Saturday, January 30, 2010

Doing the Charlie Post Deluge

The Charlie Post race did not disappoint with its challenging environmental conditions today. Rain had been forecast for Saturday since early in the week, no movement there. The temperature did march up a tad, although I would have preferred it cooler since I would have to wear something waterproof over my prosthesis when means heat and sweat. Sooner or later I would have to run in less than optimal conditions and today was the day.

We arrived about a half hour before the race, we being GF/W Jennifer, BFF Baxter, and OF (one-footed) me. The rain was constant, never a huge downpour but a steady drizzle. Normally in these conditions I wear some shorter compression shorts with regular shorts over them and a heavier short sleeve top, maybe with a singlet underneath. However, with this current prosthesis I had to have it covered with something more or less waterproof. If rain got into my socket not only would it get very heavy - the multiple cotton socks would soak up the water - but it could lose suction and fall off. Now that might have been entertaining to see but I didn't want to be the star of that news segment.

I had to get a warm-up run in to get the Achilles loosened up. Even though I'm not exactly Speedy Gonzales these days, the Achilles still needs babying a while longer. As I ran by the Sullivans Island Fire Station, which serves as the race headquarters, I saw David Quick, who is doing the article on my amputee running. He wished me luck, which I needed today.

I finished my warm-up and completed my race prep in the SUV until about 10 minutes before the start. I was glad Jennifer and Baxter and come along because it would have been a little lonely without them there.

The race started right on time which, on a day like this one, is very important. You don't want to be standing around letting your warmed up muscles get cold and tight. One thing that struck me today that was with my long waterproof pants on, no one could see my prosthesis and I didn't feel as different. I do accept and embrace what I am now, but it is nice to feel no different too, just another runner doing what we love.

We take off and I feel good, really good, and get into a quick gait but I am going too fast. I know better and I preach better and have no excuse other than it just feels so good to be running again that I could not hold myself back. At 0.5 mi I am running 8:40 pace which I manage to slow to 8:58 for the first mile.

I can tell I am not going to run as fast as my last race when the slower pace does not result in a lower heart rate (HR). It's going to be a high effort affair without a fast time today. Around 1.3 mi the road is flooded, I guess maybe 6" deep. No way around it, we have to splash though. Since my prosthetic carbon fiber foot sits inside a creepy foot shell inside my running shoe, it collects water like a bowl. Now we're really having big fun. I see David again taking some pics and I'm glad I didn't face plant in the puddle.

We get to the southern end of the island, a short loop that takes us back to the main road. I feel myself slowing but my HR remains high and I hope I don't fall off pace too badly...mile 2 is 9:28 at the same HR, 162, as my first mile. The thought creeps into my head about how good it would feel to walk a bit. Thing is, doing a training run if my heart rate and effort are higher than I want, I stop for a couple of minutes or slow way down; this seems to help "reset" myself.

Nothing to do but keep on keeping on now. I resist the temptation to look at my watch too often to see exactly how far I have to run as that tends to make the journey even longer. I am close to the suffering category now at this pedestrian shuffle: mile 3 arrives at 10 minutes flat at a HR of 164. I am cooked. I do manage to pick it up some with the run into the finish line, I glance up and see my time over 29 minutes. I think I hear my name being called and indeed it was Jennifer who has brought Baxter in his raincoat to see my finish.

My disappointment in my time is very mild and passes quickly. I ran hard, didn't walk, and finished strong. I have a long way to go and there will be many more races. I will get there somewhat faster soon, and the getting there is what I love doing.

I hedge whether or not to stick around for the awards. We have to plan for mom's birthday party tomorrow and I and my prosthesis are wet. We sit in the SUV a while and have coffee and Jennifer goes to see if the race results are posted...she phones me that I have placed in my AG! So with the inclimate conditions plus another race being held across town, there was enough geezer attrition to vault me into the hardware. 5 races and three 2nd place AG finishes. I don't think I ever did this well as an able-bodied runner!

 
2nd place AG Charlie Post 5k

*******

I have another 5k next weekend. I generally never race back-to-back weekends unless I am near peak fitness and looking for PRs.  This next 5k is run along with a half marathon at the Save the Light races on Folly Beach...Jennifer had planned to do the half marathon months ago before she sprained her ankle and I just had to run Charlie Post, so there you have it. We will probably do one more 5k at the end of February before heading into March and my first 10ks.

I plan to run 6 slow miles tomorrow before mom's birthday cookout. The Achilles stretches are now part of my regular routine; I am glad I caught it in time to prevent a longer recovery or possibly more severe injury. I have come too far to do something stupid that will sideline me for an extended period of time. Nay I say!

*****

Next week is likely going to be one not to be forgotten. It's not often we see such potential bearing down on us but for once at least I am getting a hint. Let's see if I can run with it.



