Sunday, December 27, 2009

New Years Resolutions

Well, since I haven't been doing much of anything except working these days, I've been a bad blogger. BAD blogger!!

So here's a quick holiday update, along with a few small resolutions.

Firstly, I always knew runners were amazing, but here's another reason why: we had a Fred's Team holiday party at the P&G, and our exceedingly generous hosts, Holiday and Steve, pledged to donate a dollar for each drink sold to the Aubrey Fund. We also had a toy drive AND a bake sale. And if that weren't enough, our good friends at Coke donated a lovely gift basket full of Coke tchotckes for us to raffle off. Well, we got about ten toys, sold a lot of raffle tickets, brownies and, thanks to my friend Sharon, who is not a runner but equally amazing, devastating chocolate-bacon cupcakes. Yes, you read right. Our livers also took one for the team, and at the end of the night, we raised $313 more for the Aubrey Fund!!

Running is strange. I've been trying to get out every other day, and will also be participating in the Midnight Run. For those non-NYers, it's a 4-miler in Central Park that starts at the stroke of midnight. There's dancing and a costume contest before and after, and champagne -- well, maybe more like "champagne" -- at mile 2. The Team runs as a group, as fast as its slowest member. Which is me. So be prepared for turtle mode, folks, because that's where we're at these days!!

It's been getting pretty cold in NYC, and I love running in the cold! I am having a little trouble getting used to it, though. I went out for a run a couple of days ago -- just a 3-miler -- and I had to stop three times, not because my legs were tired, but because I couldn't breathe properly. So strange.

Why is my body rejecting running?????

(and why don't I listen?)

I haven't biked outside in a couple of weeks, it being snowy and slushy. I had a feeling that I wasn't going to, but I can see from my forays out that snow and slush doesn't deter some folks. So maybe I will get some winter riding in.

Swimming, I've been a little lazy. I need to get back into the pool. But my legs are really dry, and shaving them is so irritating...bad excuse. I've just been both lazy AND pressed for time. Excellent combo!

Pressed for time because, unlike last year, I am supremely busy as a court reporter. Who knew that people would be so litigious during the holidays? I've been working every day for the past two weeks, and some jobs are expedites, meaning due in three days, which pushes other jobs back, which creates a backlog that I'm trying to get rid of over this holiday weekend. Hey, I'm not complaining. I'm grateful for the work, I really enjoy it, and feel lucky to be finally making some $$ for the first time in 14 years. I just need to get a little better with the steno practice to get my speed up so that my transcripts aren't so sloppy that it takes me a long time to fix them up at the end of the day.

Which leads to the resolutions.

1) more steno practice. I want to pass at least one leg of the RPR (national certification) this year.
2) more consistent running in the off-season. Do I think I'll get faster this year? Doubtful. But can I make an easier time of it? Definitely.
3) get my arse back in the pool. A must if I want to finish the Nautica Tri.
4) more blogging. And start the f-ing podcast already, like I've threatened for years.
4) send out my THANK-YOU NOTES from the marathon!!!!!!

I hope you all have the happiest of holidays, and best wishes for the New Year!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Lazy Days Post-Marathon...

It's been about one month out from the marathon. I have yet to send out the thank-you letters, which fill me with dread, only because there are SO MANY AMAZING PEOPLE who donated to Fred's Team after I asked them to -- and some who donated without asking.

And quite frankly, I'm a bit lazy these days.

I ran the Race to Deliver two weeks ago -- a four-miler in Central Park that's a benefit for God's Love We Deliver, a charity that I'm close to -- I've delivered for them, my old roomie, Laura, was a volunteer there for ten years and then worked for them, and my new roomie, Bill, works there now. How could I not run this race? Did it with an average pace of 9:30/mile, which for the stats-conscious is about a minute per mile slower than last time I ran it. I hate being slower.

And after that, I haven't run until yesterday. Two weeks off. In some ways, it's good. In years past, after the marathon, I typically have no desire to run, but got right back into it because I didn't really have any other forms of physical activity to occupy me. Now I have swimming and biking, my new athletic toys. So I've been doing those instead. Not that I'm any great shakes in either of those two departments, but I'm enjoying them a lot, and at this point, given the choice between them and running, I'll take them.

The swimming has been going well. I took classes with Jackrabbit Sports here in NY. The good thing is, having never really learned to swim, that I had no bad habits to break or unlearn. The teacher, John, broke down the stroke into its various components and gave us drills and exercises to reinforce them. It takes much less effort to stroke now than it did before, and I really believe that, if I continue to practice, I will develop enough endurance to actually conquer the Nautica tri. I've got until July, and right now 100 yards is about my limit. Just 700 more to go!!

The biking is also coming along. Like I said before, I bought a bike, a 2001 Cannondale R400. I found it on Craigslist, and I know you shouldn't buy a bike that you're serious about that way, you want to buy it new from a bike store, to get the service guarantees and such. I lucked out, though -- it fit me, and it was in great condition. Plus, it's bright yellow. Color is crucial. I had it professionally fit, changed the seat to a woman's seat, and we're off. Riding a racing bike is different from a regular bike. You're up higher off the ground, seated in a bent-over position, and for optimum efficiency, your feet are clipped into the pedals. My bike has a basket pedal -- your feet fit in a little plastic cage -- which is slightly less scary, but still, I'm afraid when I stop, I won't be able to put my foot down on the ground quickly. I'm getting over it. My longest ride to date has been 11 miles. I feel that the 25 miles of the bike portion of the tri is definitely doable, but the training isn't going to be for the legs as much as it will be for the back. Wow, is that a painful position to hold.

The unfortunate thing with the biking is that it's the same as the running. I don't know who gets it in their head that for running, all you need is a pair of shoes. No. You need the shoes, and the special running socks, and the special running shorts, and the technical running shirt, and the water bottle, and the Gu, and the watch, etc. etc. Same for biking. It's not enough to have a bike and a helmet. You need the special biking shoes that fit into the clip pedals, and the special biking shorts, and the special biking shirt, and the special biking gloves, and the special --

I did discover the joy, and necessity, of padded bike shorts. I picked up a pair that look like there's a Depends pad sewn in the rear. Too bad you can't run in them -- I can barely walk in them without looking like I've just gotten off a very large horse.

As for running, this vacation from it has actually started making me want to run a little bit. And by that, I mean, a little bit. I went out yesterday -- in perfect running weather, 35 degrees and sunny -- for a two-miler. And sadly, it was kind of hard. I can't believe how quickly my endurance has vanished. It's my own fault, I guess. Back to square one, which may be a good thing. I can really base-build, and work on my form.

I had the whole morning off, and spent it here, writing this. Lazy, or recovering? You decide.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Returning to Running

Ola, folks!

As you can see from the Buckeye Outdoors widget, I'm starting to move again. It's not easy -- I went for a run today and it's like I'm starting over. Well, I guess I am starting over. But boy, there was no running mojo there at all. Going to make next weekends Race to Deliver tough. Oh, well.

And as you can also see, I have added swimming to the regimen. I started swimming in September, in the hopes that if I were to get into the Nautica Tri, I would have at least that part in progress. Well, I did indeed get into the Nautica Tri, so I have until July to be able to swim a mile. Considering how long it takes me to improve in sports-related activities, I think starting now is a good idea.

Speaking of which, I am also now the proud owner of a Cannondale R400 bicycle. It's a road bike, which means it's also good for a beginner triathlete, like moi. All the websites say for your first tri, just use whatever bike is available to you, but I feel that I need a little more than a $20 Schwinn in order to train and get through the bike portion of the tri in one piece. If you've never ridden a road or tri bike, it's different enough from that $20 Schwinn to make me really glad I got the bike when I did. It's going to take some practice for me to feel comfortable with my feet in the basket pedals, and sitting so high up. Also, I've never had a bike with gears before, so that's going to be an adventure. But best of all -- it's yellow!! It's pretty!!

Lastly today -- keeping it short, as I've got much to do, and no desire to do it, which makes everything take three times as long -- I ended up somehow as one of only two guests on the Runner's Round Table's most recent podcast, number 56 (you can get it on iTunes.) It was hosted by Joe Garland, host of the RunWestchester blog that is now listed on the right of the page. Let me tell you, them Westchester runners are serious about running. I know Joe through the erstwhile "Runners Who Blog Also Drink" group of runners who meet occassionally for a beverage or two. Since there was no real topic for the show, Joe and I talked mostly about the NYC marathon. Well, turns out, Joe's had a topic on his blog recently about guaranteeing spots for charity runners in marathons, and for some reason, he asked me to comment. I guess it's pretty obvious that I have some experience with charity runners (!) So I leave you with my response.

Admittedly, my take is biased.

The way I see it, there are two
kinds of charity marathoners. Those who can and do run marathons who
didn't get in for whatever reason, so go the charity route just for the entry,
and those who are committed to the cause they run for, and regardless of their
ability as a runner, take the training very seriously because, as Jake said,
there's a lot riding on them. A casual runner isn't going to spend $3000
just to say, "I ran a marathon." For that $$, there's a

I think that when you talk about the wisdom of
having charity entries, the conversation veers close to "Should we let people
who can't run a four-hour marathon into the marathon?" I consider myself a
runner, even though I'll never make it to the elite stages. And while
there are some amazing runners out there who run for charities -- Fred's Team
has a number of sub 3:00 runners -- most of us don't come close. But these
people put in the training and run the race to the best of their ability, and
that should really be the standard for admission to just about
any marathon.

