Columbus Marathon Training: The Hills

An open letter to the residents of Benchmark and Berryhill lanes:

We apologize for getting all up in your business during rush hour.

Goin' uphill like whoa.

If it makes you feel any better, we don't like running up and down your streets over and over any more than you do.

We promise.

It's just that you happen to live in the hilliest neighborhood within running distance of Fleet Feet, and our trainers are sadistic that way. (Or they want us to be prepared. Whichever.)

Almost ... done!

We didn't even know Blue Ash had hills. (And frankly, we were OK with that ignorance.)

Anyway, hopefully we didn't bug you too much. We tried to stay in single file and not dart out in front of cars or anything. Feel free to help yourself to a cup of water or lemony electrolyte drink from our fluid station before we head on home.

The Runners


Columbus Marathon training: I'll get there

"The downhill feels almost like cheating, doesn't it?"

It was a 90-degree day in July, and my marathon training group was struggling. The woman matching pace with me was supposed to be on a run-walk program, but on that Tuesday, we were all on a run-walk program.

"Yeah," I wheezed, letting gravity take over and allowing myself to speed a little down the hill.

Running in a group is all about letting go. "Find Your Happy Pace," say the shirts from Garmin, and I tend to agree with that. If your friend can't match your pace, you will do more harm than good slowing yourself down. Just go. Run at your pace. Celebrate with your friend when she crosses the finish line.

It's a philosophy I always followed with my running friends - which is why I was always the last to complete a training run. But none of those friends are training for a fall race - which is why I joined a group to train for the Columbus Half Marathon.

The group meets at my neighborhood running shop and provides pace leaders to run as fast (or as slow) as you need to keep up with your training. When I run with my pace group, I've been finishing near the middle of the pack - the first time I've ever been faster than anyone I was running with.

I've been doing this for nine years. This is the first year I've attempted to improve my speed, and I'm surprised by how difficult it is. My body settles into the comfortable motions of running a 12-minute mile, and when I gently suggest that perhaps we go for 11 minutes today, oh, the complaining that ensues!

But that day, on a surprisingly hilly suburban street, I found after a few minutes of chat with my new friend that I was pulling ahead.

"I can't keep up with this pace," she told me as she dropped back and started to walk. "I'll get there one day."

I half-turned my head and called back to her, "Hey, I'm not at the pace I want to be either! I keep telling myself the same thing! I'll get there."

It's true for my workout, and as I kept chugging down the hill, I realized that it was probably true of my life too.

I'm not quite where I want to be.

But if I keep running, eventually I'll get there.


KHome: The price is right

My house hunt was ... interesting. I wanted something small and cheap, in one of a few nice neighborhoods. Basement a must. Garage a plus.

I thought I had an advantage because I didn't need the suburban-standard three bedrooms and two bathrooms. As it turned out, buyers are willing to make all sorts of concessions when the price is right - particularly if the buyer is an investor who doesn't actually plan on living in the house. I became used to discovering a new house, calling the agent, and discovering it already had an offer on it. I once made an appointment to put in an offer on a house, only to have the agent cancel the day of the meeting because an investor had offered cash.

So, on the day a little house in Kenwood appeared in my search results for an oddly low price, I was pessimistic. I called the agent and asked, essentially, what was wrong with it.

And the answer was: nothing, really. Just a very small house, a foreclosure, a possible foundation crack.

I am unafraid of foundation cracks, when the price is right. I made an appointment for the next day.

My parents met me at the little house, and we walked through with the agent, growing more and more surprised by the minute that the price was so low. It was in better shape than houses I had been prepared to offer twice the money for.

Really, we asked the agent, what's wrong with the house?

The agent showed us the cracked cinder block in the basement (ha! A vertical crack means nothing! Nothing!) and said because it was a Fannie Mae house, investors were prohibited from bidding for two weeks. Since I would be an owner-occupant, I had the advantage - for once. But, he said, of course a cash offer would strengthen my position ...

My parents and I practically trampled each other rushing to the bank so we could move some money around for me to make an offer. Within two days, I was under contract. And two months later, I closed on the little two-bedroom cottage/bungalow/whatever real-estate word for "itty-bitty house" is trendy now.

I bought a house! I was a homeowner!

... But what was I going to do with it?


KHome: The hunt

I lived with my parents for over a year, but I actually started looking for apartments only a few weeks after my return.

