Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Boston Marathon Race Report

I left Houston on Saturday morning. It was raining hard enough that they canceled the first day of MS 150-- a big bike race between Houston and Austin. So I was lucky to get out of waterlogged Southeast Texas without incident. Les picked me up at the airport and we stayed up way too late chatting.

After church on Sunday, Les took me to my friend Elisabeth's house. Elisabeth drove me the last seven or eight miles of the race route (through Newton and into the city) and we walked through Boston Common and the Public Gardens and around Beacon Hill on the way to the Expo, where we picked up my packet. She dropped me off at Les's house, and fellow runner Rebecca and her husband Patrick came over and we strategized and had dessert.

On Monday morning, Les dropped me off in Hopkinton. Rebecca and I had planned to meet up and sit together while we waited for the race to start, but we couldn't find each other. I spent more than an hour waiting in line for a porta potty, and I expect that she was doing the same thing in line for another porta potty. I was starting to get nervous, because I couldn't find my running buddy, Afton, either. We finally found each other around the time we were walking to the corrals. Les kept me very warm-- I was wearing her entire DI pile-- my race tank, a long sleeved t-shirt, a big sweatshirt, a shearling coat, running shorts, velvet pajama pants, heavy socks (which would come to haunt me later on), gloves, a stocking cap, and a huge warm cozy thing that Les warmed up for me before we left. All of it (except the shorts and the tank) ended up getting discarded along the race route. Call me a stripper if you want, I can take it.

The first few miles were amazing. I've run four marathons before this one. The first and fourth (both in Kingwood, Texas) had virtually no crowd support. The second, Country Music, had fairly good crowd support at times, but other times there was no one cheering. St. George had pockets of fans, but definitely nothing consistent until the last few miles. But at Boston, there are screaming fans the whole 26 miles. Afton had her name on her shirt, and had people call out "Go Afton" literally thousands of times. A girl named Eve ran behind us, and I swear I'm still hearing "Eve," "Eve," Eve." Eve was way popular.

The first mile was a little bit slow as the group found its pace, but we ran the next ten or so miles at a 7:35-7:40 pace, which I felt was going to be a little bit too fast to maintain, but it was too loud and too crowded for us to powwow and talk strategy, so we kept going at that pace. When we hit Wellesley (the halfway mark) we could hear the roar of the crowd well before we could see them. There were hundreds (thousands?) of girls with "kiss me" signs. "Kiss me, I'm a senior," "Kiss me, I'm Asian," "Kiss me, I'm Gay," "Kiss me, I'm a biologist." There was even a cute boy with a "kiss me" sign. I settled for a high five from him, but if I had been willing to break my pace, I may have considered it...

We passed Team Hoyt around mile 17, just as we started hitting the hills. I really wanted to pat Dick on the back but figured that he must get patted and prodded the whole way, so I restrained myself. But I was so close to him! It was really cool.

Les and the Boston Mormon contingent was waiting just before mile 19. They had orange slices and water in Dora the Explorer Dixie cups and a big sign that had my name on it. It was really, really fun to have people screaming my name! They had a cheering section of about 30, and my friend Elisabeth and her son were waiting a couple of blocks later.

After that, the fun was over and we settled into the hard work. We hit hill after hill after hill and the hills were tough. Our pace started to slow. Afton and I had agreed that she might need to walk during the later water stops, but I kept running at a slow but consistent pace because I was afraid that if I walked, I might never be able to start running again. We always managed to meet up with each other again. Heartbreak Hill surprised me because it wasn't extremely steep, but it went on forever. That's when I was really happy that there were lots of people to cheer us on. Climbing up that hill with no support would have been so much harder.

Speaking of support, I often think of running a marathon as kind of a solitary endeavor. I run alone most of the time. But I decided at this race that it takes a village to get someone through a marathon. Eddie was a single parent for four days. My friend Annie kept my kids for a long day on Monday. Leslie and her boys drove me all over New England for the whole weekend. Elisabeth drove from Boston to Western Massachusetts and back. Thousands of people volunteered and passed out water and orange slices and drove buses and did hard work behind the scenes. Thousands more spent a cold, windy day cheering us on.

