Sunday, August 26, 2012


"We're just going to look at them, we're not going to bring one home yet"  I said en route to Romney.  "We just moved in to our house, we have Erin's wedding in D.C. this weekend and my vet school graduation next week, after we get settled in, then we can get one."  My wife had been offered a free puppy by one of her patients and we were going to check them out.  As a newly-minted Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, I went armed with my stethoscope and ophthalmoscope, determined to assess each one carefully.  Hey, it might be a free puppy, but I still wanted it to be a good one.  An hour later, despite my earlier proclamation, we were driving home with a puppy in my lap.   Although it had nothing to do with my fledgling veterinary skills, I think it is safe to say that the test of time proved that we definitely got the pick of the litter.


Veterinary graduation, Ohio State University June 1997

My very own dog!  We always had several pets growing up, which played a big role in my career choice.  We had more cats than dogs and I love cats, but dogs have always been my favorite; however, I had never had one I could call my own.  Now, for the first time, I had one that was truly mine.  And Mary Jane's...her first dog ever as a matter of fact.  We named her Emily; I had always liked that name but MJ had politely informed me that it was not in play for the future whenever we had 'real' children.  For the first few years of her life, we treated Emily as if she were our child.  We took her everywhere, showered her with toys and gifts, pampered her with treats.  And yes, I am almost ashamed to say, we even had a birthday party for her, complete with cake.  She was so full of personality, she made friends wherever she went.  I never saw her show a hint of malice to any living thing, with the occasional exception of one of her canine sisters trying to swipe some of her food as her eating speed declined in her later years.  


The first year of her life, we rented a small house in Ridgeley.  Our landlords lived across the street, and they allowed me to run Emily in the field below their home, since our yard was so small.  Our yard was also only fenced in on three sides, with a small gap from the back porch to the sidewalk alongside the house.  We asked him to install a gate there to fully enclose the yard.  He wanted us to split the cost of the gate with him.  When I countered that we would be unable to take half of the gate with us when we moved in a year or two, and it would be a permanent upgrade to the house, we appeared at a stalemate.  It was only a few days after that conversation that Emily bolted from the yard, down the sidewalk, across the street, and into the landlord's open garage door, which connected to his basement.  As we chased after her, the scene we came upon was quite comical: the landlord sitting on the basement couch, in (nothing but) his boxers, holding the remains of the newspaper he had been reading as Emily furiously licked his face, having just exploded through the paper in her effort to get to him and show him some love.  Luckily, he was laughing and found the entire situation quite amusing.  And wouldn't you know it, within days a gate had been installed, free of charge!

Emily's first birthday, with friend, Sheba

Emily used to amuse children and adults alike by plunging into the fountains along the Cumberland Mall during our runs.  That was probably what cemented her as the dog for us...she shared our passion (all right, OBSESSION!) for running!  It was not unusual for her to do 8 miles with Mary Jane when she got home from work, then run again with me later on.  She could go up to 18 miles pretty comfortably, after that she would start to flag just a little.  She was the picture of fitness, an elite canine athlete.  One time a client saw me running with her and thought she was a rescue dog 'because the poor thing is so skinny'.  He didn't believe me when I told him that she was just super-fit and this is what all dogs should look like.  She loved to run on roads and trails, but we had to keep her on a leash...she was prone to wander off on her own explorations, chase deer, roll in the mud, etc.  A ten mile run for me was probably twice that for her if she wasn't leashed.  We have a nice bungee-type tether that connects the dog to the runner's waist, and we used it to our advantage as Emily could give us a pull up some of the big hills!  Long-distance running is a primal activity, and it's made even more so in the company of a canine companion. We covered thousands of miles together with that leash and harness making us one entity, clicking off the miles at a rapid pace.  We ran a few races together over the years...the best was the Dirty Dog Trail Run 2007 in Kanawha State Forest.  She was an old girl then at ten years, but still finished as the third place dog.  I think she might have won if I could have run faster...a few years earlier and we definitely would have!

