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 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.