There's always been a certain number of
guaranteed charity entries. As NYRR allows entries for more and more
charity teams -- especially their own -- they're not necessarily increasing the
amount of guaranteed entries. For the most part, the amount of guaranteed
entries allowed per team have decreased over the past few years, and the amount
of charity entries overall has not changed dramatically. It's just been
spread around more.

On the other hand, NY may be unique in
that over half the race entries go to those come in with one of
the international tours. While many of them are serious runners, just
as many are in it for the experience of visiting the five boroughs, and clearly
haven't put in the training. I oughta know -- I get stuck behind them all
the time!! And those entries aren't going to be limited in any major
way, because the marathon is, after all, a for-profit venture, and those
tourists bring a lot of money into NYC.

I don't think limiting or
eliminating charity runners is the answer. I think what should be limited
are the people who don't respect the distance. How one does that is beyond

However, as far as Boston is concerned, I believe a BQ trumps
a charity runner. If they indeed have to shut BQers out, I think they need
to revisit the amount of bibs they reserve for charities. or raise the race
cap enough that year to accomodate those that qualify by time and those who
qualify by money. The main reason races are capped, by the way, besides
overcrowding the race itself, is because of the legal capacity of the
race course itself (believe it or not, Central Park has a legal

My two cents, and feel free to publish this to your
blog, as I may just do to mine!

And as you can see, I did.

More anon!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Post In Which Marci Actually Runs the Marathon

Last Sunday I finished a little run around the five boroughs, aka the NYC Marathon, my fourth time through. This is not so much a race report as a psychological profile, and I apologize for its mega-length, but I'll do my best to at least be entertaining.

I had a rough training season, as you all know. Between starting a new career and starting, um, a new phase in my female life (how's that for euphemism?) I was putting in the miles, and putting in the effort, but seeing little result. In fact, I was getting slower and slower with each run, and the miles were getting harder and harder to complete. It was devastating, as I was really hoping to break four hours this year, and as the months ticked by, it was becoming less and less of a possibility. I was beginning to wondering if I even had it in me to complete the distance.

Coaches Ann and Jeff were amazing, offering lots of support and advice -- not just about running, but how to mentally approach the race and deal with the difficulties I've been having. I also saw a hypnotist -- don't laugh! -- to help me change my attitude about the race and reinforce what my coaches were saying. (more on this in a minute.) As race day approached, I wasn't nervous, or upset, or anything. I was strangely at peace. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen.

After a Team breakfast and a picture in Duffy Square, we arrived to a muddy Staten Island. This was the first year NYRR offered a charity village for all the charity teams, and Fred's Team scored a tent! Of course, it was just as muddy inside the tent as outside, despite the bunches of hay that had been thrown in there, so we put garbage bags down and laid in our muddy manger for a while. The temps were in the low 50s, warm enough not to really need a heavy throwaway outfit, so I wore the clothes I intended to wear post-race and tried not to get them too dirty. Fortunately, I had worn a second pair of shoes and socks, which were quickly ruined in the mud. Most people tied bags around their feet. (Note to Caroline -- don't bring scented gargabe bags next year!!)

Time to line up. Once again, I'm in the green corral (NY has three corrals. The green corral runs on the lower roadway of the Verrazano, orange and blue run on top) and once again, the green corral was all f-ed up. There are three wave start times for the runners -- 9:40, 10:00 and 10:20. I was in wave 2. I was in the second-to-last corral of the second wave of the green start. I actually entered the corral at 9:30am for a 10:00am start. 9:40, the cannons boom and the runners are off! You can see them from the green corral, and we all cheered and waved. 10:00, the cannons boom, runners are off -- and we don't move. Not again!! This happened to me two years ago, and I didn't cross the start line until after 11:00, over an hour late. They only let the first half of the green corral go out with the second wave, and our part of the corral didn't get to go until the third wave. Time-wise, it doesn't matter, since you're timed when you cross the start line, but I had people waiting for me, and I really wanted to get to MSKCC to see the kids, even though Liam wasn't going to be among them.

Finally -- cannons, "New York, New York," and we're off!

There were already people walking as we started up the Verazzano, which is Mile 1. Not people on the Galloway program -- walkers. Not that I'm much faster, but I do run the whole thing. Our coach always advises us not to try to pass people in the first few miles, so that we don't add more distance to the race or burn out too early. Tuck behind someone slow and get yourself warmed up. But if that someone is walking, I do need to step around them. The bridge was also super-windy. People who were still wearing plastic bags and coats were getting blown all over the roadway.

The green start follows a different course for the first three miles, off the bridge and onto the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway exit ramp, until we rejoin the blue corral on 4th Avenue. Some folks manage to get down to the BQE to cheer, as they do every year, and I'll never figure out how they managed to do that! But the general lack of spectators gave me a chance to find my groove.

The first few miles ticked off pretty fast, and I felt great. My times, however, not so much. I quickly realized that not only was I not going to break four hours, 4:30 was probably not too likely, either. And my PR on the course is 4:12. So somewhere around mile 6 or 7, I just said to myself, "It's not worth it to get upset. Let's just run it and have a good time." And I stopped checking the mile splits and just ran. (It was also helpful that, as the third wave, the timing clocks at each mile marker were completely off. I mean, I know I'm slow, but it didn't take me 58 minutes to cross the Verazzano!)

Now, this is something that even three weeks ago, I wouldn't be able to do. Not reaching my time goal would have sent me into a tailspin and ruined the day. I would have felt every ache and pain, and spent the next four hours feeling sorry for myself. Granted, as a charity runner, I always have the cause I run for as a source of inspiration, and even at the lowest point of my training, I would think about my buddy Liam, and pull myself together. This time, I wasn't going to that "bad" place. I was happy where I was at that moment. I wasn't there to break a time goal or to win -- although I'm still figuring out a way to disqualify the 28,000 or so people who finished ahead of me -- I was there to run.

So, attitude adjusted, it was on through the non-stop party known as Brooklyn.

The first half of the marathon is run in Brooklyn. It's very flat, and very boisterous, and the half is done almost before you know it. There are two spots in Brooklyn I especially love -- there's a church choir that comes out and sings (it's my understanding that they used to get peeved at how the marathon disrupted things, then they decided to embrace it) and it's always just thrilling to hear them. There's also a student marching band that plays nothing but the "Rocky" theme over and over, and I think this year they actually sounded good.

Over the Pulaski Bridge into Queens. There were some minor course changes in Brooklyn and Queens, and I realized as we came off the Pulaski that the spot my parents normally stake out wasn't part of the route any more. There used to be a hairpin off the Pulaski, and then again onto Vernon, and my parents set themselves up at the hay bales by Vernon. They eliminated the hairpin turns, I guess to make it safer for the wheelchairs and handcyclists, and had us coming down a different street. I figured that if I stayed to the left, they'd be there somewhere, and I was right. My parents, brother, and his three little girls were there to cheer Tante Marci on. The oldest had even printed a "Go, Marci go!" sign all by herself. A few kisses, a few sweaty hugs, and on we go!

Over the Queensborough Bridge, and this year was the first time I thought the bridge was brighter than usual. I remember the bridge to be dark, almost indoors. I don't know why. Not this year. It was, however, as quiet as usual as we went up the one-mile incline. And then we begin our initial descent into Manhattan, to the roar of the crowd.

Onto First Avenue and the best part of the race, running past MSKCC! The photographers was there, and all the volunteers, and when they see a Fred's Team runner they go wild!! One of the volunteers grabbed me as I hit 67th Street and said "Come meet the children!" and ran me over to where two of the kids were sitting and watching. They were no bigger than peanuts, sitting on their parents laps, all bundled up and attached to various machines and gizmos, yet they had little cheer sticks and big smiles. I said hello to them, and said how glad I was that they could come out to cheer, thank you so much!! Slapped hands with everyone there, and on my way, heart full and feet newly light.

The only problem with MSKCC being at Mile 17 is that you feel so good after seeing everyone there, you almost forget you've got nine more miles to go. Almost. Up past the wet sponge stop (aka the Slip and Slide) and the Power Bar stop, and it's over the Willis Avenue Bridge into Da Bronx.

As usual, the Bronx is hopping. Two DJ booths and a Japanese drum group in just a one-mile stretch. The bridge is Mile 20, but for me, there was no wall. Just an acceptance of soreness and the desire to move forward.

Over the Madison Avenue Bridge (barely a speed bump) and back into Manhattan. Up Fifth Avenue to Mount Morris Park, and wouldn't you know it, I again miss the choir. I always arrive too late to hear the choir!! There was some nice jazz singing on the north side of the park, though.

The stretch between 125th and 89th, the entrance into Central Park, is notorious, especially between 110th and 90th, because it's uphill. Not a huge incline, but just enough that you feel it. Lots of walkers at that point. My strategy for the past few years has been to keep my eyes focused on the people in front of me, so I don't see the grade. After all, if I don't see the hill, it doesn't exist. Right? Get to the Park entrance and see the second Fred's Team cheering section there. Just the boost I need to get me the last two and a half miles.

