Sunday, March 27, 2011

Story I'll try to never forget

Thursday we went to see Princesses on Ice. It's exactly the kind of show that, even two months ago, would make me roll my eyes, slump in my seat, maybe even scowl a bit.
I was happy to take my kids. I'm the one who sought out the tickets. My girls, like an estimated 87.3 percent of 3-year-old girls in America, are into Disney's Princess factory now, and so I thought they would love it.
(My 5-year-old son wasn't so sure. I thought he would love it, but he asked me before we got in the car, "Are there going to be other boys there watching? I reassured him that there probably were going to be other boys there. I saw one of them about his age walking to the doors. I pointed him out. I'm glad I saw one early on. There WERE boys there, but let's just say at the break that the line for the boys' bathroom to the girls line was like comparing the New York Marathon's to Idaho's Potato Run).
(I really don't know if Idaho has a potato run, but it probably does, and if it does, you can probably assume it's less than the NY Marathon. Sorry, where was I?)
So sure, I'm always happy to take my kids to crap like this. But that's how I saw it. As events to endure, not necessarily to enjoy. We take hits like this all the time as parents. We have to watch Care Bears in the car and Wonder Pets at home, even though I'd rather be watching Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead or, this time of year, college basketball (Go Kansas!).  Occasionally you get lucky and a new Pixar movie comes out. Most of the time, you are sacrificing your own thirst for something enriching for your children's sake. 
And then I met Delaney Wadsworth.
• • • 
Delaney was a 3-year-old girl from a nearby town where I lived with a brain tumor. She was exceedingly popular. She would have been head cheerleader and homecoming queen for sure later in her life. Her Facebook page was followed by 35,000 people at last count, or twice the population of the town where she lived.
Yet I stayed away from any kind of a story, even though I'm usually the one at the Greeley Tribune who does them. The human interest beat, they call it, though I prefer to approach it as the kinds of challenges we all face and how normal people beat them or at least cope with them.
Journalism is full of what we call — rather cynically, I know — diseased kid stories. I did approach our photographer earlier in the year and ask if maybe we should be doing it. He said he didn't want to do yet another story on that and watch a kid die. I agreed with him and left it alone.
Only, after meeting the parents for another story, a friendship they struck up with another family who lost their 18-year-old girl to the same very rare brain tumor Delaney had, I was impressed with Jason and Brenna's approach. They had decided not to treat her illness. They weren't selfishly trying to pump her full of chemotherapy just to keep her around a little longer. They were choosing to fill her remaining days with activities, like raising baby goats and going to Disney World, instead of hospital visits.
I saw this as a story about life rather than death. I ignored it for a few days, then finally listened to my urging instincts and approached my editor, who initially had the same reaction I did until I told him about my angle. 
Granted, this kind of tumor, DIPG, leaves little hope that any treatment would work, anyway, so their decision was a little easier. A little. At least at first. Ironically, just as Jason and Brenna said they would welcome me into their lives, they got the news that Delaney had less than two months to live unless they did a round of radiation on her. That miserable treatment might give her another month.
I spent as much time as I could without ignoring my other duties at The Tribune, my family or wearing down their patience (which, to my amazement, was infinite, at least with me and our photographers). 
I am proud of the package as a whole, the photos, the video I made and the story. I think it's important.
It also killed me. When I would see Delaney, I would see the faces of my 3-year-old girls. I saw pain in Jason and Brenna's eyes that hit me like shots to the kidney every time I interviewed them. I knew in some way, at least much more than I used to, what they were feeling. I was there the day Delaney slipped into a coma. It was heartbreaking and traumatic not just for the parents but for me. I was a wreck the rest of the day.
I in no way pretended to believe that I was suffering anywhere close to what Jason and Brenna were feeling. But it did hurt me.
It changed me a bit too.
• • • 
The story, of course, is a sad one. Gut wrenching at times, in fact. But there's hope in it, I hope, as well. I won't give away too much. You'll just have to read it.
Still, what hurt me more than Delaney's death was the little moments. There was a day when Delaney wanted to go swimming. They took her, of course. I talked to Jason about it later. 
"For a while," he wrote me back, "it almost felt normal."
Everyday, little fun moments, the kind that parents, including me, especially me, not only take for granted but view as necessarily trials to kill the days and wear them out, were rare treasures to Jason and Brenna as Delaney weakened. They did their best to do those things every day, but eventually, those moments became less frequent, until they completely disappeared. 
It made me think that life is not only trips to Disney World or contained in fun things that we like to do as adults, like Vegas. It is, in fact, in trips to the pool, which I'm planning to do as soon as I finish this post. It is in the moments that we look on things to endure, like a Princesses on Ice night out with the girls and Jayden, when we walk past 75 souvenir booths (seriously) and lemonade stands and pizza spots all meant to make our kids beg and stay up too late and then wake up at 5 a.m. to run 10 miles and spend the rest of the day tired and yawning.
I am beginning to understand that a bit more thanks to Delaney. And during the performance, when Snow White came out to the pre-recorded dialogue and canned music, the smile on my face was almost as big as the girls'.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Canyonlands Half Marathon

