Saturday, October 31, 2009

Goose bumps

One oddity of having an amputation, aside from phantom pain, is increased sensitivity in the residual limb. Not only am I consciously thinking about the limb much of the day, but also the stump is something of an emotional barometer of sensitive instrumentation.

When I think of something that emotionally affects me, the feeling is conveyed to the residual limb in several orders of magnitude of response than the rest of me. Lately I often think of how it's going to feel to cross the finish line of my first race...or standing on the starting line with my fellow multi-colored eagles, or seeing and hearing the spectators along the course. Sometimes this elicits goosebumps, which I feel 10x more powerful in my missing limb.

It's as if my spectator of a lost foot is claiming this miracle for itself.

I often get goose bumps only on my residual limb, none are allowed elsewhere. It is intense and approaches a degree of discomfort than makes me think of something else to stop the thought that brought it on. I suppose the severed nerves are the cause of this unique awareness; the new me is different from the old and I would not change it.


It has been over two years since Jennifer and I went to race together. That was the Maggie Valley Moonlight race, which is an uphill then downhill course for the 5k. My online race pics showed my distress, so much so that I hesitated too long to purchase them. I regret I didn't.

In two weeks we will run the Rivertown races in Conway, SC. Jennifer will be doing the half marathon and I will be participating in the 8k. When Jennifer signed up for this race I wasn't sure I'd be ready for it...but yesterday I ran 5 miles and know I can do it. It will be exactly 7 months since my right foot was amputated, about the time I will be finishing will be when the time my surgery began.

As I wrote this, my residual claimed the goose bumps. And rightfully so.


I saw my CP, Larry Wiley, on Friday. I now have a new Ossur Iceross Cushioned Liner and was fitted for a new socket. My residual leg shape has changed and this liner has a different shape than my old one. Larry is working hard to obtain me an Ossur Flex-Foot Cheetah running foot. These are amazing prosthetic feet, and will afford me the opportunity to run the best I can as an amputee.

Larry filmed me running which I wasn't expecting. It usually takes me about 150 -200m to settle into a running rhythm, but I did the best I could. Run upright, watch the cross-body arm-swing, and try to run a bit faster than my current slow running pace. I hope the fact I am a grand masters runner will have some bearing on an emerging running demographic. I looked for SC state disabled running records but so far haven't found any. I have no idea if I will be fast enough to challenge or set any marks, but I'd like to know if there are any to shoot for.

I do plan to run everything from the 800m, my high school event, to the marathon, perhaps beyond. I have given my second life as a runner and I intend to go the distance to show my gratitude for this impossible gift.


Almost time to fly.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Mount Pleasant

On Friday, I met Jennifer at the foot of the Cooper River Bridge. This was another in a long line of firsts since I started running again, training on the best hill in a couple of hundred miles. Except for the rolling terrain in Maine, I haven't run any hills and only a slight incline on the treadmill so I was wondering if I would be able to make it all the way up without walking.

We start and had not gone very far when several fast guys passed us scampering down the bridge; a couple threw up a hand in affirmation.

We keep climbing. I note where my quarter mile mark was, the light pole past the first overhead sign. I used to do repeats here before the Cooper River Bridge Run to build strength. I like training on hills, I find the incline to be a personified training partner. This is the steepest part of the bridge, but there is still a long way to go.

A half mile passes and Jennifer wonders aloud if she will be able to make it to the top without walking. She hasn't run the bridge in several months but I know better then to believe she will stop. I note where the grade changes once again to be less steep, and soon we are passing high above the Wando River and finish one mile, heading down now.

Jennifer was planning to run 5 miles but decides to do the 4 with me; I had thought I might go 5 with her but know I must be careful not to irritate my residual. We turn around on the far side of the Cooper River and retrace our steps.

We head back up and do the usual dance around walkers who haven't a clue about keeping right or not walking abreast of each other when others are approaching. We stop at the first tower so I can check my sock fit: still good and tight. The view is spectacular; I always love seeing the birds flying far below us. Fort Sumter. The aircraft carrier Yorktown. The spires of the holy city. The Morris Island lighthouse. You could spend all day up here in the sky.

We drag ourselves from the clutches of the sirens and head back from whence we came. I had to be more studious going downhill so as not to trip and do a close inspection of the concrete deck. I glance at a cyclist pushing a woman in the back going up the bridge about the time Jen exclaims: "That's George Hincapie!" George is in town to do a charity ride, but we didn't expect to see him on our run. Very cool.

