Friday, December 31, 2010

In Which We Prepare for 2011

It's official. The 'it' color for 2011 will be hot pink. So says Pantone, the people who decide these things. Today in  the New York Times Home and Garden section was an article about the resurgence of the pink bathroom, how it's all hot and trendy right now.

The first room I painted in my house after I bought it in 2001 was the bathroom, and the color I chose was Pepto Bismol pink. It's official name is something far more romantic like cactus rose or something like that, but it's really Pepto-toned. It actually received guffaws of laughter and squeals of derision from people who visited that first year I lived in the Nest. Quite rude of them, but it is rather an in-your-face, notice me kind of color. This summer I saw a beautiful glassy sea green color in Better Homes and Garden that would match my existing shower curtain, so I thought I'd paint my bathroom this calm, etheral, otherwordly sea green. Now I can't. I'm finally trendy, or at least my bathroom is. Well, sort of, anyway, and it's pretty sad that the only thing trendy about me is my bathroom, which isn't saying much about me, so how can I cover up it's blast of hot pinky goodness when those walls will finally get the respect they deserve?

Here's Le Pepto Toilette. It's true, it's hard to be sad in a pink room. It makes my feel all girly and happy. Besides, there's no actual color known to man that would match the floor tile selected by the previous owners, who tore out the original 1950 bath and put this hideous grayishy-brownishy-pinkishy-peachishy tile that must have been on deep discount in instead. So think pink!! (The floor tile was deliberately not photographed to preserve sensitive stomachs who may be reading this from gastric distress.)

As for 2011, I have several resolutions in mind. Last year it was Living Beautifully on a Budget. This year, it will be Living Painfully on an Even Tighter Budget. But positive thinking and a concerted effort to worry less are also on the list. That last will be hard for worry wort me, but all that worry stresses me and makes life unhappy in the Nest. Taking photos to share here has increased my awareness of everything around me, which is good, so that is on the agenda to be continued. Taking care of my health is a priority, too. I've slacked off these two weeks since the marathon, I admit it, but now that early morning dog park weekends are out of the picture, I may try having tai chi or yoga Sunday mornings instead. I've felt very frazzled the past few years, so I want to re-center.

T and M are joining MoM and me tonight for egg nog cake, Pimm's, and cheese souffle.

May all the change in 2011 be good!!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

In Which I Remember Some of My Favorite Photos of 2010

I'm slowly moving my photo folders into one giant 2010 folder on my laptop, the perfect task for a gray, gloomy, rainy day (that's our version of a snow day here in the winter desert). Here are some of my favorite photos from 2010. Some are favorites because I think they're pretty good shots, some are favorites because they remind me of good times or are reminders of things I want to do or accomplish, some are favorites because they are just too cute. The last photo, though, is special, if unremarkable aesthetically--it's my two dogs, immediately after Pupgirl returned from a week in the hospital, a week during which Mr. Big was Mr. Lonely. It's just the two of them, asleep in almost identical poses, completely happy and finally at peace because they were reunited.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Canine Spontaneous Pneumothorax

I am going to depart from this blog's theme and style to post, in detail, about my dog's spontaneous pneumothorax. After it happened, the nerdy scientist in me immediately started doing research online, only to discover there is not a lot of information on this condition in dogs out there in cyberspace. A lot of websites have the same information cut and pasted from somewhere else. Human websites are available, but not necessarily helpful. As her surgeon told me, a lot of things they can do in  human patients, they cannot do in dogs. The two legitimate veterinary journal abstracts published online dealt with 12 and 64 dogs respectively. I can assure you as a scientist that, even together, these do not equal a statistically valid sample upon which to base any kind of inferences. So I add here my experience. It may be anecdotal, but it may help someone else if they ever have to research this terrifying incident after it happens to their dog.

There is no medical advice offered herein. Your experience of canine spontaneous pneumothorax will depend on a number of parameters, not the least of which is your dog and his or her general health and the cause of their pneumothorax. This is simply offered to present one dog's experience. It may help you to formulate some of the questions you have for your vet. Remember, you are responsible for your dog, and you have every right to ask as many questions as you want, and to have your dog treated by the vet you want. Be proactive in your pet's care as you would with your own health. 

