Wednesday, December 29, 2010


The Girl (calling from the bathroom): We might be out of toilet paper!

Me: I'll get you a new roll.

The Girl: No, I don't think we are all out, because I took the last roll the other day.

This conversation meant that there was no getting out of a small foray to a store. With two kids, in Denmark, on December 29th. Why, Universe? I've always had a touch of agoraphobia, but it has been evolving from a personality trait to an actual problem. Feeding on the burdens of life, work, kids, wife; my life has been saturated with stress the last 5 years and my agoraphobia has thrived.

Another problem with me, among the many I have, is extreme impatience with everything. It's always been impatient; I've gotten grief for it from when I was a little kid. We have called it my condition, and I've even been somewhat proud of it, like it was a sign of efficiency. But agoraphobia and impatience don't go well together.

One of the ways I get around my agoraphobia is that I only venture out, when I know there will be no crowds. I shop for our groceries 15 minutes before the stores close. We go swimming on Friday nights in a rural community pool, which we have all to ourselves. Any visit to a theme park or such similar attraction has to happen in the way off-season

But when the Girl announced that we were out of tp, I knew there was no alternative to diving into Danish Christmas craziness. Most Danes have the week off between Christmas and New Year's and it seems like they love to shop all day, every day.

The Lorax was crying most of the time; he screamed "skoldkopper!" (chickenpox) to get my attention and was hard to handle in the busy store. He is through his run of pox, but he still likes to be pitied, apparently. The toilet paper and other necessities were quickly located and I tried wrangling the kids toward the registers. Or, I should say kid, because Natali is actually more help than bother at this point.

In a packed store, with a screaming Lorax, without room to maneuver, it's gotten to the point where I have to control my breathing to prevent getting shivers. It's never bad when I'm alone; it's when I'm with the kids that it really ignites.

The stress is getting to me. There is no other way of looking at it.

At least I have been running well on the treadmill at the gym. I had a winter a few years ago, where I ran almost exclusively on the treadmill. That winter led to my 1:13 half marathon PR, so maybe this Wisconsinesque snow is good for something.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

2010 Season in Review - Goals for 2011

I had a very unusual 2010 running season. For one, I wasn't injured; more than likely, I was safe from injury because of undertraining. There were some highs and lows, and all the highs came in marathons or ultras. As I am writing this, I am sorely out of shape and I won't have time to train properly in the next few months. My goals for 2011 are, as such, very vague.

My goals for 2010 were stated on this very blog a year ago:

5K 16:00 flat (under 16 would be too much pressure)
Age group national champion in the 5000
10K Under-34
Half Under 1:15
Win an ultra

Hmm. Only made one of those goals.

I started out the year with a winter marathon. Jogged the first half, sped up and finished in 3:04. Finished 2nd and in the money. Great start to the season.

The next race I remember was Hells Hills (no apostrophe after Hell, just so you know). A poor man's ultra at just 50K, I did win it. That was the one fulfilled goal for 2010. A fun race, but it's hard to compare times in trail races. If three faster guys had shown up and I had taken fourth, I probably would have thought I sucked that day. But as it was, it felt like a great race.

Then came another training marathon in 2:50. Felt good and relaxed. Stuck with the other two leaders till 13K to go and then raced the last bit on a good runner's high.

The Copenhagen Marathon. I was aiming for 2:42 and got 2:49. The end was terrible. Looking back, I was probably mining some good form that ran out just before this race. I ran one more marathon a few weeks afterwards, where I dropped out, proving that my peak was long gone. I won't run a road marathon again for a long time.

The rest of the spring, I was able to train really well. Because of my schedule, I had post-call days off every week, and I was able to put together two strong months. Ironically, my goal marathon for the summer (Grand Island in Marquette, MI) filled up too fast and I ended up just training through the summer.

I did run a 5K in 16:32 in Carlton the day before the Girl ran Voyageur. This was in 90 degree heat and it felt miserable the whole time. I bet I could have gotten close to 16:00, another of the goals above, but that 5K was the only short race I did all year.