Speaking of cold and windy, the last six or seven miles were both. The hills got really tough, and then the flats got really tough, and then the downhills got really tough. We saw a sign that said something like "sorry legs, the brain has taken over" and that definitely applied in the last few miles. When we saw the Citgo sign, I knew we were in the home stretch, and when we passed it and rounded the corner, I felt a final burst of energy. Then we rounded the very last corner and could see the finish line (way off in the distance). I kept thinking, "I can't believe we're finishing the Boston Marathon!" Afton's sister called out her name a couple hundred feet before the finish line, which was really cool. We grabbed hands at the finish line and I started sobbing. It was overwhelming to want something for years, to try and fail and try again and then, after a year of waiting, to accomplish a goal that once seemed impossible.

We finished at 3:32 according to the race clock, but when our watches dinged 26.2, the clock read exactly 3:30:00. My watch read 26.48 miles when we crossed the finish line, probably because we did a lot of weaving in and out during the first few miles of the race when the pack was really tight. Even according to the official clock, Afton had a 7 minute PR, which is amazing for the Boston Marathon. It was definitely a harder course than I've run before.

I'm surprised at how good I feel today. My quads are slightly sore, and one toe blistered badly (I could feel it before the end of the first mile, which is always a bad thing. If it hadn't been a race, I would have stopped and adjusted the seam in my sock, but I just left it that way. I'll probably lose that toenail). But overall I felt strong, even after the finish. Les and I stayed up way too late (again) and had fun talking. She put me on the plane this morning, and it was fun to ride home with other racers, share horror stories and have the pilots congratulate us on our work.

Eddie and the kids met me as soon as I got off the plane. The house was (miraculously!) clean and the kids all had on matching clothes. He's pretty good at being the mom! Tomorrow it will be back to business as usual, but it was great to get away, and Boston is definitely a marathon like no other.

*thanks to Ellen Patton for the pictures and for organizing the mile 19 crew!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Tell me I'm ready for this...

I'm mostly packed. One tiny suitcase-- because, after all, I'm making the trip all by myself. Which means that I might actually get to read the three books in my suitcase. If my nerves calm down enough to let me focus.

I've already done the marathon thing four times before. Yeah, the first time was pretty bad, but the last three have been great. So why am I so nervous about Boston? Is it just because it's the Boston Marathon, built up in my mind as the Mt. Everest of marathons?

Wish me luck. I'll be back with a full report on Tuesday. Look to my twitter feed on Monday for updates!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Are Texans lazy?

Yesterday morning my realtor called to give me the weekly pep talk, you know, the one that goes, "I know things have been slow, but they're sure to pick up soon. Just hang in there, continue keeping your house spotless at all times, and I'll talk to you again next week." (Okay, not exactly, he's actually a really nice guy, but home selling feels like a dentist visit that lasts for weeks, maybe even months). One of the things he said during our chat yesterday was that he'd had a call on the house the day before, but that the person decided not to look at it after finding out that the master bedroom is upstairs.

Apparently, here in Texas, having an upstairs master bedroom is, like, totally uncool.

A few months ago, someone in the ward who had been considering taking a look at our house before it went on the market reconsidered for the same reason. Our realtor says that his unscientific experience is that 4 out of 5 Texans favor downstairs master bedrooms. When I was pregnant with Maren, we had some friends over for dinner. The wife (also pregnant, but with her first) wanted to look at the baby's room, so we went upstairs. On our way down, I realized I'd forgotten something up in the bedroom, so I ran back up to grab it. Once I got downstairs she said, "Oh, it must be terrible to have to go up and down those stairs all day long."

