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Shamrock or Bust!

The date for the Shamrock Marathon is quickly approaching and I, for one, am glad!  My life has been so singularly focused over the past eleven weeks.  Eat, sleep, work and RUN!  This past weekend I conquered more miles than I had ever run in my life-eighteen to be exact.  The weather wasn’t perfect but it was far better than the previous weekend’s high of twenty degrees.  The icy mist and gray Saturday morning sky was enough to put  a damper on even the most zealous of wanna be marathoners we arrived at our designate meeting spot just in time to get the low down on the route and  the strategically placed watering spots and we were off. As usual, the first ten miles or so the conversation was brimming with stories of children, spouses, current events.  The uniform echo of our running shoes soon became the only sound to be heard as we all settled in to face the miles ahead. As mile twelve, thirteen and then fourteen churned by I began to wrestle with my motivation, my reason for being in this place on this day.  Did I have it in me to keep going.  My feet slowly began to feel heavier and heavier, each step a labor of not only strength but willpower as well.  My husband turned around quickly and reminded me not to shuffle my feet. This soon became my mantra…strike, roll and carry through.  I repeated this phrase time and time again as mile sixteen and seventeen rolled by.  Before I knew it, mile eighteen was looming in the distance.  The pack that I had been running with had thinned out-two runners ahead and two behind. At that moment, the sun forced its way through a cloud and its steady warmth rejuvinated my soul as well as my spirit.  I picked up the pace a bit, sure that anyone who saw me would think I was the village idiot that had escaped for the day to run through the city streets.  My hair was matted to my head with sweat and my nose was running faster than I could ever hope to and a smile so big that I couldn’t force it away even if I has wanted to.  And that, my friends, is the way to spend a chilly January Saturday morning!


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since I was relegated to an air cast and had to totally stop running in order to heal a stress fracture.  Luckily, I went to the doctor early and the diagnosis was good so I am just counting the days until I can try to run again.  Meanwhile, I have been doing some cycling classes at my local gym.  The problem being,however, that there are no classes for early birds like me.  Solution:  I stumbled on a site called IAmplify and can download cycling workouts on my Ipod.  The instructor is Matthew Reyes, apparantly well know in the Brentwood, California area where he teaches “a star-studded clientele”-wow, think of it.  Me, a West Virginia born gal being trained by the same man who works with “star-studded clientele”-hee,hee!

Anyway, his workouts have kept me going and I am still steadily plugging away at it, trying not to lose too much ground while I wait for the okay to run again. 

Today I was feeling a bit adventurous and decided to try my hand at swimming laps at the gym.  It wasn’t like I had never swam before; I took the mandatory lessons as a kid (even though my father is deathly afraid of the water and we almost never went swimming) and worked my way up to the “advanced” class.  Hmm-how many years ago was that?  I started out with a 30 minute cycle ride with Matthew (he took time away from Brentwood just for me!) and then headed to the shower, changed to my suit and off I go-dove right in, I did!  Yikes-the words “heated pool” obviously mean something entirely different to the staff at my American Family than it does to me.  The chill caught me off guard and it took me a little while to make up my mind to follow it through.  “How far should I swim?” I pondered, looking down the lane.  I had no idea how far one length of the pool was so I decided that ten laps sounded like a good number.  Donning my newly purchased goggles, I pushed off and set out for my first official lap in I don’t know how many years.  I made it down once and touched the wall, stopped to choke and gasp for breath, adjust my goggles and look around.  Nobody saw that-good stuff.  Maybe I will just run back to the other wall and see how that goes.  So I did; walk a lap, choke and swim a lap, walk a lap, choke and swim a lap.  Meanwhile, an older woman climbs into the lane beside me and glides effortlessly past, making it looks like child’s play.  BITCH!  But I stuck with it-run, swim and choke, walk, swim and choke. 

As I hauled myself out of the pool at the end of the 10th lap I began to doubt my sanity.  What drives me to do this?  Will I be fool enough to try again?

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This may seem random, given this blog is generally about health and fitness but bare with me and I will make the connection.  Having been born in Huntington, WVA and leaving the area in 1987, I have never been what I would call “proud” of my home town.  In fact, just the opposite.  I couldn’t wait to leave the dismal, gray, poverty stricken area and find out what else was out there in the world. I have been gone since 1987 and, although I return home for family visits, I can honestly say I have never missed the area.  Today, never more so.  I log on to Comcast to check my e-mail and there was a tagline that caught my eye: “America’s Fatest City.”  Here is what is said:

W. Virginia town shrugs at poorest health ranking

Ashley Potter, at left, an Exercise Physiologist with the H.E.A.R.T. Champions program at …

Sun Nov 16, 5:29 PM EST

As a portly woman plodded ahead of him on the sidewalk, the obese mayor of America’s fattest and unhealthiest city explained why health is not a big local issue.

