Monthly Archives: November 2009

quieting your mind, feeding your soul, and running

This morning I went running from home, with the goal of doing a fairly easy 12 miles.  I’m planning on running the Seattle Marathon next weekend, so it’s taper time.  It was one of those morning when my motivation wasn’t very high.  It was chilly out (about 39), and the ground’s pretty wet from a fair bit of rain recently.  I’ve been contending with some low back pain the past couple of days.

Thing is, I have a goal of completing at least 30 miles per week.  So far, I’ve only failed to do this just once this year (owing to a minor injury back in July).  Also – I wanted to try my legs on one more run longer than 5 miles before the marathon.

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I took off around 10 this morning, and headed up over to Bridle Trails State Park.  The trail wasn’t too bad, despite the rain.  I ran around the western, southern, and eastern sides of the park before picking up the Bridle Crest Trail.

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I used to walk this trail a lot when I was recovering last year.  And I’ve run it a bunch, usually in the morning doing a quick loop from the gym.  It winds downhill for a couple of miles.  I had some minor excitement along this trail, taking a spill while running through a city park.  Apparently I’d not seen how slippery the mud would be as I went up a small hill.  So I gained a nice layer of mud on my gloves, and along my right side.

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Just after my spill, I met a guy walking down the steeper stretch from 156th down to West Lake Sammamish Parkway.  We shared a very pleasant few minutes, visiting and talking about all the great trails to run and walk on locally. 

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At the end of the trail, I meandered through some of the smaller trails in Marymoor Park, eventually running through the dog park.  There were a bunch of people and dogs out there this morning, probably more than I’ve seen before.  Several times, I had to tiptoe past the dogs who were wrapped up in socializing with their friends on a Saturday morning in the park.

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The trail winds around the north end of Lake Sammamish, and parts of it were under ankle-deep water.  I braved it, and then circled back towards the Bridle Crest Trail again.  I’d run this part lots of times before – occasionally doing hill repeats on the half mile trip up from the parkway to 156th.  The trick is trying to start out slowly enough to negative split.

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Along the way, I began playing a game with myself that I’d played as a kid on long car trips.  This time last year I also did this to test my memory as I walked this same stretch of trail, while heading to or from physical therapy.  At the time I was recovering from a bike accident, and felt concern about how my memory was faring.

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I would play the ‘picnic’ game – reciting words that began with each letter of the alphabet in sequence.  I’d go a, then ab, abc, abcd, and so on.  Then I’d go backwards – zyxw …. Finally, I’d skip every other letter going down, then in reverse catching the others.  It’s funny what a little game can do for your confidence, when you’re worried about such things.  It also passes the time very nicely as well.

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By the time I’d run through all of these sequences, I was just ten minutes from home, and back in Bridle Trails State Park.  My back felt better, and I felt more relaxed than I’d been all week.  There’s something about going out and getting yourself to focus on something that can’t be hurried (like running distance). 

This morning, it was a great way for me to feed my soul.

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rachel’s birthday

Today our youngest daughter Rachel turns 8 – at precisely 1:59 Pacific.  She’s an amazing kid – very bright, and good-hearted.  She’s been very helpful in getting things ready for the celebrations at home to mark this big occasion.

Here’s one of the first pictures taken of her, resting just ten minutes after being born.

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Here’s a picture of Rachel enjoying her cake on her first birthday.  She gave mixed reviews to the ice cream that went with the cake – wrinkling her nose in a very amusing way.

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Below, she’s marking her second birthday with a special pie, and blowing the candles out with her sister.

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Here, she’s sharing her third birthday with both sets of grandparents – G&G Solem came in from Florida to celebrate with us!

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Below, Rachel and Kayla appreciate the special egg that Rachel Carson, our good friend Inge chicken laid in honor of Rachel’s fourth birthday.

inge's chicken rachel carson laid a special birthday egg for our rachel

Here Rachel plays with one of her presents on her fifth birthday.  She’s playing with a doll and some of its furniture here, while we celebrate at Grandma Susan and Grandpa Hal’s.  She also had a party with friends on the famous Dizzy’s Tumblebus.

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Below is one of my favorite pictures of the kids together, taken shortly after Rachel’s sixth birthday, in honor of the holidays.

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Below we mark Rachel’s seventh birthday with a party at a nearby climbing gym.  She and her friends had a great time scaling the walls!  Here she pauses to look down at how far she’s climbed.

 

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This morning, we marked the occasion with a round of birthday pancakes, and are planning a small celebration at home.  A special day, for a very special kid!  Below is a picture of Rachel taken recently on a nice hike on Cougar Mountain.  She’s protecting a slug – a typical expression of caring from her.

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stem cells and spinal injury repair

A few days ago I ran across an article discussing some promising results for spinal injury repair

“A week after test rats with 100 percent walking ability suffered neck spinal cord injuries, some received the stem cell treatment. The walking ability of those that didn’t degraded to 38 percent. Treated rats’ ability, however, was restored to 97 percent.”

