Monday, November 30, 2009

Pet Peeve




Caution: Rant on.

When I came back from lunch on November 23, I found this pickup truck parked on the handicap painted aisle, effectively not only squatting on two handicap parking spaces but also blocking the wheelchair ramp at the sidewalk.

I posted this photo on Twitter to the Mt. Pleasant Police Department and was told to call them to have an officer dispatched. Before I could call the vehicle left the lot.

There is no disabled license plate on the truck and there was no hanging placard from its rear view mirror.

To think of the total disregard not only for the law but for disabled people who need this access by this person disgusts me. Your convenience is NOT your right.

I use handicap spaces because I need extra room to exit my vehicle without opening the door into the adjacent vehicle. Originally I thought I would not need the disabled placard or license plate but most times I do for this very reason.

Should I see this vehicle parked here again I will not hesitate to call the police first. I don't care if all handicap spaces are available, you are wrong to assume you have a right to any of them if you are not personally disabled. Those who have disabled placards by false pretensions have been reported to Santa already. That lump of coal is no mistake.

Rant off.

For everyone else who do honor the handicap spots and go out of your way to lend a helping hand when needed, thank you. Goodness is something you cannot buy.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Gifts


This is a framed quote from Wilma Rudolph that my brother Mark and sis-in-law Debbie presented me at a small celebratory party Jennifer arranged. Wilma walked in braces until she was about nine years old...remind you of anyone?

The quote reads:

I ran and ran and ran every day, and I acquired this sense of determination, this sense of spirit that I would never, never give up, no matter what else happened.

*******

My knee is healing quickly and I should be able to get a full week of training in the books next week, although I will take it slowly until the skin fully healed. I did an easy two today without any problems, my bandage stayed put although it was soaking wet. No, this isn't the type of injury that would put any able-bodied on the d/l, but it is on a weight-bearing part of my prosthesis and it cannot be ignored.

Next race will be in two weeks in Charlotte, NC; Jennifer will be doing a half marathon and I will be doing the 5k at the Thunder Road Marathon. Charlotte is hilly so I might do no better than the Turkey Day 5k time-wise. Races are more of speedwork for me these days so I don't mind doing more of them, but even as speedwork I don't like doing them more often than every other weekend as it takes my legs out for the long(er) Sunday run.

Full work week this week. It is nice to look forward to my workouts, and if all goes well I'll head to the track on Friday afternoon to get the wheels turning a wee bit faster with 8 x 200 most likely. I hope to get in 25 - 30 miles.

I've enjoyed the long weekend and the time to write a few more blog posts, there's one good thing about sitting on the couch watching the skin heal.

I'd rather, and will be, running.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Holiday Ad

(I thought of this while on my easy 2 mile run this morning.)

Scene One: Car filled with cheerful holiday shoppers. It is late in the evening and there is a blowing snow outside. Someone belches. Diets are mentioned with laughter. All are overweight. It's a tight fit.

Scene Two: You hear step pat step pat step pat from outside and deep, labored breathing. The screen turns white from oncoming headlights.

Scene Three: Someone in the car says: "Will you look at that." All faces in the car turn and all grow silent as they pass the amputee runner.

Scene Four: Sound and light of the car disappears, you only hear the quiet step pat step pat step pat....

Scene Five: The driver of the car getting dressed next morning and going for a walk. "I have no more excuses."

What's your excuse?

Ossur Responds to Weyand / Bundle

Here is the Ossur's response to those scientists' claim that the slower Oscar Pistorius has an advantage over his faster competitors.

I suppose this will have to generate more time and expense to defend the obvious, that could otherwise go into research for amputees.

Thanks for nothing, Weyand, Bundle, Ross, et. al. Maybe you should find a positive line of work to help the disabled instead of attempting to tear them - or even one - down.

From an article here that quotes this "scientist" Weyand:

"Based on the data collected at Rice, the blades do not confer an enhanced ability to hold speed over a 400m race," Weyand said. "Nor does our research support the IAAF's claims of how the blades provide some sort of mechanical advantage for sprinting."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Nothing Is Impossible

From left, Nancy Cumbee, Richard Blalock, and Jennifer Blalock


The Charleston Turkey Day run was to be my "return to racing" event, but despite some minor setbacks that race was the Conway 8k on November 14. Still, this would be my first local race, and I became increasing anxious about it, as nearly as nervous as the start of my high school races where I most often only raced not to be last.

We were to meet our friend Nancy at the Knights of Columbus building, but as soon as we arrived I spied the port-a-potties and felt the runner's compunction to go stand in line. Shortly thereafter Jen met Nancy and joined me as ladies-in-waiting.

Although I am still very self-conscious of my appearance, I can't say I felt like I am being stared at by others and for this I am thankful. I'm sure the leg is noticed and I don't mind at all talking about it, at times that actually makes me less aware of it...these ironies seem part of many aspects of being an amputee. I am different but more the same than ever.

After our visit to the plastic potties, we head over to the starting line. Jen snaps a pic of me (my "Blackbird" outfit!) and I am rather proud to see the baby I was carrying around my belly is mostly gone. I've lost nearly 20 lbs of me from my couple of years of minimal exercise and slothdom. However, the main inspiration for weight loss was not for appearance or health or anything like that, it is in preparation for being in the proper weight category for my running prosthesis. Indeed, I must be worthy although my running times are not quite there yet.

