15 October 2013

Honoring the Man

The deadline was looming. On the seventeenth of October, financial damage was certain to occur. Failure to act would result in irrevocable loss. And the two parties were still far apart, not agreeing even on concept let along on execution of a plan. Tensions rose. Tempers flared. No solution was in sight.

Pardon me if you think you’re reading about the national stage and the battle between responsible legislators and those who think that terroristic tactics are allowable among decent people. You don’t have to guess which side I’d be on, considering the value I place on having health insurance, considering that a relatively young and extremely fit individual just racked up bills nearing fifteen thousand dollars (pre-insurance, thank God) to clear my pipes from the debris that appeared after the Achilles fix. And no, that fifteen thousand didn’t include the Achilles fix. Suffice to say that there are a few people in Washington whose pipes I’d like to clear.

No, this tale of dissent was close to home, and we laughed later at the irony of the fact that the airline voucher I’d received for being bumped some time back was set to expire on the same day as our nation’s global credit standing. And with work, school, health, weather, and our tastes which simply don’t agree with the rest of the resort-driven, cruise-ship-crazy, casino-happy world, we just couldn’t decide what to do with it. We hated to see it expire, but...

I’m happy to report that despite the fact that we’re both sipping tea at the moment, we don’t behave like those with the associated moniker, and I should be adding a new running locale to the list sometime this winter. Other than to say there won’t be any hill work, we’ll leave it at that for now, and add the running aspect when it occurs.

But ponder again that extremely fit individuals have no assurance that they will avoid major health issues, or worse. And in that vein, remember our tragic loss this past spring, when Rocket John Tanner was taken from us in shocking fashion in the midst of his prime (see His Final Mile). Friday marks seven months since that awful day, and his family and friends are still recovering. A big part of that recovery happens this Sunday, October 20th, in Wayland, Massachusetts, where John worked. I don’t ask things like this often, but I’ll ask today: If you are reading this and are in reasonable travel range, please join us for the John Tanner Memorial 5K. Hit an early church service to clear the late morning, do whatever, just come.

Besides John’s passion for running, he had another passion: a little boy named Nicholas, the grandson of one of his fellow employees at Russell’s Garden Center in Wayland. John took a fancy to Nicholas many years ago, and took Nicholas’ burden, a rare and life-threatening brain disorder known as Batten’s Disease, upon himself. Batten’s Disease isn’t one you’ll hear about in the popular press. You won’t see Team in Training touting it at the major marathons. It has few evangelists pushing for a cure. John took up that challenge.

I lost count of how many races I ran with John over the five brief years he graced my life. But in nearly all of them, John eschewed team colors, Boston Marathon jerseys, or anything else catchy or recognizable in favor of his simple blue tech shirt emblazoned with the words “Nicholas Research Fund”. Sometimes he was actively raising funds to hopefully, someday, somehow help Nicholas. Other times he was just doing what he could to get the word out about this mysterious malady. It wasn’t a popular or recognizable cause, but it was the right cause, and it was his cause.

On Sunday, Nicholas’ family, John’s family and friends, and John’s coworkers – his Russells’ family, will honor him in the best way, by holding a race for the man who lived for such events, and at the same time raise funds in his name to help Nicholas. The race will start in the center of Wayland (behind the Wayland Town Buildings at 41 Cochituate Road), traverse beautiful back roads along the wetlands bordering the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, and return to finish on the grounds at Russell’s. Details of the race can be found at OurPromiseToNicholas.com or in this article in the MetroWest Daily News and registration is either on-site or at this link.

Whether ten or a thousand run, it will be an appropriate honor. Please come and swell that number.

09 October 2013


A couple of hours ago I busted out of the joint. Yeah, the caper had been planned for weeks, the date was set in stone, the days and hours were being counted down, but I blew that out the window today. With the blessing of Dr. Foot Doctor, I jumped the gun by a few days and have declared myself free, free, free of the Dreaded Boot. But not before I had some fun, first.

The fun came Sunday morning at my local club’s annual Marlborough Main Street Mile, which is exactly what it sounds like, only better. It’s a mile, mostly down Main Street (starts around a corner), and the better part is that it’s almost all downhill. I’ve never actually run it, either because I was off racing somewhere else (it does, of course, fall in the height of marathon season), I was staffing the event instead, or I just figured that it’s too fast and too short for my usual tastes.