Friday, January 29, 2010

What If

About two weeks ago I did a podcast interview with Chris Russell, who I met via Twitter. Chris' website is RunRunLive.com and you can check out our conversation there in Episode 105. Chris, unlike me, knows what he is doing, and I think did an admirable job getting me to mumble a few things about my amputation journey.

Now for the good stuff: one of Chris' friends suggested to him that their running sphere take up donations to buy me a Cheetah running prosthesis. Here is someone who doesn't know me from Sasquatch, but a fellow runner who truly sympathizes with me. I was completely overwhelmed with this act of incredible kindness. I sat for a long time just staring at that email at a complete loss for words.

I explained that I am working towards getting a running foot, but if my avenues for obtaining one falls through then I would gratefully accept the offer. As runners we are fiercely independent and self-reliant because it is the nature of our sport. We support each other through PRs and PWs, celebrating those days of near-perfection and commiserating when injuries deny us our release. Toward this end I have been saving for the contingency that I might not get sponsored because I know this: I will have my running blade.

*******

I've tried to explain what it's like on this side of the fence of the able-bodied and disabled: imagine blindfolding yourself for one week to see what it is like to be sightless. Stumping your big toe on every item in your domicile. Finding walls with your nose. Peeing on your pajamas. Thing is, after a week you could remove the handicap and return to the sighted world, perhaps a little worse for the broken toe but nothing that won't heal.

It is just not the same thing as a blind person, who will never see again, who will always have to negotiate a sighted world. Yet a blind person is going to experience life, only differently. But no one can know what it is to be blind until the light is extinguished.

I regret having to lose my foot, but I do not regret for one second the things I have seen from this new life perspective.  It serves no purpose to think "what if" and I don't dwell on it.

*******

As lifetime runners, we can imagine what it is like to not run for many reasons. Disease. Injury. Time constraints. Maybe a pesky hurricane. I recall years ago when my ankle first started really bothering me, and talking to Jennifer about whether or not I could enter wheelchair races with that aching foot. I thought about it for some time but decided, for me, it was not running and not something I wanted to pursue except, perhaps, as cross-training.

I think what made me feel so good about this donation offer had nothing to do with whether or not a dime would be collected, but that fellow runners could understand what "not running" meant and would come to my rescue if I needed help.

Runners rise above and I am honored to fly with you.

*******

What I am thinking about is the Charlie Post race this weekend. I had wanted to do the 15k, but the Achilles aggravation caused me to back off my distance training. I missed the race for several years due to the old ankle problems, but not anymore. I will be doing the 5k come rain or shine, most likely the former. The weather for this race is almost always challenging, often windy, cold, and perhaps spitting raining. I can't wait to be on the starting line, thinking:

It is a good day to run.

A very good day.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Shoot the Amputee

After my extraordinary day at the Riverfront Race festival, the week turned bipolar when I lost my sister. I did run 15 miles for the week with 5 miles on Sunday. I have been religiously doing several Achilles exercises and running every other day; the 5 miles was essentially pain free and I only have a minor amount of swelling around the Achilles. Beginning this week I will add to the length on my runs and then next week, if all goes well, I will add more running days.

I will continue to use races as speed work - tempo runs - with alternating weeks of shorter intervals, but no Emil Zatopek heroics. I have to get it though my thick Blalock skull that I need to build my mileage these days.


 Baxter and his littermate at the Pitt Street trolley bridge during recovery

On Friday I met local runner/reporter David Quick at Alhambra Hall in Mt. Pleasant for a pic session. David is writing an article or column about my amputee running journey; we've talked on the phone and I gave him my blog info for more details as even I can't remember them all anymore. We were going to run together but he is nursing a sore hamstring so he wisely chooses to not stress it further.

David took a few pics of me and my prosthesis and as I ran toward the old Pitt Street trolley bridge, he would drive and stop along the way to get some shots of my running. I kidded him about needing to use his high speed settings as even my sprinting is reminiscent of that old joke:

Q: How can you tell when an ultramarathoner is sprinting?

A: You can't.

We finished up the shoot and I continued on my run. I was hoping to make 4 miles but my Achilles would not loosen up enough to do that comfortably, so I headed back to the SUV after 3. I use to often train in the old village of Mt. Pleasant; since a popular 5k race is done there I liked to do a 3 mile tempo run on the course. There is plentiful shade from the mighty live oaks lining the streets, something much appreciated on long summer days.

After the run I stretched against a handicapped parking sign - well, I just had to, it seemed to be the right thing to do for a one-footed guy. It was a good run. And in time it will soon be better.

Larry Wiley, my prosthetist, wrote to me on Wednesday that I should come in for a followup and discuss the "real" running leg.

Odd that timing.

