Tuesday, November 26, 2013


This time of year, the coast beats the inland mountains for warmth. In summer, it is 60-70 degrees here, while inland, by the rivers and mountains, it will be 90-100. This time of year, it is 55-65 degrees here, while inland, by the rivers and mountains, it will be less than 60 degrees.

The rivers and mountains, they are changeable and extreme. Here, we are steady in temperature, though unpredictable in fog and sun. If you don't like the weather here, it is said, wait ten minutes.

The last several days have been generous in sun and warmth, allowing runs in shorts and a t-shirt, necessitating sunglasses, and almost (but not quite) too warm for comfort. Yesterday I ran along the coast north of here, and swooned with the scent of eucalyptus, freshly trimmed along the road side, and tried to avoid falling off a cliff while under the hypnotic spell of Mother Nature and her spectacular ocean views.

It makes me thankful. Because life is hard.

I have many things for which to be thankful. Like, last week's mammogram was normal, and given my family history, that rocks. No pun intended. Also, I learned to purl, so now I can both knit and purl, and as a meditative practice, this activity is unparalleled. Buster is still alive. And seems content. I am off for a long stretch from work, and next week I head to Orlando to see my beloved Godmother. ORLANDO, people! Godmother and I shall see Harry Potter World, where I will buy her a butter beer and shop in Hogsmeade village.

I will run in Orlando too, which leads me to my gratitude for my ability to run, and the chance to explore cities on foot for miles and miles.

My children? They are the core of my contentment, my biggest worry, the loves of my life (along with their father). Thankful for watching my eldest daughter head to state in cross country next week. Thankful for my son's bright mind and tender heart. Thankful for my baby girl's strength and determination. Teenagers, all of them. Who came up with the idea of adolescence? They have some 'splainin' to do.

I am thankful for my Dad's siblings. No really, they are amazing. They have just been on my mind, and thus I mention them.

Family. Extended family. Biological and adopted families. Friends. Neighbors. All crucial.

The buck that greeted me at the base of my driveway on the way to work the other day: his antlers looked fake. Probably they were real though. I like that he was there, fakey antlers and all.

Thursday is Thanksgiving. A weird holiday but one of my favorites, not least because on Thanksgiving it becomes socially acceptable to play Christmas music. Also, I get to make my Mom's stuffing recipe which is nutritionally scandalous but gastronomically fabulous. I will run the Turkey Trot, though I loathe 5K's with a fiery passion. I will bake pie, and bury myself in the sweetness of it to make up for the pain and humiliation of running 3.1 miles.

So much sweetness to make up for the pain of life. For this I am thankful.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Neurotic Poodles


Before I discuss poodles, I must pay tribute to Buster.

Buster is almost 16 years old. He is a Border Collie, though a large one, so maybe there is something else in there too. Once I met a Scottish woman at the beach and she said she has seen working dogs his size in her homeland. It doesn't matter. He has the stance. The smarts. The obsession.

His obsession is/was rolling boulders (backwards, with his front paws, for as long and as far as he could, with a happy yelping bark of delight the entire time) and running. Also very large sticks, sometimes actually they were small trees that had fallen, and as he seemed to believe I have the strength of Atlas, he would drag said tree to me, expecting me to throw it for him to fetch. And he could outrun every dog on the beach to get balls, much to the chagrin of their owners who thought, like parents do these days (at least in Northern California), that all dogs should have an equal chance to shine.

Buster could tell when I was upstairs putting on my running clothes. Somehow he discerned putting on of running clothes from all other outfits. Did he smell the woods and beach on my shoes as I lifted them from the closet? Could he sense my own excitement at preparing for the run?

Buster is now in hospice. This is how I think of it, because he cannot hear. He can barely see. He can hobble to the door and maybe make it outside to do his business. A walk around the house leaves him exhausted. And he gets a special diet that leaves the other dogs quite jealous: rice, ground beef, chicken broth...really, whatever tickles his doggy fancy.

Buster is the only truly cool dog in our house.

Which brings me to the poodles.


Now technically, one is a standard poodle and the other a Goldendoodle. Disclaimer: I take full responsibility for the choice to bring a designer dog into my home ('doodle). Designer dogs are especially designed to be neurotic. In terms of the standard poodle, I can blame those I love that own/owned poodles. They know whom they are.

Today, I ran a workout I have named "easy run with neurotic poodles".

Miles was first. He is terrified of surprises. In his world, that encompasses the following:
-a puddle
-a sneeze
-an unexpected breeze
-the wind blowing a leaf in our path
-a neighbor walking by
-and don't even get me started on the unexpected charge of the chihuahuas

Zoe came next. Normally, the only thing that motivates her to go outside and exercise is the off chance of getting to eat some horse shit. To her credit, she is not easily surprised. But she loves horse shit so much that she will do what one friend has dubbed "the breastroke" to get to it. I have learned that having a supply of hotdogs or cheese in my pocket will decrease her desire for the golden horse deposits. She is the spazziest being I have ever met.

Both of them look at me like I am insane for running. Yes, they will do it, but Miles soon starts lagging behind and acting like he might mess up his curls if we go any faster, clearly a very distresing prospect for someone with his fine looks. Zoe will run if there is some good horse shit ahead, but otherwise she really does not see the point.

Ah, Buster. If only. Despite his age, his senility, his weakened limbs and impinged spinal cord, he still perks his ears when I get ready to run. He looks at me with those eyes, as if to say "There is something I remember about you and me and it is good."

Then he leans up against me. And my heart melts.

