A Just Walk (run, hike, etc…)

"…to the Rock that is higher…"


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Super-conference and a birthday marathon

Not just another conference…

It’s hard to believe that we’re well into March already! February was a very full but fabulous month as it was the every-two-year Continuing Medical Education (CME) meeting for health professionals working in cross-cultural health settings across Asia.

The conference is designed for North American (because we tend to have stricter requirements) health professionals who need valuable CME to maintain their practice license. It is of course a full schedule of medical lectures (all optional), but it is much more than straight medical lectures. Workshops in reading ECGs, “ultrasound for dummies”, and use of other techniques and modalities to help those of us working in areas where there is no other specialty consult service (such as when I was working at Kwai River Christian Hospital). The faculty who come take their own time and spend their own money to come and teach us. THANK YOU!

However, it is even MORE than a medical conference! Every two years I get to spend a couple of weeks with friends from all over the world learning, worshiping, crying, laughing, and enjoying each other. These people are truly my peers and it is so refreshing to come together again. Many of us will drag ourselves in haggard and weary – barely hanging on until we can get to Chiang Mai (location of the meeting since 2001). The week is tiring enough, but it is a break from our normal schedules and routines. Although I left quite exhausted – having maxed out my capacity for people interaction several times over – I was also thoroughly refreshed.

Therefore, I want to encourage all of you who support cross-cultural medical workers to support them financially to attend meetings such as this one. It is important professionally, of course. But I know it is also a lifeline for many of us and it is a component of “member care” that enables us to go back and keep going in our work abroad. It is a break for health care professionals AND their families (many are 2-profession families). Another thing to consider in support of your worker is to come and serve as a child care worker at similar conferences. Not a “glamorous” short term mission, but an absolutely essential one! If you are a member of CMDA (Christian Medical Dental Association), consider contributing towards this very valuable medical missions endeavor – your sponsorship helps keep the costs down for us.

BIRTHDAY!

birthday marathon start 7 March 2013My birthday was last week and of course I had to celebrate with a special run! The marathon distance is basically 42km (26.2 miles) and so I had a birthday marathon to celebrate 42 years! Three running buddies showed up for coffee before heading out at the 6am start time. Two ran the first 10km loop, but then had to get off to work. The third gutted it out to the last. He is fit, but I had the special birthday adrenaline and just could not slow down… until he asked if we could walk. <WALK!?!> To his credit, we actually went 44.6km because I found a new trail and didn’t want to turn back so soon. The only thing pulling me back was that I had another (non-running) friend coming to my house to make pancakes for my post-run treat! Besides, I had to be back, cleaned up and fed before my scheduled massage! That evening I spent with another couple of friends at my favorite live music hangout place.

LENT

It is just a few weeks until Easter. I don’t know what traditions you follow for the Lenten season – I actually never really heard of Lent, or thought it was something for me until I was older – but I like to read one of two books to be mindful of the season. This year it is Henri Nouwen’s “Show Me The Way” that takes one through every day of Lent. Nouwen has always been a sort of pastor to me. I know that you will also be enriched from his writing as well. What kinds of practices do you follow for the season, if any?


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The North Face Thailand 100km 2013

POWER UP!

POWER UP!

I didn’t go into this race with the goal to win, although defending my title would be cool. I simply had a goal to finish in 10 hours, and if that was good enough for a podium finish, then even better! The field of female 100k participants increased four-fold this year, with quite a few more foreigners signed up, so I had no idea how good my competition may be.

This year the race was held outside of Khao Yai national park and the course was much more interesting. with more variety of trails, fire road, and paved roads. With some several hundred meters of elevation gain, it was not rigorous by ultra standards, but still difficult by Thai standards. Even so, the conditions proved difficult enough. The day was mostly overcast with temperatures only in the mid-80’s (F), but the humidity was still around 80%. Although balmy for Thailand, this still plays a factor in performance and strategy.

final aid station - about 10k to go!

final aid station – about 10k to go!

