running. March 2013 was when I would win the Gusher marathon that would change a significant amount of details about my life and where they would start Kiana's scholarship fund. March 2014 I would go back and win the half but more significantly I said a small thank you as a volunteer of handing out medals. And on the first weekend of March 2015, knock on wood, it will be the first time I use a passport to a new place in over 4 years for a Spartan race in the Bahamas... each year it feels like progress to a better place. 

Do I ever do anything to acknowledge the day besides blog and think about it? Not really. I mean March Madness will begin and as always I'll pick Duke to win it all hoping that one time I'll win the bracket with them so that I get a bit of a refund since despite the money billed, they never gave me a degree. I'm certainly grateful that the only medical appointment in March will be at Runlab where I will keep dealing with this injured calf which is definitely making progress. 

I've figured significant coping mechanisms for the memory deficits and ways to make them better. My lumosity scores are not at their highest ever but they are higher than any other March. The membership just expired but when I sign up again, it will no longer be for a 1 or 2 year membership as it has been in the past but rather for a lifetime one which for obvious reasons is pricier. I dare dream that they feel ripped off someday by how much I've used it both in time and years. I can't do it at all you can eat buffets anymore but I intend to in all you can think and improve your brain exercises.

It's dishonest to reflect with being aware that I've certainly made many many mistakes along the way. I've hurt people trying to protect them; I wish I had 100% batting average on getting better at this but there are still times I make apologies. This to me is actually probably the biggest argument about saying we're fully in control of ourselves. While I think humans should be held accountable we do, it may well be what makes us human that we do things we have to apologize for. Making those apologies but also improving the behaviors so they are less necessary is what makes us better humans. Saying we've made progress along the way but I am grateful that by and large there's been some level of reconciliation with the people I owe apologies to. The ones where there hasn't been are still more haunting. Everyone makes mistakes in life and relationships are complicated but the correlation and causation of relationship issues when there are seizures or MRI's... let's just say that's not one mile marker I'm proud of. 

I still try to help out with various organizations and many of them have been cancer related... still believing that to him who much is given, much is expected. Last night Kiana and I were people who got to share their experience at a dinner for Camp Kesem fundraising, a camp for children of cancer patients or people who have passed from cancer. It was a camp Kiana attended for the first time this summer and will again next summer. When she got back from that camp, she said with that ever charming smile that she hadn't had time to miss anyone...  I asked her what it was like with so many of the parents having cancer, she said she didn't now, she didn't meet the parents. That was probably the selling point of the camp because like in survivor groups, it's a bit of comfort to find somewhere where the oddness cancer causes in your humanity, with other people who understand you find yourself feeling normal. At the dinner her "speaking part" was a Q&A with three other kids and when they asked her how Camp Kesem had all changed her life, she answered with her sweet smile "It hasn't changed it; it just made it more exciting." It was raining last night and right around then one of the rain clouds got in one of my eyes and almost let out a drop. But I knew I was raising her right and they were backing me up when the men's Acapella group that was performing tried to serenade her and another girl and she would only go if she was chaperoned by her counselor. That's the way she'll always take on any guy singing to her right?

I'm not quite there but I am getting closer to being the guy who runs despite having cancer, or perhaps running from it. With the media and those types of things of the guy who puts off brain cancer surgery to run a marathon or gets a few trophies by himself or with a stroller, there have definitely been days where it felt like running and cancer were too closely associated. But it's better that cancer and running be associated than that cancer win and running stop. Still I told my neurooncologist at the last appointment that I had PR'ed in every distance since I'd seen him last so maybe the less I saw him the better I got. I've even taken down the bibs that used to hang in my bedroom because, at the time, the cancer media stuff was what they reminded me of when I woke up to seeing them instead of the therapy those races had provided. Sign of progress of the fact that I'm reclaiming my running territory that the only key chain I have is one I added recently of a  Saucony running shoe, the brand that I have raced in since winning that marathon maybe because of superstition and maybe just because if it ain't broke, you don't fix it. The reminder certainly isn't lost on me that I pick up my keys the most often to go drive, something I wasn't allowed to do most of the last 4.5 years. So the keychain perhaps reminds me that run to drive might have been kind enough to let me drive to running group practice. Far more significantly than a keychain, the club I've trained with for every marathon for, the ones who I woke up to in an ambulance, the ones who took me to workouts for all the years I wasn't allowed to drive, well I've made a choice. It's a non profit and we have
elections every year; I've served in many volunteer positions over my entire life but the first new one I am trying out for since brain surgery. I was nominated and accepted running for the president of the club... there's someone else running so who knows if I'll win but anyone who thinks I won't be trying hasn't ever seen me race. The place I've been struggling most is actually on days where Kiana paces me on her bike and I used to have to slow down for her but those days are past. Still I think it's helping me get in better shape. I mean yesterday as I was supposed to do my first 20 miler to prepare for Boston I got lost and did 22. As we say at our running group, and I've seen this philosophy translate both on the board and on the workouts, you can always do extra. That was my longest training run ever and it didn't feel too bad.

