Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Getting There

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                             - Mat Kearney

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

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

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Here or There or Anywhere

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 23, 2010

22 Days

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

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

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

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

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


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

It will be enough.

For now.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


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

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

Sunday, December 12, 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 5, 2010

6 til 26 point 2 and a 50

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

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

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

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

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

Tibia owie
 Oh, one more thing....

Today I ran 4 miles with Jennifer, and this gave me, for the first time since April 22, 2007, a 50 mile week! Another milestone reached. Yes, better late than never again! hard workout this week, less miles, and then an honest effort at Kiawah. Jennifer and I will the half marathon, while our friends Kelly and Brian Luckett will run the full. Kelly and I will be running in the Mobility Impaired Divisions for our respective races, a historic day for disabled runners in South Carolina as I believe this is the first marathon and possibly first race ever in the state to have such designations.

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

Back in the day

Friday, December 3, 2010

Jeannie Peeper

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

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

Please watch the video here.

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

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

                         - Bruce Hornsby

Thursday, December 2, 2010

On the Kindness of Others

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

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

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

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

This is indeed the good stuff. Try it sometime.

Be like Mike.