Thursday, December 8, 2011

St. Jude Memphis Half Marathon Recap

This past weekend, three of my bests and I rendezvoused in Memphis to complete the St. Jude Half Marathon.  The twins, Julianne and Alyssa, flew into Nashville Friday where we grabbed some quick lunch and made the drive west.  We arrived and quickly headed to check out the expo.  Luckily our local friend, Erin had braved the crowds and picked up our bibs and shirts earlier in the day.  The expo was less than exciting so we left in favor of a very delicious dinner of homemade pizza and pasta.  {my favorite part of half marathons is a tie between tapering and carb loading}  The girls got to work creating our race shirts while the boys sneakily made some race-support posters.  It was a fun night and we tucked ourselves into bed early in preparation for Saturday.

how cute are we?
Saturday morning, we woke up early, prepped ourselves with much needed breakfast and caffeine and excitedly saw the temperature was much higher than we initially expected (upper 40s, lower 50s).  We got dressed in our new shirts and took a few pre-race pictures before the boys dropped us off near the start line. 

signs of support
Luckily, I rescued some old shirts from Mike's Goodwill pile to keep us warm until the start!

stylin but warm

The time passed quickly as we waited.  A little girl from St. Jude sang the national anthem and left everyone in tears.  Suddenly, my knee pain that had kept me away from running for the last 2 weeks seemed like a minor battle.  I realized this race was for something more important than a personal accomplishment- we were here to run for a reason much bigger than ourselves.  From that point on, I was determined to keep that fact in mind and get past whatever pain I might experience. 

The four of us lined up together and cheered as we crossed the start line as a group.  We stuck together for the first mile before E and I wished J&A luck and sent them on their speedy way.  The first few miles were exciting as we ran along the Mississippi River, by the pyramid, and up the infamous Beale street. 
twin sighting!
At mile 5 we ran through the St. Jude campus.  The crowds along this stretch were beyond amazing.  Hundreds of patients, families, and others were lining the roads with cowbells, yells, and signs that said thank you. There were so many pictures of tiny patients held by families thanking us for helping to save their lives.  The cheers were almost deafening and my tears were unavoidable.  As we ran past the last of this crowd, I told Erin that that was easily the best mile I've ever run. 

The course calmed down a bit after that as we ran along tree-lined streets with adorable old southern houses.  It was around mile 6 my knee pain reared its ugly head.  I slowed briefly to rub some numbing creme and crossed my fingers.  Before I knew it we saw the boys for the first time and got to see their sign creations.  I was super impressed by their awesomeness!  So fun!  I stole a bag of delicious orange slices (best race food ever) and some water and took off again. {Many thanks to M&P for their support... nothing like seeing a friendly face for support when you're exhausted}

I saw a sign that said "Keep running, blisters never need chemo" and the message stuck with me for the next 6-7 miles.  My knee pain was off and on for the rest of the race and Erin joined the knee problem club somewhere along the way.  Miles 8-10 were through Overton Park- a landmark I know as the place my running partner was engaged!  The roads were definitely not my favorite as they had little fan support and were pretty uneven.  These miles are usually the toughest for me mentally as I have lost my initial enthusiasm and am still too far from the end to get excited about it. 

there was a HUGE team for a little boy named Jake... we saw tons of shirts and signs.  funny coincidence!
As soon as we exited the park, we found the boys for a second time.  We didn't slow too much this time (at this point stopping makes it way too hard to get going again!) but gave them a thumbs up and kept on going.  E hit her "wall" around this time (I think the comments were along the lines of "I'm going to die" on repeat).  I've been there many, many times and it helped me to ignore my own feelings of I'm going to die self doubt as I focused on promising her it would get better (total lies... hope she forgives me!).

