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I haven’t had time to blog in a long time.  But I have been doing a lot of writing.  Writing can sometimes be very soothing.  Other times it gives you a buzz.  But right now it is driving me absolutely crazy.  Here is a sample:

The measles virus (MV) accessory proteins V and C play important roles in MV replication and pathogenesis. Infection with recombinant MV lacking either V or C causes more cell death than infection with the parental vaccine-equivalent (MVvac) virus, and C-deficient virus grows poorly relative to the parental virus. Here we show that a major effector of the C-phenotype is the RNA-dependent protein kinase PKR. Using human HeLa cells stably deficient in PKR as a result of RNAi-mediated knockdown (“PKRkd cells”), we show that a reduction in PKR partially rescues the growth defect of Cko virus, but has no effect on growth of either WT or Vko viruses. Increased growth of the Cko virus in PKRkd cells correlated with increased viral protein expression, while defective growth and decreased protein expression in PKR-sufficient cells correlated with increased PKR and eIF-2a phosphorylation. Furthermore, infection with WT, Vko, or especially Cko virus caused significantly less apoptosis in PKRkd cells compared to PKR-sufficient cells. Although apoptosis induced by infection of PKR-sufficient cells with the Cko virus was blocked by the caspase antagonist z-VAD-fmk, growth of Cko virus was not rescued by treatment with this pharmacologic inhibitor. Taken together, these results indicate that PKR plays an important antiviral role during MV infection, but that the virus growth restriction by PKR is not dependent upon induction of apoptosis. Furthermore, the results establish that a principal function of the MV C protein is to antagonize the pro-apoptotic and antiviral activities of PKR.

If you made it this far in this post, you’re probably thinking two things:

(1)  What on earth is z-VAD-fmk?

(2)  This girl has got to be crazy.

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On Art and Passion

I like to draw, and as the daughter of a music teacher, I think that I am somewhat musically inclined. I enjoy writing, and feel that I have a deep appreciation for music, journalism, and film. But by no means have I ever considered myself an artist.

Recently, however, I came up with a new definition of art. In the midst of a deep conversation at the dinner table one night I said to Carl, “I think that art is anything done with passion.” “Well said,” was his reply.

By that definition, I am a true artist. I approach the lab bench each day with passion. I ride my bike with passion. I love my husband with passion. And if and when I am able to run again, I will do so with passion — more passion than ever before.

It’s been 3 months now since my last run. My foot feels like it’s on the mend, but the tenosynovitis is really persistent. Some days it feels almost normal, but other days I question how I ever ran with this injury. The physical therapist is encouraging me to try it out a little, or at least get on the elliptical, but I don’t want to. At this point, I have no specific running races planned so there is no point in trying to train through pain. All I really care about is the problem going away. Completely.

I’ve been injured so long that it no longer feels strange to not be running. I never thought that I’d be able to go so many months without doing my favorite activity and still feel as good as I do. That said, I certainly have not been sitting still — I don’t think I am capable of it. To keep my mind and body occupied, I’ve found plenty of surrogate activities. I’m working hard at school, perhaps harder than ever, but with much more focused goals. I am excited about my results and eager to set foot in the lab each day. But cells and viruses take time to grow, and sometimes lab moves too slowly for me. A life without speed is, well, boring.

To satisfy my craving for endorphins, I trained like crazy on the elliptical (read my “Machine Woman” post if you want to know more). But a few weeks back I gave this up because I thought it might be aggravating my foot. Moreover, setting world records (a 4:26 mile, sub-28:00 minute 10K) started to seem a little silly, as no one else in the world was really trying for them but me. So I decided that I was going to do nothing but bike.

I love it. On my road bike, I’ve coasted through wine country and looked down at Santa Cruz Island from the top of La Cumbre peak. I’ve explored roads that I never knew existed. I’ve cruised by the waterfront downtown at 23-24 mph and down some hills at more than 35. In addition to these thrills, I feel like I’m actually becoming pretty good at the sport, too. I’ve been doing workouts on the exercise bike at the Rec Cen, and have gotten to where I can do 10 miles in under 25 minutes. I have no idea if I could do this on my real bike, but as I get better at my workouts on the exercise bike, my times for climbing Old San Marcos (“OSM”) seem to be improving, too. A few months ago I could barely do it in 21 minutes; recently I did it in 18:56!

I am thinking about doing some semi-competitive cycling events — that is, if I can get over my ridiculous fear of “hard core” cyclists riding $5000 bikes and decked out in all the right gear. There is a 10-mile time trial put on by Echelon that happens the second Monday of every month during day light savings. The next one is this coming Monday. I just might give it a try. More excitingly, Carl (who is also injured with an Achilles problem) and I are signed up for the “Heartbreak 100,” a century ride with over 8000 feet of vertical that starts and ends in Lebec, CA.

So, unfortunately, my respite from running has been longer than I ever would have thought, but I feel that being forced not to run has made me a much stronger person in so many ways. Running will always be my first true love, but for the time being I think I will try myself at cycling.

