Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Getting There

My previous butterfly bandage was not sufficient to stop the small amount of bleeding I am experiencing since running the Kiawah half marathon. Funny, I had been thinking about using super glue to help the area heal and had planned to mention it to my surgeon, but it slipped my mind as we talked about prosthetics.

I wasn't sure what exactly was going on at the time, but later it was apparent that likely it was a blood blister that had formed behind my incision line. When it burst it left a small indention which has refused to close, while leaking a small amount of fluid/blood. My good friend Kelly Luckett, an amputee ultramarathoner, said her husband Brian insisted that she tell me to think about using super glue, as he uses it on his fingernails as a classical guitarist. Although I have no such talent - other than listening to some musicians like Segovia and Parkening - I have used super glue on my nails after splitting them while working on computer guts or for no reason at all, likely age related.

Dr. B, not a PhD
So this past Monday I removed my first effort at a more robust bandage, obtained some super glue from my daughter-in-law Kristen, and glued my owie shut. I placed two wound closure strips over it and another hydrocolloid bandage over that to protect and cushion the injury site. I could not detect any bleeding on Tuesday and as I write this on Wednesday evening it appears to be on the mend.

With 16 days to the marathon, I am going to try to run 2 - 3 miles tomorrow and see what happens. If I bleed again I will toss in the towel on the Charleston Marathon. If no bleeding, I will run 4 in Friday, 8 on Saturday, and 16 on Sunday. This is aggressive mileage, but I truly have no choice given the race date. I have already thrown out any time goal whatsoever; the race is to finish before the course is closed. It is my fault for allowing such injuries to adversely affect my training. This will change.

The plan now is IF I run the Charleston Marathon to think of it as over distance training and still run the Snickers marathon in March. There are many variables at play here, so this may not happen. Part of me is going to be very upset that I am running to finish, not running to the best of my current ability. I believe this is not an unwarranted emotion but one that I have had to learn the hard way, through that unforgiving teacher Experience. The peak beyond this is the Boston Marathon in 2012, the one I share with my old able-bodied self. I will not allow an ill-fitting prosthesis to keep my from this goal.

For some reason this song is sticking (maybe it was the super glue) in my mind, particularly the lyrics:

I'm gonna get there soon
You're gonna be there too

                             - Mat Kearney

I suppose I am thinking about the marathon, being in the moment of the race, thinking how it will feel to see that finish line, who will be there, and explode with the emotion I can only imagine from here.

And I am going to get there soon. You will be there too.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Here or There or Anywhere

Later this week I will have to decide whether or I not I will be able to run my goal race, the Charleston Marathon. The small spot along my incision line continues to bleed a some and simply will not heal shut.

The Stubborn Owie
Today I bought some butterfly bandages and placed 4 of them over the injury as well as a hydrocolloid bandage to cushion the area from my socket. I wish I had done this sooner than now, but I am still learning about being an amputee and suppose I will for the rest of my life.

If I am unable to run on January 15, I have two other alternative races in mind: the Myrtle Beach Marathon on February 19 in Myrtle Beach, SC, or the Snickers Marathon in Albany, GA, on March 5. Of the two I am leaning toward the Snickers Marathon since it will give me additional time to train AND it is on my birthday. I have run the Myrtle Beach marathon in the past and would prefer a different race; the convenience of the location less than 2 hours from our house is the main drawing point.

It is disappointing to think about not doing this race after all the work - and dreaming - I have done to get there, but it has to all be put into perspective: I can run again when once I was hobbled in pain. It seems things do happen for a reason, but even if it is total chaos, we are tested and made stronger for the effort. It is not the place, but the doing that is the race.

And when I run it, it will be one of the greatest days of this one life. If I have to wait it will only be sweeter, this is the gift running has returned to me.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

22 Days

Today is December 23, 2010. On December 11 I ran the Kiawah half marathon - my third race of that distance - and have run exactly 10 miles since then. In 22 days I will be running the Charleston Marathon.


I can't say I am unhappy or exactly frustrated although I have had intense moments of both; I have been given circumstances that depend on me to resolve, no one else. I still have a spot of bleeding from that last race, which I no doubt aggravated by trying to run again before it had fully healed. It had stopped bleeding which was a good sign, but not good enough. Three short runs later the band-aid was wet with blood and I pulled over to the sideline to wait it out.

It was my intent to do a short run today, but with a spot of blood still apparent I have learned my lesson and will not go. Being off work next week, I hope to be able to squeeze in at least one more 16 miler to instill some tiny kernel of confidence that I can finish the marathon without being reduced to walking/limping to the finish line or perhaps saddled with the most cruel DNF. Again, it is my life, my leg, my choice to take care of what is best for me. There will be many more races with extremes of magnificent and horrid; both test the soul of the runner.

The one thing I have less control over is my prosthesis. It is a complicated device that lets me run without an anatomical foot, that interfaces with a limb in a socket that forces it to change shape. Think of a tube of toothpaste that you gently squeeze that forces the dental cleaner up and out; this is what is happening to the fluid in my leg and why prosthetic socks are added during the day to make up for this volume loss.

There is a relatively new development in the prosthetic world called the elevated vacuum pump. Basically it is an electrical or mechanical pump that maintains pressure inside the socket; the negative pressure pulls the skin toward the socket instead of squeezing it. In a properly built prosthesis this allows for a more natural environment for the residual limb. This sounds wonderful and something my prosthetist tried without success for several reasons, but I intend to try it again as I think it will eliminate most of my problems. It must be built correctly, which requires time, patience and experience. Given the Ironman I know who have used it with great success, there is little reason to discount it for a marathoner, half marathoner, or any active amputee.

*******

So here I sit, looking over the winter landscape of northern Illinois, hoping to get a few short runs done before we leave, perhaps in the snow-globe world of a drifting flakes. In 22 days I will be running my first amputee marathon on training that I would consider minimal at best. This race has all the markings of a personal worse...had it not been the fact that I am fortunate to be able to run it at all. As I keep this in mind, and for the cause I decided to run it for, nothing matters now except to finish.

It will be enough.

For now.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Discovery

My face is set to a grim and determined expression. I speak in all modesty as I say this, but I discovered at that moment that I have a fierce will to live. It's not something evident, in my experience. Some of us give up on life with only a resigned sigh. Others fight a little, then lose hope. Still others - and I am one of those - never give up. We fight and we fight and we fight. We fight no matter what the cost of battle, the losses we take, the improbability of success. We fight until the very end. It's not a question of courage. It's something constitutional, an inability to let go.

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

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Kiawaaah!

My first marathon was Kiawah in 1991. It was a foggy, warm, humid day and I struggled through cramps to finish in 4:09. It was a hard race and I did say those immortal words: "never again." It would take 6 more years before I restored my gumption to run another, which would become my PR in Chicago.

Yesterday Jennifer and I ran the half marathon 2010 edition of the race under cold and rainy skies. Our friends Kelly and Brian Luckett both ran the full marathon, Kelly participating in the new Mobility Impaired Division of the race.

We awoke at 4 am to get ready and make the drive down to Kiawah. I added some extra time to take longer back roads to avoid the traffic congestion as much as possible. We arrrived at the island and parked in the designated field, hopped on the bus (me, literally) and were driven to the race start, all without any anxiety.

