31 July 2014

Pithy bitters

There is probably an inverse theorem somewhere which accurately calculates how much one loves the military relative to how much one is dissatisfied with the medical administration of retired personnel.

I had my last approved physical therapy visit today; TriCare has disapproved any continued treatment because "the beneficiary has been in physical therapy for the past 2 [sic] years", "the beneficiary is able to exercise per her own program" and as there is "no new functional loss for which a rehabilitation goal has been established, maintenance therapy and exercises for strength and endurance is excluded from coverage, and the beneficiary has had ample time to learn strengthening exercises, conditions for coverage are not met and the request is denied."
Working on releasing scar adhesions with pressure point therapy;
the ultrasound is not G-rated, so no photos of that! 
Basically, because I can exercise on my own, I must have no need for treatment. The insurance company is completely disregarding the pain management aspect as well as the fact that the purpose of my current PT is the use of electro-laser and ultrasound to break up the abdominal adhesions caused by my daily activities (this was true even before I was able to start running again, which wasn't until last October).

I think I speak for everyone who has on-going rehab/therapy - if I didn't need to go, I most certainly would prefer not to.....I am now going through appeals process to try and get the visits covered; if not, I will be paying out of pocket. That's just how it is; I have gone several times without treatment for several weeks and the end result is significant pain in both my abdomen and back, misalignment and more adhesions.

As I finish this, I have just gotten off the phone with the TriCare call center. So, in addition to submitting an appeal, my PCM also needs to resubmit to try and get approval for treatment using a different diagnosis code. The best line "well, do you know if it's a 625.9 diagnosis code or a 789.00 diagnosis code?" Ummm...no, I don't really, 'cause that's a clinical/medical thing and I didn't make that analysis. Sigh....

Oh, well. These are just the little thorns on the roses of my life. Nonetheless, grateful they bloom in the sun and smell sweetly in the summer air, just have to figure out how not to get stuck, right?


29 July 2014

Just the FAQs

Since some of you may just be joining me here, I thought I would throw out some answers to the most frequently asked questions heard over the course of the first three months of my adventures. First, a summary of me: I am a medically retired Marine Corps officer, a single mom of two little ones and I am raising money for two very worthy organizations: the MARSOC Foundation and the Semper Fi Fund.

Preflight inspection of the rotor head.
  1. What did you do in the Marine Corps? I was a helicopter pilot, transitioning to the MV-22 Osprey platform. (The follow-up query I have heard multiple times: "The Marine Corps has aircraft?")

  2. How long were you in? A little over 11 years.

  3. Did you go over to the Middle East and stuff? Yes.

  4. How did you get injured? You can read all about it here (pt.1) and here (pt.2). Re-telling this story is still not easy for me.

  5. Wow, so it must hurt a lot, still, huh? How do you deal with that? By looking forward, pursuing my goals and continued physical therapy.

  6. How old are you? Old enough to know better and young enough to do it sometimes anyway.

  7. I thought you'd be taller, how tall are you? Apparently, I am not as tall as you think I should be.

  8. But seriously, how much do you weigh, because you don't look big enough to be a Marine? My first reaction to this question is a HIGHLY Marine response, so I just say: Well, I no longer meet the USMC height/weight standards. 

  9. Why ultras and marathons; why not 10Ks or 5Ks? I can run a lot more slowly during an ultra.

  10. Why 1200 miles; does that include racing? I am really only able to run 3-4 times a week, so to average 100 miles per month is an endeavor. No, the 1200 miles does not include the mileage from my races.

  11. What does "Non mihi, sed tibi, gloria" mean? "Glory to thee, not to me." I undertake the physical challenge of the races but the goal is raising awareness of and money for the two organizations and shedding a spotlight on those who overcome much more than I have in their journeys back from injury.

  12. Why the Semper Fi Fund and the MARSOC Foundation?
    Marines and Sailors who are seriously injured, whether in combat or in training, often face a tremendous and lengthy road to recovery, measured not in months but in years. Many of us have read the stories of coming back from such injuries, but what isn't seen or, in my view, well understood, are the costs of that recovery, physical, financial and emotional. While the military does have the medical facilities to treat and assist with a portion of the recovery, they do not provide for extraordinary costs associated with it, and often times, the service member is completely away from their unit and existing support networks. That's where the Semper Fi Fund and MARSOC Foundation come in to play.

    Semper Fi Fund exists to fill the voids - whether assisting with family relocation, specialized equipment, support networks, family assistance, travel assistance, extraordinary expenses and finding a way for those service members to become active again, that's what they do. And they do it incredibly well.

    MARSOC Foundation is smaller, by virtue of its community being a smaller one, and they also provide some of the above, but they also have a slightly, more somber mission - remembrance of those who were lost and assisting the families they leave behind.

    I have several friends who are Semper Fi Fund recipients and a number of friends with MARSOC, and I believe strongly in what both organizations do and how fully they care for our Marines and Sailors and their families. While stories of our troops in combat may not be front page news now, there is inherent danger when training for conflict and even in routine deployment operations, and those men and women will still need assistance in the years to come.

  13. What is important about the Tiger 45 story? Over a year after he was injured, LtCol Bryan Forney is still in San Antonio, TX, recovering, and he is allowing me to share his recovery to raise awareness about what it takes to come back from such a severe injury and the role the fund has played in assisting him and helping his family. (He and I were both helicopter pilots; it's a small community.) There will be other stories as the year progresses.