Embryonic stem cells that trigger growth of new myelin sheaths on the damaged nerves are apparently the key. 

UCI’s therapy utilizes human embryonic stem cells destined to become spinal cord cells called oligodendrocytes. These are the building blocks of myelin, the biological insulation for nerve fibers that’s critical to proper functioning of the central nervous system. When myelin is stripped away through injury or disease, paralysis can occur.

This is interesting on so many levels.  First of all, it highlights the role that the myelin sheath plays in successful nerve function.  I need to understand a bit more about neurology in order to really be able to interpret these results (even at a very high level).  Another interesting facet of the finding were the more holistic effect that the stem cells had, beyond the myelin :

Lead author and doctoral student Jason Sharp, Keirstead and colleagues discovered that the stem cells not only rebuilt myelin but prevented tissue death and triggered nerve fiber regrowth. They also suppressed the immune response, causing an increase in anti-inflammatory molecules.

"The transplant created a healing environment in the spinal cord," said Keirstead, who is co-director of the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center and on the faculty of the Reeve-Irvine Research Center …

My selfish interest in this finding is that the vision loss in my left eye is due to damage to my optic nerve, resulting from my bicycle accident in July of 2008.  My best hope for regaining vision in my left eye is for advances in spinal injury treatment, as opposed to therapy to my eye (which was apparently not damaged at all.  Due to a epidural hematoma following the accident, the optic nerve connecting my left eye to the optic chiasm (which connects the optic nerves into the brain) was essentially starved from its necessary bloodflow.  It is effectively dead.  I would need to regain approximately five centimeters worth of nerve function in order to be able to see from my left eye.  This type of injury is similar to typical spinal cord injuries.  My best hope for seeing through my left eye comes with improvements in spinal injury treatment.

An additional personal interest I have in the success of this treatment is the possibility (however remote) that this could also offer hope to people suffering from auto-immune diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, or ALD.  In all of these cases, myelin is either killed off by auto-immune response, or it is inhibited from properly forming.  The  thing I can’t discern (because of my lack of depth knowledge of nerve function) is how many of the benefits yielded from the stem cell treatment are due to the regeneration of the myelin verses the “healing environment” phenomena that they also trigger.  It is difficult to tell whether this treatment would benefit both trauma patients and people with autoimmune diseases.

Having experienced and witnessed the effects of neural injury, things like this offer a glimmer of hope.  And at this point, all we can do is hope.


shoulder surgery for kris

One of the things Kris has chosen to do during her ‘down time’ owing to Overtraining Syndrome, is to have surgery to repair the clavicle she’d broken/separated in a bicycle accident about four years ago.  Apparently her collarbone was protruding up into her trapezius muscle, causing some pain.  So, this week she went in for the surgery.

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The procedure was pretty interesting.  The doctor pulled the end of her clavicle out from the trapezuis, lopped off the end of the bone, and fastened it down using part of a hamstring from a cadaver (thank you organ/tissue donors!).

The surgery was pretty straightforward, taking about 90 minutes.  She was awake an hour later, and we went home soon after.

She weaned herself from the narcotic pain meds a day later (she’s tougher than I am), and aside from being pretty wiped out, is feeling some benefit from the decreased muscle tension already.

She’ll need to take it very easy on her shoulder for about a month, while the new tendon grows into the clavicle, and she heals.  No driving for a while.  No swimming for a couple of months.  No running for several weeks.

I’m thinking that we need to begin asking for a family discount on medical care.


stress fracture + overtraining syndrome = frustration

In recent months, my wife Kris has battled a number of maladies.  Just before she was to compete in Ironman Canada at the end of August, she was diagnosed with a stress fracture in her tibia.  The worst part of that was that she’d already done most of the extensive training for the event when she was injured. 

A few weeks later, following feelings of extreme fatigue, she was diagnosed with Overtraining Syndrome.  This one’s actually worse than the stress fracture, because the recovery is pretty open-ended.  Essentially, she needs to back off until her body shows tangible signs of recovery (higher nutrient retention, lower stress hormone incidence).

And you may already know that telling Kris to take things easy is not going to be welcomed with enthusiasm.  She invests a lot of pride and energy into her fitness.  In the 18 years we’ve known each other, she has inspired me to keep challenging myself, by always doing this herself.  Going off her training regimen has made her unhappy.

The open-ended nature of recovery is the hardest part.  There’s no recipe for success, and no real timeframe.  We’re good at focusing on things that require us to challenge ourselves, but this one’s different.  She must keep her exertion level low, which makes it difficult to run, bike, or swim at the level she is used to.  The stress of overtraining has kicked her body into "starvation mode", which lowers the metabolic rate.  In essence, she’s between a rock and a hard place. 

