23 December 2008

The Surgery Show

I was thrilled when Doctor Foot Doctor offered to supply pictures of my surgery, though I was admittedly a little apprehensive. Fascinating or nauseating? I’ve certainly received plenty of views on that question. And better, I’ve heard that thanks to these pictures, my readership has extended to some interesting places! Overall, The Surgery Show has been a great hit.

A couple years back I had a hernia repaired. Beforehand, I searched the web for some pictures, being the naturally curious type, and wondering what exactly they intended to do to me. Quick lesson: abdominal surgery is not pretty. After a few shots, uh, you don’t want to go there anymore.

But somehow biomechanics held fascination. And the possibility of seeing my very own foot, and the subsequent understanding of the work done, held even more. I found the pictures truly amazing and not at all nauseating, an opinion helped, I’m sure, by the relatively bloodless environment of the foot under tourniquet. But there’s no other way I could have appreciated what my crack surgical team did without seeing those shots. And the shot of the thread-thin remaining strand of the once thick and meaty tendon spoke a thousand words.

And the reactions! You’d think I was posting porn, the span of awe versus disgust! My first few post-surgical ventures out were to our church, since I’ve got folk band practice on Tuesdays plus of course our “weekend gig”, so the first people to hear about these shots were my church crowd. My band-mates know my obsessive side and so weren’t at all surprised at this image-posting twist. But to my surprise, my pastor was utterly thrilled, exclaiming, “I love surgeries!” His glee was doubled when he learned that the photographer was one of his parishioners! I won’t identify that person any further to keep the HIPAA lawyers happy, but another huge thank you to you.

My co-workers have had all kinds of reactions, which I’ve absolutely loved. In short, this has been way too much fun! You have to turn your head at the car wreck, you can’t help it. Even at today’s office holiday luncheon – my first foray back to our sales office – they’d express amazement or disgust, but in either case hustle over with sandwiches and potato salad in hand and glue their eyes to that sliced wheel, that mangled tendon, that curious strip of decellularized equine pericardium.

But the best bonus of all was hearing today that my blog posting made it back to none other than the makers of that strip of equine linguini, Pegasus Biologics. Apparently they like to see pictures of their product in action (and who wouldn’t?), and it was easy to pass on the blog, resulting in a few new eyeballs scanning my prose within their hallowed halls. Pegasus folks, if you’re still reading, hats off to you. I’m thankful for your work and your product, and honored at you attention. And if this thing actually heals up strong like I hope, I’ll be doubly so. Just one question, though: Was that horse a thoroughbred?

Optimistically Bummed

Crutches stink. If you’ve been on them, you know this. If not, you don’t have a clue. You think they’re great fun. You grab your friend’s (hopefully when he’s sitting down) and hop across the room with glee. But when you really can’t afford to drop weight on that busted and/or patched up lower appendage, you quickly learn the truth.

In my case, one screw up and all this work goes down the tubes. Tendons sewn but not re-grown (I worked for minutes on that rhyme, kindly appreciate it!) are rather fragile, even with the best horse artistically wrapped around them. Which leads us to today’s theme, that while this medical adventure is, for all we can see, proceeding well, it takes a long time.

This saga seems like it started eons ago, which is probably because it did. With perfect hindsight I would have skipped the five weeks in leg armor leading up to surgery, but who knew? We had to play the game and give it a shot. It was a long shot. We lost. C’est la vie.

It’s now been two and a half weeks since the surgery, two and a half weeks on crutches. Give me a wide open space, I can move pretty well on these things. (Heck, my manager Steve tells me he actually did the Manchester Road Race on crutches several years back; my arms ache just thinking about it!) But just try to navigate through the house – and my wife keeps a neat house, mind you – and frustration mounts. Everything is slightly out of reach. Hop? Or grab those things again? Worst is the inability to carry most anything, since you need your hands. I’m quite sick of being rather useless with anything other than the keyboard.

On the lighter side, my younger daughter likens my one-legged state to a flamingo, and desperately wants to dress me up in pink. I’ve come to refer to myself as a permanent Captain Morgan advertisement, and I don’t even drink the stuff. Any other one-legged jokes you can think of, just send them over.

But Doctor Foot Doctor had told me two to three weeks in the splint, then back to the leg armor. And so with today’s follow-up visit, there was the slightest ray of hope. I was so wishing to gain my freedom from the crutches. Alas, it was not to be. Despite good behavior, my sentence has not been commuted. And worse, when I shift back to the air cast in about a week, the crutches don’t go away. Instead I keep using them, but only slowly start adding weight over the course of a couple more weeks. Doc is optimistic on my prognosis, but wisely cautious.

To my engineering head, this makes perfect sense, of course, and I’m fully with the program to ease back oh-so-gently in hopes of not damaging this fragile repair. But I can’t deny that I am just a little bummed. Oh ye who yearn from freedom…

16 December 2008

Ingrained

I can’t make this stuff up. While my foot is still sheathed in bandages, resembling, as my co-workers put it, a huge wrapped up meatball grinder, while I still hobble on crutches, while I consciously yearn to run, my subconscious is at it as well. I ran a marathon last night in 2:61. Yeah, 2:61. Dreams are like that.

Yesterday I’d told myself that I’d unwrap the meatball sub today and have a look at the work in progress. Perhaps that spawned the nocturnal mind warp. In that nether world, I’d taken off the bandages and, despite orders not to move a thing associated with this appendage, gone for a walk. Next thing you know, I was jogging, then running in pure joy, then had joined up with a bunch of other runners, entirely exhilarated, then we’d been running so long we realized we’d almost covered a marathon and might as well finish it. We hammered the finish, which was, oddly enough, officially marked, measured, and timed, and that’s where I clocked the 2:61. Even in my dream I was rational enough to wonder why it wasn’t a 3:01, but sure enough, it was a 2:61. It was so real, I’ll bet it’s out there on CoolRunning somewhere, if I only knew the name of the race.

Amidst the pleasure of my accomplishment and the elation over the fact that my foot felt fine while running, the shame of having broken Doc’s orders quickly took over, and as a schoolboy in trouble – because somehow I was back in school – I tried to find an excuse for why I’d been gone for three hours. Somehow, “I was at Phys Ed class” didn’t cut it with the teacher.

I swear, I can’t make this stuff up.

When I was 18, back in my First Lap days, and contracted meningitis (see It’s August and I’m Still Alive), I came out of the coma only to be asked by the doctor if I was British. I found that odd, being firmly Italian and Polish, but it seems that I’d been mumbling in a British accent while I was out. At the time I was a die-hard Monty Python fan (who am I kidding? still am…), and it was pretty clear that the mind takes you to your comfort zone in your subconscious.

Which is why I was really quite pleased to wake up this morning and recall this dream. In my conscious life (I think it’s conscious, or to paraphrase RenĂ© Descartes, “I wonder if I think, therefore I am”), I tell people – especially non-runners who don’t understand our obsession – that running is a part of me. Yet I wonder how much of that is truth and how much is wishful thinking of one’s ideal self-image. But when it pervades the subconscious, it gives you reason to believe the former, and I find comfort in that. It is indeed ingrained.

Comfort is a good thing at present, since my foot has been rather swollen and quite uncomfortable the past few days. Doctor Foot Doctor told me to expect that approaching the two week mark, as my body starts to really kick into overdrive on healing. I’m hoping the last couple days are just an early onset of the process and not a harbinger of worse to come.

Yet I have to believe I’m over the hump. While the last few days have been uncomfortable, the day is creeping closer to getting off the crutches, moving back to the air cast phase, then getting back to normal. And running. And just to make it really feel like getting over the hump, God threw us a heck of a hump last week. For those of you who live outside of New England, we’re still crawling out from under the arboreal and associated infrastructure wreckage of our worst ice storm in decades. Timed perfectly for me, arriving at the peak of my Gimpdom. Saying to me, in a way, “If you can get through this while you’re hobbled, you can get through a lot.”

My city was on the edge of the frozen zone and took relatively light damage compared to others to our west (check out some amazing pictures from my friend Kelly), yet still our entire city was knocked offline with unprecedented chaos. I lost power for a mere 33 hours, while colleagues of mine are still out 5 days later. Mind you, my home was out for longer than anyone else on the street because of my brilliant thought to pull the main breaker to protect things various and electric when the power was fluctuating wildly on its way to extinction. And it did just as its name implies. It broke. Advice: Don’t do that. As I learned, because you never ever pull your main breaker, it sits there, humming, warm, for five, ten, twenty years, baking the plastic to a fine state of brittleness. Guess what happens when you finally do pull it?

Fortunately we were able to land a fine electrician (recommendation gladly provided on request) on short notice, even during a regional crisis, and were back online rapidly thereafter. So we got off light. But dealing with lack of power, lack of heat, wrecked trees, and so on while on Official Gimp Status, well, let’s just say the timing could have been better.

After that, I’ve got to be over the hump. And my mind is telling me, even late at night, that it’s time to mend and get back on the roads. But hey, an ice storm is a crappy time to run anyway, so I guess if you have to be on crutches, do it then, and run your marathons at night. Sweet dreams to you.

08 December 2008

Medical History

To hear Dr. Foot Doctor tell it, I am now medical history, but he doesn’t want any glory. Certainly if nothing else I have provided for him an interesting week, apart from the usual bunions and fallen arches. But it waits to be seen if this adventure will be successful.

Now, before you read too far, federal law says I must provide a Squeamish Alert. Yes, those of you who passed out when Sister Mary Teresa had you dissecting frogs or fetal pigs may want to shy away from the later parts of this diatribe. We’ve got pictures, and they’re graphic. You have been warned. Now back to our tale.

This afternoon was the Great Unveiling. Squeamish or not, I wasn’t sure what I was going to see. For the last three days I haven’t been able to tell what I’ve been feeling in my foot. Is it cold? Is it hot? Is it swollen beyond belief? Is it in pain? Is it numb? It seems hard to believe, but I simply couldn’t tell you. And above all, I had no idea what color it was. I had visions of a horribly black and blue appendage, nearly dead from being deprived of blood for two hours during surgery and three days of unyielding bandages.