Carl on Cat Canyon Rd., Wine Country

First of all, I’d like to thank all of my readers — especially those who have encouraged me to write (Jim K., George W., my uncle Bruce and aunt Patti, etc.). I am sorry that I’ve been out of touch. I guess you can say that I’ve been somewhat uninspired lately, as my running has been pretty much nil. I could have written in great detail about my medical reports and physical therapy sessions, but I’m not so sure you would all have found that as interesting as I did.

So, anyway, here goes. My first essay on running in over three months…

This morning, instead of writing, I could have been running the Napa Valley Marathon, in the company of several other U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials hopefuls. After contacting the race director of Napa back in January shortly after my 5K PR (17:24 at the Resolution Run!), he gave me elite entry into the race as well as free tickets to the pasta dinner the night before. As I was more interested in running a fast time than in staying in a fruffy bed and breakfast and taking part in a bunch of wine tasting (not that these things aren’t fun), I booked a hotel at the Travelodge. I was feeling confident in my fitness, excited about the prospect of running a fast time, and anxious to just have it over with.

But things don’t always go as planned…

For two weeks before the Resolution Run and one week after I was running almost daily. My feet felt pretty good — the plantar fasciitis in my left foot had subsided greatly and the cortisone shot that I finally decided to get in my right forefoot seemed to have (temporarily) resolved that problem. One rainy day after the Resolution Run, however, while doing a fartlek type workout with Carl on the bikepath, my right forefoot started hurting pretty badly again. So I took another few weeks off and as before the pain subsided. On Martin Luther King Day I decided to try once more — this time, probably stupidly, a long run. I figured that if I was going to do a marathon, I would like to know if I could at least do the distance. So Carl and I set off, first for two loops around Ellwood Bluffs, and then for a slightly faster loop around Isla Vista and campus, ending on the UCSB track with a mile. Fitnesswise I felt great — the second part of the run we were probably averaging faster than marathon pace — but I could tell that my foot was not right. I kept on going, however, thinking that dealing with pain now would make me stronger when it counted most. In sheer agony I ended the mile on the track in 5:45 — and then hobbled home. Since that workout, I’ve barely run a step.

It is so strange (and so frustrating) how I can be so fit right now and yet so injured. 99% of my body and 100% of my mind was so ready to run a fast marathon today in Napa. But 1% of my body — ~1 square inch on the bottom of my foot — prevented me from doing so.

I did all I could to get a diagnosis for the problem and to seek the right treatment. An MRI of my right foot revealed tenosynovitis of the flexor tendons underneath my second metatarsal and also a muscle strain. According to the physical therapist, the injury is due to a congenital problem with my feet — my heal bone (the “calcaneus”) and the ankle bone (the “tallus”), are fixed together in a position so that the inner part of my heal never wants to touch the ground. As a result, I favor the outer part of my foot, especially the forefoot, and the muscles on the outside and inside of my calves and hamstrings are asymmetrically strong and tight. To make a long story short, I’ve been dealing with major biomechanical problems for my entire running life, and these have manifested themselves into a tiny toe injury that’s kept me from achieving a major lifetime running goal.

So, am I disappointed? Well, somewhat, but honestly, not nearly as much as I thought I’d be. I guess I’ve just been busy with other aspects of my life and haven’t really had a whole lot of time to dwell on it. School continues to demand most of my time, and I’ve gotten a lot of exciting results in the lab these past few months. Moreover, some major advancements have happened in my life and the lives of others close to me recently. Carl, as many of you probably know from reading the SBAA website, got a faculty position in the Department of Geography at the University of Wyoming! He won’t be starting for over a year, but it is exciting to know where we will be going after this stage of our lives. In addition, my sister had a baby in the beginning of January, and I have been so excited about being an aunt! As a birthday present, Carl bought us tickets to go out to Illinois to meet our new nephew, Felix Fernando Miguez. He is every bit as happy and wonderful as his name.

So, no, things don’t always go as planned. I’ve been having a lot of negative thoughts about running these days, as I feel so fit and so motivated but so unable to meet my potential on account of these silly injuries. Despite this frustration, however, I am satisfied knowing that if I did run Napa today, I would have in the very least run a really great time. No doubt there will be other opportunities to run fast times, but if that never happens again for me I don’t even think I will be all that disappointed. I know that, as much as the sport and the act of running has meant in my life, I have no problem keeping myself busy and happy with all of my life’s other endeavors.

Turkey Trots

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s not as stressful as Christmas, when we’re usually traveling hundreds of miles to see family, but it’s a big enough deal that we make a point of doing something fun. In years past, we’ve done some great camping trips in Big Sur or Death Valley or the Mojave (the birthplace of the trash can turkey adventure), and it’s always been a great time.

This year we had another adventure planned – to ride our road bikes down to Manhattan Beach along 101 and the PCH, meeting Carl’s brother Kyle halfway, and then doing the whole trip in reverse the following day. This plan fell through for a variety of reasons, however, the most important being Carl got an interview for a faculty position at the University of Wyoming and would be flying out the morning of the 25th. Moreover, I had a lot of work to do in the lab (but that never really changes), Kyle was sick, and the bicycling thing seemed pretty complicated when we really started scheming. So instead Kyle came up from Manhattan Beach to join us for the holiday and we went to a friend’s house for a delicious traditional turkey dinner.