We mosey to our rough time positions and wait about 20 minutes until the start among our fellow brightly colored flock - I now see us like that at races - and hear very little from the PA system. Nancy is a new home owner and is in the intense process of home improvement, something that is taking a lot of her energy and training time. Nancy is an outstanding cyclist; Jen ("Jencapie") and Nancy ("Nance") have done tris and bike rides together. I've only been riding for less than 2 years, and only a couple of times since my operation, but that will change once I get a riding prosthesis. More on that at a later date.

Although I am not a formal (?) religious person, I always look forward to the blessing of the runners, which is a religious experience for me. The Chaplain works down the middle of the runners and sprinkles us with Holy Water. I can't say this has ever made me run faster, but I do feel blessed to have received it evermore so today.

From the race website:

"The 2009 Turkey Day Run is dedicated to Father James Parker, Chaplain to the Knights of Columbus Council #704.

Father Parker
He is at the start line of every race to say the blessing and to sprinkle the participants with Holy Water. The Turkey Day Run Committee is grateful to Father Parker for his commitment to the run and walk and is proud to dedicate the 2009 race to him."
*******

The race starts right on time, the way it should. We start running almost immediately, but then have to do a start/stop/start as we attempt to take off into the running sky. Although we have chips on our shoes, for some reason there will be not chip times as I would learn later, so I will receive no accurate run time as I do not stop my watch at the finish. But that is time to come right now. I punch my watch when I cross the starting line.

Jen, Nancy, and I are running together at this point, but it is understood we will run our own races. Not far from the starting line we are running with Jannette Finch, a longtime friend and triathlete. We chat a bit but soon I get caught up in the race and increase my pace. I feel good and love running among my compatriots...how I've missed you all!

At first I am passing a few runners, but even though I end up running a fairly steady pace, I feel I am being passed by ever more runners. My first mile on my watch is 10:04, HR (heart rate) 167. I should mention I made the mistake of not even thinking of turning off my Garmin's autolap feature, as I should manually record my mile splits (lap time) because the Garmin and course markers are rarely the same...close but not the same.

We make a left then right turns around White Point gardens, a place that I've visited throughout my life. I am starting to feel the strain of running now, not bad, but definitely getting my attention. A boy runs up alongside of me and starts a conversation:

He says: "At least that thing doesn't get tired!"

Me: "That's what they tell me but I'm not so sure about that."

I can't recall what else we said, but I ended with: "Have a good race man!" and off he went. I thought to myself, what a fine kid, one of the many you don't hear about because the good are often missed entirely in life. I am seeing them with more focus than ever...Thanksgiving Day, and I am thankful in every way for my new life.

At mile two I realize the bigger difference in my Garmin and the race mile markers. Since we are running between gigantic houses and the canopies of live oaks embracing us, I'm sure the signal is lost on occasion. The Garmin goes off perhaps 50m or less before the mile 2 marker, saying 9:42, HR 163. I am sure my mile time was a tad over 10 min, however much I wished it had been under 10.

I grab a cup of water to cleanse my dry mouth, but do not stop. We are heading up King Street and this last mile is, as always, the longest mile. Seems I am being passed by many more runners now, a little disheartening but I am working hard to keep my pace with the thought of picking it up soon...real soon.

Suddenly I am working much harder and am only picking up the pace a little. I hear a woman pushing her friend forward, faster, higher, stronger. 'You can do it...come on! We can still break 30 minutes!" I have serious reservations about this 30 minute goal, although it will be my next one. I am struggling, wheezing some, aware of other runners working through our common foe of fatigue and gravity.

And as I am pushing up the mountain, thinking how it would feel to walk only a few steps. I feel my bandage slipping off my knee wound, and in lightning the thought comes into my mind and softly out my mouth: 

Nothing is impossible. 

It is a half mile to go and I bear down. Nothing is impossible. Not as many runners are passing me now, home is a finish line not far from here.

Mile 3 arrives at 10:00 even, HR 162.

I hear someone say my name from the crowd, I am too focused to look to see if I recognize the person, but it serves to lengthen my stride, pass one more runner, and transform myself from runner to knee-holding finisher.
I walk into the crowd and realize I haven't stopped my watch. It now reads 3.17 miles and with my extra walking it shows a total run time of 31:19, 9:52 mile average, yikes! My estimate is probably a time of 31:09, still far better than what I estimated on my race application some weeks ago of a reasonable 36 minutes. My official race results are: 

 Place      Div/Tot        Sex/Tot               Name                 Age   Time       Pace
===== ======== ======== ================ === ======= ==== 
 2054       72/157    1253/2027   RICHARD BLALOCK 56     32:17     10:24 
 
There were 4186 finishers listed here. I'm right in the middle of the pack and damned proud to be here! It took over a minute to cross the starting line.

As we walk off King Street and into Marion Square, someone asks how the leg did. It might have been my friend Mike Nice, looked like him but I wasn't sure. To my right I see our friend Cal Sinkler, who I make my way to for a celebratory hug. Happiness is unbound.

I now notice a little more soreness in my knee and walk between some vehicles, hold onto my knees, close my eyes, and remember what I've done.

*******

Jen is already at our meeting place, having made a Chicago-style shortcut through the race barriers and soon Nance joins us. We exchange slices of our race stories then head back to our SUV. Jen and Nancy return to the expo while I check out my knee. Not nearly as bad as I was expecting, the wetness turned out not to be blood but my friend excess perspiration. I dry everything off, fix a new bandage over my owie, and spend some time on my Blackberry tweeting and catching up on correspondence.