In my defense:
Those poodles are dang cute.
Also, they make me laugh every day. Not in a Hallmark sort of way. A true belly laugh. They are hilarious, raunchy and weird. I love them.

Just wish we could have a run once in awhile with Buster-style athleticism, grace and bliss. 

And without the neuroses.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Like Sows Pissing

When she was about 8 or 9 years old, my eldest daughter approached me with a simple question. "Mom, next time you go running can I go with you?" So we did. And 8 years later, she has not stopped. Well, she stops to go to school, eat and do homework, watch "Glee" and sleep. But she is a Runner, with a capital R. My other two children shun running. It is "not my thing, Mom." Not to mention the fact that it is "booorrrriinngg" and also involves way too much, well, running.

My husband recently dubbed me "the bible-banger of the book of running", a true proselyte of the sport. Though in defense of myself, I run by example and only rarely recommend it to others. Certainly, I have had no success with 2/3 of my teenaged ducklings, and if we were like that duckling family in that children's book about finding a safe place to live in Boston, I would probably be arrested for duckling neglect when I was off running the Boston marathon.

Since my last marathon, I have been profoundly fatigued. I feel like a morbidly obese T. Rex when I run. Which is to say heavy, with pounding thighs, a thick middle, little wimpy arms and a strange and powerful craving for meat. I likely need to get my hemoglobin checked. Ah, doctors.

But I cannot resist the run. I am not the fastest nor the best dressed nor the one with the most mileage. I often head out without a clear plan beyond "a good, long run, maybe with some fast stuff thrown in". I run at all hours of the day and I sometimes skip running when I put in 16 hours at the hospital and have succumbed to the evil (and, may I add, stale) doctor's lounge donuts. But I cannot resist the run. It is not optional,  like water, food, sleep, sex, music and the absolute desire for the safety and health of my children.

I have a favorite Mozart quote, which goes something like this: "I compose music like sows pissing."

Now, listening to Mozart one hardly imagines a urinating pig. But his point, I believe, was that he does it with the ease of a bodily function (not one to be taken for granted--ask any patient on dialysis!) and with the necessity of a bodily function. The ease? Well, he was a genius after all. Certainly his Dad gets a lot of criticism for his overbearing and likely exploitative parenting style. But truly, even without Herr Johann Georg Leopold Mozart lording it over him, I think Wolfgang would've been a sparkly, perfect prophet of classical music.

I wish I was Mozart, except for the living in the 1700's, being a man and dying in my 30's thing. I can relate to his need to do music. And this need for me extends to running. If only someone wanted to pay me well to be a proselytizing musician/runner with the build of a Tyrannosaurus Rex!

I am reading a book right now that was a bestseller 35 years ago or so. Running and Being by Dr. George Sheehan. He says a lot of things about the deeper meaning of running. Some of which touches me, some perhaps a little too over the top for me (being a midwestern, common sense girl at heart). But he does talk about loneliness and how running serves to heal, and takes one off the treadmill of life (no pun intended, but ha ha ha!). Life really is something we try to fill with success and the gathering of stuff and accomplishments, only to realize in the end or somewhere along the way that what is important is not found in our perfection, but rather in our failures and how we still wake up in the morning after those failures, and take our coffee and toast and ablutions and go out to meet the world once again.

And, of course, go for a run.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Slow and Steady

"Oh, I am just running the marathon." This was said by me several times during the trail marathon race I did yesterday. Each time, I smacked my forehead and thought to myself  "who says that?" But seriously, when surrounded by a bunch of people running 50 or 100 miles while you are merely doing 26, you cannot help but feel a little chagrined. I was able to counter that in my brain with a vaguely Russian accented voice (thanks, Monica), telling me "a marathon is good enough."

I was struck (besides by my hand to my forehead) during this race by the politeness of the ultra crowd. Pretty much everyone that passes you or whom you pass says something encouraging. On single track trail, instead of being elbowed off the cliff as would happen if it was, say, a 1500m race populated by track stars, people pull off to the side and smile kindly. When you pull up along side someone on a wider trail, it is just natural to stay and talk for awhile. Of course, there aren't cheering crowds on the sidelines, so supporting each other makes sense. But there were occasional people along the way who tucked themselves on the side of the trail and would shout out something funny or inspiring when you least expected it. And the volunteers--well, bless their hearts.

I saw some animals (and not just the leaders in the 100 mile--whoa, man, sheesh), but non humans too. My favorite was this guy. He was hopping on the trail ahead of me, and kept pulling off to the side then hopping some more, as if he was my pacer. It did not take long for him to get bored of my pace though. I suppose I was the tortoise in the story.

I had heard about people walking in trail races. I made a vow to myself to do that if necessary. And yes, it was necessary. When every single other person walked, I took it as a sign to do the same, particularly on steep, single track, rock laden hills. I also, for the first time, truly understand why people buy trail shoes. I always thought that was just another money making ploy of the shoe industry, but when careening down those single track, sandy, slippery, rock-laden hills, a little extra grip on the soles would be nice (and potentially life and limb saving).

Mainly though, I was blissed out by the scenery.

Which took the sting out of the big climbs, at least a little.

Which also took my breath away, but not unpleasantly so.

Which made me feel like I was practically on top of the world.

I have never been in a race where I stopped to take photos before. I just could not help myself. And I was not the only one.

Ultimately, I am trying to picture adding another marathon or so onto the race I did. How would that feel? I am thinking: ouch. But it was inspiring to see people out doing it, eating their PB and J and just being in the zone. I saw several older people with decidedly gray hair, running 100 miles. They were wiry and strong and confident looking. And the women near the lead of the ultra? Well, let's just say that such distance is a great equalizer. This was no 1500 meter race, which men dominate with their testosterone. The guys leading the 100 miler were going to need to watch their back.