Reality was a relief. My old friend came out of the bandages and dressings looking pretty darn good. The scar on the inside edge was long, as Dr. Foot Doctor had warned me, but not as long as I’d imagined. There were no nasty bruises from the tourniquet. And it wasn’t swollen, not one whit. Doc applied a coat of something that looked like rust inhibitor on the scar, and wrapped it back up. Piece of cake. Stay off it, see you in two weeks.

But stopping there leaves out all of the interesting parts. A couple of facts: Dr. Foot Doctor and Dr. Partner Foot Doctor, who studied under the doctor who is now the podiatrist for the Chicago White Sox, did quite a bit of research and found only 5 documented cases of my type of injury. Of these, the success rates of repair were only about 50-50, but none of them did what Dr. Foot Doctor did, which was to combine a repair using Pegasus OrthoAdapt BioImplant – the equine pericardium, or horse heart collagen ‘scaffold’ I’d mentioned in earlier posts – with Topaz radiofrequency low-temperature coblation for removal of damaged tendon. Just the use of the Pegasus in this application was pretty unusual. Certainly the guys from Pegasus must have thought this interesting enough that their rep was present in the OR for the procedure! Indeed, were he keen on a little fame, Dr. Foot Doctor could write me up as a case and make a little medical history. But he tells me he doesn’t want the fame. Fair enough.

Now, for the specifics. As an engineer, I find this fascinating, so let’s get started!

Yes, that first picture is of my foot. I know it’s mine because the fourth toe is bent from breaking it by whacking it on the parallel bars in gym class in 3rd grade. Yes, from back in those days when I was a geek, when I’d do things like put up a sign on my little schoolroom desk that said ‘broken toe’ when I put my foot up on the support bars. As opposed to today, when I do things like put pictures of my foot surgery on the web. Yeah, back in those days when I was a geek… That and the abused toenail on #2. Clearly mine, another scar left over from Wineglass.

Now, in this picture, they’re just starting to open it up, and the angle is such that you can’t really see it. Consider this to be your warning flag. Things are going to get a little graphic from here on.

Ending for the squeamish: And here I sit, hoping that in a few weeks a beautiful butterfly of a toe will emerge from this chrysalis of bandages. The end. Pretty disappointing ending, wasn’t it? Want more? Gird your stomach and scroll on down to the squeamish part!

(Don’t scroll down if you’re squeamish…)

Continuation for the firm of stomach: First thing to realize is that I’ve cropped all these to better fit in this blog. You’re looking at my right foot from the inside edge, with Mr. Big Toe on the left. I’ve also reduced the resolution for quicker downloads. Any true med students out there are welcome to email me for the full-resolution shots!

And now, on with the procedure!

First, we open up my foot and apply cocktail forks. The little shrimp on the bed of lettuce appear in slide 4. The big white thing is the metatarsal bone, which I learned was abnormally shaped, and likely contributed to the tendon injury.


Next, let’s go in with guns, tanks, bombs, grenades and other implements of destruction and grind that nasty abnormal metatarsal down to size. And while you’re at it, can you trim those foot hair bangs frizzing wildly in the wind?


Now on to the main attraction. Dr. Foot Doctor’s theory was that the tendon was almost, but not completely severed. Had it been completely severed, Mr. Big Toe would have been reaching for the sky for more than 4 hours straight. And sure enough, when Doc went fishing for my tendon, he found a strand remaining. Perhaps 5% of the original tendon. Not completely severed, but pretty darn close. Did he nail that one or what?


Next, it’s time to go reel in the fish. Actually finding, getting a hold of, and pulling together the ends of the nearly severed tendon took quite some doing. At one point they weren’t sure they were going to be able to get them back together. But like a good marriage counselor, he gave one last mighty heave and re-united the pair with a couple of sturdy tow lines.


Next, bring on the big guns! Tase me Bro! That probe is known as a Topaz MicroDebrider. Yeah, right, he said, what’s a MicroDebrider? Well, per Merriam Webster, de•bride•ment is the surgical removal of lacerated, devitalized, or contaminated tissue. In other words, get rid of the torn and nasty stuff. The Topaz uses what’s called coblation, which means it applies radio frequency energy to do the job at a lower temperature than a laser and thereby doesn’t inflict damage to the rest of the tendon. The theory here is that the tendon will heal faster after this process.


And now, bring on the Pegasus. The mythological winged horse, which is actually a piece of horse, is laced around the sewn together tendon to provide a scaffold – or support – for the tendon to grow back together and heal. When it’s all done it looks, well, a little like a rubber band around a piece of meat. Twang.


And it’s a wrap! Stitch him up and send him forth!

I’m told that two weeks hence my body will take note of both the Pegasus and the Topaz work and get irritated and swollen. This is a good thing, I’m told, as it means healing is happening. It also gives me an excuse to get irritated. So bring it on. The swollen part I’ll pass on.

07 December 2008

Resting Peacefully

Headquarters has moved. My tag line used to be, “Global Domination from the Basement” based on my office and command center deep in the bowels of my castle. Now it’s the living room couch. Working on from the tiny laptop screen instead of my luxurious multiple monitors downstairs does make me feel a little constrained, but my toes stay a lot warmer up here.

Speaking of toes, I’m under strict doctor’s orders not to move them – or more precisely, not to move Mr. Big Toe. But a couple of hours ago my foot sort of involuntarily twitched, and I FELT it. Yes! I felt my big toe make downward pressure contact! It’s still early in the game, but that smells like success! (By the way, my condolences go to my left big toe. It could be crushed, burned, or hung in effigy, yet it will never be known as the Mr. Big Toe. It must feel so left out.)

I’m guessing at this point that Dr. Foot Doctor did a knock-up job. I’m basing that conclusion on root canals and gum surgery. This shouldn’t surprise you, since 20 years ago my dentist diagnosed my broken wrist. But seriously, if you ask the average person about their experiences with either procedure, they’ll typically tell you horror stories. I, on the other hand, have been lucky to have had three root canals done so expertly that I actually enjoyed them, and a session of gum surgery a year ago so beautifully executed that I took the pain meds for recreation only. Do it well, and the recovery will tell the tale. And so far, as far as recoveries go, this hasn’t been bad at all, which tells me that this was either beautifully done, or the pain meds are better than I thought.

I suspect the former. It’s about 50 hours past surgery, and I’ve only felt the tiniest twinges of discomfort from the actual area of the surgery, a three to four inch incision along the side of my foot from the ball toward the midsole. And that through times when the pain meds have definitely worn past their four hour limit.

I had a few rough hours the first night. About 3 AM, the meds had pretty much worn off, and a slight jar to my foot brought on a strong pulsing pain in my heel. A mild panic ensued. Well not exactly panic, but deep concern, because it felt like – how could this be? – it felt like spurting blood! I hadn’t talked to Dr. Foot Doctor yet, and I imagined a scenario where it had been so hard to find the tendon that they’d made slices elsewhere on my foot. I imagined I’d popped open an unexpected suture. I expected to see a red splotch start to seep through the bandages.

By morning, no Red Badge of Courage had appeared, but the front of my ankle had joined my heel in the protest of pain. None of this made any sense, of course, but with my foot wrapped in layers and a strict, Do Not Open Before Christmas (or at least Monday) dictate, I had no idea what was lurking beneath those bandages. Even though he said to call anytime, 24x7, I waited till 8 ticked around and called Dr. Foot Doctor.

Mystery solved rapidly. No spurting blood, no extra incisions, just pain from where they’d placed the tourniquet. And it had been there a surprising 106 minutes – running up against the absolute limit of 120, at which point they have to cut you off (pun intended). Dr. Foot Doctor filled in a few other details of Friday’s action. He said he’d had to extend the slice a bit to find the ends of the tendon, which were quite stretched out. He said the repair took a lot longer than planned, but went well, and I do indeed have a bit of horse stitched into me now. Whiney for me, baby, whiney! He zapped the tendon with a Topaz electronic device which either speeds healing or makes me light up under high-tension power lines. He reported that arthritis was not what was causing my limited toe motion, but an abnormally shaped metatarsal, which probably contributed to my susceptibility to this injury (and if that’s genetic, perhaps why my sister recently broke hers?). As a Buy One, Get One Free, while he was in there, he shaved the mutant metatarsal down to size. And my favorite report from the day: “You took a lot more anesthesia than we expected!” Read into that whatever you want.

Next up was the best-tasting breakfast in bed I think I’ve ever tasted, compliments of St. Ann, and a day of pleasant R&R. I’m in love with my cryo-cuff, a simple yet effective gizmo that easily recharges a boot with ice water. Beats the tar out of balancing a bag of ice on your foot! And the kids get a kick out of giving me a periodic “oil change”.

Night number two was much less eventful. My only serious complaint at this point is some cramping of my foot due to its constrained position. But the surgery area itself is still quite comfortable.

Tomorrow it’s off to see Dr. Foot Doctor for a first follow-up, and yes, he’s promised me he’s got those pictures ready for me on a thumb drive. Squeamish of the world beware, my next posting should be really interesting!

05 December 2008

In the Presence of Saints

The local anesthesia hasn’t yet totally worn off, and the Vicodin has already kicked in. So I’m in the post-op glow zone – no pain, relief that it’s over, and the potential misery hasn’t yet arrived. The glow is enhanced by memories of the saints who cared for me today.

These people are saints. Every one of them. I only wish I could remember them all. And even though I asked for a lot of names, I have unfortunately forgotten most. I can blame the amnesia effects of the anesthesia, but mostly I just forget things.

From the time I arrived at our local Marlborough Hospital at 8:30 this morning until I left at 3 PM, every single person I encountered – and there were lots of them – was cheerful, helpful, caring, and competent. And they do this day in, day out. If any of them were having a bad day, they certainly didn’t show it.

