Thursday, September 30, 2010

Blood, Sweat, and Expletives

I attempted a short run at lunch today at the track, wanting to do some easy miles and 4 x 200 to stretch the legs out for the race on Saturday. After running 4 miles I could feel soreness in my socket, specifically, just below the knee at my old friend, the tibia tuberosity. I had swelling with a spot that looked like a blood pimple. Yes, I cursed.

This is NOT my kneecap but irritation/swelling at tibia tuberosity
At home I pricked the skin and drew off some blood and fluid, sending a pic to my CP. This last socket adjustment failed spectacularly; I cannot run long and I may be in a precarious place to run the Lt. Dan 5k on Saturday. An appointment has been made for Monday, so we'll see what's next.

My marathon training is officially behind now, and I will be lucky to finish it without a struggle at this point IF I can get a socket that fits. I gave myself plenty of training time to allow recovery from the inevitable owies (and then some) of training, but I am out of precious breathing room.  I realize not many amputees run marathons, but I know we can do it and run much further, so this is not an impossible thing. We'll get it fixed one way or another because failure is not an option.  

NOT AN OPTION.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Jen-nay, Lt. Dan, and Me

Forrest: Lieutenant Dan? Lieutenant Dan! 
Lt. Dan: Hello, Forrest.
Forrest: You got new legs. New legs!
Lt. Dan: Yeah, I got new legs.
Lt. Dan: Custom-made titanium alloy. It's what they use on the space shuttle.
Forrest: Magic legs.

*******

Jennifer and I are going to Beaufort, SC, this weekend to run in the Beaufort Shrimp Festival Lt. Dan 5k. When I signed us up for this race - obviously I had to - I imagined we'd we running in the quaint streets of this picturesque village made famous by movies like "Forrest Gump" and "The Big Chill."

Nay.

We are mostly running over a bridge, starting in the town and then heading south on Hwy 21 to Meridian Road as seen here. I was a little disappointed about this development because I had hoped to have a fast time at this race; crossing a bridge will slow me going up and I'll have to be very careful going down since I'll have less control over the blade.

Well..."Life is a box of chocolates, Forrest. You never know what you're gonna get."




*******

Lt. Dan: Now, you listen to me. We all have a destiny. Nothing just happens, it's all part of a plan. I should have died out there with my men! But now, I'm nothing but a goddamned cripple! A legless freak. Look! Look! Look at me! Do you see that? Do you know what it's like not to be able to use your legs?
Forrest: Well... Yes, sir, I do.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Jato's Got Bling

Jato in repose
This is my second carbon fiber socket for Jato. The first socket proved far too restrictive in the knee area, something the new one would share as well. I had no issues with the old socket at the distal end (bottom of my residual limb) but the new one, for whatever reason, was not kind to me there. 

Cutaway to relieve pressure
Just before the Kiawah Triathlon, Larry made some major modifications including cutting out part of the top and blowing out some on the distal end. These changes did help, and I think I found another reason for the extreme discomfort on my lower limb...sweat. Yes, the thing I was worried about since starting this journey remains a trouble-making foe.

At Kiawah and the Dirt Dash I had used Drysol, an extremely strong anti-antiperspirant, to effectively stop the sweat from causing trouble. Specifically, the sweat in my liner causes the fit to become loose and the prosthesis to not be as stable. I did not reapply the Drysol for a few days after Kiawah, and on a longer run found my liner had loosened on the distal end, having about an inch or more separation from liner to the bottom of my stump. This causes an action called pistoning on the distal end and, I believe, the irritation to my lower leg that produces the vice-like sensation.

Today I will be running 16, maybe 17 miles. Due to socket issues it will have been 6 weeks since my last long run, outside of the half marathon. I did apply Drysol last night in hopes to test my theory. If this run goes well then I am on my way to longer runs, if not I will be on my way to talk things over with Larry again. We have already discussed changes to my next socket based in the modifications to this one. I also would like to have a little more motion at maximum knee flexion (the point you see the better runners nearly kicking their own butt) as the liner, socks, and sleeve bunch in the back of the socket to restrict my movement. This bothers me when I ride the bike which is not often, but something I will try to do in marathon training as an occasional cross-training workout.

