Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A New Experience: Saving Lives, One Platelet at a Time

I've been a regular blood donor since I was 17. Pretty hardcore about it, for a while there - I have multiple gallon pins, a few Hoxworth water bottles, blood donor patches, a donor hoodie, and a wardrobe of college blood drive t-shirts. Real hardcore.

Then I got pregnant, and stopped giving blood for obvious reasons. Then I was breastfeeding, and too paranoid to risk taking the hit to my supply. Then I just got out of the habit. I gave when it was convenient, at a few mobile blood drives here and there, but then I started running and became kind of selfish - I didn't want to get lightheaded and feel run-down. In my defense, I've been anemic for 15+ years and losing those red blood cells has always affected me more than most people. But that's not a good enough excuse. Even my Running Buddy puts me to shame with her donation frequency. It's not like I'm going to win any medals, or anything - what's some extra time on the clock?

And then, two weeks ago, I got an email from The Running Spot talking about the big citywide blood drive and specifically mentioning that donating platelets is a good option for athletes. I did my own side research, and it's true! Not only does it leave your red blood cells alone, but the matter that they take from you during a platelet donation regenerates within hours, rather than weeks. So that's all well and good, but donating platelets is SCARY! I'm not going to lie, I was TERRIFIED. Even after donating a million pints of blood, I still got anxious every time. The idea of donating platelets where they're not just taking stuff from one arm, but then also GIVING IT BACK in the other, just makes me shudder. Cue more research, where I learned that they can now do it using only one of your arms and that the needle is actually smaller than the one that they use for whole blood donations. So I decided to go for it.

Am I the only one who finds the graphic/slogan combination a little creepy looking?

In case you're not familiar with platelets and platelet donation, here's a quick summary:

During platelet donation, a small portion of blood (about 1/4 pint at a time), is drawn from your arm and passed through a sophisticated cell-separating machine. The machine collects the platelets and safely returns the remaining blood components, along with some saline, back to you.

A single platelet donation can provide enough platelets for a full therapeutic dose for a patient in need. In fact, some platelet donations yield enough platelets for two or three therapeutic doses. By contrast, it takes four to six whole blood donations to produce a single therapeutic dose.

Many patients who need platelets are undergoing chemotherapy or organ transplant and have weakened immune systems. A platelet dose from a single donor reduces the patient’s exposure to multiple donors and is therefore preferred by many physicians.

I was nervous, nervous, nervous driving down to the big city-wide blood drive. I was shaking like a leaf and side-eying the giant centrifuge machine as I climbed into the chair. Those things are gigantic! The technician staffing the apheresis area, George, was really nice and helpful. He showed me all of the equipment and explained how everything worked. I got a very detailed rundown of exactly what to expect, how long it would take, and what it would feel like. He set up the machine, hooked up the bag, and started the process, and then went the extra mile by entertaining me for the next 90 minutes while we waited for the collection to finish. He let me watch the monitors so that I could see what was going on and showed me how cool it looked when the platelets got sucked up into the plasma bag - it was really neat, all swirly like mixing oil and vinegar.

I'm not trying to say that it was all puppy dogs and rainbows. It took a while - 90 minutes is a long time - the first time is the longest because the machine isn't calibrated specifically to your counts, but even after that it's still a time commitment. The feeling of having the red cells and saline put back in was pretty bizarre - not painful, just a little uncomfortable until you got used to it. The worst part was probably the mouth tingles - the anti-coagulant they use in the return solution binds with calcium to do its job, so it makes your mouth and nose feel tingly after a while (thanks again to George for the technical explanations!). They had a giant supply of tums on hand to combat the ickiness, but it was still rather uncomfortable.

When all is said and done, it wasn't that bad, I was really glad I had decided to give it a try, and I'm definitely planning to go back and do it again. You can go every three weeks, although if they test your cells and find that you're an exact match for a patient in the database, they can ask if you'll do it more often. The women in the chair next to me (who happened to be the kids programming director for the Flying Pig!) went every day for a week when they found that she was a match for a leukemia patient.

So think about it. Even if platelets isn't up your alley, think about giving whole blood. See? I'm even smiling! I even got a Flying Pig duffel bag and a $10 gift card to the Running Spot. Can't beat that!

Why Bother?

The original post in a series that spawned this blog over here.

So in case you haven't noticed, exercise and healthy eating are things that are near and dear to my heart. This isn't because I'm some nutty whacky fitness freak who wants to bench press 1,000 pounds and run three minute miles, although I'm sure that's how it might seem sometimes with my data collection and tracking. It's not because I want to fit into a pair of super cute size 0 pants, although I do enjoy being able to wear the normal-sized clothes hanging in my closet. And sure, when I step back and take an honest look, part of my motivation for exercising and being healthy is because I like the way I look. Who wouldn't feel that way?