On Wednesday, 1 December, 2010, my 9 year 10 month old spayed female Samoyed had a spontaneous pneumothorax, or in plain language, somehow blew a hole in her lung that started leaking air into her pleural cavity. When I left for work at 6:30 a.m, she was fine; had her breakfast, got her daily eye drop (a hang over from eye surgery she had to undergo at age 2), did her business, was completely normal. My mother, who thankfully was visiting for the holidays and therefore was able to provide the sequence of events, reported that at around 8:00 a.m, she became very restless and started pacing and would not settle down. Online symptoms of a pneumothorax are lethargy, vomiting, etc., but she evinced none of these, just restlessness, pacing, and a refusal to sit or lay down. My mother thought at first that she needed to go out, but she did nothing once outside, just continued pacing. She was reluctant to lay down or sit down or put pressure on her chest.

This went on for several hours, and my mother got increasingly worried. She looked for evidence that the dog had eaten something that was stuck or making her sick, but found nothing. She looked outside for anything that might be unusual--nothing. Unfortunately, I am a field scientist and I happened to be working that day out in the field, about 50-60 miles from town.  Mom called my cell phone at 2:21 p.m. to tell me about the dog, but I didn't get the call. Even if I had, without my vehicle, I couldn't have left the field without somehow convincing the rest of the team to call the day short. We left the field at 3:18 p.m., and arrived back at the office just before 5 p.m. Mom called again while I was driving home. Regardless, I still feel guilty at not checking my phone for messages or missed calls.

My first thought and fear was that she had bloated, as the symptoms--restlessness, pacing, refusal to put any weight on her stomach/abdomen--sounded like that. As soon as I got into the house, I examined her stomach, but it had neither the tightness nor the sound of a bloated stomach. Then I looked at her tongue and saw that it was blue, and knew immediately that she was having breathing difficulties. I put her in the car, and she started coughing and gasping. Each pant would end in a gasp for air.

At 5:00 p.m., the vet specialty hospital is a good 45-60 minutes from my home through rush hour traffic, so I took her to the emergency clinic literally around the corner. They x-rayed her and immediately told me it was a spontaneous pneumothorax, which was easily seen on the radiographs even by a lay person. Then the emergency room doctor told me something very scary; she pointed to a spot on the film and called it a lesion, and added her suspicion that the pneumothorax had been caused by neoplasia/cancer (although other causes, such as valley fever and bullous emphysema, were a possibility).

Of course, my heart sank and I got all queasy, wondering if I was going to have another animal with cancer. And the doctor didn't reassure me that she could either heal naturally or have surgery to resolve the pneumothorax--I had to find that out for myself online. I went home, cried hysterically, and wondered if I'd lose my dog to this. She had been leaking air probably for almost 9 hours.

An hour later the emergency room called to say that they had immediately removed 2 liters of air from her by needle, and would continue to draw air from her. If needed, they would put a tube in her to facilitate air removal (this had been discussed while I was there). A later call reported that they had taken another liter of air (so 3 liters in total) from her, and inserted a tube into her lung. If she did not stop leaking air after 3 or 5 days, she would have to have surgery to remove that affected portion of her lung.

She was in the emergency room 5 days, on a tube until Sunday morning. She stopped leaking air sometime between 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. on Friday, two of the times at which I called for updates and asked if she was still leaking, so the time is bracketed accurately even if I don't know exactly when she stopped (so at least 50 hours, perhaps 55 hours total of air leaking). She was improving the whole time, eating well, alert, and very loving (as is her nature). In order to keep her quiet so the tube was not endangered, I didn't visit her (in fact, I wasn't even given the option until Saturday, when the doctor cautioned that I knew my dog, and if she was going to get excited, it would be best not to visit. I know my dog--she would not only get excited, she would want to leave, so as hard as it was not to be able to see her in person, I stayed away). On Saturday, the doctor told me she might be the one in a million dog who heals naturally, and she did. On Sunday morning, the tube was removed, but she needed to be observed until Tuesday, when they had made an appointment for her to see a surgeon at another hospital. This was the same hospital where she had had her eye surgery with the then only canine opthomology department in the city, but I had never heard of this surgeon. I called her vets to ask them their opinion of which surgeon she should see.

Over the 4 and half days she was in the hospital, she had 7 x-rays taken to determine if the pneumothorax was resolving itself. No other emergency room doctor with whom I spoke over that time ever mentioned that lesion identified by the first doctor. The surgeon did not see anything that was a lesion. I now believe that it was the lung folded on itself or some other perturbation of tissue, perhaps even the initial rupture spot.

