About Me

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After years of sloth, I am now a mama who runs and practices yoga. I write about exercise; parenting a grownup child as well as two little kids; and whatever is annoying me at the moment.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

"Fun Mom": Race report

Eight months ago, I had hip arthoscopy to fix my right hip, which had a torn labrum and bone spurring.

Translated, it meant I couldn't straighten my right leg entirely, which messed up my running gait, which messed up running. Surgery in January repaired the labrum and shaved down the top of my thigh bone, so it fit in my hip socket again.

I feel SO much better.

Since May, I've been easing back into running, easing as in, I decided to join a friend of mine by signing up for the Fox Valley half marathon last Sunday.

I've run similar races undertrained and a few months post-partum, so why not, right?

Fox Valley is a good hour's drive outside of Chicago to a string of small towns along the Fox River that are cute, rustic-in-a-good-way and remind you that you have definitely left city limits. The Starbucks doesn't even automatically lock their bathroom.

I met friends Krista and Lindsay, Krista doing the half, too, and Lindsay doing the full, both as fundraisers for Feed My Starving Children. Both of them have recently dealt with some personal challenges. I love them both dearly, and admire them for toeing the starting line.

Especially on a freakishly hot September day. Chicago is in an unusually hot spell this month, and the mercury was forecast to rise well into the 80s that morning.

I didn't sleep much the night before, because I was like, wtf am I doing trying to run a half? Krista picked me up, since my car is still in the shop after someone cut off the catalytic converter from my car a week ago. Lovely.

She hadn't slept much either, nervous about her own challenge that day of running after a forced hiatus.

We traveled to the far flung burbs with Lindsay and Krista's husband, Scott, who radiates chill vibes, which I welcomed.

Parking, pee breals, nerves and we were at the back of the start line, speedy Lindsay already off closer to the start line with her amazing support crew. We were already sweating in the heat and we hadn't yet started running.

Krista and I ran three easy miles, with a few walk breaks. She saw her husband and decided she was good for the day..

I gulped hard internally, thinking, oh boy, how am I going to do 10 myself?

The next 10 miles were surprisingly good. It was ridiculously hot. Krista, joined now by her really sweet parents (who barely know me, but heartily cheered me on -- so kind) and her awesome hub, who yelled gustily "GO FUN MOM!"

Oh yeah, I have to explain that.

Months prior, when I signed up online for this race, I did it super fast before I could change my mind, and before I even told my husband. #badwife

I signed up so fast I didn't remember this weird question of "would you like to put a nickname on your race bib?" For some reason, I randomly picked "fun mom" which was printed on my bib in giant letters as "FUN MOM".

Good lord. Dork.

So, Scott loved yelling "go fun mom" at me, as did plenty of race spectators.

I mostly ran those miles, slow, concentrating to push off with step, to make sure my glutes and hamstrings were doing the work, and not lapsing into my plodding running in which the work is in the front of my legs and hips, to protect my newly healed hip.

It worked.

A miniature mimosa at mile 11 was helpful, too. I wanted to run backward for seconds, but decided to keep going.

Despite the heat, despite my undertraining, I crossed the finish line at 2:41, my personal worst time ever, even slower than halfs I've run pregnant and post-partum.

I was so happy to finish that I (mostly) didn't care about my time. "Fun moms" don't care about their race times, right?

Mostly I just felt grateful. I'm OK again.

No idea who this is, but I liked her shirt and sign
Some really great people. 

Dork alert
Fox River

Japanese garden -- so pretty

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Celebrate with me: I quit smoking 10 years ago!

I tried my first cigarette in junior high in the early 1980s. It was pretty gross. But I figured if I just stuck with it, I might like it some day.

When college came around, I figured, why not try it here and there. By the time I was 21 and old enough to go to bars, I'd also figured out that buying Virginia Slims meant no guy would bum cigarettes off of me. (It worked.)

At my first newspaper job, in a small town in Iowa, it seemed like everyone smoked. I bummed Merits off my editor.

I got pregnant and married in short order, and didn't adjust to marriage well. As I failed miserably as a wife, I began picking up packs of Marlboro Light 100s here and there. I saw my mom smoke my whole life, and it didn't seem like a big deal.

When my son was with his dad, I went out to bars and smoked and drank with fellow 20-year-olds.

At some point around here, I was addicted. I eventually smoked every day.

And I would do it for another 15 years, well into my days at the Chicago Sun-Times (we actually had a smoking room in our old building at 401 N. Wabash, it even grossed me out as a smoker).