What I learned:
The uphills: slow and steady.
The downhills and flats: you feel like you can fly!
Doing a marathon in the midst of superhero ultrarunnners: let me just say, when I awoke this morning, I was in bed, and some of them were still running. I have no regrets. But they are pretty cool. I admit that.

Finally, the post race shower was not only necessary, but truly the best shower I have ever had in my life. It is the little things that make life worthwhile: breathtaking vistas on a foggy morning run, kind strangers running at your side, long eared jack rabbits looking at you over their rabbit shoulder, and a nice, warm shower. Not that I was that dirty. Ha.

Saturday, August 31, 2013


The moral of the story is to stay out of your garden. At least when in training for a marathon. Or any race for that matter. So for many runners, that means never, ever step foot in your garden.

Unless you are one of those people who can stroll happily through your garden, notice the weeds and imperfections with an indifferent shrug, and just focus in on the beautiful and verdant. After which you head back inside and sip some iced tea, and mention to your partner that maybe somebody oughta' weed the garden.

I started to realize at about 5pm yesterday that I might not be able to do my planned 20 mile run today. I mentioned this to my oldest child, who said "that's OK, you can just do 19."

This morning, I can barely move. Literally, every inch of my body is screaming at me. I feel as if I have been beaten by an angry mob with those old fashioned cast iron frying pans.

This leaves me with some questions:
Will I be able to do my upcoming trail marathon as planned?
Is it normal to work in your garden for a few hours and be subsequently devastated?
Am I old? Or just soft from not enough manual labor?

Other questions I have had in recent weeks, months, years:
Is it possible to be married, raise kids, do laundry, keep the neighbors from gagging at the sight of your garden, cook an occasional meal, be a physician, maintain some elementary skills as a pianist and run (very) long distances, or is running (very) long distances the equivalent of what the Zen Master would counsel as something to be done only when your duties of life are complete?

Or is running (very) long distances a form of rebellion in an otherwise highly responsible and structured life?

The first rebellion, according to the bible, occurred in a garden. Specifically, asking questions in a garden that was supposed to be a place of pure bliss: no questions asked.

As a parent of teenagers, I am surrounded by rebellion. As a gardener, I am surrounded by imperfection and beauty. As a musician I am plagued by my decision to leave that profession for one that I also love but which eats me alive. Being eaten alive by my professions was an actual, true prediction from one of my residency attendings, who sensed from my personality and perhaps my Lutheran, midwestern work ethic that I was in for it. "You will be eaten alive," said he. This really pissed my off at the time.

Some days, I wish I could still play piano like a pro. Some days, I wish I could wear a straw bonnet and garden for hours without a care in the world. Most days, I just get up with the hope of a new day. I greet my kids, in all their grumpy morning glory. I drink coffee and I head to work. I treat the meth abusers and the kind elders and the chain-smoking, hard drinkers. I get advice, like: you should not be running those long distances. Or, you should work less. Or: you should work more. Or: you should spend more time with your kids. Or: Your kids are fine, go on a vacation.

I like to do what I am told, but  there are so many conflicting opinions!

Running hard and long, with abandon. This is my rebellion. Probably not today though. I should not have stepped into that garden.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Behind the Golden Gate

       Do not think me gentle
because I speak in praise
of gentleness, or elegant
because I honor the grace
that keeps this world. I am

a man crude as any,
gross of speech, intolerant,
stubborn, angry, full
of fits and furies. That I
may have spoken well
at times, is not natural.
A wonder is what it is.

August 2013 Run, San Francisco

I've been thinking about mean people. Usually meanness stems from a lack of something. Lack of self esteem is a big one (if you've encountered a teenager lately, you will know what I mean). To live in a mean situation suggests impoverishment. And to be wealthy can make you meanest of all. Because money cannot buy you love.

Which leads me to the fact that I saw Sir Paul McCartney in concert this weekend. That guy must be about 70 years old, and he was on stage for 3 hours. He seemed so happy to be there. I heard quite a few inebriated or stoned (or both) 20-somethings watching him play and saying things like "dude, he is as old as f#*." Sir Paul never once uttered the F word, and he could outlast any of those idiots who have probably never worked a day in their lives.

Which brings me to the luxurious moments I spent, early in the morning before heading to the concerts. I do work, and more than I oughta, (my own golden handcuffs of choice) but when I am running in Northern California, on a trail, breathing clean air and eucalyptus fumes, and gazing in from the ocean side of the Golden Gate, I feel truly rich. Like nothing is missing, like nothing can impoverish me, like nothing mean ever existed.

I can be mean too. Not when under the influence of eucalyptus and fog though. Unless, of course, some dude tries to pass me. 

August 2013 Run, San Francisco

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Running the Whining, Winding Trail

"Just keep swimming."-Dory

I generally keep busy. My choice, my pathology, my path. I cannot blame anyone else really. Usually it does not bother me, but being an introvert, I tend to need moments of solitude and quiet. Coding people, listening to the highly obnoxious beeping pager all day, and being chased around by people asking me to reword my documentation (which, as far as I know, never saved a life or made anyone feel any less sick) makes me feel like someone has their hands clamped around my thoracic aorta.
I chose this. I sometimes love it (not the documentation, pagers or codes--but the doctoring). But nothing makes me whine like one too many days in the hospital trenches. Which is kinda sad, given it is much worse to be in a hospital bed than running around the hospital with stethoscope and pager.

