Friday, July 26, 2013

The Second City

It’s unusual I blog twice this quickly but Chicago was about so much more than the Spartan Race. I also had never taken two cities in that quickly like I had New York and Chicago (appropriately enough, Chicago was the Second City). With Spartans or Marathoners or when I used to travel more to play ultimate, I've never gone somewhere else just to get in physical activity. There are people in my running group who seem to fly to a marathon and fly back in the next day, apparently harder core athletes than me. While it’s clear I love getting me some exercise  it’s rare that I ever go somewhere and just do a race without catching something around it. In a psychological evaluation, the psychologist pointed out that I was about extreme as extroverts get (if you can’t tell from a guy whose entire life is on a blog…) but that I was also as low stress as he’d seen someone so extremely extroverted. I don’t know if there is some great secret to this but the times I feel the stress the most is when I don’t exercise or I try to isolate myself thinking that my problems are entirely my own.

Still, the best part of this Chicago trip, just like the best part of any of my life wasn’t only the sporting events, it was spending time with friends. A friend who I hadn’t seen since high school had moved to Chicago where she is now a minister. We had a great philosophical conversation about that one of my struggles with the concept of heaven in most religions is that it seems to be a place with no struggles where you sit around and just be happy (I can't imagine something being less happy than not being challenged and just sitting around). She accurately pointed out that by the Biblical record, in the perfect Garden of Eden, they still had to grow their food and put in work. In a world where we’re so full of materialism, the picture of heaven painted is that gold is  pavement. Most of I run and drive our cars… I listen to Queen’s who wants to live forever, who dares to live forever?  As I’ve mentioned before, I attend church but the church I attend is emphatic about being real and that redemption isn’t about how pretty you can dress up for church but showing perhaps why most religions emphasize that we need to be saved from ourselves sometimes.

I saw a friend from ultimate who used to live in Texas that’s been around since long before this started… he questioned my George Clooney lifestyle and told me about his “almost true love,” a girl he had met and moved to a town for. They broke up but when he had moved to a town to be with her, well, he was now married to a girl he met because of the town he moved to because of her… He swears like a sailor, maybe not quite that bad but he, as many others have, tried to get me to not be so closed to the idea of committing to someone for whatever time I've got left. I argued with him that if I could get through the brain falling apart without a significant other (though as I’ve said before, never have I done it alone), what did I need one for? I blew him off and as this blog demonstrates didn’t listen or think about a word he said. Nor did I go take a picture of me with Van Gogh the hopeless romantic who cut off his ear with which he insanely showed he was in love.

I met people who wondered if the media stuff got old… those who told me about someone who’d beaten a cancer when they weren’t supposed to… I smiled and told them that like a poker player, as I always have that I bet on the odds of reality knowing the hand I’ve been dealt and betting it as best as I know how under the circumstances. He was also 
a minister and like everyone else who is religious was surprised that I've never prayed to beat this.

But perhaps above all, my favorite person I’d met on this trip was someone I felt like I already knew. Back when this all started, as I found out how rare this tumor is, Livestrong offered to connect me with an Imerman Angel,  someone who already had the same diagnosis. I blew them off originally but realizing it wasn’t so common, I asked to meet someone. We are still in touch and she had to accept some limits as well. She was an attorney that changed her type of work because her language skills were such that she started working to where she wouldn’t be in court anymore because as the guy who has memory and language problems found out the hard “getting fired” way, trying to pretend like you brain is all it was before  they took some healthy and unhealthy components to buy you time, court is a good way to be under the microscope on how much it has affected you. But yet, the most fascinating part of the story was that her boyfriend would become her fiancée after a seizure and propose after she found out she had cancer (they smiled as they shared that it was unromantic because it was out in the cold outside of a car she couldn’t drive and that he didn’t propose on one knee because it was too cold).  These guys made the commitment to get married  in the middle of medical tests and crisis. The guy who got left by his high school sweetheart in the middle of it all by someone he’d been with for over 14 years… well let’s just say it messed with me. Still, as we discussed some of the angel’s language issues that have come from the tumor, she and her husband stated that they work now on realizing that these are small things and try to rarely complain. They had just had to up her anti seizure medication and she was rolling with the punches well.

