Sunday, April 22, 2018

Top 20 Cereals of the Last 40 Years: The Mount Rushmore

Unless you have been sleeping under a rock for the last month, you have been on the edge of your seat waiting for the day to come when I would reveal the best cereal of the last 40 years.  By now, it is highly likely that you have scrolled to the bottom and ruined the surprise.  But, if by chance you are a purist when it comes to lists and have stuck with me for this long, maybe you will stay just a little bit longer.

This was never about the cereal.  Okay, maybe it was a little about the cereal.  But in reality, this was always about the journey that I wanted to take the reader on.  This was a way for me to let you peer inside my childhood years and see why I developed a lifelong passion for cereal.  Not many things other than Star Wars have encompassed my entire life like cereal.  It likely taught me to read, having spent every morning staring at the side of the box wondering what riboflavin was and why the cereal inside was providing me with 20% of my daily requirements of it.  This list also reflects the quirkiness of my nature in the fact that I made a list of my top 20 cereals of the last 40 years.  Who does that?  This guy.

And this was also about the writing.  Having started writing about the same time I started eating cereal, this was a chance to return to my roots.  I wrote my first novella at age 16,  But the years that followed were more filled with engineering technical pieces and running race reports than with the type of writing that I truly enjoy.  I have dipped into that passion from time to time over the last few years with my series on the rare virus that attacks my vocal cords and how it has changed my life, but you have to be close family or my mom to enjoy reading those words.  This was an opportunity to write for the pure joy of writing.

Write what you know.  Seems like the golden rule of writing.  Well, I know cereal.  So thank you for joining me on this journey and hope that you have been entertained along the way.

Let's start with a recap of numbers 20 through 6 from my three previous blogs.

20. Cap'n Crunch

19. Cocoa Puffs

18. Kaboom

17. Crispix

16.  Cookie Crisp

15. Honey Nut Cheerios

14. Zucaritas

13. Cinnamon Toast Crunch

12. Coco Wheats

11.  Sugar Crisp

10. Lucky Charms

9. Banana Bugs 'n' Mud

8. Honey Comb

7. Teddy Grahams

6.  Marshmallow Krispies cereal

And now, the top 5.  Thank you for reading along.

5.  S'mores Crunch

By now you have likely realized that many of my favorite cereals were produced during my peak cereal eating years of 1980 to 1984.  S'mores Crunch made a debut in my cereal bowl in 1982 which was during the same time I was watching Super Friends, Shirt Tales and the Richie Rich Show on Saturday morning cartoons.  It basically was Golden Grahams on steroids, as General Mills flavored the graham cracker pieces with chocolate and added tiny marshmallows.  Until creating this list, I never knew that I had such a passion for tiny marshmallows in cereal but apparently it is a real thing.  Like so many other cereals, S'mores Crunch was retired too soon, as production was stopped in 1988.  But maybe this is actually for the best?  Just like going back to watch a movie from the 80's that I thought was so good (then) and turns out to be not good today, S'mores Crunch may be better left in the 1980's. 

4.  Apple Jacks

Not many fruit flavored cereals survived the rigorous process I went through to create this list.  Is it possible that my strong diastase for Fruit Loops has clouded my judgement for other fruity cereals?  Apple Jacks makes a strong entry on the list at number four.  Originally just orange colored loops, it was not until the late 90's that the green circles were added to provide diversity.  Apple Jacks is the perfect balance of crunchiness, robust flavor and nutritional goodness.  But it truly reigns supreme as one of the best cereals to provide drinkable milk at the bottom of the bowl, along with Apple Cinnamon Cheerios. 

3. Grape Nuts

My number three entry likely does not appear on any other top cereal list other than a list where people confuse dog food for cereal.  Grape Nuts can literally taste like gravel if eaten straight out of the box.  But when combined with two scoops of sugar and skim milk, this concrete cousin transforms into gritty goodness.  Before this metamorphosis, it is clearly the healthiest cereal to make the list.  The third and final entry for Post, Grape Nuts has tremendous scoop-ability for getting the most amount of cereal onto a single spoon.  And if you want a totally mind blowing experience, try substituting microwaved evaporated milk (for cold skim milk) and you may just replace filet mignon as your last meal on earth.