  14. What is your fundraising goal? In keeping with the 12for12 theme, I would really like to raise $12,000 for each fund. And I don't want people to think that I am asking them for lots of money. It's that adage that lots of little raindrops eventually fill the bucket. I am hoping that people can spare a few rain drops and help me reach my goal. (If you like, you can donate here.)

  15. Why t-shirts? It's another way for people to share the message of the fundraising, have a cool shirt to work out in (or just wear) and to support the foundations - net proceeds from the sales go to the organizations, both of which are 503(c) charitable organizations. (You can purchase a shirt here.)

  16. And here's a freebie - what are two things you don't know about me? I know a ton of songs from musicals and will sing them like Julie Andrews and I have a sense of humor. 

27 July 2014

Two for one: Unexpected things

My alarm sounded at 0545 and again at 0550; I was definitely a little groggy as I trudged to splash cold water on my face. I drew the curtain back and checked the sky; it was overcast, the clouds layered so the rising sun produced a watercolor of dappled grey sky. Coffee time.

I arrived at Quiet Waters Park, the race site, at 0700, and dropped my gear at the start/finish lot before parking a bit further on. I set up my chair, cooler and pulled out the essentials that I knew I would want during the race: IcyHot roll-on, extra socks, extra running shoes and a few towels. I realized I had forgotten my First Aid kit, my duck(t?) tape and my kinesio tape. Hmm.....

Race prep complete, bib and timing chip attached, I heeded the call for the pre-race brief. The Race Director, Mosi Smith, also a Marine veteran, had graciously invited me to run this race and address the racers prior to the start. Once my comments were over, we paused for the National Anthem and then it was off to the start line. (Throughout the race, as I passed racers or was passed, I had many tell me they appreciated my speech and that it gave them a new perspective on what injured Marines go through in their recovery. In addition, there were multiple runners/volunteers supporting the Semper Fi Fund.)
Other SFF runners with Mosi Smith, race director, on the far left.
The course was a 4.1+ loop on soft asphalt, looping over itself in two places, with several decently sharp climbs and descents. The sky remained benevolently cloudy, the temperature at the start was in the low-70s, with humidity hovering in the 60-65% range - a far cry from the 85+ temps and 90% humidity over the last few weeks of my training.

I started off slowly, not having any desire to blow up halfway through and as seems par for my first few races, feeling under-trained. I purposely did not wear a Garmin, only using my Timex to keep overall time. My plan was to stop every two laps, get food/Gatorade/iced tea, use the roller on my legs and then continue on. I had company for the first four laps, during which the lack of my First Aid kit came into play. On the third lap, I felt a rub, then a raw rubbing on the inside ball of my left foot. I glanced down and saw blood seeping out of my shoe. My first thought? "Hmm, well, that was unexpected." I debated stopping and fixing it, but once the initial rubbing subsided, the area didn't bother me, and we continued straight into lap four.
Lap 2 or 3, before the blister... but already totally sweaty
~2:40 into the race, right after fixing the blister.
No, not glistening, totally sweating. 
I took a longer break than intended after lap four, 16.4 miles in, almost 12 minutes lost, because of the broken blister. My fault entirely as I first had to get Band-Aids, then find someone who had duck tape and then dress my foot. As I slid my foot back into my shoe, I realized I hadn't tightened my laces down under the section where my chip attached, hence the slight back and forth which caused the blister. Lesson learned.

If you've ever run, stopped for a period, then started again, you know how I felt heading back out, especially after having had to sit. Lap five was slow, but the funny thing about all these races is that I have been really unconcerned about how fast I am going. I'm seriously and truly simply happy being there, start to finish. I continued on, stopping after lap six again (and the race staff were great, they took my hand held H2O bottle each time I stopped, uncapped it, refilled it and laid it on the table for pick-up, while also checking if I needed a cold cloth on my neck or ice or food).

The clouds had fled by now, the sun was directly overhead and the temperature hit the mid-80s.

I calculated, based on how I was feeling, that I if I could complete two more laps in around 50 minutes per lap, I would have about five minutes left. Once you pass the five-hour mark, the decision becomes, do I take my flag in case I don't make it around all the way? I completed lap seven with 55 minutes left in the race and I steadfastly refused the offer of my flag. I saw Karen F., with whom I had traded places several times during the laps six and seven, just ahead and called to her, asking if she wanted company on the last lap. She asked me why I didn't have my flag. "Because I'm going to make it around with time left," I replied. "You have more faith than I," she said.

We pushed on, calculating when to pick it up, when to ease it off, and keeping an eye on the clock. We crossed the last water stop, and had almost 20 minutes to get back to the start. We pressed, now in the shaded and winding part of the course. Three bridges left, then two, then the last one and then up the hill to the start/finish. The race staff were calling out numbers as we ascended, so flags could be handed. Karen already had hers, I got mine. I paused to take a walk break, to gather my breath; she kept going. I watched her shuffle ahead and got my final legs underneath me and made it another 3/4 of a mile before the horns sounded. I stuck my flag in the grass, and made my way back with the other flag-stickers to the finish.
Done.
No, really, see? Thumbs up, I'm really done.
Karen F. and I at the finish. 
My staging area after the finish -
see my stash of gathered Band-Aids in the hat?
What did my effort today get me? A nice blister and additional perspective on my physical capabilities. 33.54 miles. Hmmm, that was unexpected. Who knew? (Added bonus was my finish, if you're interested: you can see full race results here and or just my stats on the Races & Results page).