As a reporter at the paper, I began to worry quietly about my lifestyle, at times. I had gained quite a bit of weight. I smoked. I used to be cute and wasn't anymore.

I like to figure out solutions to problems, so I went through Weight Watchers the year I married my husband, focusing on losing weight first, then learning to exercise regularly (it came slowly.)

Four years later, in 2007, I decided, after running a couple of 5Ks as a newbie runner, that I was going to run a whole marathon.

I can be impulsive.

I had tried several times to quit smoking up to that point -- cold turkey and Wellbutrin, mainly. The feeling of failure felt heavy. Why was I so weak?

I began marathon training, fretting that I was a fraud because I still smoked. One day, one of the heaviest smokers I'd ever met told me about a program at Northwestern Hospital. Eight weeks of weekly meetings, medication and support.

I was tired of feeling weak and tired of being ashamed. Addiction is like being enslaved. I wasn't born smoking. Why did I feel like I needed to do it to get through the day?

I went through the program, taking Chantix, the prescription medication. It gave me crazy, technicolor dreams. I don't think I had a good night's sleep for the few months I was on it.

It also turns off the pleasure receptors of the brain that LOVE nicotine. It made smoking not fun at all.

When you quit smoking -- and I would guess the same is true for alcohol or drug addiction -- you feel like you've lost something really important. You also feel like total shit for what seems like an eternity. I remember wondering if anyone had ever died from nicotine withdrawal. (No, don't think that's happened). Well, that, and the withdrawal from the ton of chemicals cigarette companies put in cigarettes to keep you hooked.

That last cigarette I had, 10 years ago tonight, I remember as clearly as I remember where I was when the police chased OJ Simpson on a California freeway.

I was in my kitchen, drinking a Cosmopolitan. (I really loved Sex and the City, including the signature show drink...) I smoked my last cigarette, and then took the half pack of Marlboro Lights that I had left and soaked them under the kitchen faucet.

I was done.

It's kind of amazing that it's been 10 years. Since then, I have since had two more children, changed jobs more than once, and run 10 marathons and 50Ks.

It would be easy to say something like, see, if I can kick my addiction, anyone can. But in a way, I had it easy. Right after I quit smoking, the state of Illinois banned indoor smoking, including bars. Few if any of my friends smoked anymore. I was seldom near a smoker at all.

I imagine for an alcoholic, it has to be a lot harder, since we live in a society that really dwells on drinking. If you decline a drink at a party, some people will assume you have a problem or you're pregnant. If you declined a cigarette, well, that's cool, then.

I sat next to a woman on the train today who reeked of cigarette smoke, and felt grateful that I got that help to kick smoking that I did. Not smug, just grateful.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The church of mowing

When I want to feel 18 again, I mow the lawn.

I'm going to exaggerate here, but only a little. I love mowing. And I love mowing when it's hot and humid.

I grew up an Air Force kid, our family domiciled in Omaha, Nebraska from the start of my eighth grade year at Logan Fontenelle Junior High until I graduated from Bellevue West High School in 1986.

Though the Deep South (not sure why I feel the need to capitalize that, but I do) is best known for torrid summers, summers in eastern Nebraska are hot, sticky affairs as well.

Compared with my current home of 20-plus years in Chicago, just a few miles from a nearly constant cooling Lake Michigan, nearly all weather in Nebraska is about extremes -- hotter, more humid, colder, snowier, and a heck of a lot more tornados than Chicago.

It was those summers in high school, as the oldest of an Air Force colonel and a stay-at-home mom, I got the marquis chores, including mowing. I grumbled, but I kind of liked it, too.

There was something so physically satisfying about pushing sweat out of my eyes, under a wicked and unforgiving sun, and seeing the lines of newly tamed and shortened grass emerge. Even as I was dive-bombed by a million mosquitoes and biting flies.

Back then, you had to put a grasscatcher on the mower -- if mulching mowers were around, we didn't have one -- so every so often I'd have to stop, turn it off and go empty the then-heavy, fragrant grass, especially if it was wet and clumping, seeing my fingertips quickly become stained green.

My shoulders would ache, though not terribly, and sweat would trickle down the front of my bra and soak the back of my shirt.

In those days, I didn't feel pretty or thin -- though now I look back and know that I was just fine. As I mowed then, I'm sure I thought about school -- hard AP classes, trying to keep up my mostly all-As, boys that I desperately liked but felt unworthy of. I'd also think about how many calories I must be burning, so that I wouldn't get fat.

Being a slightly neurotic teen-age girl is so fun, isn't it?