2. Golden Grahams

I have previously admitted that some cereals may have been ranked higher than normal due to pure sentimental value.  When I think about my dad eating cereal, I think of him eating a bowl of Golden Grahams.  But unlike my approach of simply adding milk, my dad goes about this a little differently.  In fact, in his bowl of Golden Grahams, there are very little Golden Grahams.  He adds granola, fresh fruit from the garden, nuts and an occasional raisin which in other cases may be a grounds for disownment, but that is another list.  He also prefers warm(er) milk and if my mom will allow it, he would want it to be whole milk.  I have to eat mine in ice cold skim milk and have been known to actually add ice cubes.  A box of Golden Grahams will last my dad for a month, whereas it may not make it to the end of grocery day for me.  But regardless of our methods, it is something that we share as father and son.  This honey and brown sugar flavored cereal narrowly missed top billing.

1. Ice Cream Cones

I believe that 1987 was the greatest year of all time.  I was 12 years old.  Pour Some Sugar on Me by Def Leppard was on the radio.  I was an all star first baseman for the First National Bank little league team at Lodal Field.  I was dating the older system of a team mate.  We went to school camp and my friend Ryan Milkey made me much cooler than I actually was.  I had my first Mark McGwire rookie card and life was good.  I was in the advanced math and reading classes at Garden Village School and life could not be better.

In that same year, General Mills introduced Ice Cream Cones cereal.  It was a combination of sweetened puffs with sugar cone-shaped pieces sweetened with waffle cone flavor.  Do I really need to say anything else?  Our local grocery store in Kingsford, Michigan only carried the vanilla flavor, while the big cities were treated to chocolate and chocolate chip varieties.  Before adding milk, you could make tiny ice cream cone replicas by carefully balancing the ice cream puffs atop the waffle cones.  Though I will never mention it under oath in a court of law, this cereal was actually two sugary to be eaten right out of the box.  But the milk would actually cut though the sweetness and produce an amazing result.  An occasional cone might pierce the roof of your mouth, but it was worth the risk.

Peddling on a bicycled shaped ice cream cart, Ice Cream Jones battled life threatening conditions like man eating cartoon bears and falling trees in the woods to deliver Ice Cream Cones to kids.  He also manged to sing a catchy jingle where he chimed "No storm keeps Ice Cream Jones from bringing you, your Ice Cream Cones."

What is beyond comprehension is the fact that this cereal was discontinued in the same year in which it made its debut.  General Mills did bring this cereal back in 2003 for the 100th anniversary of the ice cream cone, but I refused to bite on this gimmick.  For me, Ice Cream Cones cereal is what 1987 was all about.  Eating something that made you feel good without worry.

If there was a Mount Rushmore of cereals, Ice Cream Cones would be the Abraham Lincoln, cut down before their prime.

Until next time my cereal eating friends...

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Top 20 Cereals of the Last 40 Years: Part Three

I love a good backstory.  Painting a picture that provides a setting so that the listener can only then fully understand the impending tale.  That includes waxing poetically to create anticipation for the final punch line.  Maybe carrying on a bit too long where the reader might just be ready to give up.

I like cereal.  I eat cereal.  I have been liking and eating cereal for 40 years.

So with that, let's continue on with the first half of the top 10, in my multi-part series on the best cereals of the last four decades.

10. Lucky Charms

Cereal is often marketed toward children with colorful cartoon characters adorning the box.  In this case, Lucky Charms features Lucky the Leprechaun.  Unless of course you lived in New England in the mid 70's, in which Lucky was actually replaced by Waldo the Wizard.  I am almost certain very few people remember that!  The marshmallow types have changed over time as some of my favorites like blue diamonds have come and gone.  I still hold a grudge that yellow moons are no more.  But regardless, the recipe has mostly remained the same and so has my adoration of the charm.  After all, how is not possible to like something that is magically delicious?

9. Banana Bugs 'n' Mud

Unless you've traveled to New Zealand, you have likely never heard of Hubbards Banana Bugs 'n' Mud.  This puffed rice cereal has chocolate banana flavored morsels that are aptly named mud, and then maggoty, squishy looking bugs that if you squint and pretend real hard, might actually be bugs.  Cereal Time TV published a ground breaking piece of journalism in 2014 that covered this cereal in less than three minutes.  I highly recommend you watch it here.  Anyway, I have had the fortune of traveling twice to the land of kiwi, and spending the better part of a month there in total.  On my first day I find the local PAKn’SAVE to pick up a box that I carry with me from city to city.  This has fueled my engine for dozens of work meetings, and tramping (that's hiking to the rest of the world) all over the most beautiful country in the world.