I had been in touch with both her regular vet (who has taken care of her since she was 11.5 weeks) and her acupuncture vet (who also practices Western medicine in a holistic approach). Her holistic vet knew of the named surgeon, but had had no personal experience with her and recommended that if she need surgery, it be done by a different surgeon, Dr. Boulay. On Monday, when I was able to speak with her regular vet, he insisted she be released that morning and sent to a different veterinary hospital in town, where the best veterinary surgeon in town practiced. This was Dr. Boulay, the same surgeon her holistic vet had named. (My years of pet ownership meant I had heard of him, but had never had to use him before, so I was already aware of his reputation before this all happened.) My regular vet called over to the hospital (luckily, he and the surgeon are very good friends, and in fact, my vet attended the surgeon's wedding last year in Hawaii and had offered the surgeon space in his own hospital for a year while his new offices were being built; thank God for personal favors), and made arrangements for her to be admitted and for Dr. Boulay specifically to see her (there are two other surgeons in the practice).

Monday morning was the first time I had seen my dog since Wednesday night. She was so tired of the hospital and so eager to go home that she made a beeline straight past me to the door. She had been shaved almost completely around the middle for the tube. I carefully drove her over to the vet specialty hospital owned by the surgeon. I timed it--45 minutes during the middle of the morning (post rush hour). They examined her, did another x-ray to compare with the series taken at the other hospital, and decided to keep her overnight in order to do a CT scan the next day (the radiologist worked Tuesday to Friday). It was very hard to leave her again, but I knew she was in the best possible hands.

FYI, when they brought her back from the x-ray they had taken the large bandage off, and I found a just starting to embed itself tick on her non-tubed side, which could only have come from the other hospital. You can imagine how disgusted I was; and yes, I did call the other hospital and tell them of this.

The three surgeons at the vet specialty center disagreed on the immediate next course of action; Dr. Boulay, the surgeon in charge of her case, wanted to do the CT scan right away; Dr. Shields was concerned that the anesthesia required would cause the newly formed seal to burst, causing another pneumothorax; and Dr. Gores appears to have been the mediator, as well as insisting that I be told they disagreed so that it was my decision on which course of action we took. Ultimately, Dr. Boulay agreed to wait two weeks for the CT scan to allow maximum internal healing. I was instructed to keep her quiet at home.

It wasn't until the following Sunday, Dec. 12, almost 2 weeks after the incident and 5 days after she was released from the hospital, that she started to behave like her normal self. That day, also, a huge bruise became visible around the staples where the tube had been (these needed to be left in 2 weeks, and were to be removed when she had the CT scan). Almost 4 weeks later, the bruise is still visible, although with her fur starting to grow back, it's difficult to tell how dark it remains.

The CT scan was taken two weeks later, on Dec. 21, and I picked her up at 5 o'clock that evening. I was supposed to meet then with the surgeon, but he had to go into a "complicated" surgery until 7 p.m., and knowing how things can run longer than planned, I made arrangements to meet with him on Thursday morning before the hospital was open to go over the scan. A CT scan requires that the dog be anesthetized, and the scan takes about 15 minutes. I had expected her to bounce back from such a short anaesthetic pretty quickly, but at almost 10 years old, she is the equivalent of a 55-year-old human, and she was groggy and not herself until well into the next morning. But she was relieved to be home, and I was relieved to have her home.

The CT scan revealed that both of her lungs are full of bullous emphysema, or little blisters that form on the lung (both inside and outside). I counted at least a dozen, ranging from pinpricks to 1.0 and 1.5 cm bullae on her left lung. Scarily, she has an enormous bulla that measures approximately 4.5 by 6 + cm across on the outside of her right lung. These bullae are three-dimensional spheres full of air that can form in the honeycomb interior surface of the lung. No one knows why they form. The CT showed no indication that she had ever had valley fever, a fungal infection endemic to humans and dogs here in the desert (it's caused by fingal spores we inhale and that cause lesions on the lungs, which are visible on an x-ray) and which I had thought may have caused this. The CT scan also showed absolutely no signs of lung cancer (or cancer elsewhere in her upper body; I do not know if a full body scan was done, or just a scan of her thorax as we concentrated on looking at her lungs on the computer).  The surgeon spent 45 minutes repeatedly moving the imagery up and down her lungs. Unfortunately, she has about a dozen (at least) bullae in both her lungs, so surgical removal of the affected lobe or lobes is impossible.There would not be enough intact lung left for her to survive. He went on to say that bullous emphysema is very frustrating for vets, because they don't know what causes it. Although his practice sees quite a few dogs with this in their lungs, they only see 2-3 spontaneous pnuemothorax patients every year. Although the Web suggests that large-chested dogs and possibly northern breeds are susceptible, he was not sure, and said that at his practice, they had seen this in German shephards more than in other dogs, for what that might suggest. However, his hospital is one of only two in the city that has a CT scanner, so it remains unclear to me how common this condition is, how often and in what kinds of dogs it occurs, does this practice see more because they have to ability to do so (bullous emphysema is not visible on an x-ray), etc. There are so many parameters that are involved and about which there is no or little information.

