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My First Blog Post

Wellness

The quality or state of being in good health, especially as an actively sought goal.

— Merriam-Webster

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been chasing wellness most of my adult life in some way. It’s one of the reasons I chose to become a physical therapist. I wanted to also help others feel well, and it’s not always about medicine. I’ve also been some version of vegetarian my entire adult life, finally making the full jump to vegan over two years ago.

What exactly does it mean, though, to feel well? One could argue that there are many facets to wellness. It’s not just about your physical well-being, but also social, spiritual, emotional, and environmental factors. If one of these is off, you feel unsettled. And sometimes it’s challenging to figure out which one of these elements is the culprit.

We tend to focus on physical wellness, right? What’s my cholesterol? How many medications do I rely on to stay healthy? How can I better manage my chronic diseases? How can I achieve and maintain a healthy weight?  How can I keep up with my kids?

I know I asked myself these questions when I first began my own wellness journey. I was overweight after having 2 kids, dealing with persistent pain, and wearing the largest size clothes in my life. Not exactly great for my emotional wellness! Does this story sound familiar?

So I began with a goal. My goal was to lose weight. 30 lbs to be exact. I started making use of my YMCA membership and used the food and activity tracker myfitnesspal to reach my goal. It took me about a year to lose the weight, but I knew I wanted to keep working toward better fitness. I was already bored with gym equipment.

In the lobby of my local YMCA, I saw a flyer for a local 5k, the Ashland Harvest Run held every October. Running 3.1 miles seemed like a daunting, yet achievable task. The best way to reach a goal is to break it down into smaller ones. I worked toward running a mile without stopping, then 2 miles. And then it was race day. I ran/walked the entire thing, finishing in the middle of the pack! It was so exciting… the whole race experience, meeting my goal, and performing better than I expected. I officially caught the running bug that day. A friend of mine convinced me to join the Sports Backers/YMCA 10k training team, and this is where I met one of my best friends. She would convince me that I was capable of even more… the marathon. A few training teams later, we have a solid crew of running sisters… sole sisters… and my life is exponentially better because of them! So great for my social wellness! I have now completed 6 marathons. I’m currently training for number 7, the Marine Corps Marathon. I’m also now a coach with the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team with Pink Nation.  

What other crazy do I do, you ask? Well, my journey inspired my husband to find his tribe, too, and he started like me at our local YMCA. He eventually found his way to CrossFit, and he is now a level 1 trainer. I told him I would never try CrossFit unless he opened his own gym. In July of 2017, I had to eat my words, because he started a box with some business partners! He has even competed at the Masters level with some success, placing first in the Festivus games and third in the SuperFit games in 2018. We have since left this business endeavor, but Ralph is working out at a new box and focusing on being an athlete for a bit.

I enjoy the new challenges of CrossFit. Everyone is good at something in the box. Maybe you can’t do handstands, but you can lift weight! Maybe I can’t lift as much as you, but I can do pistol squats! The day I climbed that rope for the first time… well, I felt like Shalane Flannagan crossing the finish line of the NYC marathon! But the best part about CrossFit? It’s been great for our marriage.

I’m also spending some time fostering my creativity. I’ve recently launched a tie-dye shirt business, and I am dabbling in turning my favorite quotes into mixed media art. I hope to sell these at some point as well.

So, here I am. A 44 year old mother of two, married to a talented CrossFit coach, working as a physical therapist, 6 time marathoner, Vegan, artist, and sometimes CrossFit athlete. This sounds more impressive on paper than it really is. This is just me, chasing wellness.

Through this blog, I hope you find inspiration in your own journey. I plan to share with you recipes, running stories and tips, CrossFit stories, vegan tips, nutrition information, fitness clothing reviews, vegan food reviews, a bit of art, and fun features of living in Richmond! Thanks for reading!

This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.

I’ve Been Streaking, and It’s Been Great!

Sharing my thoughts about my January run streak.

Ah, January. The new year, with a fresh beginning and hopefully with a few aspirational goals to motivate. With the month almost over, I’m taking some time to reflect on my new year’s journey thus far.

Personally, I chose to do a run streak for the month to coincide with another goal: Dry January. The stress of the pandemic made me far too reliant on booze to soothe my worries, and I needed a reset. I figured I needed to balance my lack of alcohol with some way to manage my daily anxiety. A run streak just seemed like the natural way to accomplish this!

Was this my first time streaking? No. I did this from Thanksgiving day in 2021 to New Year’s Day in 2022. I learned a few things about myself doing that, and I felt it would be a great time to re-establish some consistency in my workouts. 

I have rules for my streaking habit, however, to help avoid injury:

  • I try to do these only in my “off-season.” That is, when I’m not training for a big race like a marathon.
  • I maintain my normal running schedule, typically only 3 runs per week, including my weekend long run, adding only a one-mile run on my typical non-running days. 
  • I allow myself to take my one-mile runs as speedy or as slow as needed. If I’m feeling good, I will push my RPE (rate of perceived exertion) to 7 or 8 on a one-mile run, but if my body is asking for a break, I’ll keep my pace to a much lesser effort. 
  • I keep my weekend long runs to a conversational pace, about 5-6 on the RPE scale. 
  • I give myself an end date. As an older runner, I think it’s unreasonable for me to maintain a daily run streak for extended periods of time, possibly setting myself up for injury. 