Home also had me finding out that a friend I made from this journey, who found these things out through headaches, well, he had a grand mal seizure while driving. Unlike me, he found out and hadn’t had a seizure at all but was taking the pills as a preventive measure. Like me he was shocked to feel fine one moment and to be told he had a seizure the next. Like me, he has kids and so has a driving restriction  that worries him about the most important passengers which is never the one in the driving seat. Like me, it messed with his confidence of how can you be fine one moment and in an ambulance the next. I exchanged some tips of some of the things with him and his family that I’ve done to remind myself of the medication (an old person pill dispenser so you can retroactively look to see if you missed it, rather than taking it straight from a bottle and a google calendar thing that is set to send an email and pop up on my phone as an alarm) to lower the risks. He is fortunate enough to where his spouse is clearly supportive but they are working on teaching their kids how to make the 911 call and what to say. Both he and the imerman angel are on the same medication that I’m on, on lower dosages… Both of them had their first seizure while driving and thankfully neither they nor anyone else was hurt… but I’m grateful I was never behind a wheel the two times I woke up in an ambulance (this is why I have a driving restriction).

Chicago is apparently called the Second City. While there are competing theories of where the nickname originated, the story I choose to believe is that they called themselves that after having to rebuild the city after a great fire. There are people who take their second shot at life and throw it away being bitter or scared of what happened on the first part. There are those who put it on hold or slow it down while in treatment and come back to some or none of it, shifting it. I’ve called my life, Life Part II many times, with some dramatic changes having been handed to me and others me consciously deciding out of a strange mixture of hope and fear (pile on the list here the George Clooney approach, putting off brain surgery to run a marathon, running races with a stroller all the time, doing some things with a lot more caution and others with a lot more abandon).  Chicago politicians’ jail time would tell you that they’ve probably missed a fair share of getting some of it right… a cursory reading of this blog would tell you that about me. But sometimes, the only thing you get right is to keep going, to give it a second try as well as you can, sometimes unclear or scared of how much of the balance you’re getting right. At the Spartan the volunteer shouted in the middle of an obstacle, you’re miles ahead of the guys on the couch. I’ve gotten lost on races so I wondered if that was true for me, what if you take the wrong turn as I have in cycling or in running? I don’t have a clear answer for that but I know/hope/believe that even along the wrong turns we all make in life… that we’re still ahead of the people on the couch … The second city gave me a lot to think about in Life Part II but it never made me question the will to keep going.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Quiet Unassuming Spartan

When the Spartan race was in Austin, I got to participate in it. It was a shorter distance than with lots of obstacles over just under 5 miles… While running with a stroller and picking up a kid build some upper body and core strength, she weighs less than I do and it’s my weight I had to support. (I was written about in a blog there and made Spartan TV While I guess I did respectable in it both days… in my view, well it kicked my ass. Then this weekend I got invited to the Chicago Super (a little over 8 miles) one and can I say well…. It kicked my ass.

What bothered me the most was not the fact that I couldn’t keep speed. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve done trail running and that was by far the most mud I've ever mucked through with it getting knee high. I am amused at the fact that they call it technical running since for most of human history, we didn’t have tracks, pavement, stairs or sidewalk or flattened out trails for running. These ways are a recent development and runners the rest of the time were trying to figure out how to do it like they do it in the Spartan races, through mud, up and down steep hills… But as a girl noticed on the trail, I seem to hesitate more and watch my feet more carefully, afraid that I’ll fall. I fell multiple times, had the shoe come off once. All the obstacles were physically and mentally tough with the only somewhat cheesy one being the spear throw but hey if you want to be a Spartan…?

But what bothered me most on the first one in Austin was that I nailed all of the obstacles except for the monkey bars…? Who can’t do monkey bars, didn’t we do these in elementary and junior high all the time? Apparently if you stop doing things in junior high they don’t just magically stay with you when you’re 32. In running and cycling, my workout attitude is to work out by practicing the activities you want to do. I do some basic push ups and pulls up and sit ups but not nearly enough. With the Spartan, it’s not like I’ve got a huge tire I can flip or big concrete blocks to carry across my yard but Kiana and I are at the playground often and the monkey bars are there. Kiana did them with more ease than I did and she tried to comfort me by saying well dad you’re fatter than me… that’s when she learned the word heavier. When you go into a distance you haven’t done in terrain you don’t know with obstacles that you have to learn… I don’t expect any great performance but I give it my all. I did the race both days, doing it faster the second day than I had the first but as cheesy as it sounds, the thing I was the most excited about was that I had gotten across the monkey bars finally.