If she has another pneumothorax, it will likely be this large bulla that erupts. The surgeon, who has been practicing at least 25-30 years, said he had never seen a bulla this large. Her holistic vet had told me that if she has another incident, they will have to do surgery. I asked him what was now the option if she has another spontaneous pneumothorax, and he said "what we just did: insert a needle to remove the air, and if necessary, a tube." He went on to say that he prefers not to use the tube unless necessary (and outlined what those necessary situations were) and to let the dog heal on its own.

This last was reassuring, since my big fear, having seen the CT scan and realizing the extent of the bullae in her, was what would happen if she had this again. I flatly asked him if she would die, and he said no. I asked him what would happen if the large bulla burst, as opposed to a smaller one; would the rate of air loss be faster and would she therefore get sicker, faster. He said the rate of air loss depended on her respiration rate, which would not change regardless of the size of the bulla that burst; I found this reassuring, too, in a way. We have no way of knowing the size of the bulla that burst, but we at least know how many hours it appears it took for her to get comprised in her breathing.

Dr. Boulay said that it may have been something as innocuous as a sneeze that caused the initial rupture. He also told me both lungs had had a leak, which no one told me before. He pointed out a lot of scar tissue that has formed on her left lung and said that was where he suspected the initial leak appeared. He is hoping her mediastinum, a membrane between the two lungs, has also been scarred by this as it would then form a a barrier that would allow one lung to be unaffected if the other should develop a leak. He also discussed a pleurodesis, where they create a slurry and glue the lung to the cavity wall so there is no way for a bulla to erupt through the lung wall, but he is cautious of doing this and wants to do some research. He also said he is going to contact various other vets around the country, including Dr. Foss, a soft tissue surgery specialist, to see if they have ever had a patient with multiple scattered bullae that precluded surgery, or if anyone has ever seen such a massive bulla as hers (he said it was the size of a plum; but what is the size of a dog lung?).

It is possible that another bulla may burst, and it may be tomorrow or in two years, or it may never happen again. We will live on tenterhooks now, wondering. She can no longer jog or run or do any activity that will cause her to want to bring in large amounts of air quickly into her lungs. Not a problem as I hate to run and jog and she never did these anyway, but it does mean that dog park visits will no longer happen as she liked to chase balls and other dogs, and I don't want to risk it. He said I could begin exercising her normally, but to take it slow (we literally walked only around the block until yesterday, when I increased it to two blocks). He also cleared her to resume her Pet Therapy Program visits at the hospital when she's ready. Although seeing her in her funny shaved appearance might actually be a good thing for some kids, I don't want her to do anything that requires long walks for a while yet. She cannot undergo any procedure requiring anesthesia unless it is critical. And as the hospital has all kinds of specialists associated with it, if she does require it, it will be done there where Dr. Boulay can keep an eye on her at all times.

I still fear this is a death sentence, even though it doesn't appear to be so and Dr. Boulay said they can do the same thing again should she have another pneumothorax. I still fear leaving her alone. Today I left her alone for an hour and a half and was anxious the whole while. She acts normally sometimes and other times is a little quiet or depressed. The weather has been a bit damp, and it may be that her arthritis is bothering her. It may be that she feels the cold a little more than normally without one-third of her coat. It may be that certain movements cause a twinge in her lungs, or pull the muscles the tube went through, or something like that. I still watch her breathing, and check to make sure she's breathing every few hours. I still check her gums and tongue a lot. We're both not quite over this yet. I am still scared. I will be for a long time.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