Thank you again to the Annapolis Striders for a well-executed and fun race! (Full photo gallery from the race is here.)


24 July 2014

Tiger 45, pt. 3: International MEDEVAC

~1600: The UH-60 lands back at Camp A, and the three injured Marines are transferred to waiting ambulances and then enroute to the closest hospital. Maj Forney makes jokes along the way. The doctors take one look at Maj Forney and immediately say they will be unable to help him. All three Marines return to ambulances and the convoy drives to a second hospital, where the HMM-262(REIN) flight surgeon and an Army doctor meet the ambulances.

The civilian Thai medical team gets to work on Maj Forney; he is so badly burned they cannot find a vein for sedation. But he needs to be intubated and the Thai medical team tries twice before being stopped by the flight surgeon. Maj Forney asks his flight surgeon when he will receive pain medication and the surgeon explains that they cannot get a line into him. Maj Forney then asks if he is going to make it. The flight surgeon replies that he wasn't sure. Maj Forney doesn't remember anything after this point.

The HMM-262(REIN) Commanding Officer (CO) and Sergeant Major get to the hospital; Maj Forney tells them to tell his wife, J., that he is sorry. Maj Forney has no recollection of the conversation.

That night, he is air MEDEVAC'ed to Bangkok in a small jet; it is not configured for medical transport and they remove a fairing from inside the cabin to get Maj Forney's gurney into the plane. The flight surgeon flies with Maj Forney. The CO watches the plane depart.

Meanwhile, in Futenma, Okinawa, Maj Forney's duty station, his wife, J., receives word that a Phrog went down in Thailand; she assumes the missed Skype call by Maj Forney is due to his working the mishap. That night, the CO calls to tell her that the aircraft was Maj Forney's. The CO's wife assists J. with preparations to depart Japan, while other squadron wives arrive to help.  The CO's wife calls military legal personnel to the house to sign POAs and in loco parentis, helps J. pack and a cab arrives to take J. to the airport. Plane tickets are bought on the way to the airport and J. is on the next flight to Singapore. (The Forney's three children remain behind in Okinawa under the care of a rotating group of the squadron CO, MO, and OpsO's wives.)

At the same time, back in the United States, wheels are turning to get Maj Forney to the San Antonio Military Medical Center (SAMMC) at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas. The Burn Flight Team (BFT) from the US Army Institute for Surgical Research is activated; a highly skilled team of doctors, nurses and medical technicians whose job it is to retrieve severely burned military personnel and get them back to the SAMMC Burn Center. They make their way immediately to Singapore via commercial air while a U.S. Air Force C-17 standby MEDEVAC aircraft at Hickham AFB is scrambled to Singapore as well.

21 Feb 13: Maj Forney is transferred again, this time to the Singapore General Hospital Burns Centre in Singapore. The medical team there debrides all his burns and begin skin grafts - they start by removing skin from his calves to place on his chest.

J. arrives in Singapore and is met by a Marine Colonel from the Embassy staff; they take her to the hospital. She can only see her husband's nose; it is the only thing not covered in bandages. The squadron flight surgeon explains the extent of the injuries to J.; Maj Forney has burns over 54% of his body.

22 Feb 13: The BFT arrives in Singapore and begin immediate coordination with the Singapore doctors to transfer Maj Forney back to the States. While some of the skin grafts ultimately fail, it is the work of the Singapore doctors that Maj Forney credits with saving his life and keeping him going long enough to make it back to the SAMMC.







23 Feb 13: The C-17 departs Singapore with Maj Forney under the care of the BFT. J. and the squadron flight surgeon are also aboard. It is a 19-hour flight back to Texas, requiring a mid-air refueling off of a KC-135 out of Kadena AFB, Japan. During the flight, Maj Forney's vitals drop and become weak; the BFT discusses diverting to San Francisco but Maj Forney stabilizes and they press on to Texas. It is the longest Army MEDEVAC flight on record, over 9,850 miles (1).

The BFT tends to Maj Forney during the flight.  
(photo: Staff Sergeant Seth Holland/Army)

The aircraft is met by the Wounded Warrior Battalion East Detachment Officer-in-Charge and assist J. and the flight surgeon while Maj Forney is whisked to the SAMMC, where he is prepped and taken into surgery.

It is just after 1900 on 24 Feb 13.

(to be continued...)


23 July 2014

Tiger 45, pt. 2: Rescue operations

1146: The fire appears at the left side of the engine bay door, and lunges forward toward the cockpit. Both crew chiefs are out of the bird, but one (1CC) is injured and cannot climb free of the boulders and the debris.  The second crew chief (2CC) assists him clear and rushes back toward the cockpit. The co-pilot has regained consciousness and frees herself from her harness but cannot get her door to open. The 2CC appears and removes the rescue door from the outside and she egresses to safety.

1147: The fire is feeding off the fluids leaking from above the cockpit, hydraulics and oils, and debris begins to fall inside the cockpit. Maj Forney’s left arm is useless; he unbuckles his harness and lifts his legs from the crushed console, turning his feet toward the co-pilot’s door, but his helmet is hung up on something. He removes it, but can’t open his rescue door because it is wedged on the rocks. He cannot push himself up and over the central consoles and out. A piece of burning debris falls on Maj Forney’s neck. He looks up and sees the flames working along the cabin ceiling above him.