8. Honey Comb

I am going to say right up front that I really waffled on where to put this cereal.  Wait for it... It's only funnier when you let it sink in.  Honey Comb should be sold by volume, not by weight since it basically feels like air.  This may be the greatest scam of all time since there is so much space between the hexagonal prismatic cells (phrase "borrowed" from the internet without citation) that the cereal will fill up a standard box and not live up to the standard servings sizes on said box.  I digress.  Honey Comb is basic; it is conservative; it is perfect.  Thank you Post for continuing to manufacture the Delicious combs of honey for all these years.

7. Teddy Grahams

It is difficult to comprehend that as of today, that Teddy Grahams Breakfast Bears has been gone from our lives for 20 years.  It lived such a short, yet sweet life, making it's debut on grocery store shelves in 1991.  Not normally known for it's cereal making, Nabisco made a big milk splash with this graham cereal in three flavors, highlighted by the popular honey flavor.  The commercials featured dancing and singing bears encouraging you to wake up and eat them.  This cereal was basically the Nabisco's Teddy Grahams snack crackers in milk, which were packed with so many preservatives that they stayed crunchy to the last bite.  The creepy part of this was that the back of the box features a full size bear mask that you could cut out and wear.   Thank you Nabisco for making the 90's worth living.

6.  Marshmallow Krispies cereal

When a retired cereal has a cult group of followers and a Facebook page, it is time to come back to our breakfast table!  Marshmallow Krispies cereal made a debut in 1982 when I was seven years old; also known as the peak year for cereal consumption.  The addition of colorful marshmallows to the standard krispy is the perfect amount of sugary goodness in my expert opinion.  Kellogg's was definitely milking the success of the Krispies line with multiple varieties, but the marshmallow flavor ranks number six in my book.  I think that Crackle has gotten the shaft over the years, being overshadowed by Snap and Pop.  His middle child syndrome is clear in his demeanor.  Please support Crackle as you think back fondly on this wonderful cereal.

That's a wrap for now.  All that remains is the top 5...

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Top 20 Cereals of the Last 40 Years: Part Two

I know that for the last week you have been on the edge of your seat eagerly awaiting the continuation of the top 20 cereals of the last 40 years.  You've not been able to sleep.  And when you do, you find yourself dreaming of sugary cereal floating in icy cold milk waiting to be eaten by the spoonful.

15. Honey Nut Cheerios

Though I have been known to be seduced by sprinkles or marshmallows, sometimes simplicity is just as tasty.  Honey Nut Cheerios don't offer 15 pieces of flair but pack a powerful punch with every bite.  When combined with milk, they tend to glue together like sticky rice turning it into a challenge of how many cheerios you can fit into your mouth at one time.  General Mills has had extra base hits with spin offs such as apple cinnamon and banana flavors, but for me it is the original that hits a home run that makes my list.

14. Zucaritas

Normally breakfast south of the border is best when you wrap anything in a tortilla shell as the milk tends to be warm and I question if it came from cow, a goat or other farm animal.  But if you can find Zucaritas, you have found sugary gold in a bowl better than Coronado's Seven Cities of Gold.  This Mexican knock off puts Frosted Flakes to shame since it doesn't have to follow all of the US regulations that make it healthy.  Tony le Tigre awaits!

13. Cinnamon Toast Crunch

I typically deploy a different technique when eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch for several reasons.  Instead of pouring my normal serving size in a monster bowl, I choose the smaller bowl with less milk.  Then I dive in and eat quickly making a slobbery mess because this cereal is only good while still crunchy.  If it gets soggy for some reason, I will let Fiina the beagle have a special treat.  Plus the milk afterward has a shimmery film that I really want no part of.  Milk should be thirst quenching to wash down the sugar just consumed, not make me wonder what exactly I am drinking.  And yes I drink right from the bowl.