*******

The graphic on Jato is for the Phoenix Athletes program (on Facebook) of the Floyd Brace Company. Larry is committed to not only his athletes, but for providing inspiration and incentive and help to other people in their care. My sleeve covers the top part of the graphic on my frame, and I've been told it looks like a tribal tattoo. I was initially thought it might look too much like the old Pontiac Firebird insignia, but after the Dirt Dash it grew on me more. 

A lighter colored socket is also better in our southern climate; the basic black carbon fiber does look great, but given our heat it is not the best choice, I think, for a running prosthesis. I might go with a white socket at some point for this reason. Amy Palmiero-Winters wore one for the Badwater Ultramarathon and it also looked very cool, complete with a white blade. Given the extreme temperatures, you'd need to take such measures to keep your residual from being cooked in the socket.

*******

Next weekend we run the Lt. Dan 5k as part of the Beaufort Shrimp Festival. If you've seen the movie "The Big Chill" you will have a good mental picture of where Jen-nay and I will be running. Son-in-law Chris Winn will be running with us as well, and we look forward to good times. I am thinking I will wear Marine Corps colors since Parris Island is nearby and that is where I ran my best 3 miler so many years ago. As I write and think about this I know it is going to be a new day to remember. Semper fi!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Team Phoenix - Kiawah Triathlon 2010


From left: Larry Wiley, Jeff Nolan, and me

This past weekend, September 19, Team Floyd Brace Phoenix Athletes participated in the Kiawah Triathlon, an Olympic distance event. We had two gimps, Jeff Nolan and myself,  and our prosthetist Larry Wiley. Jeff did the swim, Larry the bike, and I was tapped for the run.

I am very proud of our group. Although we finished last in our team division it wasn't by a wide margin. Jeff has been an amputee for a little over 6 months and Larry had just recovered from the flu and dehydration. I have been having socket issues and not able to do my long runs; let's just say my happy place needed a makeover.

So last Friday I want in for another socket tune-up and then Jen and I ran at Sullivans Island on Saturday. The socket felt fine until I got out of the car to open the garage door (the Genie apparently escaped to the bottle and stopped working) when it felt sore again. ARGH! Desperate, I broke down and took a Lyrica, thinking the residual had become hypersensitive to the socket issues over the past few weeks and I needed to break that cycle.

Turns out that must have been at least part of the equation, because I had ZERO trouble on my run. I was flummoxed and flabbergasted. How I went from a socket that I was about to literally throw under the bus to one that didn't bother me at all was amazing. I believe my hypersensitive stump theory was likely correct, so along with the adjustments it became a non-issue. Finally.

With hurricane Igor churning up the Atlantic there as some talk of canceling or significantly shortening the swim. I don't know for a fact, but I think the course may have been shortened a little; the main problem was not the length but getting out of the breakers and then back to shore due to the strong current. We usually have rather puny surf except in storm conditions; today the swells were in the 5' - 6' range with dangerous rip currents.


That's Jeff's red cap left of center

Jeff had trained like a madman and I was very proud of the way he handled the mile swim. Scott Rigsby sent him a wetsuit to use and that eased my mind that especially in these conditions Jeff would have a safety margin with its buoyancy.

 Jeff and his dad

I stayed in the transition area while the main crew went to see Jeff off in the swim. Jeff's dad helped him in and out of the water, what a great moment they will recall in the years ahead. With a very strong swim, and one that will build confidence for the future, Jeff exchanges the relay ankle band with Larry.

While Larry was out tearing up the roads, I fiddled with my socket and fit, trying to make sure I'd be ready to go when it was my turn to sweat. The left to right tilt seemed a little odd, but the fit itself was scary comfortable, but I knew from experience what feels good for a few practice yards can be way different a few miles down the road.