But when one is locked in the Dreaded Boot, fast isn’t an issue, short isn’t a problem, and there are certainly no marathons on my slate this fall. Yes, I was staffing it again, but only as the Official Data Entry Clerk, punching names into the computer as the day-of-event folks showed up. Once I’d punched in the latecomers, I had to get the data to the finish line. Considering that this is a point-to-point event and we had no networking link to transmit, it had to get there somehow, right? Quick, drop it onto the thumb drive (two, just to be safe), pop it in the pocket, and head out the door to the starting line. Just in time.

When first I stumbled from the crutches to the Boot, I had it jacked up a few levels with enough padding (to make life easier on the Achilles) to make me a good inch-plus taller, but only on one side, and therefore very clumsy. Over the past weeks, I’ve whittled those pads down to ground level, which has made the going a lot smoother. Add that to the downhill course, toss in a fellow power walker who frequents our races, and gimpy turned in a twelve minute mile. Twelve minutes of pure joy. No, I wasn’t running, but I was in spirit! And believe it or not, to my great surprise, I wasn’t last, either. So far as I’m concerned, I won my division, that being the “One Shoed” category. No trophy, but with the city’s Chowderfest only a couple hours later, who needs a prize?

But even if I’ve mastered the Speedy Gonzales version of boot wearing, it’s still boot wearing, and it’s still uncomfortable and annoying. You can’t sneak into bed late at night with all that Velcro…RIP RIP RIP! You have to lay it out in front of the fan to dry out the sweat after coming back from the gym. And you have the age-old conundrum…do I stretch the pants over it or just look like a total geek? (I usually opt for the total geek look, it makes adjusting all that Velcro easier.) The end of this time couldn’t come soon enough.

So while the target for freedom was this Friday or Saturday, depending on how you count, I figured it was time to start walking gingerly around the house bootless early this week to stretch out the tendon in preparation for the big day. While it’s still a bit sore, and while I’m still on the fence as to whether this whole thing will in fact work (but still optimistic of course), it felt pretty good all unsupported and naked (well, in slippers) like that. So after a few days, I took the plunge today and – yes! – put on a real shoe (running shoe of course) and pretended life was normal. A quick text to Dr. Foot Doctor procured the blessing, and that’s it!

Freedom has been declared!

Next Posting Department:
The John Tanner Memorial 5K will be run on Sunday, 20 October, in Wayland, Massachusetts, to honor John’s legacy and to raise funds for the charity he was passionate about, Our Promise to Nicholas. In a few days I’ll post an article with more information about the race, Nicholas, and memories of John, but for now, please put this race on your calendar, come out, and honor this fallen giant and dear friend. Detail on the race are at http://ourpromisetonicholas.com. Sign up now, and stay tuned for more on this topic.

01 October 2013

Beware: It’s A Lumpy World

I have a somewhat unique relationship with Dr. Foot Doctor. It’s much more of a teamwork approach with some friendship and a lot of respect thrown in in both directions. As such, there’s more interaction between us than you’d typically expect. Thus it was when I saw him last week for a foot-fix-follow-up that he chided me good-naturedly on how I tell him everything about what’s going on, but I’d neglected to tell him the important stuff, that being how my leg was so achy and uncomfortable in the week or so leading up to the Attack of the Planet of the Clots.

He was right, of course, but he also quickly acknowledged that I would have had no idea what I was feeling, as I had no idea to expect the outcome that came out. Doctors of course know about post-surgical clots, but they expect them quite soon after surgery, and they expect them in older and less active people. Patients generally don’t know about clots, post-surgical or otherwise, until they learn the hard way. In hindsight, that achy leg, both in the calf and spreading north, behind the knee and up into the hamstring, was a pretty clear signal. I just hadn’t taken the driver’s test.

What’s more interesting, and worthy of a mildly alarming warning to all, is that not only have I learned what a potentially developing clot might feel like, I’ve also learned how surprisingly common the problem is. Since publishing on my clotty adventure, I’ve heard of many more cases of this malady than I’d ever expected. This isn’t a case of misery loving company. This is a case of sounding a subdued but very real klaxon. Be it known! It’s a lumpy world out there! These things happen, and they can happen to you, healthy as you may be. To paraphrase the anti-terrorism slogan, if you feel something, say something.