There were plenty of port-a-potties, and even so I had to wait on an able-bodied person to use the only handicapped unit. We checked our gear, waiting as long as possible to head out into the chilly drizzle which picked up some enthusiasm before the start. I wore my old trusty green Hind top, which I knew would keep me warm once we got underway.

Thankfully the race started right on time. The road is only two lanes wide, so the first mile is very crowded, made worse but those who almost immediately start walking two abreast. I just can't understand how this happens, as these folks had to be far out of place in their starting positions to be walking ahead of 8 - 9 minutes runners. Always very exasperating.

A woman sidles up alongside and we chat a bit. Normally I want to concentrate on running but in my current configuration I know others are interested my story. In a 5k I'd be running too hard to talk but it is no problem in these early miles. She has run Boston and tells me when I go to watch out for the train roundabouts, which can often be slick...I am hoping my brain filed this away to be remembered in 2012.

Right at mile 6 my right hip flexor starts whining. I am on pace to run a good race and not happy with this development. I massage as best I can but that pushes my leg down and I scuff my blade on the road. Damn. I take mile 7 easier, trying to get more weight off the right leg and relaxing through the gait cycle. My sub 9 miles are ended with a 9:20.

Ok, fine, I am not stopping AND I am picking the pace back up. I am also thinking of those who have supported me through all this time, some praying, others offering neverending supportive words. And then, somewhere in mile 8, this pain falls away and I am running strong and free again. There are no more 9 minute miles, that is owned by mile 7 alone.

The miles do start taking their toil on all us. At mile 10 I am still feeling good and think: a 5k to go. At mile 12 the battle against the mounting fatigue begins in earnest. We are running on an asphalt walkway and many tree roots take my concentration off running and onto not falling. A number of runners give me words of encouragement which I try to return. Mile 13 comes up and I dig a little deeper, bless this day, this gift...thank you for letting me run again.

8:36.

We are entering the last tenth of a mile, and I am aware of a tremendous roar from the spectators, much louder than I would expect from the size of the crowd. I am running with all I have left, eyes on the finish line, and then I am there, hands on knees, wheezing.

With my medal around my neck, I head for some chairs and rest a bit, chatting with another runner from Waycross, Ga. As I stand up to head over to the gear tent, I notice the end of my stump is tender and I am limping. Outside the tent - because I am still sensitive to the appearance of my residual - I check it out and it looks almost like watery skin is coming off, something like what you might find from a blister that is losing its protective layer of skin.

I head over to the half marathon post-race food tables and wait for Jennifer in the restaurant, being offered a chair that is gladly accepted. The door is at my back and I'm quite chilled, but don't want to leave in case Jennifer comes looking for me. I have a good conversation from a mother and her son-in-law waiting for their daughter/wife to finish; Mike McKenna and his girlfriend Megan come by and we talk about the race and the upcoming Charleston marathon.

Jennifer finally came in from the cold and the rain, her ITB had bothered her during the race, causing her to have to stop and stretch many times. She ate and I checked the half marathon results. I was hoping to see both the Wheelchair and Mobility Impaired divisions listed but only the able-bodied were posted and my name was there:

                                KIAWAH ISLAND HALF MARATHON
                                      13.1 MILE ROAD RACE
        KIAWAH ISLAND,S.C.  DECEMBER 11,2010, USATF Cert# SC02030BS
    Results compiled by Race Management Systems(RMS), www.rmssports.com


Place      Div/Tot     Name              Age S      City            St  Chiptm  Time    Pace
=====      =====   ============  ==  =  ==========   ==  ======  =====   ====
557/2542    12/57  Richard Blalock 57  M  Mt. Pleasant  SC  1:56:02 1:57:23  8:58


*******

That evening we have dinner with the Kelly and Brian at one of our favorite restaurants, Hominy Grill. My brother David had cut out an article about this place many years ago as he wanted to go there sometime, I can't help remembering that every time I eat there. We had some delicious food and without guilt, their fabulous chocolate pudding. Yes, we talked about running and of course, more running. Kelly gave me some useful information about the Boston Marathon and prepared me for the hotel cost price shock as well.

Good race, good food, good company, good day.

*******

And now for the bad: this morning I noticed a large nodule on my old incision line. I have had a red, irritated spot there for many weeks and made sure Larry took it into consideration with my new carbon fiber socket that I am suppose to pick up this Wednesday. It has been a more sore and red after my last big workout as pictured in this post.

I had my breakfast then took another look at the owie. As I pulled the skin back slightly to see it better since it is on the distal end of my stump, blood spurted out. I immediately sent Larry a text and decided to try to see Dr. Ohlson tomorrow to make sure something else isn't going on like a bone spur.

The bad
My best guess is if there are no special complications that I will take at least two days off and try to heal to get a long run in next weekend. If I am not confident I am well enough I may take the entire week off and run long in 2 weeks. I am deeply disappointed and concerned that I continue to have problems like this. As long as no anatomical complication is apparent I will not be deterred from running the Charleston Marathon.

I accept my limitations but I have none that I surrender to. I do not quit. I expect nothing from others I do not expect from myself. 

And I expect to cross that finish line, upright, not limping, on my own two good feet.

I have someone to see there who does not quit either. And that is why I know I will finish.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

6 til 26 point 2 and a 50

It is exactly 6 weeks until the Charleston Marathon. This means 4 weeks of training and a 2 week taper; the taper will be more rest than usual since I cannot have the more typical 3 week variety. Too much time lost, but I am making the most of the time I have remaining with some good quality work.

Today was probably the hardest day of pure training I will have. The workout was:
  • 2 miles on treadmill for warm-up
  • Drive to track
  • 1 more warm-up lap, light dynamic stretching
  • 4 x 0.75 mi at threshold pace w/ 0.25 mi rest interval
  • 6 miles at marathon pace
  • 4 x 0.75 mi at threshold pace w/ 0.25 mi rest interval
This works out to 16.25 miles total, and since most of this is harder running it felt longer than my last 21 miler. What I like about this workout is it mimics the marathon itself, with those last threshold miles reminiscent of the last 6 miles of the real deal. Not quite the same, as that can only be experienced on race day, but the stress is similar.

I ran the first threshold reps a little fast, but I am not beating myself up because I was able to complete the workout without a crash 'n burn. In fact, even though the last reps were slower, I ran them strongly and finished with the confidence. There were some moment during the 6 mile portion that I had some doubts, but weakness stayed out of town and some light twinges in the left hamstring decided it was against their best interests to complain further.

The weather was not as warm as predicted so I got a little chilly; as the workout wore on I donned gloves and later another shirt. I found myself wishing I had worn some compression shorts (see hamstring comments) but rubbed the legs warm as I could and fortunately did not have to stop short.

I have a little swelling at the distal end of my tibia and also at my fib head. Nothing looks too disturbing at the moment and I will have Larry take a look next Wednesday when I go to Floyd Brace for an appointment. I want to be in a carbon fiber socket for the marathon, as any weight I can save will put less pressure on the one weakness I know I do have: the right hip flexors.

Tibia owie
 Oh, one more thing....

Today I ran 4 miles with Jennifer, and this gave me, for the first time since April 22, 2007, a 50 mile week! Another milestone reached. Yes, better late than never again!