And not at all.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Living Truth

Catfish Row, oil on canvas, Marcia Blalock Axson, 1968


In my post "My Sister Flies Away" on Sunday I wrote:

"My sister's funeral will be on Thursday. She had very little but leaves great riches in her loving children, Catharine, Megan, and Casey. I cannot help but think she left so much undone, so much potential that this world will never know. It is our loss. It is my loss. It is also my hope that none of us leave this place with lives undone, that in the striving there is the victory."

While talking to my Aunt Lib at the service about this very thing, my tiny brain exploded. It happens. I had a revelation. My sister, the teacher, and her students had something to teach me. I am an older dog after all.

More than half of the chapel was filled with students that my sister had taught and who loved her. I had several emails from parents and kids and her obituary guestbook is filled with loving notes of what my sister meant to them. Many came up to the family to express their sympathy and admiration for Marcia. I wish I had more comforting words for them but I am still in disbelief she is, indeed, gone.

So what is the purpose of a life? We plan and scheme and set ourselves on a path, but few of us realize such detailed dreams. I do believe that when life is taken as a whole, and no more or less than what it offers, we will always find our way. Marcia died with few possessions. She had no money, no home of her own, not even a car at the time.

The things she did not have mattered not; she touched many children's lives, helping them along this rocky and sometimes desperate road we all travel. A hand to hold, a kind word, a shoulder to cry on. She instilled the love of literature in many, and planted some quiet seeds of knowledge in others that will bloom when no one is there to see it. This is the lesson she taught me on this rainy Thursday afternoon, that her riches were the young minds and futures of these children, and she loved them as her own.

*******

My dad Talmadge is gone. My older brother David is gone. My sister Marcia is now gone. Three remain: my mother Betsy, younger brother Mark Talmadge, and myself. This all seems very strange to me, that half of my family is silent and I will not see them, hear them, or touch their hands on this earth again.

Yes, they all live within my memory but one day even that will fade and vanish. My sister's life, one in a billion links, will go on long after we are all gone and forgotten. Something born of her life today and carried forward by her students will not only survive but flourish. And in that bright light, she does have eternal life.

*******

The following words are from my well-worn copy of "How Green Was My Valley" by Richard Llewellyn. These few excerpts are from last passage in the book. Mr.Gruffydd (Griffith) was the narrator's pastor and mentor:

    It is strange that the Mind will forget so much, and yet hold a picture of flowers that have been dead for thirty years and more.

    But you have gone now, all of you, that were so beautiful when you were quick with life. Yet not gone, for you are still a living truth inside my mind. So how are you dead, my brothers and sisters, and all of you, when you live with me as surely as I live myself.

    Are my friends all dead, then, and their voices a glory in my ears?
    No, and I will stand to say no, and no again.
    In blood, I say no.

    Is Mr. Gruffydd dead, him, that one of rock and flame, who was friend and mentor, who gave me his watch that was all in the world he had, because he loved me? Is he dead, and the tears still wet on my face and my voice cutting through rocks in my throat for minutes while I tried to say good-bye, and, O God, the words were shy to come, and I went from him wordless, in tears and with blood.
    Is he dead?
    For if he is, then I am dead, and we are dead, and all of sense a mockery.

    How green was my Valley, then, and the Valley of them that have gone.


*******

"Fix you"

*****

(P.S. In Mount Pleasant in the small subdivision of Chelsea Park, you will find Llewellyn Road. I named this street and most others in this neighborhood.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Somewhere

On the day my sister died, Jennifer and I drove up to meet family members at my niece's house. As soon as we arrived I saw one of the most brilliant rainbows as I've ever seen, then two, then three fainter ones, although the third lowest one is not visible in the picture above. 

 If I were to play the music for my sister's service it would be these songs. Oh, there are many others but I would have loved for Marcia to have heard these. I could not find a link to the main song that I would have played in honor of my sister as the daughter of Betsy. I had generally passed over this tune when playing the Kate Rusby's CD "Awkward Annie" but just happened to listen to it yesterday and was floored by the lyrics to "Daughter of Heaven":

Daughter of heaven Oh, daughter of now
Drifting away and don't make a sound
We'll cry when we hear that you ran from this town
She's gone to a new place now
She's gone to a new place now

Daughter of heaven Oh, daughter of now
The stars are your jewels the rubies your crown
We are standing off for your right to stand
She's gone to a new place now
She's gone to a new place now

Daughter of heaven Oh, daughter of now
Your eyes they were closed and your hands they were bound
There's a time in the past when I had to come down
She's gone to a new place now
She's gone to a new place now

Daughter of heaven Oh, daughter of now
Drifting away and don't make a sound
We'll cry when we hear that you ran from this town
She's gone to a new place now
She's gone to a new place now

She's gone to a new place now


 *******

This song is quite stunning. My mind wanders back to western North Carolina and the land of my Scottish ancestors:

(click on above)

And this one, the original lyrics were by the Scottish port Robert Tannahill and is very moving:

Blooming Heather 
(click on above)

*******

I have some old home movies transferred to DVD of my family from 1959 through the early 70s. I have two DVDs of the earliest movies and enough film to do probably 4 or 5 more. I've been doing this every year as Christmas presents to the family as it too expensive to do all at once. I hate Marcia will not see the others but she did see them on the old family projector, what few minutes it ran without "losing the loop" or burning the film when it stopped. They are like looking back in time, and it is sometimes hard to watch, to see those kids who were us, those young parents, and pets long gone.