1148: Maj Forney hears the 2CC calling to him, he yells in response, but the crew chief can’t hear him over the fire. Maj Forney tries to use his left arm and hand to push himself, but the arm doesn't function; the cockpit is filling with smoke. He is running out of oxygen and his shouting grows dimmer. The fire finds Maj Forney; flames attack his flight suit, his arms, and his face.

1149: The 2CC makes one last rush at the co-pilot’s door. He spots Maj Forney’s boots and drags him out of the burning wreckage, smothering whatever flames remain. He is on his back, smoldering, and the co-pilot and 2CC pat him down again, before pulling him further from the savaged aircraft.

1155: The co-pilot scouts the LZ and she and the 2CC pull Maj Forney to the highest, flattest open area on the ridge, less than 200 feet away from the burning wreck, but options are limited. The 2CC assists the 1CC from his egressed position and the crew members assemble around Maj Forney. The co-pilot gets on her radio to call for help. She has no coordinates available as the map is back in the burning aircraft, so Maj Forney tells her their approximate position in relation to checkpoints along a Terrain Flight route in the same training area. He also keeps calling out to his crew to ensure they are there. Within a few minutes, the remaining crew members, who had been at LZ Alpha, scramble up the mountainside and join their fellow Marines at the crash site, including the last crew chief (3CC), who uses his knowledge as a former SERE instructor to assist Maj Forney.

1200??: The crew takes turns giving Maj Forney water from their survival vests and the 3CC directs the remaining crew members to remove their flight suits to create shade to protect Maj Forney's skin from further damage. Maj Forney does not know the extent of the damage to his body and nobody tells him.

The co-pilot reaches a KC-130 (VMGR-152, call sign "Sumo) involved with another aspect of Cobra Gold. She talks them on to their location and they assume duties as the On Scene Commander, circling overhead and relaying information back to Camp Akatosorat (Camp A), where Tiger squadron, HMM-262 (REIN) receives the news and launches another Phrog to their location to assist.

The minutes stretch on waiting for the second Phrog to arrive. Maj Forney keeps asking the 3CC how far out the CASEVAC bird is, the 3CC replies the same way, over and over, "10 minutes, sir, I can hear them in the distance." Maj Forney answers, "Bullshit," every time, but the 3CC keeps lying to him, keeping Maj Forney's spirits up. The Tiger Phrog finally arrives, but given the size and shape of the zone, there is no place to land in the zone, so after dropping water to the downed crew, they land in LZ Alpha and work with Sumo in the overhead and squadron ops back at Camp A to formulate an evacuation plan. Transporting Maj Forney down the mountain to LZ Alpha is untenable due to his injuries.

Meanwhile, an Army company, flying UH-60 helicopters, also based out of Camp A for the exercise, is conducting a VIP flight out west in Ban Dan La Hoi. They are mistakenly told that an Army CH-47 Chinook has gone down east of Phitsanluk.  They divert their flight, return to Camp A, drop their VIP passengers, shuffle their crew to include medical personnel and take off east back in the direction of Tiger 45.

The UH-60 arrives on-scene, but the zone is tight and the wreckage consumes the main landing area; the pilot, CWO2 A. McDonough, lowers his bird along the edge of the zone, placing only his right main wheel on the ridge. He holds the aircraft steady against that wheel, while an Army surgeon, two medics and a pilot, trained as a medic. The UH-60 peels off and also heads overhead to await further instruction. CWO2 McDonough says a prayer that he is able to find a way to land and retrieve the injured Marines and the medical crew.

The medical team starts triage - two medics attend to the 1CC and the co-pilot and the surgeon and medic pilot focus on Maj Forney. He is intensely dehydrated but they have extreme difficulty finding a vein into which to get fluids; they finally settle for a thin line, less than desired, but all they can do and Maj Forney starts receiving fluids. They can do nothing for his other injuries on the mountain, including any true assessment of the extent of the burns or bodily trauma. The surgeon moves on to the other crew members, and the medic pilot remains with Maj Forney. Maj Forney asks him, "Am I going to make it?" The reply, "Yeah, man, you're going to be fine." Maj Forney thinks that the medic pilot is just trying to keep him positive.

When the injured are sufficiently stable, the able-bodied personnel in the zone clear away brush and debris, creating a place for the UH-60 to land. CWO2 McDonough brings the helicopter in, able to just place all three wheels in the makeshift zone. Maj Forney, the 1CC and the co-pilot are loaded onto the aircraft and the UH-60 lifts, direct line to Camp A. where emergency medical teams are awaiting their arrival.
The actual landing to evacuate the Maj Forney, the 1CC and the co-pilot.
CWO2 McDonough returns to the same mountain top two more times
 to retrieve all remaining personnel. 
It is now approximately 1515, three and a half hours after Tiger 45 crashed.


22 July 2014

Tiger 45, pt.1: Mountain area flight

On February 20, 2013, an USMC CH-46E Sea Knight (Phrog) helicopter with HMM-262 (Rein), 31st MEU, crashed northeast of Phitsanulok,Thailand while conducting routine flight operations in support of multilateral exercise Operation Cobra Gold. This is the story of that flight.

