March (Marathon) Madness

If you can give the height of the Green Monster in inches AND centimeters and plan to name your firstborn Yaz Auerbach, I am the kind of sports fan you hate. No, I don’t own a pink hat. But I do live in the city famous for such legendary sports franchises as the Cowles Cup-winning NEW ENGLAND RIPTIDE and have STILL been known to ask how many more yards the shortstop has to bowl before we go into sudden death. My love of sports is primarily based in my affinity for soft pretzels, montages, and movies about ultimately triumphant underdogs.

Sure are

Given all this, I felt like a little bit of a poser using March Madness as this month’s marathon email theme. But THEN I got offered a ticket to my first Celtics game ever, and thus, blanket justification for all the basketball metaphors I can cram into one post! (What’s that you say? March Madness is the NCAA, not NBA? Oh hush.) So put on your giant foam finger, grab some extra mustard, and let’s get to montagin’.

My favorite part of March madness coverage is the Cinderella story. I’ve always identified with Cinderella on a personal, lady-who-loses-things to lady-who-loses-things level; but since joining TEAM, I can identify with Cinderella on the NCAA tournament cliche level, too.

It's so easy to lose your wallet in all the frippery!

While I wouldn’t go so far as to call us a ragtag bunch of misfits (my second favorite sports cliche!), we are a somewhat unlikely group of marathon runners. What I’m saying is, nobody’s going to put money on us against my man Cheruiyot. What we lack in sub-4-minute miles, Adidas sponsorships, and Kenyan birth certificates, however, we more than make up for in GUMPTION. We have an eccentric leader (that would be Sarad, Kelly), a perfectly montage-able training season (running through snowstorms and adversity! wacky, light-hearted moments courtesy of Richard’s costumes and John’s post-run Doritos consumption!), and come April 19th, we get our own chance at the Big Dance.

Actual TEAM photo

So come on sports fans. Who doesn’t like to root for the underdog? We’ve raised just over $620,000, but we’re shooting for at least $750,000 raised for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society by our May deadline. Please consider making a donation to help get us closer to our goal! http://pages.teamintraining.org/ma/boston10/cdeschenesdesmond

Love and a 3-pointer from the 50-yard line,

Cait

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Julia MacDonald

I run in memory of Julia. This was written by Cheryl Macleay, a good friend and Julia’s sister-in-law, before she passed away.

My sister-in-law, Julia Ornstein MacDonald, was born into a wealthy Jewish family in Vienna, Austria.  Her father was an importer and exporter of textiles in Vienna.  They moved to London during WWII to escape Hitler, and then to New York City which became their home. She often told me that “The Sound of Music” reminded her of how her family had to escape with very little during Hitler’s regime.

She and her sister, Melitta, met and subsequently married my two older brothers.  They were all taking flying lessons in New York.  Frank and Julia obtained their pilot’s licenses in 1948 (the year I was born ) and owned a Cessna which they flew for many years.

Julia and Frank’s relationship was and still is a true love story.  She worked hand in hand beside my brother as he established his woodworking business in Columbus, Georgia.  They were both passionate about horses and bought a 350 acre farm in Waverly Hall, Georgia and raised brood cattle (Herfords) which helped defray the cost of running what became a Quarter Horse stud farm.  They were very active in the Quarter Horse Association and were the proud owners of a Quarter Horse Champion, Two-Eyed Dell.

She is a devoted mother to Brad and grandmother to three beautiful granddaughters.  As a child, I spent every summer with them.  Although she would say that she has never felt particularly comfortable around children, they are drawn to her.  No question every asked went unanswered.  If she didn’t know, she would research it and deliver the answer immediately.  I remember one summer when I was there I was interested in stones.  We went for long walks and collected stones.  She bought me a stone polishing machine, we made jewelry, and I proudly displayed my collection all around her beautiful home.

Before she and my brother were married, she was a bridal consultant on Fifth Avenue.  Two days before my wedding, I still didn’t know what I wanted as a veil.  My brother, who is very artistic, suggested that we copy the pattern in the beading on the bodice of my gown.  He did so, and Julia went out and purchased the necessary beads and stayed up until the wee hours sewing the beads onto the headdress of my veil.  Very special!