Yet, for all the craziness on that celluloid, there is a certain beauty in those captured moments at the Angel Oak, or White Point Gardens, or vacation at Blowing Rock. At the latter my brother David, as a young man, is seen running up to the edge of the famous rock outcropping. He was ever so fearless, afraid of nothing and especially not afraid of any consequences he might incur. He lies not far from that rock now, surrounded by the beauty of the gentle Blue Ridge Mountains.

Our family was six, now there are three. My mom Betsy, my younger brother Mark, and myself. In that realization I have very odd feelings of our mortality.

To paraphrase Gibran: We do not know the depth of our love until the hour of passing.

*******


When will the stream be aweary of flowing
Under my eye?
When will the wind be aweary of blowing
Over the sky?
When will the clouds be aweary of fleeting?
When will the heart be aweary of beating?
And nature die?
Never, oh! never, nothing will die?
The stream flows,
The wind blows,
The cloud fleets,
The heart beats,
Nothing will die.

Alfred Lord Tennyson


(The link on the title goes to a video from the end of the movie, "The Elephant Man." I gave Marcia my poster of this movie for a Christmas present a few year ago.)

Icarus Unbound

morning.
the mist embraces my marsh.
sunrise.
up. UP.
run to it.
embrace this day.
this gift

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

High Flight

After spending all day making funeral arrangements with the family, I came home, changed my clothes, and went for a 3 mile run. My Achilles area was swollen some but no pain, and usually running helps reduce the swelling a bit. Running has always had a useful side affect of stress reduction, something I sorely need from the workplace and life at times.

It was good to clear my head and think of little else other than breathing and where my next step would be placed. I did catch myself thinking - why am I not thinking about recent events - only to find myself back in my mindless rhythm:

breathe...step...step...breathe

breathe...step...step...breathe

I need to sleep and dream of flying.

*******

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.


    Pilot Officer Gillespie Magee
No 412 squadron, RCAF
Killed 11 December 1941

Sunday, January 17, 2010

My Sister Flies Away


 Photo from left, nephew Casey Axson, niece Catharine Clopper, my departed sister Marcia, niece Megan Axson, my mom Betsy Blalock, me, SIL Debbie and my brother Mark Blalock

On March 18, 1950, a baby girl was born to Betsy and Talmadge Blalock. Beautiful brown sleepy eyes, her life seemed to me to be one that either missed the path not taken or took that overgrown trail. But now it is clear it is that high road, the one that rises above us and disappears beyond our reach.

Today is Sunday, January 17, 2010. We were to have some friends over for dinner and I was cleaning the cat's litter boxes when I heard my cell ring. Oh, I'll call them when I get done I thought. Then is heard it ring again and I immediately thought...what has happened....

First message is from my mom, hysterical. Second is from my nephew, Casey.

My only sister is dead.

How is it you can live for 56 years and death takes all that time, bundles it up into the tiniest point, and poof it is gone just like that? My sister's life, millions if not billions of events of life, now gone into the dust of stars.

I wrote this on Facebook, to family and friends who responded to my step-daughter Becca's and my wife Jennifer's updates today:

I'd like to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers for the passing of my sister Marcia B. Axson. She was a talented artist, teacher, lover of English literature, and knew more movie trivia than Wikipedia. She never met an animal she didn't love and would do without to help them. She passed from this place quickly, and I hope if there is a life or existence beyond this one, know your lost pets are in the best of care.


*******

Here is the body of an email from Marcia shortly after I told her I was going to have the amputation of my right foot:

February 16, 2009

How could I possibly be sad when you have the chance to run again? I am with you 100% and I know everything will work out. I love you and am here no matter what you need. I am going to print the article (Tom White) when I get back to school. My printer is eternally out of ink. Tell Jennifer to let me know if she needs anything as well. You are a very brave man. I'm sure David is celebrating for you. too! God bless you, my incredible brother.

Your sister, Marcia


*******  

Later the same day:  

February 16, 2009
 
I have always known that you never quit. I think it must be a family trait. We are all given burdens or difficulties in life and how we respond to them cultivates us into who we are. great line from Steel Magnolias..."That which doesn't kill us only makes us stronger." Amen to that. We have such a supportive family. Daddy would be so PROUD. I love you! Keep me posted on all developments. I am here for you.