And yet I remember joy on those hot days. The satisfaction of a hard job well done. Feeling physically strong. It took years for me to discover that again, when I started running in late 30s and worked my way into long trail races.

My husband and I bought our house 15 years ago next month. He grew up mainly in apartments and was eager to have his own yard and mower. I figured since I mowed as a kid, I'd be the mower in the family. Conflict!

Yes, we both love to mow, but I usually don't insist on it. I sneak it in once in a while, when he's run to the store or sleeping or on the rare occasion that he's out, like he is this weekend at the Pitchfork Music Festival.

After a trip to the pool, I got the kids settled with Netflix and a snack, and went to the garage.

I got the hand hedge clippers and the hand edger out -- I never, ever use a power edger. Doing it by hand just feels like honest work.

Sweat poured in my eyes as usual,. I pulled up my shirt many times to wipe my drenched, hot face, not caring who might get a glimpse of my torso, which has housed three babies.

I edged carefully, my Air Force colonel's daughter self pleased with the neat lines that formed and tidily separated the lawn and the sidewalk.

I hand-clipped the areas where the mower won't reach (my husband usually skips that part and it drives me a little bananas).

And then I mowed, first moving the mower on the outside edges to form a frame for the lawn, then methodically mowing diagonally because it just looks awesome.

The sweat soaked my shirt and tricked down my bra, the sun bright and warm against my neck. I felt young again. Being 17 or 18 wasn't easy, but there were young moments of happiness, of feeling like aha, I have this.

I felt that again as I saw the manicured lines made by the mower, and stood and looked at the lawn when I was done.

I was happy.

I hand-trimmed overgrown grass around this ugly sewer thing we try to hide with flowers.

Neat and tidy edging. Love our backyard -- a nice little sanctuary in the city.

If you look hard, you might be able to see the diagonal mowing lines.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Graduation day, baby

At 4:15 a.m., as I drove north on a pretty desolate Western Avenue toward Evanston, I noticed the outline of clouds against an already-lightening sky. 

When I steered into the condensed school parking lot at 4:30, the cars I recognize as quickly as my own were there -- the light teal Prius and the dark Honda CRV. It made me smile.

And there was the old crew -- Krista, Terri, Betsey and Kellie. I hadn't run with them since before my hip scope surgery last January. Another runner has joined the group, Kara. Sleepily, we introduced ourselves. 

OK, maybe I was just the sleepy one, after some wine with some wonderful colleagues last night and months of not getting up at 4 a.m. for runs.

We began running the still dark streets, the sky rapidly brightening as our feet quietly tapped along the pavement.


Earlier this week, I was finally and officially cleared to run, graduating from the "back to running" anti-gravity treadmill. 

After four months of no running and a ton of physical therapy, I had been running on a special treadmill for about four-ish weeks that encased my lower half in a bubble and did run/walks starting at 65% of my body weight. It also reminded me that I have back fat, which gets squished upward when you run on an anti-gravity treadmill. Fun!

Each session I increased by 5% and each time the amount of running increased and walking decreased. I learned that I would like running even more if I just weighed, oh, 120 pounds. Which I don't.

So today was the test... could I run my old morning default distance of 5 miles? Yes, yes I did. 

It's good to be back.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Hipsters, help and -- yay -- I'm two weeks post-op

As of today, I'm two weeks and a day post-op from a hip arthoscopy to fix a hip labral tear (torn cartilage) and a femoral acetabular impingement in my hip.


My surgery was done the day before the new presidential administration took office, so you could say my recovery has tracked the new administration. Let's just say my recovery is going much more smoothly.

Some observations:

  • When people see you in a hip brace and crutches, they automatically assume something very bad happened. It just looks worse than it is -- it's pretty good so far.
  • I can button my jeans again this week. SWEET!
  • My family's been pretty great in helping. My 7-year-old just learned to tie his shoe (because his mom just got around to teaching him, oops) so he's gotten to practice on me, since I'm not supposed to be doing deep bends, which makes putting on my right shoe hard. 
  • Doors get opened for me, cars stop to let me crutch across the street (this is a good thing in Chicago), people even bring me food. (Yum. I wish that last part could continue indefinitely.)
  • Binny's delivers. Yes!
  • I'm sleeping in my 5-year-old daughter's "My Little Pony"-adorned bed right now, so I don't have to navigate stairs to my room in the middle of the night. She thinks it's one big slumber party, enthusiastically agreeing to sleep in her plush unicorn sleeping bag on the floor. I think she thinks I'm going to stay there permanently. The cat sleeps with me there, too. 
  • My running friends are SO nice to set up reasons for me to leave my house and gab for hours. Non-running friends (who I imagine are like yeah, dummy, running is bad for you) have been so nice, too, with cards and even a book to read while I'm off work. Which I haven't yet started, but I will!
  • I'm so grateful for a FB group that calls ourselves "hipsters" and shares surgery and recovery stories. Reading of others' experiences of having multiple hip surgeries, I'm attacking my recovery like a double cheeseburger on a camping trip. It's like quitting smoking -- I really, really, really only want to do this once, thankyouverymuch.
  • Hip surgery does not automatically mean hip replacement. I've been asked that a lot. I'm not old enough to join AARP yet and, therefore, using only vanity for logic, I'm obviously too young for a hip replacement. (According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the average age is 50 to 80. OK, so I'm closer than I thought. But not there yet!)