Let’s recount the action and call the role: All of the nurses at Surgical Day Care. Saints I-Wish-I-Could-Recall-Their-Names. Warm greetings. Cheerful and happy even while covering the mundane paperwork. Extra effort all around to be sure I knew what was happening. And when the IV went in – which to me is the worst part of anything like this – and went in a little on the painful side, extra effort to get it right, get it comfortable, and make me happy.

The taxi drivers, Saint Bud and Saint Bob. These gentlemen wheeled me around a couple of times during the day, and they do this for fun. Volunteers. Purely out the goodness of their hearts.

The pre-surgery prep room nurses. Saint Giselle, Saint Jacqueline, and others who’s names I’ve also lost, I’m terrible with names. Constantly attention to any and all trivial needs. Staying with me to chat. And one who I’ll call Saint Shocked who walked in and expressed amazement that I’m 45 (no, she didn’t think I looked old and decrepit, quite the opposite). Go ahead, butter me up, at that point I couldn’t help but love it. Of course, I credited our running lifestyle for not looking my age.

The OR nurse, Saint Rhonda of the Operating Room, who also did my pre-op interview. And who, like many of these saints today, took great interest in the whole story that led up to this day. Gee, I might have even gained a couple more blog readers today!

Saint Anesthesiologist, alleviating my worries about the possibility of ‘being there’, since I wasn’t to be all the way out under general anesthesia. Of course, he was right.

Saint Dr. Foot Doctor, who, earlier this week, spent a lot more time than you would ever expect to get with your doctor, discussing this procedure in great deal. And who went the extra length to bring in his digital camera to give me images of the procedure for later blog material (the squeamish being welcome to bypass that one, but I’ll find it fascinating). And of course, his partner, Saint Dr. Partner Foot Doctor, who teamed on the procedure. These two guys simply exude competence, and their reputations back it up, yet they are completely there for me, all the time.

Saint X-Ray Technicians of the Mobile Cart. A minor supporting role, but again, cheerful, caring, another reason to smile on an otherwise stressful day.

Saint Physical Therapist, teaching me how to get up stairs on crutches.

And Saint Enid and the other nurses handling the final details and seeing me off.

Plus of course Saint Everyone Else I Missed. And there are lots of them. Many of whom gave me their names (I promised them no last names online!) but whose names fall into the abyss. There was a Susan in there somewhere.

As for the surgery itself, well, that’s almost a foregone conclusion. I won’t know how successful it was for some time. But I now have that strip of horse in my foot, giving me horsepower, the ability to run like a horse I hope, and, well, we’ll leave out that third and obvious bad joke. Dr. Foot Doctor also used a process known as Topaz, which, best I can figure, uses an electrostatic probe to treat the tendon to increase blood flow and thus speed healing. And as a Buy One, Get One Free, he also shaved down the suspected arthritic build-up that was restricting the motion of Mr. Big Toe to begin with. Or at least that was that plan. I’ll learn what he actually did and how it went on Monday.

As for now, my foot is half-casted and wrapped in so many layers it reminds me of those padded bop’em suits. And then it’s sheathed in a very cool (literally!) ice water sleeve that comes complete with a thermos unit to cycle in more cold as needed. So much easier and more effective than a bag of ice. Ain’t medical technology grand? And of course, there’s the meds. Ahhhhhh…

So now it’s R&R at home with Saint Emily and Saint Laura, my daughters, who are getting valuable vocational training as waitresses. But most important of all is St. Ann, my very own angel, and the love of my life, who’s making this recovery, as well as every day, a joy.

I cannot say thank you enough to all of you.

29 November 2008

Pending Mutiny

It’s only the social aspect that’s preventing me from staging a mutiny right now. My date with Mac the Knife is only six days out, and between now and then it is going to take a lot to keep me from running at least a bit.

Today marks one month locked in the plastic leg armor. I’ve been a good boy, at least up until yesterday. Not only have I eaten my vegetables and washed the dishes, but I’ve been diligent about wearing this thing. In the morning, in the evening, all day long, I haven’t gone much farther than the bathroom without it. I’ve inconvenienced my wife, my co-workers, and my friends bumming rides and rearranging schedules. I really gave it the old college try to let my tendon heal on its own.

To no avail. Mr. Big Toe is an obstinate one.

Several times I’ve fooled myself into thinking I detected some motion in this half-motionless but oh-so-loved and needed appendage. Usually this would happen in a fit of optimism while crawling into bed. Each time the light of day would convince me it was a pleasant dream, but just that. It’s no more functional than it was the day after Wineglass.

To say I miss pounding out the miles would be obvious. And admittedly, not having to drive 700 miles for the traditional family Thanksgiving through traditional Thanksgiving traffic was restful. But it was a bummer that I’d inspired my college-aged niece and nephew to run their first race on Thanksgiving morning, and I wasn’t there to join them. It also would have been personally triumphant for me to have done so, since the race was in Corning NY, the site of the infamous Wineglass Massacre. I will return to run there again! I think MacArthur said something like that.

All that aside, a month is gone, I’m no better, I’m no worse. There still is not, nor has there ever been, any pain in my foot. I had run for three weeks after the marathon – with an odd gait, but run nonetheless – before being told to hunker down in healing mode. OK, went there, did that, got the air cast. No dice. To my friends who counseled avoiding surgery, well, I tried. So it’s got to get fixed. And it’s going to get fixed. And it can’t really be any more busted than it is now, right?

So how about a glorious week with a few runs?

For a month, I played by the rules. But I admit that I cheated yesterday for the first time. We were heading out to tag the Christmas tree. It had just stopped raining. I know from past experience what a nuisance it is to get mud in the air cast. I said the hell with it and pulled on my hiking boot. And why stop there? Yes, I drove the mile and a half to the tree farm. And I’m no worse off for it. Granted, this was no 700 mile jaunt, and I’ve largely rested for a month, but…

So how about a glorious week with a few runs?

Well, it’s been complicated explaining to everyone I see what it means to be an administrative cripple. Seventy three times over explaining that your sympathy is kind, but I’m not in pain. Thirty seven times over explaining that yes, I can walk just fine, though rainstorms do prompt a desire to be dropped at the door to keep dry, and uphills are a bit clumsy. I’m tired of explaining it.

But just think of the explanations I’ll have to come up with if I’m spotted loping down the road. And even worse, when I’m spotted the following week on crutches after surgery. Oh yeah, that dude, what a fool, look what he did to himself.

Truth be told, now that the facts are out, it’s pretty clear that what I’ve done is not a typical running injury. Nor is it a typical degenerative kind of thing. In fact, it’s a very rare injury. It’s a fluke, which is fine with me. Once beaten, once over this bump in the road, it’s not likely to be a recurring problem. But explaining that eighty six times…

Perhaps I’ll just go for a run…at night, when nobody’s looking.

23 November 2008

Making Something Out of Nothingness

The days drift by like a blur. I’ve been locked in my leg armor for over three weeks. I always imagined that if I couldn’t run, I’d still be out there, helping at races, hanging out, whatever. But being unable to drive, I’m really out of it. If I don’t get a lift to it, or if it doesn’t come to be via email, I don’t know about it. In this state of Nothingness, I’ve been oddly silent for the last two weeks, which I can’t stand, so first a quick update, then I’ll make Something out of Nothing by presenting a marathon tale from a fellow running club member.

As for Mr. Big Toe, I swear I think I might have maybe possibly could it have been? slightly saw him move just a tiny weenie itsy bitsy bit the other night. Or maybe not. It’s hard to tell when he’s moving on his own volition or being dragged along by the peer pressure of his functional brethren. And I don’t want to try too hard, because if that beloved flexor illusive brevis tendon is really healing, I don’t want to screw that up. My date with Mack the Knife is less than two weeks out, so I’m still sticking to the program and hoping for the miraculous cure. If not, we’ll go into that clean, sterile operating room to sew this thing back together in what I’ve taken to calling the Immaculate Connection, an inside joke that’s only funny if you know that my parish is called Immaculate Conception. Yeah, I know, Catholic humor.

Other than the microscopic motion, the most notable event of the last couple weeks was the evening the guy at the next table in the restaurant fell off his chair and landed on my air-casted armored leg. Poor guy almost fell over again in angst, thinking he’d landed on a true cripple. Reality is he got the worse end of the deal. I really didn’t care, but it must hurt him plenty landing on this thing – it’s hard and lumpy! Oh, that and the wounded bat falling on me at church, but that had nothing to do with running, toes, or anything. It was just weird, like life in general lately.

But back to running. When I was training for Wineglass, I figured if it went well and I felt good, I might pop in a second late-fall marathon just for kicks and gins. My target would have been the Manchester City Marathon, as it’s late in the season, close by in New Hampshire, and as a bonus, it’s and hilly and challenging. Well, things didn’t turn out that way for me, but fellow club member Jeff Downin did run Manchester. His is a great story of the Manic Marathoner in all of us, how our mood can gyrate so much within one race, yet no matter our misery, at the finish line we’re looking for more. Here’s his story, and he’s stickin’ to it:

Before Manchester, I had run three marathons and I had completed 29 miles of a 50K. I’d run marathons in 4:40, 4:20, and 4:00, and I was sure that my training had me set both physically and mentally to run 3:40. Running 3:40 was a nice goal, but I was going to be happy with any time, as long as I finished without injury.

We started near the river in downtown Manchester. The course ran downhill for about a mile then started a steady climb for the next four. Mile 5 began a series of hills, and I had to work much harder than planned to maintain my pace. This was going to be a real challenge and it was only mile 5! I had no real trouble keeping pace, but I did not want to spend too much energy because I knew I would deplete my tank in a hurry at this effort level. It was this mile that broke my spirit for the first time. I knew that I would never run my goal of 3:43 if I was already working this hard.

Mile six was quite nice, with about 1/3 mile on a wooded trail through a forest, by a pond, peaceful and invigorating. But after we left the forest, we started right back uphill again, culminating at the top of Derryfield Park, a ski slope with which I was familiar as it is the site of the annual New Hampshire State Cross Country Championships. I’ve been to many races at this park, watching my brother race in high school. It was a nice boost because I knew that it was all downhill from there to the river. I regained my spirit and charged on through, reenergized, hitting the ½ way point in 1:48:30.

