Wednesday, August 29, 2007

This Beach Rocks

I have been broken and thus not blogging. I will endeavor to catch up.

Earlier in September, I returned to the Materland of VA Beach for the Rock N Roll half marathon. Much as I had hoped this wuld be a race for me, I had some limitations, and thus was just trying to finish healthy. The Thursday after Labor Day I was having surgery to fix the psychic shoulder, so this was my last hurrah for the season. At the same time, I didn't want to do anything that would make them postpone it (weird electrolyte levels, another kidney stone, etc.).

I took it slow, treated it like quality heart rate training time.

I did completely lose my temper near the end. Walk right, run left. It's not that hard. I don't care what kind of walk/run program you are on. Walk right, run left. And no f-ing headphones. Especially if you are walking on the left. Or my personal favorite, walking on the left in a row, talking on your cell phone. During a race. Not to mention, if you plan on walking the entirety of the race, don't line up in the 2:30 corral. You are the people who make my morning commute hell by driving 50 in the left lane while shaving. You are a race escalump.

Funny stuff you missed:

There was Elvis running, a juggler, a woman in a wedding dress, a guy in a '70's blue tux, and Spongebob Squarepants!

And the on-ramp leprechauns.

Funny t-shirts:

"Race official: Do not pass"

"Will run for chocolate"

"The end is beer"

And funny signs:

"Run if you think I'm hot!"

"Your hair looks great!"

Thursday, August 23, 2007

I do not heart: heart rate training

I was informed that my strategy for running all out, feel the pain plan is not a good one for endurance sports. Part of the Team Z education has been that I need to work on heart rate training.

What it is and how it works:

Heart rate training is supposed to increase your performance at a given level of effort/heart rate zone.

There are about five zones:
Zone 0- You're dead, asleep, passed out with a bag of potato chips next to you.
Zone 1- You're sitting, typing your blog, etc.
Zone 2- Lower level effort, you can say about 6-8 words between breaths, you are mostly burning fat for fuel.
Zone 3- Working a bit harder, jogging/running, burning about 50/50 fat and carbs.
Zone 4- Pushing it, running hard, 1-3 words between breaths, mostly burning carbs.
Zone 5- Working it like the rent is due. Full on running as hard as you can. A bonk or heart attack is imminent. At your anerobic threshold and beyond.

Why this matters:
If you are like me, you have a much more plentiful stock of fat to burn for fuel, and a limited supply of carbs stored in your system. You could probably run a 5k in Zone 4 and not run out of fuel, but you can't run a marathon or other long race in Zone 4. Attempting to do that results in the dreaded bonk.

You got caught up in the adrenaline, you weren't paying attention, or you just felt good. Either way, you ran in too high a zone too early in your race and ran out of fuel. You burned through all your carbs like an Escalade doing 90 with the AC on. Sure, you could try to drop it to Zone 2, but it's too late. Even in Zone 2, you're still burning some carbs, they're the kindling for the fat fire. And now you're out. You feel like you can't go another step. All you want to do is find and eat sugar.

Since my ultimate goal is long course, I'm attempting to do some Zone 2 training. It is painfully boring. I'm at Zone 2 just walking on the treadmill. I'm in Zone 4 jogging at a 4.8. Boring, boring, boring.

Don't even get me started about the complete lack of pride in that work out. I get distracted because I don't want the people on the treadmills around me to think I'm a sissy. It has sucked the joy out of running.

Patience is not my greatest virtue.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

When staying alive means going bankrupt

This is just appalling.

Health insurance didn’t keep cancer-stricken California woman solvent
By Mike Stuckey
Senior news editor

In our second Gut Check America vote, readers rated health care as the issue of most concern for them. After a false start in Oregon, we found reader Kathleen Aldrich, a Lompoc, Calif., resident who wrote to us about how her battle with cancer drove her to bankruptcy, even though she had health insurance. Here is her story:

LOMPOC, Calif. - Kathleen Aldrich, financially ruined by two bouts with ovarian cancer, is not who you might assume she is.
She raised three kids as a single mom. She worked hard for years. She had good jobs. She paid her bills. She lived in a nice house and drove a nice car. She had a decent credit rating. She had health insurance.