Rick Ball had emailed me in the wee hours before the race about using Spenco Second Skin for my injury, something he likes very much. I have used this in the past and checked my old able-bodied supplies. Yes, the box was there but the kit had been replaced with miscellaneous odd sized bandages. I did go by CVS to get some for the future, but made a mistake and got burn pads, ah jeese. I did pick up an assortment of other bandages and will heed Rick's advice and get the Spenco blister kit when I order more Drysol.

Rick has been an indispensable source of help and inspiration to me as I've transitioned back into running as an amputee. Thanks Rick, when you guys are needing a winter break we've got some SC sunshine and dinner waiting for you! Rick is waiting to be named to Canada's Paralympic team, something I feel confident will happen for him given his records and spirit. Again, I would have never known Rick as my old able-bodied self, now I know someone headed up that Olympic mountain.

Life, I am ever amazed.

*******

Jennifer comes back to the Honda with some future race fashions from the expo and we head for home and a later Thanksgiving feast at my brother Mark and sis-in-law Debbie "Martha Stewart Should Come to my School" Blalock's house. Mark, my mom, and Jen all give thanks for my successful surgery and return to running, as I do, but also for the love of all present. When people come together, things like politics fall away. We are individuals and connected; if we depend on ourselves we can solve most problems and find nothing is impossible. The things that divide us are artificial and fleeting.

*****

I am giving my knee a day off to toughen up, I will try a short run on the treadmill tomorrow and see if there any problems that irritate it further. It looks like it will heal much faster than the old blister problem on my incision line, which looks to be A-OK now, another little victory here.

My concerned CP Larry Wiley calls me later, which I miss while having breakfast. I text him that my knee is no worse for the wear, so the socket adjustment kept the pressure off my owie. My leg is still changing shape and will do so for the rest of my life, until you have to wear a restrictive covering over your limb you probably don't realize these small changes that happen every day. I am thinking eventually for my daily prosthesis that the elevated vacuum suspension system will be best to help with these volume fluctuations, but I might forgo them with a racing prosthesis. Time will tell.

My average mile times for this 5k was around 10 min/mi. whereas my pace at the longer 8k was 10:32 min/mi. I would guess the real improvement was around 20s / mile, maybe a little better but not the 40s / mile I previously thought. I will not be running the local Reindeer Run next weekend as I want to give my knee time to heal and to be able to get my mileage up.

Our next race will be the Resolution Run 5k on January 2 and then the Riverfront Race Festival on Jan. 16, 2010. At the latter Jen will run the half marathon and I will do the 5k. More to follow, including my beloved Flowertown races in March. There is also a local 15k I want to do, but I'm not committing until we get closer to the race date to see how my training and residual are holding up to increased mileage.

Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving, mine was perfect this year.

My right leg having a well-deserved rest after the Turkey Day 5k.

Amputee Advantage? Part II of the Prejudicial Attack on Amputee Runner

 (Prior post is here.)

First, I want to clear up that the current attack on Oscar Pistorius is in regards to bilateral amputees only. These researchers realize the folly in thinking unilateral amputees have any advantage even with an advanced running prosthesis like the Ossur Flex-Foot Cheetah. In reality, most able-bodied people will not make this distinction just as many never realized Oscar was cleared to compete with able-bodied athletes in Beijing.

Here is a link to "Science of Sport" post that got my dander up:

"Oscar Pistorius gets a 10 second advantage in a 400m race"

The author of the above article, Ross, thinks that may only be a 5 second advantage, but still an advantage nonetheless. Please read the article and my comments on the bottom of that article's page.

Now note the title is "Oscar Pistorius gets a 10 second advantage" which is a very specific calculated time...or is it? If Ross says is may only be 5s, that is a 100% disagreement in the so-called science. In a 400m sprint, those are monumental/gigantic differences.  I say it is what it is: BULLSHIT.

I'll sum up accurately, I hope:
  1. The mechanics of a bilateral and unilateral amputees are different
  2. Oscar Pistorius, if able-bodied, would be a 51 - 56s 400m sprinter
  3. Oscar Pistorius, due to his nearly lifetime spent as an amputee on prosthesis, through time and training has maximized his advantage like no other and this is the key to his success
We could probably expand this list a bit but this will do for now.

On point 1, I would agree the mechanics of bilateral and unilateral amputees are different. Being once able-bodied and now a unilateral amputee, I know how different I currently run, almost like two different people through my left and right motions. Bilateral in some respects would be closer to an able-bodied person, particularly for BK amputees. (As a side note, look at videos of Richard Whitehead sometime. He is a bilateral AK runner with a unique swinging gate. His current world leading time is 2:50:38). You cannot truly understand a bilateral amputee's challenges unless you are one. You cannot know what it is to be an amputee until you have lost your limb(s). You can put a blindfold on to experience semi-blindness, but until your eyes are out for life, you don't know blindness.

I think point 2 is the most unscientific and profoundly damning/disturbing evidence to the current argument that Oscar has an advantage. It is impossible to know what an able-bodied Oscar Pistorius might run for 400m. This is a pure speculation, lacking basis in any fact or historical precedent, since Oscar has been an amputee since he was a child. Any scientific pronouncement based on this rabbit-out-of-a-hat guess dooms the very unscientific conclusion. As best I can tell, these scientists backed into this guess based on their conclusion of Pistorius' prosthetic advantage. They are saying his 47.49 400m time means he is in reality a 51 - 56 second 400m runner. Really.