At this point, I was on auto-pilot. Just kept chugging away. Stayed close to the crowds and visualized the rest of the course: Down, up, down, around, up, in, up, and done. Down Cat Hill (a relief, but it's really hard to go downhill at the tail end of a marathon,) up the little speed bump at 72nd Street, down the exit ramp to 5th Avenue (stopping at Mile 25 for water, because I was so dehydrated at that point, even after stopping to drink at all but one water station,) across 5th to Central Park South, up Central Park South, which in years past I dreaded, it being both uphill and somehow stretching to three times its normal length (remember that scene in "Poltergeist," where the mom is getting ready to run down the hall, and the hall suddenly elongates? That's what Central Park South feels like.) This year, just pushed ahead. Didn't even hear the crowd.

Back up onto Columbus Circle and back into Central Park, making sure my bib number was clearly visible -- that's where the bandits get yanked -- up that last little hill as the crowds cheered, and...


Harrie finished right around the same time as me, and we hugged and made our way past the medal station, the photo station, the heat shield station, the heat shield sticker station, and the food bag station. It was so much more crowded than in years past as we shuffled to the Cherry Hill turn-off (charity runners are taken to the center of the Park, to be reunited with our teams and our baggage.)

There were a number of Teammates who didn't run NY this year, either due to injury, or because they ran Chicago, or just 'cause. But they are Teammates, and they all volunteered to be at Cherry Hill to help the runners. Nicole got me and walked me up the hill. She said, "Do you need me to carry your bag?" meaning my food bag. I held it out mutely and stared at it. Did she need to carry it? "I'll take that," she said, and did. I told her I needed to go to the bathroom. She asked me if I wanted to get my clothes first. Did I? I didn't know. I wouldn't have known my name if it wasn't written on my shirt. So I stood there. Nicole said, "Go to the bathroom, I'll get your stuff." Done. She walked me over to where some of the Team was sitting. "Do you want me to get you a chair?" Did I? Did I need one? Nicole didn't even wait for me to think about this one, and quickly added, "I'll get you a chair." What a mess I was!! It took me 20 minutes to get my pants on (apparently I beat Jill -- Karen had to pool her pants on the ground, put Jill's feet in them, and pulled them up for her!)

The hardest thing about running NY, as I've said in years past, is not the marathon itself, it's getting out of Central Park once it's over. In order to leave the Park, we have to get around the runners exiting beyond the finish line. So they construct a pedestrian bridge over the roadway so the charity runners can cross OVER the runners and exit the park. That bridge is going to get its own little corner of h-e-double hockey sticks. It's like scaling Mount Everest on the ascent, and like you're a two-year-old on the descent, hanging onto the railings and taking each step two feet at a time. Though I live half a mile from the finish line, it takes me an hour to get home each year.

Ice bath (THANK YOU, Bill, my faithful ice bitch, who came back into the city just to get me two bags of ice) and then back to the hotel for a delicious dinner!

If you've stuck with me so far, thanks. I leave you with this: I ran my fourth NYC Marathon in 4:39 and change. Not my worst time, but close to it. But I am really not upset about it. A little disappointed, yes, but not upset. Here's why. In my zeal to conquer the mythic four-hour time goal, I forgot the real reason I run -- I love it. And while I don't really love running marathons, I do love the cause I run marathons for. Fortunately, I remembered that love just in time. Knowing that I was going to conquer the distance even after such a questionable training season, and seeing the faces of the kids at MSKCC light up when I came by -- well, who cares about the time? And while I will most likely keep trying to break four hours, because I am a glutton for punishment, it will no longer be the be-all and end-all of my running existence. I want to be a better runner, but I want to be a better person more. And that's what I'm going to work towards.

PS: I did break one record -- I managed to go to the bathroom eight times between waking up and starting the marathon!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

24 Hours to Go

The basics:
10am start
Green wave (why does NYRR have it in for me? Will I ever see the top tier of the Verazzano again?)
Second-to-last corral (then again, the last time I was in this choice corral, I PR'ed.)

The bigger reason:


and the following amazing people who joined the Fred's Team Honor Roll who helped make it possible:

A FRIEND who hates having their name mentioned on blogs and such

As you know (because I don't shut up about it) , it's never too late to donate. Just click here and help me honor
the REAL REASON I do this:
My inspiration, my Superman, the real marathon runner. Prince Liam the Brave.
I will be in Fred's Team orange and blue, along with 700 of my brethren.
And whatever my finish time, it will be the best day of the year.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Pardon the Silence...

Yes, it's been that long.

Between work and training, there just hasn't been enough time for regular updates. That is laziness on my part, and I apologize. There is so much to tell you, which overwhelms me, and probably led to me not posting on those few occassions that I had time to post.

I will be brief, and just leave you with a few digestible chunks before I can get to a few more updates:

-Liam is doing really well. He is receiving both chemotherapy and radiation, but goes to school when he can, and smiles through it all. He continues to be an inspiration to me, and to all who meet him. Please read Gretchen's blog about their family's journey through neuroblastoma, "Prince Liam the Brave."

-I am in the enviable position of having too much work. as I said before, which had led to my lack of posts.

-I recently started swimming lessons, which right now are more drowning avoidance than actual swimming, but I am now able to go 50 yards without my heart exploding out of my body. Strange how I can run marathons, but can barely make it across the pool. Different set of muscles, I know.

Most importantly, as of today, the total going to the Aubrey Fund for Pediatric Cancer Research in honor of Liam is


I'm hoping to make it to $4000 before the end of the month. Can you help? If you want to donate a little cheddar towards the Fund, click here. The hundreds of children now cancer-free thanks to the research and treatment funded by the Aubrey Fund will tell you it's worth it.

There are many people to thank for that, and the latest are
and my brother


I have had a lot of difficulties with my training this year.

First of all, I'm a woman of a certain age.

Secondly, I've embarked on a new career that in many ways is a lot more demanding in terms of my time. So stress levels are different.

Did I mention I was a woman of a certain age?

Let's face it -- I'm in peri-menopause. Because menopause apparently isn't fun enough, your body gives you a three-to-five year preview. Everything in my body is just a little out of whack.

And that, apparently, makes all the difference between legs of iron, and legs of lead.

My Tuesday and Thursday workouts have all been great. I've really been pushing myself and trying hard. And I've been doing a lot of cross-training, and the swimming is really beneficial. As far as cardio is concerned, no problems.

But each long run is slower than the last. Our 20-miler this past Saturday I did in 3:33. That's slower than my first year's long runs. That should have been at a 3:10, or 3:15. My legs just don't have the turnover or bounce that they did. (Well, that's not totally true. They bounce, all right. That's why I have to wear compression shorts. Speaking of which, I've also started wearing compression calf guards to help with the shin splints. It's a wonder that, between the two, my knees don't explode.)

What I am hoping is that this is a combination of the weather -- every long run we've done over the last month has been in either the rain or in extreme humidity -- and the constant training. But I fear that is only some of the problem. I mean, our workouts were just as intense in years past, and I was always able to improve on my long runs. I think that the problem is something that I can push through, but can't push past, and that is, simply, that you can fight Mother Nature only so hard before she fights back.

I am extremely disappointed that I feel timing-wise, I'm no better than when I started running marathons four years ago. I really thought this was going to be the year I broke four hours. But I don't think this is going to be the year.

Nevertheless, I am not giving up. I am really trying not to let it get to me. It's where I am that's what's important, not where I was. I need to accept that, and concentrate on the mile that I'm running. It's not easy, and making it even harder is that these long runs have become very emotional for me. Poor Coach Jeff had to deal with my messitude after Saturday's race. Again.

I need to remember that I am running for a reason far more important than breaking a time goal.

But wouldn't it be nice...

Friday, August 7, 2009

Liam's home, My Week of Running, and FIRST CONTEST!!

Check out this face!!

Liam had his surgery last Thursday. Eight-plus hours on the table, including an inter-operative radiation treatment, a procedure developed and perfected at MSKCC. Went into the ICU recovery, woke up, and immediately pulled out his respirator tube. A day and a half later, returned to MSKCC (his surgery was at MSKCC, his ICU recovery was across the street at Cornell.) Two and a half days after that -- home. Can you believe the will of this kid? Is it any wonder why so many people love him? And why I'm such a fan? You can become a fan of Liam's on Facebook. Look for "Prince Liam the Brave." Or read his mom's blog, also called "Prince Liam the Brave."

Speaking of which, the latest members of the Liam Witt fan club, also known as the FRED'S TEAM HONOR ROLL:


bringing the total going to the Aubrey Fund for Pediatric Cancer Research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Liam's honor to an amazing


Who's going to bring me to $3,000? A prize to the person who does!! A prize, I say!! Who doesn't like a prize? Simply click here to be taken to my Fred's Team donation page, or click the link to the side and bottom of the page. As you can see by the smile on Liam's face, the money is put to very good use.

Speaking of prizes, there will be a CONTEST again for this post! It's an easy one, and anyone can enter. It's at the bottom of the post.

Lots of stuff going on, or gone on, over the past week.

First off, in the non-running news, I advanced a production of "Smokey Joe's Cafe" for the Cape Playhouse. Basically, I rehearse the show for two weeks, bring it up to the theater, train the crew, help the stage manager, and leave. Don't get to actually call the show, which for you non-theater people means calling all the cues for the lights and sound and set shifts and anything technical that happens during the course of a show. Calling a musical is a lot of fun. Ah, well. Anyway, the show was a breeze to rehearse -- the actors couldn't have been nicer, or more talented, and the director, Mark Martino, was even nicer and more talented. Plus which -- I only had 5 suitcases and a boa for props. Heavenly!! The tech was not without its moments, but I am continually amazed at the Cape Playhouse crew, who manage to drive through every tech with a positive attitude, and achieve miracles in 48 hours.