We crossed the river before the 14 mile mark and started a long trudge up hill to St. Anselm College. The most aggressive climb was the 19th mile, which was my first mile slower than 9:00. It was a real killer. For the second time my spirit was broken. When I reached the water stop at mile 19 I took a nice slow drink, a short walk, and tried to regain my composure. I recalled that the course was downhill from their – how could it keep going up? – but I was a little foggy on the elevation drawing after almost 3 hours of running. We ran through the college, passing the 20 mile mark. I did OK through the mostly flat campus, but we immediately charged up another hill when we exited the college. I hit mile 21 in 9:47, only my second mile over 9:00, but I was content as I knew I had a little time in the bank. I knew that I was not going to maintain the quick pace I’d set through the early part of the course. And, from my hazy recollection of the elevation drawing, I was certain it was virtually all downhill from here - again, how could it possibly go up any more?

At the 21 mile water stop I took in the moment. I knew that I was in a special place. Only five miles to the finish. I was sore and tired, but encouraged in knowing that the hardest parts of the course were behind me. My watch read 2:59:55. I stood still, waited for the milestone time to show on my watch, and did a quick calculation: 5.2 miles in 43 minutes. “That is pretty fast…5 miles in 45 minutes is 9:00 per mile. I should be able to do it, but, it is going to be some serious work. If it is going to happen, it needs to start now.” I regained my spirit for the second time. My watched looked at me with all of the zeroes that can fit on the screen: 3:00:00.0. I was off!

I stuck with another runner who was moving along at a pretty good clip, working hard. We crested a small hill, only to see what looked like a street luge course in front of us – a VERY steep downhill that went on as far as we could see. My new compatriot and I actually stopped in our tracks and looked, slack-jawed, at what we were about to do. I think I actually said out loud, “Are you kidding me?” A quick glance around showed other runners doing the same thing. Oh well, I knew this was going to hurt, but I had no choice, and I was trying to make time. WOW, that hill hurt!

I was happy with my progress through mile 22, but when my watch chimed the passing of the mile I glanced down to see 10:12. I was tired. I was sore. I had hamstring pain from the hill climbing. I was developing some serious quadriceps pain from the overly anxious downhills. And I’d just pushed through what I thought was a fast mile, only to have it click over in 10:12. For the third time of the day, my spirit was broken.

I started walking anything that was too steep, either up or down. I had pain on my left quad. My hamstrings were burning. I did my best to power through, jogging when I could, walking when I had to, just to finish without injury – the only thing on my mind. Some of the downhills that followed were just as mean. I was cursing the race director and the course designer.

Finally, we crossed the river on a nice footbridge. We ran by the baseball park, then looped around downtown to line up for the finish. I could see the 26 mile mark when I spotted someone I knew. I yelled several times and finally he saw me. We embraced quickly. Those couple moments with him, a familiar face, were all I needed. With 1/3 mile to go, my spirit was lifted again and I sailed toward the finish line, smiling and waving to anyone who was looking. It was a very powerful 300 meters, emotionally.

I crossed the finish line of a marathon for the fourth time in my life in 3:59:33. It was the most challenging course I had run. But I was already plotting my fifth marathon before I left the finish line area.

10 November 2008

Gimpy Looks Outward

I’m in withdrawal, of course. I’ve now been an administrative cripple for over a week. Some of my friends have taken to call me Gimpy. With no running adventures of my own to write about, I turn to the achievements of others.

Oh, the glory! My local running club, The Highland City Striders, has fewer than 40 members, but what a crowd they are! Ten of us ran marathons this fall in places as diverse as Chicago, Iceland, Maine, and New York. That’s over a quarter of the club! One of our own even ran two. And our members completed every one they entered – an impressive batting average. But oh, the pain! I’ve lost count of how many of us are banged up and on injured reserve after this Marathon Mileage Extravaganza. Misery loves company, I guess.

Now, we’re always careful to be inclusive in our club. Joe Five-K, our equivalent of Joe Six Pack, cousin of Sarah Palin’s buddy Joe the Plumber (remember her, or have you already blocked out that trauma?), is just as welcome and just as important a part of our club as any of us more deranged types. But what’s cool here is the motivation factor. A number of our fall marathoners were first-timers, and I would hazard that at least some of them never considered such a feat possible before they started running with the club. And that’s the beauty of any running club. Our mission is to promote health and fitness through the sport and camaraderie of running, and by Jove, it works. Just by showing up at a club run, you’re inspiring the next guy to stick with it, push a little, try new things. Get out there with your club!

So, in absence of my own bipedal adventures, I asked our fall marathoners to send me some thoughts on their races. Sandee Fillios slogged all the way to Chicago to notch her first, and provided some great commentary. In her words:

My first marathon was filled with so many emotions. Landing in Chicago was almost surreal. Wow, I am really doing this! And I am ready!

Though I traveled alone, I’d already met a wonderful woman named April on my layover in Philly. She invited me to join her and her friend Jay from Los Angeles on the limo ride to my hotel. I was already feeling a sense of runners’ camaraderie by the time I landed in Chicago.

Time alone, when not with Jay & April, was filled with reflection. What could I have different I my training? Where would I like to go for my next marathon? Would there be a next marathon? How am I going to do tomorrow? And of course, the critical question, are the Red Sox going to win tonight?

On race morning I was still full of questions. Basic questions haunted. Should I drink this Gatorade Energy since I never tried it before? Should I still eat my banana? When should I stop drinking water? And of course, maybe I shouldn’t have stayed up so late watching the Red Sox?

I knew the answers. I had already decided upon them the previously. But being a first-timer, I felt the unease and worry of doing the wrong thing.

I often feel that sense of camaraderie amongst runners. And there I was amongst 34,000 runners, ready and waiting for the start of the race… And, we were off! The crowds were cheering. The runners were shouting. Everyone was hyped and ready to go! The thrill was on! There was never a time on that course where you didn’t feel support from the crowd. They were cheering anyone’s name they could read.

Then, I read my first sign. It read, “Go Mommy Go! I Love You!” That’s when the tears started to flow. I felt as alone as anyone could feel amongst 34,000 runners. I missed my boys and I so desperately wanted to see them holding these signs. After another 10 signs the tears stopped flowing and simply I pretended those signs were for me. That’s right! They were for all the mommy’s running today. I didn’t anticipate the tears would flow so early. I didn’t expect them until I crossed the finish line.

I found myself talking my way through most of the course. I set plenty of intermediate goals, which helped a lot. There were times that I was so fatigued, but I was so thankful I hadn’t hit the wall. When was that wall coming anyways? You know, “The Wall” that wasn’t going to allow me to pick up my feet to run, the one that was going to force me to walk. But I’m glad to say that I never came face to face with “The Wall”. I had heard it wasn’t pleasant.

The tears I expected at the finish didn’t come. Instead, I felt an overwhelming sense of joy, accomplishment, and pride – but no tears. I congratulated a girl who finished behind me who was crying, and repeating, “I can’t stop crying!” That’s how I thought I was going to feel.

By the way, did I say pride? I felt like now I am a runner. I am a marathoner. Boy, was I proud when they put the medal around my neck! I felt like I couldn’t wait for my next marathon. So much so that upon my return home, in my excitement I pushed too hard, right into an injury. That’s a mistake I will not make the next time I finish a marathon. Which might be in April. Bring it on, Boston! Anyone have a number?

And lastly, thank you to the Highland City for all the support and guidance you gave me throughout my training. You all helped turn a non-runner into a marathoner in less than a year. Yay! I couldn't have done it without you! ¡Muchas gracias!

01 November 2008

Discipline

Discipline isn’t an unusual topic for a running column, or for any sport for that matter. But I’m facing a different kind of discipline: the discipline of doing darn near nothing. It’s kind of weird.

Mr. Flexor Illusive Brevis Tendon is torn. Not torn between two lovers, he’s literally torn. Fortunately he’s not torn all the way through. He’s torn more or less down the middle, a linear tear that weakens him but hasn’t severed him. He’s so weak that he’s gone on strike and Mr. Big Toe has been shut down. And as with any strike, the effects cascade. With Mr. Big Toe out, there’s a hole in the whole idea of pushing off with any sort of efficient, effective stride. I had plenty of scabs before, but there’s no substitute for Mr. Big Toe.

That much you knew, save the actual name of the tendon, if you’ve been following this adventure. You also knew that I had the choice between surgery and simple immobilization. Being an engineer, I think in terms of action – after all, buildings (or in my case, networks, *yawn*) don’t just build themselves – so I had all but decided to go for the surgery, despite the risks. It just doesn’t seem logical to me that such an injury will heal itself.

Score one for reality, zero for engineering zeal. I learned this week that Doctor Foot Doctor couldn’t book the surgical repair until early December. Early December?! That’s five weeks out! Part of the issue is that both he and his partner, Dr. Partner Doctor, both want to be there for the big event. It seems that after circulating my case among his national network of peers, Dr. Partner Doctor found that what I’ve done is pretty rare. Hey, I’m a case history! Another 30 seconds gone from my allotted 15 minutes of fame. Obscurity must be just around the corner.

And so it was time to drop back ten and punt. Back to Plan B, immobilization, which was forecast at four to six weeks, and I’ve got five till my date with Mack the Knife, so might as well see if the thing will heal on its own, and hopefully avoid the slice. So off I trundled on Thursday and came home with a delightful air cast.

And this is where it gets weird. If your truck hits a tree (gee, anyone we know?), you get hurt, you get treated, you lay up, you recuperate. If you undergo surgery, you become a couch potato for a while, you heal up, you rehab. If you’re laid low by the flu, anthrax, or Ebola, well, you get the picture. Something has happened to you, and it’s perfectly logical to do nothing and recover.