Emily at speed

Dirty Dog Trail Run 2007, age 10



Being a veterinarian's dog has its pros and cons.  On the bright side, she got to come to work with me a lot, which she loved.  She got really sick one night shortly after I started working at LVH and I was convinced she'd contracted parvo.  I rushed her in at midnight for testing and treatment, but it turned out she had just ingested a large amount of cat poop from the litter box!  She accompanied me on many school 'career day' trips, where she was always a big hit with the kids.  She loved riding the 'beauty bus' to the groomers and I think she did have just a touch of vanity about how pretty she was upon her return (deservedly so).  On the other hand, sometimes our patients need things like blood transfusions, and since veterinary blood banks are in short supply and blood components usually take 24-48 hours to be shipped to us, our own pets often become blood donors, whether they like it or not.  I always thought that any dog receiving her blood was getting a little something extra since she was so fit and had such a great spirit.  Emily was remarkably healthy...the only significant medical issue she ever had was a near-fatal attack of pancreatitis last summer when we were on vacation at Mount Ranier.  I will forever be thankful to my friends and colleagues at LaVale Veterinary Hospital for saving her life and giving us another year with her.  One thing she really enjoyed was accompanying me on late night emergency calls.  When the pager went off in the wee hours, and I was fumbling around trying to wake up and get dressed, she would get all excited and ready to go, just like she did when it was time to run.   She usually joined me in the exam room and she was often there to console and lick away the tears of a grieving client who was upset about their pet's illness or injury, or worse, making that final trip to the hospital with their beloved companion.  Several clients over the years mentioned how comforting it was to hug her and have her there during their last moments with their own pets, and have asked about her and how she is doing.

A day at the office, late 90s, just back from grooming

The night she disappeared was not particularly unusual.  I had to work late and she was in the basement when I got home, having been inadvertently left there when the kids left for play practice earlier.  She was wandering around aimlessly as she sometimes did. Her last couple years had included some mild cognitive dysfunction and confusion.  She was happy to see me and wagged her tail and slowly shuffled over to me.  She was getting frail and slow, and she fell trying to get up the steps.  I had to carry her up them, which I often did in the last year or so.  She went outside with Sara, our Lab mix.  I heard the two of them romping on the deck while I fixed dinner, but then Sara came in alone and Emily was nowhere to be seen.  It was still daylight and I immediately began looking for her for the next few hours with a neighbor's help, covering a lot of ground over the next several days, but to no avail.  She simply vanished from the face of the Earth.  The suddenness of it has been easier for the kids, I think.  She just disappeared, there was no tearful good-bye, no discussion or decision to be made.  It's been hard on Mary Jane and me however.  I've wondered about all the worst-case scenarios...was she abducted for some nefarious purpose?  Victim to a predator?  Hit by a car and disposed of so we wouldn't know?  Or as many have suggested, did she simply know it was her time and wander off to spare us the pain?  We will never know, I suppose, but I like to harken back to a day less than a year ago with my theory...


She had been retired from regular running the last two-plus years, she just couldn't do it anymore.  We had both slowed since our primes, but she far more than I.  We still went for a couple easy miles now and then, mainly on special occasions like New Year's and her birthday.  One day last fall I was starting out on a run, and about a quarter-mile from the house I heard the mad scrabbling of nails on the pavement racing up behind me.  I turned around, and there she was chasing after me, tongue lolling, eyes glinting.  She must have spotted me heading out and given chase...she wanted to run, so we did, but her pace soon slowed and within a half mile we had to turn for home and walk the rest of the way.   It was beautiful to see her still wanting to get out there at that age.  So that is how I like to think she went out, a pleasant fantasy I know, but allow me...she got the urge again that night and headed out for one last run.  Maybe she ran until she dropped, or maybe she's still running...

Not bad for your first dog huh Mom?  

Emily, I owe you this brief epitaph.  For over fifteen years, you gave us the absolute best that you had, every day.  You were Em, Emmy, Emmers, Emmy Lou.  You were a champion dumpster-diver and counter-surfer; a loving big sister to three girls, two dogs, a rabbit, and three cats; a friend to everyone you met, human or animal;  a devoted running partner; full of wags and wiggles, licks and laughs; and most of all, our best friend.  You set the bar high.  We will never forget you and I hope your final moments were peaceful and comfortable.

Goodbye girl.

Safe-guarding Dad during a lunchtime siesta

Long May You Run

(Yes the song is about a car but I think it fits her too.)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Massanutten 100

MMT 100 2012                                                              

Burning River 100 July 31, 2011 was a tremendous accomplishment.  I started that race injured, did not tolerate the heat, had extreme electrolytes issue and still finished. I was very beat up physically, though. It took me a month afterwards to run at all and several months to begin to feel like I was recovered. I knew that if I was healthy and smart, that I could finish another 100 miler and do well and wanted to tackle another one. I can’t really say why I chose MMT or what gave me the courage to sign up for the lottery, but for some crazy reason, I did! I am not a great technical trail runner and really don’t enjoy running on really rocky trails. I wouldn’t say that I am a great climber/hiker, either! MMT was in no way a course that played toward my running strengths, so logically…..I chose this one!
My friend, Joe, who trained and ran BR with me didn’t even hesitate and he put his name in the lottery, too. Well, I probably won’t get in, anyway, I thought. So, I am headed to work one morning and see an email from Joe that says “WE’RE IN”. Are you serious? I never win anything and was already thinking of an alternative race. So, now I get congratulations from Rande and Kari who are veteran MMT runners. They are local runners and friends who run MMT every year and they were very positive and encouraged us throughout our training.