Anyway, it was strange to be back in the stage management saddle, and have a 9 to 5 schedule again (actually, 8 to 6). It was kind of refreshing. Plus, I was able to get in my favorite run while at the Cape (which is in Dennis, on Cape Cod) -- a run to Chapin Beach, and also up Setucket Road. I needed to get 16 miles in. There's a little backstory to that, which I'll get to in a minute. Anyways, I have waxed poetic over Chapin Beach in past posts, so I will refrain here. I started my run from the Briarcliffe to Chapin Beach, to say goodbye to the beach (sigh.) Then I headed off down 6A to Rte 134, and then to Setucket Road. I like Setucket Road for three reasons -- one, it's kind of hilly, so it's a good mimic for the Park. Two, there's lots of good house porn. I love looking at those gorgeous houses and fantasizing about owning one. Third, it's the ONLY SIDEWALK IN ALL OF CAPE COD, at least as far as I can tell. No wonder people are getting so fat, there's no place for them to walk safely.

It was also the weekend for the Pan-Mass Challenge, a bike ride across Massachusetts to raise money for the Jimmy Fund at the Dana Farber Cancer Center. A cause after my own heart. The riders go down Setucket Road, so I wanted to see the riders and cheer them on. Let me tell you, it is not easy to clap as you run, but I had a lot of fun on that section of the route. Most of them ride in teams, and each team puts something different on their helmet. One team had stuffed Kermit dolls.

Here's something I notice about running in Dennis -- I'm the only one with water and Gatorade. Hmm....

Backstory -- Reader's Digest version. I had a long talk with Coach Jeff about my crappy long runs. He gave me a lot of good advice. The first is to get more sleep. That's true, I am not sleeping enough. Second, he told me to relax, and not be so hard on myself. With a career change, things are on a different level, and I have to recognize that. He recommended for my long run, don't worry about miles or anything, just run for about as long as I thought 16 miles should be. Don't worry about the clock. Just run and enjoy it. I did have a time limit, because I needed to shower and get to the theater by 9:15am, but other than that, I made sure to run my favorite route, and really took Jeff's advice. I didn't worry about the pace, I just tried to find the fun in the run. And I did.

We started Tuesday and Thursday workouts, and we've had a hill workout, a couple of track workouts, and steps! The hill workout last Tuesday was a typical Tuesday during marathon training season, as Cat Hill was super-crowded. Plus which, those damn pedicabs were loitering right at the bottom of the hill, getting in everyone's way. The workout -- three sets of two repeats. First set easy, second set medium, third set hard. Bonus -- Dr. Mark was there, my running buddy. I always have a good run when he's around. he ran with me, as I had a watch. First two, we ran a 2:20 up average. Second set, 2:10, and the third -- 2:00 even, both repeats. After each of the hard repeats, I had to take a breather at the top of the hill, because I thought I was going to hurl. It was pretty humid out. Those were better times than I was expecting. Thanks, Dr. Mark! He cracked me up after the first hard repeat by telling me that in med school he was known for being the best person at handling vomit. You know, some people brag about making really good chocolate chip cookies. Doctors -- I don't get it.

Last Thursday was Coach's Choice. We were at the Riverside steps. Ann led the workout, which meant we were in for it. Ann looks so sweet and innocent, and her workouts are cruel. An iron fist in a velvet glove. She puts a lot of running into the step workouts, and most of that running is uphill. I had run a couple of miles beforehand to warm up. Between the heat and the constant uphill, my legs were wobbly. Also, my knee was paining again.

Went to the PT on Friday. Diagnosis -- I'm a mess. Seriously, folks, it's the right hip. It sits funny, and it makes my knee not track properly. So Ed Mancini. PT extraordinaire (it was he who introduced me to Miri Ingwer, PT goddess) really worked out my hip and knee and gave me some exercises to do.

Sunday was the aforementioned long run at the Cape.

Tuesday was a track workout, again led by Ann. One mile warm-up, then 8 repeats of one fast lap, one slow lap. Two lap cool-down. 5 1/2 total miles. I brought the little doodad Ann gave me last year to help correct my form, and got down to business.

The track was supercrowded. Zogsports was there, all of their teams playing soccer, plus the usual batch of children, other soccer players, and various other folks walking and running the track. In fact, I got hit not once, but twice, by soccer balls during one lap. A record!

Warm-up lap was 10:45. Then here are my fast laps -- 2:16, 2:11. 2:07, 2:10, 2:05, 2:08, 2:01, 2:04. That's not bad at all for me. Bonus, I think I finally "got" the arm placement. Let's see if it sticks.


Thursday was a step workout at our old stomping grounds, the steps at the Bethesda Fountain. Again, super-crowded. Jeff led this workout, which consisted of sets of 3 and 6 repeats of variations of going up the stairs one at a time, two at a time (easier than one step at a time) and three at a time (not for the short of limb) and the infamous "in the bucket" where you squat, jump up two steps, land and squat, etc. etc. Turns your quads to jelly. I don't do the hopping up the stairs, it's too hard on my hips. The whole idea of a step workout is to train your hip flexors for the pounding, but I discovered after my first Fred's Team year that hopping up the stairs knocks both my hips out of alignment right quick. With the other exercises, my hips have a fighting chance.

So I signed up for swimming lessons starting in September, which means I need a bathing suit. Yup, don't own one. Yuck. I hate the way I look in a bathing suit. My giant pasty white thighs will shock you. But they don't let you swim in jeans, so I went to Modell's and tried on a few. Now, pasty white thighs aside, I am not a hefty woman. However, the way this suit was cut, with a really low back and sides (it goes down all the way to the butt) made all the flub from the top half of my body pop out the back of the suit, giving me love handles all the way around my back. Exceedingly unattractive, and emotionally devastating.

Quick tangent -- I worked a show once where one of the stars had, over the course of the first part of the run, had lost a great deal of weight. Once the show started to tank, she started to put the weight back on. However, she kept asking the costumers to bring IN her costumes, to corset her up. I had stopped working on the show, but came back one night as a sub. It was her number, and she was out there in an outfit where the top half had a low back. Well, all the flub was pushed out the back of the shirt, making it look like she had a second set of boobs attached to her back. Horrifying.

Anyways, that's what I flashed on when I saw the horror that was my back. On the one hand, nobody's going to be looking at my legs if I wear that thing. On the other hand, er, no. See, that's why I don't swim!!!!!

Tomorrow, we're going to participate in the Summer Streets program, where they close down Park Avenue from 72nd Street to the Brooklyn Bridge. We're going to run the whole shebang and back, for 13 miles. Then I head out to Camptown, PA for a summer camp reunion, which I will tell you all about next week.

And thus comes...

It's an easy one:

How many official water stops will there be on Park Avenue during the Summer Streets program?

E-mail your answer to by August 13.

One person, picked at random, will win something.

Have a good weekend!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Liam Update, and My Cr*ppy Long Runs

Liam update:

On Thursday, Liam goes in for his surgery. It is going to be a very invasive procedure. His dad, Larry, goes into more detail in the family's blog, Prince Liam the Brave, which I suggest you all read. I will pull out this one excerpt, because it sums up all of what makes me -- and everyone who meets him -- fall in love with this exceptional little champ, and why I will run for Fred's Team as long as I can run:

"He is an amazing little boy and has taken all that has been thrown at him in perfect stride, never complaining, and always full of love and kindness. He has every right to throw things, scream, yell, cry, and to be miserable but then we would not be talking about Prince Liam. Liam is in for a very rough couple of weeks. Our hearts ache for our precious son who deserves none of the pain and suffering he has been chosen to endure (no child does). He has had more than his fair share and what lies ahead for him over the coming month weakens my knees. I would take it all for him if it was at all possible. Take his cancer away and give it to me....As his father and his mother one of the most painful aspects of this journey for us has been the inability to protect our son from further harm. To protect him from the cancer that keeps trying to take him from us all, the toxic treatments required to keep him with us but that we know are harming him in other ways, and the uncertainty of what tomorrow holds for him...We are tired, saddened, weak, and working to muster the strength to get through the next few weeks to be strong for Liam when he will need us most. Your prayers, good thoughts, and random acts of kindness have given us added strength in the past and why I felt the need to bring everyone up to date on Liam regardless of how difficult it is to share the news above. He needs us all once again to cheer him on and to focus all of our positive energy in his direction. "

Any amount you can donate to the Aubrey Fund, which has paid for all of Liam's treatments, is amazing. If everyone who read this just gave $5, think of how much money could be raised to help fight pediatric cancer. And your money means more than a dollar sign -- it's hope for Liam, and all the children being treated at MSKCC, that there will be a day that they will not just imagine a world without cancer, but live in it as well.

So far, I have been able to raise, thanks to amazing people like you, and like the latest members of the FRED'S TEAM HONOR ROLL:
a grand total so far of
but there's a long way to go.

Regardless of whether or not you can donate, please offer up your prayers, thoughts, good wishes, white light -- whatever positive energy you can send Liam's way, as he and his family undergo the next portion of their journey.

Thoughts of Liam have kept me going through some pretty -- there's no nice way to say it -- crappy runs. I don't know what it is, but I have lost everything, all my stamina, my strength and most distressingly, my speed. Where did it go?? I want it back!!