As I take a 2 day breather after a long haul of work days, it occurs to me why I am drawn to running, and why I am particularly drawn to long distances. It is probably the same reason people with more discipline than I sit and meditate for long periods. It is a turning off of the toxic. A turning off of the shouting voices of doom, the ones in the brain that are a special side affect of a life of luxury. When we do not have to worry about where our next meal comes from or how to find some clean water for the family, our brain is free to perseverate freely upon such things as:
*I will surely go to hell for eating that donut in the doctor's lounge.
*My teenagers might end up in my ER for making some stupid, impulsive choice, and maybe I should lock them in their rooms for the next 7 years.
*If I could just sleep in, life would be great.
*How many shifts will pay the bills without making me drop dead in the process?
*If my hair were longer would my elderly female patients stop calling me a handsome young man?

When carrying water is not filling our day, we get to think about what comes next. After pondering this important question for many moons, I have found myself settling upon an answer:


Originally, the ultra idea belonged to my friend Ellen. I mean, obviously people have been running ultra distances for eons, but E called me one day and suggested we do a 50 miler. So, I blame her for planting the seed in my susceptible brain.

I think ultras might be like working, and like childbirth, and like weeding, and like other hard stuff. If you think of the whole project ahead of you at once, you will be in the corner weeping and moaning. Best to take it in small pieces, in moments of time, and then practice mindfulness. You cannot really shut off the brain, but you can humor its doom-speak with a brief nod, then let it go. DO NOT ENGAGE THE VOICE OF DOOM.

Just keep on the path. Rest and eat a PB and J when you have to. Don't sweat the donut weakness. Wear your hair short. Hug the teenagers and "let us see what Squirt dose, flying solo."

Whine if you must. Then:

Run the winding trail.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Sick Compositions

Today I played a composer named Jennifer. Not me, of course. I never composed anything I would admit to, and only what was required of me by my music theory professors, who understandably thought I was mentally deficient when it came to making up my own music. I so envy composers. And jazz musicians. I am so straight laced that I sometimes get mistaken for a girdle, which can be very uncomfortable for everyone involved.

Yesterday, it was Schumann. The coach, an intense but very kind piano professor, kept saying in her lovely eastern European accent, "Just relax, Jennifer!" Anyone who knows me at all is laughing their heads off. I'll wait a second while they compose themselves.

Jennifer Higdon was born in 1962. This makes her way older than me. So if we were, say, running a marathon, we'd be in totally different age groups. She certainly can compose music that requires pacing, rhythm, and endurance. I would like to think I could still beat her at a marathon, but if her musical qualities are any indication, I am not so sure.

After playing her, which sounds worse than I meant it to, I craved Beethoven. But the weirdest thing happened. I sat in front of Herr B, playing a trio I had once polished, back in the day, and I simply could not make my fingers and brain talk. It was like they were middle school girls who were total frenemies, and no matter what I said to cajole them, they just rolled their eyes at me and one went stomping off and the other was crying in the bathroom. So, I muddled through then came home and took a nap.

I am at music camp. Music camp for grown ups. It is, as they say (they being my children), sick. It strikes me though, speaking of children, that most of the participants are retirees. I am thinking this just indicates that they have the time for such things, and hoping it does not indicate that classical music is dying with the ozone layer. The camp, which I guess is really supposed to be called a  workshop, is the longest running one in California. Some people have been attending for decades. How sick is that?!

What has this to do with running? Well, I did run yesterday, after Schumann. It felt nice. Today I desperately needed that nap, and though I pondered running, nap brain won.

After napping, I returned to the bench. I sight read more music. I love sight reading. It is like having an entire universe at your fingertips. I am not sure exactly how much music there is out there for a pianist to tackle, but I suppose it is more than I can ever even imagine in my lifetime.

More compositions than I can play in a lifetime.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Unfolding the Shadowy Time

When you see other people's children driving, the same children you remember toddling around the playground or climbing the tree at the farmer's market, it can be disconcerting. Is it that you are now that old(er) person you once associated with fat middles and embarrassing clothing combinations? Has time condensed and folded so that the part between then and now is in the shadow of years spent frantically getting things done, working, buying stuff for your home, attending school functions, and feeling inadequate next to all of the stay at home Moms and their high achieving youngsters? If you unfolded that shadowy time, would sunlight reveal it as worse than you imagine or not nearly as bad as what makes you stay up at night wishing you could redo it, only better?

When you see your own child driving, uncertainty and pride alternately make your head pop off and your heart burst. So, when not visiting the neurosurgeon or cardiologist to tend to these ailments, you sit back in the passenger seat and realize those people you wanted to punch out when they gazed longingly at your little muddy crazed toddler twerps saying "oh, savor this, it goes so fast"were not such the assholes you thought they were at the time.

Speaking of assholes, who really thinks it is OK to charge $30 for a single, often ugly, picture of yourself running a marathon? That being said, I want proof, dang it, so sue me.

Sue me.

Once someone asked me, existentially, in regards to my running habit:
"What are you running away from?"

