Monday, March 31, 2008

Back at the Ballpark

This will be a short post because the photos say it all. Ten months ago, our family watched Vanderbilt play Arkansas in the SEC Baseball Tournament championship in Birmingham, where a bruised Dori first began complaining of fatigue. Yesterday, Dori watched Vanderbilt play two games against Arkansas in Nashville, her first trip back to the ballpark since being diagnosed with AML. Vanderbilt won both games Sunday, 6-5 and 6-2. While the outcomes were pleasing, I can honestly say that wasn't yesterday's focus.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Blog Stats

Sometimes, you have to be honest. Honestly, I have about as much energy today as that slug I mentioned last week. I blew off church this morning after staying up past midnight to watch Vanderbilt play baseball on the Internet after a five-hour rain delay. Re-reading that is disturbing on several levels. If there is a Get-A-Life Anonymous, I'm sure I would be welcomed.

I peruse the Internet chat boards and blogs on Vanderbilt several times a week. So does Dori on occasion. Some of the Chicken Little's crack me up. They whine about anything and everything ... and when a Vanderbilt team has a great game, these curmudgeons point out the imperfections. People who do this, IMO, are taking out their frustration in not addressing their own shortcomings by trying to bring everyone else down to their level. How inspiring!

My friend, Paige, should never have told me about Google Analytics. It's interesting to know who reads Run for Dori. Since the new year, RFD has had 2,694 visits (30.25 visits a day) with 17.5% of those (472) from new visitors. The most visits in one day this year came on March 14 (51), when Dori was back in the hospital. Last year's high was 79 visitors on Nov. 21. Since I started tracking the blog in late October (or, since Paige gave me something fun to do with all my excess free time), visitor loyalty and traffic has steadily increased. Average time on the site is 1 minute, 19 seconds, while 39% of visits come from referring sites, 33% are direct traffic and 28% from search engines.

I'm sure some of you are rolling your eyes, but trust me, Paige is loving this. I like it, too ... it's nice to have some stats about this community of friends and guests who are interested in several aspects of the blog - Dori, my take on her battle and recovery, running in general, and other odds and ends. I know some blog loyalists, but am interested in knowing others who stop by regularly. If you're so inclined, sign the comments section with a hello (public) or shoot me an e-mail (private). It would be nice to hear what's going on in your life, if we haven't spoken in awhile.

Dori's hair continues to grow - soft and curly in the back! She'll be getting a trim soon, her first visit to the hairdresser since last spring. Do you think she's excited? More like jazzed. Dori made a Costco run yesterday, which is another milestone. The kids helped her load up cases of water and beer, as well as Pepper's 52 lb. bag of dog food. She continues to go to bed very early (before 8) and sleeps in until 7 or 8. She's only on three medications, down from 12 a few months ago.

Dori is staying in touch with fellow leukemia survivors. Chuck Hendry is back at work, battling fatigue. His donor DNA is 98%, so they've dropped his meds so they can induce a little GVHD. Tammy Hart is in the long term care clinic and working on a fundraiser. If you can help, just visit her blog that I've linked. Candy Rucker is doing great, but I haven't heard about Kim Swindall in some time. Last I heard, he was doing fine ... I've asked Dori to check in with them.

I planned to run eight miles yesterday, but stopped after seven. I did not eat lunch because the cupboard was bare and I only had a brief window to run before heading out again. So I slammed a GU energy gel, drank some Gatorade and headed out the door. I felt awesome for the first time since the Tom King, so I decided to run hard on a course with some decent elevation change. I reached four miles in 34:00, an 8:30 pace, and slammed another gel.

I pressed to hold the pace, but began to struggle. My seventh mile was a 9:30, so I shut it down at 1:03:00, a 9:00/mile pace with some traffic stops. I figured I would catch my breath and run some hard sprints, rather than run another sloppy mile. That was a good and bad idea. Good, because the sprints went well, and bad, because I paid for it last night and this morning. Skipping lunch was a no-no.

Friday, March 28, 2008

One Heckuva Hill

I finally reunited with my family today. Dori and the kids had a wonderful time in Florida, returning Thursday. Trouble was, as they were landing in Nashville, I was headed to Morristown in a car on business. [Insert profanity here.] I think I called Dori at least four times yesterday. That's not like me. I'm normally a maximum two-calls-from-the-road kinda guy.

Some vacations are good, others special. I think the time Dori and the kids spent with Dori's Dad and Step-Mom was memorable. The kids and I went to dinner tonight, waiting for the VU baseball game to start (it was eventually rained out). At Ted's Montana Grill, with strawberry milk shakes and Sam Adams white ale in hand (my hands had the ale), I asked the kids about the trip. They described their days in detail, a sign they had a marvelous time. I remember some trips I took with my family. Some were indelible for good reasons, and some, well hell you know.