She has always been a conservationist. She is extremely well-read and talked about global warming before it was a popular subject.  She not only talks the talk, she walks the walk.  She truly believes that the earth is a place for “all creatures great and small”.  Their farm has become a sanctuary for stray cats.  Her hobbies are music, books, embroidery, gardening, her dogs, cats, horses and family,- not necessarily in that order.

To say that she is the most amazing and fascinating person I have ever met is truly an understatement.  She is passionate about every aspect of her life, including her illness.  She researched and actually diagnosed her leukemia before the test results were conclusive.  She decided not to have Chemo and wanted to live her last days to the fullest doing what she loves the most,- spending time with her family, working in her garden, enjoying her books, music and animals.

She has an inner strength that is unparalleled.  She has never complained about her illness or sought special attention, but continued her daily life to the best of her ability.  This woman who I am most proud of calling my sister-in-law has and will always be a true inspiration to me.

Life in the Convent

Life in The Convent of the Holy Name, Leribe, Lesotho feels surprisingly familiar to me. From the moment I walked in the door I was overcome by an odd feeling of nostalgia. Perhaps it’s because the guest house where I stay smells like my Grandma Royer’s house in Indiana – a place I associate with warm summer nights, star gazing, corn fields, God, and unconditional love (not too different from here). Traditional Basotho music plays from the houses within the convent and I find myself set at ease by the accordions featured in many of the songs. It wasn’t until I put on Paul Simon’s Graceland album (staple music of my childhood, that and Dire Strait’s Brother’s in Arms) that I realized the accordion music from Graceland was very similar to Basotho music. So, somehow, I feel at home so far from home. And, it’s nice.

I have a bed in my room – a double bed! which immediately puts my life into the Luxury category as back home in Boston I sleep on a twin size Japanese futon I keep folded up in my closet during the day. I do my own laundry. Wash it in the tub. The other day I was trying to scrub out a stain in my scrubs (imagine that!) and noticed a rock by the tub. Ah ha! Rock in hand I had much improved stain scrubbing. I felt like a monkey who just discovered I could put a stick down an ant hole and get something tasty to eat. Of course, rock on fabric = not great on the fabric fibers, but hole-y clothes are appropriate in the convent (ok, that pun was too much, I KNOW). Sometimes I wonder why I packed the clothes I did, and then, I remember, I didn’t really pack my clothes. It was a mad dash the day I left for Lesotho – and I remember throwing random pairs of underwear and socks at Caitlin who tossed it into my suitcase. I guess that’s why I’m wearing Santa Claus socks right now and have to put my leopard print underwear out on the line to flap in the breeze for all of the convent to see (p.s. Thanks for the underwear, Mother!).

Coffee in Lesotho is instant and often mixed with chicory. Our stove is gas and when I light the oven there is always an explosive type sound and that makes me wonder if I will lose my hand. We boil most of our water for drinking, but I’ve given up on using boiled water for my toothbrush and seem to be doing alright for now. We’re actually very lucky on the convent because have a better water supply than many of the houses in the area. Lesotho is known for having a huge dam in the mountains in the middle of the country – Katse Dam. They sell their power to South Africa and sometimes there is just not enough power for Lesotho. We’ve being having power outages on Sundays. But this is not too terribly big of a deal because I don’t use much that is electric.

We have a guard (who requested I take his photo) and sometimes the sisters come to visit. We also have many guests that also come to stay in the guest house so we’ve made some new Basotho friends and some friends from a Canadian NGO (see next post for more on THAT). One of my favorite things about being here is star gazing in the southern hemisphere. Now, I really can’t tell most constellations apart but I like to make them up and Jen seems to have a pretty good clue. I know we see the Southern Cross and I know that there seem to be many many more stars than I could see in Boston.

Life is good in the Convent of the Holy Name.

Just when you think you're having a bad day, Lesotho gives you a double rainbow

Running in Lesotho: Take My Breath Away!