"Oh yeah," I thought. "Climbing a single flight of stairs ten times a day is so much harder than carrying around a toddler, chasing two other kids, or, for that matter, running four miles a day." I realize that I sound like a brat. That's why I didn't say it, I just thought it.

The funny thing is that when we bought the house, the thing I liked best about it was the fact that all of the bedrooms were upstairs. Our kids were 5, 3 and six months at the time, and we planned to have one more, so I didn't want to risk having them fall down the stairs on their way to the safety of Mom and Dad's bed after a bad dream, and certainly didn't want to have to wake up any more than was necessary to feed a crying baby in the middle of the night. In our floor plan, the master bedroom is on the north side of the house, the three kid bedrooms are on the south side of the house and there's a big playroom (called the game room here) in the middle, so it's not like we're right on top of each other or anything.

Maybe it's because I grew up in New England, where there seems to be a more distinct division in people's minds between formal and informal space, but I really don't think I'd like to have my bedroom downstairs, where any UPS man or friend who decided to drop by could wander in and see my unmade bed piled high with laundry, where anyone might glimpse the unpleasantness that is me running on the treadmill with no shirt on (it's hot in Texas!). I like the idea of having public space on the main level and private space upstairs or in the basement, not that I have a basement here; if you dig deep enough down to plant a bush, you'll hit the water table.

Have you noticed regional variations in house preferences based on where you live? As someone moving from the land of glossy white woodwork and brick all the way around the house to the land of the highly speckled granite countertops and knotty alder kitchen cabinets, I've been surprised at what seems desirable in a house changes from place to place in America.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Book #22: Sold

Title: Sold
Author: Patricia McCormick

A young adult book about the sex trade in India? Before reading Sold, I wondered how it would be possible to write honestly about what a thirteen-year-old girl, sold by her stepfather into sexual slavery would experience, while still making the book appropriate reading for a young adult audience who hasn't suffered similar horrors.

McCormick nailed it. After finishing Sold, I realized that she never once used the word "penis," never once even said "sex," but made clear both the physical and mental brutality that Lakshmi endured. Sold is exactly the kind of book that I hope my daughter reads in another half-dozen years. It's an important book which highlights a problem that, thankfully, most girls in the western world have no frame of reference to understand. A great book to add to the reading list of any budding feminist... and her parents.

Book #21: The Girl Who Played with Fire

Title: The Girl Who Played with Fire
Author: Stieg Larsson

Only about a week after I finished The Girl in the Dragon Tattoo, my copy of The Girl Who Played with Fire arrived from England, where it's already in paperback (thanks for making us wait over on this side of the pond, publishing world!). The second book in the series kept my attention as well as the first. Once again, Larsson has a great story with fantastic characters and a fast-pace pitch. Whereas last time I devoured the whole book and wanted more immediately, I started to notice some flaws while reading The Girl Who Played With Fire. First of all, Larsson spends a lot of time, maybe way too much time, talking about IKEA furniture (her apartment was furnished with a Malm wardrobe and Billy bookcases, for example), Billy's Pan Pizza, the culinary offerings at Swedish 7-11s, different kinds of coffees, Mac Powerbooks, and other name-brand details which became distracting. Secondly, and I'm not sure this would be a problem for a Swedish audience, the names of the characters are so similar that I felt like I needed a glossary to keep people straight. For example, two of the villans are Niemann and Niedermann, and three other charactesr are Blomkvist, Berger and Bjurman. Sorting out who's who slowed me down a little bit, but not enough that I was sad I took on the challenge. The next book (The Girl Who Stepped into the Hornet's Nest, if my French translation is right) isn't even out in England yet, so I'll have plenty of time for my excitement to build up before the third installment comes out.

Book #20: The Handmaid's Tale

Title: The Handmaid's Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood

I wrote about how surprised I was by the fact that I liked The Handmaid's Tale here. But like it I did. I was also surprised that even though apparently a lot of our group hated it, we had a relatively well-behaved and contention-free book club discussion about it. Remember ladies, "well-behaved women seldom make history." If you haven't read The Handmaid's Tale, read it, prepare to get angry, and let the feminist inside of you come to the surface and take over for a while. You'll feel so much better if you let her get out every once in a while.