Dori laughed at my 180 pound "typo," as she called it. I love baiting the hook. Dori gave me a long hug tonight. Really long. She told me several times she loves me, with more gusto than normal. I think Dori's vitality is slowly returning, and Dori said my Mom and sister said the same thing. I'm staying optimistic the hell we just went through is slowly going away. Dori's nurse practitioner called late today to tell us Dori's most recent lab results look excellent - 100% donor DNA and no leukemia in the marrow. Hans, you are a good man.

I'm really tired, but something brought me over to the computer tonight. It seems like this blog continues to be many things - a refuge, a diary, occasionally a venting ground and certainly an education platform. Some folks continue to tell me it's inspiring. So be it. I don't think that's a bad thing. I find lots of inspiration from other people who are willing to be honest and make themselves vulnerable for the benefit of others. It's helped me cope. While I'm being touchy-feely ... I had several conversations this week with good people about service on earth, not as a means to an end but as a meaningful pursuit. I was with several people the last day or so who really are here to make things better for others. Enlightenment is a good feeling.

I ran 3.75 miles in Morristown. The elevation change was 700 feet with a total climb of 350 feet, most of it on one super-steep hill. At 1.8 miles, I came to this daunting hill, which was easily twice as steep as anything in Percy Warner Park. It seemed to go on for awhile. During the ascent, a mean-looking dog apparently took pity on me, choosing to witness the suffering rather than exacerbate it. Despite not feeling chipper in the warm pollen-filled air, I told that hill what it can do and never stopped running. Run for Dori. Hamblen County is beautiful, by the way.

Weather permitting, this will be a busy weekend of baseball (Will and Vanderbilt), with a long run in the mix. I'm seriously considering a fall race in California to raise money for the Leukemia Society and to take my girl on a long, romantic date with wine and good food. Neither one of us has ever been to California. How's that for weird?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Pepper Bonks

I took Mighty Pepper for a run last night at Radnor. It was fairly warm, around 70, but I thought we'd try the five miler since I hadn't run since Sunday. Pepper was more energetic than normal and pulled me most of the first mile. He also was feistier than normal when he saw other dogs, sparking several growl-offs. I had to reprimand the pooch.

The first quarter mile was essentially a sprint, and I thought my heart was going to pop out of my chest. The pace evened out after a mile, and my optimism for a good run returned. Alas, the poor dog hit his wall at 2.5 miles. We had to alternate walking and easy jogging, just to make it back to the car in reasonable shape. So it looks like any run over three miles in the spring and summer with the dog will have to be an early morning run. My normally sedentary dog just can't handle the heat with all his fur.

I had a fabulous dinner at my super sister's house - NY strip steak and marinated herbed shrimp off the grill, parmesan polenta, baked baby tomatoes in basil, grilled bread and a very nice red. My Mom and their husbands were there, and we just laughed and ate for an hour. The food thing in our family is a serious pursuit ... For as long as I can remember, my Mom's culinary abilities and the ambience she creates has strengthened the bonds that tie us together. Last night was another simple but special occasion. I'm grateful my sister and I have inherited this trait.

This week has been very quiet at home. When Dori and the kids aren't here, the silence is deafening. I like to relax in a very clean house, but it doesn't take long to say, "I want my peeps back." That will happen very soon, which makes this lonely boy very happy.

Monday, March 24, 2008

'A Real Person Again'

Been awhile since I blogged. I've been in Florida since Friday, getting Dori and the kids situated before returning last night. Dori's Dad picked us up in New Orleans, then drove us to the Panhandle where he lives. He and his wife have a very nice house on a golf course.

The flight down was Will's first. As he looked out the window on takeoff, I heard him say, "I have butterflies, Mom." Minutes later in the air, he said, "The cars look like ants." I love watching Will and Kathryn comment on new experiences. You can imagine Dori does, too, more so than ever. Dori wore her mask the whole way, and we wore out the sanitizing gel.

Speaking of our girl, Dori smiled all day Friday, Saturday and Easter Sunday. We went to the beach Saturday, where Dori announced, "I feel like a real person again." As we fell asleep that night, she talked about being on the beach, watching the dolphin play and feed and people running around in the surf. She said enjoying the beach view and air was like reclaiming part of her freedom after being cooped up so long.

Dori also is eating well after losing a good amount of weight since last year and especially after the last viral bout. She hammered some fries in ketchup and ate most of a big cheeseburger. Other foods she's enjoyed lately include waffles, sausage, strawberry shortcake and key lime pie. I'm glad her appetite is back for several reasons. We all need our reserves, and her immunity system will benefit by getting back to her normal weight of 180. Just kidding, honey. I know you read the blog.

The photos are of: Pepper, who likes to put his head on the window sill and look outside; a persistent, patient blue heron who is fed sardines each day by a neighbor of Dori's Dad; and Will breaking open the pinata at the pre-Easter party at the house of a school family friend.