I’ve learned this go-round that finding consistency in my fitness routine has been helpful. There have been fewer walk breaks on my runs, and even though I’m still slow post-COVID, I feel stronger. I plan to replace my one-mile run days with a gym workout and one complete rest day when this streak is over.

I’ve kind of fallen in love with my little one mile out and back from my house. My old friend, waiting to greet me after my work day, ready to hear about my troubles of the moment. My meditation time. My opportunity to quell anxiety in a healthy way.

But I’m also looking forward to wrapping up these goals for January. I’ve surprised myself with my commitment to them, especially Dry January. I did give myself a pass on the day of my dad’s memorial service; I had one drink at dinner with my family. But other than that, I’ve been faithful. It’s definitely taught me that daily running can help manage my stress without relying on alcohol.

Will I ever streak again? It’s likely. Is it right for everyone? Probably not! I definitely don’t recommend run streaks for new runners. That’s advice from the physical therapist in me!

Did my January commitments teach me new habits? Absolutely. Will they persist? We shall see!

During the Frostbite 15k, a race I ran as part of my run streak.

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Have you ever done a run streak? What did you learn about yourself if you did? I’d love to hear about it!

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

I Broke Down and Cried on my 10 Mile Run Yesterday

Sometimes runs are necessarily cathartic.

I’d kind of been dreading this run: the first double-digit run of my first ever spring marathon training cycle. I’m used to training for a fall marathon, leading a very organized team of runners with a very prominent non-profit and with lots of support. 

This run was lonely. I was still running as part of a group, however, I was the only one running this far at a slow pace. Such is life. 

I’d felt a bit anxious all week, my body pushing this to the extreme with heart palpitations and chest pain. Yes, I’ve had this before and yes, I’ve been checked out by a cardiologist, including a stress test and an echocardiogram. As many a male doctor has told me throughout my life, I’m just stressed. Sigh.

I’m still on my January run streak and I’m still doing Dry January. I was hoping that my daily running would quell my anxiety since I decided not to imbibe in my anti-anxiety elixir of choice this month. 

As it turns out, I can’t outrun my anxiety or my grief. And so I found myself nearly hyperventilating and sobbing during my third mile yesterday, a bit early in my run for this phenomenon, so it took me by surprise.

My tears were for my father who passed away 2 days after Christmas. Our relationship wasn’t perfect. I’ve harbored resentment for far too long, mourning the dad I wished he could have been for me. I wanted a hero, but he couldn’t be that. 

It’s not his fault. My dad revealed to me so many awful things that happened to him when he was younger, but not until I was well into my 40s. Can you imagine the wound that you would endure if your own mother told you that she wanted to abort you? That she never wanted you? My dad struggled with depression for most of his life, understandably. 

My tears were of reconciliation and forgiveness. My dad, such a gentle soul, who used his experiences to counsel others from avoiding death by suicide, using his pastoral training by serving on a prevention hotline for 25 years. My dad, who tried his best to correct the wrongs in a church that hosted an abusive youth minister. My dad, whose personal relationship with scripture helped him heal from his own bullies in his life, including his mother. 

I had hoped that I could spend more time with him now that I was able. My spare time was often caught up in supporting my husband’s family, with my father-in-law succumbing to end-stage Parkinson’s in October. 

It was an impulse decision to sign up for the Blue Ridge Marathon, which will be my 11th. I’ve done the half a couple of times, but the marathon distance race has been on my bucket list. Running my first marathon in 2014 was a way for me to prove to people who have hurt me in my past that I’m stronger than their abuse. That I’m a survivor. Running a marathon whose course includes climbing 3 mountains sounded like a great way to work through my sorrow at the time I signed up, but may seem a bit crazy now. We’ll see if I can outrun my grief and anxiety after all. 

Grief is such a humbling companion. I’ll run this race for my dad. He deserved a better start in life. He deserved more from me. And now I understand that he couldn’t give me any more than he did. In my conversations with him in the past couple of years, he said he was satisfied with his life and all he accomplished, and I do take comfort in that. 

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I’m sure I’ll have many more tearful long runs this spring. Have you ever broken down emotionally on a run? It’s amazing what emotions spill out when your body is pushed to its limits. 

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

What’s Your Running Mantra?

Positive self-talk matters in fitness.

It’s January. That means gyms are packed with everyone super motivated to pursue new years’ resolutions and streets are a bit more crowded than usual with runners and walkers alike. If you are new to your fitness journey, sometimes it’s challenging to feel like you even belong in these spaces. 

Something we may not often discuss is how we motivate ourselves in pursuit of our newly formed fitness goals. How you talk to yourself matters.

What’s your mantra? 

My latest mantra has been, “A body in motion stays in motion.” This is what I tell myself to get out the door. And “One foot in front of the other.” I repeat this as I run to keep myself motivated. 

Personally, I made a lofty goal of running a spring marathon this year. I’ve been struggling on my runs recently, really since I had Covid in August. Runs that feel like a 10:30 paced mile are actually around 12 minutes. It’s very humbling! Yet still, I keep repeating my positive mantras.