Now she has a record of bankruptcy and is the embodiment of the fear that nags at millions of U.S. families: that they are but one medical calamity away from losing everything. Like Aldrich, they — and perhaps you — could be.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Aldrich says thoughtfully, sitting in the neat, pale green living room of her tiny stucco duplex in the middle of this mostly middle-class American town. “I don’t see that I did.”

Just turned 50, tall and blond with a quick smile, Aldrich is gratefully in remission for a second time from the ovarian cancer, the No. 5 cancer killer of women. Despite “feeling like a little black cloud follows me around all the time,” she has a lot to live for, from a budding long-distance romance to a precocious 6-year-old granddaughter named Alyssa.

A cat named Jack and a great boss
She has a friendly cat named Jack, a boss she adores and a grassy park nearby where she can stroll for miles as the long summer evenings unwind in Lompoc, a flat checkerboard between the bumpy brown California hills to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The town, best known for a federal lockup that has housed the likes of junk bond king Michael Milken and Nixon confidant H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, also is home to Vandenberg Air Force Base, diatomaceous earth mines and 42,000 residents.

But her life is hardly idyllic. Two years and four months after her second trip through the hell of chemotherapy, Aldrich is embarking on the painful new journey of trying to rebuild her life and her credit rating. The bankruptcy has quashed all thoughts that she might someday retire. More immediately, it has left her unable to obtain thousands of dollars of work on her teeth, which likely were weakened by the powerful anti-cancer drugs.
And it has left deeper wounds of shame and guilt over having to walk away from unpaid bills after a lifetime of responsible living.

Aldrich’s situation is "asinine" but increasingly common, said Dr. Deborah Thorne of Ohio University. Thorne, co-author of a widely quoted 2005 study that found medical bills contributed to nearly half of the 1.5 million personal bankruptcies filed in the U.S. each year, said that ratio has likely worsened since the data was gathered.
Bankruptcy in the light of large medical bills is “unfortunately the only choice many people have," she said. "They will never in their lifetimes pay them off.
“To talk with these people again and again is so frustrating. They’re such thoughtful, kind folks who are being set up by the system we have now. What’s most appalling is they’re ashamed.”
Like Aldrich, Thorne said, three-quarters of the individuals in the study who declared bankruptcy because of health problems were insured.
"When the illness began ... they were floored," she said. "They assumed incorrectly that if you have health insurance that you’re fine and that you’ll get the treatment that you’ll need and not have to mortgage the farm to pay for it.”

In the beginning, that assumption appeared accurate to Aldrich.
She was working at a credit union when she was first diagnosed with cancer in 2001. Her employer-paid insurance covered most of her expenses as she underwent surgery and her first round of chemo, which continued well into 2002. She changed jobs later that year, carefully paying her own insurance premiums through a COBRA extended health benefits program until she qualified for the group plan offered by her new employer, a title company in Montecito, an hour down the coast.

But while she was on leave for surgery to repair hernias and a bowel obstruction caused by her first operation, she was laid off. Once more, she used the COBRA process — established by a federal law that lets employees who lose their jobs maintain their health insurance for up to 18 months by paying their own premiums. Again, her insurance paid most of the bills.
Aldrich had landed a new job as a processor for a Lompoc mortgage company when her cancer returned in 2004. Though she didn't have health insurance through her employer and her COBRA benefits had been exhausted, she had continued to buy health insurance, paying $533 a month.

She underwent more surgery and returned to chemotherapy treatments at Santa Barbara Hematology and Oncology, a large medical practice in the area. As the nausea and hair loss subsided in the spring of 2005, she began to receive bills from the practice that eventually totaled more than $15,000.
Where's the $7,000 cap?Aldrich was stunned, since her policy with Blue Shield of California had a $2,000 annual deductible and a co-payment schedule that was supposed to cap her maximum annual “out-of-pocket” cost at $7,000 when using a “preferred provider,” as Santa Barbara Hematology is.

Still dazed by the chemo, she said, she tried to get the bill corrected, calling both the medical practice and Blue Shield. When nothing seemed to work, she turned to her sister, Mary Beth Fisher, a registered nurse for 35 years who spent the last part of her career in administrative jobs for medical practices, handling plenty of insurance matters.