Book #19: The Year My Son and I Were Born

Title: The Year My Son and I Were Born: A Story of Down Syndrome, Motherhood and Self Discovery
Author: Kathryn Lynard Soper

A couple of days ago, a friend came over to my house and asked if she could borrow a few books. I took her through my unpacked and accessible stash and handed her this as a possibility. "Oh, this one is really good," I said. "Is it just good because she's a friend of yours?" she asked. "No, it's legitimately good," I assured her. She took it home with her.

I'm interested to hear what my friend has to say, but I really do think that Kathy Soper's memoir is legitimately good, excellent even, and not just because she's a friend, a mentor, and the Editor-in-Chief at Segullah. I devoured The Year My Son and I Were Born, finishing it in less than 24 hours, and although I don't have a child with Down Syndrome, there were so many parts of the book that resonated with me. Kathy writes with such honesty about being an overachiever and wanting her children to follow in her footsteps, and that's something I can totally identify with. I want my children to reflect well on me, sometimes to their detriment. Kathy's memoir inspired me to try to love my children for who they are and help them become their best selves, even if their best self isn't reflective of the self I want them to become.

Book #18: The Reader

Title: The Reader
Author: Bernhard Schlink

Another book in the reading list inspired by 2008 movies, as well as another one I'm a little surprised that I hadn't read before. The Reader is a deceptively small, light book. It took me only a few hours to read, but several weeks later, it holds its own among the longer, heavier books that I read before and after. It's the story of Michael Berg, fifteen years old and suffering from hepatitis at the book's outset, who goes to thank Hanna Schmitz for helping him home as he was falling ill. Soon Michael and Hanna commence a love affair, which continues for several months until Hanna disappears. Several years later, their paths cross again when Michael is a law student observing a case against former Nazi prison guards, one of whom turns out to be Hanna. Michael eventually discovers the reason for her inexplicable and unhelpful behavior on the stand and reluctantly stays involved in her life.

The Reader isn't an easy book, even though it's short and written in a very straightforward style. I haven't watched the film yet or seen much commentary about it, but I'd guess that most of my peers wouldn't like it much. I've often heard about affairs between teenage boys and older women, and placed the blame on the older woman, but in The Reader, Schlink seems to put an equal level of responsibility on Berg, and doesn't shy away from the way that the relationship affected all of his future relationships. It's worth a read, but don't judge this book by its cover and think it's just a fluff piece.

Book #17: The Private Patient

Title: The Private Patient
Author: PD James

The most interesting thing about PD James's new mystery, The Private Patient, is the uncertain way in which it ends. Baroness James was born in 1920, so she'll be 89 years old this year, but she's been turning out books at the rate of one every two or three years since her first novel was published in 1962, and she hasn't showed signs of stopping, until now. If you really hate spoilers, don't read on, even though nothing I'll say here gives anything away about the mystery of the story, but James seems to imply at the end of the novel, when Detective Adam Dalgliesh marries Emma, that he may soon hand in his badge. Dalgliesh has been James's principal detective since 1962, and although he has miraculously aged very little over the last 47 years, he may be contemplating retirement.

And I'm sad. P.D. James was the first myster writer whose work I ever really loved. When I was in college, I designed a senior seminar for myself to take advantage of being in London on Study Abroad, and a large part of the reason why I chose British Mystery novels for my subject was PD James's work. The world may change, the stock markets may fall, but I loved the predictibility that every two or three years, I could count on a new story by PD James. And The Private Patient is a great mystery with excellent characterization. Baroness James is just as sharp at 88 as she was at 48, and if it's her last novel, I'm glad she's going out strong, but I'll miss her.