Alright, let’s get down to the meat and potatoes of what this blog is all about: RUNNING! Caitlin has graciously offered to let me guest blog and so I don’t want to disappoint by being completely off topic.

My last 4 years of marathon training I’ve been one lucky lady to be training on the Boston Marathon course with a fantastic TEAM – where water stops are abundantly stocked and high fives are currency. Now that I’ve left the embrace of TNT’s mercury-esque wings and have set out on my own, I am reminded of the marathon training I did for my first marathon in 2004. Back in those days I ran alone in Waterville, ME. I wore cotton everything, had no actual running tights, and was fueled by jolly ranchers I duct taped to my thighs and water bottles I strategically placed every 10 miles.

Although brought back to my running youth, running in Lesotho IS and that’s one of the biggest successes so far. As I packed two pairs of running shoes, a stick, and some granola bars into my suitcases back in America, I was a bit nervous knowing there was a possibility that I would not be able to run in Lesotho. Scheduling, safety, and the high altitude were all possible threats to my training.

To put all fears to rest, the second morning here Jen, the other medical student, and I decided to establish a routine of running each morning before work. We are very strongly discouraged from leaving the convent after dark and so running as soon as the sun has begun rising over the mountains seems like the best way to ensure that I will get a run in everyday. There is no telling if work will go late and I don’t want to have to risk missing a run because of darkness. Jen is a great running partner. She is interested in a career in infectious disease which means she is very knowledgeable about a lot of stuff I am not. As we run together, she explains the latest HIV therapies, the value of CD4 counts, infections commonly seen in AIDS patients and the antibiotics we use to treat them. The scenery is absolutely breath taking as the sun rises over the mountains and I cannot help but say to Jen “Really, Lesotho? Really?”. This is not as intelligent conversation as Jen offers, but it’s how I contribute. The terrain is nothing but hills so I am either running up hill or down hill – there is no flat. It’s kind of peculiar that way. We live on the top of a hill so runs end with a kick.

Your move, Heartbreak

Jen and I run together for bit, Jen educates me, and then I “drop” Jen off at the convent and go for a bit on my own to get some extra miles. The roads are usually lined with people. Many children on their way to school. It’s quite amazing. When I run at home in Maine I may see one or two people on foot – MAYBE. But here I see over 100 people easily in 30 minutes. I had to change my running attire recently. I was informed that wearing shorts is too scandalous as they show some of these thunder thighs, so I have switched to capri length running tights with shorts over them. It’s not the worst compromise by any means, but it’s still summer in Africa and I would prefer to wear shorts. That whining being done, overall the temperature is cool when we start running and I am content during the 5:30 am runs.

Saturday was my first long run. Back home, the TEAM ran 16 miles. I’ve decided to gage my runs by time as I am not sure how far I am actually running and I can definitely feel the high altitude when I get going. There was talk about going for a 3 hr hike on Saturday (perhaps another blog entry!) so I decided to transition into my long run by running

Mango mania!

for 2 hrs with follow up 3 hr hike. Originally, I was going to run for 1 hr north then turn around and run 1 hr back. Friday night, after chowing down on some butternut squash soup and mangoes (both of which tend to move and groove through the system while running…),  I started to think twice about  running straight into the unknown countryside far far away from a bathroom. I settled upon doing a loop near the convent three times – and added a run up a mountain/hillside to spice things up during the last portion of the run. The plan is to eventually run up the rocky part of the mountain (not quite sure how) but that was overkill for the first long run.

Saturday, I could feel the burn within the first hour and I was ready to stop. BUT, as long as my legs will keep going so will I. I finished the run completely winded as I ran up the hill to the convent. It was different running alone but it was fantastic as well: the weather was perfect and the scenery was too. I wish I could transport my team to Lesotho so they could experience the run (and bring me some GU, which I stupidly forgot in America) but for now I will have to settle for the wonderfully detailed e-mails Caitlin sends me about team practice and the pictures I am taking to show you and the team in return.

(Ed note: TEAM misses you too, lady):

Photo via Boston Globe