12. Coco Wheats

Growing up it was a special treat to have COCO WHEATS and toasts.  Dunking warm buttery toast into the hot chocolate porridge brings back so many fond memories of my childhood.  In Upper Michigan, hot cereal was a staple of breakfast on cold winter days.  Depending on how much milk was added, this stuff could be as think as concrete.  It would stick to your ribs for a day of building a fort in the snow that your dad shoveled off the roof.  Recently I found a reseller on Amazon that sent me a three-pack that I have been enjoying ever since.  This marks the only hot cereal to make the list.

11.  Sugar Crisp

Just like Jefferson Airplane had numerous name changes, so has the number 11 on our list.  Call it Sugar Crisp, Super Sugar Crisp or Golden Crisp.  In any case, you have magic in a bowl.  Golden Crisp is preferred over the Kellog's Honey Smacks version in every category, including the mascot.  Would you rather eat cereal endorsed by a bear wearing turtle neck or a frog wearing a backward cap? 

Stay tuned for part three in which I will break into the top 10!

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Top 20 Cereals of the Last 40 Years

I have been eating cereal for breakfast since 1978.  Often times I will eat it for lunch and on occasion it also serves as dinner and late night snack.  I consider myself a connoisseur of crunch; a guru of grains; an aficionado of Apple Jacks.  Back of the napkin math estimates are that I have eaten well over 10,000 bowls of cereal.

So it is with that expertise that I created this list of the top 20 cereals of the last 40 years. Sadly some of these cereals have been discontinued so if you never had the chance to try C3PO's cereal, you are just out of luck.

20. Cap'n Crunch

During winter quarter of my sophomore year of college, I ate only with the Cap'n for 3 meals a day in the DHH cafeteria.  This was 1996 before "All Berries" existed so I had to manually pick out the yellow pieces so I could only eat the crunch berries.  True story.

19. Cocoa Puffs

While not the best chocoloatey cereal of all time, the Puff has a great crunch and does make me coo-coo.  Sadly the remaining milk in the bowl is too chocoloatey for it to rank any higher.

18. Kaboom

I will admit that some cereals appearing on this list get a boost from sheer nostalgia and number 18 is a perfect example of this.  A fond recollection of Saturday morning cartoons fueled with cereal makes me smile and I would like to think that Kaboom was part of that.  When I was too little to liorft the gallon of milk, my mom would pour a glass of milk for me and leave it in the refrigerator on Friday night.  Then I would have milk for my cereal in the morning.

17. Crispix

Not all great cereals are on the bottom shelf in the grocery store, where they draw the attention of kids.  Sometimes you have to look up and there you will find Crispix.  Yes I will add two spoonfuls of sugar, but that is my own cross to bear.  To make this list, Crispix doesn't need the multiple flavors like Chex from General Mills.  It is everything you need all in one box.

16.  Cookie Crisp

I love chocolate chip cookies.  I love cereal.  So when you bring these two things together it is a marriage made in heaven.  Add in the fact that back in the mid 1980's Ralston also included baseball cards in boxes of Cookie Crisp and you have a winner.

Stay tuned for part two in which I will reveal the next five best cereals of the last 40 years as we work our way toward the top 10....

Monday, June 12, 2017

Can you hear me now?

Just a quick health update for those of you who are following along.

I am now 12 weeks into my treatment program with Pegasys (Interferon.).  This drug is typically used to treat cancer patients, but has been proven to have some limited success when used “off label” to treat Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis (RPF).   According to my research, this is usually the last treatment method that the doctors try, likely because of the cost and the side effects.

The studies show that with interferon, it can slow the growth of the virus, which in turn enables a patient to go longer in between surgeries.  I have mostly been on a six week surgery interval since late 2014.

I am pretty happy to report that on the last cycle, I was able to extend my surgery out an additional 3 weeks (9 week mark.)  We have only been able to go that long once before (July 2016.)  And to be honest, I was still able to speak audibly at that time but since we had the appointment we went ahead with the surgery.  We have planned for surgery again at the next 9 week mark, but will wait until it has been six weeks to see if my voice is deteriorating at all and if we should keep the date, or move it out.  Most patients don't report progress until 3 to 6 months into the treatment, so given I am 3 months in now, but may have noticed some improvement as early as six weeks.