Larry  "Wildman" Wiley

We never discussed or practiced the transition and ours reflected that lack in a very slow exchange. Out the lot and into the loose sand on my way to the beach, I concentrated on smaller steps and not shoveling with my blade. It was slow going but I didn't feel frustrated as I knew all runners had this same obstacle to contend with.

 Coming through the dunes

As I turn on the hard packed sand I see Emily and Jeff Nolan, Emily snapping pics and both cheering me on. We run a total of about a mile on the beach before exiting onto a sort boardwalk and into a residential area of Kiawah. It is my plan to run as even a pace I can for 3 or 4 miles and then try to pick it up.

 On the beach

There are four 180o turns on the course which steal time but allows the runners to size up their competitors. I received many thumbs up and words of encouragement, which I tried to return as best I could. As I passed one runner he shouted "Ooh-rah!" and what I thought was a "Hail Mary..." So much positive energy helped me maintain my pace despite feeling the increasing distress from effort and heat.

Finally I realized we should be nearing the way back to the race finish and hoped I had a little left to finish fast, something I could not do at the Dirt Dash. The run to the finish is through a parking lot and with many enthusiastic cheers I find that I have something in the tank and run strong to the end. I am baked with not much left...looking at my watch I am thinking I must have stopped it by accident around the start of mile 6 because the time seems too fast. My official time is 53:21 and I am damn happy with it. I expected to struggle to get under an hour given the sand and heat and many turns, but this was a 'real nice surprise.'

 Dig man dig!


I plan to run the Kiawah Island half marathon in December along with my friend Kelly Luckett who will be doing the full marathon. There will be no running on the beach which should mean a better pace. This will be my last long race before my marathon although I will likely do one 5k before that goal race. This may be a historic race as the first in the state, to the best of my knowledge, to have a Mobility Impaired division that will for the first time include amputee runners.

I should be in shape to have a good race. I ran my able-bodied PR at Kiawah before the Myrtle Beach Marathon some years ago; I will not be close to that time - this time. I will, however, give it my all. Because others believe in us, give us a chance. It is both the least, and the most, I can do.

Photo Credits:  Emily Becker Nolan

Friday, September 17, 2010

Francis Marion Dirt Dash 2010

 Putting our best foot forward: Kelly Luckett and me
The weather forecast never got any better: hot and humid for the inaugural Francis Marion Dirt Dash 5k and Half Marathon. In my previous post, I had outlined my thoughts for this race and they went down the uglier path. Although my time was much slower than I expected, the same held true for everyone. And I have to remember this: without my amputation I would not have even been there, so that's it for the whine.

*******

Jennifer, Kelly Luckett, her friend Holly Mann and I had our pasta dinner at Souri's in Mt. Pleasant. We saw Bill Murray, now our best bud Bill, here not long after my amputation while I was still in a wheelchair. No sighting this evening so we couldn't invite him to a cookout. Soon though.

Kelly had just completed a marathon on Monday, yet here she was getting ready to run a half marathon 5 days later. This would not only be the inaugural Dirt Dash race, but also the first for Kelly's completely new running prosthesis with a Cheetah blade. Yes, this is the same blade Oscar Pistorius runs in! Kelly has a long residual limb, the result of a lawnmower accident at age 2, so she has clearance considerations only a sprint-type foot typically offers.

Jennifer and I arrived at the race about an hour earlier and parked near the starting line. The entire race is run on hard packed dirt roads with some crushed stone, something that did take a good bit of my attention to avoid skating or tripping on during the race.

Ouch!
I donned my running socket and immediately had trouble. As you can see from the pic, which I took afterward, it turns out I was being stabbed in the knee by my carbon fiber frame.

My residual limb is always larger in the morning and loses volume in the course of a day, so at my last adjustment this dagger point was not bothering me. But oh it was no fun this morning. I fiddled and fidgeted with my prosthetic socks until I finally got something I could tolerate as I warmed up for the start. 