I've read that some believe Usain Bolt's magnificent WRs have come 20 years early, how did the science miss that mark by 180o? It's because the science of sport is largely in its infancy, and the lab-coated investigators know much less than they let own except when their pants are down and they are running for cover. Not that I don't think it's a field worthy of intense study and scrutiny, but I simply do not believe they are in a position to know within a reasonable margin of error about Pistorius' natural ability and even less to know, with any certainty, that he has an advantage over his faster able-bodied Olympian competitors.

Lastly, on point 3, read Oscar's book "Blade Runner" and take a look at the prostheses that he first wore as a child. That these gave him some advantage in later years is, to me, mind-boggling. Barely a cushioned cup on the ends of his stubby legs, if anything, outside of helping with balance, would take a huge amount of relearning and training to overcome the habits of walking and running in such crude, embryonic prostheses. It speaks volumes of the hard work that Oscar has achieved to maximize his performance on his Cheetahs, something that I find amazing, not something to try to tear apart with massaged science.

Here is a reasonable article Rick Ball sent to me by David Epstein at Sports Illustrated:

"A not-so-civil debate"

If science can definitively prove Pistorius has some advantage, then so be it. However, I can find no scientific evidence or physical records to believe this is true. I do think something is going on the peripheral, perhaps some not-so-scientific pride, but Pistorius is paying a high price for all amputees.

As an aside, recently bilateral amputee Rudy Garcia-Tolson became the first AK bilateral Ironman. I wonder how long it will be before the so-called scientists go after his achievements?

I'm all for science uncovering truth, but when politics get involved with science, truth is the loser.

As seen throughout history, it is the cry of the mediocre to tear down the achievers of greatness. Oscar Pistorius has overcome immense adversity to compete against the best sprinters in the world. This is something we, as human beings, should realize propels our species faster, higher, and stronger.

Fear not competition or excellence.

Or the truth.

I am going to say it again:

THERE IS NOT A SINGLE WORLD RUNNING RECORD HELD BY AN AMPUTEE THAT IS FASTER THAN AN ABLE-BODIED ATHLETE.

NOT ONE.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

2000 Hits

Thanks everyone who is reading my meandering thoughts here. I noticed this morning I just had 2000 website hits, though probably many of those come from my own updates and editing attempts to keep this train in its track. Still, it is a nice milestone on its own.

Whenever I think I'm going to run out of things to say it seems my muse pops me upside the head with something to mutter about so I suppose I will keep this going a while. I do know when I was first researching amputation and running that I had many questions and it took some digging to get the answers either on the internet, in books or magazines, or by others. I am still finding questions and looking for answers and learning every day.

So if there is anything you want to know about or think I could be more clear on, please drop me a comment and I'll consider it for a post.

Thanks again to my friends, family, supporters, and guests.

*******

Owie

We have the Turkey Day 5k in Charleston tomorrow. I've got a nice raw place on my right knee and a sore left knee but its going be a PR no matter what. = :-)

Update: Came home and right knee is much worse, a layer of skin has come off. I'll see if I can protect it enough to run tomorrow but for now it looks doubtful.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Amputees Runners Have Advantage: Or, Would You Like To Buy The Brooklyn Bridge, Mister?

There is a 'recalibrated' scientific study that concludes that double amputee Oscar Pistorius has an unfair advantage over his able-bodied competitors. You remember Oscar, who won the Olympic gold medal over his able-bodied competitors in Beijing, far ahead of able-bodied American LaShawn Merritt and setting a new world record in the process? Moreover, you've no doubt seen the pathetic attempts of once-great Haile Gebrselassie choking on the dust of amputee speedsters Richard Whitehead and Rick Ball, both running the marathon well under 2 hours, already showered and on their way to the airport before the gasping Gebrselassie stumbled across the finish line.

Right-o.

Let me say this in case you have some problem with processing facts:

THERE IS NOT A SINGLE WORLD RUNNING RECORD HELD BY AN AMPUTEE THAT IS FASTER THAN AN ABLE-BODIED ATHLETE.

Look at this link and show me just one: Outdoor World Records Men.

Scour at any other category and show me the money.

Maybe take a gander at this list and see where disabled athletes trash their able-bodied peers: List of IPC world records in athletics.

It's time to put personal prejudice aside for facts, and if the facts aren't backed by reality then one should examine the erroneous presumptions/flawed data input that lead to false conclusions. I hate the idea that some of my able-bodied running friends will one day think that I have some unfair advantage over them with my non-power producing prosthetic foot because of junk science. It takes a loss of all common sense by the myopic intelligentsia to make such appalling conclusions.

Can degrees be rescinded? Not to my knowledge, but it should be considered. And begs the question to be asked: who is the disabled among us?

Here is the real science you can believe:

No Sprinting Advantage With Prosthetic Limbs

Interval Time

On Friday, I did my first speedwork session at the town track, this is the same track that I ran my first amp mile on September 26th. I left work at noon and came home to change clothes, excited about my workout place: 1 mi warm up (wu) with 6 x 200 and then a half mile cool down (cd). I would jog the 200 m rest interval.