The biggest honor of my life still continues to be being Kiana's dad and as I walked her to school a few days ago, I teased her by saying I'd be walking her to school till she graduated high school. Without missing a beat, she said it would be till she was in middle school or maybe 5th grade. I hugged her extra tight and planed a gigantic "embarrassing" kiss on her checked as she walked with her classmates. I hope I'm still around for that day when the reaction to is that teenager eyes rolling rather than the cute giggle of an 8 year old.  If she's anything like me, she'll think her parents are totally dorky in adolescence as she establishes independence, and then somewhere in adulthood realize that it was you changing and that we were among the lucky ones whose parents were always there for them.

But we'll keep enjoying the daily victories and I'll keep noting and noticing the little details like on school picture day she didn't want her heir braided because it had been braided in kindergarten and first grade. That was both impressive because she remembered and also worrysome from a guy whose fashion sense is already struggling to keep track of hers. I'll enjoy the progress of having both her parents there for her at a play and her both struggling and accepting them not being good at co-parenting. Still when it was time for the post play picture, I was both proud and embarrassed that she was the one who thought of and made sure that she got a picture with both her parents simultaneously. 

So 4 years since brain surgery and I'm still standing and running and back to driving and trying to step up to new challenges. It's rare moments when I actually think that I'll be part of the minority that beats the statistics. Hope is my four letter word but it's not just the statistics. It's the human reminders like where I'm watching the two individual people who I've connected with the most struggle with brain tumor growth from the same type of cancer, one at the 6 year mark and one at the 2 year mark. They are both going through treatment and one is doing very well with the experimental one and one is struggling far more. Neither are far from my age though their stage is now 4. Their spouses presences is something I get to hear about a fair bit and with even George Clooney being married now... it certainly gives me some thought. And in simple truth I had the first conversation ever with my mom about my lifestyle decisions of not getting married or having kids again, my theoretical way of protecting someone from when/if this ever grows. 

Like all good mothers and like the great mother she's always been, she wishes that I'd let someone in more and that she would support it. She's the oldest of 12 and had to watch 2 of her younger siblings die far too young, one from health reasons the other of an accident. Both left two kids without a father and mother respective and so having seen that she understands my hesitation in being open to more kids with my odds. Those kids are doing fine but neither of her siblings would have signed up for that. With sadness, while she said she'd love more grandkids like Kiana, she does think that decision is a solid one. But like any good mother she'd like me to being open to being loved and loving more or you know at least having a girlfriend. 

Still, I gotta say, while November 5, 2010 when the seizures started the official brain cancer story and when March 3, 2011 when they removed part of my skull to remove part of my brain... I'm not sure I'll ever shake those dates or not reflect when they are around. Every time they pass, I'm grateful to be reflecting on them and not being reflected on by creatures in sewer water (though my friends have made it clear that no one is going to follow through on my wanting to be cremated and flushed down the toilet). So I'm competitive (as is anyone who went through typical conception cause there was a sperm race and to get here you had to win) and so with both brain cancer and brain surgery, the score is still 4-0 and if it ever wins well I'll have outscored by at least three at this point. And to finish with the words of the wisest woman I now, what my mother said yesterday, one day at a time but I'm happy to see that you've kept living.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Easy is Evil

I've kept working out at this crossfit gym realizing that being a decent runner doesn't automatically translate into many many things... I'd say it's humbling to be getting outlifted and out performed by people who are both younger, older and lighter than you regularly but that would be lying... it's not humbling... it's fairly humiliating to come in dead last. Still I've only missed one workout since I enjoyed and while I've got a long long long way to go, it's kind of cool to see some of the initial progress.

Just like with every athletic event I've ever done from running to triathlons to sports to my personal favorite game, a sport so sure of itself that it actually calls itself "ultimate," there are people who think everyone should do it, or everyone should try it at least a few times. I won't quite go that far about anything but I will say what I often say about many activities... "don't knock it, till you try it; you don't have to try it, but if you haven't don't knock it." Still when I'm sitting there doing a deadlift for the first time (who the hell names these workouts by the way, dead lifts in weights, suicides in running... no wonder so many people are out of shape when you're naming things that suggest you're encouraging the grim reaper by doing the activities)... anyway when I'm sitting there doing deadlifts or the proper form of pull ups or pushups which I did not learn till I was 34, there's a sign on the wall that says, "Easy is Evil."