The male champion finished in 9:47. My time was a very respectable 11:07, beating the 2nd place woman by 1:02 and good enough for 5th overall. The win and the time are also quite good considering I got lost twice and actually ran 103km (64mi)! The first time was early on when the lead pack got turned around in the dark – the course was not marked well! The second time occurred when I was running by myself on the second loop. My head was down, concentrating on the trail and I didn’t see the sign to turn right. I only saw the race ribbons marking the trail going left, but these were for the 10km race. Since all the ribbons were the same color, I didn’t realize my mistake until I found myself on my way back to the finish line!

This, however, became a source of consternation as the marshals, who do not take bib numbers but guide racers at certain points (of course not the point of my wrong turn), thought I cut the course. Of course I did not and had proof I did not, but at the time they didn’t know that and was followed by guys on motorbikes for several miles before the race director got them off my back. A-ya.

At this point, I started sliding into the dark side. I was not only NOT going to make my time goal, but I could lose my first place standing. Combined with some nutrition issues due to drop bag malfunction; I thought I might just walk the final 25 miles. The “dark place” is something that ultra runners recognize and takes experience to be able to climb out of. It wasn’t until I took some more food, and was encouraged by a couple of guys I’d been running with through the day that I came through it and even burned brighter until the finish.

The finish line had a paparazzi feel as I was surrounded with photographers! It felt great to finish, even better to win, but had not expected to be found in the celebrity limelight! I had flashbacks to Unbreakable, and thought, this must be what it feels like to be Geoff Roes winning Western States (not that I’m even close to his ability). After I had had enough, I walked over the grass where I pressed sponge after sponge on my head and neck as I sat talking with my friends – I really wanted to hear about their own race experiences that day (they ran 50k). It is truly wonderful to finish a race and have friends greet you at the end!

winning TNF 100k

Thanks to all my friends for their support in my training and racing! Whether we run together in body or in spirit, I’m often thinking of you when I’m running!

This is the first race that I have ever done twice. Will I repeat a 3rd time? Not sure… It’s a good race, but not THAT great. So many races and places and so little time! My confidence and ability is growing and there are other projects around Asia that I’d like to explore.

Lessons learned:

  • Avoid drop bag malfunction – put plenty of food in each bag. The map of the course was confusing in that checkpoints weren’t labeled. I took the lady organizing the drop bags word thatyes, I’d be passing through check point #3 four times during the race, so I packed extra food in that one.  Nope, it was actually #1. Oops.
  • Aid stations at this race had only water, a Gatorade-like beverage, bananas, and watermelon (typical for Thailand). Therefore, to properly fuel for a competitive 100k race, having what you need in a drop bag is essential.
  • When the race is held in rural Thailand, don’t assume the resort at which the race is to be held will have any decent food to eat the night before. Needless to say, I didn’t start off with the pre-race fueling that I prefer!  
  • Don’t skimp on “time on feet”, strength exercises, or core training if you really want optimal performance.

YES!

ice cold sponges!

ice cold sponges!

the foot...

post-race massage: hurt so good!

post-race massage: hurt so good!

 

For those of you interested, my prizes for winnings included: 50,000 Thai Baht in vouchers to spend at The North Face Thailand store; Petzl aluminum compact trekking poles; Sigg bottle with special Thai design; a finisher’s medal and a ridiculously large trophy.


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S.T.

Perhaps you remember me telling a bit of S.T.’s story – the Thai adolescent with no known family who suffered from epilepsy and slept on the streets and would sell sexual services when he needed the money.

S.T. died last month. Oof. No! He was found in a public shower. Nobody knows exactly how he died, but I suspect he had suffered a seizure and perhaps hit his head or something. There was no autopsy – not for people like him

The last time I saw him he was working at a night-time street-side noodle stand fixing pad thai and smiling. He was almost always smiling, but that night he looked better than ever.

God bless you! God loves you! He was fond of saying that and told everyone so.

Although his general condition and well-being had improved, he still struggled with breakthrough seizures. Taking two kinds of medicine thrice daily is a challenge even for us in well-fed, well-sheltered, and well-regulated lifestyle.

I met him at U.L., the outreach center for street boys. He had started coming regularly for the free lunch and would hang out the rest of the afternoon. U.L. helped him get a job – it took a couple of tries before they found something he could stick with.