When I got to the track, I found a lot of school kids milling about. Apparently the middle school has rights to the town recreation facilities and the kids were walking back and forth from the soccer fields. They seemed aware not to be on the track, however, which would have made it unusable. I placed my amp bag on a bench, feeling a little self-conscious of myself, did a few light stretches and started my mile.

It takes a while to get in a rhythm, one I have not yet felt on par with my able-bodied self and not sure I ever will. I do hope over time it will feel more normal and I will not be so aware of my prosthetic. I end up running around a 9:30 mile, not bad but definitely a little fast for my current condition, do some more light stretching, drink some Gatorade, and start the heart of the work.

I am wearing my Garmin 301 watch, great for distance work but not so great for intervals as it is large and the lap button is too close to the stop button. I missed the first 2oo by hitting said stop button, which does not record the lap...I am guessing it was around 60s. I use to use my older Timex Ironman watch for track intervals, I'll have to dig it out for this next time. I've forgotten a few things while on the DL.

My other 200s weren't bad, all things considered: 56, 56, 57, 54, and 53. An upright start with my good leg, then loading my body weight over my prosthetic seemed to work well. It felt very good to stride out some, since everyday easy running has a much shorter gait.

Why 200s? These give me a taste of speed work without the danger of overdoing it, works on my stride mechanics, and gives me confidence to build longer intervals over time. I am still in a long base building period given my long absence from my sport, but the legs need to remember what it's like to run faster. And, btw, I like it.

*******

On Thanksgiving Day, the lovely Jennifer and I will be running the Turkey Day 5k in Charleston. This will be my first local race, where many of my old running posse will see me for the first time in over two years. I still am very self-conscious of my new appearance; this was only a secondary thought when I decided to have my foot removed. Now the attention makes me slightly uneasy, but once I get rolling that feeling is mostly lost in running.

I think it's going to be a good day to run and I am very much looking forward to it. It's one of the largest 5ks in the area so there will be plenty of company on the course in The Holy City. Then across town for dinner with the family.

I'll have a leg, please.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Second Wind


It was a long day of driving on Friday the 13th, first to take Baxter to grandma's house, then up to motel at Conway, over to the race packet pickup, back to motel, over to Myrtle Beach for dinner, than back to motel. My coughing is minimal during the day and bad at night but should not prevent me from running the 8k in the morning. I am tired, though, and have had my prosthesis on all day.

It could have been any race in any small town.

*****

On Saturday, November 14, 2009, after two major surgeries and no running for over two years, I completed an 8k race. Exactly seven months prior, on April 14, 2009, I was in the OR having my right foot amputated. It’s hard to describe other than a sense of shock at what I’ve done. I have done something immense with my life, and I cannot grasp all of it. If I try, it overwhelms me. It’s as if I’m deaf from an explosion, and sound is slowing coming back to me.

*******

The race start at the Conway Marina had plenty of parking; we arrived about half an hour before the race and still parked about a quarter mile from the starting line. We eventually sorted out our last minute clothing and equipment choices and walked over to stand in the port-a-potty line. I felt they could have used some more units but few races seem to have really enough.

Afterward Jennifer and I did a short warm-up run. I stopped and made a last minute check of my socket fit, yes, nice and tight, and then we lined up where we thought we should be at the starting line. It was not a very aggressive crowd, lots of room in the group with many behind us. I was a little worried about being in the way, but it turned out to be okay.

The day was cool and overcast, little breeze, very nice. Because of some last minute course checks the start was delayed about 5 minutes, always better late than early, that's for sure. I chat with Jen and another runner and then the national anthem is sung and off we go.

I really wanted to make sure I don't start too fast, fast definitely being a relative term for me. Having run just a handful of miles since getting sick the week before I was concerned it might be a struggle to finish. The first half mile is slightly uphill; perhaps a 20' gain in elevation from the river up to the town. Thereafter it rolls a bit before flattening out.

I was running slightly faster than Jen, who was racing nearly 3 times as far. My prosthetic leg felt a little hard like my distal end was pressing on the socket, but this later went away until the end of the race. I felt very comfortable and hit the first mile in 11:04. The course was very scenic with many trees and old southern homes and charm. Mile two was 10:38, a little faster than I expected but I was not struggling at all.

We make our out and back turn in front of a church and head back to the marina. I see Jen approaching and she is looking good - as always dahlink! I am trying to hold pace and hit mile 3 in 10:29. Cool. Ahead I see an older guy who gives me a target to reach. Later in a race even if you feel you are running faster, you are also overcoming fatigue so sometimes what feels like more effort is just the effort to overcome increasing gravity.

As I catch him, he asks me how I'm feeling. It's an old runner's trick to see how your competition is doing, if the response is labored -and truthful - it let's you know the state of the runner's being. We pass mile 4 and he asks what it was: 10:39. I make the mistake of offering too much information, that I am saving something for the end. Although he said he was going to "try keep up" with me to the finish, shortly thereafter he picks up the pace and I find I am beginning to fatigue. I give a nod to his smart running.

The course starts to roll again as we head home. In my mind, I feel my old stride lengthening as I start to pick off slowing runners. In today's reality I do pick up the pace a little but there will be no blowing by anyone. I hear encouragement from the crowd; I reach down and find a little more speed, cross the finish line and I'm done.