I'm not sure I'd personally subscribe to it at that level of black and whiteness  (it's painted in orange and black just for the record) but I do like that the attitude there is that signing up for the challenge is important. In the age of constant measurement or instant gratification whichever way you choose to label it, you're supposed to put in your workout everyday. I'm old enough to where once in a while is enough on athleticism (i.e. only races counts as personal bests with me) but then acknowledge to myself it's because I'm more constant in the physical stuff while getting a personal best on brain exercises often makes my day. And of course, I'd much rather be around people who are around pursuing their personal best in any area of their life than people who are accepting mediocrity in every area.

So it made my day when on a recent school holiday I took Kiana to the gym for the first time and she was thrilled. She ran in the ridiculous cold 400's outside and came back in. She climbed rope slightly higher than where my hands could reach before she was directed to come back down and was disappointed I wouldn't let her climb all the way to the ceiling. I actually am fairly sure she could have but somewhere the protective father won the go have adventures father while she's still 8. A couple of days later she really thought she was going a whole lot faster on her most recent 5k than the one she had done 3 weeks before but I told her it was faster but not as much as she thought. As I started talking to her about it, I realized that the second one was much hillier so part of the confusion was simply because the second one was much hillier and she regularly does track workouts and a 1 mile loop at a park that's completely flat. So I asked her if she wanted to do hill repeats and we tried it out... Took it in stride the first time saying, she was going to do 2 at a time and take a water break and taking a cue from my running group she did 9 instead of the 8 I'd suggested because as we say at the Ship of Fools, you can always do extra.

So seeing her do that at the two immediate workouts after her best 5k inspires me to keep trying. Those are always the best moments when enthusiasm, passion is contagious. I'm not a guy who has ever done video much but I've made a couple recently because I met someone whose good at them. Then someone from Team Livestrong who had read an article made sure that it now has a typo, I am now going to the 2015 Boston Marathon!  (I'll be raising some money for a charity for it relatively so if you want to be my hero have your checkbook ready). I'm certainly nervous about it as I'll have less than 2 months to train and I've been working off this calf injury and nowhere near 100% yet but wasn't I just talking about how easy is evil. So to quote Augustuna, I think I'll go to Boston! Maybe I'll even find a lover tired of the weather  who will fly me out to Spain ;).

So thinking of Kiana's hill repeats, while I took them slow, especially at the start and finish since I'm not allowed to be explosive for a bit, I went and did 5 miles of hills on Thursday and Saturday I ran 18 miles. The iPod shuffle was nice enough to where at mile 17 what came on was a song I've never actually used in a race because I think it's been over used to the point of being almost cheesy, "Eye of the tiger" but I sped up for the last smile and sang it:

Rising up, back on the street
Did my time, took my chances
Went the distance, now I'm back on my feet
Just a man and his will to survive

And then I went and did a Spartan workout with my cousin. And still motivated by the fact that both a Spartan and a marathon are on the calendar, I ran trail slow as a recovery and biked with my friend Julian after in the cold with some hills that were tough enough where I'm not sure how much longer he'll be my friend. I somehow have complete respect and little understanding of the people who work out really hard despite no competitions on the calendar. I'm obviously competitive so having a race where I'm trying to beat my best times and other people is higher competition. And with less than 8 weeks to train, let me state it here, while it may not happen, my goal is to try to qualify for Boston at Boston.

With that said, what I'm infinitely more happy about is remembering that Boston is where it all started once upon a time. That was the first time my mom and Kiana had ever watched me race as an adult and now she's done plenty on her own, some on the same course and some on her own. That's where the stroller idea came from to get her to do her first race at age 60. And while there's been way too much media about it all, the enthusiasm I have about that is very small. I'm glad that cancer is not contagious but enthusiasm for life is. My cousin Sammy came Saturday and we joined up for a Spartan workout. He and my cousin Omar are getting ready to do their first, now my older brother who whooped me in soccer my entire childhood is talking about joining me for a race (with my little brother it was the right thing to run his first race beside him cause that's what older brothers should do, right? With my older brother, its tempting to decide between that and whooping him). I am honestly a bigger fan of team sports than "solitary" sports like running and so it really makes my day that somehow we've managed to make these events team sports. And the honest to God truth is forget all the media and interviews or Boston qualifying time, if my approach to putting off brain surgery to run a marathon and continuing resulted in my family being more active, that would be an immense reward. I wouldn't sign up for cancer for it but I'm glad we shared enough of a positive attitude to handle it that way. We've not taken it as easy as we used to because well easy is evil...