Jennifer was doing the 5k as she is not quite back to half marathon shape yet; the rest of us were doing the half marathon. There were several other events going on in the area this weekend, including a 5k that siphoned off some runners. For an early half marathon still reeling from the heat of summer there were close to 200 athletes toeing the line at 8 a.m.

The race was delayed about 10 minutes; we spent the time chatting and getting a few pics. Jennifer took this one of Kelly's and my running feet; you can see the very different styles we use. My foot is a Freedom Innovations "Nitro" and I love it. Those who follow my blog know it is named "Jato."

Photo: Jen Blalock S&L Photography

The horn sounds and we're off in a literal cloud of dust. I find in the first couple of miles that I have to be very watchful of the person in front of me, and I have to be alert to rocks, depressions, and ruts that I cannot see because we are close together. As we thin out this becomes less and then no problem at all.

I am running slightly faster than I planned, but by mile 3 am on target. I am very conscious of the ill-fitting prosthesis as the morning heat starts to rise. One good thing, I had made two Drysol applications earlier in the week and had no problem with my sleeve sliding down my leg or my liner drowning in sweat. 

Just after mile 4 I am slowing because of the heat and lack of concentration due to the knife in the knee and begin to wonder if I will be able to run the whole way after all. By mile 5 I know I will be lucky to come close to what I felt would be my worst time of 2:15.

Photo: Dan Clapper
Soon people started walking, in fact, I don't know if I ever saw so many half marathoners reduced to survival mode so quickly. In the past my able-bodied half marys always run in cooler temps so this seemed unusual to me.

In the pic at right was before just the wheels came off or the brakes came on...you can see my hydration/supply waist pack with my gold colored towel and some spare prosthetic socks should I need them. About the time this pic was taken I was considering stopping to check my sock fit, but decided the wasted time would likely not result in any increased comfort.

On-On. There was a long stretch - feeling ever longer in the heat - where outbound runners would pass the faster inbound speedsters. By this time I was stopping to walk as I needed, usually no more than 10 - 30s if I could help it. Quite a few people gave me the thumbs up or words of encouragement. Clearly I was not going to have a good run and doubt started creeping in my mind with a sledge-hammer to make its case for longer walking with little if any running.


Photo: Flowertown in Focus Photography
Well now. Many of my friends have commented on my determination; sometimes that is indistinguishable from my genetic Scottish heritage of hardheadedness. At any rate I begin running one more mile. One more mile. One more mile. You can do this. One more mile.

Somewhere in the heat and the dust and the inner struggle it came to mind that not long ago what I was doing this very day was impossible or damn close to it. That no matter what the time, I was here and now and had the privilege of running when on this day not so long ago thousands lost their lives to men of evil. What would my countrymen give to walk and run in the heat of a national forest with their friends? Anything? Everything?

I soon meet Kelly and Holly who are battling the day's hot punches as well. High fives are exchanged and I am slogging my way home. My comrades and I strike up short conversations and quick friendships as we struggle forward. Run as much as you can, walk when you must or plan to, keep climbing.

Nearing the finish line

Toward the end my good leg starts cramping whenever I try to pick up my lowly pace, strong twitches but never a full blown knotted muscle. As I round the bend to home I have to stop a couple of times to massage the leg...I desperately want to quicken my pace for a fast finish but can only do so much. Cheers. I hear cheers. I know some are for me but it seems unreal. In my mind I am the same guy I always was; I know I am different but the same.

My throat clinches in involuntary spasms. Cheers. I hear my sweet wife's voice: "Go Richard!"

I am done.

*******

As I recover the most amazing thing happens to me. A WWII Navy veteran comes up to shake my hand. Jennifer and I tell him our dads were both in the Navy in WWII so we have this common bond. Here this man, a hero in every sense of the word, who helped save this planet from the violence of tyranny, told me how inspiring I was to him.