“I said, ‘I know you can get ahold of someone who can help you get through this mess,’” Fisher told In the end, though, she said all they got was the run-around from both the medical practice and Blue Shield. “It was always ‘talk to another person, put your request in through e-mail.’”

Fisher said that in her experience, case workers are available on both sides to help resolve such problems. “I was astounded that she wasn’t offered that kind of assistance or support," she said. "… It really was that nobody would talk to you.”

No help from Blue Shield
Fisher believes the source of the problem was that the oncology practice had been paid more for the same services under Aldrich's previous insurance policy and did not change its billings to reflect the terms of its contract with Blue Shield, Aldrich’s new carrier. But she said Blue Shield did little to make the change clear to the doctors group.
Blue Shield spokeswoman Elise Anderson said privacy laws prohibited her from even acknowledging that Aldrich is a Blue Shield client, but she was confident the company’s customer service process works well.
Lynn Humphrey, administrator of Santa Barbara Hematology, also declined to discuss Aldrich’s case.

According to the sisters, Santa Barbara Hematology sent Aldrich’s case to a collection agency just a few months after the dispute began and refused to discuss the bill after that, a common practice in collections cases. Then, they say, Aldrich was dismissed as a patient for being “a pain.”
The sudden severing of the relationship with the young doctor whom Aldrich still reveres as the woman who twice saved her life was particularly painful.
“I was so devastated and embarrassed,” she said. “Was I a pain during chemo, the whole time? Am I a piece of crap or what?”

Fisher stated repeatedly that she was not looking for any kind of handout for her sister. Seventeen years older than Aldrich, and Aldrich’s guardian after their mother died when Aldrich was 14, Fisher said, “I told Kathleen she had a part in this." She owed money for her treatment. But not any more than $7,000, they believed.

Aldrich and Fisher say they continued trying to work the problem out with Blue Shield, the medical group and the collection agency over the next year. But on July 24, 2006, the collection agency sued Aldrich, seeking nearly $20,000 in debts, attorneys’ fees, court costs and interest. The lion’s share of the total was the $15,239.52 that Santa Barbara Hematology claimed it was owed.

A short time later, Aldrich said, a sheriff’s deputy showed up with the paperwork to attach her wages from Santa Fe Mortgage, where she is the sole employee of owner Fred Bittle, a loyal supporter throughout her ordeal who pays Aldrich more than the going rate specifically so she can purchase health insurance. The prospect of having her $3,820 in monthly pay drastically reduced to satisfy the debt was nightmarish for Aldrich.

Her bank account already had been wiped out as a result of her unemployment and periods when her medical treatments had robbed her of the ability to work full time. She also had borrowed more than $15,000 from Fisher and another sister and had no way to repay the $7,000 she agreed that she owed other than a little at a time.

Nothing in the bank“I have no savings,” said Aldrich. “I probably have 10 bucks saved. I live paycheck to paycheck.” Her No. 1 goal was to keep up with the premiums on her health insurance, and she remembers thinking, “I might as well quit my job if they’re going to garnish me because there’s no way I can make it.”

After consulting with an attorney, the sisters came away believing that the only solution was for Aldrich to declare bankruptcy. “He said, 'This is such an incredible mess that I don’t think you can afford the amount of money that it would take if we could ever figure it out,’” Fisher said.
“I did not want to do that,” Aldrich said. “That is not how I was raised.” She tried to figure out how to pay the judgment, to avoid the blemish of bankruptcy any way that she could. “I was willing to drive a crappy car. I’m not very materialistic. I was even at one point looking to just rent a room somewhere to cut costs,” she said. It seemed hopeless.

So, swallowing a bit more of her pride, Aldrich borrowed $1,800 more from her sister to pay the legal and court costs for the bankruptcy. Her debts were discharged in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in April, including the $15,239.52 billed by Santa Barbara Hematology. In total, the medical group was paid more than $74,000 for Aldrich’s treatment, which got so expensive that her final round of chemo cost nearly $17,000, according to copies of billing records filed in court.
A familiar situationAldrich’s attorney did not respond to’s request for an interview, but a well-known California lawyer who specializes in medical insurance cases said Aldrich’s experience is not unusual.