This made me laugh and fume. First of all, being able to run away from things is an underrated skill. I rarely walk down a creepy street with some creepy lurking guy without being able to say to myself, I could outrun that creepy guy. Also, in terms of threatening wildlife, being fit is useful. Once my cross country team leaped over a rattlesnake on a single track trail, with high pitched screams, but not a single  bite. This was in the days before you had to sign a waiver for any activity even remotely involving potential bodily, emotional or self-esteem harm. I am fairly certain my parents never even knew about the snake leaping run. Nor the fact that 20 girls were unceremoniously hauled in the back of Coach's pickup truck to the woods for the run in the first place. Ah, the good old days. Outrunning a mountain lion or snarling dog is unlikely, but as a friend once said to me regarding such situations: you just have to be able to outrun the guy with you.
Second of all, just because I am plagued with uncertainty and anxiety regarding the lives of my children and my patients and my 15 year old border collie and my dusty piano keys and our unbelievably broken healthcare system and the 70 year old meth addicts in my community, why should I feel bad about coping by going for a run? As they say, it could be worse. I mean, I could be a triathlete.

When I ran today with my teenager, we saw seals. The ocean smelled nice. It rained a little. I was not sore. Three days after a marathon. Every other marathon I have done gifted me with at least a week of hobbling. Weird.

And the marathon itself was begun with such uncertainty that I went into it a little bemused and a lot discouraged by my lack of running for the few weeks prior. It started at 5:32 AM. The bomb squad was waiting by the start, looking bored. For which I was grateful. After the flashlight search of my Gu-filled fanny pack, I sat under the dawn, in the shadows, unfolding my sleepy body. The boys choir sang the anthem. The elites were off. Then my wave. I was, as I always seem to be in city marathons, surrounded by people speaking German. The sun came up. We ran over the Golden Gate and back again. And I just waited, certain that soon I would be seized by cramps or the complete inability to go on. We glided up and down the Richmond hills. Into the park. I got drunk on eucalyptus fumes, and I passed a guy dressed like Peter Pan who looked like he might cry. Still feeling good, but knowing that those last 6 miles are not merciful, I cautiously started pulling some negative splits. A cafe full of Haight-Ashburians screamed for us on the sidewalk. I passed 21 miles. I knew that this time I was not going to crash and burn. So then I smiled like a complete fool the rest of the way. People laughed at me for smiling.

It seems like German would be a tiring language to speak while running 26.2 miles.

I have absolutely no clue what happens next.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


How long do I have, doc?

Not an infrequent question. And one people of science strongly dislike to answer, because really, we cannot predict such things. We can give an educated guess, of course. And we do, as gently as we can. Hours to days. Days to weeks. Weeks to months. Months to Years.

Human beings do not like surprises. We like to have some idea what is coming. So things like earthquakes, tornadoes, cancer, and terrorist attacks can leave us untethered, floating in an expanse of internet news and Facebook posts which make us feel like we have something tangible to grab onto. I sometimes wonder if this world of readily available information and feedback makes us feel better or worse. No feedback makes it unbearable, I suppose. But shit just happens and somehow we go on. There isn't always a way to explain the why. Or the what happens next.

I am accustomed to disastrous things happening to people. It is the milieu in which I work. Tell someone they have a life threatening disease, eat lunch, respond to a code blue, figure out how to send the homeless, brittle diabetic out of the hospital safely, then take off the white coat and go home and hear about middle school and high school drama, toss the ball for the dogs, go for a run, eat dinner. Sleep. Repeat.

What I know for sure, is life is horrid and beautiful and unpredictable and that my garden always needs weeding. I also know that my marathon is coming up in 24 days. I have been trying to decide how many long ones to do before I taper. My last long run was not great. It turns out that weeding for 6 hours the day before a long run is not the best idea. At least not at my age. I wear my Garmin faithfully, and upload my workouts to Strava, without which it seems like I did not run at all. Strava is brilliant, but it is also a symptom of our general need to tether ourselves to something tangible. Like the tree falling without witness, if someone runs and doesn't record their route and miles, did they run at all?

I am not giving up Strava.

I do wish sometimes, in a vague and unreal sort of way, that I was independently wealthy. I could then just run and play piano and cook gourmet, healthy meals for my kids, not to mention keeping my garden well coiffed.

Truth be told, I would probably miss wearing my monkey suit and getting to meet all sorts of amazing folks, who have the singular misfortune of stepping foot (or rolling gurney, more likely) into one of America's fine hospitals.

Being a doctor really makes marathon training tricky. Trickier I should say, because the marathon thing is unpredictable no matter what. You can train perfectly and find yourself unable to run well on race day. You might not even finish. Or you might limp in to the end with your dreams of a personal best so out of touch with reality that you wonder if you've been possessed by some kind of alien who sucks the life soul out of human beings like yourself.

It is a funny thing to get upset about, not doing well in a marathon. I mean you are, after all, alive, able to run and likely to have scored some good booty in the expo bag you picked up prerace. It is not a tragedy.

24 days. That's a fact and it is indisputable. I may have a few bumps in the road along the way, but I suppose I will show up at the starting line just the same, shivering in the predawn air of San Francisco with a bunch of other loony tunes.

Till then, I will just keep following the path in front of me. Grateful. And be-Garmined, like a jeweled princess with a rapidly developing runner's tan.

The path in front of me, May 2013

Monday, May 6, 2013

Good Books and Frying Pans

A friend asked me if my legs were sore after yesterday's race.
Well, yes. And in addition to that, my entire body feels like it was beaten with a cast iron frying pan, said I.

Do you remember cast iron frying pans? This is something I remember because I am aging. Not yet aged, but definitely aging. My other proof of this is I am a few years into the "Masters" category at races. Once you get over the indignation of being a "master", it is pretty great. Because you get a special reward if you run well even if a bunch of under 40's kicked your ass. I mentioned to another friend that I had a good race as a master yesterday. She said, are we really masters? I am embracing it, I said.