In Which We Have Wigilia

Time: After the third star was visible
Place: The Mossy Nest
Attendendees: Mossy, Mother of Mossy, Friend of Mossy
Menu: Homemade wheat macaroni with fontina cheese by Mossy; fake esquivites by Mossy; pierogies by Mrs. T (registered trademark); sauerkraut salad with potatoes and butter beans by Friend of Mossy; mizeria by Mother of Mossy; deviled eggs by Mother of Mossy; shrimp by Mother Nature herself; pretzel bread by Mossy's favorite bakery; dessert: blueberry bread pudding by Friend of Mossy
Conclusion: Everything delicious, everyone stuffed

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

In Which the Sunrise Is Spectacular

Yesterday was not an easy day in the Nest. The surgeon said that Stinkerbelle's lungs are both full of large and small bullae emphysema, and she is therefore not a candidate for surgery. She could have another pnuemothorax this afternoon, in six months, or never. I hate the words "full of it" and "nothing we can do."

So it was an unhappy and somewhat sleepless night in the Nest. But Mr. Big needed his walk this morning regardless of how I felt (Stinkerbelle is still on bedrest until I meet with the surgeon tomorrow to go over her CT scan in person), so I dragged myself out of bed at 6:30. It was that dusky time when the sun is still behind the mountains but light is starting to peep over them, and black night is fleeing westward. Light enough to walk, the dawn version of moody dusk light.

And then the sun rose high enough to set the clouds on fire, and it was breathtaking. A weather front had moved in yesterday, bringing warmish temperatures and high elevation clouds that scudded across the sky, and those sunbeams exploded in Winslow Homer shades, in real life, for the briefest of moments.

First came a deep orange-red, like a blood orange, that slowly filled the sky from east to west. Then the bottoms of the scudding clouds started to turn a deep orange-gold, which looked like waves of molten lava. As the sun finally crested the mountains, bringing with it that clear yellow-gold, the clouds briefly turned peach, then light gold. The sky, visible in long, thin fingers between the clouds, was turquoise.

And then the sun rose above the clouds, and they turned back to grey. Fleeting, magical, mysterious beauty.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

In Which We Observe the Lunar Eclipse and Solstice

Yes, I woke myself up at 12:57 a.m. this morning to go outside and watch the lunar eclipse for a bit. The history geek in me was too excited at the idea that the last time the solstice and a lunar eclipse occurred on the same day was Dec. 21, 1638. Which led me to start pondering, whilst standing outside in the dark in my bathrobe, whether some other middle-aged spinster lady had gone outside her Colonial home to watch that 1638 eclipse.  Which got me to thinking about what my life would have been like in 1638 (spinster lady with animals? Hmm, probably either a drudge in my married sisters' homes or burned at the stake as a witch; neither particularly pleasant). Which then, of course, kept me awake after Pupgirl and I went back in (Mr. Big slept very deeply through the whole thing), wondering if I should start practicing my New Year's resolutions today, as it is solstice and another new year's day.

The night sky was covered by high but fairly thick clouds, so the moon was not easy to see as it kept swimming behind the scudding clouds. It was approximately one-third covered by the earth's shadow when I sat outside, and sadly my binoculars are not powerful enough to have helped with visibility. The moon was noticeably orange when I went out the second time after having retrieved said useless binocs, which was quite thrilling. It was a lovely event to have witnessed.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

In Which We Decorate the Tree

I like a real Christmas tree. I love the piney smell that wafts on the edge of the air in my snug little house. I love the tiny little white lights, glowing in the corner. I don't even mind the pine needles scattered all over the house, and I do mean all over thanks to the zoo, despite how much I dislike cleaning and vacuuming.

When I lived in my little junior 1-bedroom apartment, I would buy a table top tree, maybe 2 feet tall. The years Mother of Mossy was here for Christmas, I'd go a little bigger, maybe 4 feet. After a couple of years here in the Nest, the tree got bigger still. First 4 feet, then 4 and a half feet. Two years ago it was a respectable 5 feet tall and I decided that was the maximum height I'd go. After all, it was pretty dang difficult to smush a 5-ft tree into a little Civic at the tree lot, and even more difficult to smush a dried 5-ft tree into a Civic to take said tree to the county recycling point (they mulch the trees for the Parks and Recreation Department, so it's good all around).