I ran three times in Florida, the longest of which was about five miles on a golf course early Easter Sunday. Total weekend mileage was around 13 miles. My pace was slow, never over 9:30/mile. My body wasn't delighted with any run. Friday's run was ok, while Saturday's was rough because of soreness. My Easter run in a 25 mph wind was great downwind and ok into the wind. I ran before any golfers were out, so it was just me and a few of the grounds crew. Very peaceful, even with the wind whipping. If the Country Music Half was scheduled in a week or two, I wouldn't run it. My body is liking the relative rest. That said, I can't get out of shape, which can happen quickly.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Jimmy the Slug

This week has been run-free. I've just been a slouch, really. The days since the Tom King have included a Hardee's cheeseburger, fries (twice) and beer. My Mom served meatloaf, lots of carbs and dark chocolate cake on Monday night for my 43rd birthday. I've had no desire to pound pavement ... I'm just enjoying the rest. Can you blame me? I am on my feet a lot for work, and have felt fine all week. Soreness almost has been unnoticeable. Today was the first day I thought, "Maybe I should go for a run ... Nahhhh!"

In a publication called The Tennessee Journal, I read about an historian who spoke to more than 100 fourth and fifth graders in Hamblen County. He asked them if they could name the governor of Tennessee. Of 131 children, only ONE could name Phil Bredesen. Holy civics books, Batman ... we're in deep trouble.

Dori has felt better each day since the weekend. On Sunday, she moved slowly, and on Monday semi-slowly. She had more pep yesterday and today seems to be back to her pre-virus condition. Temps have been 97 amd 98, numbers we like very much. This afternoon, she picked up the kids from school and ran an errand. She's still sleeping in and taking naps, but that's all part of this thing called recovery.

This isn't a long one, so I'll close with a few tidbits, one unimportant and one with more relevance. One: My Final Four is Pitt, UCLA, Kansas and UNC, with UCLA winning it all over UNC. Maybe we won't see shots like this in the NCAA tournament, but we should see good hoops.

Yes, I'm now a You Tube embedder. Have fun rhyming behind that one.

Two: Good Friday and Easter are almost here. We'll spend it celebrating the ultimate gift of redemption from our Creator.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Dori Is Home

Here is another photo from the race, courtesy of Elly Foster, a race photographer. This shot is on the home stretch inside the stadium. Splish splash!

I called Dori after church this morning ... she said she had discharge papers in hand. We got her out of there like a bat out of hell. Hats off to the VUMC staff for helping Dori recover so quickly. They are incredible.

The kids and I went to the first part of the Vanderbilt-USC baseball game (good guys won 10-4), then headed over to the house of a family who has a wonderful annual Easter party the week before the holiday. I caught up with a lot of good people, some of whom read this little corner of the blogosphere with some regularity. I appreciate the kind words from those good folks ... you are inspiring. We are blessed to have such good friends and such an uplifting community at school.

Funny, I'm only mildly sore today. After other races, the soreness is most noticeable two days after the race, so we'll see how tomorrow goes. I believe I had another four to five miles in me yesterday, maybe not at 9:00/mile, but the miles were there. The three-mile training run on Thursday never happened for obvious reasons, so maybe that's another lesson learned: Shut it down four days before the race. I also ate pasta, usually with chicken, every day the week of the race, as well as a steady diet of nuts, bagels, raisins, bananas and apples.

I'm thinking about a full marathon now. I need to ruminate on that for a variety of reasons. According to the McMillan calculator, my recent 1:58:09 translates to a 4:09:11 full. The McMillan is known for being optimistic. For posterity's sake, here are the chronological results from my races since 2006:

March 2006, Tom King Half: 2:06:13
April 2006, Country Music Half: 2:06:35
April 2007, Country Music Half: 2:09:37
July 2007, Firecracker 5K: 24:06
September 2007, VA Beach Half: 2:01:02
March 2008, Tom King Half: 1:58:09

I have no plans to run this week until I feel like it ... Hah, it feels good saying that! But you know us runners ... plans are a-comin'.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


The Good Lord and Dori were with me this morning. I ran a personal record half marathon, breaking the two hour barrier. My final time was right at 1:58 or maybe even a little faster ... I'm awaiting official results, which will be online later today, courtesy of the Tom King Half Marathon officials.

I woke up this morning wondering if I would even race. The weather looked dicey at best ... thunder, occasional lightning and a steady rain. After a good oatmeal and raisin breakfast with Gatorade and a banana, I headed to the course. I was stunned to see a near-full parking lot at Titans Stadium. It looked like I would be part of the Nut Brigade. I called Dori at the hospital to tell her I was probably going to run.

As officials called us out of the stadium to the starting line, the rain seemed to pick up. Right before the gun, we were greeted with loud thunder and lightning. I had joked earlier to a friend, in the voice of Lt. Dan atop the shrimp boat in Forrest Gump , "You call this a [blanking] storm!" Off we went, adrenaline pumping.

Before the one-mile marker, Kent, a friend, said hello ... we determined we both had a two-hour goal, so we partnered. We realized our pace was a bit fast at Mile One (8:40), so we dialed down slightly. At Miles Two, Three and Four, we were right on a 9:00/mile pace. We were soaked, but not cold ... I had a vest and technical running shirt with my Virginia Beach hat, so I was fine. Kent removed his jacket, in fact, and I tuned in to Dori's iPod.