But at the root of the issue? THIS is what it's all about.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

For me, it's more about health - it's about growing up in a family where everyone struggled with weight issues and heart disease. My mom lost her dad to a heart attack when she was a teenager. I almost lost my own dad when he had a near-fatal heart attack in 2005. My dad's dad had multiple heart attacks over the years before he passed in 2008. In a society where obesity levels are through the roof, heart disease is killing a million people EVERY YEAR, and preschoolers are being diagnosed with diabetes, I want to do the best that I can for myself, my husband, and my own child. Not only do I want to be healthy for them, so that we can live a long life together and I can watch him grow up and meet future grandchildren, but I want to provide him with a good example - I want him to grow up knowing that fruits and veggies are an important part of life, that ice cream and cookies are good, too, but that they're only "sometimes foods," and that exercise is good for the body and for the soul.

I don't know that I'm the best person to be giving advice - I often have trouble with a broken motivator, and there are many days when my give-a-damn isn't working, either. Plus, I'm willing to overshare, which leads to some brutally honest and maybe TMI posts, like what happens when you don't do your kegels after childbirth and then try to do plyometric training. Even so, I do have some ideas and thoughts to share with you, so here I am.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Baby Got Back

I'm oddly shaped. Always have been, always will be. Most people look at me and consider me to be on the slender side. Skinny, even. But I've got a big secret, that I'm somewhat good at hiding - I pack a whole lotta junk in my trunk. I usually wear a size small on top and a size large on the bottom. That's right, size L-A-R-G-E undies grace my tush. As Sir Mix-A-Lot would say, I'm "Little in the middle but I got much back."

I used to obsess over hiding it. Not going to lie, sometimes it still annoys me when I can't fit cute pants over my ample derriere, and I'm still not a huge fan of the "cottage-cheese jello look" or the fact that my butt keeps shaking long after the rest of me has stopped moving, but I'm trying to learn to embrace it. I mean, really - my legs carried me over the finish line of a freaking marathon, and my hips are just a battle scar of motherhood.

Shake that healthy butt!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Song that is a Guilty Pleasure

So, back on my life blog, I tried to do a weekly blog post on the 30 Day Song Challenge. I kept it up for a while, but no one wanted to play along, so it recently died. I'm sad about it. Maybe I'll keep doing it alone, anyway. My favorite week was "A Song that is a Guilty Pleasure," and since it relates directly to running, here it is!

I chose this week's topic in honor of my marathon playlist, which also happens to be the reason for the lateness of this week's blog post. I know, I should have been a good blogger and written it ahead of time, but my mind was full of marathon-weekend excitement. More on that to come later this week!

My running playlist is hard evidence that I'm stuck in the 90s. I have everything from Beastie Boys to Kris Kross, Young MC to MC Hammer, Salt and Peppa to Vanilla Ice. And those aren't my guilty pleasures. I'm not the tiniest bit ashamed to admit that I totally rock out to Sisqo and Sir Mix-a-Lot while I run up the steep hills of Cincinnati.

Nope, not one little bit. In fact, I've even been known to get up and do my own rendition of Ice, Ice Baby on Karaoke night.

So what DOES constitute a guilty pleasure for me?

Ke$ha. Yes, Ke$ha. The "dollar sign girl." I remember the first time I heard one of her songs on the radio - it was that god-awful one about brushing teeth with bottles of jack and going for guys who look like Mick Jagger. I thought to myself "Who IS this lady, and WTF is WRONG with her??"

Then I saw her on TV, and my confusion grew.

It was like Mungojerrie meets Jem and the Holograms.

But after a while, I found myself tapping my hands on the steering wheel and singing along. Oh, no.

Then I heard it. "Take it Off." A total party song that I just KNEW my old clubberific roommate from college would have been all over if it had only been on the radio 10 years earlier.

And it was catchy. And it had a beat. A great beat for running. A great energy for running hills. And oh my goodness, it was so much fun to turn the car stereo speakers up way louder than a 29-year-old should and sing along to the (pretty awful) lyrics. (not with Charlie in the car, of course)

So here it is, for your amusement.

Because come on, we all know of a place that fits the description. Glitter on the floor? I'm so there. Well, not really. In fact, maybe I like this song so much because I never was a clubberific party girl. My roommate would spend her Friday and Saturday nights getting all dressed up in tube tops and halters, heavy eye-shadow, curlers, blah blah blah. I was perfectly content to drink cheap keg beer with the guys across the street, who were much more Dave Matthews than Ke$ha.