I've had to attend to this injured calf and the doctor felt the need to tell me that these types of injuries only occur later in life but she was a sports doctor and just wanted to give me awareness. She gave me a way back to get to what I was doing. There was a friend I was visiting at the hospital who was having some health issues and he's twice my age and was thinking about taking it easy but I told him that the awareness of my mortality had made me want to take life more intensely and well since then he's traveled all over the place and taken on some great adventures.

So as I often joke for people who say they aren't competitive, life started as a swimming race and the first one there got to keep living. It gets a little less competitive after birth, it's not all or nothing. But my experience and my favorite people are those who keep taking life on with conviction with their mind, body and soul knowing that enjoying some challenges is a path to goodness because taking it too easy is evil. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

5 Hundred More

It seemed unbelievable as I was picking up my packet that it had been exactly 5 years since I ran my first marathon on the Austin course when I went to pick up my packet with my family. I thought crossing that finish line would be a one time event, check it off the bucket list, move on. It was tough and painful but I was proud of it. But the next year there I was again putting off brain cancer surgery to qualify for Boston and thinking it was my last just believing that there would no longer be physical capacity after they sliced up my brain. Then the next two years each of them would be my second fastest marathon and the winner of the cancer survivor division. Surely there was no way left to step up my game... but then last year, the first year it conflicted with a weekend with my daughter, I showed who was Paramount to me and while we got to go across the same finish line, there was something very cool about doing it next to my daughter on her first 5k and again letting a happy but ignorant thought slip through my mind that man this finish line can't get any better than this, can it?

But it had been an unexpected week in many ways... there had been the unpleasant surprise of having damaged my calf exactly one week before the race. It was the first time I'd had a sports injury that got in the way of non sporting activities and I couldn't support my own weight. Someone from church had offered me a cane to be able to keep up with Kiana for a few days. They did not mention it was a pink one with flowers which got me some good heckling when I was using it. I am not sure whether Kiana enjoyed the flower print or impersonating me more with it. Still in her last two track workouts, I had limped with it while she had run.

But while a doctor's appointments, a rub down and a verdict proving that my grandfather may be right that tape can fix anything, I was ready to try it either way. But my parents decided to sign up for their second 5k together on Valentine's weekend. I often tell that too much truth in humor joke that my first marathon was on Valentine's day and we didn't train together, run together or do anything except high five at the end and thus it's no wonder we broke up. I was glad to see my parents doing their second 5k together in only three weeks. Since it was only their first 5k three weeks before on a much easier course everyone had Pr'ed that day on a flatter route with less turns, I told them to take it easier on the course since my mom had started running less than three years ago when she turned 60, I mean 29 and my dad had started this year just a few months shy of 70, I mean 29. And yet here we were ready to do the same 5k, as a "fours of nature." Not only do so but do it with the finish line that meant so much to me. And just to put icing on the cake, it was being done when the Paramount Theater was celebrating 100 years! 

But I may be too far ahead of the story, before we'd ever gotten to this starting line, it had already been a good weekend. Friday night had been filled by the annual Ship of Fools dinner where drinks were told, stories were drank, and great people were appreciated one to one and from the front. There were shout outs to people who had won races, gotten their fastest times, done ridiculous new running feats, done the simple things that keep us going like putting out water along the routes, designing the routes, the schedules. We may be a ship of fools because of how hard we train no matter what the condition but that ship is build so solid I can't imagine it ever sinking.
Saturday morning had been the Livestrong brunch. I spoke briefly alongside Sean Maguire and Bart Yasso about the approach we have taken to cancer, life and running on a Livestrong team aptly called "Choose Joy." We each shared stories with self deprecation and appreciation for both the wonder and the frailness of life and how running may not be a cure for anything or maybe it's the cure for everything. There would be people there from an organization that was there for me and my daughter since the beginning of cancer in many ways. There would be new friends who would share sadness with laughter and laughter with sadness... perhaps the lesson I learned best about how to deal with cancer while living strong. There was a young lady there preparing for her first marathon who offered to be my date for Valentine's as long as I called her a mountain lion instead of a cougar. 