The side effects are still consistent with what I noticed after the first few weeks.  My doctor at Clearview Cancer Institute said that some people get used to the symptoms over time; that has not been the case for me.  Fatigue, weakness, headaches and depression.   The fatigue plagues me mostly after lunch every day; on weekends I can nap and regain some strength.  On weekdays I fight through it but them am exhausted by the time work is over.  The headaches seem to come from no where and immediately debilitate me.  Often I have to lay down they hurt so badly.  I am still hopeful that maybe my response is just slower to the drug and the side effects will eventually go away.

I am running about 20 miles a week.  Short and (moderately) fast feels good; ie track work.  Anything that requires endurance is very difficult.  But the endorphin rush from running keeps me sane.  And the Beagles love summer walks, so they are getting their fair share!

As for my voice, I am able to speak and be heard.  It sounds a little scratchy, but has more volume and definition than I have had in almost three years; and that is what we have been after all along... some normalcy.  Being able to order coffee at the drive thru and not have the barista think I am a 90 year old woman who has smoked her whole life.  Being able to be heard in a loud room.  Regaining some confidence in all social situations when being heard means being included.

Here is the previous paragraph, spoken.

My white blood cells have been up and down, but are still very low.  My baseline was low to begin with (normal range is between 4.2 and 9.1 white blood cells per microliter) and I was at 3.4.  Since then it has dropped by half, back up to almost at my baseline, then back down to my lowest levels (1.4).  My doctor was not overly concerned because I am overall great health and as long as I can tolerate the symptoms, we want to stay the course with the current dosage plan.  I will have more tests in a few weeks.  The biggest concern about low WBC is risk of infection.  I just have to take extra precautions when being in situations were germs may be present.

The original plan was to be on this drug treatment for 6 months and then re-evalaulate.  That means that I am half way done.  We may decide to stay on it for longer if there is any regrowth on the next surgery, or we may decide to back off and see if the virus comes back.  One concern is that this drug has been known to have a rebound effect; meaning when you come off of it, the virus grows back worse than it was before starting treatment.  While that sounds bad, my condition was about the worse documented case ever, so how much worse could it get!?

So that is all for now. We will continue to fight. We are hopeful that this is the treatment that works and I will be able to have a normal life again.

You shoot me down but I won't fall, I am titanium.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Nicolas Flamel and the Philosopher's Stone

This past Thursday was my third round of Pegasys injections. Interferon is typically used to treat cancer patients, but has been proven to have some limited success when used “off label” to treat Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis (RPF). The hope is that with the interferon it will slow the growth of virus so that it will be longer between surgeries or that it would actually kill the virus and I would go into remission. Rachel has been able to give me the weekly injections; I hate needles and she is tough as nails to shooting me up is something she can stomach.

The side effects were mild at first, but certainly are persistent. If I were to rank them from “sucks really bad” down to “sucks not as bad,” I would say they are fatigue, weakness, depression and headaches. Side effects are supposed to be worst immediately after the injection, then slowly fade over the course of the week. Then the cycle repeats all over again. Some research shows that after a couple of months the patient gets used to side effects but that is yet to be seen.

The weirdest part about a side effect is the psychological aspect. Do you think you have side effects because you are supposed to have side effects, or are they all in your head? Do I really feel lousy or is it just my subconscious?

Other than the side effects, I also have a decreased white blood cell count. This was expected. The normal range is between 4.2 and 9.1 white blood cells per microliter (mcL). My baseline tests before I started taking the injections showed I was at 3.7, or slightly below normal. But in the few weeks since taking the injections, my WBC has dropped by half, down to 1.8. Low WBC counts significantly increase your risk of developing an infection so I need to be very careful with trying to remain healthy.

As an engineer, I know that you need three data points to create a trend line. So just having a baseline and the single point since means that the trend is inconclusive until we take another sample this week. It is very well possible that 1.8 is the new baseline and it will not drop any further. Dr. Schreeder at Clearview Cancer Institute agrees, and said that there is no need to adjust my dosage until we see the third data point.

Just like Nicolas Flamel and the Philosopher's Stone from Harry Potter, we are hopeful that this treatment will be the magic elixir that we have been looking for.