Another award I recently received came when I tuned into the 3rd chapter of my 3rd book in 3 weeks on audible.com. My iPhone screen had a little message, actually literally in quotes, "you have just received the officially obsessed with audible award" or something along those lines. First, I was disconcerted by my phone making judgements about what I am and am not obsessed with, and second I felt that I probably earned that. Third, I do feel a might bit guilty as I have often preached the importance of the independent book seller. But fourth, I am also officially obsessed with paper books and am probably one of the reasons we have such a successful independent bookstore in my town. And every town I visit.

I listen to my books on my iPhone while driving (you put your phone in your cup holder and it augments the speaker sound. I learned this from Jesse. Thanks Jesse). I listen to books on my iPhone when walking my dogs. And I listen to books on my iPhone when running. A recent 20 mile run just flew by while listening to Water for Elephants. Prior to that it was Life of Pi.

What struck me about Life of Pi was how much I hated the ending. I really really did not like the fact that the author threw into question the veracity of the whole story. I choose to ignore that and just go with Pi's version. The other thing about that book is it very much reminds me of my home life. My husband and I are Pi. Our teenagers are Richard Parker. Our home is the life boat.

Which is another thing that proves I am aging. I used to watch movies and read books and totally identify with the misunderstood youngster. Now I see Rebel Without a Cause and I wonder what is wrong with James Dean's character? Just get a job and stop whining, kid! Sheesh.

I still have a crush on James Dean though. Because although I am aging, I am not yet so aged as to wish it was still appropriate to plaster my walls with posters of cute movie stars. To be fair, husband of mine, I would let you put up an equal number of posters in that alternate universe.

Yesterday's half marathon did leave me sore. It will take me a few days longer than it used to to recover from the frying pan effect. I have a few days off from work, so I think I shall lie around, swaddled in ice packs and heating pads, and listen to books on my iPhone. I will occasionally throw some meat to the Tiger on my life boat. Then, in a few days, pick myself up and get ready for the next event. Which, being twice 13.1, will likely leave me feeling beaten with two cast iron frying pans.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


I actually jumped for joy in a patient's room the other day on rounds, because they informed me they had passed gas. And they found this not the least bit strange.

Something We Take For Granted: Passing gas.

Every day I watch my hospitalized patients struggle to do basic things. For instance, sitting up in bed can take an eternity and require the firing up of every mitochondria they possess. Getting from the bed to the commode or doing a lap around the medical floor block while the physical therapist walks alongside averting disaster brings us into superstar territory.

SWTFG: Being able to sit up, go to the toilet, and walk around the block.

This week, my family of 5 is without a washing machine. It died, as we all must some day. Sears will not be able to complete the cycle of life with a new machine for another week. Well hello, laundromat! First of all, when did it start costing $3.75 to do a load of wash? At least it gives us the opportunity to teach our oldest teenager, soon off to college, the logistics of coin-operated clothes washing. Her opinion thus far: "Fun! Like an arcade!"

SWTFG: Modern appliances.

I ran 12 miles fairly briskly today. I missed running the 2 days prior, due to unforeseen work stuff. Today felt good and bad. Good, because I was out there doing it, and got to see my old friend the Pacific Ocean. Bad, because I have been working a lot and therefore feeling a little tired and sorry for myself. Also cranky that my planned long run on Sunday was trumped by work.

SWTFG: Being able to run 12 miles by the ocean at a fairly brisk pace.
S else WTFG: Having gainful employment which is also interesting and often enjoyable.

The other day, my dog Miles discovered the birds in our yard. He has been with us for 2 years, and I am not exactly sure what took him so long, but it was a sweet moment for him. He spent an entire morning watching them, while also whining, crying and occasionally barking. He was obsessed and not unpleasantly so.

SWTFG: Our dogs' ability to find joy in almost anything at all.
S else WTFG: The birds in our yard.

Miles and Bird(s), March 2013

I have read about a doctor who gives his marathon medals to patients.. I get this, and have found myself giving my own patients pep talks when they are struggling and working so hard to get better. Especially when they are really downhearted about how hard it feels to sit up in bed, get to the commode, or to walk the block around the floor. "What you are doing is like running a marathon." Just take it a step at a time, and you will get there. One day at a time.

Not a minute taken for granted.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Pussy Cats, Herons and David Bowie

Pussy Willows, the Marsh, March 2013

My first memory of pussy willows is my childhood best friend's cat, with same name. Pussy Willow was an appropriately colored cat and I think she came after Josie (named after Josie and the Pussy Cats). Any way, I also have early memories of picking pussy willows in the woods near our home and enjoying the softness of their grey blossoms. It was less toxic for me than the cat version, being anaphylactically allergic to cats.

As Wendell Berry notes in his poem, it is best to go to the wild places when your life presents you with wild twists and turns. The meeting wild with wild thing is perhaps not very intuitive, but it works every time. Which is a very impressive success rate for any medication. Take one dose of night heron, and call me in the morning. I learned when running in the marsh the other day, followed by a long walk with a friend in the marsh (with closer attention to detail), that we are known for our night herons. Between the pussy willow and the night herons, it was a great dose of wildness. Not a bad run either. Though I could not get the theme song for "Josie and the Pussycats" out of my head.

Today I ventured out on a route I generally have been avoiding, due to traffic and tragedy. But the sun was out, and I just started out heading that direction and next thing I knew, there I was. I hugged the curb, scowled at speeding cars and listened to David Bowie's new album a little too loudly under headphones. This album is said to confront mortality, love and war so it seemed perfect for the occasion. Mostly though it has a good beat, and the song "Dancing out in Space" has a perfect running cadence. I was sub 7 by the last mile of the 10 that I ran today, and I owe it all to David.