I guess I better start training. I have a great running group and a super ultrarunner husband and they all supported us in many long training runs, climbing the pipeline at Rocky Gap , and running on as many rocky trails as we could. I stayed healthy and avoided any major, lingering injuries and felt good leading up to MMT.

The atmosphere at the start of the race felt a little tense to me.  All the runners who enter the lottery have to be experienced. They must have completed a qualifying hundred or 2- 50 milers. So, none of these runners were new to the sport. I could feel the nervous tension of the runners and their anticipation of how tough this course will be. I was thinking to myself, “now come on…how hard can this course really be?” (keep reading for the answer )

We woke at 2:22 am and left the hotel at 3am. I didn’t sleep well that night and hadn’t slept well in the preceding weeks leading up to the race. Work had been very busy and our three wonderful and active daughters have been super busy with activities. I was hoping that it wouldn’t matter so much, but I was a little worried going into an all-night race already feeling fatigued. Jason drove Joe and me to the start. The weather was going to be great (maybe a little warm), I was healthy and well trained, so I had no excuse, but to have a good day!

So, we are off…trotting down a country road leading up the trail. About a half mile down the road, someone tumbles into a ditch! That would be one of many falls that I would witness over the next day and a half! I had a flashlight which was fine on the road, but it was not sufficient once we got on the rocky trail. I really had a hard time seeing the rocks and worried about falling early in the race. I had to  make sure that I picked up my feet and just moved cautiously until daybreak. I was already amazed at the rocky and technical trail very early in the race, but I felt ok and felt like I was moving at a decent pace over the tough terrain. During one section, it seemed that either Joe or I was tripping every 5 feet or so, but luckily we didn’t fall. We ran with several others runners during periods of the first 50k. We met Gary Knipling who proudly entertained us with his panties that he carries as a good luck charm and told us of his new aspiring movie (I am keeping this report rated PG). 

Soon after this, we are on one of the few road sections (uphill…just to make sure it wasn’t too easy) and Joe and I see a snake….a rattlesnake!!! Cool, I thought. It was coiled up trying to get warm, I assume. You could see the rattle part of the tail sticking up through the center of the coil. I pulled out my phone to grab a picture. As I went closer, Joe yelled at me to not get any closer. I think that he thought that I  must have lost my mind already…..well, maybe I had!!!
I started to feel a little tired already at 20, but by 25 I was moving great and feeling good again. Joe and I pulled into the 33 mile aid station where Jason and Todd were waiting. They looked concerned that it took so long to do a 50k. Yep, that was the slowest 50k of my life…at least until I did the next 2 50k’s!
I started to feel really bad as soon as I pulled into Elizabeth furnace. I even walked over to the weeds to puke, but nothing happened. I just walked out with a little food and hoped that I would feel better soon. And, I did! I felt the best that I had felt all day and came into Shawl Gap (38 miles) with a smile on my face and my color had returned.