My mantras weren’t always this optimistic. In fact, when I first started my running journey, I heard, “Nanny-nanny boo-boo,” in the sound of the pattern of my feet striking the pavement. It took a while for that negative noise to change, but I can still recall clearly the moment that it did.

I was training for my first marathon: the Richmond Marathon, in 2014. It was an incredibly hot and humid day, and I was in mile 15 of a 16-mile run. I was having a good day despite the brutal weather, and I finally felt like finishing the marathon distance was feasible. Suddenly, in the midst of my exhausted runner’s high, I heard a mariachi band telling me, “You can DO it!

I use mantras when working with my patients, too, as a physical therapist. So often I find that those in my care suffer from crippling anxiety when approaching mobility training. Imagine suffering a fall that results in a fracture, and someone less than half your age who you just met is asking you to trust them as they assist you in taking those first steps. 

So I teach them the words of one of my first running coaches: “Breathe. Relax. Believe.” We take a deep breath together, release some tension, and refocus on the task. This usually works! And success is followed by high-fives and a joyous mini-celebration of accomplishing the seemingly monumental task at hand.

As we approach the second month of the year, it may seem easy to simply let go of trying to form new, healthier habits. Maybe it’s our innate nature to engage in self-sabotage. Maybe it’s in the way we talk to ourselves. 

When you set out to complete a workout, it’s not a time to punish yourself for seemingly less-than-ideal food choices or for past inactivity. It’s a time to celebrate the ability to move your body!

Remember that we are human and are allowed rest days and that we also deserve to treat ourselves with kindness. Life happens, and sometimes we can’t accomplish all of the things we tried to put on our plates. But this doesn’t mean you have failed. Shift your mantras. You are worthy of healthy habits, including in your conversations with yourself. You can DO it!

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Are you striving to form new healthy habits this new year? I’d love to hear about it! 

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Frostbite 15k 2023 Race Recap

Richmond Road Runners Club

Well, well, well. If it isn’t another race that I said I’d never run again, and yet peer pressure made me sign up to run it this year. Why did I swear I’d avoid this race? I’ll tell you.

I ran this race 3 years in a row: 2014, 2015, and 2016. In 2014, it correlated very well with my training for my first half marathon. It was cold, and it was the farthest distance I had run at that point in my running career. I crossed the finish line and promptly had a panic attack. Why? I don’t know. The next year, it was 34 degrees and raining. There were parts of the course that were underwater, and they had to create a detour, making the course long. The following year we had rain, sleet, and then snow! I finally had enough of being cold and wet for a race.  

So what made me bend to peer pressure this year? I stupidly registered for the Blue Ridge Marathon, America’s Toughest Road Race. That’s on April 22nd. It was an impulse decision made out of grief. Go figure. But in order to get on track with mileage for training, the 15k aligns with the plan. And all of my friends were like, “We’re running the race. So if you want to get your long run in, you should run with us!” This is how I found myself hitting that register button on RunSignup. Sigh. 

I’m friends with both of the race directors. (I’m VP of Marketing for the club, after all!) But, honestly, I was initially planning on merely volunteering! But I’m super happy with the soft race shirt, and the medals are really fun!

With friends before the race! Photo by author.

Race morning was cold and windy, in the upper 20’s with steady winds at 8mph. That means a feel-like temp in the teens! As it turns out, I dressed very well for the race. Layers are the strategy for conditions like this, and every time I thought I was beginning to feel hot, I would turn a corner, get into a patch of shade, and catch a stiff breeze. Surprisingly, all of my layers stayed on!

The course is notoriously hilly for this race, traversing through the neighborhoods surrounding Byrd and Maymont parks. There were lovely views of the lakes in Byrd Park, but the course would have been super confusing with the number of loops and out and backs incorporated. Thank goodness for great course marshals!

By one of the lakes in Byrd Park on the course. Photo by author.

Speaking of course marshals, they were amazing! Some of them were friends of mine, and it’s always great to see a friend on the route, especially when they call your name! One of the marshals was playing Beyonce, and I found myself singing “Put a ring on it” for at least 2 miles. Another was doing a striptease to motivate us. Sure, it was only her safety vest, but it was hilarious and thoroughly entertaining! And yet another gentleman was waving pom-poms and showering runners with words of encouragement. They kept me going, for sure!

I surprised myself with my performance, though. This was definitely a day that I toed the line at the start, got going, and felt good. Today was a race day, it was decided. Not just a training run. 

With the exception of stopping for water and a few yards in the last mile of the race, I ran the entire way, even up and down all of the hills. Although my pace was slow, it was fairly consistent. 

In the end, I finished in under 2 hours, which was my plan A goal! (If you’re a runner, you know there are always plans A, B, and C…) 

So, this race I love to hate actually loved me back this year. Another great race with the Richmond Road Runners Club complete! Will I be back next year? We shall see…

After the race with my medal! Photo courtesy of Anna L.

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Don’t you love when a race distance aligns with your training plan? 

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

Is Choosing a Vegetarian or Vegan Lifestyle a Trauma Response?

Exploring the connections between diet choices and mental health

This story is both scientific and personal.