Your soon to be thinner sister,
Marcia 


*******

My sister fought weight loss and was addicted to nicotine. As an able-bodied runner I often tried to get her to walk the the Flowertown 5k, thinking maybe I could help her change her destructive behavior. As an amputee I had hoped maybe she would have some incentive to make a real change.

February 17, 2009 

Well...yes. I have committed myself to losing this weight. I am slowly killing myself. I want to be around to see you run in the Azalea Flowertown race in 2010! Who knows? Maybe I can trot along, too! Have a blessed day! Love you! Marcia

*******

And this defines the love Marcia had for animals, even the sympathy for the loss of our cat sweet Kiki and best friend Snickers:

February 20, 2009 

Mom just told me about precious Snickers and I know Jennifer and you are devastated. I am still crying. I am so very sorry. I know this is particularly heartbreaking after the loss of your cat. I don't know any words to say to relieve your pain other than I know so well how you are feeling. I love you both so much. I wish I could be there to give you both a hug.
Marcia


*******

This is the next to the last email I received from my sister. She had sent me a link to the website of Nick Vujicic months earlier and I had sent her a link to his YouTube video.

November 5, 2009

I knew you would like it. There is no stopping the human spirit imbued with faith, love, hope, determination and family! You will always be my hero. I love you so much. By the way, I have a new job at a bookstore here in Summerville. The store is Here Be Books. The owner is training me to do everything, including running the store. I'll be part-time for now making only minimum wage, but at least I am making some money and am so thankful for that. Sometimes, once you find a job, other more lucrative possibilities surface! What are your plans for Thanksgiving? Hope to see you soon. Kiss Baxter for me!

Your crazy sister
 

******* 

 My sister's funeral will be on Thursday. She had very little but leaves great riches in her loving children, Catharine, Megan, and Casey. I cannot help but think she left so much undone, so much potential that this world will never know. It is our loss. It is my loss. It is also my hope that none of us leave this place with lives undone, that in the striving there is the victory.

I will be running the Flowertown 5k in the memory of my sister, She will be there trotting by my side, whispering, you will always be my hero....

Saturday, January 16, 2010

With Wings

It has now been about nine months since I had my amputation, and today I gave birth to a lovely PR!

With my Achilles not onboard with the No Whine rule, I have been giving it plenty of squeaky wheel grease in hopes it would not degenerate further. This morning I got up, took a hot shower and then gently stretched it. No pain, not even a "are you sure you want to do this" shout of foreshadowing. Okay, I wasn't listening as intently as I do to Jennifer's every word, but I was silently happy that all systems were a go.

Speaking of all things lovely, Jennifer is still recovering from her ankle sprain and would be unable to run at all. She had signed up for the half marathon as she was trying to do one a month, but her plans have been recalibrated for now. I know how it is to go to a race and not participate, and it is particularly gruesome when your fitness level is high and your paw is sore.

The race was well organized, and with three events going on nearly simultaneously, the race director, Charles Fox, along with race management RMS did a fantastic job. There was a short delay at the start but fortunately for us the forecasted rain held off and we had great running conditions, perhaps 50o F with overcast skies.

We arrived with about an hour to spare. There was plenty of parking and we found a spot very close to the start. A quick trip to the "facilities" then I did a long warm-up and stretched the Achilles some more before heading back to the SUV to make take off the warmups and join the flock at the start.

The mayor of North Charleston, Keith Summey, made some remarks and gave an invocation, and the National Anthem was sung by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra Spiritual Ensemble. Very beautiful and moving. We then had a delay while the final course checks were made and I thought of Ashley Kurpiel, my friend to whom I had dedicated this race. Thanks for the wings, Ashley!




We were finally off and running! My stride fell into a quick rhythm and I felt very good. The 5k course has a long straightaway, then right and left to the first mile marker, which my Garmin 301 read as 9:24 min./1.05 mi. Not far from here there was a 180o turnaround, probably my only complaint of the course as these sharp turns are time killers. We were basically doing a loop, then headed back to the main straightaway before making a left into the officer's housing.

This was among the most scenic areas but I really couldn't enjoy the sights as I had the task at hand of playing the runnin' fool. About the time we entered Waterfront Park we hit the second mile, 8:52 min/0.98 mi on my watch. If accurate this would also be the fastest mile I have yet run as an amputee and I was still feeling strong. There was a cool drum ensemble in the park that I was able to listen through my distress some, a nice touch by the race director.

Around 2.5 mi my effort became more labored...as I approached 3 Army soldiers at a sharp turn I give them a thumbs up and one guy tried to give me a high five but I just missed his hand. Headed out of the park I noticed a man about my age - hard to tell sometime though - who had been pulling steadily away from me earlier. Shortly he began to walk and I passed him about the time we turned down the homestretch. I never fail to have the unfortunate realization that the last quarter mile or so of a 5k seems to go on forever, that times slows as the mountain slope steepens. I hit mile three, 1.03 on the Garmin, at 9:00 flat.