So...one hard workout this week, less miles, and then an honest effort at Kiawah. Jennifer and I will the half marathon, while our friends Kelly and Brian Luckett will run the full. Kelly and I will be running in the Mobility Impaired Divisions for our respective races, a historic day for disabled runners in South Carolina as I believe this is the first marathon and possibly first race ever in the state to have such designations.

Oh yeah, they have a tasty bean soup for finishers. I thought about this soup while we were running today, and can't wait to have some again. It's been a while.

Back in the day

Friday, December 3, 2010

Jeannie Peeper

Carol Kurpiel posted this link on Facebook about Jeannie Peeper, the founder of The International Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva Association (IFOPA). I hope you will watch this video and help move Jeannie's organization to a cure for FOP. The gene that causes FOP has been located and with continued research a cure will be found. There is hope for everyone with this disease as well as the ones not yet born who may face it.

Dr. Zasloff, Jeannie Peeper, and Dr. Kaplan at the First International Symposium on FOP in September 1991

Please watch the video here.

YOU can help here at my FirstGiving site or here at IFOPA.

It's a long race
If I try I will surely finish
It's a long race
If we try we will surely win it

                         - Bruce Hornsby

Thursday, December 2, 2010

On the Kindness of Others



Just a short post to highlight a large thanks...THANKS to Mike McKenna, VP of The Charleston Running Club who invited me to speak at their meeting last month. Not only that, but Mike has personally donated to IFOPA, helping to fund the research that will put an end to this disease forever. Mike has also linked to our fund raising efforts on his "Catch the Leprechaun 5k" blog here.

This made me think of all the invisible threads that connect our lives. I am thinking how Mike Lenhart convinced me to come to Getting2Tri National ParaTriathlon Training Camp, where I met so many incredible athletes and volunteers. I also was able to meet in person a number of people I knew online, like Scott Rigsby, Jason Gunter, Kelly Luckett, and our friend Ashley Kurpiel. Parents and spouses and friends; a large circle of support growing wider every day. People touching other people's lives either directly or through indirect actions.

I arrived at this place in my life because of steps many others had taken, to show that the loss of a limb did not mean loss of life, rather improved life, even life restored. By actions, not words, we move forward. And yes, run.

So now Mike has come to know Ashley and those affected by FOP, and is helping because Ashley reached out to me when I lost my foot and I lost my foot because someone named Oscar Pistorius showed me what was possible.

This is indeed the good stuff. Try it sometime.

Be like Mike.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Good Week

It's been a week of good news for my running cause, an article appeared here that shows a cure for FOP may indeed be closer than we thought. 

"To my knowledge, our discovery is the first to show that the effects of a disease-causing genetic mutation can be replicated and used to treat other diseases," Medici wrote in an e-mail.

With an increased focus on the understanding of FOP, researchers may find keys "to treat osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, muscular dystrophy or Alzheimer's disease."

As I thought about this, it occurred to me that in the future not only will FOP be cured, but the thing that caused me to lose foot may also benefit from this finding.

Our friend Ashley wrote this: 

"FOP in the news!!!!! My future is looking brighter!! There is hope!! ♥"

If you would like to hasten a cure to this disease - and it can be cured - please help us here.

*******

From left, Linda Scheller, Roper Hospital Volunteer; Kristy Hill, RN, Roper Hospital Oncology; Blake Ohlson, MD, Orthopaedic Specialists of Charleston; and Estelle Whitney, Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital Volunteer, were recognized at the Nov. 18 Health Care Heroes Awards Banquet sponsored by the Charleston Regional Business Journal

I was also surprised to learn a few weeks ago that my nomination for my surgeon, Dr. Blake Ohlson, for local "Health Care Heroes" was going to be a finalist for an award.

Several Roper St. Francis hospital health care professionals were nominated for awards, for recognition that is often goes unseen, yet include acts that go beyond that of self in helping others; acts of compassion and caring that make define our humanity. Their stories are here on Facebook.

*******

All this makes me again think with solid conviction that I made the right choice, the only choice for me. To have lost running was an amputation far exceeding a lost limb. Not to have met all of the people I have come to know and the experiences this new life has shown me, that "the amazing will be seem every day" would have been an inconceivable alien world unseen.

It is not often to know you have made the correct decision when a hard choice presents itself. The apparent randomness of life is an equal opportunity employer; what we do with the decisions we make, even when wrong, depends on us. To keep trying in the face of a mountain of adversity, to never quit, to stand up when crushed, to be honest and truthful and deceive no one, to dare to live...that is a righteous way of life.

I have been given a unique opportunity through this hard choice. It has taught me much about myself and more about others, another level of understanding. It is true, many lessons can only be learned through experience. To make a difference to those who will never know it, that is a good thing. To remember those who reached out to get us there, that is a good thing too.

*******

I plan to run my second 20 miler tomorrow, maybe 21 if I feel strong and am not struggling. On Wednesday I have a 6 x 1 mile workout and then a tough Daniels long threshold run the following weekend. My speed is taking a backseat to long endurance; overall, I am feeling strong and my socket is cooperating by not beating up my residual. I'll contact Larry next week to see about going back to a carbon fiber socket. Any weight I can save will make it easier on my right hip flexor, which seems to be the one weak link I feel at times.

*******

We - Jennifer and our friend Nancy Cumbee - ran our traditional Turkey Day 5k on Thanksgiving morning. Last time I ran it I was wearing my everyday prosthesis in a plastic socket; this year I had my running blade "Jato" but still in plastic. It was on the warm side, more noticeably the last mile on King Street where there was little breeze. About a half mile into the race, I heard myself wheezing and realized I had not taken a hit of my inhaler. Nothing to be done but to remember not to forget next time, another lesson learned. Shortly thereafter Jeff Nolan and Josh Wiley pass me and disappear ahead.

For such a large race I don't understand why they don't use timing mats; everyone loses large chunks of time due to the crowded start. My watch time was 25:41 but the gun time was 26:21. Actually I am surprised it only took me 40s to cross the starting line. Just got the official results, my place was 30/177 in my AG, not too bad!

From left, Nancy, Jennifer, and me
My time is around 6 minutes faster than the previous year. I'd love to be 6 minutes faster next year but suspect the improvement will not be nearly as great. There is still room for more PBs that will come with dedicated 5k training, and I am looking forward those future races.

*******

We had Thanksgiving with the family at my brother Mark and his wife Debbie's house. I was smart enough to pace myself prior to the big dinner, and it seemed especially delicious. Watched some football with the nephews and was entertained by their banter. Good boys.

***

I am not nearly so anxious thinking about my 20 miler tomorrow. My knee is looking good so that shouldn't slow me down; I will listen to my body and know 20 is all I need for now. The high tomorrow should be around 62o, which should make for a comfortable trot. All I have to do...is do it.

From Gallipoli (1981):

Jack: What are your legs?
Archy Hamilton: Springs. Steel springs.
Jack: What are they going to do?
Archy Hamilton: Hurl me down the track.
Jack: How fast can you run?
Archy Hamilton: As fast as a leopard.
Jack: How fast are you going to run?
Archy Hamilton: As fast as a leopard!
Jack: Then let's see you do it! 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

On Marathon Pace

After putzing around most of yesterday, I nearly put off my long marathon pace (MP) run until today. With a 5k on Thanksgiving Day I didn't want to chance having dead legs for the race, so I got motivated to get 'r done.