I stayed with my plan to do GU gels at 3.0, 6.0, 8.5 and 11.0, and also to drink water at every station. I felt very good, recognizing an oncoming runner's high at about 6.0. This is a spot that's been problematic in the past. Runner's highs in half marathons are not good early or in the middle of races. Kent and I plodded on, dodging occasional deep puddles and yelling "whoa!" whenever we heard thunder or saw lightning. Many people were on our pace, so we drafted off them, and people behind us drafted off us.

After Mile Eight, I heard Kent begin to breathe heavier, so I encouraged him to draft off me. He did for a spell, but then dropped. We were probably running 8:50s in the middle of the race. At Mile Nine, I checked in at just over 1:21:00 ... again, right on a 9:00/mile pace. Mile 10 was the first part of the race I began feeling some effects, but not enough to slow down. I hit that mark at 1:30:15 and Mile 11 at 1:39:20. A PR was now within sight. I was passing more people than were passing me.

A lot can happen in two miles, as I learned at Virginia Beach, where I limped home. My 2:01 in September was a PR, but the last two miles then were a mess because of my calf injuries. At Mile 12 today, I checked in at 1:48 something, and a nice woman about my age smiled when I passed her and said, "Good work." I said, "We're going to do this." Still feeling good, I thought about Dori for about the 10th time during the race. I knew unless I collapsed, I was going to PR. At 12.5, I began to feel more discomfort. I countered that signal by thinking about how close I was to finishing a great race, that the next five minutes would be like unloading the dishwasher, and that I could not wait to enter Titans Stadium, where the race finishes. I thought, too, that Dori is the real tiger in the family, and I would not back down one iota.

Entering the stadium was invigorating. My watch said 1:57 something, and I knew I was about 30-40 seconds better than the official race time. I sprinted the last 100 yards, pumping my fist in jubilation. I looked for Kathryn, Will and Anne, who I found along the rail looking at the stadium tunnel. They had no idea I was already done. I said, "Hey, how about a little love for that run!" The kids smiled, and Anne looked at the official clock and said, "Oh, my God!" I walked to an empty spot on the field and let out a guttural yell that echoed in the near-empty stadium, probably scaring a few people.

Outside the stadium, Will found me first and gave me a bear hug. Kathryn followed, and Anne just snapped photos (thank you, girl, for capturing the moment). I saw my step-brother, Wade, who congratulated me. Kent and I caught up later, and he said he saw my finish on the jumbotron from outside the stadium. I called Dori, who I could tell still wasn't feeling great. When I made it to her hospital room, where I am now, I found her feeling much better. I gave her the half marathon medal, telling her she's the real inspiration for fighting so hard. I mean every damn bit of that.

I have learned a lot about myself the last few years, and particularly, this past year. I've learned that racing effectively requires preparation, confidence and toughness. So does life. It is very fulfilling to see good results from training ... those 4:45 a.m. runs in the cold, the hilly Warner Park runs and the long weekend sessions. It's also nice to build confidence from experience. I raced well today, in part, because I knew better what to do and what not to do. My toughness is better, frankly, because of Dori's example. Her unwillingness to quit this summer, and especially this fall during the transplant, is a beacon for how to endure.

Dori is sleeping now. She may get to go home tomorrow if she stays on the current track. That would be the icing on some very sweet cake this weekend.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Back in the hospital

If I were in a quiet place the last 24 hours, I think I would scream. We're back at the hospital after a rollercoaster ride none of you ever want to experience. More on that later, but some of it's posted on Dori's CaringBridge site. The bullc**p that Dori has to endure seems endless. They told us before the transplant about stuff like this. Endless, prolonged, never-ending, infinite ... you know the words. We're experiencing it.

Dori went to the longterm care clinic yesterday for a routine check-up. She's been feeling good the last week or so, but things turned dramatically yesterday morning. Her blood counts plummeted and her nurse practitioner called me, pulling me out of a meeting. She told me they were going to do an emergency biopsy. I was by Dori's side within 30 minutes.

The NP and Dr. Jagasia then essentially prepared us for the worst, saying they didn't like the looks of Dori's bloodwork. You mean like, a relapse, I said? Yes, they answered. They said the blood count drop could be the result of a "drug or a bug," but we'd just have to wait and see. Other staffers saw me, as I waited yesterday, and looked down. I sat through Dori's biopsy, which she doesn't remember, while the three-person team collected her blood and marrow. One of them asked if we have children, which was the beginning of the end for my composure. I fought back tears for half an hour; when they left, you know what happened. I think I woke up Dori, but she doesn't remember my moment. It's one of the saddest moments of my life.