We complete our run without further brushes with the famous. Done and done. I think we will keep this run in our repertoire for the next few weeks. It will help me build the strength that I would otherwise get from speed workouts, workouts that I am unable to run with any speed at the present.


Jennifer and I also ran some together today, Sunday. She ran much further in her half-marathon training; I was working toward my first 20-mile week. I did two with Jen in the am and she ran with me for most of my 3-mile pm run.

During this latter run in an adjacent neighborhood, we passed a group of folks out enjoying the evening with their children. A woman calls out, "It's nice to see you two running again!" We smile and wave and I am overcome with emotion. Just as I had no idea on how becoming an amputee would change my life, I think no one understands how such support overwhelms me. I think you might have an idea though.

I was thinking of this when the 20 mile mark came and went. One more mile and my week hit another milestone, 21 total.

Next goals, two races and a 30-mile week.


Last night I dreamed again of Jato, the name I have given to my future running blade. I do this about once a week, one that will soon come true. I hope to develop a little speed to be worthy of the gift.

The fact it looks cool is icing on the gravy train.

Told you I was excited!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Training Plan

My training is basic; my simple goal is to increase base mileage while keeping the residual healthy. This means being flexible should any irritation or blister show up that could derail my running. I seem to be limited to 3 - 4 consecutive days of training before needing to take a day off to make sure the skin on the residual has time to recover from minor irritation. I remove the blister block and expose the skin to as much air as I can give it, often removing my prosthesis at work and wearing my shrinker sock.

That said, by doing 2x day runs of no more than 4 miles each, I can run 48 mi. a week with one day off by running 2 x 4 mi. every day. As things improve, I will be doing a longer run every week and ease into traditional training as best I can.

Here's what I hope to do this week:

Mon. 3 mi. on treadmill - done
Tues. 4 mi. (2 x 2mi) - done
Weds. 3 mi outside - done
Thurs. 2 mi. treadmill - done (am)
Fri. 4 mi. Ravenel Cooper River Bridge (pm)
Sat. off
Sun. 2 mi. am 3 mi. pm

Total: 21 miles

Most of this (alleged) running is slow, 11+ mi. pace. Now all running is relative; Haile Gebrselassie could be in a coma and run this fast, but it still beats my sweet dead granny. My old (prior to first foot surgery) easy pace was 8 - 9 min./mi.

Any periodized training plan will have you go through several phases: base building, speedwork, sharpening, tapering, and racing. Presently I am in base building, and the fact I've not run in almost 2 years means my current running fitness level is at my dead granny level. My speed is nearly irrelevant...or should be. The little speedwork I do is in the form of fartleks, which allows me some psychological relief from knowing I can - and will - run faster. help get sponsorship for my running foot I need to go faster sooner, and therein lies the rub. I simply cannot hurry what the body will not accept. I have many years of experience and I have learned a few things about my sport: you can have a heart full of courage but without training you are toast. Burnt to a crisp, 2 week old moldy toast. I fully expect it to be fall of 2010 before I am approaching the old running me, but after that I going to be unrelenting in my running pursuits.


I had a good visit - as usual - with my prosthetist on Wednesday. I also met another Floyd Brace employee, Don Gaudette, who asked if I would talk to a veteran amputee about running. Truly, it would be the highest honor possible for me to help someone who put love of country first - we the people - with his very life as barter.

Larry said he was trying to get me an Ossur Flex-Run foot and indicated it would be helpful for Ossur to have an active athlete in this area. This makes me want to push myself to get faster sooner, but as a runner who listens to his body I have learned to ignore a certain amount of screaming. I know I shouldn't.

This brings me to something that happened Wednesday night.


After visiting Larry, I was itching to get out for a run. It was a cooler evening and I was getting home before dark. I took off a little too fast, my HR (heart rate) was damned close to my max at a pace that was, well, ask my dead granny. I lowered my pace and enjoyed the rest of my run, but with about a half mile to go I noticed a car slowing down. For runners this is the sign of someone needing directions, but since I am visually a flashing neon sign I knew it might be something else.

Turned out it was a neighbor. She said how she and her boyfriend had seen me running in the past and then watched as I got slower and then didn't see me altogether. Later they watched as I went from wheelchair to crutches and she said to her boyfriend, "he's going to be running soon!"

And here I was, at the end of my run, talking to my neighbor.