Usually I do 2 miles on the treadmill before heading outside, but I since my workout called for 15 miles total, the first 5 easy and then 10 at MP, I did all of my easy running inside. It was getting late by the time I was ready to start the 10, which would cause me to run a little fast to avoid running too far in the dark.

The run went well except for the fact I ran it a little faster than my plan. On raceday starting too fast will ruin all these months of training as those first miles will seem painfully slow. If there is one thing I have learned about pacing for a marathon, a fast start does not put money in the bank, but makes for painful withdrawals at the end. My last harder workout before the Charleston Marathon is a MP run, so I must do just that, run it at marathon pace, only allowing myself to go faster the last 2 miles.

On a good note, the skin behind my knee took no more damage that I could detect after the run. I had slathered on enough Aquaphor to raise the stock of petroleum companies to record highs and it worked. During my run I get some phantom pains occasionally, one in particular felt like on missing right big toe was plugged into an electrical outlet. Just a second or two, enough to get my attention and thankful it did not last longer. For most of the run I felt my gait was smooth and my effort even.

The main thing from now to raceday will be to stay healthy and not take chances. Since we are flying around Christmas, I need to make sure my immune system is strong at a time in training when it is under greatest stress. After that it is mostly taper, something I will take seriously to ensure my residual skin is very healthy, no areas of compromises. With great hope and crossed fingers, I think my socket issues are resolved to allow me to run this race without excuses or failure.

*******

I have been talking to Ashley and Carol Kurpiel, making plans for their family visit for the race. We've decided to go to the race pasta dinner in order to participate in the race atmosphere. Since I have the marathon the following morning and must get up early to get my residual down to "race size," I need to be home early. Also I need to be fully rested, so I am taking two days off prior to the marathon to help get me off my feet as much as possible.

With the race 54 days away, I find anything I can do to remove any unknown factors helps put my mind at ease. No worries mate, that's for me.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Stop Pinching Me!

Rawhide!
This pic show how my liner and socket conspire to pinch my flesh and remove my skin in small strips.

 
This is the liner next to the skin - note creases behind bent knee





My residual continues to shrink. Since the calf muscle doesn't fire unless I consciously make it move, it will atrophy.

Then you add prosthetic socks and a sleeve, making things even tighter with the socket
I have been unable to piece together consistent training weeks. Whenever I approach 50 miles, some problem crops up, like a swollen fib head or pinched, bleeding skin or one of the other inventive aggravations I have written about on this blog. I will be running the Charleston Marathon on the least amount of training of any of my able-bodied 26.2s.

From my view, I need a liner that is thin in this area and does not bunch up behind my knee; this would likely have to be custom fabricated for my leg. I am able to manage this with Aquaphor to some extent, but if it continues to happen I will need to look at alternatives. 

Today's run is a planned 15 miler, 5 easy and the 10 around marathon pace. Next week we have the Turkey Day 5k and another 20 miler over the weekend. Not much rest for me until the marathon taper; I will take extra days off during the week for recovery, but need to get these longer weekend runs in without fail to still salvage a respectable race. I believe I can do it....and not just do it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Running to Win

Tonight I am going to give a short talk about my marathon training, and more specifically our cause, raising money for FOP research here.

Mike McKenna of the Charleston Running Club (CRC) contacted me via Twitter about this a couple of weeks ago. I was quite moved by the offer that the club could help raise some donations for our cause. In years past we have been occasional invisible members of the CRC, supporting it with dues but not attending any meetings. 

Having given a talk to the nurses at Roper St. Francis Bon Secours hospital, I don't feel quite as anxious about speaking to a group this time. These will be athletes, my compatriots in running, and there will be familiar faces in the crowd.

Ashley Kurpiel
I plan to give a short history of my amputation journey, my marathon training, and let them see how a running prosthesis works and answer any questions as best I can. I want to explain how I came to be running for Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva (FOP) research in honor of my friend Ashley and everyone affected by this rare disease. This is something that can be cured, the gene defect is now known, and the researchers are in search of the drug that will turn off the mechanism that turns connecting tissue into solid bone. We can win this race.

Ashley will be at the Charleston Marathon with her parents on January 15. Jennifer will be doing the half and I will be running my first marathon as an amputee runner. Please come say "hi" to this remarkable young woman, and know you can help stop this disease in its tracks.

We are counting on you.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

20/20

I've finished my breakfast of a bagel with almond butter, banana, and coffee. While fueling up I read about my friend Ashley Kurpiel describing an event yesterday:

"..had an amazing night.. I was honored along with some other amazing men and women.. Such an honor to be able to be recognized for just living my life.. I even got a standing ovation! I'm so thankful for the great people that surround me always.."

As I read this and finish eating my bagel, the radio, as if on cue, plays Blackbird:


*******

I have a mighty milestone to reach today: 20 miles. This is the training distance that one needs to cover to be minimally prepared for a marathon. Running much further than this tears the body done too much to be considered "training," but much less and the body does not experience the physiological changes that come with the distance. The dreaded wall as carbs are depleted may be seen for the first time.

I have broken down in every single marathon I have run. Cramping was my first enemy, then an assortment of inventive tripwires. Even when I had great training, I did not consider that the very dry air of the Arizona race site would trigger an asthma attack that would land me in the med tent after the race. At Cleveland my right hip flexor gave up the ghost and I struggled just to finish; I barely made it to that race as my ankle was becoming a distortion of what it once was.

So yes, I have a healthy respect for the distance and why I've been so concerned about my less than stellar training. I will certainly find out today if my residual limb and socket are going to be friends and let me get this long run done without incident. There is still time for some quality training if we can all just get along. I want to cover this distance at least 4 times, with some shorter long runs done a bit faster.

My plan for this first 20 miler is to start with 2 on the treadmill, then 6 near the house for 8 total. I'll refill my Camelbak and head out for the last 12. I had a good night's sleep and feel rested for this effort. The dreaded Drysol has been applied. I hate you Drysol. I love how well you work.

It's going to be a long day, a serious test. My recent training has been going well so I have some confidence it will make this run less stressful.

In two months I will be standing on the starting line of the Charleston Marathon. In some ways it begins today, the transition to the path up...up to that goal. I can see it clearly in the distance.

Time to do it. Time to move. Time to fly.

******* 

Update: Mission Accomplished!

I ran my first amp 20 miler and I am still in a bit of a shock...I never got in distress, the last 6 miles were my strongest, and if I were running a marathon today I would have made the full distance. My socket did take some skin off the back of my knee, so I'll be visiting Floyd Brace early in the week to get it adjusted once again.

I sure needed this confidence boost, given the marathon is only two months away, which is 6 weeks and the taper.

Whew.



Thursday, November 11, 2010

IFOPA Video - My Marathon Fuel

When you have some time, please watch this video about the cause I am running my marathon for, the International Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva Association (IFOPA). This disease can be beat, the answer can be found...with our help.

I ask that you please help us with a secure donation here. Know that you, personally, can be part of this cure.

Think of those who will never have to experience this disease because you cared to make the difference.

Ashley Going Surfing!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Time for...

Those are my wet footprints, note smaller right tread from Jato
Eli Lapp: 4:30. Time for milking.