Here's an interesting interview with a UK newspaper: http://www.sundayherald.co.uk/arts/arts/display.var.2446079.0.0.php

Book #16: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Author: Stieg Larsson

I'd read some negative reads of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo around Goodreads, and that had me curious. It kept showing up in my "suggested reads" at Amazon.com, so I decided to reserve it at the library, knowing based on my friends' recommendations that I may end up hating it.

I'm a fan of the mystery, thriller, potboiler genre, in limited quantities. I liked The DaVinci Code, but bored with Dan Brown after reading Angels and Demons soon on its heels. Same story with John Grisham-- he held my attention for The Firm and The Pelican Brief, but Playing for Pizza? Not so much. I started reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on a Friday night, and came up for air on Sunday afternoon when the book was done. It's definitely a thriller in the vein of Grisham or Harlan Coben, but it's very engaging and well-done. The characters of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomquist kept me rooting for them, despite their obvious flaws. In fact, I liked the book so much that I ordered the second book in the Milennium Trilogy from England so I wouldn't have to wait until it was published in America this summer. After finishing the first book, I was disappointed that Larsson died after only writing three books instead of the ten that people speculate he was planning, but we'll see if he holds my interest through the next two books in the series.

Book #15: The First Hour I Believed

Title: The First Hour I Believed
Author: Wally Lamb

It's been a long time since I read a Wally Lamb novel, and I was a bit daunted that this one weighed in at about 800 pages. But the story of Caelum and Maureen Quirk grabbed me and held me tight. Already messed up by life and abuse and loss and hard knocks, the couple tries and fails (and tries again) to pull their lives together after Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold open fire at Columbine, where they both work. At first I was really mad about the way the novel ends, but I began to see it as redemptive. Lamb does a great job with his characters-- even the supporting ones (like Caelum's best friend the baker and his mom) seem so real that I felt like they were people I knew in the flesh by the end of the story. At first I couldn't decide if I liked the way Lamb brought two of the most catastrophic events in recent American history together in the novel (Columbine and Katrina) but I eventually decided that these "real life" events only highlighted the way that the modern world is often "too much with us." It was evident that Lamb's recent life mission, working with inmates in a writing program, served as a great inspiration for this piece, and he does a great job of helping us sympathize with Maureen's character without oversentimentalizing.

Book #14: Revolutionary Road

Title: Revolutionary Road
Author: Richard Yates

Like most of you, we saw preview after preview for Revolutionary Road at the movies last fall. Each time we saw it, Eddie would turn to me and say, "That movie looks so depressing. You couldn't pay me to go see it." (And this from the man who secretly adored Titanic). But I was intrigued by the story, and one of these nights, when Eddie's on call, I'm sure I'll watch the movie by myself.

Maybe Eddie would really like the movie, though. He loves the character of Betty Draper on AMC's Mad Men, loved the scene last season when a character on the show called her "so profoundly sad." In Revolutionary Road, April Wheeler is also profoundly sad. She hates that she gave up a life in New York City for a neat a suburban prison too perfect to complain about (so did Betty). She hates that she's unable to break back into acting after quitting to stay home with her kids (Betty tried to get back into modeling). She hates that her equally unhappy husband gets to escape into the city day after day (so does Betty), where he has affair with his secretary (so does Betty's husband). And she really, really hates it when she finds out that she's pregnant with a third child she doesn't want (Betty does too). Do you think the writers at Mad Men are guilty of a little character stealing (RR was written in 1962)? Regardless of the similarities, both Revolutionary Road and Mad Men highlight the hollow promises of the suburbs and of the 1950-1960s ideals, and both, quite frankly scare the crap out of me that I might fall into the same trap that Betty and April find themselves.

Book #13: Girls of Riyadh

Title: Girls of Riyadh
Author: Rajaa Alsanea

Four Saudi girlfriends navigate the years from high school graduation to their mid-twenties.