I am feeling oddly hopeful about this year. I mean, everything is more or less in constant chaos, but I have a lovely family and I like doctoring so it could be worse. And I am super excited about these three things:
1) June 16: San Francisco Marathon
2) September: Running and Good Eats camp
3) December: 50 miles on trails

Ignore chaos. Set outrageous goals. Take a daily dose of wild. Keep running. And never forget the 1970's.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Wild Horses and Border Collies

It is not uncommon for people to get delirious while in the hospital (I am talking patients here, doctors and nurses hopefully stay oriented, for the most part). And a surprisingly common request occurs with the confusion colloquially known as sundowning: "Call The Sheriff!"

I sometimes wonder if my job would not be easier if I went to sheriff school and got to wear a gold star on the lapel of my white coat. Thus could I ride in on my white horse to the rescue. "Why I am the sheriff Ma'am. Now why don't you just take those antibiotics and get a good night's sleep?"

A good night's sleep. That is the key to everything that matters. It does worry me a bit that I have not had one for about 16 years (beginning of med school, first child).

I finally got my mileage up to around 60 miles/week. The running feels good, but then I hit this little snag called a 70 hour work week and man was I fried. I successfully ran in the morning before work the first few days, but then the fatigue kicked my ass and by Saturday, it was all I could do to get up and make coffee. Sunday though I started to feel alive, and ran. And find myself with 2 new aches in my foot.

Wow that was a lot of whining.

I bet the sheriff never whines. And, aside from my incredibly attentive husband, it has been a very long time since anyone has ridden in on a white horse to save me.

So what does one do to find balance, that peculiarly modern quest of the relatively well to do?
One could start by not running marathons and ultras. Ha.
One could start by choosing a less insane professional life. Ha ha.
Wild horses couldn't drag me away from either.

I just need to sleep more. And to ice my foot. And to eat better. And to cuddle my dogs. And to stop whining.

Buster says "Stop your whining and take me for a walk!"

Saturday, February 23, 2013


I ran on trails, on streets, on a red bridge, through a city I love. It was just last week. Only one day required long pants and a cap. The rest were all blue sky and wine dark sea. One moment I laughed out loud, when I found myself coming upon a field trip of 6 year olds, whose sly teacher coincidentally sent them all running up the path just as I came in among them, and there I was, surrounded by running children.

I ran alone. I ran with my daughter. I listened to fog horns that really had no purpose at all in the clear blue days. I found myself swooning with eucalyptus fumes. I passed a dog run most days, and those dogs were so happy.

Uncertainty closes in on me, in a profession that walks half blind through the haze of an unwell health care system. Grief encompasses me a I mourn 14 years, as of Feb 22, without my Pop. That's most of the lives of my 2 oldest children, and my youngest was not yet born. Grief threatens to swallow me whole as I mourn the loss of my cousin, who died this morning, wrapped in the love of her family.

I ran today, now back home, through the marsh, with my daughter. Tonight we will eat crab caught in local waters. Life keeps on, and there is something about it that demands joy. Tomorrow I will run long.

I am a scientist, but find it significant that my father and my cousin died so close to the same day. Years apart, of course. But they had something very much in common: joy. Each day my father, who had more than his fair share of suffering, greeted the morning with song. Literally. It was somewhat annoying as a teenager. And yet I also loved this about him. Each day, my cousin, who had more than her fair share of suffering, greeted her days with laughter. I cannot remember one moment of gloom when with her.

She thought I was goofy to run so much.
I told her how when I am running a really hard workout or race, she often comes to mind and inspires me to push through.

I give thanks for the breath of joy passed on to me from Pop and from Linita. I suppose they are cracking jokes together right now, somewhere in the after life.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Sunny Side of the Street

Running in the bottom on a recent day of meteorologic confusion
I stopped for a moment to gaze, first to my right

Yin, February 2013

 and then to my left.
Yang, February 2013

And it struck me as a metaphor. This place where I stood was between such extremes. In the middle of the road, with my plans behind me. Or my pains behind me. Or my pants behind me. Depending on which lyrics site you believe. Between such extremes of dark and light that I began to wonder how to dress right for the constant change. I stopped but for a moment, to snap these photos. Then ran again, marveling at the heat combined with the annoying raindrops intermittently dotting my eyeglasses. And yes, I run with eyeglasses. See prior post re visual impairment.

Nothing points out the extremes of life like a teenager. And I have 2.9 of those that bless me every single day of my life. Nothing extremely changes your life like parenting. Nothing parents your soul like passion and decent food. Nothing feeds your passion like a curious mind. Nothing minds your Ps and Qs in an annoying fashion like the extraordinarily profitable corporation to which you report. Nothing reports truth like a cheeky five year old. Nothing is older than love, running, and parenting.

I dreamt last night that 3 large bears chased me. I tried to hide in a long, rectangular room with no exit. I was trapped against the wall, curled up quietly on the floor. The bears came in and the biggest one came right to me, and laid down on top of me, protectively, like a dog might. We fell asleep.

I was sure those bears would eat me up, wild things they were.

Someone wise asked, after I told of this odd night vision, "what is protecting you now in your long, narrow building?"

Another friend enjoyed the totemish quality of my dream.

My husband thinks what is scaring me is actually a positive force.