I had some pretty good midweek runs, so imagine my surprise when, at last Saturday's team long run (14 miles) I totally bombed. I had to do a few miles beforehand, to make to a 10:30 rehearsal, so I already had 2 1/2 miles down by the time I met the Team at 7am. The course was a simple one, and one of my faves -- from 97th Street up to the GW Bridge, then down the West Side to 40th Street, then back up to 97th. Scenic and flat, a great combo.

The trouble began almost immediately. I had to go to the bathroom. Of course, I had to go from the moment I left my house, but the park bathrooms don't open until 7am. Sigh. So I chugged along until we got to the first possible bathroom by the uptown tennis courts and there was a guy just opening them up. Teammates Ernie and V had also veered off, and we took a brief pause.

The rest stop, though needed, disrupted what little flow I had. I started falling further behind, and soon, I was dead last. Last. What the hey? I know it's not a race, but I've never ever been this slow. It was getting hotter and more humid. I kept fluids with me, because there's only one water fountain between 97th and the GW Bridge, but they weren't helping. My breathing was fine, again, it was my legs. They felt like lead. I couldn't turn them over. Worse, I started getting a shooting pain in my right knee that I couldn't shake, and I kept having to stop and rub it out. By the time I got to 97th Street (mile 8, or in my case, mile 10 1/2) I was in pain, I was dehydrated, and I was PISSED. Coach Jeff gave me a few words of encouragement, advised me to see a doctor (which yes, I am doing next Friday) and sent me on my way. I hobbled off. Just get through it. Just get through it. Got to 40th Street, turned around, came back up to 59th Street and -- as planned, because I was shorting the course, having run some beforehand -- turned off and went home. No time for an ice bath, had just enough time to shower and head over to watch the final rehearsal of the Cape show, before helping them load out and retaping the floor for my show. No nap for me...

Took Sunday and Monday off, trying to really refresh my legs. I did the first Team track workout on Tuesday. We were up at Riverbank, as always, and there was a light rain throughout the majority of the workout, which made things feel better, but didn't cool it down much.

The workout -- a one mile warmup, and five repeats of one fast lap, one slow lap. Finish up with 3 extra slow laps cooldown. Four miles total. The fast laps were meant to be about a minute over your normal pace, so if your normal pace is a 9:00 mile, push the lap for an 8:00 minute mile. Before the workout, Coach Ann pulled me aside and told me that she noticed my form was shot. She had really helped me last year getting my arms in the right position, but now they were even worse than last year. I wouldn't doubt it. That's probably part of the reason I'm running so badly. She also said that the one things that would help me a lot is ... getting rid of the iPod. For a number of reasons, it is bad for you, and I know this, but I use it for motivation and rhythm. She said that ditching it would help my form. So I agreed to give it up (sniff), and really concentrate on my arms. I think by the end of the workout, I was getting the hang of it. I could feel what Ann was talking about in both my arms and my hips, and it was, I dare say, helpful to hear my own breathing through the fast laps. It helped me get in a good rhythm, as demonstrated by my times for the fast laps, in order: 2:14, 2:15, 2:13, 2:08 and 2:05.

Took Wednesday off, to finish some transcripts.

Thursday was supposed to be a step workout, but because it was raining heavily, Jeff cancelled it. Did I go to the gym and work out instead? No. I thought, why don't I just do my long run on Friday morning instead, before rehearsal. My thinking was this -- I had taken Wednesday off already. Why not take the rest of Thursday off and do the long run on Friday, with somewhat fresher legs? Even though I had mentally blocked out Thursday night as Team time, I could use that time to finish up the rest of my transcripts instead -- so in theory, it made sense. Otherwise, I'd either have to drag myself to the gym on Thursday night in the rain, or do something on Friday, which I didn't want to do prior to the 15-miler. And since I was ready for bed by 8pm, it seemed the logical choice.

So at 5:30am Friday morning, I set out for a 15-miler. Decided to keep it in Central Park, where I felt safer -- yes, there are a LOT of people in the Park then, and it was already getting light out. The plan was a 6-mile loop, a 5-mile loop, and breaking up the five-mile loop by getting two loops of the Rez (1.7ish miles a pop) in, heading down the west side towards home, and then crossing the transverse at 72nd Street and heading down the east side for the extra half mile.

First six miles felt pretty good. I must say, and I'm going to hold to this, that I do pretty well on hills. That being said, I was debating two 6-mile loops, with the Rez loops in there, and ixnayed it after I hit Cat Hill the second time. Didn't feel like testing that theory with a second loop of the Great Hill.

Had the iPod (sorry, Ann!) but spent a lot of time really concentrating on my arms, and I figured out a couple of things. First off, I realized that when my arms were in what I believe to be correct form, I felt lighter, like weight had shifted off my hips. I also realized that having my arms in correct form pulled my back up into correct alignment (you can slouch when you run.)

So while it was not 100 percent there the whole run, I finally became aware of the difference between proper and improper form, and every time I felt myself falling out of form I would snap myself back in. And even though my time wasn't great -- averaged just over 10 minute miles for the 15 -- I physically felt better about the run. A couple of times I was tempted to short the course, just run down the west side instead of cutting over the transverse, but I thought about Liam, and as corny as it sounds, it gave me the strength to keep going.

Of course, spending the rest of the day in rehearsal, aching and desperate for a nap wasn't pretty. Oh, well. I'm in rehearsal right now for SMOKEY JOE'S CAFE, and we work on Saturday, so I'd be saying the same thing if I waited until Saturday.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

On My Soapbox, More Lessons Learned, NYRR Long Training Run, and What is a Fartlek?

A few weeks ago, Liam's mom Gretchen asked everyone if they knew a way to get a hold of Mike Rowe, as "Dirty Jobs" is one of Liam's favorite shows. She hoped Mike would be able to come and visit Liam. I know a few friends who work in TV, and they gave me a number, who led me to someone, who led me to someone, who led me to someone, who led me to someone...anyway, I gave the info to Gretchen, and I don't know if the following picture is the result of those phone calls or something else, but does it matter?

Look at that smile!!

I haven't been receiving any donations lately, so the amount I've raised so far for the Aubrey Fund for Pediatric Cancer Research in honor of my little friend Liam Witt remains at
which is a great number, but I want to double it! Triple it! Nay, TENFOLD it!!

Can you help me reach that goal?

Remember, the ultimate goal is to eradicate cancer. But we can't do it just by wanting it. It takes money. And the way I raise money is by doing stuff like running marathons for Fred's Team and having amazing people like you donate money to the Aubrey Fund, either because they believe in the cause, or support me no matter what stunts I pull (thanks, Mom and Dad!) or just think it's funny that a former pack-a-day smoker who would drive a car from the bedroom to the bathroom if she could fit one through the front door is running marathons. (PS: I don't "buy" my marathon entry through Fred's Team, I run the races to earn it, so that someone else can use the guaranteed entry and raise additional $$ for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. )

Almost off the soapbox. Here's how you can help:
-you can click here and make your secure donation via credit card.
-if you'd rather send a check, just leave me a comment and I'll be happy to email you my address and the check info.

Regardless of whether or not you can donate, please please please pass my blogsite (or merely my donation page if you find my blitherings dull) around to all your friends and family -- make me a viral sensation!! The more people get involved, the closer we get to a cure.

Onto the running portion of the show!!

Being the good little runner that I am (not,) I realized that I do need to get my arse back into the gym and start weight training again. Two years ago, the combination of weight training and biking on some of my days off from running led me to my PR marathon, and since my mom says I have to run 3:53, I thought it prudent to train like I did two years ago.

The day to pick weight training back up is not, however, the day before a 14-mile run.

Why must I learn every lesson the hard way?!?!?!

Saturday was the Long Training Run #1, an untimed run (not a race) in Central Park, where you can run between 6-20 miles, depending on where you are in your training. All loops start and end at the 102 Street transverse. You start with a six-mile loop (the full Park,) two five-mile loops (cutting off the Great Hill) and one four-mile loop (cutting off at the 72nd Street transverse.) It's broken down into pace groups, each group led by a member of the NY Flyers running club, and they do an excellent job of carving order out of the running chaos.

Walked up to the transverse and met my Teammates at bag check at 6:30am. Coach Ann advises me that where I am in my training, 13 or 14 would be good. I decide I'll do 14 -- start the third loop and walk it back once I hit Cat Hill. Or something like that. Was teased about bringing a Fuel Belt, but if you recall from this run last year -- and really, why wouldn't you? -- my only complaint last year was that there wasn't enough fl;uid on the course, and Gatorade was only available on the transverse. I sweat like a moose, and need all the electrolytes I can get.

Get into my 9:30 pace group and set my Nike+. I've got a few episode of Phedippidations saved up (an excellent running podcast, check it out!!) And we're off!

Sort of.

I had no hint of soreness as I was walking to the start -- and you'd think that in those two miles, I might have felt something -- but as soon as I started running, I knew I was in trouble. This was not the soreness of legs that just needed a few minutes to warm up. These were legs that were done for the day. Though I had only done two sets of the leg machines on the Nautilus circuit, and with barely any weight on them, just enough to recognize that there was weight, it took its toll. The correct term, as I stated previously, is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS. The term I prefer is Holy Sh*t. Or Oh, Crap. Any fecal-related term, actually.

First loop -- spent most of that time fervently hoping that the soreness would, in fact, go away. No such luck. Fell behind the pace group fairly quickly. Also, the pace leaders don't walk the water stations, which dropped me further back. Decided during the first loop that I had runner's knee, even though I'm not exactly sure what it is.