Richard Blalock: 4:00. Time for running.

Since my SUV is in the shop with a destroyed transmission locked up all 4 wheels at 50 mph, a joyride I could have done without, I have another company car to drive home until mine is fixed. The pedal in this loaner SUV is too small for my size 13 paw, so I have to lay my leg across the console and drive with my left foot. Yes, I am a man of many talents.

What all this means is I have to be at work at 8 a.m. in case an employee needs to use this vehicle. My Daniels marathon plan usually calls for one weekday hard workout that is also long in duration; today I was scheduled to run 10 miles with 8 x 1320 at threshold (T) pace. Daniels calls for the T pace runs to be a certain time duration, but since I am old school I convert this to the distance I can roughly cover in the equivalent amount of time.

Given I had to be at work at 8, I calculated I would need to wake up at 4 a.m. to get the livestock fed, then do my treadmill warm-up before heading the track. And I did.

It was a little chilly, but I knew after a short period of (allegedly) faster running my core temperature would rise and I'd be comfortable. With only the security lighting on, parts of the track are very dark but as long as you keep making left turns after the straightaways you'll not get lost.

Without a moon, the sky was dark but clear; the stars brilliant and intense. I thought...Orion and Venus are my training partners, but I guess the Old Man decided to sleep in. I felt great and my reps clicked off on the a track wet with a recently run irrigation system. As dawn appeared, I noticed my footsteps between wet patches on the track; I thought it looked like footbridges between them. Yeah, this is the stuff I think about when I'm not thinking about my breathing or the effort I am engaged in.

I really do like training by myself, in the quiet with my own thoughts. No distractions, no excuses, none needed. No dependency on others to pull me along, no pressure to keep up. The holiness of the oval church, the reverence of the singular congregation, is enough for one.

The choir overhead sings eternal: holy, holy, holy.

And I run...and get to work only 5 minutes late. In the words the great Greek philosopher, 'nuff said.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Bridges

The OO and I
 I signed up for this race months ago, mainly because of the race's charity:

The Gavalas-Kolanko Foundation (GKF) is a public charity established to help students with disabilities reach their secondary educational goals. By awarding scholarship assistance to College of Charleston students each year, the GKF helps make "Education Within Reach" for South Carolina undergraduates pursuing a college education despite physical limitations.

I have run this race in the past as an able-bodied runner. The last time I ran it it was stand-you-up-and-maybe-knock-you-down windy. As a plus I got the worst side stitch I have had since I was a teenager and actually stopped for a few seconds to try to work it out. My time was rather disappointing:

                 2006 JAMES ISLAND CONNECTOR 10K
PL             NAME                  SEX    AGE      CITY      NO.  TIME   PACE
=== ================   ===  ==== ======== ===  ====   ====
149  RICHARD BLALOCK     M     53     mt pleasant  355  52:24    8:26

Today I knew a time close to this would be a sign of continuing improvement and an amp PB; much slower than this would be similar disappointment as the '06 race.

The weather was rather chilly for the 2010 iteration of this event, somewhere around 40o. Jennifer and I arrived with enough time to warm up and do all the normal pre-race rituals like visiting the port-a-potties. Speaking of which, there was one unit with handicap access. Since I noticed the handle had the "green" symbol on display, I availed myself to the "perk" of my condition. As I reached for the door a little boy said: "It's occupied."

Ok. Shortly thereafter an able-bodied woman emerged and asked the boy if he wanted to use it because "it is so much larger than the other ones." The boy said no even when asked again, and I said: "it is larger because it is for handicap access." As I entered I heard her say..."oh..." People may think the larger unit is only for wheelchairs; it is not, the handrails are very useful for other disabilities. Same for handicap parking spaces; personally I need a little more space getting in and out of vehicles without dinging my door on their ride.

*******

Jennifer and I did a short warm-up and we lined up for the start. After a couple of pics, we readied ourselves for...off goes the horn and the stampede ensues. Although we have timing chips, we do not cross a starting mat, which means we will have "gun time" only for the results, not accurate for anyone except the first row of runners.

I head out and watch my step on what is the most uneven pavement of the course. Right turn and then left onto Calhoun Street and we run toward the James Island Connector bridge. This takes us in front of Roper St. Francis Hospital, the very place I had my two operations, the last being my amputation. A guy runs with me for a few strides and says something like: "Man you are an inspiration...a lot of people are going to run faster today when they see you." I thank him and wish him a good run, and vaguely think...I hope I run faster too!

I didn't quite remember the course from 2006 other than the first climb; I would be rudely reminded there are actual three "hills" on the bridge, meaning you get to run them twice on this out-and-back course. Yeehaw.

The first mile including this nostalgic hospital visit and incline comes at 8:38. Going down the steep decline I find I must slow down a little to keep control of Jato, my running blade. It is steeper than anything I've experienced and I realize I need to practice this scenario more for future races. Up the next incline and mile two is done in 8:20. A woman I am running near also offers some kind words...these utterances in the heat of our struggle always, ALWAYS inspire me as well. It reinforces my knowledge that runners represent the very best of sport. It is true. It is so. Olympians all.

There is one more smaller incline and then a long, slight decline before the 180o turnaround. Mile three comes at 8:21 and four at 8:22, approximate mirror images of each other. Somewhere I see Jennifer and she shouts some encouraging words, I wave but cannot return the gesture under my, uh, duress. The second pass of the next two inclines are taxing; I concentrate on smaller strides and turnover and hope I do not slow too much. It is a beautiful day that can be recalled later but not in the moment of battle. Mile 5 take 8:37, slower but under the stress is could have been much worse.

Water vapor off the Ashley River - Photo by S&L Photography (Jennifer)
Down the final decline and another pass by Roper. I look up at the very window of the room where I spent my post race recovery; I think I even pointed to it as a time traveler remembering the past and present, the near and the far. I do not feel the physical distress I was expecting, but I also find I cannot run much faster. Instinctively I know with more training I will continue to improve for some time. This is a good feeling to know, one that breeds confidence that is gold to a runner. Mile 6 is done...8:21

Right turn, then a left and I see the finish. Again the rough road and I take care not to trip; a few others pass me but I am not interested in taking a tumble and losing more than a little skin. Let it fly, run strong, I raise my arms as I cross the line.52:26 by my watch, this will be slightly fast than gun - and official - time.

*******

Exchanging some well-earned words of congrats and short chats with other runners, I recover a bit and can feel sweat sloshing in my liner. I find a quiet place at the end of the road and take a moment to gather myself, then return to the course to locate a sunny spot to wait for Jennifer. Watching other athletes run is always a joy for me... soon Sweetness and Light appears and we run together until parting for her finish.

We check the preliminary results and find I was 6th in my AG but Jennifer was visiting the hardware store, finishing 3rd in hers. After changing into some dryer clothes at the car, we return to the awards ceremony only to find there was an update in the results and Jennifer was 4th. This being the toughest local race course, more so than the single incline of the Cooper River Bridge Run, we very happy with our efforts.