One of the challenges of all of this has been going from exercising six days a week, with sweaty runs or spin classes several days a week, to, well, not sweating at all.

I realized how much I depend upon exercise to keep me well below "snarling" level. I felt really down several times this past week. (Though, compared with problems others are facing now, I kept reminding myself a lot that I am really, really lucky.)

I'm allowed to ride a stationary bike with no resistance for 20 minutes every day, on which it s impossible to break a sweat or generate much in the way of endorphins. I asked (ok, maybe I pleaded with) my physical therapist, who cleared me to lift weights (upper body) and that has lifted my mood. It always pays to ask for what you need.

I will be able to give up crutches as early as next week, so that's cool. The clunky brace in a few more weeks. Drive a car again some day. Eventually attempt the elliptical machine (six weeks) and -- the sweetest gift -- running (four months).

I'm getting there. ☺✌🏃

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Surgery story

A couple of weeks ago, I ran the Frozen Gnome 10K trail race, known for its January frostiness, ultrarunners (because there's a 50K option), "butt-slide hill", and, of course, a human runner dressed as a GNOME.

There's a little group of us who have done it each of the last three years, and we're addicts. At Veteran Acres in Crystal Lake, this race is the only reason I even know where Crystal Lake is.

This race is one big postcard for snowy (well, icy this year), hilly and tranquil woods that will remind you that you have a soul -- and it needs feeding.

This was my last race before surgery,which was a week ago today.

As I ran that morning, I didn't feel bummed or worried as I anticipated the surgery. Sure, my hip ached, as it had daily in the last year and more. It had ached during this particular race last year, too, long before I knew I had a labral hip tear and a bone deformity that only surgery would (hopefully) be able to fix.

As I ran, I felt calm and hopeful instead, knowing that maybe I will feel so much better when I run this race in January 2018.

Last Thursday, I woke up with a jumpy stomach after not sleeping much. So much for calm.

The week prior I had been a distracted mess, forgetting my husband's haircut appointment and that I needed to pick up the kids, losing stuff around the house and forgetting to turn in the Girl Scout cookie order.

I totally disqualified myself for mom or wife of the month, for sure. Good thing there's a low bar here for that.

We got the kids ready for school. I was worried the two littles, who are 5 and 7, would be scared, but fortunately they seemed ok and much better than me.

After hugs and final walking-to-school instructions to my oldest son, who is 24, Brett and I were off to Rush Hospital in Oak Park.

We made it on time, because I lied to my husband and told him we had to be there earlier than we really did. I don't like to lie but man, it works every time. It's worth him being annoyed with me. I hate to be late.

We got into a little waiting room right away, and then sat for a few hours. Because I couldn't eat or drink anything after midnight, I was grumpy.

That faded when a hospital worker showed up with a bed and said to hop on, it was time to go to the operating waiting area. Fear flooded me as I got on to the bed and I started to cry as I looked at my husband. I'm a cryer, that's just what happens when I get freaked.

As I sniffled my way to the OR holding area, the worker mispronounced my name, Tamara, and said "Ta-MARR-uh, you're not crying, are you?" I was like, yeah, I am.

He said it would be OK, that my surgeon was awesome (he was about the 50th person who by this point told me how awesome my surgeon is, which was comforting) and that when Chicago Bulls players come in for surgery, they're pretty scared too. Well, that got my attention!

I laid in a holding area for another hour, watching Trump's Treasury Secretary nominee, investment banker Steven Mnuchin, get grilled by the Senate, which gave me some grim glee as nurses paraded in and out of my room, very cheerful and encouraging.

(God, nurses are awesome.)

Finally, it was time to be wheeled into the OR, so my anesthesia "cocktail" was added to my IV and I was brought into the OR.