Well, something did happen to me, but heck, it happened three weeks ago, 50 yards into a marathon and I finished the marathon (not quite in one piece, but you know that story). I’ve been running – limited, but still running – since. I’m not in pain. All is well, except for that pesky Mr. Big Toe. And while I do want him back, I’ve gotten by without him. Otherwise, I’m fully functional. So it’s very weird to walk into the doctor’s office as a fully functional person and walk out an administrative cripple. Essentially with a stroke of the pen, I’m in a cast for five weeks.

Well, this won’t be a big deal, I figured. I can take it off to shower, I can take it off to sleep, I can walk in it. Heck, I told the doc I didn’t want to do a full marathon in it, but a half shouldn’t be so bad. So I’m a little slow getting around. No biggie. I won’t be a totally useless drag on society.

I wore it for two hours, then got in the car to go pick up the kids. No problem! Slip it off to drive (of course it’s on my right foot, but since I drive stick it wouldn’t much matter either way), slip it back on, piece of cake. Except for one little thing. Next time you get in your car, pay attention to what you do with your foot. You do a lot more than you think. It dawned on me that this was not a good idea. My foot and ankle were flexing all over the place. I hadn’t noticed until it had been immobilized for two hours then suddenly set free. This is not conducive to healing. OK, nix the driving thing.

Dr. Foot Doctor had told me that plans A and B both carried about the same healing and recovery time. Meanwhile, I’m not running, and Boston is only, well, heck, it’s less than six months away! My worst case scenario is extending that recovery time. So if I’m going to wear this foolish thing for five weeks, I’ve got to make it matter.

It’s just plain weird. Any moment I choose I can take this thing off and go run five miles (ten does get uncomfortable due to my altered stride). Any moment I choose I can take this thing off and climb up and clean the gutters. Any moment I choose I can take this thing off and drive the kids to wherever.

But I can’t. I have to force myself to be a totally useless drag on society. OK, perhaps that’s being a bit hard on myself, after all, I do work from home, I don’t need my foot to work, but you get the idea. My Catholic guilt sets in and makes me regret not doing things I need to or would like to do for my family, making my wife scramble for transportation logistics and so on. But if I don’t stick to this plan, and stick to it hard, I’ll be out of commission twice as long, and she, as well as I, won’t like that a bit.

Resist temptation! Do virtually nothing! Discipline of a weird sort.

24 October 2008

Sometimes You Just Know

When last I wrote, I was in limbo. I wanted answers. I knew I probably wouldn’t like the answer. Well, I got the answer. And I don’t like it, though it is exactly what I expected. And the cure is also exactly what I expected. Would I rather go back to Limbo Land, not know, and have a hope that it wouldn’t be as it is? Nope. In life we must move onward, absorb our hit points, and plan for the next day.

Many years back I lost a dear relative (well, technically first cousin once-removed, but that’s just the family historian in me talking…) to colon cancer. To us on the outside, the time between its onset and her demise seemed amazingly fast. But her husband commented later that he was pretty sure she knew something was wrong. Sometimes you just know.

When something goes twang and subsequently a part of you doesn’t work, you pretty much just know. My foot went twang just after the start of the Wineglass Marathon, and my toe no longer works. Sometimes you just know.

Dr. Foot Doctor (who’s wife, by the way, is running the Marine Corps Marathon in DC this weekend, good luck Mrs. Foot Doctor!) initially centered on arthritic build-up to explain why my toe wasn’t working real well earlier this summer. He may not have been entirely wrong, but it didn’t seem entirely right, either. But the anti-inflammatory meds worked to a reasonable extent, and onward we pressed.

After the twang, so to speak, I suggested a tendon tear, but he was skeptical, since such injuries usually result in the big toe sticking up like a bad joke from an ED commercial – yes, for more than four hours straight. Mine didn’t. So a tendon tear didn’t make sense. But neither did any other rational explanation. Irrational explanations (alien activity, chemicals in the water, economic stress…) we pretty much did rule out. Off I went to the MRI machine, where, after you argue with them, your insurance company pays most of the cost of your 30 minute nap in a very loud machine.

Through the joys of digital radiology, I ended up with a CD of my MRI. Yes, the doctor can access it online, but they give you one just in case. And this makes for hours of fun. Other than the really obvious stuff, I really have no idea what’s in these images (like the one included here of the tendons on the bottom of my foot – I think), but they’re awfully cool. I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, so I waited for the official review.

The call came tonight. The MRI has been read, analyzed, and marked up with circles, arrows, and paragraphs on the back of each one to be used as evidence. And guess what? Just as I thought, I’ve torn a tendon, the great toe flexor tendon which runs along the bottom of the foot and pulls the toe downward. The tear is right where I envisioned it based on the Wineglass Twang – about an inch behind the ball of the foot – it may in fact be in this image – I really can’t be sure. But it’s not quite how I envisioned it. Instead of the tear you’d tend to imagine, where you see that little stringy bugger snapped in two, it’s a linear tear – the long way, more or less – which makes the tendon so weak that it doesn’t pull the toe down, but it’s not severed. So my foot can indeed be featured on a commercial in the World Series (not that anyone is watching it) without you lunging for the remote control because the kids are in the room.

Early next week I’ll meet with the good doctor to choose Door #1 or Door #2. Behind Door #1 is 4-6 weeks of immobilization in a cast, hoping that it heals, which it should. “Should” is a little tenuous, though. “Might” would likely be a better word. Behind Door #2 is, you guessed it, we slice ‘em, we dice ‘em, we sew ‘em back up. Surgery. Not big-time surgery, just a fairly simple procedure, but surgery none the less. The really weird part though, is that the sewing ‘em back up includes the use of ‘equine tendon’, as he put it. Yeah, as in horse. Strong as a horse. Horsepower. The joke possibilities are endless. This, too is followed by 4-6 weeks of recovery, but the “Might heal” of Door #1 gets upgraded significantly, and turns into, well, strong as a horse. But Door #2 might also come with scar tissue on an inconvenient spot on the foot of a runner. Hmmm, decisions.

Behind Door #3, by the way, is a goat. If you don’t get that joke, you’re not old enough.

Now, ironically, Chris Russell commented on one of my posts a while back (see “Goals - A Race Tale, and Getting Way Too Deep”), “You need a good injury to set your head straight. 6 months in a cast would be perfect.” OK, Chris, I won’t lay this on you, and it won’t be 6 months, but you win.

Funny thing is, I’m OK with this. I’m even leaning toward the more radical solution of surgery. I’d rather take the aggressive approach and know it’s fixed. A month or two off won’t kill me. I’m just ready to leave Limbo.

21 October 2008

Running Limbo

Living in limbo stinks. We all want resolution, no matter what the issue. Usually we’d rather have any resolution, even one that’s not optimal, rather than the nothingness of not knowing. Of course, once we get a resolution that spells bad news, we change our tune and say that it was better when at least we’d had hope. Such is the twisted logic of the mind.

The intensity of the memories of the Wineglass Tragedy is fading. For a couple days afterward, I relived the fall – a little post-traumatic stress if you will – I’ll leave off the ‘disorder’ part since it has indeed faded. I certainly questioned my judgment on pushing so hard to the finish. I had to come to grips with the whole thing.

In doing so, some things that weren’t at all clear then became more so with time. I hadn’t thought I’d passed out, but now I’m quite certain that I lost 15-20 seconds of my life between hitting the ground and entering the med tent – being walked in by people who I have no recollection of being picked up by (whoever you were, thank you!). I’m also pretty sure that something is busted in my nose. It’s still sore, bruised, and there’s a bump where one shouldn’t be. Alas, you can’t put a cast on your head, so what can you do but let it heal? And a sore nose doesn’t stop you from running.

But there’s that toe thing. The non-functional toe didn’t come from the fall, though obtusely it may have contributed to it by screwing up my stride and making me work harder. But whatever the proximate cause, the lingering reality is that it doesn’t work. And when your big toe doesn’t work – in this case, I can lift it but can’t push it down – it certainly does affect your running. I can run, and even run at a decent clip, but probably not for too long, since the second toe is called upon to do unnatural things that it just wasn’t designed to do (and as a result it is black, bruised, and certainly not beautiful at the moment). Without the ability to push off, well, it’s just not right, I tell you.

And it’s been two weeks. I’m going a little stir crazy not knowing the prognosis. I’m in running limbo.

If I run, am I doing any further damage? Dead is dead, right? You can’t get any more dead, just like you can’t get a little bit pregnant. Mr. Toe doesn’t work now, he doesn’t seem to be changing, so what’s the harm? I don’t like not running.

Or would Mr. Toe recover if I didn’t run? But how long would I have to not run to find out? And what if that theory is wrong? Then what’s the point of not running?

I’ve been doing what any normal person would do. Cheating the edge. Running a little. Which doesn’t satisfy either scenario, really.

Dr. Foot Doctor didn’t seem overly concerned, but perhaps he’s just an overly confident guy. He prescribed an MRI last Monday and said after seeing it we’d work a plan to fix the problem, resting if needed, or training right through it. Training right through it – I like the way he thinks. And he didn’t specifically say to stop running, though neither did he specifically say to keep running. But do the MRI.

Limbo… Should I run? I want to run. What if I’m hurting it? Should I be registering for Boston? I want to register for Boston. What if I won’t be running Boston (yes, I know you can defer, don’t let facts get in the way of a good blog now…)? Limbo… I can’t stand to wait.

But first, the insurance company has to pre-approve the MRI. And so while I want to run, and more importantly, I want to know if I should run, I must wait, because this is America and our health care system is massively screwed up. Why don’t they trust the doctor? I do, he’s the expert, he says we need to see what’s going on with an MRI, it makes sense, I believe him. This is not a rocket science decision. How else are you going to figure out what’s going on in there when we already know the x-ray back in July showed nothing? In my book, an insurance company should police for abuse. One MRI, when they already have a claim for an x-ray a couple months back, is not abuse. But they insist on the instant second guess. I’m not sure that nationalized medicine would help this – I might not be able to get an MRI at all – but something has to change, and change big time.

Days pass. Limbo. I want to run.