What I found was that rentals in my chosen neighborhoods (Madeira, Kenwood, Blue Ash, and Montgomery) were HELLA expensive. Possibly more expensive than Hyde Park, thanks to the low number of rentals available in the first place. I was looking at one-bedroom apartments that were $850 a month.

So one day, frustrated with the apartment listings, I started browsing a real-estate site. I had a little fun playing with the property search ... and then, suddenly, I saw it. A house in Madeira ... that I could actually afford?

Curious, half disbelieving, I clicked the mortgage calculator. Not only could I afford it, it would be WAY cheaper than an apartment in the same neighborhood. It would even be cheaper than the efficiency I had seen listed two blocks away.

I had never believed people who said buying was cheaper than renting. Turns out, I had been looking at the wrong kinds of houses for my single income. This house was teeny-tiny as homes go - basically a two-bedroom apartment with a basement. But it's just me and the cat, and she said she could do without the extra space, so I called up the agent to take a look.

That house ... is not the KHome. I liked it; I even tried to put in an offer on it; but someone else got it first. But from then on, I wasn't looking at apartments anymore. I had caught the buying bug.

Stage 0: follow-up

Just a quick update to say that I got the results back from the lab, and they got it all! Yay! No more not-quite-cancer!

As it turned out once I got the bandage off, I had 14 stitches.

Since getting the stitches removed, that wicked-looking Frankenstein scar has calmed down into a sedate red line. Other than that, the only thing I have to remember my melanoma-in-situ adventure is my quarterly dermatologist appointment.

So. Again. If a thing looks or feels weird, and you have insurance (which in a few months should be more of you), get. The thing. Checked. Out. Best case scenario: you get out of a couple hours of work to be told there's nothing wrong with you! It's basically a mini-vacation with a creamy center of validation, and that's if your fears are unfounded. Do it!


Stage 0

Time for Science Corner, kids!

Today, we're going to talk about melanoma. Specifically, melanoma in situ - which, if you're going to have melanoma, is totally the kind you want.

That's what the dermatologist NP told me when she called to give me the lab results on the weird mole near my elbow, anyway. (She spent one-third of the call telling me what I have and two-thirds of the call telling me not to freak out.)

Melanoma is skin cancer. Melanoma in situ, also known as melanoma stage 0, is not. Not yet, anyway. (Or, as another doctor I spoke to put it, it's "not quite cancer." I found the addition of the quite a little disheartening.) It's just a group of irregular cells with a suspicious tendency to become cancerous.

Look, ma, it doesn't say "cancer" anywhere! (Source: cancer.gov.)

If you know me, you know how strange it is that I should have a skin disorder associated with spending too much time in the sun. I'm no sun worshipper; I wear SPF 15 lotion almost every day and supplement with SPF 30 sport spray if I know I'm going to be outside for any significant amount of time. But in college, I wasn't as careful, and I got some nasty burns before I wised up. Looks like that might have come back to bite me.

(The doctors basically said, "Eh, you have the complexion for it," as though skin cancer was all but inevitable for me. I might need to start looking into big floppy hats.)

The treatment for melanoma in situ is simple - cut out all the irregular cells before they have the chance to go rogue. So that's why I went back to the dermatologist yesterday - to let them carve out a few more square inches of my skin.

The original mole was probably half an inch in diameter.

The diamond shape is so the scar will come in as a nice straight line and not a big puckered circle. The incision went all the way down to the fatty layer of my skin. I didn't watch during the procedure, but after it was done, I asked if I could see the skin that had been cut away. There it was, floating in a sample cup and looking like a science experiment rather than something that had been a part of me three minutes ago.

So now I have a bunch of stitches and a right arm that hurts like the dickens. Good thing I'm left-handed.


They said they'd call me and let me know whether they got all the irregular cells, and I also get to have a whole new super-fun relationship with UC Dermatology where I go back to be monitored every few months for the next couple years. Yay, new friends!

So, the moral of the story is: Listen to your mother (who had been bugging me to go to the dermatologist for months), get those moles checked out, and invent a time machine so you can go back and spray down your 19-year-old self with SPF 30.


Where have you been?

"I'll be OK," I wrote a whole year ago.

And I have been.

I've been hanging out with friends.

And with fire.

And with drinks.
And, when Ayla's involved, with phones constantly out.
I've been working.

Yes, my job title is still "copywriter."
I wear a lot of hats.

I've been running.

I meant to do an entire post on this picture.
I still might.