My breathing was very labored as I tried to keep my form together while picking up the pace with...wings. I pass three spectators who cheered for me. Higher. I looked for my sweet wife but could not focus on any faces. I hear my name announced, cross the line, and look down from this summit. I am home. The time on my watch is 28:10, chip time was 28:07, gun time of 28:13.

My chip is removed from my shoe and Danny White of RMS gives me some words of encouragement. Jennifer finds me and yeah, this day just keep glowing brighter. One of the post-race goodies is shrimp and grits, and they were very good on a mostly empty stomach. We stand around a bit to see if preliminary results are posted but it appears that is not going to happen today. We head back to the Pilot so I can do some socket housecleaning and put on some warmer clothes. After another coffee infusion we had back for the awards ceremony. At most 5ks I know my time would be far out of the hardware store, but given 3 races my chances improved slightly.

I believe it was about this time one of those little miracles happened. A young woman came up to us and said she just had to tell me how much she admired what I was doing and wanted to give me a hug. I was hoping I was going to hold it together and I did...such kindness is overwhelming to me. I did have a number of people shake my hand or speak to me as well. This genuine outpouring of support goes to a place inside - the heart - and lives there now.

A bit later as Jen and I are chatting, David Quick, a top local runner and reporter for the Charleston Post and Courier, comes up to me a little wide-eyed. 'What happened to you?' he asks and then we proceed to an impromptu interview. He asked me if I would agree to talk to him in the future and I gave him my contact numbers. David takes a couple of pictures and also asks Jennifer some questions about my decision to have this procedure which she handles easily. We finish up and head to the award tent and it starts to rain for the first time, not heavy, just a little drizzle.

In my AG the third place time is slower than mine so I know I've placed!

2010 CHARLESTON RIVERFRONT RIVER FESTIVAL- 5K
FIVE KILOMETER ROAD RACE
N. Charleston,S.C. Jan 16,2010
Results compiled by Race Management Systems(RMS), www.rmssports.com
Pl  Div No. Name            Age S City        St Chiptim Time      
=== === === =============== === = =========== == ===== ======
55  2  1511 Richard Blalock 56 M Mt. Pleasant SC  28:07 28:13
 


I win a nice glass with the race logo and my place. Jennifer and I walk back to the car with the treasure and we head to the IHOP for breakfast. Yes, it was a good day to run, a very good day. The feeling is hard to explain, but happiness certainly encompasses this ring of those near and far, and yes, I am flying even now.



Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly.
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.

- Sir Paul McCartney

Thursday, January 14, 2010

How To Live A Life

Carol and Ashley Kurpiel

A little over a month after my operation, I was researching all things amputee. Ashley Kurpiel messaged me about the Amputee Coalition of America's conference in Atlanta in late June, but as I was still recovering I was not quite ready to travel, plus we had a few expenses that made the trip just out of reach. Even so, I really wanted to go because Dr. Robert Gailey would be there giving running instruction. I would not be able to participate in running clinics, but I was intensely interested in learning everything I could and making contacts with those who could help me down this path.

I knew nothing about Ashley at this time. Later I found Ashley was profiled on "Mystery Diagnosis" on the Discovery Channel for her FOP (Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva), an extremely rare condition that "causes bone to form in muscles, tendons, ligaments and other connective tissues." Think about your life for a moment.

Now think about Ashley's.

Then imagine how you would react to an arm and shoulder amputation that was not only not necessary, but exacerbating the condition you do have.

What would you do?

I can tell you what Ashley did. She went on. Living. Helping. Doing.

When I read Ashley's Facebook status updates she is always on the go, and I mean on the go with rockets lit on her heels. Traveling to DC to appear before a Congressional committee. Getting her pic (at right) with Stephen Baldwin. Appearing on the Tyra Banks show. Attending local fund raisers. She is all there.

I've yet to meet Ashley, but I see in her a strength and courage of mythological proportions; hers are real and here and now. When I next stand on the starting line I am going to think of her, with wings on my feet, ready to fly.

Ashley is a hero of mine.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Polar Paw

I ran 3 miles at noon today. Okay, OKAY I jogged 3 miles at noon today, first run since Sunday. I can't remember when a 2 day layoff seemed like 2 weeks but it does now. I took it very slowly and stretched the Achilles every mile, then some more afterward before dunking my dog in an ice bath.

Yep, you heard right, it hasn't been cold enough that my friend Rick Ball would suggest this as therapy for my ailing Achilles. I had to retrieve a bucket I used for this very thing with my dearly departed right foot, both for swelling after runs and then for Epsom salt soaking after my first foot surgery. The bucket was confiscated for house cleaning chores, so I held a covert operation and rescued it from this unsavory turn of events.