In taking a continuing education course on trauma-informed care as part of my ongoing training as a physical therapist. I was surprised to find a few things listed under some common characteristics and conditions of those who have survived trauma. Asthma was one, which is also known as a highly inflammatory disease. But the surprise was a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. This revelation definitely made me raise an eyebrow.

I had chosen a course focused on practicing trauma-informed care since almost all of my patients seem to be recovering from the traumatic events related to whatever brought them into the hospital. I always welcome gaining insight into how to better connect with those in my care. The typical manifestations of trauma are seemingly easy to recognize while working with my patients. 

But how does trauma relate to choosing a plant-based diet? This question led me to do some research. 

First of all, let me disclose that I am a survivor of childhood sexual assault, I have asthma that developed in my early adulthood, and I also happen to be vegan. When the slide denoting these two things as connected to trauma popped up on my computer, I was immediately engaged with the presentation. 

I never thought of my diet choice as a trauma response, but I acknowledge that I derive a certain sense of satisfaction from having control of my diet. A functional medicine doctor convinced me to transition from a vegetarian diet to a vegan diet to help manage inflammation, one manifestation of which is asthma, another depression. 

A quick Google search doesn’t truly reveal an answer to my question. Most studies or articles relating to this typically approach plant-based diets as either a cause of mental illness or as an illness itself. One article goes so far as to group veganism under the umbrella of avoidance restrictive food intake disorder. 

However, most of the survey style studies showed that those who adopted a vegetarian or vegan diet did so after the onset of depression or anxiety. So the diet doesn’t cause mental illness. 

Positive takes on plant-based diets do exist. A scientific study correlates vegetarian lifestyles with healthy mood states. One article discusses veganism as a logical outcome of the moral reckonings of highly sensitive and emotionally intelligent people. Still, other resources cite plant-based diets as a means of healing from trauma

The only experience I have to relate to the correlation between diet choice and trauma survival is my own. I began my journey to going vegan as a pescatarian when I was 18. I gave up meat because the thought of eating sentient beings disturbed me. And why is that? 

A truck carrying chickens to a processing plant. Always a sad sight for me. I used to keep chickens and learned how amazing they are as creatures. Photo by author.

Living my life through a trauma lens made me more empathetic to all the suffering in this world, including that of animals. Why is it right for me to eat a cow or pig? They experience fear and sadness just like humans. And my empathy for these creatures is immense.

I recently went to see Avatar 2 with my daughter. It was really emotional for me. There is whale hunting involved. Understanding the relationship that the fictional Na’vi people have with the wildlife in their midst, it was excruciating to watch these parts. I sobbed like a baby. If James Cameron is trying to convince everyone to adopt a vegan diet like him, he did a pretty convincing job!

Perhaps as a vegan, my reaction to these scenes was different and more powerful than for most viewers. But James Cameron certainly did his best to evoke an emotional response from his audience. 

But still, my real question remains unanswered. Does trauma contribute to choosing a diet that avoids exploiting animals? I’m not even sure if the topic is worth researching or even if a real conclusion can be reached. 

To my fellow plant-based eaters, if you are also survivors of trauma, I send you the biggest, warmest hug. I’d also like to know if your experience with trauma helped lead you to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.

Regardless, I can’t imagine going back to eating animals at this point in my life. It’s been nearly 6 years. I don’t miss eating meat. And the longer I live this way, the more I see all living beings as deserving of compassion and respect. I do not wish to be responsible for inflicting trauma on any other sentient being. This I can live with. But is my diet choice helping me heal from my own trauma? That is yet to be determined.

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Have you ever heard of the correlation between plant-based diets and surviving trauma? I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Vegan Succotash Chowder

Some ideas for recipes just come to me on a whim, like when I’m on a run. That’s how the idea for this chowder developed. 

Succotash was one of those vegetable side dishes I grew up with that I had to learn to love, but once I did, it became a comfort food. Nostalgia can be nice.

There’s something about a warm cup of goodness filled with corn, baby lima beans, and potatoes in a rich, vegetable-based broth that sounded really appealing! So, I went to work on bringing this idea to fruition. You will love the results as much as my family and I did!

I used frozen corn and lima beans here, but you can easily substitute fresh, especially in the summer months when these ingredients are plentiful at farmer’s markets.

Ingredients:

1 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic (or store-bought minced garlic or two frozen garlic cubes)

1 celery stalk, diced

1/4 cup flour

Olive oil

1 carton vegetable broth

2-3 large gold potatoes or equivalent, peeled and cut into uneven slices

1 small package frozen Lima beans (10-12 oz)

1 small package frozen corn (10-12 oz)

Salt and pepper to taste

1 T Seasoning salt (I like Trader Joe’s Chicken-less or Lidl)

Onion salt to taste

1 cup plant milk (I like Silk 10g Protein Milk, plain unsweetened)

Directions:

  • In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, saute the onion and garlic in a bit of olive oil over medium heat until just beginning to brown. 
  • Add the seasoning salt.
  • Add the celery and continue to saute until beginning to soften. 
  • Add another tablespoon or so of olive oil, then sprinkle in the flour, stirring to combine with the oil and veggies. 
  • Add broth gradually, mixing the flour into the broth. 
  • Add the frozen veggies and sliced potatoes.
  • Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low. 
  • Cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.
  • Add plant-based milk and stir.
  • Add salt, onion salt, and pepper to taste.
  • Serve with crackers or toast!
  • If you are gluten-free, substitute 2 T cornstarch for the flour. 
  • Cutting the potatoes in uneven slices lets them break down a bit as they cook, further thickening the soup. See the video below where I cut potatoes and onions for another vegan soup recipe, but this is the method I used for the potatoes in this recipe.