He was essentially an orphan. Beaten by his father, sent away by his mother, he went to live in a children’s home for a while. When he could no longer endure the abuse in the home he ran away and made his life on the street. After a while, options run out for homeless boys and they are easy prey for pimps and pedophiles.

God bless you! God loves you!

Image

I’m not exactly sure about his faith story, but he told me is grandmother was a Christian and she prayed for him. He must have clung to that hope in Love in his dark times. He didn’t really talk about it. I believe it is one of the things that kept him alive. He was so sweet – truly a boy who craved love and acceptance, but not in an obnoxious or demanding way.

It may seem to you that God let S.T. down in the end, allowing him to die when things started looking up for him. We are not to be sorry or feel guilty. We are to celebrate his life. A life blessed by God’s presence. His life didn’t seem blessed as we tend to understand blessing, but we do not have the understanding of God or the way his blessing works.

I’m sad. I don’t understand. But I’m OK with not understanding. Remembering S.T. motivates me to do more, to make the most of each opportunity, be more present to the person before me.


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Catching up on 2012

I hope that this finds your new year a happy one so far! Although I want to jump ahead and start discussing this year, I still have some unfinished business to write about 2012.

RELENTLESS After returning from the States in November, I dove into deep water preparing a series of workshops on child abuse and neglect for residents at Chiang Mai University School of Medicine. Please see this post on the Relentless weblog for more about that. Another few days in Bangkok in December saw some partnerships down there solidly come together.

The heavy cotton skirt got pretty hot, and I had constant wardrobe malfunctions, but it was a lot of fun. All the smiles were worth it!

The heavy cotton skirt got pretty hot, and I had constant wardrobe malfunctions, but it was a lot of fun. All the smiles were worth it!

RUNNING The Chiang Mai Marathon was held on 23 December. Due to some injuries and health issues, my training had not been what I had hoped it would be so I thought of a way to take the pressure off myself and not take myself too seriously: run in costume! A friend of mine had the perfect idea to run as a Thai school girl! I called a colleague who works in a children’s home and asked if I could borrow one of the girl’s uniforms. Perfect! It was immediately culturally recognizable, and very perplexing (and funny!) that a farang woman would be running in such an outfit! I still did OK – good enough for 3rd place in my age group which gave me an extra $100 towards my vacation fund.

URBANA The workshop series took me right up to 24 December and on Christmas evening I boarded a plane to speak at Urbana. The conference, for the first time, had an emphasis on health care ministries and I was honored to be invited to speak on human trafficking, orphans and vulnerable children, as well as sit on a panel of cross-cultural health care workers. The talks went well and I was talking with students for an hour after each session! Otherwise, I stayed pretty busy with my own work, networking, and meetings – Urbana is a great place for that!

HOLIDAY After Urbana, I made an 8-day lay-over in LA where I stayed with friends in Santa Monica, CA. It was my first true holiday since attending Breathe in 2010! I ran on the beach and in the mountains every day (a total of 101 miles)! I saw movies, went to art galleries, and basically didn’t use my brain for the entire break!

BOOKS I can’t let 2012 go without mentioning some of the best books I read last year and making these recommendations to you!

  • Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas is a most excellent book! In fact, I was preparing an entire blog post to discussing this, but I got really busy so I dropped it. Perhaps if I have time to write in the future…
  • Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden is another gripping true story of the only person born in a North Korean labor camp known to have successfully escaped.
  • The novel of the year for me (perhaps the only novel I read) was Byzantium by Steven Lawhead. Not a new book, but if you haven’t read it you are missing out.
  • Other notables include The Other Side of Normal by Jordan Smoller (psychology) and Waterlogged by Timothy Noakes, MD (endurance hydration).

There is, of course, much more to say and reflect upon between these sterile lines of text. There is more I’d like to share with you. Unfortunately, by the end of the year my margin got totally eaten away by a number of things outside my control (and a few things within it). Now I’m trying to re-establish a better rhythm of life for this year. However, just catching up from a week of vacation can be enough to cause burn out! I’ll not let this happen.