Still I made a few wrong turns and got helped out by spectators, volunteers and other participants. Running through the woods is a whole different game but as I started and they were kind enough to let me run with the elite guys I just remembered Frost  “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep.” I slept well Saturday night and Sunday night. And Monday night. And Tuesday night. I have gotten asked by media and people how do I do all this and I answer the simple truth, it literally is just one foot in front of the other. The Spartan race is a little more complicated sometimes it’s one foot on a balance wall or going over a high wall or your arms are working like feet as you scale up a mountain. The comforts of road races are missing and you get mud in places that you weren’t expecting and hurt in muscles I didn’t even know I had. There are some people who want to keep doing a certain distance like the 5k or the marathon or the century and improving on them. I certainly do that sometime but I also, trying to live up to my running slut nickname, try to take on new challenges, mostly physical since the brain isn’t what it used to be. I’ve quoted Fun’s “My head is on fire but my legs are fine” but in the Spartan you run through fire so not quite sure if that hold… And I quote their other song, “One foot in front of the other, I am not looking for a new life, or a new love, just a better place to die.” Do I think everyone should run a marathon or a Spartan? Not necessarily but I don’t quite get how people don’t exercise or don't do it regularly. People think and a few nag that me doing some of these things are bad for my health or my body because I come out barely able to walk after a marathon or scratched up and bleeding with poison ivy after a Spartan. But I really do believe that for me, perhaps for all of us, any race course or workout is usually a lot less dangerous than the couch. I don’t know if pain is weakness leaving the body (if it is I lose a lot of weakness training and participating) but those events really do create strength in the muscles and organs that I hope are what’s pushing my brain to keep going. I’ve worn my "Make Him Work for it" to these Spartan events, partly because I can look down at my chest and remind myself why I do it and partly because then I only get so many shirts with leftover mud…

I got mentioned in the write up of the race in Chicago ( where I get called a quiet and unassuming guy. There’s pictures of me shouting at the top of my lungs at the end of road races where I won and others out of frustration but in this one… I don’t have enough lungs or energy then to realize that even if I finished in respectable times that the course owned me far more than I it.

I have gotten lost on road and spartan races. I've thrown up on them but what has never been negotiable is not finishing. Last year, I signed up for the Livestrong Centuries and who would have guessed that biking was going to become my car because of the driving restriction. Training for a sporting event gave me a life necessity. Now as I'm doing these Spartan races, I hope it's not foreshadowing that I'm going to end being a guy who lives wondering through the jungle rolling in mud. Perhaps it's more like the tip someone gave me about technical running, that after you've done it a few times, you are looking not just at the next step but at first two or three steps ahead and then in due time looking at the rough path and having a general plan while getting through the next hard step with more conviction than I used to. Life has had many steps I wasn't expecting nor prepared for nor that I thought I'd be doing but perhaps... as it becomes more normal...I can move through it a little better by both the guidance of those who have gone before me, the help of those going beside me, and the reality of just getting more practice. 

 Still, the best part of the race was that they let me lead the kids race as well. They take a lot more joy in rolling through mud and jumping over things and crawling under thing and running. Unfortunately both of the weekends, I’ve gotten to do these Kiana was with her mom so she’s only gotten to see pictures. She stated it looked gross but fun…  I’ll do a bit more trail running on occasion now because life’s too short to pretend like it’s always clean. At least that’s what I think quietly and unassumedly.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Bandaid On Cancer

Once many many years ago, when I was in college running on the cross country team, a friend and I talked about how people were focused on the wrong thing in this life. We had the naïve idealism of kids barely old enough to drink but we weren’t so much focused on changing the world but wanted everyone to convert to Christianity so that they could be ready for the next. I would say to her then that focusing on doing well in this life is like putting a bandaid on cancer. As I’ve said before in here, I’ve never once prayed to beat this but I do attend church (sit in the back) and have finally gotten the courage to join a small group there but I am turned off with people of all religions who work so hard at conversion to where it doesn’t sound much different than “I have a bigger God than yours.” There are those who have tried to get me to convert to their religion with what seems to be a sell of if you do, your will be easier. Whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist or etc  a cursory reading of all their scripture shows it didn’t go well for a whole lot of good people in there so I’m not sure where that idea comes from… But it went well enough to keep hope because they maintained connections to an Idea and to people who shared it.