“It doesn’t come up,” said David Felinton, 5-foot-9 and 233 pounds, as he walked toward City Hall one recent morning. “We’ve got a lot of economic challenges here in Huntington. That’s usually the focus.”

Huntington’s economy has withered, its poverty rate is worse than the national average, and vagrants haunt a downtown riverfront park. But this city’s financial woes are not nearly as bad as its health.

Nearly half the adults in Huntington’s five-county metropolitan area are obese — an astounding percentage, far bigger than the national average in a country with a well-known weight problem.

Huntington leads in a half-dozen other illness measures, too, including heart disease and diabetes. It’s even tops in the percentage of elderly people who have lost all their teeth (half of them have).

It’s a sad situation, and a potential harbinger of what will happen to other U.S. communities, said Ken Thorpe, an Emory University health policy professor who is working with West Virginia officials on health reform legislation.

“They may be at the very top, but obesity and diabetes trends are very similar” in many other communities, particularly in the South, Thorpe said.

The Huntington area’s health problems, cited in a U.S. health report, are a terrible distinction for the city, but the locals barely talk about it. Many don’t even know how poorly the city ranks.

Culture and history are at least part of the problem, health officials say.

This city on the Ohio River is surrounded by Appalachia’s thinly populated hills. It has long been a blue-collar, white-skinned community — overwhelmingly people of English, Irish and German ancestry.

For decades, Huntington thrived with the coal mines to its south, as barges, trucks and trains loaded with the black fuel continually chugged into and past the city. There were plenty of manufacturing jobs in the chemical industry and in glassworks, steel and locomotive parts. Nearly 90,000 people lived in the city in 1950.

The traditional diet was heavy with fried foods, salt, gravy, sauces, and fattier meats — dense with calories burnt off through manual labor. Obesity was not a worry then. Workplace injuries were.

But as the coal industry modernized and the economy changed, manufacturing jobs left. The city’s population is now fewer than 50,000, and chronic diseases — many of them connected to obesity — seem much more common.

Shari Wiley is a nurse at St. Mary’s Regional Heart Institute in Huntington. She runs a program that identifies heavy school children and tries to teach them better eating and exercise habits. The effort began because of an alarming trend.

“A lot of the patients we were seeing were getting heart attacks in their 30s. They were requiring open heart surgery in their 30s. And we were concerned because it used to be you wouldn’t see heart patients come in until they were in their 50s,” Wiley said.

The Huntington area is essentially tied with a few other metro areas for proportion of people who don’t exercise (31 percent), have heart disease (22 percent) and diabetes (13 percent). The smoking rate is pretty high, too, although not the worst.

However, the region is a clear-cut leader in dental problems, with nearly half the people age 65 and older saying they have lost all their natural teeth. And no other metro area comes close to Huntington’s adult obesity rate, according to the report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on data from 2006.

Perhaps fittingly, hospitals are now Huntington’s largest employers. Another is Marshall University, home of the “Thundering Herd” football team depicted in the 2006 film “We Are Marshall” which dominates local sports conversations.

The river runs along the edge of town, but it’s not a focal point. Marshall and one of the city’s remaining factories sit to the east with several blocks of hotels and office buildings farther west. A new complex called Pullman Square — which includes a movie theater and a Starbucks — is trying to become a retail and dining center and illustrates a transition to a service economy.

The area’s unemployment rate was about 5 percent in September, actually a bit better than the 6.1 percent national average that month. But often the jobs are not high-paying. Many workers lack health insurance, and corporate wellness programs — common at large national companies — are rare.

Poverty hovers, with the area rate at 19 percent, much higher than the national average. In the hilly coal fields to the South, people still live in houses or trailers with drooping, battered roofs. They stare hard at any stranger in a new car. In Huntington and its outskirts, many people think of exercise and healthy eating as luxuries.

The economy needs to pick up “so people can afford to get healthy,” said Ronnie Adkins, 67, a retired policeman, as he sat one recent morning on the smoking porch of the Jolly Pirate Donuts shop on U.S. 60.

Doughnut shops don’t help either, of course. But breakfast pastry shops aren’t the most common outlets for fatty food. Pizza joints are. They are seemingly on every block in some parts of the city. The online Yellow Pages lists more pizza places (nearly 200) for the Huntington area than the entire state of West Virginia has gyms and health clubs (149).

Hot dog places also abound, with the city hosting an annual hot dog festival every summer. “I’ve never seen so many places that are hot dog oriented. I guess it’s a cultural thing. Appalachian,” said Mayor Felinton, who grew up in Maryland and moved to Huntington to attend Marshall University and stayed put.