Last year I didn't have a Christmas tree. No feeling sorry for me, Gentle Readers. I had just bought The E on Halloween, so there was no money in the Mossy Budget. I took the green felt that I wrap around the base of the tree and covered my little coffee table and put the presents that arrived by post on it. I still decorated, hanging my lihgts around the window instead of around a tree, hanging the stockings (of course the zoo all have stockings, need you ask?), and having Christmas as usual, just without a tree.

Mother of Mossy is visiting again this year, so we had to have a tree. But with Stinkerbelle's medical problems, I've been afraid to leave her alone, and I couldn't go alone to pick the tree. MoM likes to supervise, of course, and so no decision can be made regarding tree selection without her input. "Too big!" "Too small!" "The needles aren't right!"  Finally, on Thursday I took a half day off from work (this in itself will be a blog entry--my office was painted and carpeted and I'm redecorating! Hooray!) and we went to get The Tree. Except that we waited too long, so all the four- and five-foot Noble firs were gone (that's my favorite tree).

This year I have a six-foot tree (a Frasier fir, and what a nice shape it has). The Boys Chorus ( from whom I buy my tree every year as its their major fundraiser and even if its a slightly more expensive tree, I make room in my budget for their tree because I love helping those boys out) gave me the extra boughs which I tied together with some red yarn and a big red bow and hung on my door. I only have three strands of lights, so they're pretty thin on such a large tree but it still glows in its corner just the same. For the past 12 years or so I always decorated with paper snowflakes my niece A and MoM cut out for me and sent me many, many years ago. I love a tree with hand made decorations, and frankly, space is a premium in the Nest. Those gorgeous trees with hundreds of glass balls and tinsel everywhere and a foot-tall angel or star on top are gorgeous, but I only have two tiny closets in the Nest and there's no room to store glass ornaments. But there is room to store an envelope of paper snowflakes, and they made me feel connected to my family so far away.

But alas, last year I realized some of the snowflakes were starting to show their age. I carefully and lovingly  laid them away and over the course of this year have been buying felt and cookie cutters to make new decorations. They look like a five-year-old made them, which is about the level of my artistic ability, but I don't care. They are so homey and cheerful (and will be so easy to store). I love the red cardinal--it's my favorite. I made some blue ones from the cardinal template because the Western Blue Jay looks quite like the cardinal in silhouette, and, besides, in the Mossy Nest, birds come in any color or shape or size I want. I'm still not sure what to do about garland. Any suggestions, Gentle Reader? Remember, it has to be easily stored and safe for the zoo (even though, thankfully, none of my animals has ever expressed any interest whatsoever in the tree except to hide behind it or lay under it--no climbing, no chewing, no drinking the water or refreshing oneself on it--I'm quite lucky).

Herewith, my 2008 Christmas tree and my 2010 Christmas tree. I may just have to make some more birds for it. Happy Holidays!!!May the peace of the season linger all year.

Friday, December 17, 2010

In Which Cats and Crochet Make Cute

L sound asleep, cuddled up to Mother of Mossy's pillow

Thursday, December 16, 2010

In Which MoM Loses 5 Pounds

Every time MoM visits, she is astonished to discover that she loses weight even though we eat like, well, to be blunt, pigs in this household. Every time I try to explain that I cook from scratch, which means no scary preservatives and calorie-laden mysterious synthetic ingredients. This year, MoM tried to explain the weight loss as a result of her bronchitis, but as that was three weeks ago, and we've been working our way through two bags of cookies from the office party this week, I don't think so. It looks like MoM already got one wish off her holiday list, to lose weight. We'll see how much more she can lose before she leaves. Imag ine what I could with 6 months or more with her. She'd be running marathons! (Okay, just kidding. Sort of.)

Hey, having just reread that ("mysterious synthethic ingredients?"), I realize I have become that tofu-loving, tree-hugging, crazy environmental-protecting happy chick people make fun of. Oh well, could be worse.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

In Which I Complete My First Half Marathon!

I did it!! I finished my first half marathon yesterday. Come on a pictorial half marathon walk with me and my co-crazy-lady, J, who agreed to undertake this insanity with me.

Okay, we got to the parking lot for the half marathoners at 4:30 a.m., jump onto a bus, and half an hour later were at the start area. Yea, that meant rising at 3 a.m. so I could eat breakfast and pick up J. Can you even see the balloons at the start chute? Dang, I realize I've remembered my hard boiled egg for breakfast but forgot my Tylenol. This could get ugly. Hundreds of runners start huddling around the heaters in the complete dark. My mystery-reading, half alseep brain starts conjuring up great story lines from this.