Dori and I held hands during the biopsy. She said what I was thinking, "I can't stop thinking about the kids. " A few hours, or was it weeks, after the biopsy, the NP shared good news ... no relapse, no leukemia. Dori and I were in the clinic, so we just stared at each other in disbelief. Dr. Jagasia joked about enough scares and I quipped that I'd like to get credit for a full marathon after Saturday's half. Dori just sat in silent awe.

Last night, Dori looked more than tired. She started vomiting at 8 p.m. and didn't finish until 5 a.m. When we took her temp this morning (101.2), we made plans to come to the clinic. I'm glad the receptionist didn't protest after asking us if we'd called first. Dori has received fluids, something for her nausea and headaches, and a better blood report. She hasn't budged all morning, so we're playing it safe and getting her readmitted to 11 North. I had hoped to see the last of that place. I wonder if we'll remember everyone's names.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Fifth Half

This Saturday, I'll run my fifth half marathon. With four in the bank, I have some experience, but I've learned each race day is different. Here's what I mean:

March 2006, Tom King Half Marathon (Nashville): This race, which I'm running again Saturday, is on a flat course. It's not a rah-rah half like the Elite Racing (Nashville and Virginia) races, which have bands, cheerleaders and thousands of spectators along the courses. I really liked this race because I love running in Shelby Bottoms along the Cumberland River and because it's the first time I ran 13 miles. I ran too hard on that cool, dry day, and started fading at seven miles. By mile nine, I was in trouble. Mile 10-12.5 were rough, but the end was OK because I knew I was almost done. I ran a 2:06:30 (2nd best time to date). During and after the race, my Mom cried and my kids knew something good had just happened.

April 2006, Country Music Half (Nashville): I don't remember a lot from this race, just that I saw a lot of people I know and that I felt very good until Mile 10, then not so good from 11-13. I kinda bummed, actually, because I walked some of the last two miles. After the race, I realized my barrier (mental and physical) was the 10-mile mark. Time was 2:06:45 or thereabouts.

April 2007, Country Music Half: I thought I'd trained better this time around, and I probably did. Unfortunately, I started feeling crummy the day before, slept terribly and woke up wondering if I really needed to run. My friend, Scott McConnell, was battling testicular cancer, and I said I owed this to him and others. After five miles (and a restroom break), I realized this race wasn't about a good time but finishing. At Mile 10, the sun popped out, making conditions pretty warm. I finished in 2:09 something, my worst time, but let me add I finished proudly. Scott, you still owe me a beer.

September 2007, Virginia Beach Half (Virginia Beach): Run for Dori regulars knows the story about this race by now, which I chronicled on September 2 and September 5. What I remember most about the race was how much harder I trained, the anxiety of my calf injury (leading up to and during the race), my posse of supporters (Dan, Anne and fellow runner Dave), but mostly, for whom I was running (a cute little chick from Cincinnati). Had I been healthy, I was all over a 1:58 or 1:59; instead, I limped home the last two miles, finishing in 2:01, my PR. What a great day that was in so many respects!

So what does Saturday's Tom King hold? The mystery is part of the fun for us racing folk. The weather looks like showers and temps around 40 at the start and mid-40s at the finish. My training, which has included no strength training, no sprinting and some other speed work, has gone very well. I felt good on my 11.2 miler 10 days ago, and I felt great Sunday and yesterday (a five miler with Mighty Pepper at Radnor in a non-stressful 44:25). I will run three miles at race pace tomorrow and continue the carb loading.

Do I have a prediction? That's a toughie, given the uncertain weather and knowing I've also had a few sub-par runs the last few weeks. Can I break 2:00? Yes, there is a chance. Can I run a PR? Yes, I think that's also possible. What do I expect from myself? I would love to set a course and Nashville record. If I had to guess, I think a 2:03 (9:23/mile pace) or 2:04 seem about where I could finish. My plan is to stay in the 9:15/mile range the first ten miles, and then swallow some more gels and go. I was on a 9:00/mile pace the first 10 miles in Virginia, but the calves started failing me. I think I can hold the 9:15 pace and then just see. I'm certainly more mentally tough now as a racer than I was two years ago.

Of course, I will employ my Jedi mind tricks - like "you only have 10 minutes left in the race, that's how long it takes to eat lunch." May the force be with me.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Driving Again

I'm waxed, so this will be a short one. Dori drove a car today for the first time since September. Even better, she picked up the kids from school. I called her this afternoon, and she was still on the high of doing something she hadn't done in a long time. In fact, I think this was her first school run since May. Important stuff for her, the kids and me.

Last summer and fall, Dori simply was trying to survive. Then, for many months, she focused on taking baby steps to recovery. She's been in lockdown for so long. Now she's beginning to experience some important events that were missing for an extended period of time.

Today, my wife gleefully reclaimed some independence and normalcy in her life. Dori definitely has a bounce in her step right now, for which I give great praise. I pray for her continued progress every night, as I know many of you do. Dori and I thank you for your spiritual support.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Different Outcomes

So sue me ... I did run yesterday. The snow melted and the roads cleared, so off I went yesterday afternoon on a run to Belmont and back.