*******

     THE 12TH ANNUAL-JAMES ISLAND CONNECTOR RUN
                           10 Kilometer Road Race
                 Charleston/James Island, S.C.  Nov. 6, 2010
   Results by Race Management Systems(RMS) www.rmssports.com

Pl     Div/Tot No.     Name           Age S            City        Time    Pace 
=== ===== == =========== === = =========== ====  ====
204  6/19     46  Richard Blalock  57 M  Mount Pleasant  52:33   8:28

*******

We celebrate with a pancake breakfast at IHOP and take it easy for the rest of the day. On Sunday I plan to run 10 - 12 easy miles before having a hard week of training that should culminate with my first amp 20-miler, something that I should have done a month ago based on my training plan. I still hope to get some quality, higher mileage work in the bank that will allow me to have a better effort for my marathon.

I talked to Scott Rigsby after my 10k, where he noticed (via pic on Facebook) the test socket I was wearing looked big. Scott has been and continues one of the instrumental sources of knowledge and help in my journey - and many others that you may not know about. We talked about some of the technical issues and proactive things that can be done to improve amputee running. Scott is always so supportive of other disabled athletes, and showing this through actions, not just words. As I thought about my upcoming marathon, I know pursing dreams does not allow for much compromise; it has to be said:

Do, or do not. There is no "try."  -Yoda

*******

Having run a few marathons as an able-bodied athlete, I do have a healthy respect and, yes, fear for the distance. Just as running has returned to me in a brighter light, so does the distance that will test me. On November 17, I will give a short talk to members of the Charleston Running Club about my race, and the charity I am raising money for here. I was both surprised and honored to be asked to do this; as you know I am certain my public speaking skills are rather pathetic. But I simply have to do what I can in honoring my friend Ashley Kurpiel and doing what I can to help find a cure for FOP.

***

During our lazy Sunday morning I heard "Bridge Over Troubled Waters," and thought about those twenty six point two miles, what I will be doing, and the why. I will do what I can do, there is no try.

I'll take your part
When darkness comes
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

- Paul Simon

Sunday, October 31, 2010

18 Down, 8.2 To Go

Yay! I made my 18 miler today. Sure it was very  v  e  r  y   s  l  o  w  but my socket did not stop me from completing my appointed rounds. It was a little warmer than I would have preferred, in the upper 70s, but I had a nice breeze now and then and never overheated.

Resting at mile 10

I had to stop several times to hit the reset button the final 8 miles. At my last rest stop, one of my nurses from Roper happens to be running by and we have a quick chat...so cool! I knew I would finish after that exchange, and finish I did. It had been exactly one month since my 17 miler and now I should be able to squeeze in four 20 milers to be minimally prepared for my marathon on January 15.

A 10k race next week...I will take it easier before my next big push, a 20 miler the following week.

What a Difference a (Few) Second(s) Make(s)

The view...when you have finished the race
After my disappointing performance at the Dirt Dash half marathon, regardless of the why, I was hoping to run what I knew I was capable of, although my confidence had taken a hit. Confidence, for me, is the final piece of any race puzzle; if you have it on raceday you are rarely disappointed even if other factors like heat and wind conspire to slow your steps.

As Jennifer and I lined up for the Myrtle Beach Mini Marathon Half Marathon, I knew I was behind in my training, but felt I had put in enough work except for the long runs that my socket issues had sabotaged. This 13.1 mile race would test my mettle and the prosthesis; another disaster would mean some serious rethinking of my goals.

*******

We had dinner at Pane E Vino, a place I looked up on Google that was close by. As usual, you can read a wide range of reviews, but given its proximity and menu we thought we take a chance there. After a short detour (getting lost via GPS), we found our destination. We were greeted by our server who looked like a super-sized version (taller) of a friend of ours. Both Jennifer and I tried the homemade spaghetti; homemade pastas are an art and can be rather disgusting if made without skill and love. My dad told me many years ago something he learned in Italy - try an unfamiliar restaurant's spaghetti first, because if they can't make it good then there is little hope for their more expensive dishes.

It was quite delicious and we were also treated to an accordion player's music. Very nice, very pleasant and relaxing, just the thing for a prerace dinner.

*******

There were to be at least two wheelchair racers whom I wanted to meet at the race start and wish good luck, but was unable to see them. The runners were treated to a sword fighting display by characters from Medieval Times, a sponsor of this race and the location of the starting line. Not exactly my cup of tea, but the actors seemed quite adept in their skills. With the show over and the National Anthem played, we were down to business.

It was a little chilly so I was wearing a throw away shirt (ugly race tee) as was Jennifer. Off they go as we get ready to race...and...wait. Ten minutes. Finally the race officials get it together and we shuffle toward the starting line, close to 3000 runners squeeze down the narrow road with the usual fits and starts as everyone tries to get into their pace and out-of-place first timers find they are human speed bumps.

The first mile will be the slowest due to the congestion. Near the beginning of mile two I see a wheelchair athlete on the other side of the road, and I work my way over to say a few words. He is not in a racing chair and will have a long day ahead of him. Courage on wheels.

Although basically a very flat course, we run an overpass toward the end of mile 2. I am a little surprised that I run it under pace, and try to reel in my enthusiasm because I know what feels easy now will not be the same later.

Mile after mile slips by. I hear the sounds of the footsteps, bits of short conversations, and I'm grateful for kind words other runners give me. I overhear two guys discussing their music playlists; one is listening to Buffett and I can't quite make out what the other fellow is listening to. In my head I hear: what are you listening to? 

Life.

I am generally following the 9 minute pace group, but they took off after the slower first mile and I choose not to make up time in big chunks. Around the 10k mark I catch them as we make our way for the final miles. A woman strikes up a conversation with me, she says this is her first half marathon and says I look like I have been a runner for a long time...guess the RaceReady shorts are a dead giveaway. She is dressed in black tights and a long sleeve top and I want to ask her if she isn't hot in the garb, but in an amazing moment of self-restraint decide not to, because if she is uncomfortable this will likely make her feel worse.

Down the road and I am concentrating on holding form and pace. If you are a runner, no doubt others have asked you what you think about while you are out there huffing and puffing. For 10ks and under, I am usually under enough stress that few extraneous thoughts receive much attention. Even for the longer distances where the physical stress is less in the early miles, I carry on few conversations with myself. I did have a short one today.

I'm running along, thinking I am having a much better run, one that I felt I was capable of but not sure if my scaled back training due to socket issues would allow me to enjoy. My lack of long runs concerned me and I felt that would likely catch up to me in the last miles. For a few steps I think about the runner I once was, someone who would be at least a minute or more faster than this amputee. Well, he is gone, and this is who I am. Then I hear, no, I am not gone, I am right here running with you.

Well now.

Shortly after mile 10 we turn and run parallel to the ocean on North Ocean Blvd. I know we run for about 2 miles before the last turn and finish, only I did not know most of the last mile would be on a concrete walkway and then the boardwalk itself. I can feel myself slowing and feel the tug of Mr. Walker asking me to join him. No no no keep moving forward, don't you stop. My hip flexor joins the Chorus of the Disgruntled. I sling it out in front, relax it as best I can, and keep moving. Keep moving forward. I hear voices from the high-rise hotels, see people on the sidewalk, but cannot make out conversations as I concentrate on inching toward the finish line.

Boardwalk finish line
We make the last turns and hit the winding concrete walk. There are several runners around me so it is not possible to cut the tangents, and we weave to and fro like drunken sailors. In the distance I try to find the first sight of the beloved finish line banner, but it is long in coming. Dang this dog is tired!