Oh no, sir, thank you but no. You are the hero here and we owe our freedom to you. There are not enough thank yous for your sacrifice.

I tell you, I would not have traded winning the race for this moment. And one I never would have known except for my loss. What loss?

*******

Jennifer has an equally poor time due to the heat and helps me recover from my efforts. I sit for a long time on the tailgate of the Pilot, just letting the day go by. She is so good to me, helping with the little details that my mind prefers not to think about. Drink. Eat. Towel. Cushion.

Thank you Sweetness and Light.

*******

After I recover we go back and wait for Kelly and Holly. The heat has taken a toll on them too, but they cross the line to cheers of the firefighters and Team Blalock in fine fashion. I am struck by their friendship and support for each other; they stuck together and brought it home!


Friends to the Finish!
We also meet a number of other people, given my somewhat unique appearance it is an easy conversation starter. I met people who worked with my brother and his wife; one lady had had back surgery and was now out participating in the races...so very inspiring. And in an exceedingly wonderful chance meeting, one of my nurses introduced herself and it turns out we live in the same neighborhood. I received such excellent care at Roper St. Francis as I've written here.

We head down to the awards/food location, but unfortunately all of the freebies had disappeared. Awards were given in 10 years increments, so there was no hardware to be had either. Kelly and Holly will be coming back to run the Kiawah Island Marathon and Half Marathon in December with us.

*******

Although I was initially unhappy with my performance, I am certain I will run much better at our next half in October and I learned more lessons from this experience. I learned no matter how ugly the race can get there is no quit short of more serious health considerations. I know this to be true from many past races, but the disappointment sometimes clouds this truth.

However many runners are at a race, there are an equal number of stories about each person. Mine is slightly more obvious than most, but there are many epic tales of my fellow athletes overcoming adversities in many colors. The cancer survivor. Back surgery. Pursuing a healthy lifestyle after neglecting the temple of the body. Yes, it is cliché to say "we are all winners" when most times it is not. But not today.

*******

I am going in for a socket adjustment and I am desperately hoping we can get this fit/comfort problem resolved today. Last night I fell short of running my planned 10 miles for no reason other than I was fighting the socket and afraid trying to push through the warnings that I would injure myself. This morning my ITB was sore where the ill-fitting socket rubs over it outside the kneecap so it is a good thing I stopped short.

On Sunday I am scheduled to run the 10k at the Kiawah Triathlon on a relay team, along with Jeff Nolan doing the swim and our CP Larry Wiley riding the bike. After that I must focus on marathon training, which I cannot tolerate on this current socket.

We should find the answer soon, because I will run the Charleston Marathon on January 15, 2011. There can be no excuses that day which is why I am aggressively after a good fit now. You don't run a marathon on wishes and wants; it takes discipline, commitment, and determination.

And for me, two good legs. I must have both and soon.

Jato in repose

Friday, September 10, 2010

Adding It Up

I am feeling anxious about the race tomorrow, I have a vision of having to limp in with a sore leg and being frustrated with my lack of progress.

I am feeling anxious about the race tomorrow, I have a vision of running faster than I have trained and being surprised with my progress.

*******

Tomorrow's half marathon will be the truth trial. This morning while driving into work, I made a mental ledger of my race prospects:

The Good
  1. Tibia swelling better
  2. Speedwork has gone well
  3. Have run a 16 miler in training
  4. Have run in summer heat - race will be warm/humid
  5. No other physical problems 
The Bad
  1. New socket just feels uncomfortable, very aware of pressure on stump
  2. Skin is broken at tibia tuberosity but healing
  3. Last two long runs shortened due to socket issues
The Ugly
  1. It's going to be warm to hot and humid
  2. I have gained 5 lbs
I ran 6 miles last night to make sure the protective bandaging efforts on the tibia worked, which they did. However, for the entire run it felt like my residual was in a vice grip. I've had this sensation before and it usually fades but not this time. I can only guess that since we are putting less pressure on the knee that it has been transferred to the lower residual limb. My residual was tender after the run which does not instill confidence that it will not bother me tomorrow.