I’m afraid I’ve not been much help either – because I can’t really do much more than provide general support and encouragement.  One thing we’ll definitely agree on is our frustration with and general dislike of clinical diagnosis.


meb keflezghi – champion

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Meb Keflezghi celebrates his NYC Marathon victory at the top of the Empire State Building on Monday (picture was taken from the NY Times)

Just read a short, great article about Meb Keflezghi, men’s winner of Sunday’s NYC Marathon :

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/writers/david_epstein/11/01/nyc.marathon/

After seeing Meb win in Athens in 2004, I developed a real admiration for him.  In Athens, he ran an exceedingly smart race, waiting to make his move until later – then turning the race into his.  Watching Meb hang with the lead pack on Sunday, and seeing his steady stride, you had to wonder whether he would do the same thing.  And he did.

But the thing that impresses me the most is the way he is.  He worked hard to become a champion, coming to America at age 12 from his home country of Eritrea.  He trains hard, at altitude in the Sierra Nevadas.  He’s overcome injuries, including illness and injury before and after the Olympic trials two years ago.  This is also when he lost his friend Ryan Shay to a heart ailment during the race.  I remember watching Meb do the sign of the cross as he ran through mile 25 on Sunday, and thinking he was simply giving thanks.  Instead, he was thinking about his friend Ryan Shay, who had fallen nearby. 

Meb earned his moment in the spotlight with focus and determination.  He marked his moment in the spotlight by remembering his fallen friend, and expressing joy and thankfulness.

To anyone out there tangled up in the question about whether we should call Meb the first American winner of the NYC Marathon since 1982, I’d have to ask why we wouldn’t be proud to claim such a man ?  Whether or not he’s American-born, Meb exemplifies much of the determination and character we’d like to impart to our kids, right ?  Let’s call him a champion, who by good fortune (ours and his) happens to be an American citizen.


nyc marathon day

I enjoyed watching a great NYC Marathon this morning.  Both the men’s and women’s races were close until the late miles, when someone made a big move to take the win. 

26.2 miles seems like a long time to run, but watching the race tactically is absolutely fascinating.  Going fast early is taking the chance that you won’t be able to hold it together until the end.  Holding off until late means you’re potentially letting someone else take charge of the race.

Today’s women’s race saw a great champion hold the lead for a long time, but Paula Radcliffe just could not put her opponents away.  It turns out that Paula had been struggling with tendinitis for the past two weeks.  Aside from holding to a fairly conservative pace, she never let on that she was in pain.  She said "I didn’t want to say too much about it because I didn’t want people to know that they could maybe run away from me". 

Their mile splits were upwards of 5:45, with just a few at sub 5:30.  Paula was able to hold the lead until about mile 23, when 41 year old Ludmila Petrova picked things up.  Derartu Tulu hung with her, running effortlessly until she made her move with just a quarter mile to go.  In just a quarter mile, she opened up an eight second lead, after running shoulder-to-shoulder with Petrova and Radcliffe for most of the race.  Definitely a striking finish from a woman who had won just one major marathon before (London in 2001).  She won Olympic gold for the 10k in the 1992 games in Barcelona.

Most of the men’s race felt a bit closer.  A pack of perhaps 10-12 men held together for the first half, until they crossed over into Manhattan, where Robert Cheruiyot and Jaouad Gharib held together pulled away as they ran up First Avenue.  Meb tucked in behind them, as he had done in the 2004 Olympic Marathon in Athens.  At mile 24, he pulled away and the others couldn’t answer.  Meb opened a 41 second lead, and crossed the finish with tears streaming down his face.  It was a beautiful moment.

To understand his emotions, read about Meb a bit.  His story is the American dream.  Definitely a great champion.

There is much discussion now about how Meb winning the first NYC Marathon by an American in 27 years will inspire a new generation of American distance runners.  That could very well be.  I would submit that we should focus on what makes a champion, rather than where they come from.  I’ll grant that some distance runners simply have genetic advantages.  But many others simply work hard and focus on running their race.  I was speaking to a guy who’d trained in Kenya about fifteen or twenty years ago.  To hear him tell it, there was no magic involved.  They just worked hard, and focused. 

There was a lot of press about the marathon this week.  I read an article about kids who’d run the race before there was an age prerequisite.  Read about how the Kenyans take on New York.  There was another about stars running the race.  And there was a great article about the wheelchair racers and legend Joan Benoit Samuelson as well.  And many more too.

Today, I reflected about running this race seven years ago myself.  This was where I broke four hours for the first time, even taking minute-long walk breaks every mile.  Running through my hometown, neighborhood by neighborhood was a great way to experience the city.  And that day, I surprised myself a bit – running my race, feeling good most of the way, and exceeding my expectations a bit.

There are so many stories to tell in a race.  Today, there were about 42,000 of them.  That’s what makes running run, right?