I sweat heavily when I run, so I always train with water if I'm going more than five miles. Wanting to simulate next week's race, I didn't bring any water, figuring I would hydrate at the Athlete's House, which always has water. The 3.5-mile leg out went well ... I was at 30:00 even, but needed a drink. Alas, no water, and my plans for the leg back went awry.

The 3.5-mile return was rough; in fact, I didn't run hard and didn't run all of it. I didn't want to pull something or cramp. Chalk one up for being smart, but obviously I was frustrated. I don't like crummy runs before races. So I vowed to go at it again Sunday, and went to bed early.

I felt OK this morning, and decided to run the PWP 5.8. The weather this morning was incredible - high 30s, sunny and a very light breeze. When I warmed up (with Gatorade in hand and GU in pocket), I thought I might try for a sub-50 minute run. I took off feeling alright, but didn't exactly smoke the first mile, which is a gradual uphill climb until a steep 150-yard ascent. I reached in 8:45, not my best. Some skinny tall dude appeared behind me, eventually catching me at mile two. Another fit fella passed me as I neared Three Mile Hill; I wasn't struggling, but I knew I wasn't on my A game.

I usually think three things at the base of Three Mile Hill - "That looks easy," "This will take work," or "Uh-oh." Today was the middle. The two guys who passed me stayed within sight, but I really had to press and breathe to keep moving up the hill. I stopped watching my time, instead tuning in to my iPod and getting in a rhythm, albeit a slower one. Continuing on, things got more difficult ... the 50:00 goal was probably gone, but now I had to tell myself not to stop. The GU soon kicked in, and I reached the top at 3.3 miles. Sanity and oxygen returned, and I got moving again.

At the next hill, I felt better, passing some runners and walkers, realizing I wasn't really running that slowly. I made it to the 4.8-mile mark, finally looking at the watch - 45:10. The rest of the run is downhill, and I felt like I could cook it. Downward I bolted, feeling optimistic. My new goals were to run a 7:00 last mile and finish at or near 52:00.

With less than half a mile, I was holding good form when I passed three people who waved at me. I recognized one of them, who looked at me astonishingly as I went by with almost no time to say "hello," which I did manage to say. I laughed inside, thinking she probably thought, "Isn't that the same Jimmy Brown who used to pound cheetos on Sundays?" Yes, it is ... gotta go!

I finished in 52:23, running that seven minute mile (or a shade over). Confidence restored I'm not a wimpy runner, I walked down Belle Meade Blvd. to let the lactic acid recede. I thought about the week's totals (24.3 miles) and and plan for this week (probably three runs, the last of which will be no more than three miles simulating race pace).

The kids and I went to the VU baseball game this afternoon, joining several friends and their children. VU won 9-3, and Will scrambled successfully for another foul ball, which he asked Coach Tim Corbin to sign after the game. I told Coach thank you for that and thanks again for coming to see my wife in the hospital last year. He perked up, asking how she's doing and when she'll be at a home game. I said we hope very soon, and that she's eager to see the team. I also said he really fired up Dori last year when he visited. I'll never forget that and always support his program.

The kids and I walked with Pepper to the neighborhood church, where they rode their scooters. Daylight Savings Time is great, isn't it? Dori is in the kitchen chopping some fresh basil for that angel pair pasta I mentioned yesterday. We're going with a little bacon over the prosciutto. The house smells good! This week will be all about the carbs - pasta, fruit and bagels.

Someone ring that dinner bell ... this boy is hungry!

8:45 p.m.
Dinner was great, and I almost forgot to note this: Will gave Dori the autographed baseball from Coach Corbin and Kathryn gave her a VU shirt she caught at the game. I love my kids.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Busted birds

See, I told you we had two romantic birds that rest outside our living room window. Sorry about the photo quality, but the lady bird has beautiful brown speckles on her white breast, while the male has an astonishing red hat with red blending in to his proud brown spotted back.

Beth Fortune's Mom, Becky, continues to make progress from her stroke. I think daily about Dori's friends who are recovering from blood cancer or facing new challenges - Kim, Chuck, Tammy, Candy, Sigourney and others. The list seems to grow continually. I will be running for all of them next Saturday at the Tom King, just as I ran for Dori in Virginia and run for her each time.

Kathryn astutely noted this morning, with three inches of snow on the ground, "Weren't we putting on sunscreen in the park last Sunday?" 76 one day, and 22 a few days later. Did anyone hear thunder and see lightning last night during the storm? That was pretty cool while the snow poured out of the sky.

Pepper adored the snow this morning, romping in and eating all the white powder he could handle. He has been parked at the window much of the morning, hoping for another trip to White Heaven. Otis loved the snow, too, like most dogs do. This is where I don't get the cat thing, though I do know a few decent felines. Pepper played with Ginger, a dog down the street, and two lab mixes who were happy to see him. The kids and I tried out our snow surfboard without much success. Wind chill was 14 when we went out, so that had something to do with it.