We discussed Girls of Riyadh in our book club in February, and the idea we kept coming back to was how the conservative Muslim society in which the four friends lived served as an interesting mirror in which to view our own conservative religious culture. Although I'd argue that it's a no-brainer that Mormon women have more freedom than their counterparts in Riyadh (dress and driving alone are striking examples), but the girls in the story often seemed to self-limit based on what they thought other people expected of them. When on character marries a man who was in love with another woman before their arranged marriage, she blames herself because she hasn't been able to lure him into love, then blames him for abandoning her and their child. The style of the book (written as a series of expose emails to a listserv group), with the email's authors serving as both observer and rabble-rouser, allows the audience to feel like they're part of the culture and privy to the gossip that circulates in the world of the four women. It made me feel that rabble-rousers and cultural commentators have an important role in our own culture, and that we all have a responsibility kick against the pricks every once in a while.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Trying to look on the bright side...

I've been in a pessimist funk lately. Half of the ward has houses on the market now, and it seems like everyone else's is getting action but mine. It's been on three and a half weeks and we've had four people through it. Which is about exactly 1/5 of the action others have had. What's the deal? Not sure, but keeping it show-ready all the time is certainly wearing.

So Eddie says I need to focus more on counting my blessings. Here's a sweet little story to share with you:

This morning the big kids had no school and I was determined to make it to the gym for an abs workout and a spinning class. We all got loaded up, left the house in plenty of time, turned onto our town's main road, sped up past a clunky truck, and shortly realized that it wasn't the truck that was clunking, it was me. So I pulled off the road, got out, and quickly saw that I had a completely flat tire. But lo and behold, what did I see right across the street? A car care center, which was already open at 7:50. They got us right on the lift, swapped out the bad tire (with a nail in the side?) for a new one, and we made it to the gym in time for the spinning class. If we'd skipped the gym this morning (which the kids wanted me to do), we wouldn't have known about the flat until we were on our way to Isaac's physical therapy appointment, which we would undoubtedly have missed.

So there you have it. Evidence of a tender mercy. I'd prefer my tender mercies to come in the form of offers on the house, but I'll take what I can get.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The most important meal of the day...

I'll admit it, over the last few months I've been bad about eating breakfast. It's not that I ever miss breakfast (I never miss any meals) but I've been eating bad breakfasts.

When I went on Weight Watchers two years ago, one of the goals I set for myself was no sweets before lunch. While I gradually gave up on all of the other trappings of Weight Watchers (the food journal, the point tracking, the weekly weigh-ins, the sensible portioning), I kept up the ban on dessert foods before lunch, a 180 turn from my former eating patterns, which regularly involved large slabs of cake for breakfast.

But over the last two or three months, I've seen cracks in my breakfast resolve. The first occurred when Maren discovered that she loves Lucky Charms. After portioning out a bowl for her each morning, I'd stuff a few marshmallow bits in my mouth too, and it didn't take long for me to remember how much I like Lucky Charms too (yeah, they're totally gross, but it's one of those "embrace the grossness" kinds of relationships we have). Also, part of the ritual of our trips to the gym is a stop by Shipley's Donuts on the way home for pink-frosted donuts for Isaac and Maren. Lately I've been finishing off their donuts, which is something I hadn't done in the past.

Part of the problem is that I'm hungry in the morning. By the time I'm done at the gym, it's 9:30, and the South Beach Diet bar I put in my purse just doesn't fill me up. By 11:30 I'm always ravenous. Like cram my fist in the bag of chocolate chips and cram as many into my mouth as I can hungry.

But yesterday I had a brainstorm. I can put water on to boil just before taking Isaac to school and by the time I get back five minutes later, it's bubbling. Then, if I add a handful of quick cook oats, some almonds, brown sugar and fruit, I have a great breakfast that keeps me full until breakfast and makes me happy. And it only takes a minute or two longer than pouring myself a bowl of Kashi Go-Lean.

A hot breakfast is probably a no-brainer for other people, but it's something that's been making me very happy for the last few days.