I have finished my first race as an amputee. The thought comes to mind of the surgery 7 months ago and now today, of all the milestones these two stand alone. I'm quite spent and walk a bit to recover. Over by the port-a-potties I break down a little with my back to the crowd.

I have done it. It seems impossible but here I am. I have done it.

*******

I go to the SUV and change into my old Chicago marathon sweatshirt, a race I ran in 1997 in 3:32:10. My residual is not too wet, but I am surprised how much sweat ran between the outer and inner plastic pieces of my socket. There is perhaps a tablespoon of perspiration around the air valve. I dry everything out, text Larry that I finished the race, and head back to the finish line to wait for Jen.

While I wait I notice they are posting the 8k results. When I can get close enough to check my name I see:
Place Div No.   Name          Age S Chiptm
===== === ===== ============= === = =======
76 2 807 Richard Blalock 56 M 52:18
Yes, that is second place in my AG (age group). There were four races in the area this weekend, so I was lucky to rank so high. I can only think the running gods smiled on me - they certainly have had some fun at my expense in the past - because of my peculiar situation and recent illness.

Jen comes in looking strong and I run a few steps with her. We go back to the car so she can get out of most of her wet clothes and we trade stories about our races. I tell her I was second in my AG so we must stay for the awards...and when we return to the starting area we find she got first place in her AG. Wow and double wow.


I am very happy to get my medal and Jen snaps a pic on her Blackberry. Another woman from Mt. Pleasant gets her award and touches my jacket and says something I can't quite make out in my fluid-filled right ear canal. Jennifer is always sensitive about getting her hardware and asks that I not yell for her when she receives it. I know she has worked hard, probably as hard or harder than more genetically gifted runners. I am very proud of her and can't suppress her desire that I don't whoo-hoo her ceremony.

*******

I have a huge volume of work ahead of me to get close to my old running self. But I am on my way now, where all of my running is new again. I am indeed lucky to be given this second life, although I never took the first for granted and never thought I could love it more. From this high road, I see ever higher peaks all around that demand climbing.

Up I go.

It is a good day to run.

A very good day indeed.




Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cough It Up

The past few nights I have been coughing more than a politician found stuffing the ballet box. Not talking about Chicago politics here, but a nagging cough that appears more often than dead voters in the Windy City do. Sorry, couldn't help myself.

Last night it was hack HACK hack. I took a little more cough medicine than recommended as I was getting a headache from all the respiratory ruckus. This was accomplished while consuming two snackpacks of Mr. Salty chocolate covered pretzels. As the various ads would say, I deserved to treat myself to the indulged depravity because, well, I'm worth it. Yeah, that's the rationalized ticket. Unfortunately, I understand toga-clad marketeers and they have little truck with me. That's why I had two instead of one.

Finally I fell asleep for perhaps 4 hours of sweet, uninterrupted bliss. Woke up knowing I had Friday off and for a bonus, a cough syrup hangover of sorts. For the rest of the day I had only some muted barking, none of the bone fracturing, throat ripping, marriage dissolving spasms of phlegm expulsions of yore. Nice.

I visited Larry at Floyd Brace to get a minor adjustment to my socket, something he recommended that I do if needed before the race. The race? Yes, this evening I ran 2 slow miles on the treadmill to see if it would induce the convulsions that would spell disappointment and spectatorship. I survived with only some occasional rasps. I will race.

We mosey up to Conway Friday after dropping Baxter off at my mom's for spoilage to occur. On Saturday Jen-nay will run the half marathon and I will attempt to finish the 8k without walking. The forecast is for nearly perfect weather so all systems are a go, except for me not training a week due to something that could have been prevented if only...oh, sorry, no need to bring reality to this particular perfect picture.

*****

Tomorrow we figure out what we will likely wear...our running "outfits" as stepdaughter Princess Becca would say. Always prepare to be a little colder and a little warmer, a little wetter and a littler sunnier. And know if there is an expo, you can usually buy there what you left at home.

I've taken my bath, put Drysol on my residual, and thoroughly checked out my incision line and former trouble spots for problems. Having used Drysol earlier in the week, this application didn't sting nearly as much. Time to finish up and go to bed.

I am thinking of two days, April 14 and November 14, 2009. Seven months and two lifetimes. One finished and one started.

And one thing to do.

Run.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Dream of Being

I'm having a tough time thinking about running in my first race as an amputee. To have something so very part of your core being taken away and then given another chance fills me with emotion. It is still surreal: my foot was amputated so that I might run again. This day seemed so far away when I was in the hospital; I knew it as going to happen, but now that it is, it is more difficult than I dreamed.

Oh, what a lucky man I am.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sick Bay

Here I sit on the couch, doing a little telecommuting while faithful dog Baxter snores at my side. I am taking my temperature; my normal range is usually 97.2 - 97.6. Beep goes the alarm: 98.4. Not much and it's been no higher than 98.8, but along with the coughing and congestion I am not in condition to do my 8k race this weekend unless I get better and better in a hurry. I haven't run since last Wednesday and I just pushed my longest run to 5 miles the week before.

Since this would be a participation event on my part, I had no specific time goals in mind other than to be able to pick it up a little at the finish and to run without the distance itself being a problem. To these noble but modest goals I felt I was on track...on track until I came down with the flu.