“We see it all the time in our practice,” said William Shernoff, who said insurance companies often leave patients on their own to deal with medical providers who bill too much. “None of these carriers go out of their way to help these people. They’re just looking after their own interests, and they don’t seem to have any consumer-friendly people out there trying to assist their customers. They take the first opportunity they can to get rid of any problems, especially if it’s going to cost them money.”

Shernoff doubts that a recent announcement by the California Department of Insurance that it will score Blue Shield and other big carriers on a "healthcare report card" will do much to help consumers.

Blue Shield stands by its serviceAnderson, the Blue Shield spokeswoman, said the carrier has a clear path for handling customer problems. “On anybody’s card there is an 800 number, and you call that 24/7,” she said. "There’s a whole process. The key is you start with the customer service number, and anyone at that number should be able to help you.” Calls placed by to the 800 number were answered immediately by Blue Shield representatives.
Thorne, the Ohio University professor, said that a larger problem illustrated by Aldrich's case is the out-of-control nature of health-care costs and insurance. "We already spend enough in premiums and co-pays that to be asked to pay tens of thousand more for health care is asinine.”
Indeed, Aldrich was paying 17 cents out of every dollar she took home for her Blue Shield policy when she ran up the disputed charges. And she recently got a “birthday card” from the insurer stating that now that she has turned 50, her monthly rate will rise to $619 — just slightly less than her $650 rent. In any year that she needs any major treatment, she’ll be liable for an additional $7,000 in deductible and co-payments, meaning that she would have to devote $14,428 — well over a third of her take-home pay — to health care.

It’s hard for Aldrich to talk about her situation without strong emotions, and some tears, surfacing. But she does not want to be seen as a pity case. She sees herself as a cautionary tale for average Americans: “It can happen to you.”

Her sister agrees, saying that the moral of this story is for people at all levels of the treatment and billing process to pay close attention to details and, especially, to listen. “They don’t realize how critical it is to be exact, what a nightmare it can be for someone else,” Fisher said.
Amid the photos of family and friends, there's a sign on the wall over the TV in Aldrich's little living room. “BELIEVE,” it says, in 6-inch letters carved out of wood. And despite all that has happened to shake her faith in our health care system and doctors’ offices and insurance companies, Kathleen Aldrich still believes.

She believes in working, in getting up and going to the office every day and doing the best she can. She absolutely believes in paying her $619-a-month health insurance premium. She believes that someone is watching out for her. And she believes in love.

“I had some pretty dark times during chemo,” she recalled. “I spent a lot of time alone. I asked God, and I told him the one thing that I wanted to do was to love again, to feel how it feels to be in love and to have a companion.” She gazes fondly at a picture on a nearby table of a handsome man posing in the cab of a truck with a happy dog.

“I met Richard last year. It’s a wonderful feeling to have a companion again and look forward to the little things in life that some couples maybe take for granted. I feel pretty good about the way my life is right now.”

© 2007 MSNBC Interactive

Monday, August 13, 2007

Running for a Cause

Why fitness and philanthropy is such a popular mix.
By Sally Wadyka for MSN Health & Fitness

When breast cancer survivor Eloise Caggiano decided to participate in last year’s 3-Day Walk, she was excited both to raise money for a cause so close to her heart and take on a significant physical challenge. “Walking 60 miles is a true commitment of time and physical effort,” she says. And since the walk requires participants to raise at least $2,200, “everyone who does it is really passionate about the cause.”

But passion for a particular cause is just one of the many reasons why events that combine running, walking, or biking with raising money have become so incredibly popular in recent years. The ubiquitous Team in Training is one of this trend’s prime movers. The program, which began in 1988, trains people to participate in endurance events—like marathons and 100-mile bike rides—while they raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Participants get the benefit of professional coaching, personalized training schedules and team support. And the Society gets an influx of funds to help support research, patient education and other services. In fact, since its inception, more than 350,000 people have participated in Team in Training and together they’ve raised $800 million.

