5 Ways to Run Memorial Day Weekend

5 Ways to Run Memorial Day Weekend

My Memorial Day tradition for the past 20 years, has been the Fred d’Elia Memorial Day Ridgewood Run. It’s been a local cornerstone road race for over 40 years here in Northern New Jersey. I have been there in some capacity- running the 5k, 10k or 1-mile Family Fun Run when my daughter was small, or serving as a volunteer, every year since 1997. I wrote about that event on International Running Day last year.

Last July, I wrote about running races for every holiday. The Memorial Day weekend suggestions included, in addition to that local race, Chicago’s Soldier Field 10 Mile, one of my “bucket list” races. This year I decided to do away with tradition and head out to Chicago for the holiday weekend to check another “must-do” destination race off my list.

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The Best Way to Tour Brooklyn

The Best Way to Tour Brooklyn

My father was from the Bronx. My mother grew up in Queens. The Bronx, home to the New York Yankees, was certainly the “cooler” borough of the two. As a kid, I’m not sure I knew anyone from Brooklyn. Historically, the Irish settled in the Bronx and Queens. Can’t recall ever going to Brooklyn. Although, my father told stories about horrendous subway rides back from a day at Coney Island – after sustaining blistering sunburns on his fair Irish skin – back before the train cars were air-conditioned. He always said he’d take me to Coney Island to ride the Cyclone. He never did.

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Navigating an emotional weekend

Navigating an emotional weekend

I procrastinated on this blog all week. I had an idea weeks ago. Wrote a draft. Re-wrote it and then, just now, deleted it entirely. Truth be told, I needed the last couple days to decompress from the weekend before I could figure out what I wanted to say. My emotions were a bit jumbled and I was mad at myself for that. It had been months since I felt this way.

Once I got through Thanksgiving, escaped to be with my family in Ireland for Christmas and made that monumental decision in early January to quit my full-time job to pursue my passion, I was feeling pretty good. Very, very happy honestly. The happiest I had been in a very long time. Cue I Can See Clearly Now (the Jimmy Cliff version from the Cool Runnings Soundtrack, of course).  People have noticed and commented and that has made me feel even better. But this weekend, I slipped back into a bit of a funk. And I was mad at myself for that.

Only today, was it finally pointed out to me, that what I was feeling was valid. I must stop being so hard on myself. Saturday was my birthday. Sunday was Mother’s Day. For someone like me, given what I have been through, experiencing the losses I’ve experienced; this was a very emotionally charged weekend. That is my reality. I am not being selfish for feeling this way. It is what it is. It’s not something I have that much control over.

IMG_6687Me, my daughter, and my mom. Birthday/Mother’s Day Weekend. May 2000.

But I tried. I filled my weekend with lots of activities and I am grateful for friends who invited me out both Friday and Saturday night. When I woke up Saturday morning, it was raining. Hard. It was also pretty chilly for May. The alarm was set for six because I had to be at the start of our town’s 5k race. This race was the graduation race for both my Let Me Run boys (which I wrote about) and my running club’s beginner to finisher program. Not a great day for a 5k.

I was planning to run with a few of the boys who had set a goal of finishing in under 30 minutes. I knew from our training runs and what they reported from their mile time trials at school last week that this was a realistic goal. I gave them explicit directions: “We’re going to go out together. We are going to take the first mile slowly. Stick with me even if you feel like we’re going too slow. In the second mile we are going to pick up the pace a little. Once we hit the 2-mile marker and have only a little more than a mile to go, I’m letting you lose to run as strong as you can to the finish.” They followed directions!

Everything went according to plan. Two of the boys finished in 27 minutes. I was still running and pacing a boy from the younger group in that last mile. He was running so strong! I kept encouraging him. I wanted this for him so badly. When the finish line and the clock came into view he saw that not only was he going to break 30, he might break 28! He took off! I was so happy for him, happier than I might have been if it was my own personal record.  His official time was 27:59. Mine was 28:01. I finished 4th in my age group. No medal for that. Not my fastest race. But it will be remembered as one of the most special moments in all of my 21 years of running. I walked back to my car in the rain. Smiling. I had forgotten for the moment that it was my birthday.

Mother’s Day started with a 10k race (hey, I had 6 miles on my training schedule anyway) and then my daughter talked me into a road trip to the Philadelphia Zoo. Driving for two hours after running a 10k might not sound like fun for mom, but the prospect of at least 4 hours round-trip in the car with my teenager would mean some good quality conversation – which we had. Plus her suggestion of the Philadelphia Zoo spoke to my soul. As a college student in Philly, the Zoo was a place I frequently went on my own to decompress. In Philadelphia on Sunday, it was warm and sunny. And the Zoo was even better than I had remembered it.

So, on paper, I had a really nice weekend.

Still there were the unspoken emotions ever present as I navigated days that were once shared with people no longer there. That is my reality. I have to remember that and be kind to myself. I have come a very long way, but there are still triggers. There are still – occasionally – difficult days.  No matter how much I think I’ve prepared, they still sneak up on me. Now I know to make self-care paramount.  Run. Meditate. Take the dog for a long walk. Make one of those “as needed” appointments with my therapist. Maybe go to the Zoo.