Finally I see home sweet finish line while we hit the wooden boardwalk. I pick up the pace slightly and see the clock ticking just over 2 hours. I raise my arms - no looking down to stop my watch - and cross the line.
By the time I turn off my watch I am unsure I have hit my goal, a sub 2 hour half. In fact I think I have narrowly missed it, but know I ran a hard race and am proud of my effort and need to be satisfied with that fact. 

Finally the official results are posted:


Oh yeah! Sub 2 baby!

Finisher's medal / fridge magnet / bottle opener
Jennifer has a good race on what I'm sure she would consider minimal training. I am happy on several levels plus my adjusted test socket caused no problems. It will have one more long run test before I can give it a passing grade.

We meet up with Anna Gray from Floyd Brace, along with her sister and parents. We chat a bit and she gets a couple of pics, then Jen and I totter off to the awards area to hang out and finally catch the bus back to the starting line area.

*******

My marathon is back on track, not the faster one I had hoped for but still one I can live with. I've had to adjust my expected finish time upward; I still hope to be able to finish running and not in the death march I have known in previous races. That is not a pleasant experience, and I am anxious not to endure it needlessly.

With two months of training to go and then the taper, I should be able to get in four 20 mile long runs. They won't be as fast as I need to run them, rather, I will be mainly getting the miles in. Best scenario will then be a nice cool raceday and a body that decides to have a good day to run.

I have been thinking the marathon will be the end of this first book by this amputee runner. The last page closed before another can be opened. I am looking forward to all that is to come; I have many miles to go.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Steadfast Tin Soldier

I have this video on VHS tape from a long time ago. For some reason - or none at all - I was thinking about this story today. I was looking to buy it on DVD when I came across this site that has the entire animation on the lower left part of the page here. The story can be read here.

The last time I watched some of it was before Christmas 2008 with the family. I knew what I was planning to do, what I had to do, but it was not scheduled yet. I left the room because I knew what was to come.

No, I am no hero, never will be. Those souls are on the USS Arizona. At Ground Zero. In many lonely and lost and never visited places around this planet. But I can say I understand as I never could, and think perhaps this video can help you understand too.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Slice and Dice

My test running socket finally did me in on Sunday. I had a 14 mile run planned with a set of long intervals split with 6 miles easy and then another 2 threshold mile. My intention was to do most of the first half of the workout at the track and then finishing on the road.

After first going to the Mondo town track at Park West and finding "Children's Day" was taking place, I headed over to the old town track at the municipal complex where I have logged many miles and intervals in the past. There was an Ultimate Frisbee came going in the infield but no where near the distraction of a hundred school kids like at the other track during the weekdays.

To protect the skin on the back of my knee from further damage, I had applied two large band-aids above and below the crease in the knee. The one below was to protect the area where the text socket was intent on skinning me, and above where I think I had some pinching of the liner causing a hotspot.

As soon as I started my warm-up jog I felt pinching of the band-aids. After much monkeying I took them both off, regretting I did not have any additional Aquaphor with me. I spread around some of the excess lubricant on the problem spots and resumed my workout.

It was a little warm but not the horrors of summer. Although I knew I was taking a chance on this workout causing more skin problems, I decided I had to do it because I am so far behind in my training. I had to go in next week to get the socket adjusted anyway and I needed a quality workout; the easy days will have to wait.

The workout went quite well but I was afraid of what my knee might look like since I felt some burning, so I waited until I got home to inspect it. It was nasty, the skin had sloughed off revealing the raw layer beneath. Done and done in.

Scott Rigsby sent me a link to an ointment to try which has great lubrication and a strong antibiotic. Oh, and it is for animals.

I am an animal!
I hope to do my midweek speedwork and then take it easy until the half marathon on Sunday. With the adjusted socket the owie should be out of harm's way at the trim line. As long as I can keep it protected it should be healed by then or close to it....seems to take my skin about 10 days to recover from such breeches without assistance from the vet.

Where do we go from here? Only time will tell. 13.1 miles of it.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Down to the Wire

This past weekend Jennifer did the Take Flight sprint triathlon in Huntersville, NC, along with several Getting2Tri Athletes, including Deanna Babcock, Janie Wiltshire, and Mike Lenhart, who is the founder of president of the extraordinary organization. Cadie Jessup was temporarily sidelined but acted as a handler and enthusiastic supporter of the other athletes. Also friends and families participated with these athletes, making for a sizeable G2T contingent.

Jennifer out of transition and onto the run!

As you may know by now, I am not a triathlete, I am a simple man who simply runs. I like to swim on an annual basis and bike a little more often, though not so much without a bike leg. Jennifer has done all the distances up to the half IM, so she is the TriStar in our household. "Swims Like Fish" is my nickname for her because she is lovely to watch in the water, almost hard to believe a human can be so graceful in that element. Jennifer finished 2nd in her AG at this race and I was very proud to be on her team!

*******

The afternoon before her tri I ran 4 miles on the treadmill in the small hotel workout room. I have learned to check my residual limb often for the start of any problems, and noticed that evening that I had a nasty spot behind my knee, undoubtedly caused by the test socket as it is higher there and not as rounded at the trim line. I really hadn't noticed any problem while running which was unusual. The affected skin area was like a blister, only, and there is no nice way to say this, leaking pus. Ugh. I cleaned it up and put a large band-aid over it, hoping to protect the skin from further irritation.

I had hoped to do my long run when we returned home after the tri, but it was too late. I had had a bad headache so along with the skin concern and listening to my body, I decided to put it off. On Tuesday I ran 13 miles and on Friday I did 9 miles with 4 x 1.5 miles at threshold pace. This Sunday I will do 14 miles that includes 4 x 1200 and 2 finishing miles, both at threshold pace. If I can protect my behind-the-knee skin for this run I should have my first 50 mile week in the amputee running book.

*******

Kids on track from a previous workout

I am still having issues at the track related to the adjacent school being allowed to use it as a recreational facility. At the end of my workout on Friday a rock was thrown at me. I have a call into the recreation director to discuss this again...the teachers make it clear to the kids to stay out of the runners way, yet they still walk in front of me getting to the infield and being distracted by horseplay. I believe I should be allowed to use the track as a track, this is a million dollar facility that always takes a backseat to other needs than what it is. Sad.

This is the rock that was thrown at me
*******

The reason this post is entitled "Down to the Wire" is that I have 10 weeks of marathon training and then the 2 week taper. Since I am behind in my training and not certain if the problem with the socket is solved, I am in a zone of uncertainty. My intent was not just to finish this marathon, but to run it at the best of my current ability. Realistically, just finishing is now the minimal goal. My training is going well except for the lack of long runs, but that is one large exception.

I will get there from here, albeit a little slower. Jato is twitching to run free.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Lost and Found: My 1997 Chicago Marathon Race Report

This is a race report originally posted on the Runner's World section on Compuserve after I ran the Chicago Marathon in 1997. I am leaving it as-is, no editing. Here is a link to the 1997 race results.

Some of this would be cryptic without explanation, so here is the background info:
  • "S9" refers to "Section 9" where it was located in the "Health and Fitness" forum.
  • Saint Sandy and SPG refer to friends Sandy and Steve Guba
  • "OO" refers to the Omnipotent One, a.k.a. my wife Jennifer
  • Mariana (Schaffer) is a friend of ours
  • Zocorians refers to the drug Zocor that a good friend used - Frank Purdy. The Zocorians watched over Frank in training, dispensing pranks at opportune times. It is a little known fact the Elvis left the building in the company of the Zocorians.