Second loop -- After a slug of Gatorade and a stop in the loo, decided to drop back to the 10:00 group, but instead of waiting for them to come in, I went out at the tail end of a 9:30 group. My own 9:45 group. Funny, even though cutting off the Great Hill and running the lower loop makes for an easier five-miler, I prefer it the other way -- keeping the Great Hill and cutting off the lower loop. Don't know why. Masochist? Spent most of this loop trying to decide what I was going to do. I was fully ready to stop after 11 and call it done, but that nagging voice in my head kept saying no. I figured as long as I didn't have to run Cat Hill a third time, I would be okay to keep going, and spent much brain time devising a route. I would go out for the third loop and cut off at the transverse instead of continuing down the West Side -- no, that means I have to run Cat Hill again to get the 14 miles in. Okay, how about we do this? Or this? All that time, my body was saying, "Shut up and just stop at 11." And I was starting to listen. Decided to take a bit of a break at the 102 Street transverse and see how that made me feel...

...until I got there, and saw a group going out, and before I could realize what I was doing, I went out with them for #3.

I think my mind knew that if I took a break, that would be it for the day.

I started out loop #3, and decided to just make it 1 1/2 miles out-and-back, for 14 total. However, as I approached the mile 12 marker at the south end of the Reservoir, legs said, "done," mind agreed, and I stopped. I stood there, panting, for a minute or two. I saw the hill just past the Res and decided that I didn't want to go down it if it meant I'd have to go back up it. I could either cut across the Res and continue back up the east side to the finish (which I should have done) or simply go to just before the hill, then turn around and go back from whence I came (which I did do, because it was more downhilly than the other way.)

Thirteen miles in 2:10. A ten-minute pace. And a mile shorter than I wanted.

Not a great day, but I'm glad I did it.

Still sore now, but managed to get a speed workout in yesterday morning. When not with the Team (we haven't started Tuesday-Thursday workouts yet -- next week!) I do fartleks of the lower loop, using lampposts as the markers. "Fartlek" translates to "speed play," and it's a loose kind of speed workout where you use whatever markers you choose, and you go fast from marker 1 to marker 2, then recover to marker 3, then fast to marker 4, etc. etc. There are enough lampposts on the lower loop to get a good speed workout in, and I highly recommend fartleks as a great speed workout, and the lower loop of Central Park as a great place for NY runners to do them.

I did two loops. I started by doing the fast sections at barely pushing the pace, and by the middle of the second loop I was running them at an all-out sprint. I had to keep stopping for water, because I was panting so much my throat kept getting dry, and I also needed the extra recovery time between fast bits. I think this is a good thing -- Coach Jeff said that I would need to push past my comfort zone, and that might wear me out to the point where I'd have to stop and rest. While that wasn't such a triumph with the long run, for this workout, I felt good about having to stop.

Speaking of pushing past comfort zones, I don't have to be at work until 1pm today, so it's off to the gym for further punishment. More anon!

Monday, July 13, 2009

DOMS of Doom

Remember what you learned about DOMS? Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness? Which you get after a new workout routine, or when you first start working out?

I didn't.

No wonder I crapped out on yesterday's long run. As light and easy as my weight workout was, it snuck up on me with a vengeance.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Latest Honor Roll Inductees, Liam Update, The Straw Hat Circuit and Running on the Cape

Hello, everyone!

We begin, of course, with the latest and greatest members of the Fred's Team Honor Roll:




(where all the cool people rehearse!!)

bringing the total going to the Aubrey Fund for Pediatric Cancer Research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in honor of Liam Witt to


which is a terrific amount, but we've got a ways to go.

Don't you want to be the one who brings me over the $2000 mark? A prize to that person! I say, a prize!! Just click here, or on the links to the side and bottom of the page.

Let me just say that any amount you can donate to my marathon effort is amazing. Even if it's only $5, that's more than they had before. That $5 could buy the test tube that the medication that finally eradicates neuroblastoma is mixed in. Or it could buy decorations for the MSKCC pediatric prom. Over 80 percent of your donation goes directly to research and patient care. That $5 adds up in more ways than one.

Liam update -- he's been in MSKCC for the last couple of weeks with a fever that finally broke as of today, the writing of this entry, so he's on his way home! Hooray! For those who don't know, when you're in chemo and develop a fever, you have to go to the hospital, because chances are it could be something other than the flu.

Here are some pix from mom Gretchen's Facebook page:

His hair may be gone, but not his spirit. The second picture is him making snow in a throw-up bucket, which they then stuffed into latex gloves and passed around to people who, as Gretchen put it, "needed a hand."

Is it any wonder why I run the marathon in his honor? Please, once again, I ask you to click here and make a donation, whatever you can, in honor of this brave little guy.

Onto the what-the-heck-have-I-been-up-to portion of the show.

Firstly, my annual stint with Broadway Bares, the theater community's annual strip show for charity. The link will take you to the site, where there are a LOT of pictures to look at, like this one:

This is from the Living Art of Armando, a Las Vegas act that comes every year to perform in Bares. Bares is both beautiful and naughty, a really fun evening of dance and striptease, all to raise money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the organization founded by the theatrical community that provides both grants for AIDS organizations and direct assistance to PWAs worldwide. There's a little something for everyone in the show. And I have a lot of fun working it -- it's my 8th year, I think. This year we raised over $800,000.

Can you see me in that photo? Hope not. I'm behind the panel to the far left of the photo.

After that (literally, the next day, or in my case, four hours later) I began rehearsals for SLEUTH, one of the productions for the Cape Playhouse. Even though I have somewhat bowed out of theater for the moment to concentrate on my steno, the Cape is something I love to do. Alas, no, we don't get to rehearse at the Cape, we rehearse in NYC.

The Cape Playhouse is literally the last remnant of the "straw hat circuit," where there used to be tons of theaters across the US that shared shows. In a nutshell, it went something like this: All the shows had a stage manager, who was responsible for the maintenance of the show, and each theater had its own stage manager, who was responsible for the running of the show. All the shows would rehearse at the same time, then fan out to their respective first stops on a Friday, and add all the technical elements (lights, sound, props, etc.) on Saturday and Sunday. The show would open on Monday. The show's SM, called the "advance" would take all of the information about the show, including how the show is run (the "calling script," which has all the sound and light cues, and the crew's sheets -- how the props are set, what the crew does during the show, etc.) and travels to the show's next stop. See, the only things that traveled with the show -- besides the actors -- are the costumes, the sound tapes, and any specialty props that would be hard to replicate at other venues. While Show A is playing at Theater 1, the advance is at Theater 2, looking at the set they're building, picking the props for the show,teaching the theater's SM how to call the new show, etc. On Saturday night, all the shows do their last performance. All the theaters strike the show Saturday night. Sunday, the actors all travel to their new locale, as the theaters install the new sets. Sunday night, the advance techs through the show with the crew. Monday afternoon, the actors tech through the show in the new locale, and Monday night, the show opens in its new locale. Repeat until every show has played in every theater.

When I first started SMing on the circuit, there were still three theaters doing this -- the Cape Playhouse, the Ogunquit Playhouse (in Maine) and the Westport Playhouse (in CT.) I was the resident at the Ogunquit Playhouse for four years, before switching over to advancing for the Cape. Now, the only theater still on this contract is the Cape, and they still use the advance/resident SM system.

One of the reasons I love working at the Cape -- and ultimately the reason I left the OP -- are traditions. It's corny and hokey, but I love it. For example, Gertrude Lawrence was a great friend of the Playhouse's, appearing numerous times on the stage and eventually settling in Dennis. Her ghost lives at the theater, and has been known to create havoc when disrespected. July 3rd is her birthday, and as her favorite flowers are hydrangeas, it's imperative that they are delivered to the Playhouse and put in "her" dressing room, under her picture. This year, the flowers were coming from the driveway of her house, which was extra-special, and everyone was hyped up about the flower delivery. It's stuff like that. I love that deference to tradition. When the Ogunquit traditions were paved over -- literally (long and dull story) -- I left.

Anyways, SLEUTH, the comedy murder mystery. Starring Malcolm Gets and Peter Frechette, two of the nicest and finest actors one could ever hope to work with. Go see them!!

One of my other favorite things about the Cape Playhouse is getting to run on Cape Cod. They actually brought us up to the Cape a few days early to rehearse on the set, which was erected in the shop, because there's so much action on the stairs and the second level, neither of which we had in the rehearsal hall. That gave me the chance to get in both a short run and a long run in the five days we had there (normally I'm only there three days, and only get the chance for a long run.)

For the short run, my favorite destination -- Chapin Beach. I tried taking some pictures with my phone, but it just doesn't do it justice. It's just so darn blue and gorgeous. It's about a six-mile trip from either the motel I stay in, or the theater, perfect for an outing. The only thing that's a problem is the complete lack of sidewalks, and the shoulder of the road is graded, to allow for run-off from storms. There's no safe place to run along route 6A except on the road itself, which is the major route to get from wherever one is to wherever one wants to go (if that makes sense.) And as for Massachusetts drivers, they don't call them "Massholes" for nothing.

Rant -- why are there no sidewalks anywhere? We lament about how fat America is getting, but how can they exercise if there are no sidewalks for them to walk on safely? No wonder we've become a car culture.

Once off 6A, it's onto smaller local roads to get down to the beach area. No sidewalks, but much safer. Chapin and Mayflower Beaches are right next to each other, with Corporation Beach just a little further south. I love all three, but Chapin is also next to some protected greenland, and there's a winding path from one end of the beach to about the middle that has dunes on one side and the preserve on the other that's such a treat to be on.