I will go to see my physician at UAB on Tuesday for a scope in clinic to determine the regrowth rate of the virus. We don’t expect to see any results from the interferon injections for 3-4 months, but since this virus is an unknown entity, it could go to sleep at anytime for no apparent reason.
So that is all for now. We will continue to fight. We are hopeful that this is the treatment that works and I will be able to have a normal life again.

You shoot me down but I won't fall, I am titanium.

The regrowth on the right is much worse at 5 weeks, than the left after 6 weeks.

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Battle Wages On

For almost 2 1/2 years now I have been battling an incurable virus attacking my vocal cords. I am the 1 in 100,000 people who have this rare condition and in reality, it’s more like 1 in a million who have this and it doesn’t go away in the first two years. It’s even a mouthful to say. Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis (RPF)

The typical treatment is a surgical procedure where an Otolaryngologist performs a micro direct larangoscopy. This is performed under anesthesia and a CO2 laser and a coblader are used to physically remove the virus from the vocal cords. The surgeries always come in pairs, as they typically will work on one vocal fold at a time, then allow healing, before operating on the other fold. The nature of the virus is such that as soon as the procedure is complete, it begins growing back. In an aggressive case, the virus will return fully in two months and obstruct the folds from vibrating correctly as lesions allow air to pass through freely. This means that the patient loses the ability to speak with any audible tone. In my case, this happens more frequently, which means that I require surgery about every six weeks.

Dr. Richard K. McHugh is my doctor at the UAB department of otolaryngology and is a specialist in dealing with this virus. He has been a Godsend in my treatment and his bedside manner is amazing. When your doctor sends you personal emails and you can tell that he is physically upset to see that our measures are not killing this virus, you know you have found a great doctor.

Dr. McHugh has been able to try more advance techniques and try additional experimental drugs such as cidofovir and avastin. To obtain avastin, he had to petition the medical board for justification since it is not labeled for RPF and it costs about $100,000 per year. So during the surgical treatments, I receive injections of these two drugs directly into my vocal cords to help fight off the virus.

It’s hard to say if they are working since the virus keeps coming back. Maybe without them, it would be much worse.

So recently we tried a 14 week period where I did not over exert physically. I had been training as an ultra marathoner non stop for 12 years and even though the research showed that exercise did not impact the virus, we wanted to see if not running would help. The theory was that my immune system was so suppressed that it could not fight off the virus. I hoped it would work, but admit that I was skeptical. I have always been very healthy and before contracting this virus, I had never taken a sick day at work which lasted for 16+ years.

At the end of the trial, we discovered that exercise was not fueling the virus. It was actually a little worse on my last surgery which was disappointing.

So what is next? Maybe our last hope.

After a significant amount of work, Dr. McHugh was able to get me approved to begin taking Pegasys, which is an interferon used for cancer treatments. This is “off label” which means that insurance typically only covers drugs that are labeled to address specific problems. Since interferon is not labeled for RPF, we had to go through a lot of justification to be able to receive it. The cost is about $40,000 per year for treatment.

So starting this week, I received my first injection. It is a subcutaneous injection that will be administered once a week. My wife Rachel can actually give me the shots at home, but I have to go to Clearview Cancer Institute every other week to have blood drawn and my vital signs taken.

The drug has favorable results, albeit on a small sample size. The problem with a rare disease is that there aren’t that many people to be able to take a clinical trial. Overall, 70% (46 of 60) of patients had a response (complete response, 35%; partial response, 40%). Partial responses were observed at 3 and 4 months. For the 22 patients that had a complete response, 18 (86%) showed a partial response by 4-6 months of treatment. Out of the 35% of patients that had a complete response, 75% were free of disease for as long as 6.5 years.

So while these look like solid results, I will say that surgical procedures, and use of cidofovir and avastin were supposed to have worked too. So we are hopeful, but skeptical at the same time.

The side effects of interferon are scary. I am not going to lie. Flu, fatigue, chills, fever, liver damage, low white blood cell counts and depression. Of course everyone responds differently to drugs. And typically those who receive this drug are already sick and have cancer, whereas I am in excellent health. The side effects are supposed to be worse in the first few hours, and then lessen up over the week until you receive another injection and then the side effects start all over again. People apparent;y “get used to” the side effects over time.