When race morning started, we were off and it occurred to me that this course had far more turns and elevation change. Kiana was gunning trying to get another 5k PR and realizing that it's a little tougher on hilly courses. When she'd held a similar speed too early three weeks before I questioned whether or not she could hold it, not it was her questioning it. Near the finish line I encouraged her to smile for the photographer and with a quick breath, she said no. I smiled and would explain to her that's why she's usually the one smiling and not me on the races where she's being pushed along. Still, it made her day to have PR'ed by almost 25 seconds at 31:51. After she caught her breather we sat and smiled and waited for Abuelos. My parents have been run walking but on a tougher course, they decided to run more and get it over with. In three weeks took they almost 5 minutes off! All three taken more time off their 5k in one year than I have off my marathon time... a little embarrassing. Still, the course had gotten a little more special with all three of them having gotten their PR's together. The austin marathon has a bell you can ring if you get a PR and both my mother and daughter rang it with conviction!
We'd stick around to catch friends some who got PR's because it was their first time finishing the distance, others who were disappointed they hadn't quite gotten the time they hoped for, a local getting the half marathon win for the 3rd time as he tries to get ready for an olympic trial. There would be friends who'd qualify for Boston for the first time. But showing exactly why it takes so much guts and gusto to run a marathon the woman who had led for most of the race and then was in second place woman literally collapsed but crawled herself to third place.

This year's logo for the Austin events was make it happen. I've watched them and thousand of participants do it for 5 years. The Paramount theater we ran with has made art happen for a hundred. And from first place elite finishers to third place crawling elites to fantastic "final" finishers in each course division. With each medal, each stride, each walk, I'm thinking I'll never again imagine the Austin finish as it's best day behind it or behind me and I'll bet it that marathon, that half and even our 5k have at least 100 more. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Choice, chance and circumstance

In the age of twitter in which obviously all wisdom should be encapsulated within 144 characters, I am sometimes amazed at the truth people try and achieve to capture in a pithy manner (or me it rarely is too effective in my book since usually a long winded guy that writes a way too long blog starts dissecting it or expounding on thoughts). But there was a recent day where I read two within a few hours of each other that showed what some people may think of as complimentary thoughts that I saw as complete opposite.

One was "What is meant to be will be." Now there are people who have tried to make that argument about my life since I put off brain surgery to run a marathon and then won one pushing a stroller 1 second slower, a story that is incredible to me and I was there! And there are people who share it as they talk about their romantic connections or how they met their best friend or landed a job. I love those stories... where perhaps the way a single leaf fell was a huge difference maker... the naive idealism, the hopeless romanticism, the cheesy incarnation of meaning but... I'm a realist. So when I think about the calamities in the world and we could pick the big ones like the cultural wars or diseases like cancer or heart diseases. But rather than go with those arguments but let's go with to me the biggest atrocity the simple fact several thousand children will starve to death today when there's more than enough food to feed them. I know the micro setting of our own lives and the good and bad things is easier to imagine than a few thousand children that we'll never meet but looking at the big picture of the world... it's perhaps why I've never prayed to beat cancer much less for good race times because if someone has big power over the world, I hope they're exerting it on one of those children will be where it goes. And I'm not ready accept that thousands of will starve to death is what's meant to be.

With that said, not too far after that I got to hear something a little bit longer but I'd summarize it with what went into my Facebook status and twitter, "Sometimes we make choices and sometimes those choices make us." That was a lot more of what I think the universe is like... there are things far beyond our control, I'm a guy whose likely to die from a cancer that has no known dietary, genetic, lifestyle or environmental components but I still chose to put off surgery and pick my doctors carefully and I think they increased my chances of beating cancer and just as, if not more, importantly  they gave me the best quality of care and quality of life during and after treatment.

Above all things, in my own pithy 144 character captionable thing (and I've been the quote of the day by a couple of media things), I continue to believe in the lesson that you have to "work on the relationships you want to keep." (Someone remind me the next time I'm getting interviewed to say, I'm only here to avoid the fine). Still working on good relationship is the choices that I want to keep making and the one that I hope keeps making me. It made my day recently to wake up Kiana and realize the ridiculous amounts of medals she had on her bed and how many were entirely her own were getting close to passing both the ones she'd done with me and that the ones we'd done together were close to getting above those I'd done on my own (those sit in a box in my closet). And while the stroller days have to end I realize that half marathons is the distance first, and actually the distance we've done most so I'm tempted to choose to do two more because with one, I'd be tied for how many I've done with her and with two, the half marathons would be ahead in ones with her than without her. 

But sometimes the choices you make make you don't have to be all that consequential. I went to a local comedy show called Esther's Follies recently. Speaking of random choices, I got randomly selected out of the audience to help out with a magic trick... I was delightfully treated by a guy who was wearing slightly more than I race in but not much. Told to make an "arrrr" noise for the audience, with each one progressively louder and more enthusiastic, I did not quite impress the host enough since on the last one I was supposed to do it like the box I was holding had a "box full of titties" and when I was done he said that my date and all the ladies in the audience were safe that night. (For the record I had a really cute lady who went with me that night who might have shown her fiery edge when a George Clooney joke came from the stage and I literally got nudged immediately. She won't be a George Clooney girl for many many reasons but including the joke was about him being married now!). Still, while it's something I can't write or say accurately enough, one of those things that's just on the tip of your tongue, it was a cool reminder that while some randomly occurring things have affected my memory capacities negatively, another randomly occurring event will always be a good memory.