Maj. Bryan "Spot" Forney 
Spot has over 2100 hours of flight time in the CH-46E. 

0700: The Operations Duty Officer briefs the day's flight schedule, the co-pilots complete the aircraft weight and balance, ensuring that there was enough power available for the planned mountain area training flight. The flight, call-sign "Tiger 45," is a single-aircraft event, in a CH-46E helicopter, scheduled for a familiarization flight, confined area landings and mountain area training. There are seven crew members on the schedule for the flight; six are at the brief, including all crew chiefs and three co-pilots. The Helicopter Aircraft Commander, Maj. Bryan “Spot” Forney, is currently conducting a range sweep and a landing zone (LZ) evaluation for a VIP flight scheduled for later that day.

0830: Maj. Forney returns from the sweep and LZ eval; he briefs his crew on the scheme of maneuver, rotation of the co-pilots and the intent of the day’s training.

0900: The crew powers up the aircraft and readies for departure.

0930: Tiger 45 departs for the NTA with all seven crew aboard, heading northeast to the mountains and the flight training area. The aircraft leaves the city behind, crossing rapidly into rural farming areas and acres upon acres of rice fields, verdant green squares demarcated by raised earthern berms. While enroute, Maj Forney discusses the effects of altitude on power required and reviews landings in the mountain environment with his co-pilot.

~1000: After conducting several low approaches to evaluate the LZ, Tiger 45 lands at LZ Alpha and debarks two of the co-pilots. Maj Forney conducts multiple CALs at both LZ Alpha and LZ Bravo with all three co-pilots. LZ Bravo sits approximately 1000ft higher that LZ Alpha and, as the flight progresses, LZ Bravo begins to be affected by cloud cover.

1135: The third crew chief debarks the aircraft in LZ Alpha, to take photos of the aircraft during the rest of the training flight. The crew inside Tiger 45 is now Maj Forney, the last co-pilot and two crew chiefs. Maj Forney is sitting in the left seat, the co-pilot is in the right seat. Tiger 45 departs LZ Alpha to conduct main mount landings at an adjacent LZ, one that was free from cloud cover. This LZ sits between LZ Alpha and LZ Bravo. The crew overfly the LZ to evaluate the best approach and determine the winds for that approach.

1143: Tiger 45 begins an approach to the LZ for a main-mount landing; Maj Forney is making a controlled, almost ponderously slow descent , and the aircraft has plenty of power. A crew chief calls the aircraft clear to descend below the tree line. Another crew chief asks to slide left, to better place the right main mount further in from the edge of the zone and way from a crevice.

1144: The crew chief calls to slide “left 15-10-5, stop left” and calls clear to land. Tiger 45’s main mounts touchdown smoothly in the zone. Almost instantly, there is a smack of the controls and the aircraft begins to shudder. The aft blades have hit something.

1145: Maj Forney stays on the controls and fights to pull the aircraft backward into the zone, because the nose wheel is in the air and the drop is 4000 ft to the left, right and ahead. The aircraft yaws heavily to the right as the aft blades are lost and then the aft pylon. The aft section of the helicopter breaks free. The nose pitches violently upward almost 80 degrees and the upended aircraft crashes sideways into the zone, remaining rotor blades churning into trees, rocks, and the ground. The impact knocks the co-pilot unconscious and drives the shaft of Maj Forney’s left humerus bone into his shoulder joint while he still grips the collective. The bird rests shattered in the zone, and Maj Forney is looking at the sky. The smell of ozone from the broken electronics permeates the cabin. It is dead silent. Then the fire begins.

20 July 2014

Two for one: 6 days to 6 hours

Did an easy longish run yesterday, by which I mean that I was a bit lazy and waited until the afternoon to go and then ended up not quite having enough time to finish before a previously scheduled engagement; hence, longish.

I have to say that despite the dearth of actual terrain in this part of the state, there are some lovely places to run - the loop I did yesterday has a canopy of trees providing shade for most of the run and the roads are wide and lightly trafficked, save a few major street crossings.
Clouds and trees reflected in a puddle along my route
A nice, easy, tree-covered incline 
I am going into next Saturday's race slightly underprepared in terms of hard mileage on my legs, but certainly prepared in terms of running in the heat and humidity, so I am hopeful the two will even out. The Endless Summer Run is in Annapolis, MD and as my title suggests, it is a six-hour endurance event, run over a four+-mile loop in the southeastern part of town. Why is this race on my calendar?

Several reasons: 1) As with my first race, the proceeds from this race go directly to the Semper Fi Fund; 2) The race is held in Annapolis, home of the United States Navy Academy, one of the commissioning sources for Marine Corps officers, and the alma mater of many of my military friends, both Navy and Marine Corps; 3) I am friends with one of the race's co-directors, who also happens to be a USNA grad, a Marine and who will be running the final race with me in April, along with another Marine officer, as the 12for12for1200 MdS team (more on this to come); 4) Who wouldn't want to run six hours in the depths of summer?

Each race in the series was chosen for a specific reason, and I will try to remember to highlight that as each one nears. Until tomorrow, enjoy the rest of your Sunday!