As for my long run, I decided to play it safe, especially as it was the 4th of July weekend, and stick to the one sidewalk I know -- Setucket Road. It's about a mile up to Setucket, then I stuck to the sidewalk all the way down to Rte 134, then up 134 until Bob Crowell Road, then up that until Old Bass River Road. I didn't follow that to its length, as I was only doing 12, and did it by time rather than distance -- turned around at the 1 hour mark, knowing I was doing about 9:30s, so finished a little more than 12 by the time I got back. Not as scenic a route, but there's a lot of good house porn. I love these gorgeous houses. I wish I could own one. Sigh.

The other thing I notice on these runs: I like to be hydrated. And for a long run, I need a sports drink. There are no water fountains on these roads, and the one time I tried to leave water bottles -- since they're all on private property and everyone at the Cape apparently wakes up at 5am -- they were all thrown away. So when I do a long run at the Cape, I wear my knockoff Camelbak with water AND a Feul Belt with sports drink (PowerAde rules! Hey, watch the commercial on the right side of my blog. It don't cost you anything, and it makes the Coca-Cola people -- Fred's Team sponsors -- happy!) I basically look like a friggin' astronaut instead of a distance runner. And there are other runners out there, and yet NONE of them have any water on them. None. Am I a wimp? Are Massachusetts runners made of hardier stock, or are they camels, or just fools? What's going on?

Twelve good miles and change, in just under two hours. Felt good.

I'll repeat that run next time I'm up there, probably adding a few miles.

Tomorrow's the first NYRR Marathon Long Training Run. Don't know how many miles we're supposed to do. Guess I'll find out in the AM. The longest Team run we've done is 12 miles, but I've already done two half marathons. The loops are 6-5-5-4. So are we doing 11, or 16? Hmm...

Lastly, because this is running quite long, I've taken the next podcast step, by getting hosting space at godaddy. The good folks from the second NYC Runners Who Blog and Podcast meetup, some of whom both blog and podcast, gave me some great advice at our last outing. I've got some transcripts to do this weekend, but I'm also going to try to put together podcast #1(!) and get it out there by the end of the week. Eek! I hate the way my voice sounds, and I'm a rotten interviewer, but I'm trying to be Zen about it. It will be what it will be. That's the main reason I haven't put one out yet -- I try writing it and recording it and I'm just too picky. I tried for the better part of two months just to put together a five-minute thing. No dice. This time -- damn the torpedoes!!

Okay, 'nuff chat. Out for a short something before tomorrow's long something.

Talk soon!!

Monday, June 29, 2009


Whaddya think of the new look?

And as you can see from the sidebar video, Fred's Team has a corporate sponsor this year -- Coca-Cola!

They are supplying us with Powerade and water for our workouts, as well as hydration advice and some other good stuff.

I am more than happy to thank them for their support of my Team by featuring their ads on my site.

Drink up, y'all!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Catching Up, and HUGE THANKS

I cannot begin this blog entry with anything other than my heartfelt thanks to all these wonderful people, who answered the call of my previous posts and donated so generously to the Aubrey Fund for Pediatric Cancer Research at MSKCC, supporting my 4th marathon effort and honoring my little pal Liam Witt, who's battling neuroblastoma at MSKCC.

Without further ado, many thanks to


bringing the total raised to far to


Can I ask you to help, by making a donation to my Fred's Team marathon effort, which goes directly to the Aubrey Fund, by clicking here? Over 80 percent of the money raised goes directly to patient care and research. In fact, the Aubrey Fund has paid for the research and treatment for Liam's cancer, and will continue to do so.

Unfortunately, if you read the NY Times today, there's an article about how, in this economy, most research grants are going to "safer" projects. Pediatric cancer, especially rarer cancers such as neuroblastoma, are critically underfunded anyway, and this is a major blow. The Aubrey Fund is literally a life-saver for children like Liam, the only place some doctors can turn to for funding the innovative treatments that have raised the survival rates for neuroblatoma from less than 20 percent to 60 percent in just 20 years. Every penny counts. So please, if you can make a donation, no matter how small, know that it is being put to excellent use.

Liam is doing well, he is back in chemo, and unfortunately, back in MSKCC, as he developed a fever. If you develop a fever while on chemo, you need to go to the hospital, because it could be so much more than just a spot of flu.

Here he is, playing with electricity.

I was going to visit him last week, but I still have a cold that I am having trouble shaking, and that's something I don't want to share.

So it's been a crazy busy couple of weeks -- between work, and Broadway Bares, and starting rehearsals for SLEUTH, and finishing up my transcripts -- there hasn't been time for blogging, let alone running. And there's SO MUCH BACKLOG!!!!!

Here it is, in a nutshell:

BROOKLYN HALF -- I wasn't really trained for it -- and I really hope that doesn't become my mantra, as my mother says I have to break 4 hours this year -- but I figured what the hay. It was my first official half-marathon 5 years ago, and I ran it in 1:59. Those were the days (!) I've wanted to get back to run it ever since, but the timing's never worked out until now. So even though it was the first Fred's Team official long run, I went to Prospect Park to revisit an old friend.

The course was different this year. In years past, the course began on the Coney Island boardwalk, went up and down the boardwalk, then up Ocean Avenue to Prospect Park, and then a loop of the Park. If you're not familiar with Brooklyn, that's 11 1/2 flat miles, and the last mile and a half uphill. Ugh. This year, the course started in the Park, a loop and a half of the Park, then down and across the Expressway to Ocean Avenue, then down Ocean Ave to a finish on the Boardwalk. Much better, although what is it with NYRR and a loop and a half of a Park? That's why I didn't sign up for the NYC Half again this year. That and the $75 fee. For that kind of $$, surely we can come up with a more imaginative course than a loop and a half of Central Park.

I figure the course would be slightly easier, and felt that with one half marathon under my belt already this season, I would be able to get through it comfortably, even without a lot of training. Did I mention the wicked bladder/kidney infection I had had the week before? That's the reason for the lack of training. My kidney was paining so much I went to have an MRI to see if I had a kidney stone. Nope! Turns out, I pulled a back muscle so specificially on that spot that it mimiced a kidney infection (I know all too well what a kidney infection feels like, so believe me when I tell you I was fooled!)

The biggest surprise about this race was that for the first time that I have ever experienced at a NYRR race, some of the stations ran out of water. I know! It was a humid, humid day, and this was a very large race. But wow, I had to actually wait at one station while the poor volunteer poured water as fast as he could, and had to skip another station when it became clear that I wasn't going to get any liquid any time soon. I needed a gel, and had to take it without water. Bleh. And I LIKE gels!

At the finish of the race, very smart of NYRR -- they had bags of salt pretzels instead of bagels. Between the crush of runners and people on the Boardwalk, the finish was a bit of a madhouse, and I decided to head hime instead of wandering. PS: 2:06:18, my second slowest ever. Booo.

ROCK AND RUN/HIGH SCHOOL REUNION: This is the third year of the Rock and Run, a three mile fun run/walk sponsored by MSKCC as a benefit for their programs for cancer survivors. There are so many people on my Team who are survivors thanks to MSKCC, and also people in my family, and friends, that of course I'm going to run! Even if it was the day after my 25th High School reunion...yes, amazing that I am only 29 and went to high school 25 years ago (old joke.)

Let me tell those of you who have upcoming reunions -- go!! I went to the kind of a high school where there were no real cliques, just the people you hung out with a lot. I knew a lot of people in my class -- there were only 200 of us -- and I'd like to think I was friendly with a lot of them, but didn't really know most of them. Well, what the hell was my problem? Now that the years have passed, I realize just how amazing and cool all of these people are, and why the hell didn't I know that before? At our 20th, I got to connect and reconnect with so many amazing folks, and I feel I'm better friends with them now than I ever was.

Our 25th was at the same place as our 20th -- Metrazur. It's a great place for a reunion, I will say, surprisingly intimate given its location in the main room of Grand Central Station. I drank my fair share of the liquor, and then went to the afterparty for a while. Around 2am, I realized I better get home, as I needed to be at the Rock and Run by 8. Oops. I wish I could have stayed longer.

So, still drunk, I stumbled over to the Hudson Piers to meet my Team and celebrate MSKCC and all the great people they've helped.

At the R&R, I also debuted my new toy -- my podcast! I wanted to audiotape my run and some of the events there, and also interview some people about Fred's Team and running. Unfortunately, I learned very fast that I am a rotten interviewer, evidenced when I tried to interview Dan Abrams of MSNBC. Oh, it will be on the podcast, as soon as I get around to it.

I also interviewed some of my Teammates as we ran. I ran with Jill and Deb. They both kept urging me to go ahead, but why? It's a fun run. I was having fun being with my friends. Also saw my old pal Dr. Mark there -- he's a doctor at MSKCC specializing in lung cancer. He was there with his family.

After the run, we went back to the VIP section (yay, Team perk!) for brunch, and general hanging-out while the festivities commenced. I had a good talk with Coach Jeff about my goals for this year, and he promised to kick my arse all the way to the finish line. Bring it on!

Had to leave early, to head out to my brother's house to see my five-year-old niece's first dance recital (!) Five-year-olds doing ballet is little more than jumping up and down and spinning around, but it was absolutely precious.