only a 5k to go

The last two miles went quickly and before I knew it I was crossing onto the track made of... GRAVEL.  Really?  Who thinks it's a good idea to put slippery rocks for the last 0.1 of the 13.1?  Terrible idea.  I struggled to stay upright for the last little bit and lost Erin (by 8 seconds!) crossing the finish at 2:03.  I was SO happy to give Erin a giant hug and get our medals together.  The twins (with an awesome finish time of 1:46) quickly found us and we had our mini YAY moments before Alyssa (yay for her first half too!) smartly whisked us off to the medic booth for some much needed ice.  We met up with the boys for some congratulatory hugs and pictures and headed home for warmth, snacks, and showers.  The rest of our weekend in Memphis was very fun and full of trying to replenish the calories we burned (plus a few more) but I'll have to steal pics from someone else to share.
Running St. Jude was so much fun.  I cannot recommend this race enough to any runners out there.  I am absolutely looking forward to Dec 1 2012.  The course is a good one- scenic with enough rolling hills to be a little challenging.  The race support is amazing.  And the cause is one of the greatest reasons you could possibly find to run for (even if I am a little biased by my love for St. Jude). 

love you girls!
I've now run two halves with my husband, one by myself, and one with my best friends.  I went into that morning wondering if my knee would hold up for a whole mile and ended up running a strong race and finishing with a time I'm proud of.  Plus, I got to accompany a great friend on her first half and celebrate with two more.  Sappy, huh? I guess this race got to my emotions a little...  I'm now listening to my legs and taking a mini break from running and racing (though my sanity may hate me for it) but as every race does, this one pulled me back in to racing and left me with a desire for another 13.1...

showing off our support signs

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Our Little Thanksgiving

Due to my work schedule, Hubs and I ended up tied to Nashville for the Thanksgiving holiday.  While we were obviously sad to miss out on the time with our families, we were excited to cook our first Thanksgiving meal.  I collected a bunch of recipes for the classics (mostly from Pioneer Woman) and bought an absurd number of groceries for two.  We had so much fun making all of the food together and enjoyed every bite.

I wanted to share a few pictures of the "fall" decorations I made for our house.

fall mantle

felt flowers on the wreath

give thanks banner

yarn wrapped H

front door wreath
The decorations were a bit of work but kept me busy while M was out of town for his job training.  I love the way they all turned out!

Two more random pics... 

our thanksgiving spread- yum!
tired from their turkey scraps ;)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Murfreesboro Middle Half Marathon Recap

As you might recall from my recap of the Country Music Marathon, I signed up to run my third half marathon on October 15th.  After the last race kicked my butt, I was looking for a little redemption.

The date of the race promised beautiful weather, but training in the summer was less than ideal and resulted in a very abbreviated training plan of about 8 weeks.  I ran only 2-3 days a week and completed just two 9-mile runs in the weeks leading up to the race.  I was nervous about my lack of preparation but encouraged by the forecast and the promise of a flat course.

Race morning arrived without my normal pre-race/pre-long run jitters.  We made it to Murfreesboro without too much trouble (after ditching the traffic line to the parking lot and walking the rest of the way).  Mike took a pre-race picture right as the sun rose and wished me good luck and I headed to the start line.  There were no wave starts or corrals so I found the 2 hour pace sign and smooshed myself into the crowd. 

The singing of the national anthem brought tears to my eyes as usual.  Nerves kicked in at the realization that I was on my own for this 13.1-  No husband to lean on if I got to the "omg please someone shoot me" stage.

The start horn came pretty quickly and I was off to weave through all the crazy people who lined up with the 9 min/mile pace but were actually running a 15 minute pace (why does this always happen?).  Eventually, I got in a groove at a comfortable pace and was happy to see my Garmin reading around 8:45.

One setback occurred in the first 2 miles of the race.  We were running down a neighborhood road when a whole bunch of runners came at us from a side street and informed everyone we'd gone the wrong way.  Police had accidentally blocked the correct path and sent us all down a few more streets.  This explained why I didn't see Mike cheering at the spot we'd planned.  It was pretty disheartening for me as I had a goal of breaking 2 hours and the half mile detour would be enough to put this out of reach.  I quickly made up my mind to just take my Garmin time for 13.1 and kept on running.

The first half of the course was really neat consisting of lots of neighborhood roads, out and backs along college campuses and by town landmarks, and a loop through their historic downtown complete with an amazing pumpkin display.  I saw Mike around miles 3 and 6 and was always happy to report to him that my pace was on track to break 2:00 and that I was still feeling great!

little kid high-fives are my favorite

The last 6 or so miles were less than exciting (though still perfectly flat) as we followed a pretty major highway for forever.  It was long and straight and had a lot less spectators than earlier portions.  Luckily, I was still feeling great and focused on seeing Mike at mile 10 and then on making it to the finish line. 