But a good joke from that comedy show was that Rick Perry lived by the "good book," the Boy Scouts manual. Now when most people refer to as the Good Book, they mean another one but I find it odd that so many people who read that book think the universe is such a clean cut place when it even acknowledge in Ecclesiastes that the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong but chance and circumstance happen to them all. Now the text itself is referencing that life usually goes to probability, statistics, strengths whatever you want to call them. And I've been living life with cancer based on statistics being a poker player etc... getting away with the humor coping mechanism that statistics are like bikinis, what they reveal is interesting but what they conceal is vital... Since the 10 year survival rate of my kind of cancer is 12%, I'm hoping to be the minimal parts of the bikini... (this is the part of the blog where my mom wonders how she raised a boy that referenced the good book and getting into bikinis in the same paragraph). But still, whatever chance and circumstance bring I don't accept that it was meant to be but I dare to dream that we always have a choice at some level in how to react to it.

There are happy little reminders on this like returning to the Outdoor Hope Gallery which everytime has new spray painted art that the artists know will be temporary but is still over and over gorgeous. And I love that it's called the hope gallery, acknowledging that the only constant in life is change but that there's always hope. And hope is somehow my favorite four letter word. New experiences where you get to see the Cathedral of Junk where someone has turned their OCD into making a three story pile of demonstrating the adage that one man's junk is another man's treasure. Why it's called a cathedral I don't know since it's certainly not my idea of taking someone to church but how people can transform beauty is amazing. I love that Kiana has straight A's and perfect attendance and likes to run but somehow I also love that lately we've been working on a project where the book cover says make art or make mistakes depending on the angle you're looking at it. Life is beautiful by accomplishments and achievements for sure; it's why I bust my ass on hill repeats and was the first in my family to go to college. But isn't it also gorgeous when you learn to appreciate joy and beauty for their own sake? Because while I hope both hers and my choices that end up being mistakes are always within a certain limited range just cause you don't want to see your kid damaged, is it bad parenting to say I'd rather her make some mistakes in both life and art than to always color inside the lines?

She does it in simple ways like finding a stick that would be a great snowman arm and singing from frozen; she has a better chance of riding her bike around the halls. And yes there are ways I'm glad she's within normal boundaries like at her 8 year check up where she's telling her doctors about her recent PR in a 5k... I'm sure no one will be shocked that even her doctor is a runner.

And I certainly did that recently... after the two most intense years of physical activity in my life since winning Gusher, I'd said often how I was shocked how I hadn't gotten injured. So physically I've kept stepping up my game and joined a crossfit gym and have learned new things like the fact that getting bench and benching are not the same thing. I've been doing more trail running where I recently ran the hill of life and the hill of death in the same day (took the hill of life hard, ran real easy on the hill of death), broke 50 miles for only the 4th time in my life on a week I did 3 upper body workouts. Oddly enough, yesterday, I finally got injured of all things playing ultimate frisbee, the sport I love the most and probably the one I do the most. At the beginning of a sprint, in what I thought was my first ever cramp, it ended up being a pulled calf. Friends were super kind in walking me off the field and it's been less than 48 hours and I've already got a bike holder thing since right now I'm struggling to walk. But I got a sports massage and am going to a great local running laboratory to hopefully get back on the road before too long. Some people may want to say I spend too much running, perhaps calling this injury a wake up call from that good book to take a break from my golden calf. I think it's the fact that I sometimes forget that I'm 34 and it just reflected an olden calf.

It's funny people were worried about if I'd heal enough before this race or that race of my own. Another friend asked if I was going to be okay without my therapy (I have plenty of therapy, this blog being one of them and you know sex, drugs and rock n roll). But therapy is a means to an end not the end itself. I even tried to make myself feel better about my walking stick that all my fictional favorite characters ever (President Bartlett, House MD, Doctor Who, and Batman) had to walk with a cane at some point (all the nerdy people are laughing with or at me right now). But honestly I found some comfort in the fact that different people form the Livestrong mission had made it to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro and had been kind enough to give nods to me up there. They are doing tougher than anything I've ever done and so I'm certainly not going to complain about a pulled calf much.