Though probably not nearly as much as I should.

I've been lovin' on my new niece.


And I've been living with my parents.

Who have also been lovin' on my niece.

(The cat was all, "Hey, why did we move?" But she got over it.)

With the help of many belly rubs.

Moving back in with your parents when you're in your 30s is a strange experience, a weird mix of adulthood and being a teenager again. They love you and want to help you out, but they also know you can take care of yourself, because they've seen you do it for the last 10 years. They don't really need to do the strict-parent thing they did when you were 17, and frankly, they don't want to anymore. That part of their lives is behind them.

The result (at least for me) is a pair of extremely pleasant roommates who don't mind at all when you eat all their cereal and don't replace it. We hang out with the neighbors. We go for walks around the neighborhood. We grill steaks and eat at the tiki bar.

Oh, that's right. My parents have a tiki bar. There's also a pool. A hot tub. A bar with a tap in the basement. Cable TV. All the little extras you gradually accumulate after working for 35 years, after the kids are out of college and can fend for themselves.

I intended to stay a month, maybe two, while I found a new place and got back on my feet. It's now been over a year.

And, honestly, it's time to go. I need to be on my own again. I need to remember what it feels like to have to do a balance inquiry before a withdrawal at an ATM. I need to start doing my own cooking again.

This has been a good year. It's been an important year. But it's also been a year of transition. And now it's time to move on.

As it turns out, you can go home again. But you shouldn't stay there forever.


In my dream, I was in a play.

And just before my cue, someone asked me, "You know your lines, right?"

But I didn't. Somehow, I had thought this was some sort of dramatic reading, where we carried our script books with us onstage.

I said, "You mean this is a real play?"

The show must go on. So I grabbed my script and frantically tried to commit my part to memory. But it was only a few seconds before I had to take a deep breath and step into the spotlight.

The first few lines were fine. Then, suddenly, I blanked. I knew where the scene was supposed to end up, but no idea how the script said I needed to get there.

So I winged it. I said and did whatever seemed to make sense, whatever was true to my character, whatever would get me to that endpoint where I knew I was supposed to be.

And you know what? It turned out all right.

I think I even got a laugh from the audience. Hopefully I was supposed to be playing a comedic character. But even if I wasn't, the point is that I was all right.

I'll be all right.


Weight Watchin': Circumstances

You know what's nice about this plan? It's very forgiving of circumstances.

If I know I've got a big party coming up on the weekend, I can conserve my weekly points or rack up some activities to accommodate. If, at this party, I graze on this and that and can't quite recall how much I ate, I can guesstimate the points and quick-enter it ("15 points - party nibbles").

And if, as happened a couple weeks ago, the combination of a road trip, a wedding, and some fabulous dining options makes tracking more trouble than it's worth? I can put down the plan for a few days and know it will be waiting for me when I come home. 

(Have you ever spent four days eating nothing but rich restaurant food, greasy fast food, and cheese? Ever done that after six weeks of leafy greens and lean protein? Going back on plan was kind of a relief.)

I didn't do an official weigh-in after my weekend of debauchery, but an unofficial check showed I gained two pounds. Nothing a week back on the plan couldn't account for, and nothing worth beating myself up over. Weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint. 

Weigh-in: 190.2
Total pounds lost: 14.8


Weight Watchin', week five: Do What You Can

Sometimes life gets in the way of the plan.

Sometimes you get assigned a huge work project that has you working 12- and 13-hour days for nearly two weeks straight. Pizza and bagels are everywhere, and well-meaning co-workers pass baskets of candy to keep spirits high.

So you do what you can. You bring salads, politely decline the candy, and stock the fridge with your own snacks.

Sometimes it's your birthday, and you say, "Just for tonight, I'm not worrying about the plan."

And then morning comes, and you do what you can. You calculate your drinks (because somehow, miraculously, you can remember them all), and you figure your remaining weekly point total will suffice for the food.

Sometimes, the only place you and your friend can find to eat dinner before the movie is a sandwich shop with zero genuinely light options and no nutrition information posted.

So you do what you can. You order the smallest, most veggie-packed sandwich you can and look up the nutrition when you get home. (Turns out: 11 points.) And then at the movie, you order a small popcorn because  it's been a while since you've had popcorn, but you put it down after eating just a few cups, because you don't NEED it. Not really.

You do what you can. And sometimes, it's enough.

Week five weigh-in: 193.8
Total pounds lost: 11.2