Some of the slow news days about how I can still put one foot in front of the other continued in the last couple of weeks with ESPN  ( and competitor magazine  ( covering the Beaumont win and a few other things. The ESPN piece has been one of my favorites because it catches many of the mistakes I made and the jokes I’ve made about them. And I’m still making mistakes and always will but sometimes the only way you get to get some things right is by looking at the mistakes. Another friend recently sent me an article even as I raise money for brain cancer research at the brainpower5k, that perhaps we make a mistake in looking at only the standouts in the cancer survivorship camp or in any other camp for that matter but that we should also focus on the mean, comparing that idea to when they would check the planes that came back well from World War II. According to this article, they would make changes to where they would be more resistant in the places where they’d been shot but pointed out brilliantly as to why that mattered since those planes had managed to stay up and return home… the data of those that were buried in rivers or collapsed into pieces on the ground may have been more useful…  That sounds depressing of course but it’s why I signed up both to be followed and to donate my brain to science. Whichever camp I end up in and anyone who reads this knows where I place my bet, I hope that something about my brain will be useful to someone else down the line.

The George Clooney lifestyle continues with me still deathly afraid of commitment (poor choice of words at best I know) but still hanging onto sparks of humor once in a while even if sparks of hope don’t come that often. At the brainpower 5k we sat and laughed about many things with the survivor and there were some pictures taken by the survivor (my outfit was picked for me for the record) but we had some fun with it in a sole picture. But there some of those survivors are definitely admirable in ways I can never be. And there is something about those who are there because of deceased family/friends that long after someone is back honor them by fighting what took them much too young.

And for the first time in a year with what I hope will be my last legal payment in a while… and with only 4 medical appointments left all year and with the house getting refinanced, I’ve started crunching numbers. All in all, I am only 10k more in the hole than I was a year ago and if you count the scholarship fund that the Gusher marathon  provided (it doesn’t pay any current bills) but it seems that starting soon,  I may be able to start coming out in the black and refilling the hole, assuming nothing dramatically goes wrong.

One of the races that I got invited to and that I’m going to this weekend is the Spartan Race ( I got to do a spring here in Austin which whooped me and now invited to a super which is twice as long with more obstacles than the one I’m doing this weekend. As mostly a pure runner, I don’t do nearly enough upper body and core work and I’ve worked on some this week, not because I think it’ll get me into a huge difference but because I wanted to get into the right mentality that this is different. As I’ve said here before, I run because it’s somewhere it feels normal but I also sign up for these events because the distance is clear, the mile markers are too,  you can look at elevation profiles, GPS watches that tell you how far you’ve gone and at what pace. You can throw all that out the window in Spartan races. There’s mud and water and obstacles that you have no idea when they are coming, what they are, how far apart they are and for relative rookies like me, how to do it. Keeping a constant rate is impossible even if you could keep a watch on because it’s not on a road but on terrain that has huge variety of things… Their local video camera crew talked to me on the one I did here and they said what would it take for you to not finish… and that took half a second to answer… that one is simply not negotiable.

There are days where I wonder if sitting here having raised a few thousand dollars for brain cancer research for these organizations matters much, or having raised some for awareness for Livestrong does. There are days where in frustration is high with things like hearing Kiana saying I wish you and mommy were still together because when I’m with you I miss her and when I’m with her I miss you. (To try to show her that mom and dad's tension had nothing to do with her, I brought her butterfly themed things since that's a connection point between them like lions are for her and I...and if you think I'm always disciplined the first thing I did when I saw her when I hadn't seen her for about a week was take her out for ice cream) There are days where I realize that 10K is what people I’ve met have spent in one month on cancer treatment. There are days where I realize not nearly enough people are fortunate enough to have the kind of community connections that I have which keep me going.  And I think back of that conversation that maybe spirituality and focusing only on the after life would be more comforting, where maybe I could ignore the bandaid on the cancer and just look to another day where everything will be all right. I don’t know if that day is coming for me or for anyone but I know, I KNOW, as well as I know anything that today I had lunch with my daughter, that right now I am about to head out to an 8 mile training run. I have people I love dearly who have gone through dramatic diets or dramatic surgeries to help reduce weight or magically heal bad habits… I suppose it’s better than doing nothing but while I’ve been invited to many groups, one of my favorites is one that people just report how they worked out that day. I’ve been called inspirational many times but there we all just help each other to get more perspirational. Many of them share what they did it and who they did it with. These moments of connections, these habits of health, these being the pattern of theirs and I hope my life… perhaps all of these things are just a bandaid on cancer. But if they are, even if they heal nothing at all about my symptoms or disease, those bandaids have helped with my cancer.  Odds are if you read this, you’ve been one of those great points in my life… so thank you.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Go Again

Kiana and I took and with help from some of her friends and some of my adult friends we made a puzzle a day for 8 days. It was only just a way to avoid the heat since we’re mostly outdoor people but in Texas heat even the playground can be too hot to touch. We made some rules about not playing games on the ipad or etc until we got it done each day. The puzzles were progressively harder from 150 pieces to 500 and I’m pretty certain we aren’t going to become puzzle people but I was proud that we got it done. And most of them depicted Disney characters outside so as soon as we finished the last one that’s where we went, outside.