The race I worried about most was the one this Sunday where I'm supposed to be running with team Livestrong, the Paramount 5k next to Kiana which was her first 5k a year ago. We did our track workout today and instead of our usual racing the last lap, I went out with my walking stick and "raced her" to see if she could run faster 1 lap than I could hobble/hop 2. I told her we'd start the race together but she may have to go ahead of me and while it took some negotiating she was somehow both excited and sad about it. I knew the day would come where I wouldn't be able to keep up with her but I didn't think it'd be today. But while I hope to be back enough to at least run next to her Sunday, I'm very grateful that she decided that running her speed was important and I sincerely wish that there never comes a day where I slow her down. It's an out and back and she said if she is ahead of me she'll give me a super exciting high five in the middle of it. We went out and biked 3 miles after that and I was glad there was still something we could do side by side.

So I don't know that what's meant to be will be... nor that the timing of choice, chance and circumstance will always line up. Perhaps people find comfort in that someday everything will be all right in their view? I don't look back a whole lot on what if I had not had brain surgery or what if this or what if that because those choices are made and fixed points that will never be open again. But the choices which keep parts of the past open to the future I try to look at and well, I am glad to still be choosing to work on the good parts of my life and I really believe that those choices have made most of who I am.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Matching Miracles

There's something special about every race weekend but usually when I travel for an out of town race, I'm trying to find what else to take in besides just the wonder of the race. The Miracle Match Marathon race is just a weekend full of great events. It was the first race my mom and dad were joining Kiana and I for the course period and with each of us running the whole course, no one on the stroller. They showed where I get my friendliness they had decided the more the merrier and my mom had brought alone 4 other friends from West Texas so there were 8 of us total in the friends and family group.

The other group was doing the mile distance in three generations of their own. But before any race got started, they had the most impressive pre dance routine I've ever seen... there were kids, adults, both racers and supporters busting dance moves out there... and there were some like me  who showed while we run rather than dance. It's because putting one foot in front of the other is all that people should ever have to watch us do.

But even before each race would start whether they showed that for them the finish line was just the beginning. Even as I recalled back from last year, throughout the weekend between, before, during and after events, they kept pointing out why to them the finish line was just the beginning. This race is called the Miracle Match because they are getting people to sign up to donate blood and to register to be a bone marrow donor. They would share the stories of someone who at age 12 had run a marathon on every continent to help highlight why this was important. A woman would share how her mom's death would get her to register and how she would find a match of a little girl who would spend the first 4 years of her life but her bone marrow would help save it. Some people bypassed anonymity that weekend and met the person who they donated to on the course.

When it finally came time for the 5k to start, Kiana and I were ready despite the cold. She was wearing her outfit and was ready to go. I'd actually offered to let her run this one on her own since she has done the last few kid's k's on her own but she said 5ks were more fun next to each other. She took off with conviction and about half a mile into it as she was at more than 30 seconds per mile faster than she had ever done, I asked her if she was sure she wasn't going too fast, she looked up and said no I can hold this. It having been a few months since her last 5k... it certainly worried me that she would do the old "fly and die" but I thought well there's only one way for her to learn that properly. We kept going and since we often train on the track I'd tell her when she'd complete a certain amount of laps. She was far more concerned with that this route was right next to a nice waterfront and look there was these flower and those ducks. I promised her we'd check them out as long as she wanted afterwards... she let me know she could run and check them out simultaneously...

We kept gunning past the halfway point and not far past that we'd see abuelo and abuela coming behind us. They were smiling and I thought well that's closer than I thought they would be... Is everyone gunning too hard today? Still we kept going and when I told Kiana she only had a little over half a mile left she started picking it up. Her last 5k was about 35 and a half minutes so I thought if she did anything starting with a 34 it'd be cool... We finished in 32.17 with her going over three minutes faster than she'd ever gone before.

We'd head back to the waterfront to take in the flowers and the ducks a little more casually while waiting for abuelo and abuela. I honestly thought it would be longer but there they were coming down the ways. I had told Kiana that we were going to finish with them but that they might be walking so just to go at their pace. She quickly responded with well you made me run harder across the bridge so can't I try to get them to do the finish faster? I had no great comeback but a smile. So she did and pushed them to finish their fastest 5k yet and we all finished together with abuela reaching out to hold hands and Kiana passing it on. So everyone except me ran their fastest 5k that day but I'm actually sure it's the biggest win I've had yet.