Anyhow, it was a nice run in the bottom.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Nothing That (fill in blank) Can't Cure

Sun Sandwich, The Marsh, Jan 2013

I have been playing a lot of piano lately. A couple of performances coming up, and nothing like the threat of people staring at you expectantly to get your behind on the piano bench to prepare. Piano used to be my Thing. Somewhere along the way in life I decided it wasn't anymore and that being a doctor would be less hassle and more likely to allow life balance than being a concert pianist. No, I never used drugs and yes, I now see the flaw in that early 20's year-old logic. Even so, I still like to play sometimes and the same phenomenon occurs as did when I was hacking at the ivories 8 hours per day in the basement practice room in what was more or less the campus bomb shelter (as well as music school) of my alma mater: when in the thick of hard work on a piece of music, everything falls apart right before it gels.

Things Fall Apart. It is even required reading for most high schoolers. Construction, deconstruction. Ambition, the downfall of society. All I know is ambition and Chopin do not mix, and the only way to tap into the fluidity and romance is to completely let go. Pretend that you aren't swept away by the emotion, even though you are. Act cool. Walk away then come back and try again. This is starting to sound eerily similar to good advice for parenting teenagers.

2013 is well on its way and I still can't tell up from down. I expected more clarity. But everyone, from my family right on up to the nation and the world seems discombobulated. Even my golden doodle, currently relegated to the Victorian Cone, finds herself running into walls and just looks at me, bewildered. She is super grateful when you pet her though, especially right behind the ears. She just melts when you do that.

Which gets me to the point. Though in my profession cure is rare, in life, you don't usually have to look that hard to find a cure for what ails you or your fellow creature. Yesterday, I ran a 10K and didn't feel all that hot. Was leading, but was passed right at the end by someone half my age. My own fault, as I sort of gave up for all of mile 4. Then I scolded myself and picked it up for the last 2.2, but it was too late then. Cure? After my morning coffee settles, I'm going for a long run. Walk away, then come back and try again.

Other recent cures:
Hearing Beyonce singing THIS in my head while sitting in a meeting with a bunch of men in suits who believe healthcare should be a for profit business. And who are threatened by my leadership and vision.

Playing Chopin while my 3 children sit in the living room in front of the fire doing whatever they are doing, probably oblivious to Chopin, but there nonetheless.

Basic kindness.

The laugh of my little Dragon.

Chocolate milk.

The NYT crossword puzzle.

A slow walk in the woods with good old Buster.

A Sun Sandwich. Look at the picture: Can you tell up from down?
And since we effectively live on a ball, what does that mean anyway?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Seeing in the Dark

"It took me a long time to learn, but I knew now that the more I could let go of the adversarial reflex, the more energy I'd have for running. Conflict poisons the spirit, and probably the blood. Companionship strengthens the spirit."
-Ed Ayres from The Longest Race

I have had a struggle with vision since age 19. First, I had severe glaucoma that seemed to come out of nowhere with pressures high enough to explode my eyeballs. That got better, but then my corneas became something akin to the surface of the moon. And glasses help but not enough really. And contacts are no longer an option. I am 29 (or so) years old now, and already spend my days asquint. It is life changing: I cannot quite see when I am reading a complicated piece of music. And I absolutely cannot safely run in the woods by headlamp at night.

Granted, I still see. I can work and gaze upon my children and compared to true blindness, I have nothing much to complain about. But I do like reading complicated music and running in the dark.

I am reading this book right now about ultrarunning and how it relates to life. Many would say it relates to life in terms of a subpopulation of insanity, but this book argues that it is a metaphor for our very survival, not unlike the tortoise and the hare, which is not so much about that particular race between bunny and turtle, but rather about how you have to pace yourself in this here life.

I can see, but not as well as God and biology intended. And it has slowed me down. At work, I have to nose in to the computer and concentrate on the labs and Xrays just a bit more than I used to. At the piano bench, I can't glance and play an unfamiliar piece quite so offhandedly. Now I lean in and my brain asks itself about the structure and music theory behind my visual interpretation. I often see it one step off but my brain corrects so it makes sense in the music. My piano prof from music school would applaud this, because mindless tricks do not a solid performance make. Still, I miss the quick glance reading I could once do, when my eyes were not moon balls.

I rang in the New Year with a run in the dark, along with friends. At one point, I found myself separated from the group and alone in the woods, literally unsure of where to go because even with my head lamp, I could not see. One side was a drop off. Another offered 3 paths and I did not know which was right as they all looked blurry and, well, dark. There were roots and rocks at my feet and when I tried to run I was significantly at risk for a face plant. I stood there for awhile, gazing up at the stars and watching my breath fill the chilly air. I could hear fireworks in the distance. I was hoping they were warding off the lions and bears. Then I reached for my cell phone and called for help. Humbling to be led by the elbow out of the woods by a 15 year old girl.

Moving fast without concern is a joy. But it occurs to me that it is also the thing that makes us all so harried and prone to unkindness. I just read a thread on line about anger at doctors for making their patients wait. One could write a 23 volume tome on this very subject, but I can boil it down to this: when things matter, we all need to slow down and pay attention to each other. Anger is poison. Rushing often leads to mistakes, burnout and depletion. Doctors are not plumbers, technicians, retail clerks, concierges or Gods. They are just people trained to diagnose disease and attempt to offer healing. Rushing through that process is a recipe for disaster, and is driven mainly by our odd societal idea that medicine is a for profit sport.

I haven't decided about any New Year's resolutions. But I am considering accepting a slower approach to the moments of my days. Sometimes you just have to stop and gaze upward and breathe. And accept the kind arm offered to you.