Ok, not really. I forget some fun races, like a relay, where I ran two legs in high 16s. But the Carlton race was the only short race I truly raced. The last time that happened must have been 15 years ago. Wow.

What did we do in the fall?

It feels like there was some other race first, but the high point was certainly October's Brocken Marathon. 3:04 on that course is what I consider my "relative" marathon PR. The best part was that I got done with so much left in the tank, and a promise of faster times. That vein of form continued into running 46 miles at the Copenhagen 6 Hour Race.

High point? Either Hells Hills or Brocken. Both non-technical, hilly trail races, which would appear to have become my strong suit.

Goals for 2011.

Since I failed 4 out of 5 goals for 2010, I had better make my 2011 goals more attainable. Problem is, I don't know what next year will bring. I don't know if we're moving back to Wisconsin in September or in January. This winter and spring are going to be uber-busy at work. How are these for goals:

Keep a running log
Get under 65 kg consistently
Win a short race
Win a long race
Win an ultra

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


When I speak dreamily about a faraway fairytale land, sometimes referred to as Utopia and other times simply called Wisconsin, I always mention "snow in winter". Yet, how the hell come, whenever it snows here, I hate it.

Because my cross country skis are in Wisconsin?

No. Not really, although it would be cool to have them here. Snow profoundly paralyzes Denmark. We have gotten maybe 10 inches over the last week, and the resulting traffic chaos is amazing. Add to this the fact that I work 60 miles from my house. I usually take the train, but for night and weekend shifts, I drive. This morning, with an inch of fresh snow in 25 degree weather, some people were going 20 miles an hour on the freeway.

I should mention Natali.

She didn't take the news well; that her teachers had brought up the weight issue. I wrote to my ex about what had happened, and she responded with a nice email full of advice. Natali was pissed. She is a superb splitter and had lost a golden opportunity here.

The interesting thing is that she got over her anger very quickly. When I saw her the next afternoon, she seemed almost relieved that the can of worms had been opened. I know she has been thinking about it a lot, and of course the other girls have made fun of her. This process has made it acceptable to talk about her weight. Somewhat to my surprise.

So in the last three days, she has been very active and even skipped her evening snack one night. I asked her "are you really hungry?"; she smiled and looked down and replied: "I'm learning to speak to my stomach and he says no". She is so cool.

Meanwhile, the Girl is throwing up non-stop. If you wonder whether being an MD makes her less or more nervous of something happening to this pregnancy, here are a few examples of her state of mind:

- "I'm so nauseated. Then it can't be an ectopic! Hey wake up. I don't think it's an ectopic!"

- "Now I feel great. Oh god, what if it's an ectopic?"

- "My stomach is so big. What if it's a molar pregnancy? Molars make lots of hCG, so maybe that's why I'm nauseated.

- "Oh my god, maybe the Ginger is filling up my stomach. So if I take too much, I'll get nauseated again."

She is throwing up so much that the Lorax scream "drukket" (has drunk), whenever she makes a gaggy face. We're not sure why he screams "drukket", but we suspect that he thinks that she has drunk too much, too fast.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Time out!

Am I the only one who feels like life is happening too fast?

We've been back from our work/vacation trip for almost a week now. The apartment's a mess; there are a million little things we are behind on. The jetlag won't die. Christmas is coming, whether we like it or not, and we still have to buy 10 thoughtful presents. Oh, and the Lorax has chickenpox!

The kicker came today at Natali's parent-teacher conference. There were three teachers and one of me. Academically, she is doing fine. Ok, I knew that, but their concerned faces told me that the conversation was about to turn sour. In short, they think she is fat, and that I am not doing enough to prevent it. Her female teacher told me that if only I would spend more time with her, Natali would forget about eating. Don't I see that all the changes in her life are causing her to resolve to food as a friend that never lets her down? All three of them kept going on about how lazy and fat she was. One of them, a guy I don't know too well who runs the after school program, joked that Natali's first words upon entering the building was always "what's for dinner?". Har-dee-har-har.