Do take care, and please send me a note…


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Stateside Trip 2012 Recap

I returned to Thailand last week. Although I was in the States for just over two months, it seemed like I had been gone a year. Sooo many people, places, and experiences were crammed into such a brief time.

It seemed as if time really did slow down. I have been praying (and working on) being more fully present to whomever is in front of me. Not that I’ve perfected the art of humility, but perhaps even a full-on INTJ’r can have her edges rounded out a bit more and tasks can be suppressed for a little while longer. Yes, this schedule was difficult, and it required disciplined pacing (not unlike trying to run for 24 hours!) as I had to manage ongoing projects in Asia while preparing for the next workshop, talk, or meeting. Unfortunately, I missed seeing so many people, but I’m glad that I focused on quality of time more than quantity of people. Please note I do NOT mean quality of people!

A few of the highlights include:

  • Traveling to 10 States, covering 18 cities!
  • Seeing long-time friends, meeting lost boys from Sudan, and learning the cross-cultural challenges of a town in rural Iowa.
  • Speaking in seven different churches, and numerous small group gatherings – thanks for your hospitality!
  • Learning to surf in Santa Monica – I stood up on my first try!
  • Meeting in person most of the Relentless Elder Board members – we got a lot of work done!
  • Having a car to use: someone left for East Asia two days before I arrived and he let me use his car while I was back. God has great timing!
  • Participating in an excellent training seminar on Sexual Assault Forensic Examination.
  • Making new friends everywhere, and re-connecting with friends – some of whom I hadn’t seen in 20 years!
  • Participating in another successful GMHC!
  • Getting in a run with my ultrarunning buddies in Ft. Wayne!
  • Reading bedtime stories to my nieces and nephews.

Running highlights

November is Orphan Awareness Month. Please see my latest post at Relentless, a follow up on my first post on being aware of how we can best serve abandoned children around the world.

Coming up:

  • I’ve been invited to speak at Urbana 12 next month so I’ll be making a quick trip back to the States in just a few weeks!
  • In December I’ll be giving a series of workshops on child abuse and neglect at Chiang Mai Medical University.
  • Several more clinics for exploited people are planned for the next few weeks.

Thank you for all your sustaining prayers! I can’t do this without YOU!

I hardly sat still long enough to have photos taken, but here is one I can share:

At Inkwell Beach, Santa Monica, CA


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Orphan Awareness Month

I’ve been quite busy these last couple of months in the States, so today I get a 2-for-1 on the blogging about this important issue. Here is what I’ve just posted on the Relentless site. If you get both, no need to read this one.

November is Orphan Awareness month. You will no doubt see many posts by friends about orphans, adoption, fostering, etc. There are many perspectives on this topic but I will present just one here – one related to the just care of these vulnerable children.

First, a clarification: many “orphans” around the world aren’t technically orphans at all. They are children who have been abandoned for one reason or another. Sometimes the children have a disability and the parents either do not want to have a disabled child, or are overwhelmed with the burden of caring for the child. Sometimes divorce, poverty, imprisonment and other factors contribute to the child’s abandonment. I’m not demonizing these parents, I’m just stating what is true in many places.

It is not that we are not aware of orphans and the issues involved in the care of them, but I think we need to reflect on our awareness of our approach to caring for orphans. One approach has been “orphan tourism” or “voluntourism” From the the Child Safe Network:

“Many people come to Cambodia with the intention of donating their time to volunteering at an orphanage or other child-related organizations. Like orphanage tourism, this can develop into a lucrative business which can endanger the proper care of children rendering them more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Unregulated volunteering in all its aspects is harmful to children.”

Here is a real story from a colleague in Thailand:

A colleague of mine who works in a children’s home had a trusted friend in her church invite her to bring the children to a fun day of activities with other children. When they arrived, all the children were separated and placed in 20 different vans with tourists from different parts of the world. The children’s home staff were not allowed to be with the children. This was a group of tourists who had paid a lot of money to the leader of this group to allow them to spend a day with children at an elephant show, etc. However, since my colleague and the staff could not accompany the children, she demanded that the children be returned to her and they went back home.

