Friday, February 22, 2008

Running Away from Flu Season

Who has the flu? Everybody, it seems. This year's strain is a particularly nasty one. I've been paranoid for a good solid month that I'm going to catch it. Every tickle in my throat or slight sniffle compels me to wash my hands (again), drink an extra glass of water, eat my veggies, and add a few more blueberries to my morning yogurt concoction.

My kitchen may soon be dubbed Antioxidants "R" Us.

But it's tricky to know when to take a day off from training in an attempt to stave off illness. Yesterday is a perfect example. I had been traveling this week and was overtired already. My throat was a little sore, I had a dull headache all day long, and just felt a bit off.

The decision I was facing: Go to swim practice, or take the day off.

Because of my traveling, I hadn't been to practice at all this week, though I had gotten some good running and cycling sessions in. The guilt of missing an entire week of swimming made it tough for me to quickly jump to the choice to skip it. Besides, there are times when a workout actually makes you feel better. Maybe this was one of those times.

With an hour left to decide, I popped a couple of Advil and took a quick hot shower (yes, I know it's weird to take a shower before working out, but sometimes it can get rid of a headache). I started to feel better, so I headed to the pool. Halfway through warm-up I knew I had made the right decision. It was a tough practice, but a good one -- I was a new woman when it was over.

It's a tricky spot to be in this time of year, when so many people around us are coughing, sneezing, and curling up in the fetal position with full body aches. My philosophy? It will never hurt to take one day off, especially if it saves you from catching something that will have you sidelined for a week or more. I was fully prepared to bag my swim if I was feeling lousy after the first set.

Listen to your body -- even if you're not training for anything or not an athlete at all, learning to recognize the signs it inevitably sends you can save a lot of grief. For me, it's time to chill out and lay low if my resting heart rate is elevated, I feel drained or unusually fatigued, I have a drop or loss of appetite, or a workout that should be easy seems hard.

When your body is fighting off an illness, you need to let it do its thing and not bother it with the nuisance of keeping your busy schedule. Take a time out. Or, as we like to say at Race with Purpose: Rest your body, or your body will rest you.

And if you do come down with the flu, my message to the world is this: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STAY HOME! Nobody wants you spreading your germs. And nobody is that important. We promise the world won’t end because you had to take some time off to get better.

This hereby officially ends my rant for today.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Body In Motion...

Happy hour in 1999 with my grandfathers: Poppop (left) and Pappap (right)

"Happy birthday, Pappap!" I exclaimed into the phone this morning.

"Erin, hello! Thank you," my grandfather responded, on this, his 93rd birthday.

"What are you doing to celebrate?" I asked.

"Well, you know. Not too much. Same old thing, though I think I may have a Rolling Rock this afternoon," he said, with a little laugh.

"I wish I could be there to have one with you," I said.

"Me too, Erin. Me too," he said.

My Pappap turned 93 years old today, which in and of itself is quite something. But beyond the number of years he's roamed the earth, what's even more extraordinary is that he starts the road to 94 with the same can-do spirit, sense of humor, and downright stubborness he's had his whole life. At 33, it's hard for me to imagine not being simply exhausted 60 years from now.

He's seen World War II, the Great Depression, the death of his only daughter's husband, the loss of his wife. He's the last of 13 brothers and sisters who is still alive. He recently moved from the only home he's ever really known into a Veteran's Home in Western Pennsylvania, where he is one of the only residents on his floor with the ability to hold a lucid conversation. For a man who's thrived on deep family connections, long-standing friendships, and a social calendar that until recently rivaled a Hollywood starlet's, his capacity to adapt is a lesson of ridiculous proportions.

He (and we) thought it was the end for him about two years ago. My mother was spending weeks on end at his house, trying to convince him that he needed to decide which retirement home he wanted to move into. One night, enough was enough. We had to call an ambulance to take him to a hospital. An infection had disabled him completely and his health declined rapidly. While he was in the hospital, plans were made to move him directly to the Veteran's Home. That morning, as he was being taken out on a stretcher, was the last time he ever saw his home of nearly 65 years.

He spent the first few months in his new surroundings complaining a lot and telling us he was just waiting to die (much to my mother's general dismay). Confined to a wheelchair, he didn't see the point in sticking around. His pride was getting the best of him -- if he couldn't move with his own two legs, he decided he just didn't want to move anymore.