In real life, you'd be hard-pressed to get me to admit that I'm a closet Ke$ha fan. Please don't tell my husband that I spent 99 cents to download the single. He still thinks it was Rage Against the Machine.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Race Recap - Little Miami Half Marathon

I had a 15 mile long run on my training schedule for this past weekend. My Running Buddy, being that she's also training for the Air Force Marathon, had one, too. She emailed me to tell me about a local half marathon that she had found, and the idea of running a long run with a hundred other people rather than suffering along in solitary silence appealed to me, so I signed right up.

We met in the parking lot at 6:00. Packet pick-up was at 6:30 and the race was supposed to start at 7:30. I say "supposed to" because they had to push back the start time thanks to a porta-potty mishap - 3 porta-potties just weren't sufficient for the crowd that showed up to run. Mr. Running Buddy came along and ran the 10K, and it was very nice to meet him in person.

I had two goals for this race:

1. Get the sub-2 hour half marathon that I knew I could pull off
2. Don't kill my legs in the process.

I was pretty confident that under most circumstances I could maintain an average 9:09/mile pace, but I was wary of the humidity. It wasn't super hot, but it was warm with threats of rain and we were right next to a river. I decided that I'd give it a shot and just see how things went.

So we got to the park, got our bibs and tech shirts, and then got in the bathroom line. In hindsight, the bathrooms should have been our first stop - by the time we got in line it was a mile long. I guess there was some issue with the park bathrooms not being opened on time, but it was frustrating to be stuck in line waiting while the minutes were counting down to starting time. We just barely made it to the starting line before they sent us off. Maybe next year that aspect will be planned a little better.

I started off well, if a little conservatively. It was a small trail, maybe 6 feet wide (or my measurement estimating ability is really bad), and there were 200-something people running the half plus a second group running the 10K. It was a little crowded while we all worked on settling into a happy pace.

We hit the first water stop around mile 2.5, and I had my first taste of the HEED electrolyte drink they were offering - a "natural*" version of gatorade, sweetened with Stevia. It was clear, and there was some cognitive dissonance going on when I knocked it back and tasted fruit punch. It was a nice flavoring effort, but it was NOT good. Weird aftertaste, too. Now I know. I brought my own gels, so I was spared from trying the HEED version, but Running Buddy took care of that experiment. I'll let you read her thoughts for yourself!

I did end up chatting with some guy for the next few miles, but he slowed way down at the next waterstop and I kicked it up a little, so I lost him. I even ran into an old friend of mine right around the turnaround point.

Thankfully, I never reached the point where I was tired and wanted to stop running. I did, however, reach the point where I was BORED and wanted to get it over with. I've decided that I definitely prefer urban races - this was just tree after tree after tree and green and brown and nothing interesting to look at. The trees thinned out around mile 9 and it was HOT and humid with the sun beating down. I had to play games with myself and struggle to resist constantly checking my garmin.

I even managed to change my running form around that time, trying to go with shorter strides but quicker steps, an exercise I've been trying to incorporate since the Smooth Running clinic I went to at the Running Spot. I need to find the discipline to run like that all the time, as I'm somewhat faster and don't get fatigued. Old habits die hard!

I saw the time clock at the finish right around the 12.8 mile mark, and it was like my legs just started churning of their own accord. I sprinted the heck out of that last .3 miles ;)

Check out my sweet splits!

I'm most proud of that 8:17 final mile, although at the end I got that ominous "OMG I'm going to puke when I stop" feeling that I had at the Reds Race. I guess I'm not meant to sprint. Hell, I'm just happy that I still had that kind of gas left in the tank. We even got finisher medals, which you know I love :)

I met my time goal of sub-2-hours, just barely - I squeaked in at 1:58:00 exactly - 85/277 overall, 18/88 women.

Here's me and my Running Buddy. The picture is small because it's from an iphone. Actually, that's probably not the reason, but I'm going to pretend it is. Droids 4-eva!

The day after, my mom called me and said "You ran a half marathon yesterday?!" She had seen my post on Facebook and was incredulous that I hadn't called to tell her. I guess that because I'm now so used to running distances even greater than that on a weekly basis, it just doesn't seem like a big deal anymore. Funny how what was once a major accomplishment for you is now just another weekend run. Marathon adrenaline will do that to you :)

* however "natural" any of those things can possibly be, when you're talking about powdered chemicals designed to quickly replenish drained electrolyte or carbohydrate stores