I filled the bucket in the bathtub, dumped the icemaker tray in it, sat down on the couch and poked my paw in the icy elixir. The thought came to mind that perhaps this was some sort of inside Canadian joke, but alas, I knew whereas it had all the markings of a "good one," that indeed ice baths help the body recover faster from hard workouts and promotes a healing response. It just works out on every level imaginable.

It will be about 24 hours before I know if the Achilles is responding to this, and if it feels no worse that would be good news, as I know it will take some time to fully heal. I will continue to do my exercises and ice/heat/massage as before, but will take Rick's advice to heart on this one. Right now, a few hours afterward, it feels good and I think I am on the road to recovery but there will be NO speedwork or longer runs until the body says so. Okay, there is that 5k this weekend so I will be evaluating my situation over the next few days.

I owe you one, Rick. The ice suit is in the mail.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Achilles da Pitts

My Achilles tendinosis seems to at least been caught quickly enough not to degenerate further, and I am taking two days off while doing ice/heat therapy and some very light eccentric exercises. I will make these part of my regular stretching and strengthening routine. I mean really, why is work interrupting all of this training anyway? :-)

I plan to run 3 very easy tomorrow, I would say "jog" as that is exactly what I will be doing yet, cannot. use. that. word. Occasionally I would tell an officemate who choose to use that word and most often I would simply say "I don't jog." I can't say that now although we know it to be true.

I very much hope to still run the 5k this weekend. If it is pouring rain I've decided I won't, not so much for concerns about running in the prosthesis as keeping the Achilles warm and not making that worse. A ruptured Achilles would ruin my day and I want no part of it.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Mixed Bag

This week was a mixed bag. I had hoped to run a few more miles and was on track to do 38, but toward the end of the week I started feeling some twinges in my Achilles; on Thursday I noticed some swelling indicating some damage. Hard to say what caused this unpleasantness, I suspect the grades on the bridge may have contributed to it as some injuries take a while to make themselves known.

Regardless, although I'd like to ignore it, at my age and experience I know that is a recipe for disaster. So I took Saturday off completely and shortened my Sunday long run to 5 miles. I had hoped to run 9 miles today and certainly could have had I been willing to gamble, which I was not.

So my mileage this week was 3, 6,7,4,5,0, and 5 for 30 miles total. On Tuesday I ran 4 miles at noon and 2 in the evening, with 8 x 2 minutes harder. It is possible I strained or added to my woes then, as at one point I accidentally ran faster than I intended, 6.7 mph instead of 5.7. My treadmill is not calibrated properly and is faster than it displays, so I only run according to effort most of the time and use the readings for reference. The cost to replace the parts and labor on my treadmill as about 60% what we paid for it, so I am going to wear it out before I get a new one.

On Friday I ran 5 miles with 2 at tempo pace, the last one at 9:15. I was holding back some in taking care of the Achilles, and I hoped last week when I scheduled this workout that I could go under 9 minutes. That will have to wait as staying mobile is my priority.

Like the rest of the country and world not experiencing global warming, we have been at near record low temperatures all week. I truly don't mind the cold weather as my residual does not perspire as much; I didn't have to dry it off during my slow Sunday 5-miler. I am hoping the leg is acclimating itself to life in the liner because before we blink it is going to be summer and hot with high humidity and folks finally complaining about...oh, nevermind. ;-)

We have a race this weekend, The Riverfront Festival of Races. I'm not sure if Jennifer will be able to run yet due to her ankle sprain, but I am still on target to do the 5k. Right now there is a 50% forecast for precipitation; I still have not run in the rain yet with my prosthesis and should I have to, I will waterproof it as best I can and see what happens.

With the Achilles acting up, I doubt I will be doing the Charlie Post 15k at the end of this month. We are not signed up for it yet, so I'll wait until just before the race to decide if I will run the 15k or 5k. This is a favorite local race of mine, held on Sullivan's Island. The weather always seems to be challenging, cold and wet and often windy, something to really lean into.

*******

For next week I will take it relatively easy, monitoring the Achilles and hoping it responds to my therapy. It bothered me some in my able-bodied life and I was able to attend to it, so I will have to keep better tabs on it now. I have to admit I really hadn't thought about it much since my return to running but it hadn't forgotten me. I wouldn't have minded if it hadn't forgotten me.



Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Random Thoughts Part IV


It seems no day I pass through now does not show me some glint of magic. Nothing that I have missed, but more polished and sharper in my sight.
Exultation.

I found how much more I could love something that I thought I could not love more.

There are heroes all around us and one inside every human being.
The drum bangs within.

I ran 7 miles with the tune "Mai Nozipo" performed by the Kronos Quartet. I first heard this music in the movie "Fearless," a favorite of mine. This may be my prerace music for a long, long time. Feets gotta move.

I feel I have lived one life as able-bodied and now a new life as an amputee. I think the day I came home from rehab was that birthday, the unknown became real. It seemed I was learning a new language for the new life and was lost between worlds.