As someone who lived up north as a boy and who remembers the frequent snowstorms Nashville experienced in the 80s, I get a kick out of 20-something TV reporters standing in front of the camera acting incredulous about the snow. Some have rulers to measure it, some just point at it. Yes, geniuses, it's snow! Then they analyze it: "Look over here where it's a little slushy ... now pan over here where there's more of an icy consistency ... back over my shoulder, you can see how powdery it is." Do they realize how farcical they sound?

Yes, no running today ... Weekly mileage is double digits (12.3) and I'll do a decent eighth day run tomorrow. I plan to run at least six miles tomorrow, when it should be nicer. Today is all about college basketball, relaxing and eating. I found a few good carb recipes ... one for a angel hair in basil cream sauce and another for hummus that look tasty.

One last thing - I think we have a talented pianist in our midst. Kathryn performed a recital last night for the family. She played "Puff the Magic Dragon" and "This Land is Your Land," as well as the themes from Star Wars and the Flintstones. She spared us her rendition of Rocky Top, though I later played the UT fight song and VU's "Dynamite" for her.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

An Athlete's Priorities

Will's temperature finally subsided last night, and he returned to school today. Dori has managed to avoid whatever he had (knock on wood), and has had a good week. She's been laughing, having a friend or two over, and is in planning mode (vacation, summer camps, you know the drill). She's also been super-sweet to me.

My work has been frenetic the last two days. Wake up, blink, get the kids ready, blink, work, blink, pick up the kids, blink ... The day goes by in a flash, which makes me realize things not only are hectic right now, but I'm a lucky man to have so many irons in the fire.

I simply could not get up early this morning, so I ran tonight in the dark. The run was a 5.3-mile neighborhood run, some of it on some tough hills. I ran an 8:15 pace the first three miles, then slowed some as I hit some hills, then finished well. I felt great, probably running at 90%. You never know, but I might have a good race in me on March 15. A good friend e-mailed me the other day, saying, "Isn't it great to be healthy going in to a race?" Yes!

So Tuesday's run was about a crazy driver. Tonight's run was about a crazy dog. A mean golden retriever with one of those fence collars really got peeved when he saw me. He and Pepper have had a growl-off or two in the past. Tonight on a very dark street, Cujo came bolting off his property intent on taking me out. He never stopped until his jaws got to my ankles. Startled, I yelled at the dog loudly while running at full speed. Clinching my fist, I prepared to take the dog out, but he backed down at the very last second. Unfortunately, I lost my balance and fell on my shoulder on the pavement, but luckily, as the dog was retreating. I thought I'd hurt myself, but I hadn't ... I just had some minor soreness.

Dori and I heard the sad news today that a teacher at another school has been diagnosed with leukemia. Dori knows a mom of one her students well, and is talking about how she can help, something she thought about a lot last year ... she wants to help people who are having to suffer, endure and cope like she has. Dori has been brainstorming about ways to help leukemia patients and to raise awareness about blood cancers. I hope to report more about this later, but I'm sure no one is surprised my wife wants to help people in need.

Vanderbilt's basketball team is nearing the end of a dream season. Will and I listened to the Mississippi State game on the radio last night ... Senior Night at Memorial Gym. Shan Foster, VU's all-time leading scorer, scored 42 points, including three-point shot after shot to extend the game and win it with two seconds left. He could not miss on a night when VU should have lost. After the game, the crowd went ballistic. The picture of Shan crying with his Mom (today's paper ... great photo above by Jae Lee) made me emotional when I opened the paper this morning. The coach and play-by-play announcer Joe Fisher last night admitted they cried.

In the press conference, a low key Foster thanked the school, his teammates and mostly God for the glory of being able to do what he did. Amen, Shan Foster.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Home Day

Will woke up with a 102 degree fever, so I stayed home today to keep an eye on him and keep him away from Dori. He's been in bed all day. He seems better this evening than at 6 a.m., when he looked like a par-boiled lobster.

The latest on Beth Fortune's mom sounds encouraging. Becky Fortune woke up after five days of unconsciousness. The docs and family are assessing Becky's speech and recollection; it sounds like her memory is good, but she has a long road to recovery. The good news is she has awakened. Please say an extra prayer for the Fortunes.

Dori feels better today. That's two days in a row where she's had some pep in her step. You can understand we like days like today where she's cooking and enjoying food, rather than lying in bed. Dori sure as heck does.

I did a lunch run while Dori ate and Will slept. Pepper and I went five easy miles through the neighborhood. We trudged through 25 MPH winds as a cold front prepared to bust through town. I'm still not 100% after the 11 miler, but I felt much better than on Sunday's run.

Midway through today's run, Pepper and I reached a three-way intersection. As we turned from one street to the other, an older lady driving a Cadillac almost hit us. Driving with a miniature dog in her lap, she missed Pepper by inches and me by a foot, and I yelled, "Cmon!" The look on her face, as she was illegally blowing through a stop sign and cutting the corner to beat an oncoming car, was, "How dare you." Breaking the law, almost killing a dog and then having the audacity to shift blame ... all to get home five seconds sooner. I guess ... forgive me and my deaf dog who can't hear oncoming cars ... of course, the road is yours.