It was like sitting in front of three Dr. Phils, only with more platitudes. I told them that from when I come home from work, Natali is never more than 3 feet away from me. I didn't tell them how the Girl sometimes complains that Natali acts more like my wife than she does, but maybe I should have; just think of the forthcoming bumper sticker logic!

I was up against the ropes.

We came to the following conclusions:

1. She can only eat the lunch/snacks we pack for her. No accepting leftovers from other kids. No begging snacks at the after school program.

2. One hour of moving around every day.

3. She gets weighed every Thursday, and her teacher will sit down and review the result and the preceding week's eating and exercise.

I like the rules; hopefully they will work. I did not like the attitude, though. They kept implying that she has too much responsibility for her age. That I'm too uninvolved. Talk eventually turned to our plans next year. I explained that my ex wants her back in La Crosse next year, but that I'm hoping to get her back the following year. They lectured me on the importance of stability, and I told them that I had no say in it. I mentioned that for all I knew, my ex could call the police and tell them I kidnapped Natali to a foreign country. That got a little respect, or at least generated some genuine interest, and I'm convinced our sorry tale will be shared over pipes and Birkenstocks in the teacher's lounge.

At first, I was a little angry. I was driving to work, cursing this outside-Green-zone Baghdad that is my life. Cursing my commute, cursing the distance to Andreas, cursing how Natali has to move next year. Cursing the day the Girl looked at me and said, "why can't we move to Denmark" and I said "why not?", because I was so in love and would go anywhere with her. A simple "nah, I can't leave the kids" would have sufficed.

Then a sense of despair set in. If only I could slow down life a little; if only I had more time. Time to mold our family into a unit so tight, with values and traditions so strong, that we could laugh at the mundane troubles of ho-hum life. Why don't we have a Christmas tree yet? Why do I work every day till Christmas, including a 24-hour shift on the 25th? Maybe our last Christmas in Denmark, and it gets swallowed up in stress.

We dream of an end to all this, of course, as idiots in our shoes always do. The end never comes, until one of us, most likely me, dies from a stress-related heart attack. But a short respite is on the horizon, at least. When the Girl goes on maternity leave in the fall, we are moving to Wisconsin for 6+ months. She'll work on her PhD with the UW eye people; I'll be done with fellowship and will freelance at odd jobs. It's certainly something to look forward to: imagine being close to the kids, working less but for more money, while living in an exciting new place (Madison, where I have never lived, but where the Girl went to college). This coincides beautifully with Natali's forced return to La Crosse. For the unlikely reader unfamiliar with Wisconsin's layout, it's about a two-hour drive from La Crosse to Madison. A cross-country trek by Danish standards; a well-deserved chance to catch up on some NPR by American.

Perhaps I wil get some sleep tonight and enjoy my post-call day with the Girl and Natali. Our poxed son is still with his grandmother, so the three of us shall form a tight unit and find a Christmas tree. It will be me and my two wives, all of us losing weight from the walking and the emesis.

December running log

1: 10 miles around Old Key west. Some decent fartleks.
3: 8 miles to the convention center and back. Horrible Orlando!
5: 8 miles around Orlando
6: 4 miles on the treadmill
7: 10 miles of fartleks around some residential areas in Orlando.
10: 3 perimeter loops in the snow. Tired legs
12: Two hours slow with the Girl. 20 minutes tempo around Buddinge/Bagsværd. Felt zippy.
14: 3 Perimeter loops, preceded by dropping Natali off at school. Slippery trails, but decent legs
17: It was supposed to be 8X800m on the treadmill but I quit after 6. It was hot. I gotta get used to it. First 4, including 200m jogs in 15:04. Pace probably around 5:45 and felt terrible.
20: Two tennis court loops (10K?) tempo. Started rusty; finished strong.
23: 6K jog in the snow around Bagsværd.
26: 8Kish tempo in the snow along freeway trail.
27: 12K on the treadmill. "4x800" in 14:56. Description: 200m@12.5kph, then 800 fast. Repeat four times. Feeling surprisingly peppy.
29: 10K on the treadmill. "4x800" in 14:50. Ok legs.
31: New Year Social Marathon with the Girl. Not exactly too social, as we got left in the dust by the group. Nearly half the field dropped back and I'm sure a few got lost.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Crazy trip

My last two weeks have been a little out of the ordinary.