I felt fine immediately after the injection and even rode my bike a little. But after six hours when we went to bed, I developed the worse case of the chills I have ever had. It was even worse than the time I had hypothermia and had to call for an ambulance while on a trail run on the Pacific Crest Trail. I had on fuzzy pants, a sweatshirt, and about six blankets and still was shivering so violently that it was shaking the bed. Fortunately it only lasted about an hour and eventually I fell asleep. I don’t think that I am out of the woods just yet on symptoms; we will see how things progress in the next couple of days and then on receiving the next treatment next week. Rachel was very caring for me and made me feel as comfortable as possible as she could tell that I was in a lot of pain. She is amazing.

The hope is that with the interferon it will slow the growth of virus so that it will be longer between surgeries or that it would actually kill the virus and I would go into remission. The downside of this drug is that once you stop taking it, the virus can tend to come back worse than it was originally. For now we will be on it for about 6 months, and hope to see some positive results in the 3-4 month range.

I will say that it was very surreal to be at CCI. The mostly perform experimental treatments for cancer, so like me, many people there are on their last hope. Sitting in a chemotherapy treatment chair; being surrounded by people who have cancer; it was eye opening as to the struggles that some people are facing that is so much worse than me.

So that is all for now. We will continue to fight. We are hopeful that this is the treatment that works and I will be able to have a normal life again.

You shoot me down but I won't fall, I am titanium.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Don’t call it a comeback

I admit that this is long over due, but I finally have decided that I can no longer fight my health issues and continue to push my body beyond its limits with running.

I have been living with an incurable virus attacking my vocal cords for well over two years. I am the 1 in 100,000 people who have this rare condition. It is not going away with our current treatment and surgery routine. My doctors want to take an even more aggressive approach and I am ALL IN on the treatment. The side effects are a bit frightening, but should be manageable.

I would like to be able to have a normal life again. This means being able to talk, be in loud places and be heard, and not be afraid or self conscious to be in social environments. I can't keep having surgery every six weeks and losing my voice in between. My livelihood is dependent upon my ability to speak and I want that normalcy back again.

So it’s time to develop a new strategy, which includes many lifestyle changes and reduction of stressors on my body. I have fought as hard as I could and by no means am I giving up, I just realize that something has to change. As such, I am temporarily stepping away from competitive running. Running fast or far is just something that I do and while it has become a part of me, it is not who I am.

I don't like ever being selfish, but my health and my family need to come first right now and I need to focus 100% of my efforts on those things. My wife Rachel has been my strength when I was weak, and my voice when I couldn't speak. It is with her support that we tackle this next step in our lives together. She truly is an angel to me.

I don't know how long I will be away from competitive running, or if I will ever be able to to return. But rest assured that if I do, it will be the greatest comeback of all time.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Year in Pictures

Let's get this out of the way right from the top.  2016 was not easy.  I continued to battle a rare virus that limits my ability to talk and required seven more surgeries this year at UAB Hospital.  As a result, my health continued to decline throughout the year and now we are seeking new and more aggressive treatment options.

But with the support of my wife Rachel, we continue to fight it and are hopeful for the future.

Running was my escape and despite of, or in spite of the hand I have been dealt, it was a pretty good year.

In December, I qualified for the Boston Marathon for the 7th consecutive time spanning 10 years, when I ran 3:11 at California International Marathon in Sacramento, California.

I earned my first state title in anything, ever, when I was the top male finisher at the RRCA 5km State Championships, held in Muscle Shoals, Alabama at the Swampers 5km race.

I earned 4 overall wins, including winning the Care Center 5km for the 6th consecutive year, bringing my career win total up to 82.

I earned 20 master's titles, including top men's master at Bridge Street Half Marathon in April.

I finished on the podium (top 3) 13 times, including a strong finish for 3rd overall at Xterra Monte Sano in January.

I became the first person to win the Huntsville Track Club Open Male Grand Prix by running only one race at age 39, and the remainder of the events at age 40.  It also marks the 2nd time I have won the title overall (2013) in addition to the five times I have been runner up (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015)

I was standing at the finish line when my wife Rachel finished in the top 10 at Mountain Mist.  Did I mention that unbeknownst to her, she had a blood clot in her lungs at the time?  That's tough.