I felt a tickle inside my belly as I walked to the bus that would take us up the Canyonlands in Moab, Utah.
It is only a tickle I feel before a race. It's the buzz of anticipation, excitement and nerves all in one. I haven't been single in a long time, but I would imagine the only thing that would bring on that package would be a first date.
Saturday's race was, in a sense, a first date. I've wanted to do this race for three years, but it's so popular, you apply and hope. I applied with a group of five of my best friends. They run. But you probably guessed that.
Well, we got in, celebrated and took off Friday morning for Utah. I'd never been to Moab despite the fact that it's one of the outdoors destinations in the world. That's sort of like a poker player ignoring Las Vegas. That's why I wanted to do this course. It's down the Canyonlands.
I had been looking forward to this, in other words, for three years. The sights were some of the best I'd seen on a run, ever. I was with my running partners. I had never felt better in my life.
It should have been a classic run.
But early on, I knew I was in trouble.
• • •
Denial is a powerful drug. When you're running, it's a steroid.
Looking back on today's race, I didn't really feel good after mile one. I didn't have the bounce in my step. I didn't feel fresh. I felt winded almost the whole time, even after we slowed a touch from the 7:30 pace.
We hovered around there for the next few miles, and I kept telling myself that I felt great. Really great. Awesome. So good. I was fine. I could keep up with my two closest training partners. This pace was pretty damn aggressive, yes, given that my best pace for a half marathon in October - when I PRd, by the way - was 7:59. But I had never felt so good. My training was great.
I was fine.
Only I wasn't.
I don't like to make too many excuses. The weather is always a part of a run. But a gusty, brutal headwind kept us chilly before the race and slowed us down once it started.
I didn't want it to bother me. But after a while, it was like someone pushing me back. Or like trying to run through molasses. It definitely affected me.
I kept up with them until mile seven, which was far too long to be running at a pace that was may, honestly, be too fast for me even on the best days. I still think I can run that, and soon, but not this week.
Here's the thing. Training is good for you. But when you're training for, say, I dunno, a marathon, and you've run back-to-back 50-mile weeks, and those included 19-mile and 20-mile runs, well, you're tired.
That's just it. I felt tired.
When you do start too fast, the miles after that, even when you do back off, in a word, suck. You feel worn down, like you have the flu, and slow, like your shoes are in cement, and just pain miserable, like you hate running and all you want to be is done.
I tried, many times, to quiet the troll in my head that was telling me to walk or slow down, and I eventually bargained with it. I would slow down, a little, even from my usual 8-minute-mile pace for half marathons, as long as I didn't have to walk much, and we'd get through this together.
I tried to enjoy the race as much as I could. The scenery was still beautiful, even if, after a while, it was mocking me.
That beautiful scenery, however, makes me feel OK about today's race. I had fun. It was a great experience. I loved it.
Perhaps the next time, I'll try to enjoy it.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The crest of the hill

How can I be feeling this confident, this good, this cocky, even, about the marathon training?
Two 20-mile runs are still on the schedule, and the race is two months away. That's a lot of opportunity to get hurt.
But I still think the worst is over.
The worst was over Saturday, when I finished my first 20-miler.
This 20, after all, came after last week's 19 still on my legs. I ran 47 miles last week and ran 49 this week.
This won't mean as much to you, but I ran this week's 20 at a 9-minute pace, which is pretty aggressive, and yet, I felt good the whole time. Maybe it was the good company, staying hydrated or just the warmth of spring.
You tend to get used to being uncomfortable when you're training for a marathon in the dead of a Colorado winter. Stinging cheeks, frozen snot, frosty eyelashes, numb toes and bitter thighs are all common. Too common, really. So when I walked out Friday morning, for my 10-miler the day before the 20, in shorts, and though it felt good, I didn't feel joy. I felt dazed. It was probably what the bear feels after emerging from his den. My body felt light because it wasn't weighed down by heavy clothes. My body felt free and warm. It felt wonderful.
Ironically, Saturday's 20 was much easier than that 10. And that was encouraging and confusing at the same time.
Running can still be unpredictable, even when you prepare and train and know what to wear and how to sleep and, most of all, what to avoid. You can do everything right and feel like crap and do everything wrong and feel great.
So the worst is over. I feel great to be done with the toughest two weeks of the plan. But I know that there's no guarantees.
And no room to be cocky.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

All A-Twitter

Well, we're a snarky bunch, aren't we?
Do you remember anything about Sunday's Oscars besides who won? Let me guess. You remember how much it sucked, right?
That's mostly what I remember too. But I don't remember the forgettable show. I remember the comments I made DURING the Oscars.
Here's a quick summary:
Anne Hathaway sucked. James Franco sucked. OMG THEY SUCK!
Only a lot snarkier and more clever and funny.
The thing is, looking back over those tweets, they weren't nearly as clever as I thought at the time.
This is the danger of social networking.
You can now release any random thought. And when you let them out of the cage, sometimes they bite back.
E-mail was the first to cause these problems. I tend to be a little, ahem, reactionary sometimes, and if I felt overworked, which is pretty common at a small newspaper and also for me cause I'm a bit of a stress bug, I'd spark off sometimes. I guarantee you if I had to say those things in person, I simply wouldn't. No email would have saved me a couple closed-door meetings.
Less serious, of course, is what twitter and Facebook are doing to us. It's turning us into a bunch of overtly clever, snarky, snippy smartasses.
Yes, Hathaway and Franco sucked Sunday. They were flippant, unfunny and unfocused.
Unfortunately I wasn't much better.