There are a number of nearby races this weekend, 4 that I know of. It is entirely possible even if I finish last in my AG that I might still be in the top 3, which as most AGers know puts you into the glory of plastic hardware, coffee mugs, or other highly valued items of running prowess. I have plans for any tokens of success that I might have, so any will mean a great deal to me no matter how long it takes to drag wee bodkin across the finish line.

If I do not run this race, we will be running Turkey Day 5k in Charleston on Thanksgiving Day. This was to be my original first race as an amputee, so it's all good, and it would be a perfect way to return to my running flock.

We shall see what tomorrow brings.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sweating the Small Stuff

Perspiration and the problems it causes the amputee athlete has been something I have researched and sought advice for during my journey. It is more troublesome to the distance runner than the sprinter and there is no current prosthetic solution for it. I believe hope lies in elevated vacuum suspension systems; there should be some way to suck the sweat out of the liner.

Here are some things to keep in mind, things I have gleaned from others and from my own experience:

  • If you are a new amputee you will sweat more at first; it will take many months before you body adjusts and lowers sweat production under your liner. It does get a little better.
  • Antiperspirants help but do not stop perspiration (in my experience). For best performance use regularly; Drysol and Certain-Dri are two good products. They will be uncomfortable after application! On days they are applied, I recommend bathing in the evening and applying as soon as skin is dry. Once product is dry on skin put on shrinker to keep product from rubbing off overnight. It will take some time to get use to the needle-like sensation when the antiperspirant is applied. Be tough! The unpleasant prickly sensation goes away in about 15 - 20 minutes.
  • Use of a sheath may help delay sweat accumulation; I am currently trying the Silver Liner Sheath from Comfort Products, Inc.
  • Run when you can in cool or colder weather, the heat and humidity will guarantee more sweat and time delays when you have to stop and dump the fluid out of your liner. At times a treadmill will be your best friend. If you can invest in a good one! You don't get a time-out in a race unlike those baby sports!
  • Inspect your stump closely every day. If you pull off your liner to dump sweat out, take a close look at your residual for any irritation and address it immediately. Carry extra prosthetic socks and a small towel with you as well as some form of blister protection. I can stuff all these items into a small hydration backpack when I run.
  • Blister protection in the form of Band-Aid Advanced Blister Healing bandages and New-Skin will help protect/prevent blisters in suspect areas. I recommend putting these on at night on clean, dry skin to allow them to adhere to the skin better. The Band-Aid bandages tend to come off if you run too long with sweat accumulating in your liner. Some use a little mineral oil or Aquaphor on hot spots.
  • Press your prosthetist to encourage prosthetic companies to seriously deal with this issue; as more amputees return to high levels of activity, the more this problem will surface.
NEW! This is from Rick Ball, single BTK marathon champion:
  • One of the biggest problems that I have had in the past is infected hair follicles on the residual limb. It starts off as a little red spot like a pimple and if it is not taken care of right away can get much worse and a lot bigger as I wear my prosthesis and the heat and sweat gets to it. My solution is some antibiotic ointment or cream that I apply. It is a prescription medication (Fucidin) and seems to work for me very well. I don't know if you have the same problem or not but if you ever run into this hopefully this can help.
(My note: I also use tea tree oil and neosporin for these follicle problems; Rick trains much further and harder than I do and these infected follicles are probably as bad as blisters. Infection is never welcomed on the residual limb.)

This is my shorter run hydration pack showing socks and towel (pulled out for clarity)

If you have anything to add please comment on this post and I will append this list. This is a pet project of mine and every chance I get - and as diplomatically as I can be - I will impress this need to the companies who may be able to help.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Fighting Weight

During my running years I usually weighed around 165 lbs during training and almost always 163 lbs on 5k raceday; before marathons I weighed as little as 156 - 158 lbs. At 6'1", I am definitely lean, but I can think of an elite runner who, at my height, tips the scales at 138 lbs. Excess weight and muscle works against a runner, but an amputee runner has another consideration.

Prosthetic running feet are built in weight range classifications. Here are the Ossur Flex-Foot Cheetah and the Freedom Innovations Nitro specifications. The Otto Bock feet appear to be custom made for the individual runner and I could not find classifications for them.

While I was recovering my weight approached 185 lbs through a combination of inactivity, plenty of food, and the tendency for some medications to cause weight gain. Most of this lard went directly to my waist, and the only thing that narrowed was my selection of pants.

For the past 6 weeks or so I have been dieting, the first time in my life I have done this on and with a purpose. I need to be in a weight category 4 for either the Ossur or Freedom Innovations foot so that was my goal.

Last Thursday I was 168.7 lbs, close to a 16 lb loss. Being able to run again helped burn a few calories, while controlling portions and knowing that "stomach growls is fatty leaving the body" would be my barometer of choice. Having reached this goal I'll probably try to get it down to the lower 160s which shouldn't be too hard given my amputation diet as well. My old anatomical foot probably weighed 5 - 7 pounds, so I have to keep this in mind as my new one-footed self.

*******

I plan to run an easy 2 miles tomorrow. I have been coughing my head off this evening, but it seems to be a dry, reflex only hacking. Since I've not run a fever, I think as long as my throat isn't sore I will be okay. Given I have a race next weekend I need to do a little cramming. Well, just a little. And maybe drop a couple of pounds along the way.