I plan to run 4 on the treadmill today and play with my prosthetic socks to see if I can improve this distracting sensation. I've taken a couple of ibuprofens to help relief the tenderness. The discomfort is not horrible, but it takes my focus off my effort and makes it difficult to concentrate on a difficult endeavor.

It is quite possible what I am feeling is the result of the prior socket not fitting correctly, however it gave me no problems with the comfort of the lower residual. I should get some answers this weekend, then see what the next step will be. Right now I can't imagine running a marathon with this level of discomfort.

Getting the fit adjusted in the prosthetist's office and the running far in it is all part of the trial and error gauntlet I must pass through. There is no way to walk up and down a hallway or run a few steps in a parking lot and compare that to running 15 miles on a hot summer day; the results will vary.

Tomorrow will bring some answers and likely raise some more questions.

One about bears and woods perhaps.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Half 'n Half

Since my last post I have received a new running socket, and with some adjustments it seems to have resolved my tibial tuberosity problem. However, the skin finally broke down some so it still requires attention. Last night I applied some Nu-Skin over the raw spot and covered it with a waterproof band-aid. I had to cut my treadmill run short because I thought the prior bandage was coming off and bunching up under my liner, but that was not the case. There did seem to be a spot of blood on the liner but none to the touch so it may have just been some discoloration. During the day I am giving it as much air as I can to try to speed the healing.

 "One more mile" at Bass Lake

Last weekend we drove up to Blowing Rock, NC, so my mom could place flowers on my brother David's grave. Being a holiday weekend the crowds were insane in the little town, so we avoided it as much as possible. Jennifer and I did get some training around Bass Lake, also filled with people, many of whom apparently have never walked on a trail before. Often large groups would completely block the trail walking abreast each other and chatting. The earth is no longer the center of the universe; it has been displaced by the knowledge that many individuals consider themselves to be that special place.

We also had a pleasant dinner with my cousin Ken Lynn and his wife Monica who live near Boone. I had a nice conversation with Ken after our meal; I have not seen Ken in perhaps 20 years so we had a little catching up to do. 

When we came home I contacted my CP Larry Wiley and he squeezed me in to do some fine tuning of my socket. I had one other hotspot that needed work because I knew during my longer run the obvious friction would translate into skin irritation and then breakdown. With an ever-changing residual limb and minor, unavoidable changes during the fitting process, it is still a constant struggle to achieve the moving target of a great fit. Many thanks again to Larry and the good people at Floyd Brace for being able to help me on short notice.

My last two long runs have had to be abbreviated because of these socket problems; instead of 16 and 17 miles they were 8 and 11.25. With my first amp half marathon, the Francis Marion Dirt Dash this Saturday, I feel under-prepared for it; I know I can cover the distance but it will not be at the pace I had hoped it would be. The weather promises to be warm and humid as usual, so having a fast time is going to be very unlikely.

With all of these considerations, I must start my race slowly because if my heart rate gets up too quickly I could have a very bad day. There will be little to no breeze in the forest which will cause additional stress to the body.

Our friend and fellow amputee Kelly Luckett with her friend Holly will be joining us for this race. Kelly is an amazing endurance runner and was at the Getting2Tri National ParaTriathlon Camp this past March where I got to meet her. Kelly will also be doing the Kiawah Island Marathon in what may be the first ever mobility impaired division in the state.

Francis Marion Dirt Dash national forest road course

Other than this being my first amputee half marathon race, it is also endearing to me on two other levels. First, toward the end of my running career as an able-bodied athlete I could not have done this race; the uneven though relatively smooth road would have been very painful to my old ankle. Secondly, this reminds me of so many days of my youth, running around the old clay pits near my home. I will have many sources of inspiration this day, golden threads of time spinning past.

As my friend Joe Marruchella would say raceday morning: Time to go to work.

And I will reply: It is a good day to run.