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If you try this recipe, take a photo and share it on Instagram, tagging me @annecreates

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

A Dozen Life Lessons I Taught My Daughters

My themes of parenthood

Motherhood was not something I truly contemplated. I just assumed that I would be one someday. It’s an expected part of life as a woman, at least of one my age. (I’m pushing 50.) That being said, I was lucky enough to give birth to two amazing daughters with an equally amazing life partner. 

Raising girls these days can be especially challenging, walking the fence of the nuances of improving the lives and rights of women while continuing to satisfy the patriarchal world in which we live. I simultaneously want to help them burn all the bras and protect them from potential abuse and harassment. It’s not a simple task.   

I raised my girls through a trauma survivor’s lens. I’m not sure if this was the right thing to do, but it did seem to protect them, for the most part, from abuse. As part of this view, I also taught them skills to promote self-advocacy and independence. I knew that I couldn’t be there every moment to protect them. So they needed the skills and confidence to protect themselves. 

Here are a few lessons I repeated often to my girls: 

  1. If someone tells you not to tell your parents, or you will get in trouble, that’s exactly when you need to tell us what’s happening. Because that person is definitely doing something wrong. This is especially true when it comes to abuse. It’s a big red flag that requires the attention of a trusted grown-up.
  2. Real names for body parts. My girls knew the appropriate terms. I still recall how my then 2 ½ year old proudly announced while we were in line to buy food at a restaurant (loudly!) that boys have penises, and girls have vaginas. I affirmed her declaration. It was Ash Wednesday. I remember the shocked expression of the man in line behind us, ashes on his forehead. It’s still one of my favorite stories! 
  3. If you find yourself in over your head and in a bad situation, call me, and I will pick you up, no questions asked. We will discuss it later, but you will not get into trouble. My girls never took me up on this offer, so I’d like to think that they never found themselves in a sticky situation where peer pressure snowballed into a bad time.  
  4. You can always blame me for the reason you cannot do something. Are your peers trying to talk you into something nefarious? Make me the bad guy. I don’t care. Just stay safe. 
  5. In managing conflict at school, I always encouraged my daughters to try to resolve issues on their own first, talking with them about the problem and offering ways to discuss issues with their teachers. If that didn’t work, I would step in. My girls are both very good at advocating for themselves now, which is especially important as they navigate college and enter adulthood. 
  6. When I did need to step in to help resolve problems at school, there was a meter for my involvement, from “nice email” to “Defcon 4.” I always let my kids have input in the ferocity of my intervention. 
  7. Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks. This includes trying new things or traveling to new places. We have been able to send our girls on international trips with their high school. We’ve also encouraged them to step out of their comfort zones from time to time, like trying out for the school musical. 
  8. You should never change or abandon your goals because of a relationship. Until you have children, your priority should be you. It’s a lesson my own mother taught me. My older daughter did an overnight trip at a college she was considering. She was still in high school. When I picked her up, she told me immediately that this was not the school for her. The reason? All the girls she met were looking for a husband. They weren’t serious about getting an education. That’s my girl!
  9. Purity is a religious and social construct. Certainly, sex is not to be taken lightly, and involves a lot of emotional attachment, but a choice to become sexually active does not make you a bad person. It simply means you are human. 
  10. All people are born good. I had to undo a teaching from the fundamentalist church down the street from us, a church where we had family as members. They hosted many fun events for kids, and my children attended. Things like Trunk or Treat and Easter egg hunts. But their beliefs included that all people are born bad, and could only become good through the salvation of Jesus, and this was explicitly taught at one of these events. That’s a lot for a 4-year-old to take in, and it had to be undone. No one should ever tell a child they just met that they are a bad person. 
  11. You do not have to become a mother. Your contributions to society can be extremely valuable without creating new humans. That choice is yours, and yours alone. In no way will I ever pressure my children to make me a grandmother. But if I do become a grandmother, I will love and cherish those babies!
  12. Morality is subjective. You can be a good person and not go to church. I know plenty of awful people who think they are good just because they park their butts in a church pew every Sunday. Likewise, laws can be immoral. Just because a law is on the books, doesn’t make it right, especially if it strips people of basic human rights and bodily autonomy.

My daughters are no longer girls. They are young adults. They are, quite simply, amazing humans. As one is wrapping up her college career and the other is preparing to begin hers, I couldn’t be more proud of them. 

I hope that my guidance has prepared them to be successful in pursuing the only goal that really matters: to find what lights your soul on fire and be happy. 

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Did you find that you had certain themes in your parenting style? I’d love to hear about it!

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

That’s a Wrap!