19 July 2014

Perserverance: Perfer et obdura

There is a Latin phrase, "perfer et obdura, dolor hic tibi proderit olim" which roughly translates to "be patient and tough, this pain will someday be useful to you." I prefer the first half of the phrase by itself, mostly because I don't consider myself to be bountiful of either characteristic and could use a measure of both, and also because I don't think pain always translates to gain.
Sunset over the desert in Abu Dhabi, 2009 deployment 
I tweeted earlier this week about perseverance and how in that continued push, one finds triumph, however defined or measured. I follow road races, ultra and trail racing and track and field; I am often struck by how, regardless of the distance of the race, the hours it takes to prepare and the mental strength it takes to compete is truly remarkable, and then to muster that same energy over and over and over is simply astonishing, if you sit back and quantify it. Add in injuries, bad races and daily life, and wow, what drives them to keep striving?

I then thought about those who have faced greater obstacles than I, especially those combat wounded Marines I know who seem to radiate life, joy and who have not skipped a beat in moving forward and in many cases, achieving things those who have all their various faculties intact would never dream of trying. Is it the Marine in them or is it something innate that they brought with them to the Corps, part of their character strengthened by their time in service?

I reflected on this while preparing for next week's race in Annapolis, coordinating training, family visits, whisking the kids to and from camp, attending physical therapy, managing play dates and squeezing in just a bit of study time for the next LSAT exam as well as the incorporating daily rhythm of household life: cleaning, cooking and providing afternoon entertainment for the munchkins every day after camp. I thought about what I hope to do next - attend law school - and why I would put myself through three more years of academic rigor. Heck, why did I lay out the challenge of a fundraising race series, trekking about the U.S. while going through the application process? And where in all of this do I attend to my kids' needs, never mind my emotional and physical needs in the continued work of rehab, all as a single mom?

Simply put, I persevere in my pursuits because I want my life to be as expansive as it can be, that whatever nugget of desire I wish upon, that I do what is required to make it a reality for myself.  And some would say I am unrealistic - for example, why would I apply only to top ten law schools? My response, why wouldn't I? I want to set the example for my children. I want to have a greater impact, to be of service to others (which is my driving reason to attend law school), and in that lies my reason for this race series. It is not a chaotic dash to accumulate, but a continued effort in which moments are remembered, knowledge is gained, and emotions are rich and encompassing, regardless of the spectrum.

A friend recently said to me, "Your 30s are for pushing and for driving ahead, now is the time for you to pause and just enjoy what you worked for, to relax a bit and then decide what's next. Do you really want to work that hard?"

Yes, I do. I am driven and inspired by what is possible, not what is improbable or difficult. I make my plans and work to achieve. I am not super-woman, not extraordinary. I am a hopeful pragmatist, logical and rational (and secretly full of emotion), and I will adjust my route and my goals when required.

I am just not willing to ever give up.

17 July 2014

Badwater 4 Goodwater

If you haven't heard of Lisa Smith-Batchen, you are probably not a long-distance runner. She is, in my mind, the godmother of ultra running, an incredible human being, one of my mentors and I am honored to call her a friend. I met her while running the Marathon des Sables in 2000; she, her husband, Jay, and the unstoppable Michael Wardian and I were all assigned to the same tent, Tent 43 (there's a pic in the Photo Galleries-Sporting Pics). How's that for coincidence?

Lisa just completed the Badwater 4 Goodwater, that is, she ran the Badwater Ultramarathon race course FOUR times, that's 584 miles, over some of the most unforgiving terrain possible in some of the toughest weather conditions possible, namely Death Valley, CA. Why? For charity, to raise awareness about and money for access to the basic thing we all need to survive: water. You can find the mission statement and more in-depth infomation here.

Lisa has chosen to use her remarkable talents as an ultra-endurance athlete in the service of others, whether by training others to achieve their goals or running 50 miles in 50 states in 62 days to raise money for AIDS orphanages in Africa. Since I have known her, this is what she does. She makes time for others, while raising her children, cherishing her family and friends and making time to truly appreciate the world around her. I was in awe of her when I met her back in 2000, and even more so now. She is a driving force that reminds me that what is possible is what we make possible. Much, much respect to this woman.

Here is the link to the BW4GW Facebook page, from which the below photos were borrowed (click on one for a full slideshow).













In addition, Lisa and Jay own Dreamchasers Outdoor Adventures in Idaho. I will be racing their Yellowstone Teton 50-mile Race in September as part of my race series.

16 July 2014

If it ain't rainin'...

There's a saying in the Corps (at least on the East Coast), "If it ain't rainin', we ain't trainin'" which mostly alludes to the fact that every time you head out to the field, you will be rained upon. Usually heavily. For several days.

Last night's hill workout was the epitome of that saying as the 1730 group, much slimmed by the forecast and the visibly darkening sky, began our workout. We ran the route in reverse (in the event we got so slammed by the downpour, we'd be closer to our vehicles!), and about three minutes in, the rain started and then came down in earnest, shellacking us right proper. Each time the sky illuminated, it was with such intensity and in such proximity that Brenda E. and I exclaimed in tandem, "Whoa!" We even contemplated heading to run the stairs at one of the community college parking garages, just for safety's sake. But we stuck it out and were joined about one mile in by Allison S. and Keira H. and the four of us persisted through the weather and the incredulous looks from drivers peering out from behind brisk wipers and pedestrians huddled under awnings.