I consider myself a lucky man. Others have suffered far worse and do so even now.
Execute. Cancer. Now.

*******

Out of great suffering comes the music to move men's souls.



Sunday, January 3, 2010

My New Year

On Wednesday I had a strong urge to run the Cooper River Bridge. My only hesitation was having not run the previous week I felt it might be a harder workout than I was prepared for. Still, the weather was good with temps in the mid-50s but somewhat windy. It is almost always breezy up on the bridge and would be at my back going to Charleston and in my face on the return trip to Mount Pleasant.

I parked at the lot off of the Cold War Memorial that serves as parking for a recreational complex as well. I had not seen this monument before and took a look around while my Garmin searched for the satellite signal. It's a very imaginative display and I will check it out further at future runs.

I estimated the run would be about 6 miles and it turned out to be 6.25. From the parking lot to Coleman Blvd., it is a concrete sidewalk and the bridge is all concrete so it's not a joint friendly route. However, for hill training, it's the best around for hundreds of miles. I ran up to the foot of the bridge and drank from the water fountain, checked my socket fit and then headed up the first span.

This is the second time I've run the bridge, but the first time with Jennifer I did not run to the other end and back. The bridge has a separate bike and pedestrian-only lanes marked with paint, yet I saw at least six couples walking abreast each other in the bike lane. The danger is obvious but in my many crossings on the bridge as able-bodied and now as an amputee, I've never seen any law enforcement attending this problem. I suppose when someone is seriously hurt the lawsuit(s) will cause a change in attitudes, which seems a shame but is often the case with bureaucratic minds. A performance bike traveling 30+ mph is a potential missile and not the benign cruiser that many ride.

I stopped at the second tower to dry the liner and socket and continued the long decline to the Charleston side of the bridge. With the wind at my back it was a very easy descent, but I knew the return would be uphill and blustery. At the Charleston end of the bridge there is a drinking fountain and several benches, so I took another opportunity to dry out the liner and socket. I wished I had my Blackberry with me to take a picture of all the perspiration I dumped out of the liner as it was significant. But with everything dried out the fit felt good and off I went to complete the round trip.

It is rather impressive to see from the Charleston side where I will be running back to Mt. Pleasant; I always liked point to point courses because the distance, when seen on a map, gives a true sense of the distance covered. I like the feeling of accomplishment that instills in me.

On the way up to the first tower I had two or three people give me a runner's wave; I love that sense of comradery. I tend run with a good deal of concentration on my form, trying to keep an even gait. Yet I am, as always, aware of the feeling of the prosthesis, its weight and the compression on my residual limb. And I am aware of how I must look to other people, so I can understand them looking a bit longer at this tall, bearded, running man with a prosthesis.

As I descended back into Mt. Pleasant I could feel the stress on my legs and knew I would be sore the next day or two. The piriformis did not send any distress signals and I took it quite slow; once the wind took a hard swipe at me and I had to reach a hand out to the railing to steady myself. Those running gods are such kidders.

As I finished I felt ready to be done with a good dose of running fatigue to boot. I didn't feel any hotspots, always a good thing, and I did my stretching for good measure. I had hoped I had not overdone it, but if I had I knew I had pushed the current small envelope through a tight slot.

*******

I did 3.25 miles easy in Thursday and could feel the stress from the bridge run, but nothing significant. The hardest part was getting off the couch and the first stiff strides of the run. I definitely didn't want to overdo the recovery, took it nice and slow and the distance was all I wanted to do.

On Friday, New Year's Day, I did my speedwork, still a little stiffness but about what I would expect, and no specific owies. I did 6 miles total with 8 x 200 in the middle to work on my form and generate some speed that all of my other base miles lack. It is difficult to work on being relaxed while (allegedly!) sprinting but with the prosthesis this is even more apparent. I started easy and my last 200 was 48s. I am very happy with this progress but it will take several more months to get them all down in the low 40s range.

I did 4 easy miles on Saturday in chilly and windy weather, and today, Sunday, I did 8 miles again. This gives me 34 miles for the week, same as the week before Christmas. I'll try to run around 37 - 38 miles next week which is going to be a cold one for us Southerners. I like these 40oF days, as I sweat less in the prosthesis and the cold, clear air is invigorating.

I added my race schedule on the sidebar of this blog. Yeah, I know it looks like a lot of races and it is, but they are generally at least 2 weeks apart. I am using the 5ks as tempo runs for now, so racing this often is not quite the same as racing at top fitness level. Also the more I do for now, the less I hope to feel so self-aware of my appearance although this is something I can't see ever being a non-issue. Truth is, it is self motivating on many levels and once the race starts and I turn inward then running is all there is...even if I feel it enhanced these days. I believe the trade gives me this one small privilege.

*****

Here is to the New Year of life and running. As bad as 2009 was on the economic front, I will remember it kindly for what it gave back to me.

And I am going to run with it.