The thing is, she has had back surgery and is still in obvious pain, 5 on the scale of 10. Yet she stopped me to say how inspiring I was and how proud I should be of myself. Jennifer walked up with Baxter and she again gushed about my running.


We talked for a while and it made me realize something I hadn't considered about my new life. I did not have this operation to inspire anyone. I did it to run again, because that is my passion in life. Perhaps on some level it connects me to the child that was me, where running and being were the same.

Or, as Ah-nold might say:



The same.


So here is my neighbor, in terrible pain, making me feel good about my condition. Who inspires whom? I am not dying from cancer; my body is not revolting against itself. I had an unfortunate accident that, in the end, is multiplying joy in my life.

Why me?

Why me.

For a short burst I ran my fastest burst yet, a real stride, around 9 min. pace.

Who inspires whom.

Maine Quartet

Been a while since my last post, but I HAD to take some vacation hours and go to Maine with my wife, brother, and his wife Debbie. We were on Eastern Bay across from Bar Harbor in a rustic cabin. I'm not sure why we left, insanity is the only explanation.

I've had a couple of good developments: first, I did my first x/c run in many years and second, my blister has completely healed and I seem to have the answer for it.

Jennifer and I ran several times at the cabin, but the best moment came when we ran in a state park on a 1-mile loop path through the woods. I had tried to run on this path back in 2006, but my old arthritic ankle hated anything but a flat or crowned roadway. I had to watch my step and made sure I lifted and lead with my right knee but I never fell. About a quarter mile down the path Jennifer asked me to stop...and kissed me. Her happiness for me was sweetness squared.


I find I can keep my blister block on for my shorter runs and remains in place for several days. Before our vacation I peeled it off to find the spot on my tibial crest where the blister tends to form was completely pink and healed. I am continuing to use the block when I run, but remove it on my days off to give the skin some extra air overnight. So far the Johnson & Johnson brand works best, whereas the generic drugstore brand doesn't stick nearly as good.


Before our vacation I was dressing myself to run in my wheelchair one morning. It struck me how intensely ironic that I was putting on my running togs while sitting in the symbol of the handicapped. I stood up, walked into the workout room, and ran 3 miles on the treadmill. And I remembered:

"Now I will turn the miracle into routine. The amazing will be seen every day."

- Pi, from "The Life of Pi" (Yann Martel)


My life has become richer than I could ever imagine.
Yet it grows every day.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Whispers of Jato

Thursday afternoon I visited a local hyperbaric medicine office and my CP, Larry Wiley. Both visits were good ones, although one is closer to my heart.

First, I visited Charleston Hyperbaric Medicine, which coincidentally is in the same building complex as Floyd Brace. I first read about hyperbaric chambers in Scott Rigsby's book "Unthinkable" where he states it helped him quickly recovered from injuries sustained in a marathon before his first Ironman. I believe planning for what you can anticipate is a good thing, and I wanted to see how this might help me in the future. I came away thinking this might be the most unknown, underestimated medical procedure in the US. I'd love to be able to do treatments as part of a preventative maintenance plan, and should the opportunity to test this theory present itself I would avail myself to it.

Dr. Peery's nurse's brother, Rob Devlin, is an SC Runner of the year in 1989 and 1990 and quite talented. It was a nice connection to know she would understand why a runner - and this amputee runner - would want to avoid any interruptions to training because of slow injury healing. The blood supply in my stump in obviously a little compromised and healing is slower. When I use to get an occasional blister on my anatomical feet, they would heal after about 5 days enough not to be a problem. When these blisters appear on my residual that time is nearly doubled. This would be a disaster if I developed a blister just prior to a goal race.

After this visit, I walked down to Floyd Brace from my afternoon appointment. Larry, my CP, worked on my existing socket a bit to ease the pressure while I had my blister and gave me a new gel liner to try. I talked to Ricky Miller, technician and fellow amputee, about itching (it is bad stuff) when the liner is removed, near accidents from not being able to feel that the foot is under a counter or desk, and the construction of his prosthesis.

I brought in my October 2009 issue of Runner's World to show Larry the article about Rick Ball so he could also see the suspension system he was wearing. Larry showed me a suspension belt that I will try later that will insure my leg stays put even when the liner is sweaty. We talked about running for a long time; Larry is currently working hard to get me a running foot and it is obvious to me he is enthused about the project. We talked about running shoes - I wear Nike Vomeros - and I think Larry is going to try a pair.