I had a mini celebration dance (in my mind, don't worry) when my watch signaled 13.1 at 1:58.  I would have happily stopped there but I could see the turn coming up for the finish and just kept running. 

Finishing on the track

I was beyond thrilled just to have completed the race on my own and never to have hit the "wall" I've encountered in the past.  It was even more exciting when the official (adjusted) chip time was posted at 1:58:48, right at a 9 minute mile. 

fruit tastes so good after a long run

Can't believe one month from today I'll be back at it... this time with three of my best friends!!  yay!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Hoover Hope Ride

Ever since M fell in love with road biking 2 years ago, he has been trying to convince me to join him.  I was never crazy about the thought of riding a bike on the road as I don't trust myself or drivers, so I resisted.  Recently, however, he began doing his tri training rides at Natchez Trace which is a 444-mile scenic drive that is super popular for bikers and has very limited traffic (the few cars you see are usually toting road bikes themselves).  We rented a bike one weekend for me to try out and after my first ride, I was hooked.  It was a better workout than I expected, not as scary as I feared, and had the beautiful benefit of being impact free (my shins and hips thanked me). After driving all over Nashville and testing out lots of bikes, we found one we both agreed on and I became the newest owner of a road bike!


Not long after my purchase, I discovered a road bike race a little south of us and set my goal on doing the 20 mile portion.  I convinced Mike and two of the guys I work with to do the 40 mile option.  I was a little nervous as it was only my third time on my bike and definitely my first time with that distance. 

The morning arrived and was absolutely beautiful: zero clouds, blue skies, and crisp temperatures.  The race took place near Arrington vineyards (those of you who have been will probably remember how gorgeous the scenery out there is).  I was super scared getting started in such a big group and trying to get my feet into the cage pedals but, once we got going, it was great.  M and I stayed together for the first 3.5 miles before splitting off on our respective courses. 

There weren't too many people on the 20 mile course and I was usually by myself.  I learned two things about rural Tennessee: it's super pretty and contains super hills.  Some of the hills were crazy but it was overall pretty reasonable.  {I'm not sure that M would say his course was reasonable- he equated his to the Swiss Alps.}

I finished up the ride fairly painlessly and waited around for the boys to get done.  I met some of the organizers of the event as well as the mom of the boy who the foundation is in honor of.  The foundation was created to raise money for pediatric cancer research after Liam Hoover lost his battle with brain cancer.  They have hosted a 5k run for 7 years and this was the first year for the bike ride.  It was a great event for a great cause and I'll definitely be marking my calendar for next years... maybe even for a longer distance!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

What I've been up to: Residency, first rotation

Last week marked the end of the twelve weeks I spent in my first rotation as a resident.  Because radiation therapy is not something you would necessarily have any knowledge of without having actually experienced it yourself, I get a number of questions like "what exactly do you do?"  It's been a long time since I last posted about what goes on in grad school (and things have changed quite a bit) so I figured I'd give it a whirl.  As is true with any person's specialty, it's hard to adequately explain the ins and outs with a brief description (without boring you completely) but I can attempt to elaborate on the questions I typically get from Mike. 

Radiation therapy is used predominately to treat cancer and usually in some combination with chemo and/or surgery.  The two major ways of delivering radiation are through external beam (ie. with a linear accelerator) or brachytherapy (implanting tiny radioactive seeds directly to the site of the tumor).  In our clinic, we have four linear accelerators (linac for short).

this is one of the linacs we have- radiation shoots out of the yellow circle source
The best way to think of these how these machines deliver radiation is to equate it to getting a diagnostic x-ray (ie. for a broken leg)- the difference being the energy of the beam in a typical x-ray is around 100 kilo(=thousand)volts while our machines deliver x-rays between 6 and 18 mega(=million)volts.  Our linacs treat with either high energy x-rays (referred to as photons) or electrons of various energies.  The machine can rotate 360 degrees and the table rotates around as well.  This allows us to shoot the beam of radiation through the patient at pretty much any angle.