Joe and I walked out of the aid station with some food and moved on toward Habron. We had been warned how long and tough this section would be, but I was feeling good……and then crashed again HARD! I The climb seemed to take more effort than it should, my chest felt heavy and I couldn’t get a deep breath. My legs were toast. I finally made it to the top and realized that the ridgeline was barely a trail and was so hard to walk, let alone run! There was never a flat spot to place your foot so every step was done on an angle. The negative thoughts began to seep into my mind. NEVER have I let this happen to this degree, but they just swarmed in….”I am not good on this type of course, I should have never signed up, I should be home with my kids since it is Mother’s Day weekend, my body cannot tolerate another 58 miles of this course, I am mentally drained, I am already tired and I was not rested before the start, I hope that Joe doesn’t wait for me because I am dropping!” I had never felt this mentally defeated. My body has suffered worse, but my mind was not tolerating this course. I was never able to let my mind rest. The course requires constant concentration to navigate the rocks. If you lose concentration, you could fall and get hurt really bad. In fact, it was in this section that I lost my balance on a steep cliff area and nearly fell in a dangerous spot. I wanted to cry, but didn’t want anyone to see me so defeated at such an early stage of the race. I sent Jason a text that simply said “Dropping”. I knew that he would be shocked, but I wanted him to know that I was serious and not to get ready to run with me at mile 52. He could just start packing up the car and we could go home and sleep. Finally, the trail started to head downhill toward the aid station (no crew access). It was bittersweet as the trail was more like a ravine with horrible footing and jagged rocks. My forefoot was already tender and possibly blistered and the downhill was not a relief. I made it to the aid station and had told a few fellow runners that I thought that I may drop, but didn’t do it officially. One runner was very encouraging and told me to think of four reasons NOT to drop. I didn’t care at the point. I had 10 reasons to drop, but I guess I was not ready to make it official. I was able to eat a few strawberries and headed out on a short road section where I would see Jason and our crew. Thank goodness that Joe didn’t wait and he was already on his way to the crew.   
So, Jason (my husband) would be pacing me and Joe had Shauna (his wife), and friends Mary Beth and Todd who would all be pacing at various stages. Matt was the designated driver and crew chief to hold it all together.  Jason headed out about a mile on the dirt road to see where I was and try to find me. Cell reception is horrible and often non-existent, so Jason had no idea if I had dropped or my condition. He met me and could see that I was struggling and felt defeated. He told me that several very strong runners were really struggling and somehow that helped me to realize that It just wasn’t just me who was having a rough time on this tremendously tough course. I sat down and tended to my hot spot, changed socks, switched to my camelbak, ate a little, and listened to the encouragement from our wonderful friends and Jason, and started walking out ready to start the next climb. I was still very unsure if I would be continuing past the next aid station.
Jason and I climbed well and reached the top with less effort than my previous climb. Jason called my best friend, Tina, to let her know our status, and we were able to actually run some and make some progress. I even started to feel hungry. A whip-poor-will seemed to follow us for miles, exhorting us to press on with his beautiful call. We pulled into Camp Roosevelt, and I had a smile and an appetite. Quesadillas sounded good. Ok, so my spirits were up. I was not going to finish with a great time, but I thought that now “I can do this!”
Every section after this point was just very rough. I don’t remember details as many runners do, but I remember thinking that there had to be an easy section and it just never came. There were 2 short road sections that I ran hard just because I could I finally run. I remember that each mile toward the aid stations seemed longer and longer. I remember Kern’s mountain at night being so difficult to walk and thinking how in world would someone run this??? I remember the millipedes at night and yelling several times when I touched one while grabbing a rock or tree for assistance while climbing. I remember Jason stopping to ask a woman in the ditch on the side of the road if she was OK, and she said that she was just trying to take a nap! One of my goals was to crest Bird Knob before sunrise, and I did, enjoying the beautiful view in the pre-dawn light. My crew was there at every opportunity, helping me, feeding me, and urging us on, their support was incredible!

The last ten miles were really tough. I could feel that the skin had separated on the bottom of my feet and every step was painful. The downhills and rocks were very tough on them. I was wincing at times and still held back the tears. We finally made it to the last aid station with only 7 miles to go. Of course this had to start with a 2 mile mega climb until we got to the pie plate to signify that we were headed down! Finally a downhill…… well, poop!!! This was a 2 mile rock garden where every step was a struggle due to inactive quads and wounded feet.  

Once we hit the road, I ran. I ran the entire road! I am a better runner than hiker and I just kept on running! I hit the field to the cheers of my friends and earlier finishers. Kari was so emotional and crying when I finished! She knew how hard it had been and every one of the finishers of this race share the difficulty and struggle that it takes to complete the course.  Joe had already finished and had bandaged his feet. Our crew was there waiting and I know that they were so tired and ready to go home, but they didn’t. They waited like only wonderful friends would do.
Jason was there for me for 52 miles. That is a lot to ask of a pacer! He kept me going as only he could do! That was our “quality” time! Thank you, Jason! Love you!
It was Mother’s Day, but there was no signal at base camp so we had to wait until we got on the road to call home. I hobbled in the shower and went to the awards where we received our buckles and Rande and Kari received their special awards…Rande for going under 24 hours(not human) and Kari for 5 (now 6) time finisher!
I really can’t believe this course and after being out there, I will forever say MMT with a different tone. I am not mad at the course. I am humbled by it and have a new respect for those who attempt it.
Jason and I have talked about this race almost constantly for the last week. As a pacer, he describes the experience as spiritual and I have to agree! Something out in the Massanutten Mountains seems to get into your soul and changes you…..I guess that answers my question to Kari and Rande immediately after the race “Why in the world do you do this year after your year?” And, I may have called them “crazy” a few times, too!
So, to my encourager at the Indian Grave Aid Station….my four reasons to stay in the race: 1) To be a strong role model for my three daughters, 2) To celebrate the hours of training spent with Jason and all of my great friends, 3) To push my body farther than I think it can go ( I guess I did sign up for this!), and 4) To forever know what brings runners to the Massanutten Mountains and have the experience engraved in your soul. In all seriousness, I just dig the belt buckle!!!!
Thank you to all of the awesome volunteers who made this race happen!!!!!!