That’s easier said than done. Nobody likes to sound alarms needlessly. The reaction of family, the hassle, the cost, the fear of what might happen to you (They’ll tell me not to run! They’ll confine me to quarters for a month while running tests! They’ll tell me to eat kale!), all conspire to make you conclude that it’s nothing major, and soldier on. And usually, it’s nothing major, and soldiering on is just fine. But not always.

This of course screams for the availability of affordable proactive health care. And it’s more than a bit ironic to be making this point on the day that our dysfunctional government has shut down based on the belief of a few that they can hold the country hostage and create mayhem until they get their way, which is nothing more than terrorism without guns. But let’s not deviate too far from topic here.

So let’s consider some of what I’ve heard in the past two weeks: A co-worker, considerably younger than I, discovered he had the luck to be genetically predisposed to clots, and now lives on anti-coagulants. A friend from church, my age, who runs (and is enjoying my temporary absence from the age-group standings in local races!), related his experience with post-op clots years ago. A runner in my local club, a few – but not that many – years older, told of how he not only was surprised by the appearance of clots, but was doubly surprised to learn he’d had an undetected heart defect – a passage between his atria – that allowed a (fortunately tiny) clot to bypass his lung filtration system and find its way to a worse spot in his brain. And probably the most telling of all these warning stories, a reader (yes, there are a few out there, hard to believe, but…) whom I’d met years back, and who, like me, never suspected what was going on, had no idea that something needed to be done, and unfortunately took permanent hit points to his veins. His story echoes so much of the runner experience: fitness masking symptoms, expectation of excellent health obscuring the idea of such an occurrence, and so on. In his words (slightly condensed):

Unfortunately, I too had a blood clot, but luckily it stayed in my calf. My vascular doc told me I got it traveling to the Paris Marathon in 2011. I noticed a sharp drop off in my performance after this race and couldn’t figure out why. Finally a couple of weeks ago, this doc told me I had a large clot in the vein behind the knee that pushes most of the blood from the calf back to the heart. I never had any symptoms, so never knew I had it, and as a result didn’t use any anti-coagulants.

The downside of this is that while your body gradually absorbs the clot over time, this process scars the vein and some of the valves and reduces its ability to efficiently pump blood back to the heart. Hence, my plumbing is permanently less efficient and I’ll never run as fast again. My doctor told me that if I had known I had the clot and taken anti-coagulants, there’s a very good chance of no scarring and no decline in running performance.

My doc also told me that the plane travel combined with being dehydrated and having a low pulse and blood pressure all make runners slightly more likely than the average person to develop clots. It took me two years of going to doctors to figure out what was wrong with me. Point being, blood clots in runners are more common than I ever knew. It’s worth a little warning so other runners may avoid this! Walk on the plane, stay hydrated and don’t cross your legs and stay in the same position for long.

I hadn’t even considered the low pulse angle, though since his story, I’ve heard it echoed elsewhere. A tale like his will have us all thinking hard the next time something doesn’t feel right. And we should.

After all this seriousness, a little fun is in order, so to close this week, while we’re talking about the demise of our bodies – certainly in the theme of this series on running in our masters years – I must relate a quick and amusing tale of the demise of the mind. As I near the date when I shed the dreaded walking cast boot, and having thinned my blood to the point where it’s safe to be back in normal society with knives and razors and other things hazardous, I’m feeling a more emboldened to resume the rock-n-roll life. So it was that I set off last week for my first overnight business excursion since before the Big Slice.

It’s not uncommon for me to pack in minutes, rush out the door, and find myself in Buffalo shy of something, which could explain the very large quantity of bottles of contact lens solution in my closet. It’s therefore also not unusual that in the first couple miles after exiting my driveway, I’ll run a mental checklist, and sometimes pull over before I’ve left town to check my bag to see if I really packed a given item. No point in coming home with even more contact lens solution!

As I left last week, Dearest Spouse also pulled out on a mission of her own. A mile down the road, my mental checklist hit a question mark, and I pulled over for a quick inventory check. Seeing me stop and not knowing this little quirk of mine, she circled back in mild alarm. What she found was me laughing heartily, because this time, it wasn’t a question of whether I’d forgotten something. I knew I’d packed it. The question was simply, with a boot on the left foot, had I packed the right shoe? I know, you really had to be there, but it was funny. Really.

The irony here is that this is the kind of issue you deal with all because you ran so darn much that you ended up in the state in which I ended up. I keep telling myself that this is all part of the healing process, all part of the game to get back on the roads where I belong, and that it won’t be long now. If only I could remember what it was…