We flew in for a wonderful Thanksgiving. That day turned out to be the most relaxing day of the whole trip.

Then I worked the whole weekend in the ER. It was moderately busy, but no one was seriously ill. I only shipped one lady out and admitted three, so that was probably below average.

I love working there. It's the exact opposite of the ivory tower medicine I practice every day, and I miss the general medicine stuff more than most of my colleagues. The fact that anything may roll in to the ER is unnerving, no doubt, but at the same time it's refreshing. It's increasingly obvious to me that my dream job would be that of a community hematologist, with an amount of general internal medicine thrown in. Hematology is such a specialized field that one almost has to work in a large center to see exclusively hematology, and I'm not sure that appeals to me. Some do combined hematology and oncology, which I won't be able to do unless I get trained in oncology, too.

We flew to Florida and Disney World. We were there two years ago and the kids loved it. I arrived two years ago, convinced I would hate it. I expected a fake, tacky plastic world full of fat people waiting in lines. And, of course, that's what Disney World is. Still, I ended up having a great time and looked forward to coming back. The second time wasn't as good as the first, but it was still a very good time. We visited EPCOT, Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, and they all had their own charm. After the first day, the whole family glided smoothly through the parks with a shared purpose of having fun.

My son, Andreas, sees me as a fun guy who shows up every few months. He had a good time in Disney World, and he opened up a little bit to me on a few occasions. We will live away from him for another year, but at least there is an end to it. He is generally doing better in school than I have feared, but he has behavioral problems. I do wonder if he has a bit of ADD, and his teachers have voiced concerns about that, too. I need to get back in his life.

Suddenly, one night, I had to leave for my convention. We had gotten into a mode of riding Disney shuttles, racing to pools, and playing loud games in our condo. And from one moment to the next, I had to leave. Natali was crying and Andreas went into quiet beyond-reach mode. The taxi came quicker than I expected, and I had to leave a house full of wailing chaos.

So there I was, at the hematology convention, wearing a suit and talking about lymphomas with other hematologists, knowing the Girl and the kids were just a few miles away.

I want to describe Orlando. Partly because Orlando is a horrible place that deserves mention, but partly because I realize that my fellow Danish convention-goers think of Orlando as America. What a terrible place to live! Everything seems so unsustainable and fake. There are beautiful sidewalks that meander through flower beds and palm trees. They end suddenly, at arbitrary spots and are clearly built for people to look at through car windows. It's not possible to walk anywhere; I had to break several laws to find my way on foot to the convention center.

The grass is unnaturally green, and if one runs on it, it feels fake. It's watered several times a day, making it thicker than grass should be. If one runs on it, it's apparent that there is no normal soil underneath. It grows on some kind of rubber mesh. The grass is made to be admired from a car.

Orlando has a strip, akin to the Las Vegas strip, of hotels and restaurants. Universal Studios and Seaworld lie at opposite ends of this strip. Everything is manicured beautifully, and a trolley reminiscent of Europe or San Francisco will take you up and down the strip. But when one looks behind that row of glitzy hotels, there is nothing. Just abandoned lots and fences and, beyond them, an unhealthy-looking swamp.

And the people. The convention-goers all praise the service level here. I am struck by how unfair it all is. It's hard not to notice how everyone in a menial job is black or Hispanic. Every white person appears wealthy, thin and aloof. Every Hispanic, and I mean every adult person to the man or woman, is obese. There are restaurants so exquisite they import the entire waiting staff from Italy, while the people who actually live here eat mostly fast food.

Okay, so I have been away from my routines for two stressful weeks, and it shows in the above post. But I stand by the general sentiment. I hate Orlando.