"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." Aristotle

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Letting old bad habits creep in; Time to rebalance

Wow, I can't believe it, it has been over two years since I have made a post. Many times I had worked out a post in my head, but they never got to the keyboard. Life has been very good for me these last two years, but I have been a bit out of balance. I've been working on some very fascinating research at my job.  The work has been so fascinating that I have not paid enough attention to other aspects of my life.  I've started to let old bad habits creep back into my routines.

Before I made major changes in my life style in 2007 I had some very poor habits. I didn't eat healthy and I didn't exercise much, so I was gaining a lot of weight. My oldest brother and I had kind of drifted apart; we were no longer doing crazy adventures we once did on at least an annual basis. I wasn't putting much effort into enjoying life, I was just existing. Then two things change my life around in 2007.

I got real serious with marathon training and about eating healthy. I lost weight, over 30 pounds in a few months, and got into super physical shape. With both physiological and psychological benefits, running revitalized my passion for life. Then at the end of 2007, I was diagnosed with aggressive cancer. But rather than pulling me back down, my battle with cancer pulled me to a higher level of life exuberance than I have ever been before. I learned to truly enjoy even the simplest things, every moment, every day.  I learned to cherish simples times with my wife, special times with my kids, and my oldest brother and I started doing crazy adventures again.  But as time ticked by, it was easy for old bad habits to slowly creep back in.

Now I haven't let all those old habits creep back into my lifestyle. I still cherish my time with my wife and children. My brother and I are still doing many crazy adventures. I still let the beauty of this world warm my soul on a daily basis. But my dedication to running has slipped away and my eating habits are getting sloppy. I did run a half marathon last fall, but this winter I have gone many weeks without any running. (The very hard cold winter this year in Minnesota was not helpful in a time of waning motivation.)

Over the last two years I have received a lot of satisfaction from my work. Many discoveries were made and new gizmos were invented.  But now is time to sway the balance the other way. I miss feeling strong like a race horse. I miss the meditation effects of running. I feel like a blob. Time to change.

P.S. I have been in complete remission for nearly 6 years.   

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Look for a Diamond in the Rough

A few weeks ago I travelled to Quebec City for a business trip. I was planning on bringing my snowboard to sneak in some fun time at Mont Sainte Anne, but rain in the forecast and a lack of snow changed my plans. Instead I brought my running gear. My revised plans were to start from my hotel, the Marriott Courtyard next to Old Town Quebec and run through the Plains of Abraham / Battle Field Park.

When I arrived at the Quebec Airport it was 4:30 in the afternoon and already dark. The rain was steadily coming down and the temperature was a very cool 40 F. I can run in a light rain and even in a soaking rain if the temperatures are warm enough, but the cold rain and wind this evening would have been miserable, and I don’t run for misery.

By the time I reached my hotel the rain had subsided to a very light mist, so I started to negotiate with myself, should I run or not. I really hate to miss a run and I was really looking forward to running in Quebec City for my first time. I then received a text message from two of my business colleagues that were at the hotel; they wanted to make dinner plans. I also enjoy business dinners and Quebec City has many wonderful restaurants within walking distance from our hotel. The weather for running seemed a bit rough, not the perfect gem I was looking for that night. However, my colleagues agreed to wait for me so I could run while they had a beer in the hotel bar. So I decide to run.

While donning my running cloths I kept changing my mind from running to joining my colleagues for a beer. Then I realized I didn’t bring my fleece running top, which I normally wear for the kind of temperatures that night. That was it, I decided not run. But then a voice inside, the voice that got me through my cancer fight and chemotherapy, said, “You better run or you’ll regret it”. I’ve learned to listen to that voice, so I took a chance with just my windbreaker top over my long sleeve running shirt and headed out the door. That night I would discover a true gem of an experience.

I started my run by crossing through the fortress wall into Old Town and running towards the Citadelle (fort) along the Old City wall on the west side of Old Town. I warmed up quickly running up a steep hill; my chance on clothing paid off and I remained quiet comfortable during the entire run.