I can't imagine a community not getting behind a race like this and it was clearly demonstrated by the events that were there while we were waiting for the results. The Sheriff's department was cooking some good pancakes while we waited for all the participants. The fire department was hosting a firetruck pull where teams who had registered could see who could pull a fire truck the fastest for about 50 feet. There would be teams from gyms, all women's teams. While it was all happening, there were volunteers asking the people standing around if they would register for donating and when they came up to me, I explained that though I used to donate since I've got the universal blood donor that I'm no longer allowed to due to my medical conditions. Still, as they highlighted more stories, the fire truck competition kept going with the race organizers somehow managing to do it all in dresses incredibly fast as if the fire engine was somehow on drive while they were doing it... Perhaps symbolizing so well what they were saying over and over, that one person can make a difference at least certainly to another person, there was one guy who pulled the fire truck entirely by himself! In the end both the balance of that and community was shown when the firemen's team allowed anyone to join their team who'd ever even thought about being a firefighter (I might have jumped in on that one). The inclusive community continued with anyone who wanted to take a picture with or on the truck.

Just as I sat and told my mom that they were moving a whole lot faster than I expected them to, she
acknowledged they'd actually been walking a whole lot more always three miles at a time though it had been rough on some cold winter days. I might have been having a second helping of those pancakes when they were announcing age group awards and I was incredibly pleasantly surprised when they announced my mother Martha Leon as the winner of her age group! I went out to come get her to get her award because she was just watching Kiana in the playground and she thought I was just asking her to come take a picture of me getting an award. I said no mom, you won the award! I was more proud of that than any medal I've ever won (in case anyone's wondering, that age group is women who are perpetually 29).

The next day Kiana and I were up and ready for the half marathon. We got some more dancing in and were ready to run along a different section of that waterfront, around the Baylor stadium and through some serious serious hills. We had done some of the course last year but some had changed and we were doing a different distance. Still, for three months in a row, we had signed up for a hillier half than the month before and with this being the last stroller race on the schedule we wanted to go out with the one that billed itself as the toughest in Texas, no bull.

The weather was gorgeous and the running was awesome. There were a lot of sharp turns along the way keeping it exciting. Kiana yelled out duckies along the river front way. The first few miles overlapped with 10kers, marathoners and ultra marathoners and we were all moving around. We crashed into some friends on the out and back of the course who also runs races with a stroller. I've always thought it was the extra weight that slowed me down but maybe it's because we enjoy the race a little more since we take a lot more high fives than I do on my own. Since he runs with a camera, it was the first time I've seen a picture of it and my favorite in it is Kiana's smiled. We high fived a few more times along that bridge back with a few others.

The course continued with sharp turns, tough hills (one was so long and steep where Kiana asked out loud why were we going so slow) and I am not sure she understand as I said under muttered breath that it was because of that incline. When we got to the challenge of carrying up stairs called Jacob's ladder, I had been between third and fourth the whole time. I tried to get the guy that was with me come but he passed up the opportunity. Kiana got out of the stroller and was definitely beating me up those stairs but she made it clear more than once that these were a lot steeper and longer than the ones we practiced on...

At the top of the stairs, between breathing hard from Jacob's ladder and already having brain issues, I decided to be a typical male and did not ask for directions. I saw a few runners and figured they were from the 10k and started passing them with conviction and about a mile into that passing the next water fountain realized I'd seen those awesome volunteers before... and said out loud oh no we're lost... and then thought oh well, I came out here to run hills... let's do some extra (and of course the portion of the course I repeated was the hilliest section).

It was probably incredibly helpful that the course was full of good humorous strangersalong the way. "Hill workouts are just speedwork in disguise." "Fartleks are better than fart licks." "One more hill and then you're done... Just kidding.""Chuck Norris never ran a marathon." "A race without hills is like beer without alcohol." Kiana's favorite it was "go random stranger go." It was good to have the course that brought out so many grimaces on my face to also get so many smiles on there as well.

It was even tempting to do Jacob's ladder again but I just wasn't ready for that kind of a commitment. In the end, getting to the finish line was in about 1:47 at 15.8 miles my slowest and longest half marathon... It was almost tempting to ask for the ultra finisher's medal :). Still, I was and am proud that not continuing with conviction till the finish line never crossed my mind. You take the challenges as they come till you get to the end. It was enough to whoop my legs but also enough for a third place age group finish which was confusing since I'm older than 29 and my mom had won that age group...

So we came home with lots of memories of family time together on a river, in a zoo. Kiana, my mom and I all came home with hardware with finisher's medals, age group placer, kid's marathon medal and the Phoenix challenge medal for people who did the 5k and the half/marathon/ultra the next day.

But far above all that, we came home realizing that we'd gotten to be part of an event where miracles matched. Where we realized we were lucky to be matched up with each other's miracle of life, where we got to watch people do races that were far bigger than just the events but also would literally save people's lives. Between all of those good things (and the exhaustion from the hills), it was not difficult to get a good night's sleep.