I think the highlight of this Thanksgiving for me, however, was that I was able to run not just one but two turkey trots. The first was the UCSB turkey trot on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. This race was really fun! It was our first time doing it and the crowd was somewhat different (mostly UCSB students as opposed to community members), but both Carl and I took first (the race, in Carl’s words, was “not very competitive”) and won iPod Shuffles.  Not to mention the post-race festivities were great, and included free FRS, free Woodstock’s pizza samples, Chipoltle “burrito bucks,” and a raffle. We didn’t win anything in the raffle, but someone who won a whole case of FRS gave us half of it. We made out like bandits!

The second turkey trot was the Santa Barbara 4 miler. Unlike UCSB, this race turned out to be really competitive this year. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t take first for the women’s division, but it was so great having other women up there with me! I ran a 13-second PR for 4 miles (23:20), which I definitely would not have done if the other women (Shawna Berger and Sara Dillman) were not present to push me. Carl had a great race, too, running an almost PR of 21:18.

So if you’ve been reading my other blog posts, you’re probably saying to yourself right now, “What is this girl thinking running two races in a week? Wasn’t her last blog entries complaining about injuries and asking for advice on cortisone?” Yes, that’s absolutely true, but all I can say is that I think my injuries are finally (fingers crossed) going away. I wish I had some scientific explanation for why the healing process happened so suddenly, but I don’t – my body never has made much sense.  Perhaps it’s just that I’ve done my time on the elliptical trainer, and the gods of running are having mercy on me.  That’s not to say the races didn’t hurt at all — my legs definitely ached more than usual after the first turkey trot, and even more so after the second (not surprising seeing I’ve only run about 30 miles easy since St. George), but amazingly my feet feel almost normal.
I am still somewhat fixated on my 2:47 marathon time which I am growing more and more confident that, barring injury, I can achieve.  Unfortunately the marathon I was planning on doing (Pacific Shoreline in Huntington Beach) is sold out, but I’m currently in contact with the RD and I think they will let me in with elite status. If this falls through I might look into Austin, although I’m not too excited about making another major trip to run a marathon (unless, of course, I qualify for the trials in Boston).  Now I just have to “deal with my zeal” as Carl says so that I can continue on this healing streak and train appropriately for the next big race.

Cortisone

Anyone have any thoughts or experiences, good or bad, that they would like to share about cortisone injections?

Machine Woman

Well, it’s been almost 5 weeks since St. George and I’m still hardly running. My injuries are teasing me — they disappear when I don’t run, making me think that they’re gone and that my body is ready to start again. So I’ll try running a few miles, easy, but then pay for it by not running a step for another week, and the process repeats itself — the “Injured Runner Dance” as Carl calls it.

I haven’t been riding my road bike all that much these days either. Although fun, cycling isn’t nearly as simple as running, and it takes too much time that I just don’t have. In addition, my bike also recently suffered an overuse injury (a broken derailleur cable), and my bike buddies (a.k.a. “The Molecular Mavericks”) have been less enthusiastic lately on account of new jobs and new babies. Not to mention the sun sets before 6 now, so if I don’t go in the frigid morning (yes, SB is slowly softening me) it just doesn’t happen.

I’ve never been one to sit still however, and so every day I’ve been waking up by 6 (late for a runner, I know, but the Rec Cen doesn’t open until 6:30) and riding my commuter bike over to campus for 80 minutes or so of elliptical trainer, exercise bike, row machine, or stair climber. “I can’t believe you do that,” Carl says to me on almost a daily basis. “How can you stand it?” Well, truth is, I’m getting pretty darn sick of it, but to look on the bright side there are a few things that I really like about it.

First, I do more reading than I’ve done in years. The LA Times, Runner’s World, National Parks Magazine, novels (usually about running), you give it to me and I’ll read it (well, maybe). Often when I’m up for an extra challenge I’ll take with me papers from the Journal of Virology or Molecular Biology of the Cell or something scholarly like that. What better way to pass the time than to study microscope images, FACS data, and western blots? Perhaps it’s my BONECRUSHER instinct, but I take pride in the fact that I can absorb such complex material while doing 25% more strides per minute than the girl next to me.

Second, it is somewhat of a routine, something that I need and thrive on. It adds structure to my day, enabling me to carry on with my other daily activities, and serves as a reminder that there’s more to my life than just my school work. I am an athlete, after all.

Third, in some ways it feels healthier than running or biking. I tend to drink more water and absorb less UV radiation and the machines put less stress on my joints and ligaments. Moreover, the risks involved are pretty much null, especially compared to biking where death always seems imminent.

Well, I can try to be as optimistic as possible, but the truth of the matter is that I miss my former life. I was once a runner, now I’m just a machine woman. I’m envious of all the runners I see, however recreational they seem, and I sigh each time I pass by the UCSB track on my way to the Rec Cen. Turning curves and running straightaways over and over seems so much more pure, so much more real, than sweating away on a machine. At this point I don’t really care about the Olympic Trials or even setting PRs. I just want to be running.