Fast food has become a staple, with many residents convinced they can’t afford to buy healthier foods, said Keri Kennedy, manager of the state health department’s Office of Healthy Lifestyles.

Kennedy said she had just seen a commercial that presented “The KFC $10 Challenge.” The fried-chicken chain placed a family in a grocery store and challenged them to put together a dinner for $10 or less that was comparable to KFC’s seven-piece, $9.99 value meal.

“This is what we’re up against,” said Kennedy, noting it’s an extremely persuasive ad for a low-income family that is accustomed to fried foods. “I don’t know what you do to counter that.”

Lack of exercise is another concern. During a warm and sunny autumn week in Huntington — the kind of weather that would bring out small armies of joggers in some cities — it was unusual to see a runner or bicyclist. The exercise that does occur is mostly confined to a local YMCA, at campus recreation facilities at Marshall, or at Ritter Park in a tony neighborhood south of downtown.

Some attribute the problem to crumbling sidewalks in the city and a lack of walkways along busy rural roads. Others blame it on lack of motivation, as well as a cultural attitude that never included exercise for health.

There’s a connection between education and lack of exercise, too, said Dr. Thomas Dannals, a Huntington family physician.

“The undereducated don’t know the value of it. They don’t have the drive for it. There’s a reason you’re successful, you’ve got drive. The same is true for exercise,” said Dannals.

Dannals has been trying to change cultural attitudes. The local newspaper has called him “an exercise evangelist” for founding the city’s triathlon, marathon and other projects designed to make exercise popular and fun. He’s also spearheading a riverfront exercise trail project, called the Paul Ambrose Trail for Health (PATH).

Ambrose was a Huntington physician who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, jet that crashed into the Pentagon. Just before he died, he had been working on a U.S. Surgeon General report on obesity, and was on the plane that morning to attend an adolescent obesity conference in Los Angeles.

But the PATH project, first proposed more than a year ago, has yet to win the necessary funding. The lack of support is not surprising: Dannals can’t even get a company to sponsor the Huntington marathon.

Local politicians tend to be equally tepid about improving health, said Dr. Harry Tweel, director of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department.

Smoking — a common sin in West Virginia — has been hard to control, Tweel said. When the health department tried to restrict smoking in local bars and restaurants, a group of local businesses fought it all the way to the state Supreme Court. (The restrictions were upheld in 2003.) Even hospitals have fought smoking restrictions in the past, Tweel said.

Other communities have taken more ambitious steps to control the amount of fat in local restaurant food. In July, the Los Angeles City Council placed a moratorium on new fast food restaurants in an impoverished area of the city with above-average rates of obesity. In 2006, New York City became the first U.S. city to ban artificial trans fats in restaurant foods. Other cities are considering similar measures.

Forget it, Tweel said. Not in Huntington.

“You’re mentioning areas (of the country) that are well beyond this local region in accepting that kind of change,” said Tweel.

“People here have an attitude of ‘You’re not going to tell me what I can eat.’ The cultural attitude is ‘My parents ate that and my grandparents ate that,'” he said.

Mayor Felinton echoed Tweel. Felinton had stomach surgery last year to help him lose weight and has been walking to work about three days a week. He has shed nearly 80 pounds and became sort of a local poster boy for weight loss. But in the midst of a re-election campaign last month, he said he had no plans to plunge into a fight over fat in restaurants.

“We want as much business as we can have here,” said Felinton, who lost his recent re-election bid and leaves office in January. “As many restaurants as you have, it kind of enhances the livability. Maybe not the health.”

To be fair, most people in Huntington don’t seem to be aware of how poorly their city looks in national health statistics.

The latest numbers came from the CDC report, released in August, but little-publicized. It was based on survey data from 2006, comparing about 150 metropolitan areas. The Huntington area includes five counties — two in West Virginia, two in Kentucky and one in Ohio.

Of the 40 Huntington-area residents interviewed for this story, many had heard something about West Virginia being one of the unhealthiest states. But only one — Tweel — knew about the latest report showing how bad Huntington compared with other metro areas.

Some doctors, on hearing the statistics, noted the Huntington area is not in such bad shape by West Virginia standards. A recent state study found that health problems are significantly worse in the more rural coal counties to the south. But those places didn’t show up in the CDC report, because they were too small.

Still, Huntington is an unusually obese place, said Dr. John Walden, chairman of the family and community health department at Marshall University’s medical school.

Walden is a third generation physician in the area, but he’s also traveled extensively around the world. He says it’s always a little jolting coming home and realizing how obese his hometown is compared to the rest of the world.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever been in a place where I’ve seen so many overweight people,” he said.

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Cycle Mamma

Meez 3D avatar avatars games

Cycling Class Anyone? After tomorrow's visit to the doctor, I may be confined to this form of exercise only!