By Thursday I call the doctor and they have seen no response. By Friday, I’m antsy – did I say I want to run? I call the insurance company and, you guess it, they denied the MRI. And they sent their decision to me via – get this – snail mail. And of course they won’t tell me why. And of course, it’s late in the day, the doctor’s office is closed, I have to wait till Monday.

Limbo… The whole weekend? Should I run? I want to run.

I run anyway. Not a lot, but I run. Cheat the edge. I hope I’m not making it worse.

Monday comes, many phone calls, an in the end, the system sorta’ kinda’ maybe works. I’m in for the MRI for Tuesday morning. I’ve got my fingers crossed, because I can’t cross my toes – at least not on the right foot. But I’m still in limbo.

13 October 2008

A Guy Called Scab.

It’s been an interesting week. The human body is an amazing device in its capability to repair damage. And the human psyche is even more interesting. Watching how people react to situations out of their ordinary envelope makes for interesting study.

When the smoke cleared, the damage roster included two scraped knees, a couple lacerations and small abrasions on the hands, and of course the face. The face was a work of art, with nasty wounds on the forehead, chin, nose, upper lip (including the loose tooth), and next to the eye – the latter of which would also bloom into a fine shiner by Monday. Then there was the foot and toe malfunction, which only became apparent the following day when all the other excitement wore off. The immediate damage in the photo from the med tent was red and alarming, but the real joy didn’t appear until a day later, when all of these beauty marks had some time to bloom to their full potential. How did that song go? Bloom and swell, forever…

To wrap up this exhausting week of travel, I learned I’d been slotted in a training class for the week and would have the joy of spending ten hours per day being force-fed techno-babble. Ironically, this proved to make the week a little easier by reducing the number of people I had to face with that face.

I think it was the black eye that did it best. When people see you beat up, they instantly wonder if indeed, you got beat up. Which, of course, I did, but not the way they think. And of course, they’re afraid to ask. But you know they want to know, and you’d like to tell them so they stop thinking you’re a victim of domestic abuse or some freak encounter with a falling air conditioning unit. One of my running club buds put it well, when he stated, “and I don't think Ann can continuously chime ‘It wasn't me’ or ‘Don't look at me’, so you will have to fess up when people look at you, then her, and just shake their heads thinking ‘that's so sad’…” Ann, of course, being not only my lovely wife, but an avowed pacifist...

My line became, “I got in a fight with a brick walkway,” which worked pretty well to break the ice. Being trapped in the same room with twenty other people for the week meant only having to tell the story once during the “Let’s all get to know each other” phase of the class, which invariably toasts a good hour of the start of all these sessions. I must admit some dismay that not one of them asked what my time was in the marathon. Bunch of exercise-challenged techno-geeks, all of ‘em!

Then came the hard part – showing off my new appearance to people who actually knew me. Tuesday night was band practice for our church folk group. I softened the blow with a warning email. They rewarded me with a new nickname. I’m now the guy called Scab. Not to fear that this would be a short-term moniker of affection, the name still stuck on Sunday even after most of the scabs no longer did. I love these people!

By the next day I’d fallen into the role and for the first time completely forgot that I looked like Human Sandpaper. It took me a while to figure out why that store clerk was staring. How quickly we forget…

But the amazing part of this story is the resiliency of the human body. By the end of the week, when I was released from my techno-geek prison, I was almost suitable for public display. And by Sunday – a week after the First Great Collapse of October 2008 (hey, I beat the Dow Jones by a couple of days, mind you), those hard-working cells had rearranged and re-grown themselves to pretty close to normal. Not completely, of course. The shiner still shines a bit, and there’s a funny bump on my nose that I sure hope isn’t bone, but all in all, well, as I said, the human body is amazing. The pictures tell the story.

Which leaves the unfinished business of the toe, a topic that many of you in my vast and caring (well, at least caring) readership have asked about. At present, it just sort of doesn’t do much. It goes up, but not really down. You really don’t appreciate your big toe until it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. As a result of its absenteeism, toe #2 took a mighty beating at Wineglass, and of course turned a lovely shade of purple. Yeah, I know, yum! I put in a couple of miles on Wednesday, and a 7-miler on Friday, and it just wasn’t right. Without that big toe, all else is afoul. I truly feared that the twang at the start of Wineglass had been the snap of a tendon. Ugly.

Thus today I trundled back to my running-friendly podiatrist who’s staff again slotted me for an instant visit despite his two-month booking backlog. I guess they know I’m a bit impatient. Again, his prognosis was far less dire than I’d feared. No, it’s highly doubtful that I snapped the tendon, or, he tells me, my toe would be rocketing vertical. Might be more of the arthritis, perhaps indeed some lesser tendon action, or a cartilage spur, but none too dire. He spoke of making a plan to keep running, not of hanging up the shoes.

Whew!

Well, at least a partial Whew! Next step is off to the Big Humming MRI Machine on the Hill, and he’ll figure out what’s really going on. Which, in the big scheme, is what we’re all trying to do in life anyway. This is best summed up by a non-running friend of mine who wrote, “Nice job (your time, not your face). As for the karma of it all? You are a runner, these things happen. At the end, you were tired, you relaxed, and then you fell on your face. Literally. BUT you didn't die, you’re not in the hospital, and you will run again. So go drink some wine, relax, rest up, and start planning for next year.”

Amen.

10 October 2008

Paying the Price at Wineglass

This entry is longer than usual due to the exceptional events of the day.

The scabs are starting to come off. But there’s other damage, both physical and emotional. On the results page, my run of the 27th annual Wineglass Marathon from Bath to Corning NY looks like a smashing success. I clocked my second 2:54 marathon, a mere 4 seconds off my PR. I won my age group. I even almost won some cash. But smashing was the word of the day.

To steal a favorite phrase from a co-worker, let’s cut to the car crash. I went down at the finish. Hard. Face plant on the bricks. Yes, for real, my face served as the shock absorber. Very little damage to the hands and knees. And yes, they were bricks. Tripped? Yes, I think so. Collapsed? You could say that. I had nothing left to catch myself. And despite shouting, “Catch me!” as I went down, physics intervened and denied the best efforts of the finish line staff. Gravity won. My face is a mess.

But that’s probably not the worst of it. A few days later, my face is healing rapidly. The loose tooth is tightening up with an all-clear diagnosis from dentist Dr. Bruce. But the day after the race it became apparent that my already troublesome big toe has morphed to a nearly non-functional big toe. That’s a major problem. And my psyche is really beat up. I’m questioning myself repeatedly: simple accident, or stupidity? Such feelings of doubt haven’t been helped by the apparent demise of the global economy. It’s enough to make anyone feel bleak.

How did we get here? Let’s go back to the start of this odyssey.

I’m always amazed at the logistics of preparing for a marathon, especially when you’re away from home. The amount of crap I packed for this trip, which began nearly a week earlier and included travel to Ohio for a family funeral, was simply astounding. When leaving a week early and trying to pack for every weather possibility and every other contingency, well, you can imagine. I spent Saturday evening sorting, strategizing, and of course, mixing rocket fuel. What clothing would be sacrificed? What would be enough to keep warm? As it turned out, there was far more indoor space at the starting location than the race organizers had let on to, and morning warmth wasn’t a big issue.

This being marathon #8, my routine for these things is established. The dreaded 4 AM alarm, my least favorite part of these events. The pre-warm-up at home, a brief jog up and down the street before departing to shake things loose, this time being at my sister’s home where there are no street lights and it’s really dark! Then grab all that pre-staged stuff, out the door, off to Corning to grab the bus to the start in Bath. Mild fretting over when to dump the warm clothing on the baggage truck. Then the real warm-up, a quick mile, feeling good. All is well.

By 8 AM, it’s warmer than expected, around 40° with only the slightest almost imperceptible breeze, so we’re not freezing. The sun is up but completely obscured by fog. That fog will break for about 10 minutes as we pass through the village of Bath, then blanket us again all the way until mile 20, keeping conditions cool and ideal and significantly minimizing fluid loss and replenishment requirements. In short, it’s a perfect day for a marathon.

But barely 100 yards out of the gate something goes twang in the front of my right foot. There’s a moment of discomfort, then all’s well. This is both odd and concerning, since I’ve had trouble with this big toe and foot, but I’m old enough to know that things do this now and then. It’s not hurting and doesn’t appear to be hampering operations, so I move on.

While the past two Wineglasses have sported relatively weak fields, the early reports were that this year’s would be stronger. To nobody’s surprise, a few speedsters quickly open up a big lead. By about a mile and a half we’ve formed a chase pack of about six – a chase pack in name only because none of us are deluded enough to think we’ll actually chase the guys up front. It’s an amiable group, and we’re really enjoying our tour of Bath together.

Departing Bath we encounter the first of the two stretches in the course that could be considered hills. This one is about a half mile of gentle rise. I’m a hiller, and I’m cruising, and our amiable pack breaks up. At the top, it’s me and a guy named Jim. We’ll each endure very different trials over the next 21 miles, and finish a mere 7 seconds apart. But for now, we’re on autopilot. Our splits are absurd, but with the ideal conditions, I’m not concerned. My plan was to go out fast on this flat, forgiving course, and see what was in the tank.

In Savona at mile 9, the local newspaper gets a nice snapshot of us. Sis is there to cheer me on; later I’ll learn we were moving so fast that she missed us in Bath. In the first known tragedy of the day, a passing car flattens the empty bottle I toss to her before she can reach it. A crushing omen, but I was unaware. Just out of Savona, Jim pulls up for a pit stop. He’ll catch me, then have to do it again, then catch me again. I feel for him. That, uh, issue can’t be fun.

I’m through 10 at 6:21 pace. My target was 6:30. I’m not sure if I’m worried. Mile 11 clocks in at 6:39. I’m worried. But mile 12 flies by in 6:17. I’m not. At the half, I’m on 2:47 pace. I’m worried again. I wanted to go out fast. Not that fast.