I became the only person to have finished every single running of McKay Hollow Madness 25km, dating back to 2007 (with a washout year in 2011 that cancelled the event), and with a strong climb up death trail, finished 2nd overall.

I ran in 2,400 total miles, across 3 countries (USA, Canada and New Zealand) and 19 states (Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin.)

I went on a meaningful run with Strava.

Did I mention that the Chicago Cubs won the World Series and that Rachel and I were fortunate enough to go to game 2 of the NLDS vs. the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field, then return to Chicago for games 4 and 5 of the World Series?

Oh and we saw Guns 'n Roses in concert!

Photo Credits to We Run Huntsville, Suzanne Erickson and Keith Henry.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The wise man seeking out knowledge

"A wise man flourishes because he continues to seek out knowledge, while a foolish man perishes because he believes that he already knows everything." - Eric Charette

I realized long ago that I knew nothing about the sport of running.  I knew that it could start simply by putting one foot in front of the other.  I also knew that I was not very good at it, but that in order to become great, I needed to understand it.  I had very little physical abilities, so the only way I was going to succeed was to train smart.  I needed to know why a tempo run was important, the value it added to my fitness and how and when it should be run.  I needed to know how to train, how to recover, how to fuel.  

So I read every book on running; well I've read a lot of books on running.  I sought out the best runners in the area and listened to them talk about running.  I found mentors who were willing to share their knowledge.  I realized that I needed to be a sponge to absorb everything I could about running, soaking in the wisdom like water, so that one day I could pass that knowledge on to other runners, completing the cycle.  In the last 12 years I have gone on to coach individual runners, groups of runners, written training plans for others and for myself.  

For a small town, awkward kid who never ran a step in his life, I was able to perfect my craft through knowledge and training.  My approach had worked time and time again, but as I approached the end of my current training cycle, I realized that the labor of my hard work was not producing results.  I knew that it was time to call in the best.  It was time to reach out to my friend Will Rodgers of Running Lane.

I first met Will when he was a collegiate runner at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.  I believe it was back in 2008 when I was hosting a dinner at my house for the invited elite athletes running Cotton Row 10km on behalf of the Huntsville Track Club.  Long after most of the athletes had left and I was cleaning up, Will pulled into the driveway.  I don't remember why he was late, but he apologized and I invited him in.  Among a tremendously talented field, as a young 20 year old, Will was seeded 27th for the race with a qualifying time of 32:40 which was light years ahead of my 34:45.  Immediately I realized what a quality guy Will was, as we sat down for an hour and just talked about running like two old friends eating a spaghetti dinner.  He was humble, easy going and knowledgeable, unlike a lot of elite runners.

When I needed advice on goal planning for the marathon, I knew that Will was the one to call.  He and the team at Running Lane have built a great program of coaching to runners of all levels.  They believe that it is more important to train smart rather than to simply train hard.  Our beliefs are perfectly in line with each other; every detail of your training should have a purpose.

Will and I sat down for two hours and poured over every detail of my training.  As an engineer, I track details and statistics about every step I take, knowing that it is all relevant in order to analyze labor vs. results.   We drank coffee and poured over the data, talking like two old friends, just like we did 8 years prior before Cotton Row.  He was able to consult me on where I was and what I needed to do in the following weeks leading into the race.  Then we talked about racing strategy and came up with the perfect plan for success. 

One thing that I really liked was that Will was very honest with me.  He did not inflate my ego to think I could accomplish times beyond my fitness, while at the same time he gave me the confidence that I needed to stand on the starting line and execute to the best of my ability.  I am sitting in front of my laptop at a hotel in California, 24 hours before the marathon, in part because of Will Rodgers and Running Lane.  

This is not a paid endorsement.  This is me writing about my passion.  This is me paying forward the kindness of those who have been kind to me.  I believe in what Will and his fellow coaches are doing.  They are experienced and accomplished runners who have turned their passion into a career.  They are coaching runners of all abilities, helping them realize their potential.  

So if you are a new runner, one who simply wants to get better, or at the top of your sport, there is always room for improvement.  Maybe you have not heard about Running Lane, or maybe you have and just have not taken the next step to contact them.  Be the wise man and seek out help from  Don't assume you know everything about running.  Even this old veteran runner was able to learn new things from their guidance!