Soon, he was introduced to physical therapy, though. If you're not familiar, old people generally hate physical therapy. But my Pappap soon realized that the exercises were making it possible to regain some independence. And, besides that, they just made him feel good. One day when the physical therapist was running late, Pappap took it upon himself to call him, to make sure he was still coming. The therapist was shocked...he'd never met any resident quite like my Pappap.

While my grandfather is still largely confined to the wheelchair, he doesn't talk at all about if he'll walk again, but instead talks about plans to go out for dinner when he can walk again. He recently achieved a big milestone, after nearly 18 months of training: he can get himself out of bed without any help.

The last time I went for a visit, a nurse came in to take him for his daily walk -- one of very few things he insists on. He counts each step he takes with his walker and tries to add a few each day. Pappap beamed with pride when the nurse told me that he walks the farthest of all the residents on the floor. When I'm ready to quit on a training run or in a race, there's no way I can, knowing this.

The secret to a long and happy life?

"You gotta keep moving, Erin," he's said to me, more than once. "That's all."

When I asked him on his 92nd birthday how he felt, he replied that he was just waiting "to go."

When I asked him the same question today, he said, "I'm looking forward to my 94th."

Mind, body, spirit -- I need no other proof that they are all connected. It's only when you stop moving--even briefly--that you lose matter how old you are.

Happy birthday, Pappap! Here's to another Rolling Rock on your 94th.


Thursday, February 7, 2008

And on the Fourth Day of Freelancing...

...I learned that my neighbors have a dog that howls all day long.

Oh. My. God.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Tipping Scales, Making Rookie Mistakes

After a tremendous week of wrapping up way too many loose ends, a bunch of bittersweet farewells, lots of good wishes, and a few too many celebratory beers, I headed to Hershey to visit my mom. This is code for: I had a big life change happen on Friday--my last day of work--so I ran home as fast as I could in the hope that my mommy could take care of me for a day or two.

And take care of me she did, of course. It was nice to be in the "Green Zone" for 48 hours, before the madness of the freelance life began in earnest this morning.

One key difference between my mother's house and my apartment is the bathroom scale. Whereas I consciously choose to never have one in my home, my mom has one in each bathroom. Save for a doctor's visit, I could go for months or years never really knowing how much I weigh.

But when I find myself in a bathroom with a scale, my curiosity always gets the best of me. And then it starts: even though I feel healthy and strong, my training is going well, my clothes fit comfortably, and my nutrition has been well in check, if the number isn't what I'm expecting, there's that small, fleeting wave of disappointment.

It's positively silly when people who are otherwise completely healthy, fixate on weight. It fluctuates up and down all day long to begin with, and for most triathletes, it doesn't tell you anything about your health or performance -- those are measured in many other ways, including most simply, how you feel. It's not to say that losing a few pounds won't make a runner or a triathlete faster -- in almost all cases it clearly will -- but there's no magic number that is going to create an athletic miracle. Hence, my distain for bathroom scales prevails.

While I was home, I weighed myself twice. The last time I had hopped on the scale and looked at the numbers, I expected it to be tragic, because it was Christmas. I had been eating mostly cookies and washing them down with beer and wine. I had taken five weeks off from all forms of exercise, following the Philly Marathon. But that number wasn't as horrible as I would've thought given the cards I had stacked against myself. You can imagine my surprise yesterday, then, following a good four weeks of triathlon training, when the scale told me that I had gained anywhere from six to eight pounds.

Six to eight pounds? Really? On a less-than-five-foot frame, I feel like these superfluous pounds must be hiding somewhere I just can't see. I've convince myself that it must be muscle mass. Because I have enormous biceps. (Does sarcasm translate in the blog world?)

After I talked myself out of throwing that damn scale out the window, I downed another cup of coffee and sat myself in front of the computer. It was time to begin my new freelance life -- all +8 pounds of me. Monday is typically my day off of training, so I decided to quickly check my e-mail before taking a shower and getting dressed.

As a work-from-home veteran, I should have known not to fall victim to that rookie mistake. Never, ever turn the computer on while you're still wearing your pajamas. You can bet your day's pay that by lunchtime, you'll still be wearing them. And around 12:30 p.m. there I was, writing, answering e-mails, and pathetically wearing my favorite flannel PJ bottoms while sipping a now-cold cup of coffee.

People often ask me why I train for marathons and triathlons. Until the day comes again that I'm forced to go to an office every morning, I can add, "Because a morning workout forces me to take a shower and get dressed before noon everyday" to the list.

And, of course, because as long as I'm training, I'll never own a bathroom scale.