We talked about Ossur, Freedom Innovations, and Otto Bock running feet. I have no idea who may provide Larry with a foot, but I know it will be an extraordinary day when Jato arrives. I told Larry we'd have to celebrate that day with a dinner; he said we could go for a run. I know it's going to take a little work to adapt to the running foot and I am like a kid waiting on Santa...after having a gallon of coffee.

As I was driving home the full impact that my running foot is on the horizon hit me. The thought came to mind that this is what it felt like on the day I decided to have my amputation; only this felt good. Down to the core, inside the heart, deep down soul good.


Just got back from dropping Baxter, our pup, over to my mom's house so he can spend the week with her. I did not notice he was missing his collar until I got over there, so I had to run out and buy him another at a Bi-Lo grocery store. As I was looking over the meager selection there a man comes up to me and says, "Do you mind if I ask you something?"

"Sure go ahead."

"That is incredible!"

I am still wearing shorts for convenience, and he noticed how well I was walking with my prosthesis. He mentioned he had run the Cooper River Bridge Run a couple of years ago and saw some veterans with running prostheses. I told him I was hoping to get my leg soon but still had a little time to go with the leg changing shape. It really made me feel good, and I am glad he took the time to make my day.

Off to the treadmill! I've been running 2 miles in the morning and 2 in the evening, but I took yesterday off and had to get to work early this morning so I'm going to do 3 now. I plan to do two-a-days frequently, as it will be easier on my residual and I can still do decent mileage in preparation for my first races. Maybe I'll be able to run the entire 8k next month? If not that's fine, the longer I run the better, if not in distance then in time.

I did the three on the treadmill, it went very well although I was extremely tired before the run and wanted to sleep. I ran about 2.5 miles, walked 0.5 and was able to push the pace a little at the end. My leg felt great and I didn't have to stop to dump out the sweat even though I was wearing 10 plies of socks.


I think I have a good plan now for running enough miles to make for some real progress while avoiding another nasty blister. I don't think I am going to be able to do real speedwork until I get a running foot with a lightweight socket, but I do need to make steady progress with my mileage. Next stop, a 20-mile week. Once I hit 30 miles I should be ready to throw in some intervals and start making progress to getting back to where I use to be a few years ago.

Getting my running foot is going to be a huge milestone, as big as starting to run after surgery. I think at that point this new runner will be whole again.


Monday, October 5, 2009

Help From Above

No, not That Guy, this guy: Rick Ball, 43, Canadian amputee runner. Rick has the single leg amputee marathon world leading time at 3:01:50, which works out to 6:56 mile pace. He did this on the grand course not noted for PRs, Boston. This tells me on a flat course with favorable conditions he will knock off huge chunks of time from that historic mark in the near future. Look for many more records and a possible Olympic - not Paralympic - berth for Rick.

What is amazing is Rick has only been running for a little over 2 years. I love this quote from Rick: “Someone said to me, ‘Can you imagine how fast you would run if you had your real leg?’ And I said, ‘I probably wouldn’t even be running.’”


It took a little time - he isn't one to sit on his laurels - but I finally exchanged some messages with Rick on Facebook. Rick told me he had exactly the same blister problem at the same location as me with his heavy temporary prosthesis; things improved greatly when he got his definitive prosthesis with a lightweight running foot. He doesn't have a magic bullet for stopping sweat; it causes him the same problems as other amputee runners.

There are probably tens of thousands of resources for able-bodied runners; our amputation circle is a bit more abbreviated. Time and time again I have gone looking for answers and found them coming from the best in the sport. I'd think "so-and-so is probably very busy and won't have time to respond" and then I get a long email or phone call from that athlete. Imagine having a problem with your jump shot and Michael Jordan picks up the phone and explains in depth how to release from the wrist and fingertips, or Tiger Woods gives you a tip on a troublesome backswing (slow down!)...this is how I feel when someone like Rick takes time to help me. He has been where I am now.

As a matter of coincidence, while I was looking for some facts on Rick I came across this page on the Runner's World website. Down in the comments you will see where my wife Jen made a post less than two weeks after my amputation:

"Inspirational! Due to various failed attempts to reconstruct his damaged ankle, my husband just had an amputation and is getting fit with this new prosthetic foot in 6 weeks. His goal - to live and active life and to run again! After much research we've learned that he can indeed live an active life again. From a 'you'll never run again' prognosis to a hopeful and exciting future."

Small world, huh?