IMG_6668The Philadelphia Zoo. Mother’s Day. May 2017.

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The uninspiring terms of the AHCA

The uninspiring terms of the AHCA

The mission of this blog – and my coaching business – is to inspire better physical and mental health and a passion for life.  Not having affordable and adequate healthcare coverage could certainly undermine one’s ability to be inspired. So, just 5 days after the House voted to repeal and replace the ACA, I feel compelled to discuss healthcare.

We often make judgements based on our own perspective and fail to see how others are affected. I am not immune to that. Let’s go back to 2005, when as the CEO of a small non-profit I was tasked with finding an affordable healthcare plan for our 5 full-time employees. Not an easy task given our census. I was also aware that given the size of our organization, we were not required by law to provide healthcare insurance to our employees at all.  But many of our employees were heads of households or single, and providing insurance was part of a compensation package that would allow us to retain a good experienced, staff. Truth be told, I wouldn’t be able to stay in my position there had we not been able to offer full medical coverage.

Training for the NYC Marathon at the time, I was working out regularly, eating right, getting lots of rest and, in my opinion being “responsible” for my healthcare.  I required only preventative care, as did the other members of my family. We were all young and healthy. In spite of the contradiction of being CEO of a cancer support organization, I was of the mind set that people who took a proactive approach to their health – people who invested their time and money in regular exercise, good nutrition, and other healthy habits – should be rewarded with lower health insurance premiums. Makes sense, right? Like drivers who don’t have accidents and tickets verses those that do.

I made the decision to go with a low-premium, high-deductible plan with an HSA (Healthcare Savings Account) to which the organization would make an initial contribution to fund the high deductible for year one. The thinking was that, at least in the first year, employees would see no real increase in their healthcare expenses and in subsequent years – if they didn’t spend down their HSA – they would actually see their costs go down. And after the initial investment in funding employees’ HSAs, the organization (which I will note was a non-profit always on the verge of bankruptcy) would save a significant amount of money.

Every employee with a healthcare issue (read: “pre-existing condition”) — which was pretty much everyone but me and the finance director, had an issue with the plan. But it was a done deal. I had reviewed all the figures and it appeared to be our only option to keep the staff covered and the organization out of bankruptcy. (I’m not completely sure I wouldn’t still make the exact same decision today, except that I would involved staff in the process, be more curious about their needs and concerns, and share with them my concerns about the financial viability of the organization, and I would be completely more empathetic to the issues they faced. Read on…)

As healthy as I was, in early 2006, I began to develop sciatica. I spent through my HSA trying to remedy it, and because I had family coverage, I still had $2500 of my deductible to cover out of pocket. As a result, I took some pain meds saw a chiropractor for months, and opted out of more expensive diagnostic and treatment options. I never fully recovered until it came back worse than ever in 2011 after a fall. Thankfully I was under a much better plan with a new, larger organization, got the MRI, a Lumbar Epidural Steroid Injection (LESI) because it had gotten to the point where I could barely walk and running wasn’t even an option. That was followed by months of physical therapy.  With the exception of some minimal co-pays, it was all covered by insurance and I was healthy again! I got back to running in 2012, even completing 13 Half Marathons in 2013.

But, would I have not saved the insurance system money had I just addressed the issue in 2006 when I probably wouldn’t have needed the LESI?

 

At the beginning of 2014, I was training for the NJ Marathon and never felt stronger or healthier. Eleven weeks into the 16-week training plan I was diagnosed with stage 1 invasive breast cancer. Between the lumpectomy, numerous doctors visits, and 4 weeks of daily radiation treatments, I ran up a bill at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of over $50,000, all but about $250 in co-pays was covered by insurance. Suddenly, the $750 monthly premium I was paying for employer-based heath coverage seemed cheap.

Moving to a new job last year, I switched healthcare plans. I’m back to a low-premium (if you consider a $996 a month COBRA payment “low”), high deductible plan ($5,000 for me and my daughter). “Preventative care” is supposed to be included. Because I am only 3 years post-op, my mammographies are considered diagnostic, not preventative. My by-yearly appointments with my oncologist aren’t covered either. $1600 in total toward my deductible. At year end, I will probably spent about $15,000 on healthcare and still not cover my deductible.

I’m sharing this with you because if you think, like I did, or like Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks,  apparently thinks, that people who “lead good lives” don’t get cancer, or have back issues, or fall or have plethora of “pre-existing conditions,” you’re wrong.

My understanding is that (the new proposal) will allow insurance companies to require people who have higher healthcare costs to contribute more to the insurance pool. That helps offset all these costs, thereby reducing the cost to those people who lead good lives, they’re healthy, they’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy. And right now, those are the people — who’ve done things the right way — that are seeing their costs skyrocketing. – Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks; watch the full interview here.