Of course, the highlight of the weekend, and made all the more precious in light of recent events, was Liam's fifth birthday party on Saturday afternoon. Mom Gretchen and Dad Larry rented out one of the tents at Victorian Gardens (which is the amusement park that Wollman Rink turns into in the summer.) There were about 100 people there, both kids and parents, all brought together by one very special little man. Not to leave Ella out, Liam's little sister, it was a party for her, too. Three big cakes (pirate ship for Liam, princess for Ella, and black-and-white for the adults), wine and beer and finger food, plus lots and lots of ride tickets for the little ones. It was a great, great day. I met some of the family, many of their friends, some other kids from MSKCC, and some of the nurses. Liam looked so great, his hair was all grown in and he had put on some weight. It's really not fair.

Still a little more catch-up to do, which I promise to get to with more alacrity!!

Have a great day,

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Liam Update

Hello, everyone,

I want to thank everyone who has responded to my appeal for donations to the Aubrey Fund for Pediatric Cancer Research after hearing about Liam's relapse. I'm going to share with you the latest entry from mom Gretchen's blog, "Prince Liam the Brave," to give you a full update.

Pediatric cancer research is critically underfunded, especially rare cancers like Liam's. In fact, all of the money used for the research and treatment options available for neuroblastoma at Sloan -- one of only two hospitals in the world that offer such treatments -- come directly from the Aubrey Fund.

There are many ways you can help. All of these ways go directly to pediatric cancer research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in NYC.
-you can donate to my Fred's Team marathon effort, which goes directly to the Aubrey Fund, by clicking here.
-you can donate to Fred's Team in general, which goes directly to the Aubrey Fund, by clicking here.
-you can click over to "Band of Parents," an organization of parents with children battling neuroblastoma, buy something from their gift shop, or make a donation to them.
-you can click on "Cookies for Kid's Cancer," started by BOP, and either buy cookies from them (they are delicious, by the way, I can tell you from experience) or hold a bake sale of your own and donate the proceeds. They provide step-by-step instructions.

I've had a dreadful head cold for the past few days which has curtailed my running, which is killing me, because there's nothing I want to do more right now and train as hard as I can, as if somehow that's going to make things better for Liam. In some ways, it will. If my efforts inspire others to help, either through a donation or by lacing up themselves, it's worth it. However, I can't breathe through my nose, or stop coughing, so one more day off will hopefully not stop my momentum, or anyone else's.

And now, "Liam Returns to Battle," written by Liam's dad, Larry:

It is with heavy hearts that we share with you the unfortunate results of Liam’s most recent scans. The results of which showed that Liam has relapsed in a new area behind his lungs, around the lymphatic system. The 3f8 treatment Liam has been so fortunate to receive does not seem to be the right therapy to keep him free of soft tissue disease. We have been fortunate not to have found disease in his bone marrow but it is a mixed blessing since bone disease is what 3f8 really excels at fighting and the treatment Liam has tolerated well. He received 7 rounds of 3f8, two being high dose, since earlier this year. Cells hiding in soft tissue require that chemo be used to kill them so Liam will start a round of high does as early as tomorrow if not later today. No amount of time can be wasted since the tumors they found were not there 90 days ago and have grown to be approximately 2” in size in a short period of time.

It angered me all weekend to know that the cells were growing and spreading while he ran around the yard, swam, rode his bike, and played with Ella as if his world was in perfect order. The feeling of being completely powerless while something is harming your child right in front of you is a feeling I cannot begin to describe.

Today Liam has an MRI to better understand where the tumors are located since one resides in the soft tissues surrounding the spinal cord. It is most likely in the tissues around the vertebras according to last week’s scans but we need to be certain. Liam will also have a port surgically implanted back in his chest today so he can receive chemo. The surgery time is not known since he was an add on the schedule so will be squeezed in at some point. He will be really bothered by the ports return both physically and physiologically. It kills us to have to watch him endure so much. We plan to tell him that his blood “still needs more fixing” and he will need more medicine to get the job done. Liam does not know he has cancer, does not know what cancer is, and thinks he is perfectly normal. His innocence has been a major priority of ours throughout the last two and a half years. We know that this time around he will likely question the various treatments and procedures more than ever as he works to process and determine what is really going on. Anyone who knows Liam and knows him well appreciates his relentless curiosity and inquisitive nature.

We are looking in every direction to determine the next best step based on Liam’s situation. We know we must stop and shrink the tumors immediately and then remove whatever is left. Meaning, Liam will likely undergo a major surgery sometime in July. We along with Liam’s team of doctors at MSKCC, along with input from several other top neuroblastoma doctors, will then develop a new game plan to keep him clean. There are a few other options but not as many as you would think or desire. Each will likely include various combinations of chemo as well as new or experimental therapies like NK cell, ABT-751, or MIBG therapy. We have a most unpleasant and unexpected summer ahead of us. Your support and endless cheering for Liam is what truly keeps us going. Though we are scared, broken, and tired of this journey’s seemingly endless barrage of heartache and pain, it is one we would walk a thousand times over for Liam.

I will leave you with this:
On Friday we returned to our apartment after learning of Liam’s relapse. Gretchen and I were doing our best to act as if nothing was wrong even though we were both crushed and had pretty much had the life sucked out of us. We could not appear as if anything was out of the ordinary even though we were both numb. I walked into Liam’s room with him to find the sun streaming through his bedroom window. He said “Daddy! Daddy look! It’s beautiful! Look at the sunlight” as he held up his arms and basked in it, dancing around! I could not physically respond but I doubt I will ever forget to appreciate the simplicity and beauty of late afternoon sunlight shining through a window. ..yet another lesson from our young Prince.

Friday, June 12, 2009

New News is Not Good News

Part Two of "Old News" will come soon. This new news is too important.

I literally just found out that Liam has to go back in for chemo starting Monday. Neuroblastoma is a cancer that does not like to let go, and Liam is a tasty morsel indeed. It really sucks because that very special birthday party that I'm going to tell you about in Part Two was Liam's fifth birthday. The exact same thing happened to him last year -- the recurrence of his cancer one month after his fourth birthday.

If anyone can beat this thing, it's Liam, and MSKCC is going to do all it can to help him in his fight.

Please, please, please, keep Liam and his family in your thoughts and prayers.

I hate to be pushy, but if there was ever a time to make a donation to the Aubrey Fund for Pediatric Cancer Research, where the money to fund Liam's treatment comes from, it is now. Please click here and make a donation. Anything you can give will help Liam -- and all the children being treated at MSKCC -- win the fight of his life.

Please pass this blog post around to your family, friends, anyone who might be interested in helping.

On behalf of Liam and his family, thank you all, once again,


PS: Just in case anyone is wondering, I don't get my marathon entries through Fred's Team. I earn them by running the NYRR races in the previous calendar year. I run with the Team because I want to, and as long as there is cancer in the world, because I have to.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Old News is Still Good News, Plus New News -- Part One

Where to begin?
So much running news!

First and foremost, the latest members of the FRED'S TEAM HONOR ROLL:

and the winner of the "Who Will Put Me Over $1000" contest:

So yes, we are over $1,000, with the total now going to the Aubrey Fund for Pediatric Cancer Research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in honor of my buddy Liam Witt to...


Tell you what -- a prize to the person who puts me over $1500. A PRIZE!! A PRIZE!! Who doesn't love a prize??? Click on this link right here to donate a little cheddar and your chance to win!!

Much older news to get through before the new news, but there is one new bit of new news to announce first --

I am going to start a PODCAST.

Steve Runner and all the amazing folks on the Fdip group are always encouraging folks to start one, so by gum, I'm going to do it this time! I mean it! I've got a lot of good audio footage, and I downloaded a few of the popular editing programs, and as soon as I get a little free time, I'm going to put the first couple of episodes together. It will be mainly running and Fred's Team related, of course. I'll take you out on training runs and Team events, get advice from my coaches, share strategies and tips, and provide interviews with fellow runners, Team members, and other cool people. It should hopefully be good to go in a week or so.

Now, onto the news.

First thing I'd like to tell y'all about is a really good idea started by Tavia K of the Pigtails Flying blog, and that was a meet-up of runners who blog! It was great to not only meet some great new people and hear about their training and races and so on, but to also find out about their blogs:

4:30 or Bust
Absolut(ly) Fit
Adventures of Cowboy Hazel
Brandon’s Marathon
Marci Runs the Marathon (that's me!)
NYC in 3:10
NYC Running Blog
Pigtails Flying
Races Like a Girl
Run Ansky Run
Run Westchester

When I have a few more minutes, I'll add them to the sidebar for easier accessibility. A lot of us want to try to make it a regular event. I hope so! One of the people there was doing two marathons a month (you'll have to read the blogs to find out who!!) She said there's no real running in between. I guess you're always in taper mode. That's got to be strange. I have Teammates who do stuff like that -- the 50 Staters, and a few who can do marathons on the spur of the moment (hmm, it's Saturday, I have nothing to do -- is there a marathon nearby?) I don't know if I can do that. I like the release that running on a regular schedule during the week gives me. As I've said a kazillion times, it's like my yoga. I don't know how I'd feel about running if I did it all in a twice-monthly 26.2 mile push. But I really admire folks who can do that. Almost makes me feel lazy in comparison!

Why did I think I was going to have tons of time to catch you up on everything?

I'll make this a Part One of Two, and continue later today or tomorrow... I promise!!

In the next post:
Brooklyn Half
Rock and Run
my 25th high school reunion (that's right!)
Fred's Team Kickoff
-- and a very special birthday party!!