As we neared completion, the rain temporarily tapered off and we ran the riverfront boardwalk back to the start, with intermittent rays of the waning sun casting a silvery reflection off the water.

Another day in the books. Boom.
Thunderheads building behind the USS North Carolina
Bright new running kicks with darker clouds growing
Keira H., Allison S., me, Michael B., and Brenda E.
Post-run sogginess (thanks for taking the photo, Steve!)

15 July 2014

The VA headache: prescription strength

If you've been following my posts (1, 2) on my relationship with the VA, you'll enjoy this. Late last week I received this letter:


After I read it, I sat back, baffled. I felt like Yossarian trying to have a rational discussion with the Mad Hatter. And then I thought that I must be losing it and so I pulled up the letter of May 20, as suggested: 



And then I went further down the rabbit hole, seeking a new mission that I could fly to reach my quota to go home before I had to drink any more potions to show that I was too nuts to fly more missions (bonus points if you followed that literary thread). 

Let me get this straight, Dept of Veterans' Affairs:
  • You sent me a letter telling me you are proposing to change the rating on one of my evaluated conditions and 
  • that if I think you shouldn't change the rating, I should submit evidence demonstrating why you shouldn't make the change but then when I send you a letter telling you why, including four enclosures of medical information supporting my rationale, you reject it as "not acceptable" because you actually haven't yet "made" a decision, it was just a "proposed" reduction (even though the letter states how they made their "decision" and called it a "Rating Decision") and 
  • so I can't yet "disagree" and, even if I did disagree,
  • I have not filed a "valid notice of disagreement" even though you previously asked me for information and rationale, if I did, in fact, disagree with the proposed change to my rating, as stated in the letter (as well, this was the guidance given to me by the call center staff - that I had to state that I disagree with their "rating decision," the wording listed on the first letter). 
  • I do appreciate that you are allowing me - or my designated representative -  to fill out Form 4107 to appeal in the event that I disagree with your determination that my notice of disagreement isn't valid. 
As an aside, the opening line of my letter of 14 June states "the letter serves a my formal disagreement to your decision to reduce my rating......enclosed is the following evidence..." I guess I should have said, "the enclosed evidence shows why you shouldn't make the change in my rating" - which sounds like I am in fifth grade, doesn't it? So I guess I'm not allowed to say I disagree even though by virtue of submitting all the medical information, I am in obvious disagreement with the change to my rating.

I am sitting here trying to decipher how I should have responded to the request for evidence? Just send them a bundle of medical documents and a sticky note saying, 'Don't change the rating, read me!'? In two of the four enclosures, the docs wrote treatment summary letters, and the one most pertinent to the specific condition wrote hers to the VA specifically. 

I am so befuddled, I haven't yet formulated my letter to the Regional Office Director, whose name is on both my letters, electronically, of course.  I don't even know where to start, really, because it's absolutely unclear as to whether the VA is even considering the medical information I sent. Whew. It really is a parade of the absurd. I am mostly laughing and shaking my head. 

I think I'll go into the kitchen and find the bottle that says "Drink Me" and see what happens.....

13 July 2014

Two for one: TANKED!

The YMCA TriSpan 10K was as expected - three bridges, 6.2 miles, humidity at about 97% and screechingly sunny, and I had a blast! Given the last 10 days, I wasn't expecting a fast time, but I wanted to break 50:00, which would have put me at a comfortable pace of minimal (okay, safe) effort.  I decided to test the waters and go on how I felt.

Why, this doesn't look difficult at all!
Miles 1-2 were nice and easy, with Mile 2 coming just at the end of the first bridge crossing over the Cape Fear....Mile 3-4 started getting in my head because it's an in-and-out to the Battleship Memorial (USS Carolina) and while the course is flat there, there is no relief from the sun, the breeze stops and the turnaround is a pivot and double-back, which I have never liked because your momentum grinds to a crawl for an instant and you have to break that inertia and get back apace...ugh. I stayed pretty steady until the second bridge and then I somehow was like, yep, and this is why you are all drumstick and no thighs. I just felt (and was) slow going up.  Once I was over it though, something clicked and I just started rolling and my turnover kicked up a notch and the last bridge, the longest one, felt like nothing.....and as I hit the crest with about a mile to go, I was able to relax and just let it flow. The results?

A 48:16, which translates to a 7:44 mpm, and a 1st place in my AG, which I'll take with a smile any day (and although the Pumpkin Noodle was disappointed that the awards were mugs not medals - but she promptly absconded with mine)! I did wear the tank, which got soaked, as expected....so I tanked it...hahaha...crack myself up...
A few minutes after......
What it's all about
They were glued to me after the race....even when collecting my award
I'll get additional photos up shortly, look for them in the Photo Galleries section! Thank you to the YMCA, race director Dalia Nir, and all the volunteers who put on a great race, with well-supported aid stations and superb finish line food, which included ice cold water, which every summer race should have! Also to my peeps, training partners and a wonderful group of people, the Wilmington Road Runners.

Two weeks until the Endless Summer 6-Hour Run, second of the July two for one races. (I'm looking for race day wager donations for that race - $1 per mile completed - how many miles can I run in six hours, do ya think? Are ye a betting sort?)

11 July 2014

To tank or not to tank?