At 14 I realize that the twang in my foot wasn’t harmless. My foot is cramping oddly. I won’t realize it till the day after, but something has apparently happened to the tendon that pushes my big toe down so that it’s not pushing. My second toe is carrying way too much load, and it’s suddenly decided to take up the picket line and protest. I work to flex it out, and the beat goes on. I’m over the other “hill” in the course at 14.5, and clocking steady 6:30s till 18.

Then it gets ugly fast. Sis is at Coopers Plain at 18.5, and I already know it’s going to be a tough morning. Though I don’t look too bad when she snaps a picture from the moving car at 20, this is reminding me of my first Buffalo in ’07, when I watched the big PR slip away, but still captured a painful yet small PR. I slow to the high 6’s, and hold sub-7 pace through 22. I’m doing the mental math. That low 2:50-something is slipping away, but I still have a PR in sight, my best being a 2:54:09 in my second Buffalo earlier this year. Mile 23 hurts. Mile 24 is misery. Just into 25 I start to feel a bit unstable.

It’s around this point that I lean on my faith and remind myself that my suffering is nothing. I’m not certain that did me a positive service. In hindsight, the prudent act at this point would have been to take a break, walk a stretch, and be happy with a 2-colon-anything. But there’s only two to go, and a PR is still quite realistic, at least mathematically. Surely I can gut out two miles!

And I do. But it’s ugly. Really ugly. Jim has caught me again after his latest pit stop, and is only 20-30 yards up. I’m thinking I’m hanging in there OK since he’s not pulling away. More than likely he’s just doing the minimum needed to stay up on me. Smart dude. Miles 25 and 26 slip to the 7:30s, and the PR is slipping away, but it’s not gone yet.

At 26, sis is waiting on the approach to the pedestrian bridge – the home stretch! I’m in such agony that I shout to her not to take any pictures. I had imagined hitting this point and, being a hill guy, putting on a burst to take someone at the end.

Surely, you jest.

I’m on the bridge. I’m staggering, but I’m going to make it. I might still eek out the PR. The line…

Now, the funny thing, if this could be considered funny, is that the day before, when we’d checked out the course, we’d noted how the finish was on a slight down slope coming off the bridge, and how the actual line was the seam between the macadam on the bridge and the bricks of the walkway in Riverside Park. My sister had commented that someone could trip over that.

She’s a pretty smart observer of potential risk. When it happens, as you knew it would in this story, I have nothing to stop gravity and downgrade-enhanced inertia. I am in free fall, crumbling, wilting, melting forward into the bricks. The next few seconds are hazy. I don’t think I passed out, but I wasn’t entirely there either. Arms lifted, supported, and guided me to the medical tent a few feet away. The haze passed quickly, I recall sitting down carefully and burying my face in a bag of ice.

The good news is that sis didn’t see it happen, as she was walking over the bridge from her vantage point on the other side. The better news is that mom didn’t make it to the race. At least sis has seen her kids get beat up and injured on the scholastic sports fields. She took it in stride. It probably would’ve killed poor mom.

Being an early finisher on a cool and perfect day, I was their only customer for quite some time and got fantastic attention. Calm, competent, and saint-like, these volunteers from the Guthrie Clinic in Sayre PA, led by Dr. Phykitt, deserve unending thanks. They clean my wounds. They assess my consciousness (though asking me who the President was admittedly wasn’t a calming question). They provide an hour of TLC. They even go and get my medal. And Wineglass has really cool handmade glass medals.

When the smoke clears after my horse-race style ‘win by a nose’ finish (as one of my running club friends likened it; another commented that I’d ‘taken the bull by the bricks, or something like that’ – what exactly was he thinking?) I learn that I came agonizingly close, but didn’t get a new PR. I finished in 2:54:13, a mere four seconds off my best. In retrospect, I’m glad. I wouldn’t want this race to go down as my best, since it clearly wasn’t, no matter what my time was.

I ended up in 13th place out of the 550 finishers and won my 45-49 age group, the first time I’ve won my class in a marathon. At Wineglass as in many races, age group awards start after the overall and overall masters award winners take their slots. But the top three masters were all in the 40-44 group, so I really did top the 45’ers. I ended up 7 seconds behind Pit Stop Jim, who took the 3rd and last overall masters cash prize. The 7 seconds is irrelevant. I couldn’t have made up one.

And why did it end up so ugly? After all, I virtually cruised to my 2:54 in Buffalo. I even had a kick at the end that day. Sure, I went out fast, but not to the extent as to cause this level of crash. Perhaps it was the big emotional travel week? Perhaps the insidious impact on my stride of the protesting toe and foot? Perhaps, as they say in the NFL, it was as simple as, “Any given Sunday…”

Now, the irony is that I ended up with only small scrapes on each knee, and, thanks to a pathetic pair of holey (not to be confused with holy) gloves that were supposed to be tossed early on, but due to the cool weather made the entire trip, only a single small cut on each hand. My face, however, is a work of art. Most of the left side is abused: chin, nose, temple, forehead. A couple days later a nice shiner has appeared. I’ve been telling everyone that I got in a fight with a brick walkway.

It was a long 6-hour drive home. Enough time to condition the kids any my wife on what they’d see. Presenting myself wasn’t easy – for me or them. And it’s been a long several days since, reflecting on what happened. On one hand, it was bad luck, I tripped, I fell, I got banged up. On the other hand, perhaps it was stupid, perhaps I pushed too hard, perhaps it could have turned out a lot worse. I won’t find the answer to that question anytime soon.

04 October 2008

Anticipation

In 24 hours and 15 minutes the gun will sound and we’ll start our Wineglass odyssey from Bath to Corning NY. I’m hoping it will be just a few degrees warmer than it is at the moment. I’m camped at my sister’s place nearby, and dawn broke with frost and 33 tiny little degrees, maybe fewer. If not for the cozy hoodie, the warm laptop on my legs at the moment (a real incentive to blog at a time like this) and the purring cat beside me, it might be downright unpleasant.

I spent last evening pouring over course maps – both the published one and, heres a hint, the one posted on the USATF web site for certification purposes. If you don’t know a course and it is USATF certified, I recommend this little extra effort (use this link to find a USATF certified course). In some cases, and this is one of them, you can get a lot of insight into little details through this not-well-known alternate source.

When I get up the gumption, I’ll venture out for my last 3-4 mile shakedown. No, I didn’t think to pack the tights or a decent hat. That first mile will be a… you know. Then it’s off to the expo and to go scout the course, with the expertise of my native guides sis and her companion Phil.

To be continued, later today…

Later Today…

Those were indeed **** cold miles. But after 10 minutes, the heater started working, and by the time I was done I was warmer than I’d been since emerging from under the cat (and the covers).

When the sun was high, we trundled off to downtown Corning for packet pickup and the expo. And the sun was high, the day gorgeous, a perfect blue sky speckled with perfect puffy clouds, virtually no wind. The folks running the outdoor expo – really just one vendor – certainly appreciated it. I made my move to clear out the $5 rack.

Inside, at the packet distribution, the promised split of wine (this is after all, the Wineglass Marathon) looked a little less than appealing, but only a crank of the screw cap will tell. Unique to this race are bibs with the timing chip built in. It’s nice that you don’t have to tie anything to (and later remove from) your shoe, but it makes the bibs a bit stiff. Could make for some sore…you know. Sadly, no Wineglass stuff sized for the kids back home…*snif*

Then off to Bath via the freeway, to the starting line, and the start of our course scoping odyssey. Bath is a fine small town, wide avenues, stately homes, and of course it all looks grand on a sunny day, which tomorrow promises also to be once the icicles clear from our eyebrows.

Emerging from Bath there’s actually a bit of an upgrade, not that you’ll care at the scale involved or the location in the course. Then, basically nothing for several miles, which could prove a bit tedious, but again, early on we’ll probably be bunched a bit and hopefully have some goof chat going on. Through Savona the course turns off the main drag and becomes delightfully rural to and past the halfway point in Campbell (pronounced CAMPbell, not CAM-bell, I’m told by my native guide Phil!). One small rise past Campbell and a few railroad crossing “insult humps” comprise most of the elevation change, save one odd steep drop into a park later on, just past 21.

A brutal stretch paralleling the interstate leads into the populated zone, bringing some needed distraction as the miles grow long. A few pleasant neighborhoods where hopefully the locals will be aware of the event and provide some support, a mile on a rail trail with a somewhat unique and odd bridge tunnel combination under the freeway, and rapidly the final miles approach. The course needs a few odd winds and turns to gain the distance, then the final turn onto Centerway in Corning.

Every course has its signature moment, and for this one, it’s the finish, crossing the Chemung River, famed for wiping this town out in 1972 courtesy of Hurricane Agnes (I lived in upstate NY then, I recall it well). A new bridge was built around 1980, and the original now serves as a broad pedestrian promenade, and probably a home-stretch cheering zone. A slight rise leading onto the bridge could provide an opportunity for a last minute challenge – if I’m of that mindset by that time – then it’s all out to the end off the bridge, where Riverfront Centennial Park and hopefully a cold beer awaits.

Piece of cake. So long as I wake up on time, of course!

Well, it is a very flat course in my New England tainted view, but like any marathon, you just never know till the gun goes off. If I have a good day, I’ll shoot for a 2:anything. If I have an average day, 3:oh-anything (which is pretty amusing since one year ago today my PR was 3:14…). And if I just have a day, well, we’ll go for a nice run on a nice day, hopefully finish in one piece – always a goal of any marathon – and say we had a nice time. In the end, while it’s nice to turn in a solid time, or even have that golden day and burn a PR, the joy of the day is the adventure, the gorgeous fall tour through a beautiful valley in my old home turf, and just plain having a nice run.

02 October 2008

Closing the Circle

Today was a day for closing circles and saying goodbye. My family buried my grandmother today, a sad occasion of course, though somewhat less so as it meant her release from the terrible grip of Alzheimer’s. But the trip felt like much more than just saying goodbye to a loved one. I said goodbye to and closed the circle on a big part of my life as well.