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Well, getting old just plain sucks!  If that is a little too harsh for your taste, sorry-don’t read on.  The truth of the matter is that in just a few weeks the Sun Trust Marathon will be happening and I had been hoping to run the half marathon portion of it right along with my hubby.  A setback in late August  (skin cancer removed from behind my right leg resulting in movement restricting stitches) made training impossible for a while and I saw my half marathon goal in November slipping away. 

Bummed but not ready to quit, I sat begrudgingly on the sidelines as the doctor ordered.  (Sort of) When I got the green light, I picked it up again and even did a couple of short races to keep me focused in the interim.  The Run for Read 8K, however, brought to light a problem that I had been dealing with for a while but managing  to “run through it”.  The terrain changes in the 8K made it impossible to ignore and I will be going to the doctor on Wednesday for what I am almost certain will be a diagnosis of stress fracture(s) on both shins.  The pain has stopped me in my tracks!  If the diagnosis holds true and I am out of commission for 8 weeks or more, I am truly going to be deflated and  may call it quits on this whole running thing altogether.

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Crossing the Finish Line

Crossing the Finish Line

Now there’s something I would have never thought that I would spend any brain power on but, after Saturday, I have a new obsession (like I need another one!).  What is up with this:

Saturday morning was my 5K reintroduction into the world of running and I was jazzed.  My goal was to do it in less than 30 minutes and my husband loaned me his birthday Garmin to help me pace myself.  I was accompanied by my huge group of extended family and friends (my 19 year old son, Aaron) and had my I pod ready to jam the three miles away (oops, was I supposed to make sure it was charged?).  I look around and don’t see anyone else from my school’s “team” so I am resigned to do this thing alone, with my dead I pod and the intimidating electronic gadget knows the world over as “The Garmin”.  Who could stop my now?

Just as we are lining up to start I spot a teacher from my school and she spots me. 

 “Oh, I’m so glad someone else from school came!” she says happily and I agree. 

“So, what kind of pace do you keep?” I ask, hoping to find some company since my I pod deserted me in my hour of need.

“I haven’t run in a while, so I think I will stick to a 10 minute pace.” she replies, and before I could respond the gun goes off and 296 of us begin.

I run with her, happy to have found someone to run with but wait….10 minute mile-she is full of crap!  I look down and see the Garmin registering an 8:00 pace.  I knew that I couldn’t maintain that pace throughout the 3.1 miles so I drop back and back and back until the Garmin says 9:31.  Now that more like it for now.  I can vaguely see her blonde pony tail way up in front of me and I decided to forget about her and concentrate on pace-which was easy to do since I didn’t have any music to concentrate on. 

I have to admit, the Garmin was pretty awesome.  It kept my overall time, running pace, and how far I had gone.  I stopped at two watering stations long enough to down a Dixie size cup of H2O (Hal Higdon says that you should stop and walk while you drink it and then start running again) so that’s what I did.  I was feeling pretty good when I looked down and notice that mymy husband’s Garmin says 3.1 miles-but there is no finish line in sight.  How could that be? I look around in a panic, thinking that while I was happily checking the Garmin readout every 10 seconds maybe I had strayed off course, but no, there were other runners still around me. 

When I finally cross the finish line I stop the Garmin and look down-it says I have gone 3.42 miles.  That’s more than a 5K.  What is up with that?  My time reads 32:01 minutes and it says that I kept a 9:21 pace, which is better than I had hoped for and I was happy to have my son at the finish line, cheering me on.

Later in the day I checked the website for race results and, to my dismay, they are reporting a pace and finish time different from the one my Garmin reported.  The chip reports a time of 31:49 and which places me 4th in my age group for women, 17th in my age group for men and women, and 42 overall. My “oh, about a 10 minute pace” friend wins her age group (20-29 I might add!) and has placed in the top 25 overall.  Somebody wasn’t being honest with me, were they?

So now, what do I believe?  My high dollar Garmin who says I ran a 9:21 pace or the chip which says I ran over a 10 minute pace?

For now, I am going with the Garmin.  It makes me feel better about myself and that’s what this is all about for me, feeling better about myself!  Okay, who am I trying to kid-it isn’t all about that.  My mind is already focused on finishing faster, faster, faster so I can show up the teacher who is half my age!

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The Biggest Loser

I have no idea why, but this show really appeals to me.  I got hooked last season and I couldn’t wait until it started this season.  Tonight was episode 2 and I think I have already picked the team that I want to see win; Tom and Tom. Something about this father and son team seems so genuine.  They are trying to fight their way out of a “family” of poor eaters and overweight people.  The opening episode showed them at home with their extended family and they seemed so close to one another-that really appeals to me!

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