Saturday Gruel

I did get my new socket on Friday; it is considerably lighter, mainly due to a thinner/different plastic being used. It fits my Ossur Iceross cushioned liner far better since it was cast with this liner in place. I have to admit to some minor disappointment in not getting any news of my running foot; in fact, I find myself not wanting to talk about it to mitigate building too much excitement for that milestone day. I know I will get one; it is a matter of time and timing. My CP, Larry Wiley, is working hard toward this end. I still don't know for sure which prosthetic foot it will be.

As a side story, in "Tales if the Otori" Jato found its way to its master, it could not be owned otherwise. I know I am slow now and it will take several months of hard work to begin to approach my old running self. So no, I can't say I am worthy now. The way to do is to be. And wait.

*******

Except for some coughing, I am feeling better today. I do have a bit of a sore throat at night, likely from the congestion drainage. No temperature. I should say I learned the hard way NOT to run with a fever, as I did one year at the Cooper River Bridge Run due to a beer bet with a coworker. I will not run with either a sore throat or fever, two of a few things that I put in the "not worth the gamble" category. I'd rather sit out a few days than to take a chance on a much longer setback and damage to my body.

I plan to start running again tomorrow, just 2 at first and "listen to the body" in the following days. Jennifer and I will be going to Conway on Friday for the races on Saturday. If needed, I will get a socket adjustment on Thursday; otherwise, I am ready. I am not prepared for this race like I would be in the past as the circumstances are vastly different. It is always difficult not to go out too fast in race, given the excitement and atmosphere of the day, but I hope I am not caught up the moment. My plan is to start at my same slow training pace, only increasing the pace at the end. I have an older Garmin 301 GPS/HR watch that should help throttle me back if needed.

*****

I want to thank my family, friends and other runners again for the voices of support over the past few months, two of whom commented on my last post. Joan D'Alonzo is a superb runner, winner of the Ocean Drive marathon in 2002. Joan is part of our old Compuserve Runner's World forum which went to Netscape, which for some insane reason disbanded some of the most popular messaging boards including ours (S9). We later moved to Yahoo Groups under "Runners-Triathletes" where we still hang out on occasional, although most activity is on Twitter and Facebook these days.

I've written about Rick Ball in a past post, a fellow BTK amputee who recently ran a 5k a shade over 18 minutes. Rick was named as an "Inspirational Ambassador" by Ray Zahab, the founder of Impossible2Possible, which can be found here. Rick has been helpful to me in ways only a fellow amputee could possibly understand and appreciate. In him I see where there is no disability; the thing that sets us apart leads to a greater understanding.

*******

Time for a delicious bowl of gruel. = :-) This is my oatmeal with sliced almonds, walnuts, blueberries, and NC honey breakfast of wannabe champions. I cook the steel-cut oats on the weekend for the following week to expedite breakfast prep. Since I've been/will be trying to get some 2x day runs, this means doing one before work and then one at lunch or in the evening. Time tends to be compressed on these days so wherever I can save a few minutes is helpful in reducing stress.

It's a beautiful day; morning temps are perfect for running and then warming into the 70s to make the rest of the day quite pleasant. I'll be out there running tomorrow making paradise complete. Wherever you are, find goodness in the moment. It is there.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bonehead

For the past few days, I have been feeling a little puny, and then felt a noticeable change for the worse yesterday. I think I have a mild case of the H1N1 flu and will just ride out the illness unless I start feeling feverish...too late for tamiflu. From what I've read and believe, I'll recover quickly. Last night my throat felt a little more sore, so I got up around 4 a.m. to take some Tylenol and Robitussin DM. I'm comfortable but stayed out of work to try to recover faster and avoid spreading the wealth around the office.

Since we are scheduled for a race on November 14, I hate losing training time while I was building my base mileage. I ran 2 yesterday morning on the treadmill but wanted to do 3, however my socket is giving me fit problems, mainly around the fibula head. I spent a good chunk of time monkeying with socks and never could get a comfortable fit. My residual leg shape has had significant changes and this part of the bone protrudes more as the muscles have lost volume. I thought I might run in the evening but my declining good cheer convinced me to nest on the couch.

I have an appointment on Friday for my new socket that should solve this current fit problem. It is my hope that the next socket after this new one will be my definitive where I can get a lightweight carbon fiber design. I'm not sure where all this fits in if I get my running foot anytime soon; will I change the foot out or will I have two sockets? I think the current one is probably not useful anymore except for an emergency. It won't be useful as my everyday walkabout socket.

My weekly mileage, which was 21 again last week, will take a hit this week because I will miss some time while I get better. I don't want to extend my recovery by overdoing it now and it always seems to take longer than we'd like. If all goes well I think I will be running Sunday again at the latest. This will be just easy jogging, nothing to stress my system before our race the following weekend. I do hope Jennifer can avoid catching whatever I have, although that may prove difficult since she works in a medical teaching university and is no doubt exposed there to the bug-of-the-month.


I saw this link on Twitter this morning from Mike Lenhart of the Getting2Tri Foundation. My sister had sent me Nick Vujicic's webpage around the time of my amputation so I was familiar with this amazing individual. I have to work on my impatience at times but I have little sympathy for whining. How can you whine and be inspired to do great things?


"It's not the end."


"It matters how you're going to finish."


"Are you going to finish strong?"



*****

In my mind, I clearly see my first finish line as an amputee. I feel myself pick up the pace, transforming the jog gait into the steadfast stride of a runner, pushing up the mountain, and finding the high road, fly.

A phoenix.

Home on the wind.