The quite road was lit by old world street lamps. On my left were quaint 200 year-old buildings which housed people’s homes, tiny restaurants and tiny hotels. On my right I passed an active livery stable; for a moment I felt I was 200 years back in time.

Eventually I reached the Citadelle and ran on top of the fortress wall towards the St. Lawrence River. I was pretty much at the highest point in Old Town and had a commanding view of the city. Normally this place is crawling with tourists, but on this misty cool night I was completely alone, leaving me with an odd sense of solitude in the center of a bustling city. I then turned towards the southwest and headed into Battle Field Park.

In the park, old world streetlamps lit the way as I ran on empty serpentine streets that snaked they way over many hills, through open grassy areas and dense woods. The misty rain gave an eerie and mystical feeling by casting halos around the distant lights of the stately government buildings near the northwest edge of the park. The night was a truly magical experience.

I didn’t expect to see anyone in the park, but I did come across an occasional runner. Then in one of the darkest parts of the park and on a relatively long straight stretch of the park street that descended down a hill only to ascend another, I saw a group of people in the middle of the street. As I approached closer I realized they were doing some form of regimented calisthenics as a female coach barked out commands in French like a drill sergeant. As I passed through the group I kept my stares to myself to give them privacy and wondered if they were some elite female athletic team, maybe a Canadian college hockey team. I couldn’t see them very well since they were dressed for the weather, thus concealed under athletic hoods.

After my five mile run I returned to my hotel, showered, and still had time to meet my colleagues for a beer in the hotel bar. They thought I was a very dedicated runner to run in such awful conditions and I couldn’t say anything that would convince them that I actually had a wonderful and magical time. Their impression of the evening is that it was dreary, wet and cold, only good for sitting inside. But to me the conditions could not have been more perfect for a run outside.

We are all susceptible to falling into the trap of waiting for the ideal conditions to do something, be it a run, walk, hike, a relationship or a job, just to find ourselves complacent, sitting on the couch while atrophy sets into our bodies, minds and spirits. We only look for those perfectly cut stones while passing up some precious uncut gems, when all it requires is for us to take a chance, and then open our eyes to the true beauty in world around us.

After I reached my halfway point in Battle Field Park and turned to run back in the opposite direction, I once again came across the elite group of athletes that were still moving to the commands of their coach. Just as I reached the group they started to run alongside of me but on the other side of the dimly lit street. When we reached an intersection, without warning, they abruptly turned across my path. I nearly ran into one of them, who exclaimed something in French, translation probably, “oops”. Then I was truly amazed at what I saw when I peered into the face of the female. She was no elite college athlete but a senior lady. My guess this was some group of senior women that have signed up for a grueling regiment of outdoor exercise, rain or shine. But the image that will remain burned in my memory is what I saw on the senior lady’s face while she performed strenuous exercise to the commands of a drill sergeant like coach on that dark cold misty night in Quebec City. She had a smile from ear to ear.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Running Decreases Anxiety in Cancer Patients

Guest Article by Trevor Bradshaw

Cancer patients often have a heavy amount of treatment to go through on a regular basis. For many people, this means radiation or chemotherapy treatments a few times a week. These medical treatments can cause a person to feel and to be physically ill to their stomachs, decrease energy, and to have massive amounts of anxiety. Recent reports have shown that running has helped cancer patients to develop a more upbeat attitude and to gain higher levels of motivation and energy.

To many people struggling with chemo or radiation treatments, running may seem out of the question simply due to their lack of energy. Making a commitment to incorporate running into the weekly routine of a person with cancer should be done in small increments and should start off at very short distances. The activity will produce endorphins which will stimulate both the mind and the body. Clinical trials have shown that exercise and the increase in metabolism works wonders in helping patients to be relieved of anxiety and provides them with a healthy outlet for physical activity.

As a side effect of the cancer treatments, many patients will either gain or lose significant amounts of weight. Some people go through a weight bloating process as a result of chemotherapy. Running can help to control the weight gain and provide as a great way to lift the spirits of the person. Patients who lose weight will often discover that running can increase their muscle development and provide them with a healthy appetite which can help them to put back on the weight they have lost.