“People join the program for a variety of reasons—the social aspect, the camaraderie of being part of a team, getting fit, pushing themselves to accomplish a goal, and contributing to a good cause,” says Andrea Greif, director of public relations for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
And while Team in Training attracts both men and women, more and more women are using such philanthropic programs as their entry into endurance events. In fact, some events cater just to women—the Nike Women’s Marathon, for example, benefits the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in San Francisco. This October marks the fourth running of the event, which features a women’s-only full marathon and half marathon. While the Nike race doesn’t require everyone to fundraise for the cause, so far participants have raised $40 million for the Society.

Perhaps one of the reasons why more women are getting involved is that many of these events cater to causes close to their hearts. A prime example, of course, is breast cancer. The Komen Race for the Cure—which has been running for 24 years—is now the largest series of 5-K races in the world. It began in 1983 in Dallas with 800 participants. Now there are Race for the Cure events in 115 cities that get more than one million people involved.

Fundraising is obviously important, but the bigger goal of Race for the Cure is educational. “We want to make sure that every single participant in the Race to takes home valuable information about breast health, and that they share that information with their family and friends,” says Melissa Aucoin, manager of the Komen Race for the Cure.

A 5-K race (3.1 miles) is not an endurance event, but that is part of the point. “It’s a distance that appeals to both runners and walkers, and it’s a very achievable goal,” Aucoin says. While the majority of participants are women, the events are designed to be family friendly—the 5-K is open to men and women, and many events feature fun runs for kids. “The passion of hundreds of survivors and their friends and family is contagious, and I think it motivates and inspires even more people to get involved,” says Aucoin.

Even when you have no connection to a cause, charity events often lure athletic wannabes to push their physical limits. The MS Bike Ride—which varies in length from a 30-mile one-day ride to multi-day events that cover a couple hundred miles—routinely attracts those new to the sport. “People are drawn to the Ride because it’s a well-organized, well-supported event,” says Betty Ross, associate vice president of campaign development for the National MS Society. “A lot of people who are looking to do a long ride for the first time join in and let us worry about the details.” Of course, once they get involved, they often find themselves more connected to the cause. Participants are required to raise a minimum amount (which varies by race from $250 to $400). “During the fundraising process, they might discover that they do know someone who has the disease and start to feel a more personal connection to our mission,” says Ross.

Another possible reason for the increase in popularity of fitness-oriented fundraising is that the Internet has made the process much easier. Asking for money from friends, neighbors, and co-workers face-to-face has been replaced with emails and personalized fundraising Web sites. One site,, is dedicated entirely to fundraising—regardless of the cause. So if you decide to run a marathon that isn’t affiliated with a specific charity, you can set up a page on this Web site, personalize with your story and the details about the cause you’re supporting, and email the link to friends and family. They can go online, donate by credit card, and Firstgiving automatically transfers the funds to the nonprofit.

Regardless of what initially attracts people to join, few finish their event without being moved by the experience. “It started as a way to get in shape and run my first marathon,” says Team in Training alum Seth Eisen. “But from meeting new friends, connecting with people affected by the tragedy of blood cancers, to becoming a runner for life, the Team in Training experience was more than I ever could have expected.”

Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colo.-based freelance writer who writes regularly for Shape, Runner’s World, Real Simple and The New York Times.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Psychic Shoulder Part Deux

Last Friday, I rolled my virus laden arse off the sofa to head to the orthopaedist's office. I have to say, this is the doctor's office I like best. The magazines are things like SI or ESPN, the walls are Hokie maroon, there are signed pictures of various pro players everywhere, if they had beer it would make a great sportsbar.

So I saw the good doctor, he confirmed that it was still psychic despite resting it another four months, and I set up a date for sugery. He laughed and told me I was like every other patient, apparently, we all live with the pain forever, reach a threshold, and then want it fixed RIGHT NOW!

Two pieces of information I didn't want to hear:
1. I will fully be under general anesthesia.
2. After surgery, no anything at all for four days. Nothing fun for like two weeks. No biking for a month. No swimming for like three months. This pretty much F's my plans for IMAZ.

I've already started brainstoriming on how I'll keep training- elliptical? spinner? the dreaded deep water jogging?