The normal course of events is as follows:  The patient comes to the clinic and undergoes a CT scan.  The physicist will "fuse" any other scans the patient has had such as a PET scan or MRI.   This allows us to combine or overlay the two scans so we can determine the location of the tumor that might not be visible on a CT scan.

first image: PET scan, second: CT scan, third: PET-CT fusion- Bright area indicates location of disease source

The physicist and/or MD will contour (basically color in 3-D) the major organs in the treatment area.

organ contours source
The radiation oncologist will contour the tumor volumes and supply us with a prescription dose of radiation to deliver to the site.  Along with this, we have a list of radiation dose limits that the healthy tissues and organs can tolerate.

At this time, the physicist takes over and does the bulk of our work: treatment planning.  The idea is to use our treatment planning software to experiment with different radiation beam angles, energies, and techniques to design a plan that delivers the maximum amount of dose to the tumor while limiting the dose to all of the healthy tissues.

one of my treatment plans for a brain cancer case
Radiation effects from treating healthy organs can be acute (ie. radiating the bowel causing GI symptoms) or long term (possibly inducing secondary cancers) so limiting their dose is extremely important.  Using multiple beams at different angles is the most obvious way to make this happen.  By intersecting the beams at the tumor site, low radiation doses are spread out over more normal tissue and the cumulative dose in the tumor is greater.

six beams to treat the prostate at center source

Once the treatment plan meets the goals (or gets as close as possible), we present the plan to the radiation oncologist for approval.  Finally, the plans are exported to the linac consoles so that the radiation therapists can treat the patients.

plan for treating a lung cancer

Patients are generally treated once a day for several days (traditionally ranging from 10 to 44 treatments).  The idea behind this is to allow the normal tissue some time to recover between each treatment.  Normal tissue recovers more quickly from radiation and will partially heal itself between treatments while the cancerous tissues do not experience this same recovery.

The rotation I just completed was IMRT/Rapid Arc.  These are two special techniques used to allow us to better spare dose to normal tissue.  A conventional treatment can treat with any size box or rectangle.  The IMRT technique makes use of the set of 120 "leaves" inside the linac.  These leaves are 5 mm wide lead blocks that each move independently (and very quickly) across the radiation field while the beam is on to selectively block out and treat desired areas. 

this is a snapshot of the treatment- blue lines indicate the leaf position at this point in time, yellow box jagged outline indicates the starting and ending position of the leaves
Rapid Arc is similar to IMRT except that instead of treating several angles, the radiation remains on while the machine rotates and the leaves move.
two 180-degree rapid arc fields
If there's any chance you haven't given up on this blog post yet and are still reading (haha), hopefully that gave you some insight into what I do without boring you to tears!

ellie's opinion of this post

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Currahee Challenge

Last weekend we made a trip to my bro's (Alex and T) in Georgia for a little running and a lot of visiting.  A had told us about a run in nearby Toccoa, GA at Currahee Mountain.  Mt. Currahee was used as a training ground for paratroopers in WWII and was the setting for the popular HBO series Band of Brothers. The peak stands at 1735 feet which makes for some pretty challenging climbs.  The paratroopers motto became "3 miles up, 3 miles down" and stands as the race motto today.

We arrived at the mountain early, checked in and fought the cold, upper-40s temperatures as we waited for the race to start.  A&T are the experts at this mountain as they've been running it on weekends and they warned us of steep inclines making up the third mile.

check out my ridiculous trail running shoes. briiight.

The race began with a quick out and back on the road (added to make the distance a full 10k) before starting UP the mountain.  The first two miles were pretty steep rolling hills with plenty of ups and downs.  As warned, mile three was suuuper intense and rounding each curve just gave sight to another crazy hill.  I often felt as though I were running in place and glances at my Garmin confirmed these feelings.


really up

almost there
I was beyond thrilled to make it to the peak.  The views up top were amazing!


Coming back down was awesome.  I felt like I was flying on the steep declines (which is rare feeling for me as I'm usually a "slow and steady" runner).  Unfortunately, those pretty rolling hills on the way up made for some challenging moments on my tired legs on the way back.  Crossing the finish line was a great feeling, especially because I was only 3 minutes behind my speedy husband!  The time for my 10K was 1:03 which placed me fourth in my age group and seventh female overall. 

A finishing- he never stopped to walk- ridiculous!

I absolutely loved my first experience with trail running.  The gorgeous scenes, relaxed atmosphere and new type of challenge all appealed to me.  I'm already finding new trail races to sign up for!