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 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!

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


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.


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


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 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.


                           10 Kilometer Road Race
                 Charleston/James Island, S.C.  Nov. 6, 2010
   Results by Race Management Systems(RMS)

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