Tomorrow's race is going to be a choker. Not because I plan to plod through the race, but because the temps at the 0700 race time are predicted to be around 76F and humid with a capital H, which means the heat index will be closer to the 80s and the air will be thick and heavy.  It seems that the greater into summer we go, the lesser my training gear becomes...apparel is reduced to a sports bra and compression shorts ending at the upper thigh.

I don't really understand people's thoughts are on this - I've seen the Runner's World community forum thread covering the topic of men running without shirts and their online poll regarding the same during races  -  the guys with back hair seem to get the short shrift across the board - because it seems as though there was a theme that somehow if it's not visually appealing, maybe it should be covered up. Others felt that when it gets this hot, if the end goal is getting your run on, they'll visually deal with inherent imperfections in the male form.

On the women's side, the last online forum I found about women running in just sports bras (and some sort of bottom, of course) was posted in 2013, so I guess either 1) women are more practical about running in the heat or 2) women don't care about a visual "unattractive" meter if they choose to go sans singlet/mesh tank/etc. I did read that there are women who are self-conscious about their "jiggle" or "bellies," which I personally dismiss given that I got that PLUS some nice scars to flash people with as they go by. My thought on it really comes down to this: I am here, I am alive and my body is allowing me to do that which I love, regardless of whether I am pale, jiggly, or otherwise. How ya like me now?!

All that being said, I also feel icky when I have wet fabric flapping against or clinging to my skin - blech. So, I may only represent by throwing on the 12for12 tank after the race. I hope that counts.

No, not that kind of tank. 
A Marine M1A1 Abrams tank with 1st Tank Plt, D Co., 1st Tank Bn,
provides overwatch security in the Upper Gereshk Valley in AFG.
Photo by Sgt Jesse Johnson (Battle Rattle/Military Times)

Speaking of coverage..... 12for12for1200 t-shirts are for sale and net proceeds from each shirt go to the support the Semper Fi Fund and the MARSOC Foundation. Granted, you might not be sporting the shirt on your next run because it is, well, a SHIRT and it's a million degrees out right now, BUT they are wicking and designed for running and working out (I ran my first race, the 24-hour ATR in it and had no issue with overheating or chafing). Plus, they are kind-of kick ass in their design. And, if you purchase one and send me a pic, I'll post and tweet it!

Race recap on Sunday!

10 July 2014

Two for one: On the up and up

As I mentioned, yesterday was another day where my back, my sitter on vacation, and the weather shooed me indoors and I decided to follow the advice of PJ Rizzo and use a hill workout to give me some speed. I have done this before, but it was a while ago, when I lived in a place that had actual hills and mountains and I had forgotten how good it was.

To replicate some of those climbs, I decided to keep the tempo relatively easy (around an 8:45-8:50 after the warm-up) and the climbs long and steady with a "mid-hill" variance in grade. I also decided not to go crazy with the grade percentage but to focus on keeping the pace throughout the climb interval. I chose a 4-minute climb at 4.0% to start, then as I hitched up the the incline, I went to a 3-minute climb, each with a 2-minute active recovery at 1.5-2.0% grade incline, so never back to "level" to keep the workout more akin to a road run. I finished my last "hill" with an ascending 5.0/5.5/6.0% grade then back to 2.0% at an 8:20 pace for the last 5 minutes. I did six-miles and definitely felt it in my quads and glutes at the end.

As my buddy Mosi would say, "Doin' work." This is what a red, sweaty mess I was at the end - for the record, I put the tank on after the run! (Yes, I still haven't quite figured out the "selfie" thing....)

See the guy in the back, helping the lady with some rehab? That's Tom. 
Tom has been cheering me on since I joined the Y in 2007, and he watched me take those tentative steps back on the treadmill when I was coming back from my injuries and all my surgeries. He was also my first donation in the campaign. He has a son in the Navy and is probably one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. 




09 July 2014

95 degrees

It is hot. And humid. With a 20% chance of an afternoon shower. So, like any reasonable person, I have elected to run indoors this morning (slowly, my back is still iffy) and then the munchkins and I will head to the beach this afternoon.

I cherish that I have this time with them; it was a deliberate decision that I made when the separation happened - that I was not going to radically alter my original, intended course of action, meaning that I had made plans for myself and the family post-USMC, which focused on rehabbing my physical self, being at home with the munchkins while we determined which route K. would take in his career, and then looking at law schools in that area.

As a result of my steadfast resolve about those plans, the only thing that has changed significantly is that I do not have to consider what K's future plans are. I still have the amazing opportunity to be home with the munchkins, am still pursuing law school and, of course, the whole physical rehab thing is ongoing. Hooray!

I am grateful that I was able to maintain my logical and pragmatic perspective through what was certainly one of the most emotionally turbulent times of my life, and that I remembered that no matter how I felt, the well-being of the munchkins needed to come first and that was what drove most of my decisions throughout that time. (I believe they need K. in their lives; there is no intention to have it otherwise.)

I am grateful for the support of my friends and family. I am grateful that I am greeted each morning by two little faces whispering, "Mama....Mama....", heck, sometimes it's the Pumpkin Noodle just asking for cuddle time before "it's time for waking time," and more often than not, it's the Bubbaloo bringing his blankets, his bear and his monkey into my room and piling them on the bed before clambering up himself.

I have more than I ever thought possible (if you asked my 20-year old self). I need nothing more than my children and my running. Seriously.

Oh yeah, and I am grateful that I get to go to the beach when it's 95 degrees out.