So this is kind of nerdy, but I really wanted to see that OR before I fell asleep. How often, outside of TV, do non-medical people see these? For the brief few minutes I was still awake, it was an amazing sight, with equipment, lights and plastic sheeting everywhere.

And then, it was over. A few groggy hours in recovery and a few most lost hours laying around after that and my husband was helping me in the car. Or the nurse. Who knows.

I dry heaved part of the way home and don't remember much else other than hugs and cards from my awesome kiddies.


Since then, it's been all about resting and recovering. I have to use, just for a few weeks, lots of medical equipment. I'm really, really, really trying to be good and do what I'm supposed to do:

Fixing a runner takes a lot of equipment, apparently. From top left, clockwise: Crutches (obviously), no  more than 20 pounds on the surgical leg, which is really hard to gauge; Reckless the cat checks out the ice wrap/compression machine, used several times a day; the CPM, a passive motion machine on which I lay my leg and it lifts it up and down, four hours a day; foam "booties" that hold my toes up toward the ceiling while I sleep (FUN!!! I hate back sleeping); and a sassy hip brace that amplifies the frumpy mom look (but I'm wearing a Frozen Gnome race shirt, so that's cool).

To pass time, I'm (finally) reading some books, since I stopped reading them sometime around 2009. I'm currently reading Algren: A Life by a friend of mine. It's really good.

I'm studying Spanish again, though when I watch Narcos much of it is still spoken too quickly for me to understand. But I pick up more individual words now, so that's cool.

I also got to weigh in on my oldest son's Tinder profile description, which needed some work. I think he regrets showing me that now. (Too much self deprecation in his self-description, if you ask me. Which he didn't. Overreaching mom, right here). 

And I finally watched Love, Actually, which came out 14 years ago. It was awesome.

Each day, I crutch over to the gym two blocks from my house every morning for my 20 minutes of stationary bike riding, clutching any chance I can to preserve my sanity and escape from 1. presidential politics and 2. the fact that I CAN'T GO FOR A RUN FOR 3 3/4 MORE MONTHS. 

If I time it right, I get to catch a glimpse of a line of parka-clad three-year-olds grasping a rope on a morning walk from the local day care. 

So stinking cute. Can't wait for you little cutie-pies to grow up and fix the world. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Good-bye, 2016, the year of crap running. Hello, 2017!

A few days after Christmas, I had planned to run eight miles with a couple of regular running buddies.

But my hip ached -- again -- so I bailed, reluctantly. An MRI in November revealed a hip labral tear -- basically, the cartilage in the hip socket is torn and there is a bone spur or something like that.

The good news is I can still run a little, though nowhere near my usual mileage. This is good news for my family, too, since they have to live with me and a few miles is better than no miles.

I've made up the difference as best as I could with weekly weight-lifting classes and tons more biking and spin classes.

Like other runners, I love to track my mileage. I use Strava, an online app that makes it easy.

So as the year end approached, my ego piped up. I wondered what my mileage would look like for 2016, considering I've been injured basically all year, including during my worst marathon race/time ever last spring.

As of 12/30, I was at 992 miles.

Dang it. I could have hit 1,000 if I hadn't blown off my run earlier in the week.

Sometimes I'm smart and sometimes I'm a bonehead. So to get my miles up past the millennial milestone, I ran just over eight miles on New Year's Eve in Southwestern Michigan, discovering during my run the Wau-Ke-Na nature preserve trails.

Sure, the run felt like crap from the waist down, so I focused on how pretty the countryside was. It *kind of* worked, like eating fat-free ice cream and pretending it tastes amazing.

The Wau-Ke-Na nature preserve near Fennville, Mich. 
Thanks to that run, I finished 2016 with 1,001 miles, a nice big number accomplishment for a rough year of running.

And I biked 911 miles for the year, way more than I've biked in recent years and a function of being forced to do something besides run all the time.

My sports doc tells me that it can take two years on average to diagnose a labral tear because so many other things have to be ruled out as the root cause, like the hamstring tendon tear last summer.

We tried a steroid injection after Thanksgiving, but it didn't stick.

She says it's common in women runners who have had kids. Indeed, since having my daughter five years ago, the connection between my hip and hamstring has felt "stuck" and I've been in and out of physical therapy since then -- sometimes for hip stuff, sometimes back issues.

I really like running and kids. Bummer. But I wouldn't change the last several years -- I love being a mom and I love running.

Next stop is surgery. I meet with the surgeon this week. He's recommended by both my doc and by the ultrarunning community, so I'm feeling hopeful and optimistic about this next step.

And, eventually, I'll be back to full-fat ice cream.