And then the next day she left to be with her mom for a little over a week to visit and I went for my first trip that was just for fun in almost 3 years. Now I’ve had some fun trips, always doing something fun near Duke when I go out there and doing the Boston marathon or weddings. But there was nothing related to a long weekend in New York other than just go the the city that never sleeps. Walking miles each day (I was originally excited about public transportation due to the driving restriction but ended spending only about $15 on subways since the friend whose foldout couch was where we crashed on lived pretty central). As with all of life, my favorite part was time with friends who were from ultimate, running, Spartan race, making new ones. But there was also something special about going through a city with that much history, catching a gigantic park, watching street performers who were incredibly talented. There were museums and statues, which I like to match and a girl with some serious curves hung on my arms and made me reconsider the George Clooney lifestyle…

I’ve been trying for months to refinance my house (mostly for financial reasons and also to get it to where it’s not a tie back to the person I bought it with) and it got finalized yesterday with a 3.25 interest rate apparently among the lowest it’s been in 30 years… between that and the medical appointments getting further apart and the legal ones almost done (there’s still one more where Kiana’s mother’s boyfriend is suing me ( Let’s just say all of this is making it easier to breathe… There’s some catching up to do but last year in March I woke up in an ambulance and had to do all kinds of tests again, in April I had my slowest marathon, in May I got fired, and last summer Kiana’s mother asked that the custody situation change to where I only have supervised visits. This year in March I won a marathon, in April things went well at Duke and I got my fastest 5k ever, in May the custody situation got signed by a judge, and this summer my house refinancing got approved and like I said while there’s still some catching up to do… I am starting to feel further ahead. I had said that I was putting a lot of my life on hold until this custody issue is settled and I have. What I’ll do once school starts again and see how Obamacare plays out in Texas… is yet to be determined but I am daring to dream some realities I didn’t even dream of may be something to start pondering…
I am no naïve idealist and usually more hopeless than romantic… when you set ambitious and perhaps unrealistic goals, there will be heartbreaks and disappointment and may not get them all but if you aim for nothing, you’ll hit it every time. So I am still trying to do new things or to quote a song that will be near the beginning of one of the upcoming races that I have no clue what the terrain looks like is is here I go again:

I don’t know where I’m going
But I sure know where I’ve been
Hanging on the promises
In Songs of Yesterday
And I’ve made up my mind
I ain’t wasting no more time
But here I go again

Last night I did my first symmetrical track workout with 8 400 and 4 800’s in the heat…  still training train simultaneously for the Pocatello marathon and the Brainpower 5k… Still realizing that my brain may not be all it used to be but if I can contribute by putting one foot in front of the other than I will (If you want to donate, be my hero at and/or if you live in Austin come out to the opening party tomorrow night (

In the end the puzzles ended up going back in the box for another day or other people. And I suppose no matter if we cure brain cancer, there will be something else ridiculous and random that kills humans but ugliness of things like cancer that goes only destroying it’s path is things like the beauty of the human spirit that goes trying to both go at life and while going to give back. There was an odd moment when someone in central park recognized me from an article mostly because of my lion lion cub tattoo... They thought it was great that I do things like the ones above or the Gusher marathon but hanging out with my kid, trying to pay my bills, exercising, trying to raise money for what's killing me, well those are things most humans have tried to do... mine are just more gray because they're in the gray areas of my brain (yes I know that's a lame joke). But these are just basic human things to love and be loved, to take care of necessities and try to enjoy some things day to day. The artists in those museums and advertisements (there were pieces in the modern art museum that I think Kiana could compete with), the athletes at the front and back of these races well they are just at war with the obvious as one of my favorite photography exhibits ever explained. I hope to never be someone who doesn't try feed some of that affection, artist, athlete in them and only enjoy it as a spectator... to me that's when I'll have lost the obvious war against cancer for life.

I go pick up Kiana Friday and we’ll have some fun times this weekend and try to not waste any time. But when my time comes to go… I want to know that whether it was sometimes going home, sometimes going to new places or paces but that I went going.