My year in running in 2022

Oh, this sport. Running has been a part of my life now for 10 years. For 8 of those, I have run at least one spring half marathon and a fall full marathon. This year was no exception. Adding to my activities were a few leadership roles. And despite having Covid in August, I still managed to run over 700 miles, including 4 official half marathons, one 10k, a 5k race series, and a full marathon.

Races

Spring was all about half marathons. I ran the Sports Backers half on the Virginia Capital Trail in March, the Blue Ridge half in Roanoke in April, and the Uncorked Half in New Kent County in May. My favorite of the three was Blue Ridge, and I will be back to run again in 2023, but this time, I plan to conquer the full. 

I ran the Monument 10k virtually. The live race conflicted with my race schedule. Technically, I have run this race every year since 2013!

In July, I ran the Richmond Road Runners Club Cul-de-Sac 5k series. This is an evening race in the heat and humidity that is summer in Virginia. I hadn’t planned to run this, but was absolutely persuaded by the swag for finishing all 3 races: a pair of Goodr sunglasses. It was worth it!

Right after this, I contracted Covid. And after 3 weeks of no running because I was too ill to do so, I made the rather poor decision to run the Ashland Half Marathon in late August. I paid for the race, and I was going to finish. Besides, it was only a half marathon! That was my reasoning. I made it just after the cutoff. I don’t recommend running a race of this magnitude so soon after Covid to anyone!

My fall marathon was undecided until August. Even though I train with Sports Backers with a schedule that prepares one for running the Richmond Marathon, as a coach, I’m on the course race day. Sports Backers reimburses us for running a different fall race. I chose the Chessie Trail Marathon in Lexington, VA this year, which is a one and done for me. 

I loved that two of my races were “racecations.” It’s always fun to take a little weekend trip out of town, especially if it involves friends and running! Both of my trips were in the mountains, my happy place.

In November, I was on the course of the Richmond marathon. It was extremely hot that day, but all of our runners finished!

Public Speaking

Never did I imagine myself speaking in public, but the organizers of the Richmond VegFest asked me to talk about my vegan journey and how it affected my running. I was honored to do so, calling my speech My Vegan Evolution. I was really happy to see so many friends there! I also met a few of my friends from Instagram in real life!

Leadership Roles

My year began with being asked to serve on the board of the Richmond Road Runners Club. This morphed into being nominated to serve as the VP of Marketing on the executive board. It took some convincing, but I finally agreed. By the time I truly figure out what I’m doing, it will be time to pass the baton. But it’s been fun so far. 

Also with the club, I stepped up as assistant editor of our quarterly magazine, Miles and Minutes. In addition to curating issues, I’m a regular contributor. It’s truly a joy to write about running and to give others an outlet for their thoughts and information as well. 

I also returned as an assistant coach with the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team, joining my fellow coaches with the Pink Nation, our subteam. This was my 4th year in this role. Helping new marathoners reach their goals never gets old!

Challenges

Personally, my year has been challenging. Covid in August happened the week I was supposed to be on vacation. My time off was far less enjoyable than I’d planned. I’m still not fully recovered, my running pace a solid minute slower than my baseline. My family also helped take care of my father-in-law who required 24-hour care, succumbing to Parkinson’s disease in October. I also lost my own father right after Christmas.

Looking ahead

January begins with two goals: abstaining from alcohol and completing a run streak. The last time I attempted a dry January, I made it 10 days. Let’s hope I can do better this year. And although I generally am not a fan of run streaks, I will do them from time to time. My hope is to gain a bit more consistency with my training. My streaks are basically maintaining my planned running schedule, running one mile on the days I would typically not run. That’s the trick for me for avoiding overuse injuries. 

Planning my spring race schedule, the only thing I have on the books for certain is the Blue Ridge Marathon. I have several friends running this distance, so we can all climb the mountains together (there are 3!) It certainly earns its title of America’s toughest road race! Goals should be lofty enough to scare you just a bit. This will be marathon 11 for me!

As far as leadership roles go, I will complete my term as VP with my local run club, I will continue to help edit Miles and MInutes, and I plan to return to my coaching role with Sports Backers marathon training team. 

Community

As with most endeavors in athletics, it’s the community that makes it great. I could not have done any of this without the support of the Richmond running community. I’m so lucky to live and run here!

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Do you have some intentions on creating healthy habits in the new year? I’d love to hear about it!

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

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Lead photo: Pexels free image for WordPress. Second: At the star on Mill Mountain during the Blue Ridge half marathon. Third: those sweet Goodr sunglasses that were the swag for the 5k series. Fourth: During the Chessie Trail Marathon. Fifth: on the Lee Bridge during the Richmond Marathon. Sixth: At the Richmond VegFest in September. Seventh: With my fellow Pink Nation coaches. Eighth: One issue of Miles and Minutes magazine.

On Becoming the Other Side of the Sandwich

When your time in the “middle” of the sandwich generation is running out

We lost my father-in-law in October. His passing, although challenging, was expected. It was a slow process that really began 6 years ago when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. We watched helplessly as the disease robbed pieces of him from us bit by bit. In his final months, he required around-the-clock care, including toileting, which required the assistance of two people. 

The end wasn’t as peaceful as obituaries always claim. “Mr. Smith died peacefully with family by his side.” Blah. There’s nothing truly peaceful about the process of dying.