It is important to remember to make running fun and enjoyable so that the patient will be encouraged to do it as often as possible. Running with music and finding a supportive pair of running shoes can make this activity more enjoyable and comfortable. These small details will also work to encourage the person to participate in the activity more often. Scenic runs on woodsy trails or around beautiful lakes can help to inspire the person and allow the anxiety to slip away.

Running is a healthy outlet for nearly any person. Cancer patients in particular can find dramatic health improvements and emotional stimulations from engaging in running activities a few times a week. Running with a family member or a friend will also provide an opportunity for personal interaction and can help to stimulate the person and reduce feelings of depression or isolation.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Cancer Networks Improve the Life of Patients

Guest Article by David Haas

A cancer diagnosis is shocking and life changing. Aside from all the considerations regarding treatments and the effect on job, family and friends, there is the question of coping. Cancer, whether it is a common cancer like breast cancer or a rare disease like mesothelioma, involves everyone who surrounds the patient. There is where online and offline cancer networks come in.

A cancer network creates a nurturing atmosphere where patients can find support and understanding while dealing with the rigors of treatment. It offers advice and hope for caregivers and family members who are struggling with the daily reality of dealing with a loved one who is suffering with cancer. A network is also helpful to those who have gone into remission and are getting back into the swing of everyday life. Information on how to manage pain, what to eat and classes to help the patient stay positively connected with life can also be found through a network.

Some cancer networks meet in person for discussion and activities. This type of group offers a safe place to find companionship, enjoy social activities and share experiences. Just talking about cancer can help the patient come to terms with what is happening, as well helping with feelings of isolation and distress that occur when interacting with those who may not understand. Overall, regular meetings with other people dealing with cancer can help the patient to not withdraw from life.

The Internet offers many cancer networks, designed for patients who may be either too ill or self-conscious regarding appearance to attend a public meeting. The online environment offers discussion through message boards and the opportunity to journal the cancer experience, as an inspiration to others. It also provides anonymity, which may encourage more detailed sharing through a feeling of safety.

A patient may find a cancer network through a doctor, a caregiver or simply by talking to other patients. Many studies have shown that the prognosis of a cancer patient greatly improves through support, and participation in a cancer network is often recommended along with the standard treatment. In any case, a support network can make the journey through cancer less frightening and encourage spiritual growth.

By: David Haas

Monday, October 3, 2011

Finished in 4:19

I finished the TC marathon yesterday in 4:19. I’ll soon post a synopsis of the race, but for now I need to get ready for a trip my wife and I are taking tomorrow to Quebec City, Canada. Hopefully my stiff legs will handle the walking through the steep streets of Old Town in Quebec City.  

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ready for the 2011 TC Marathon; long runs complete, injury free, and I have a full tank of blood

The Twin Cities Marathon starts at 8:00 AM this Sunday and I’m in the best shape ever. This is the first time I’ve completed my marathon training injury free. I think my success is mainly due to consistency during training. I never missed a long run during the week and during the most critical time of my training I got in most of my short runs. During the last few weeks of my training my life got really busy, so I didn’t do all the short runs I planned but I made sure I got in all my long runs. By being consistent with my training, I never got into a situation where I had to play catch up and push myself too hard.

Back in early June I officially started my marathon training with a 10 mile long run. At the time I could comfortably run 10 miles, but 14 miles was very difficult and painful. Since then each week I would add one mile to my long run, except for one week I reserved as a “rest week”, where I didn’t add a mile. (I’ve recently read from a marathon trainer to expect at least one long run with poor performance – it just happens).

Starting with my 18 mile run I started a routine that seems to work pretty well. For my long runs I run with a water belt holding four 6 oz water bottles. Before drinking water I run to my turnaround point and then back to a point where I have about 8 miles left to run. At that point I have my first water break where I walk while slowly drinking water. Then I take three other walking water breaks about every 2 miles. Between the walking water breaks I run at a pretty good pace to keep my average pace near 9:30 (I’m not a fast runner so that is a pretty fast long run pace for me.)