The leader of the tour  group was angry. Some of the leaders of other children’s homes and the tourists were upset, and did not understand.  Some of the other leaders wanted to know why the children in my colleague’s group kept covering their faces when people were taking photos of them. Well done, kids! Nothing bad happened, and nothing bad was intended, but the procedure of the “fun day” presented all kinds of risks to the children.

Children have a right to privacy, even if they are “wards of the State” and their care is funded by foundations based in foreign countries. Children also have a right to be protected. Some well-intentioned volunteers can inflict unintentional harm on children. Some volunteers appear to be well-intentioned but have nothing but harm intended for children. Proper child protection policies properly enforced will protect children, as well as protect those serving children.

You will find much more information about why children are not tourist attractions at the Child Safe Network. Here are some Child Safe Traveler Tips. You will be interested to see this documentary on “Cambodia’s Orphan Business“.

Do you have any other reflections or questions or comments about this? Perhaps you have a story to share  – please do!


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Hallucination 100 Mile

It was about 6am and still raining. It had been raining continuously all night since 8pm  Still dark. I was thinking, “This is such a good experience, my first and last 100 miler. Perhaps I’ll just stick to the shorter races.” Despite these grumblings, I was still cruising, still on pace, and not hurting so bad that I had to stop. I was just discouraged and sick of running that same friggin’ loop, knowing I had to do that two more times. That was about the extent of my nadir. I came into the aid station at almost 8 am aching and ambivalent, but encouraged by the sun! It is a new day! Let’s get going!

At 4pm the previous day, I toed the start line relaxed and confident before my first 100 mile race, the Hallucination 100. In my mind, no reason existed that I should not finish. All my injuries seemed to be in a solid state of healing. They could flare up of course, but why think about that? No room for doubt when you are about to run 100 miles! The first goal was to finish, and my second goal to go sub-24 hours.

Starting out at a comfortable pace, I hoped to maintain it for the rest of the day. A running buddy started with me and we planned to go far together as we had similar running goals and pace. Unfortunately, he was not having a good day and I had to leave him by the end of the first loop. So I was on my own. Sure, I met up with people as they passed me or I passed them, but for the most part I was alone.

I just plugged away, even though at times it was raining so hard that I couldn’t see. I stepped on countless frogs, and even though other runners reported snakes, I was fortunate to not notice them. If I stopped or walked too long I would get cold, so I had to keep going. For some reason, despite the rain, despite the pain, I just held the pace. After my Garmin ran out of charge halfway through I didn’t even know what pace that was, but by that time, I knew what time I should be getting to each aid station and I was making it. I don’t know how. I just did it. Does the grace of God extend to ultrarunning? I like to think so as I don’t think I can take all the credit.

I started the 6th and last loop with 4 hours and 4 minutes to make my 24 hour goal. Totally attainable if I don’t slow down! I was feeling good – certainly not worse than the other loops. Although my right knee was swollen and giving me some particular pain, I took some ibuprofen and chose to ignore it – it was nothing to stop me from running. My strategy had been walking every hill and running everything else, but by this time, I was walking only when I was forced by a larger hill. No more conservation! Leave it all out there! Hammer time! I came into the finish chute running as fast as I could, pumping my fists.  I DID IT!!! 23 hours, 41 minutes!

Despite the repeat loops, I do think that this race is an excellent choice for those looking for a rather benign inaugural 100 miler. Randy the race director of Run Woodstock is the real deal as far as hippies go; and the weekend is a big running festival with races from 5km to 100 miles. The course is not technical, mostly single-track, with rolling hills and the occasional fire road. With only 4 miles separating aid stations, runners don’t need to take much along with them.

My dad and another good friend made it to the finish! I didn’t even realize I still had my backpack on.

Lessons learned:

  • Having a crew member to help me at aid stations would help me save a lot of time in the future. It would also be a big boost to look forward to having someone there to cheer me, pump me up, and get me back out on the trail as fast as possible.
  • Too much sugar + too much caffeine = frequent tree stops
  • There is no substitute for having a good base. Six weeks out I suffered from a very bad case of acute tendinitis and didn’t run for three weeks. Then started running again three weeks out from the 100.
  • I need to take post-race recovery much more seriously.

Me with cousin Mike who just completed his first 50 miler!