I had hoped that my family would get a break from dealing with loss, at least for now, but the universe had other plans. 

The day after Christmas, I had just sat down to relax after a long day of work, grocery shopping, and cooking and cleaning up from dinner, when the phone rang. It was my mother. She was in the ER with my dad. 

My dad has had his own medical issues since the pandemic began, starting dialysis to augment the job that his failing kidneys could no longer do. I think that because his reasons for kidney failure didn’t include diabetes, he thought that his odds for life beyond the average time one survives when you depend on machines to filter your blood were pretty good. 

Well, he had a few rough days, and the day after Christmas was especially tough. He spent most of the day in bed. My mom described the syncopal episode and fall that led to his ambulance ride to the hospital. By the time she called me around 7:30, he was essentially non-responsive. I made the journey from Richmond to the hospital in Tidewater. 

I was aghast at what I saw when I entered his room. He looked so much like my father-in-law did in the last week of his life. His breathing was labored, shallow, and rapid. His color was off. The only way I could describe it is a yellowish grey.

I forgot my glasses in the car. I was honestly a little relieved that I had an excuse to get my emotions in check before returning. On my way to get them, I called my husband and told him I didn’t think my dad would make it out alive. This was it. 

Unfortunately, I was right. He was intubated in the ER. He had a room in the ICU by the time we left. It was 4:30 in the morning, and my mom and I had not slept. He seemed stable enough to go home and get a little rest. In that hour at home, he coded. They were able to resuscitate him.

We swiftly returned to the hospital. When the doctor came in to talk to us, sitting down to see us at our level, I knew where the conversation was headed. 

My dad had often said during our conversations that if he were to die today, he would be satisfied. No regrets. He had lived a good life. But a good life does not include time on a ventilator, on multiple medications to raise your blood pressure, his body struggling to maintain homeostasis. His medical team offered little hope for a meaningful recovery. We made the choice, per his advance directive, to let him go.

Knowing that sometimes people need permission to leave, my mom and I both told him that he didn’t have to fight anymore. It was ok to go home. 

It became a numbers game as we waited. I knew what the consistently lower blood pressure readings and decline in his heart rate meant. They stopped checking his blood pressure. The crash cart was quietly removed. The alarms were silenced on the monitors. The door was shut. We were left to help escort my dad to his next life. I watched as his heart rhythm changed, gradually adjusting to a flat line. Heart rate zero. 8:26 AM. 

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In writing about the passing of my father-in-law, I posed the question: is it worse to lose your person gradually or suddenly? I still don’t really have the answer. Maybe after having some time to process the loss of my own father, I can better resolve this internal debate. One thing is certain, though. There are no winners in this discussion. Both ways are unequivocally terrible. 

Now the planning of honoring another important life gone has begun. My dad, just like my father-in-law, had no desire to discuss his wishes with his spouse. My mom needed to make choices for him, just as my mother-in-law had to do for my father-in-law. And these decisions had to be made quickly. But asking critical questions helped my mom make some of these tough choices on the fly, and their pastor helped as well. 

We’re looking through old pictures, reminiscing on early memories, looking at framed awards through his career and framed degrees, and planning music for his memorial service. Music was such a big part of his life, especially gospel hymns. 

I have many a memory of long drives to Florida to visit family, with the Tennessee Ernie Ford gospel album as our soundtrack, my dad singing along to pass the time. He was the Signin’ Man, after all, as was his social media handle. 

I took inventory of his office, which also serves as the guest room in my parents’ home. He did leave a clue on his desk. I found a notepad with the names of two hymns: Great is thy Faithfulness and It Is Well With my Soul. Knowing that he had made some end-of-life statements to my mother, this made sense. 

I never expected to lose my dad so soon. I simply thought I would have more time. I had resolved to try to visit more often, as much of my time had been tied up with caring for my father-in-law. And now I’m another step closer to becoming the other side of the sandwich. I wish I were still safely tucked in the middle. It still doesn’t seem real. 

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Please discuss end-of-life wishes with your loved ones. It really helps ease decision-making when these desires are clear and understood. 

My husband had some excellent advice for us in planning for mom’s protection and future based on his recent experience and his extensive expertise in the financial world. Things I never would have considered, like putting another family member on bank accounts and obtaining multiple copies of the death certificate. Unpleasantries that have to be worked through, but are so very necessary. He helped my brother and me begin to have these tough conversations with our mom.  

“Great is thy faithfulness. Great is thy faithfulness. Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided. Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.”

This hymn is my current internal soundtrack.

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

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Lead photo is from Pexels for WordPress: Alaska, my dad’s favorite place. Second photo I took; the notepad with hymn titles that I found on his desk.

The Power of Empathy

Why healthcare providers need this superpower

I woke up one morning, looking over toward the bathroom of my apartment. I took a glance at an object that wasn’t supposed to be there: a wheelchair. My overstudied brain suddenly recalled that on that day, I was supposed to be a paraplegic. 

The simple task of getting out of bed and bathed without using my legs was daunting. I kind of cheated, taking a shower the night before, bypassing the need to fully bathe in the morning before embarking on my journey to the downtown campus of my school. But I tried my best otherwise to play the part.