Mileage this week to date: 7 miles. Frustration with rude drivers: Continually high.

It's time to start surfing between MSNBC, CNN and Fox News to see results from the primaries and to listen to people with excessive make-up and loud voices tell us they told us so. I am very interested in the Obama-Hillary race. Everyone I know agrees we are witnessing something historically significant. Like my friends, I cherish our imperfect political system. Flaws, warts and all, it still is the best in the world. People in our republic still get to decide who advances and who stays home, something too many Americans take for granted.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Trying Few Days

Today's blog is brought to you by the virtue, Patience, and by that nemesis, Exasperation. Adult Sesame Street, eh?

Tonight, Kathryn said, "The last few days, it seems like God reached into a top hat and pulled out good days and bad days for Mom." That's pretty astute analysis from a smart nine-year-old. Dori had a good day today, but the weekend wasn't much fun. Dori got sick twice and really felt lethargic. Her shoulders are sore and feet puffy, but she never spiked a fever. She could be having some GVHD issues, but thankfully, today was much calmer.

The rollercoaster of recovery is far better than battles of earlier times. But it still isn't easy. Always lingering in your mind is the thought, "Where are we going now?" Immediately, that's punctuated by, "Hopefully, not the %#*& hospital." Dori had to let it out this weekend with a good cry ... she's been a great trooper, but sometimes the bubbles leave the boiling pot of spaghetti. And that's a good thing ... holding percolating emotion inside isn't therapeutic.

Yesterday, Dori asked me, after I was pretty silent for a few hours, if I was upset at her. She misread my silence for another emotion - my infrequent but sometimes apparent exasperation that we're still dealing with a whole lot of something. Dori and I are ready to put this behind us and have normalcy. We have been since June, in fact.

The kids and I had another nice time at the VU game Sunday, but I thought often that Dori wasn't with us. She says she just isn't there yet. I understand it because I see it. She'll be ready when she's ready, and that's the patience part.

Before yesterday's game, I ran two miles at the park with Pepper while the kids rode their scooters. The weather was incredible ... 75 degrees. The run wasn't so incredible; it felt like a prize fight without the Rocky music. I had nothing in the tank after Saturday's 11 plus ... I'm sure my running looked broken. But, hey, I was running after an 11 miler!

Dori and I are still scouting around for a beach house this summer. It also looks like we'll spend a few days in Florida with her Dad and StepMom Carol over Spring Break. In addition to celebrating the Holy Weekend, I could use some time out of town doing nothing but dropping a fishing line in a large ocean while squeezing a lime in a beer.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Prayers for Becky

Becky Fortune, mother of my good friend, Beth Fortune, remains unconscious at VUMC after suffering a stroke earlier this week. Her vital signs are stable, but the doctors believe a blood clot formed in her brain. The Fortunes have had a long road with Becky battling a brain tumor since last year. Please say extra prayers for Becky and her family. Beth, who is very eloquent, is keeping folks posted at their CaringBridge site.

Dori spent her morning searching for beach homes in Edisto Island, SC, a place we visited two years ago, while I went on my last long run before the Tom King Half Marathon. Re-reading that sentence is gratifying on about 10 levels. Our family had a special vacation in Edisto - swimming, fishing and eating great food, but most of all, being with each other. We took Otis, my black lab who we later put to sleep in August 2006. Otis was the most incredible dog. I will never forget taking the old boy in the sound for a swim, just holding him in the warm water.

This morning's run went well. I did a Park to Park Run - from Radnor to Percy Warner and back. I actually ran along Radnor Lake for a mile, back to the West Lot and then to PWP. The first five miles went fine at an easy pace. I started seeing many runners on Robert E. Lee Drive and more on Tyne. When I reached Belle Meade Blvd., runners were everywhere.

At about five miles, I went from feeling OK to very good. From mile five to nine, I found a rhythm and my pace quickened, probably to a 9:00 per mile. I passed a tall, fit woman about my age at the seven-mile mark. She decided she was going to keep pace, which was good - that keeps me moving faster. She never caught up, and I dropped her at 9.5 miles.

I passed quite a few folks today, but I did get smoked by some 30-something who looks like he's never seen a pizza. He was flying at better than a 6:00 per mile pace. You feel like you're walking when that happens, but you're not. Final distance, time and pace: 11.2 miles, 1:47:23, 9:35 per mile. Total mileage for the week, including a four miler on Thursday: 21.0.

The kids and I joined 125 other brave fans to watch Vanderbilt beat Kansas in baseball last night. I resisted the heckle, "All you are is 'Dust in the Wind,' Jayhawks!" VU won 7-1, looking impressive even without their star third baseman, Pedro Alvarez, who has a broken hand. Best part - Both Kathryn and Will got themselves an SEC/NCAA logo'd baseball. Will now has five of these in his room.