It warmed up to a gorgeous mid-70s degrees Farenheit by afternoon, but it was still stinking cold in the early hours, in the low 40s, with a breeze that was most unkind to bare legs. Those heaters were no help. And the twenty-something runners had no respect for their elders and glued themselves next to the heaters, sucking up what little heat they offered. Yea, they did throw some heat--up at 7 feet. No help. But the top of my head was slightly warmed up. J and I left the heater and just made our way into the center of the mass of people after a large enough crowd had assembled. 1200+ people generate a heck of a lot more heat than those stinking heaters do.  See J shiver.

Ahh, here comes the sun over the back side of the Catalina Mountains! C'mon sun, bring some heat!

Your shivering correspondent.

The 1200+ half marathoners started lining up at the chute at 6:45 a.m. J and I are courteous walkers, so we hung out until the last group of 200 to enter the chute so we wouldn't be in anyone's way. Or get run over. Besides, we had more clothes on than most of them. We're tough, we can take it a minute longer.

We start! Just as the sun crests the mountains.

Within minutes, it's light and you can see the line of runners stretched out ahead of us. Note all the walkers!

We've turned off the road on which the marathon started, and are walking now on SR 77. It's surrounded by State Trust land, so the views are stunning--miles and miles of largely undeveloped desert.  See the Tortolita Mountains in the distance? They're about 18 miles west of us or so at this point. This isn't a marathon--this is just another beautiful desert hike. Piece of cake.  Famous last words.

Then, at mile 6, we turn on Oracle Road, and the nice hike turns ugly. Main drag, lots of cars, exhaust, and a killer blacktop that strips your hips and makes your feet hurt. I kept telling J that training along the River Park was pretty, but we needed to walk on tarmac to get us ready, but she hates the exhaust and hates the lack of view, so she wouldn't. That was a mistake, and I should have insisted since I knew better. By mile 10 my hips were soar and my feet, which hadn't hurt one bit during all the training walks, were hurting. No, I didn't hit a wall, but I did start thinking "Please, please let this be over soon!" Now I kick myself over the forgotten Tylenol.

At just under Mile 9, the winner of the full marathon runs past us. He's not even breaking a sweat, just cruising along at a lovely pace. I straighten up and stride purposefully. At Mile 10, J started to tell me about some office gossip--I'm good to go for at least a mile on that fuel.  Seriously, even though we had done 11 mile walks during our training, the blacktop was a severe issue and my hips were hurting the last 2 miles. This sign makes me very happy, especially since we've turned off the main drag and are on much softer side roads.

Sorry, no photo of the Mile 13 sign--I didn't want to get in the way since several full marathon runners were reaching the finish line as we did. We were passed by about 11 or 12 on the walk, but then another 4 or 5 came through in the last stretch. One man was running in huaraches, based on the famous Tarahuamara running sandals. Our coworker M ran the half in a Santa hat, ho ho ho.

As we crossed the chip reading mat at the entrance to the finish, the announcer called out "And here come Frick and Frack of Here finishing the half marathon. And they're smiling!" That was because I'd just caught sight of our time on the board as we turned the 90-degree corner off the mat into the chute. I'd told myself my goal was 3.5 hours, as near to that on either side as I could get. A 15-minute mile pace was the goal, but I wasn't sure we could reach that, or sustain it. I started laughing with this amazing surge of pride and relief when I saw the time as we turned the corner into the finish chute--3 hours, 3 minutes, 40+ seconds. I crossed the finish line at 3 hours, 4 minutes, and a few seconds. We blew my goal out of the water!! Our average was a 13.7 minute mile!!!!!

I'm not sure I'll do another half marathon, or if I'll stick to 5ks and 10ks. I don't know if I'll ever be so focused on a time and pace goal again. But I'm so pleased I did this. I wanted to test my body and its strengths and resources after my mid-life birthday, and I'm happy that it's still pretty resilient. I don't mind aging, or the small aches this morning, but I want to be able to age with health and graceful acceptance of what I can and cannot do. This proved I can still do some major things with the mileage on this puppy. She may be wrinkled and sagging, but she still pulls through in the clutch.