Both sides of my family came to the United States in the early 20th century. Mom’s side, the Swiergos family, is Polish, dad’s is Italian (and no, we didn’t have a vowel in Italy either, we were northern Italians where many family names really do end in consonants, see www.cattarin.com for the genealogy). Both sides ended up northeastern Ohio. My folks were raised in Alliance, and though they moved on, my maternal grandparents lived pretty much their entire adult lives there. I spent many wonderful summers and more there. The memories are too numerous to recount, even to myself. Ohio became a part of me and always will be.

But Alliance, Ohio isn’t Cleveland or Columbus or anywhere else you might travel on business someday. It’s about 15 miles off the interstate, and not even a main-line interstate. Unless you’re driving to Akron, or happen to be in Canton, and make an intentional side trip, you’re not going to stumble on the place. In fact, I hadn’t been in town in 10 years, since the passing of my grandfather Swiergos. The Cattarin side holds periodic Ohio reunions, but none of them remain in Alliance. So with the passing of grandmother Swiergos, my blood-relative link to the town pretty much dried up. Burying grandmother Swiergos after many years of Alzheimer’s wasn’t too hard. Burying a chapter of my life was.

I’m in taper and rest mode for Wineglass coming up on Sunday. With an additional 400 miles driving out from upstate New York to Alliance and back, the rest part has already taken a hit. And when I was there, so did the tapering. My tapering rule-of-thumb is to run no more miles each day than the number of days till the race, until 4 days prior, at which point I stick to 3 or 4 a day to stay loose. With only 4 days till the marathon, I should have put in 3 or 4 this morning. But we were in a hotel room on the west end of town, and it was 4 miles to the old Swiergos house which had been home base to our clan for 50 years.

I knew I could drive by it later in the day if I wanted to, but who I am today is defined in part (other than my wonderful immediate family of course) by my running. Not so much the physical act of it, but the mental and emotional side which, even if I could no longer run, so fits who I am. Something insisted that I do what I’d never done, and connect my running life to my Ohio life which so shaped my early years. I broke my taper rule and covered eight and a half this morning, just to run down their street, the street I’d walked, biked, and played on so many times, but where I’d never – not even in my first lap days to my recollection – laid the stamp of my running footprints.

As these things often are, it was somewhat anticlimactic. The house, long sold from their caring hands, has run down somewhat. Neighbors on either side who happened to be out and with whom I chatted briefly were all recent short-timers with no neighborhood memory and of course no idea who these former pillars of the community were and what they meant to anyone, let alone me. But in a big way, it wasn’t anticlimactic at all. I honored them by running past the seat of their memory, in effect saying, “I’m doing well, I’m strong, and that’s because you did good.”

After my morning run through time, we did the funeral home, the Mass, the cemetery service. We stopped in to visit dad’s grave – he died at a tragic 29. We pondered in a way we never really had done before what our life as a family might have been like had that tragedy not happened. We could have all been very different people. As my wife likes to say, you can’t just change one thing. But we became who are. And who I’ve become was able to connect with where I came from, one time only, by running past the place that was a second home.

As it was, mom didn’t want to drive past the house where she’d grown up. She wanted to remember it as it was, not see it as it is. I was very glad I’d broken my taper rule. As we left town, I knew there was a good chance I’ll never be back. The circle is closed.

Rest in God’s peace, Granny.

30 September 2008

Reminiscing

T-Minus 6 days to Wineglass. Tonight I’m in upstate New York at mom’s, blogging from my old bedroom, mooching off an unknown neighbor’s unsecured wireless. In the final days, I need to keep loose, so I popped in 5 between leaving work and hopping in the car to begin the journey to Ohio before returning here for Wineglass. Calm, uneventful week. Yeah, right. So, for a calming effect, I’ve rolled out an oldie: my first blog before I knew what one was, my race report from my first marathon, Cape Cod 2005. It’s fun to look back on what was new and wonderful back then. Who knew I’d go sub-3 two and a half years later? And it’s also fun to recount the story of running with Chris Russell before I even knew who he was…

Cape Cod Race Report!

Being sent to people who might only have a slight interest, but hey, it's news!

Executive Summary:
Cape Cod Marathon, Sunday, October 30th, my first marathon
Official "Gun" time - 3:29:09
Net time (crossing start line to finish) 12 seconds less - 3:28:57
Never stopped, not for nothin'
195th out of 1200+ registered, 976 finishers
Hurting, but still alive and breathing.

THANKS TO ALL WHO WISHED ME LUCK AND CHEERED ME ON IN THIS ENDEAVOR!

Long Version (For runner types who give a crap about this stuff):

The Weather: Absolutely horrid on Saturday. Cold, rainy - almost snow, windy. Forecast was for it to clear about 4 AM and for Sunday to be beautiful. I figured the storm would linger, but dawn broke Sunday clear and perfect. By race time (8:30 AM) the temperature was in the high 40's and I was able to leave the wind coat behind, running in short sleeves from the start. It was cool with brilliant sun the whole way, though a bit of wind on the northerly legs - and of course the last mile was a northerly leg. The temperature at noon at the finish was about 60°.

The Start: No time for pre-race jitters. We were shooting the bull, oblivious to the time, when BOOM! - the canon (yes, they use a canon) went off and we were off. I crossed the start line 12 seconds after the canon, so my "net" time was 12 seconds faster than my official "gun" time. I consciously tried not to go out too fast. I swear I tried. Really, I tried. You don't believe me, but I tried. I failed miserably. I never saw the 1 mile marker, so the first split I got at 2 miles was 15:06, or 7:33/mile. Way too fast. Over the next few miles I tried to slow the pace, but the body was in a comfort zone and didn't reply, so I just had to go with it.

The Race Plan: Pretty much went out the window. Chalk it up to experience. The plan was to take it slow, consistent 8 minute pace, be smiling at 20 miles as I was in my longest training run, then hang in there or turn it on a bit at the end. By mile 8, I figured the damage was done, and I'd have to run it out and see how it went, knowing that the "hills" (I still don't think of them as big hills like many others did, but they were certainly there) were coming later. The change in strategy can best be summed up by one guy I was running with - who was targeting 3:10-3:20 while I was targeting 3:30 - who said to me, "Hey, tomorrow you can tell your friends you ran these perfect 8 minute miles and did your 3:30 smiling, or you can tell them how you ripped along the first half of the course then suffered mightily later to gain your 3:30. Which is gonna' make a better story?" He turned out to be completely right - I hope you like the story!

Hydration and Nutrition: I tried to "pre-hydrate" but this turned out to be a mistake. Early fluid intake only led to, uh, mild urging discomfort, if you know what I mean - not enough to bring on a bio-stop, but enough to notice. The problem with that was that I didn't drink enough early on so as not to exacerbate that condition. That condition remedied itself but by then I was into hydration deficit, and significant intake later in the race didn't prevent what was effectively pretty severe dehydration in the last 2 miles. I ran with the Fuel Belt, geeky as it may be, and I'm glad I did, as I would have been far worse trying to drink from cups - a skill I simply don't have. I stuck to my plan of a gel at 40 minutes and another every 30 afterward - also handy and plentiful due to wearing the belt.

The Support Team: My three ladies - Awesome, right in place as planned, and executed a perfect bottle hand-off to replenish the belt without making me break stride! Wish I had that on video!

Race Progression: Splits for miles 1 through 15 ranged from as low as 7:26 to 7:46 on the upgrades. 10K hit exactly 47:00 - an easy split to remember - 7:34 pace. At mile 15 I turned in a 7:40 and was at 7:37 pace on average. Ironically, after the exact 47:00 10K, I also hit another exact split - at the halfway point (13.1m) the clock ticked 1:40:00 exactly (7:38 pace) - neither of these are hedged by a second or two - they were both exact - now what's the chance of that? Mile 16 slowed to 7:59 with a noticeably upgrade, but 17 came in at 7:49 and 18 at 7:54, then things started slowing down. Miles 19-20-21-22 rose slowly from 8:04 to 8:22. Miles 23 and 24 stretched to 8:55 and 9:04. A burst of "speed" (?) brought mile 25 down to 8:39. Mile 26 was utter agony at 9:31. The last 0.2185 miles (that famous 385 yards) were at 9:12 pace - I guess that was my "kick"! In the end, I crossed the line at 3:29:12 from the canon, overall 7:58.6 pace, and (unofficially) 3:28:57 from when I crossed the start. I'm pleased at the fact that I did not stop or walk at any point!

Body Mechanics: The body held up remarkably well. The areas I expected trouble from - the right knee and left ankle - didn't deliver any trouble. Early on the calves felt a bit stressed - I think I tapered a bit too much in the days preceding (but then, had I not, other issues may have prevailed). The only scare came around mile 17 when an odd twinge appeared below the right ankle, above the heel. It was a sensation I hadn't felt before and thus didn't know how to manage. I altered my stride a little to stretch it to avoid cramping, and it subsided within a half mile, never to return. By 20-21 the muscles were weakening, which in retrospect was almost certainly the onset of the dehydration. By the last two miles, the dehydration was pretty severe. I'd liken it to Hell, but the weather was nice and the scenery superb. My pastor would be pleased to know there was prayer involved. Later, multiple expletives emerged. The last 350 yards to the finish were slow motion with the body tingling - not pretty. The race staff sat me down, did a quick lucidity check (exactly what they should have done), realized I was hurting but OK, and served up cup after cup of water. What a crew! 10 minutes and 6 cups later, I was OK.

The Aftereffects: Less severe than expected. The knees are tender and of course the quads and calves hurt, but overall, not bad! The post-race sports massage didn't hurt, nor did a healthy (or perhaps somewhat exceeding healthy?) dose of ibuprofen and a beer.

The Event: I cannot say enough about how well this event was organized and run. The 700 volunteers from the Falmouth Track Club and their friends put on a First Class event. Everything was attended to, and everyone was extremely helpful. If you are considering your first marathon, this is a challenging (but beautiful!) course, but well worth considering as your first. If you've marathoned elsewhere, run this one. These people did an awesome job. Check out www.capecodmarathon.com.