Photo by Patrick De Boeck on Pexels.com

It was my first year in grad school. As part of my training as a physical therapist, we participated in two important activities that initial year, both designed to develop empathy, an essential trait of good caregivers. 

The first? Disability day. We drew cards with various scenarios. Half the class was “disabled” at a time, that way, our classmates could help out each other. For 24 hours, we had to be that person. 

You can probably guess that my scenario was life as a paraplegic. I was to navigate my world from a wheelchair in a second-floor apartment, and I could not drive my car. We also had to go to the store and purchase an item from the top shelf. 

The logistics of this were challenging. I had to allow my neighbor and roommate bump me down the stairs in the wheelchair. 2 flights, mind you. I had to ride in a wheelchair van, strapped to the floor by my chair. A lady at the grocery store watched in horror as I used a wooden spoon I found to slap an item down from the top shelf. She actually wailed in disgust. Would it have killed her to ask me if I needed help? Apparently so. I also ordered a coffee from the coffee bar. The barista treated me as if I were not only physically disabled, but mentally as well. All humbling experiences. 

This day did the trick. I thought I was empathetic to people who rely on wheelchairs for mobility. But spending a day in a chair taught me much more than I ever imagined. I was eager to surrender the chair at the end of the day. 

The second task? We read a book called Bed Number 10. It’s about a woman who developed Guillian-Barre syndrome, and she temporarily lost all mobility, including her ability to mobilize her diaphragm to breathe. Her story was extraordinary. 

The author so carefully documented her discomforts, her fears, and her frustrations during her care. Her story impacted my everyday practice, and it still does to this day. Every time help a patient back to bed, I recall the pain she described caused by a wrinkle in her sheets. I have developed little tricks over the years for reducing wrinkles in bedsheets for my less mobile patients. And it all goes back to this book. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I have no doubt that these tasks were added to our curriculum to help us understand what our patients go through on a daily basis, not only as someone with a disability navigating an abled world, but also how our patients feel when they are at their most vulnerable. 

With how I’ve been treated as a patient at times, I wish that medical schools had some of this same training. Like playing out scenarios where they had a list of ailments, went to a doctor, and had the experience of the doctor telling them it’s because they are stressed. Or that their pain isn’t that bad or entirely in your head. Or write you off as an over-anxious mom or a drug seeker. 

How many of you have had this experience? It’s frustrating and humiliating, and it delays appropriate treatment. 

It’s happened to me often enough, even as an educated healthcare provider myself, that I do things to prove that my story is real, like wearing multiple layers of marathon gear to a doctor’s appointment. In my mind, if I wear a badge of proof that I intentionally put myself through pain for fun, perhaps they will believe that my symptoms are real. 

This mistreatment happens more frequently than you may think, and there are multiple layers that factor into this problem, including implicit bias. I have so many stories of patients who were written off and not taken seriously: 

  • A Black man who had back pain was documented as drug-seeking in his chart. After several trips to the ER, he finally presented with the red flag symptoms of inability to ambulate and the loss of control of his bowel and bladder. He actually had a tumor in his spine that progressed to the point of causing paralysis by the time they did any diagnostic testing. I literally wept while writing his evaluation. It was a horrible injustice. 
  • A Black woman who fell off a ladder at work, but her employer “lost” the tapes. They denied that the accident even happened, and only allowed her to see doctors approved by their workman’s comp policy. She was also written off as drug-seeking, but actually had a serious spinal injury. Her physical recovery was prolonged significantly because of the time between the injury and proper intervention, but she also experienced emotional turmoil in this process. In addition to our medical team properly addressing her diagnoses, I also unlocked that trauma response and was able to refer her to our mental health practitioners for additional care. 
  • My own father. A white man who doesn’t necessarily fit into the “alpha male” persona. He was in a car accident and presented to the ER with left shoulder pain. They x-rayed his shoulder, and it was fine, so they sent him home. He had been told that the pain was in his head and that he needed to take a vacation. That advice nearly killed him. Left shoulder pain is also a referred pain pattern from the spleen. It had ruptured, and he became septic a couple of weeks later. 

The above scenarios demonstrate not only a lack of empathy from multiple parties involved in the care of these patients, but also a gross lack of curiosity on the part of practitioners to get to the root of the problems. Certainly, bias played a role here as well. But in order to be curious, you must first have empathy and take the time to actively listen to your patients. 

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Surely those of us who have chosen to enter the field of medicine do so because we desire to help others. But when we get into practice, sometimes this desire gets diluted by the expectations from corporations and insurance companies. 

We are so quick to judge in this society, especially in our healthcare world. Bias and stereotypes unfortunately still affect patient care. And our system is designed to reward procedures, band-aid fixes, and high productivity. These issues are systemic and repeatedly reinforced, including biases toward certain patient populations. 

As unfair and distressing as this is, we can change this. Even just a little empathy from a provider can change the experience of our patients seeking healthcare. It is possible for future and current healthcare providers to foster these skills, both during their medical training and through continuing education. Empathy can help us look at patients more holistically. And it can definitely help us be better clinicians. That’s the power of empathy. 

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I’m publishing this as I sit in the ER with a family member. I’m here to advocate. That’s what I do. 

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.