I was going to run 22 miles last week, but I tried running during the afternoon and the heat really got to me. After running 19 miles I stopped into a public restroom where I could douse my head with cool water. I spent too much time cooling off and my legs got all stiffened up.

I don’t think the walking water breaks give me much physical rest, but they help me a lot mentally. Rather than focusing on finishing the run, I just focus on getting to the next walking water break point. I find I can push myself a little harder to get to that next reward. Many marathoners walk through water breaks when racing, so my training method is not unusual.

There is famous Olympian marathon runner, Jeff Galloway, who teaches a run/walk method for marathon training and racing. He claims this is a way to marathon run injury free until you are 100 years old. Some runners have completed a marathon race well under 3 hours using his run/walk method, so one can still finish a marathon with an exceptional time using his method.

After my last walking water break, I hit the lap reset on my Garmin Forerunner 305 at the 2 mile remaining point and start my final push. Out of my last 7 long runs, I’ve been able to complete the last two miles with a pace less than 9 minutes-per-mile. For my 23 mile long run I finished the last two miles with a pace of 8:40. I typically finish my long runs with an average pace of about 9:30, which does not include bathroom stops to poop.

I’ve been having some problems with runner’s trots. There was one long run where I had to stop 4 times. Fortunately there are a number of Porta Potties a long the way that I have found over the years. One problem is I have been starting my long runs very early in the morning, typically around 4:30 am. That’s just not optimum timing with my intestinal track, which doesn’t usually wake up until about 6 or 7 am.

I have made some improvements by changing my diet, which is usually super high in fiber. I won’t go to an unhealthy low fiber diet, which seems to partially defeat the purpose of running, but a day before making a long run I do cut out any super high fiber items like beans or double-fiber bread. I also try not to eat any greasy foods the day before. This week before the marathon race I’ve really been watching my diet. I got to be careful though; I don’t want to be running constipated either. One thing is for sure, if you are having troubles with constipation, try long distance running. Gravity is the most natural way to get things moving.

This is the first marathon I will be running with a full tank of blood. I was anemic for my 4 previous marathons. A physical I had before my first marathon in 2006 showed I was slightly anemic. Unknowingly the anemia was probably the first sign of my cancer, but unfortunately my physician at the time didn’t follow up on it. In 2007 I ran the TC marathon and finished with my best chip time yet of 4:06. I think I could have finish less than 4 hours but the temperatures that day were at record levels. Then in 2008 I ran Grandma’s marathon a couple of months after completing chemotherapy, and then the TC marathon that fall. I was very anemic for those races. It took about a year after chemo for my blood to return to normal levels. I can see and notice the difference.

When I now run my heart rate stays at a much lower rate even for faster speeds. When I ran my last 23 mile run my heart rate stayed at about 148 bpm up to the 21 mile point at an average pace of 9:33. For the last two miles I picked up my pace to 8:40 and my heart rate average 161 bpm during that time. For Grandma’s marathon in 2008 my heart rate was averaging around 160 to 165 bpm even though my average pace was around 10:03. That’s a huge difference from now and then. Whether or not I finish less than 4 hours will not be determined by my cardio systems, but rather by my legs. Oh, and my head too.

For the previous 3 TC marathons I ran, I let adrenalin take over and started out at a pace that was way too fast. Then at about mile 19 to 21 I would run out of gas. At about mile 20 there is a relatively steep climb up the Mississippi River valley up to Summit Ave. In past years I have seen many marathoners collapse somewhere along this climb, and many others walking. I’ve never been able to finish strong at this marathon because of poor pacing. This year I plan to run alongside the 4:00 hour pacer, a very experienced marathon runner that helps runners set a good pace and provides motivation on the way.

We’ll see what happens, but this year I am determined to take on the notorious Summit Ave climb and finish under 4 hours.