Not only may we all see our health coverage become cost prohibitive, more and more people aren’t going to get treatment when they need it thus creating bigger – and more expensive issues – later on.  I’m not even going to go into what the AHCA bill will do for treatment of mental health issues (and if you need a reminder about what can trigger or be considered a mental health issue, read this post from last May).

The ACA certainly wasn’t perfect. As a self-employed consultant, I purchased insurance for my daughter through the Marketplace in 2015 while I kept myself on my previous company’s plan through COBRA. A policy through the ACA would have required that I only see doctors in New Jersey and I was being treated at Memorial Sloane Kettering in New York City. Thankfully I had the resources to make that decision. So, while acknowledging that the ACA wasn’t perfect, it was a step in the right direction. It saw that everyone was insure and had protections for people who actually got sick. The AHCA as it goes to the Senate, is a step backwards.

When it comes to health care, readers should be wary about claims that important changes in health-care coverage are without consequences and that people are “protected” – or that the changes will result in massive dislocation and turmoil. There are always winners and losers in a bill of this size. In this case, if the bill ever became law, much would depend on unknown policy decisions by individual states – and then how those decisions are implemented. – “Here’s what you need to know about preexisting conditions in the GOP health plan, The Washington Post; read full article here.

Obviously people currently under a doctor’s care – those of us with “preexisting conditions” – might believe we have more at stake. But this affects anyone who may get sick, may change jobs, or who may have a change in marital status. In other words, this affects all of us.  Please don’t think you’re immune. It is my hope that I have inspired you to educate yourself; to know the facts and if you don’t like what you’re seeing, I want to inspire you to speak up. Call your representatives! Ask them to look at this from the prospective of someone who is actually going to be insured by this system (they are not).   Click here, if you need their contact information.

And to get you started on your research, here are two recent articles you may find helpful:

 

IMG_3756Ramsey, New Jersey. May 2016.

 

Flexibility

Flexibility

This past weekend was the New Jersey Marathon and Half Marathon. I ran the Half – my goal race for the spring, I didn’t come anywhere near a personal best. Was off by almost 20 minutes actually.  But that wasn’t my goal. My goal was to get back into training shape, on the way to a bigger goal of a personal best in the full Marathon a year from now. I was thinking the bench mark for “training shape” would be a sub-2 hour Half. Didn’t quite get there. I wasn’t disappointed though.  I did way better than I did at Newport last fall. I finished really strong with the last 5k being my fastest and running stronger in the 2nd half of the race overall. So mission accomplished, right?

If I am honest with myself, I will admit that had I stuck to my training plan, I would have easily run Sunday’s Half in under 2 hours. Its kind of like in school when you didn’t study for the test, pass, but also realized that had you studied, you would have gotten an “A”. I guess it comes down to understanding why you didn’t study, asking yourself if getting an “A” really matters that much, and where does the “lower grade” leave you in accomplishing the bigger goal? There is often a fine line between being “flexible” and sucumbing to that voice in our head that is sabotaging us.

It’s important to listen to what we are all telling ourselves when we make excuses.  When we hear ourselves say things like “I don’t have enough time” we need to ask “what about that is true?” and “what about that is false?” We don’t have enough time because we are making a choice to do something else with our time. We build our lives on the choices we make in each moment. Is the choice we’re making good or bad? I believe making a choice to be flexible is good. Flexible branches move with the wind, rigid ones break.

We all need to create a balance in our lives so we can do and be what makes us happy, make a living, stay healthy, and maintain the relationships that are important to us. That isn’t always easy and sometimes our values are in conflict with one another. Yes, sticking to our training schedule honors our values of discipline, health, achievement, and accomplishment, etc.; but what we value about our family can take time away from our workouts. Or sometimes our health is more important than getting through a workout. Pushing ourselves through illness or injury has consequences. Those issues are real. Saying we have no time to work toward achieving goals when we are spending an hour or two on social media everyday is not.

Two questions that I repeatedly ask my clients are ‘what do you want?” and “what’s important to you about that?” The answers to these two questions clarify priorities and help us make decisions. A follow up might be, “what affect does this decision have on your bigger goal?” Re-establishing a commitment to the big goal helps us evaluate those voices in our head. In allowing ourselves to compromise on smaller goals, are we ultimately sabotaging the bigger goal?

Running for 20 plus years has shown me that our commitment to intense training ebbs and flows. The reasons why we run change. That’s a natural occurrence that helps us avoid complete burnout. That flexibility is important. There are times when we need to be more available to our kids, our work schedules are more of a priority, or we are more committed to other goals. Its all about creating balance. Being flexible helps us stay balanced.

Yeah. I could have trained harder and ran a better time on Sunday. But it doesn’t matter. Through the training I did, I stepped closer to the big goal. I also developed some good habits like getting back to the gym for strength and cross training and eating healthier. By remaining flexible in the time I put into my training, I still had time to dedicate to my role as a mom and building my business. I’m feeling very balanced. Now if I can just spend a little less time on social media, I’ll be all ready for next year’s Marathon. 🙂

IMG_6525Long Branch, New Jersey. April 2017.