It's not every day you get to chat with one of the world's best athletes. I've had the pleasure of emailing and talking to several others who have done amazing things despite a disability or two. There is no telling what Rick might have done with two anatomical feet, but the truth is he has done miraculous things with two good feet with more to come. Much more.

Keep your eye on Rick but don't blink.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

6 Months and a Lifetime

It is Sunday and I just did two slow walk/jog miles on the treadmill. I had not run a step and walked very little in my prosthesis all week; I tried to leave the leg off as much as possible at work to give the blister plenty of air to stay dry and heal. Every time I put on my leg, it would suck a tiny bit of blood from where the blister was healing and I was afraid I'd make things worse by trying to run with it in this condition.

This morning with Jennifer out doing an 11 mile run in preparation for her half marathon; I couldn't stand it any longer. I used a Band-Aid blister block cushion over my blister site; I also have some similar but differently shaped CVS brand blister bandages. These do work well, I have used them in the past but none hold up well to long distance running as they tend to peel off under heavy sweat and friction. Last Sunday the CVS block came off around mile 4 of my walk/run in the pool of sweat in my liner.

I am very glad I will be able to put this meager 2 miles in my run log this week so I won't have a shutout. I'm equally glad the leg tolerated this short run and didn't show any additional irritation. With our first races coming up next month and I have to be able to do some minimal training to go the distance.


I was going to call Dr. Ohlson to get a prescription for Drysol - a high octane antiperspirant - but it is available on Amazon so I ordered a small size to try out. This will go on my leg and should stop if from perspiring. Downside is it has a burning sensation when you first put it on, particularly the first few times you use it. CertainDri did this so at least I know what to expect. I hope it works as well as I've heard. Never have so few worried about perspiration so much.


Speaking of sweaty equity, last week I contacted Comfort Products, Inc. about a sheath that you wear next to the skin under the liner. It has silver strands that are suppose to help keep the leg cooler in summer and warmer in winter. I have some running shorts with this technology but I can't say I felt much like a polar bear in the SC heat. One runner said it helped him run up to 10 miles without a sweat problem so I figured I would try it out.

I talked to Jennifer Fayter of Comfort and she is going to send me a free sample. We had a nice chat; she was very interested in hearing my needs and sent my email along to Matt Perkins of Coyote Design. Matt is the current and four time above the knee world triathlon champion! Impressive credentials indeed. Matt, in so many words, told me to be patient. With all the socks I am wearing at times now my leg is bound to overheat. Once I get to my definitive socket and the leg shrinking as more or less stabilized, the sweating should diminish by an order of magnitude or so.

This was great to hear. I still know sweat is going to be a major problem in my prosthesis, but I feel I am making some progress in learning how to manage it. I still think there must be a real and permanent solution to this problem and hope to find it.


This week I sent a couple of small donations to the Achilles Track Club and Limbs For Life Foundation. Both of these organizations helped me during my amputation and recovery. If you can help them, perhaps during the holidays, would you please consider a donation? A single dollar might be the last dollar someone needs to obtain a prosthesis and walk again. You can be the person who raised someone from a bed to standing, walking, or running again.

Be that person.


Last night I was reading Scott Rigsby's book "Unthinkable" when I read he used a hyperbaric chamber to aid in recovery after the ING Georgia marathon. His post race injuries were way more egregious than my little blister, but the effect is the same; he would not be able to participate in his first Ironman if his legs didn't heal quickly, and I can't run at all. Scott found his legs healed in five days and looked better than ever. I have contacted a local hyperbaric chamber facility and am going to look into services they may offer that can help me in the upcoming years. If I can cut this blister's healing time in half it would be a huge plus for my training.


After my one-mile continuous run last weekend I had a huge outpouring of love and support from my friends and family. It's hard to describe the emotion I felt...damn close to sheer joy. Many times the thought goes through my mind about how I will feel at my first races; I just hope I can keep it together at the end. I hope I don't embarrass myself.

But if I be it.


My 6-month post-op anniversary was last Tuesday. This journey seems longer at times, as if it has consumed my past as it launched me into a new life as an amputee. I never mistake my loss as anything other than what it is, an unfortunate incident. Others face far greater adversity; their very lives are on the line. For them I stand in awe, for them I give my belief that as long as you hold breath, you keep climbing, if not in body then in spirit. There is an eternity we face.

Facing it with the frailty of the mortal part and never giving up, never quitting is the very face of that eternity.

Climb, my friends, climb.