******* 1997 Chicago Marathon Race Report *******

The conditions were perfect for the S9 convergence on the city of Chicago.

A pre-race pasta party catered by Saint Sandy with an assist from her sidekick SPG.

GORGEOUS raceday conditions. I guess the OO has a weak spot for us mortals. :-)

Great company, great food, a great race. It could only have been better with YOU there.



I lined up just behind the 3:20 RW pacing group, thinking that if I could keep them in sight then a Boston qualifier would be assured. The S9 angel -- Mariana -- furnished me with the pace group information. They were planning to go through the first miles a bit slower and then pick up the pace, so given the crowd at the start I thought this was a good plan.

Despite the immense mass of humanity, the start was clean and I lost minimal time to crossing the line. Still, this isn't really fair to slower runners when wave starts and shoe chips can minimize time handicaps to everyone. I passed through the first mile in 8:45, much slower than 7:49 goal pace.

In hindsight now, perhaps my critical error happened when I didn't pick up another split until mile 4, and then didn't realize I was running just fine -- 7:45 pace -- and thought I should pick it up to make up for lost time. My strategy then became to run closer to 80% or slightly more up to mile 15, slow to PMP, then pick it up again at mile 20 if possible or just hold on.

You know what they say about the best laid plans....

I was running very comfortably, some slight tightness in my calves but they didn't appear to be getting any worse. I took in water and gatorade at most aid stations, and at 9, 14, and 20 I took Relode and water. The crowds and volunteers were terrific.

A special honor also goes to Marian Enwright, S9 cheerleader extraordinaire. She knows exactly where to go to be seen, and everybody hears her. She received several gracious compliments from runners behind me, commenting on her enthusiasm and vocal range. Thank you Marian, I owe you a cOOkie!

In the late teens I started to feel a little twitch in both of my hamstrings at different times. I briefly considered stopping to stretch them but they didn't appear to be getting worse. With that Boston qualifier in my pocket I didn't want to stop so I compromised with myself and slowed down knowing I had time in the bank now.

Around mile 20 the hamstrings staged their revolt. They would cramp enough to slow me down and then ease up for their next assault. I finally stopped and stretched but every time I started getting up to speed they would riot again. Each time a bit more prolonged and sharper. Yes, Ann Trason came to mind and all I can say is she's a running goddess.

I could feel the qualifier slipping away. The outside of my right foot told me Mr. Blister was making an emergency house call. Oh boy, we're having fun now.


I closed my eyes and ran thinking I could push through the discomfort and still make the qualifier if only the leg would ease up. Except for the hamstrings I felt strong, my breathing was not labored, HR fine, but time was running out and I could run no faster, only slower and slower now after every hamstring attack.

The thing is, as much as I wanted to run Boston, I knew I still had a good time going if only I could make it to the finish line. Just after mile 25 a bad cramp forced me to a complete stop...almost a replay of Kiawah in 1991. I was bent over trying to move to the outside to get out of the way. Someone patted me on the back, knowing my predicament I'm sure.

Runners. Best people on the face of the earth.

I made it to the side and  a policeman asked “How ya doin' chief? Need a ride?"

"Oh, no, just cramps, I'll be okay...."

It was gone now. There would be no qualifier today. So I moved toward the finish, slower but not giving into time, and found warmth in a space blanket that the kind Zocorians blessed us with.

Moments later in a crowd of thousands Jennifer somehow found me. We traded race notes and she helped me back to the hotel. Yes, I was already talking about my next marathon.

Life, my friends, is good.

Savor it.

*******


P.S. About 2 weeks after this marathon I noticed my right ankle had swollen like I had badly twisted it. That was the first real sign that something was amiss with my right foot. In looking back, and other than my initial accident, that was the beginning of this blog's journey.

Monday, October 4, 2010

17 with Terry

Yesterday I decided to go out for my long run and take it as far as possible. Given my socket issues and the anxiety that is starting to mount that I am getting in a deep hole with my marathon training, I figured I would take whatever distance I could manage. 10 miles was about all I expected I could do.

My prosthesis now feels better since the last adjustment, it is not until I run somewhere north of 8 miles that I starting feeling the intense compression/wanting to explode sensation in my lower residual limb. I donned my blade and hit the treadmill for 2 warm-up miles, which gives me the opportunity to stop and make adjustments before I leave the house for the open roads.

As I filled my CamelBak and got ready to go, the name "Terry Fox" went off in my brain. I knew about Terry from many years ago, having seen a movie about his journey in the early 80s; I think I have it recorded on tape somewhere. But this last special on ESPN "Into the Wind" revived his story, as did my friend Myron with a link to this page on Twitter.

I would like to expound on why this story went so deep for me, but that is for a much later day. Again I am reminded, though, of how I could have never understood what Terry endured had I not shared this amputation with him. Knowing how almost medieval prostheses still were when he ran makes his effort even more...magnificent.


As I head out the door I say these words: Let's go, Terry.

You see, I knew whatever discomfort I have been feeling was not in the same time zone as Terry's. I knew what was possible because of what he did was nearly impossible. Day after day he drove forward, eye on the prize that will be the death of cancer itself.

*******

I decided I would run much slower, taking as much pressure off my right leg as possible, to delay the discomfort that had stopped me in my tracks for all of my recent long runs. My first mile was still a little fast, fast being a relative word, which soon slowed as I worked out my best modified gait.

In recent weeks I would stay close to home in case I had to abandon my long run, but today I decided against this. This run would be the same as if I had no problems; I had my phone so I could call Jennifer if the body rebelled.

As the miles mounted and the pace slowed, I often thought of seeing Terry far ahead of me with his limping hop-run gait. We can do this. Pick it up. Put it down, easy. My right thigh and hip flexors began to complain; I responded by stopping every mile and messaging it as best I could.

Let's go Terry.

I feel the pressure build on my residual but it does not go redline. It also seems to respond to the short mile breaks and does not grow more sensitive.

The sun is low in the trees as I head back toward home, still with at least 6 miles to go: 6 miles because I intend to run at least 16 miles. My old schedule was for 17 miles today...I decided mile 17 will be for Terry.

In the dark I find it is a little disorienting when I cannot see the road in the deeper shadows of the trees. I am amazed at the strength of my left leg that has not complained at all. I smile when I think, hey, I guess it sees what happens when you are as disgruntled as the right foot was.

Nearing mile 17, I start to turn down one road, but think it is a cul-de-sac, and continue on, then realizing it was the road I wanted. Oh well, I modify the course to get back home close to my goal.

It is night and my pace has slowed to something I could easily walk; I do not. Near my house I cross a change in the pavement that served as my old mile finish line, miles I use to repeat in the 6:30 range even with my old foot. Tonight this last mile pace is over 14 minutes.

Let's go Terry.

17 miles comes at my driveway. I bend at the waist, hold onto my knees in the middle of the road, as proud of this difficult run as I am of any race, of any PR. There are no crowds, no medals, not another soul in sight.

Just me and Terry.

Thanks man.

Until tomorrow.