Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Frost on My Pumpkin

Wouldn't you know it? Soon as I get over this horrendous cold and feel well enough to start running again, the temperature drops to below freezing. WTF? This is Florida!

Much as I love a roaring fireplace and the seat heaters in my Volvo, I don't mind running in the cold. Like it, actually. Must be my Northeast upbringing.

Running in sub-freezing weather is nothing new. When I was a runner in high school, in Northport, Long Island, I ran in the snow, over icy roads, in howling winds. Many's the time I wore a ski mask to keep my face from getting frostbite, two pairs of socks, thermal underwear AND sweatpants. Not to mention a Hoodie under a ski jacket from time to time.

About a dozen times a year here on Florida's Space Coast, I have to drag out the cold-weather gear for a run. An old knit ski cap from the Gap. Thick gloves I bought from a sidewalk vendor in Manhattan. Fleece jacket. Long-sleeved T-shirt. Sunglasses if it's bright out. Hoodie optional depending on wind speeds.

Nothing beats running on a cold, clear brisk day with the sun shining in a bright blue sky.

I have to admit, though, those first few deep breaths of arctic air in my lungs felt like I was having a heart attack. But after the first half-mile, my body had acclimated -- my lungs were turning that frigid air into warm, moist breath and the heart was pumping oxygen enriched blood throughout my body.

I keep my torso, head and hands warm, but run with my legs exposed. I like the chill against my thighs. The cold is nature's painkiller and the air felt like ice packs wrapped around my quads and calfs.

Also, I don't really understand the expression, "Freezing my ass off." My ass was the least cold part of my body out there, I assume because of all the subcutaneous tissue and blood vessels in the derriere. It would take a really cold day to actually freeze one's ass off!

The best part of an invigorating run in the cold, of course, is getting back inside with a hot cup of Joe!

And now, Louis Jourdan and Ella Fitzgerald sing for us!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hips Don't Lie

My body is an ever-loving mystery. All the aches and pains, the quirks, the routines I need to adhere to so I can get out of bed, straighten my back and walk into the kitchen to feed the cats and make the coffee.

As I get older, things happen that can only be explained by the phrase: "Welcome to middle age."

Case in point: I ran four miles this morning. No problem. Actually felt pretty good except for the depressing fact that it took me 45 minutes to run what I used to do in 35 or less on a good day.

Now 45 is a good day.

So I showered, dressed for the day and went into the kitchen to unload the dishwasher. And wouldn't you know it, my hip socket popped something fierce. Not "Ive-fallen-and-can't-get-up" fierce. But just the same, I had to go hobbling to the medicine cabinet for some meds: Metaxalone and Tramadol. 

After I threw down the meds, I hobbled back to the kitchen, pulled an ice pack out of the freezer and eased myself onto the couch for some R&R. 

And it set me wondering: how is it I can run four miles without a hitch, but when I twist or pivot from one side to the other, my right thigh bone feels like it's popping out of my hip socket.

My former primary care physician said it's arthritis, and that the only cure would be surgery.

I don't think so, and that's why he is my former primary care physician. I mean, what is it about doctors who think the answer to everything is surgery?

Now that I've had this series of steroid injections for my SI Joint, it's time to focus on the hip socket-thigh joint. Deep tissue massage has relieved the symptoms to a degree, but there must be something else going on. 

And don't tell me it's just middle age.

So now, for your listening pleasure, Shakira:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Master of the Universe

OK, so I am not the fastest runner in the universe. Never was. Not even in high school.

But I wasn't the slowest, either.

And as a middle-aged adult, I was putting in respectable times, 22-23 minutes for 5ks, finishing the first half of a marathon in under two hours, hitting a personal marathon record of 4.06 two years ago at age 50!

So when this hip injury sidelined me, I was bummed. I was on my way to breaking the four-hour marathon!

But I had to stop running for a year, until I finally got diagnosed with a Sacro-ilial joint injury and got referred to a specialist for steroid injections. He told me to stop running until he was through treating me.

After my last steroid injection, he advised that I could run again, but not all out like I used to run. Two-three miles at the most. He said my disks were so shot, running for me was akin to riding on the rims of a car after the tires had blown.

I wouldn't want to take a car like that out to Daytona, would I? 

I've got news for him:  I couldn't if I wanted to.

Now, I find myself running at a 10-11 minute pace, barely covering 3 miles in under 40 minutes. I suppose that is what my doctor had in mind when he said to "use it, but cruise it."

Today was my fourth run since he gave me the green light. I'd say my pace has picked up since that first run, and the pain doesn't increase after a run. Those are good signs. My goal is to slowly and steadily improve my pace to under 10 minutes a mile.

Ultimately, I want to get to where a 9-minute pace feels like cruising, not racing.

And I want to lose another 20 pounds. I reached 205 this morning, good for 6'1" but be better. I still feel like I'm holding a 20-pound bowling ball in my lap when I sit down.

Slowly, once again, I am becoming master of my own universe.

Now some Pulp:

Master of the Universe

OK, so I am not the fastest runner in the universe. Never was. Not even in high school.

But I wasn't the slowest, either.

And as a middle-aged adult, I was putting in respectable times, 22-23 minutes for 5ks, finishing the first half of a marathon in under two hours, hitting a personal record of 4.06 two years ago at age 50!

So when this hip injury sidelined me, I was bummed. I was on my way to breaking the four-hour marathon!

But I had to stop running for a year, until I finally got diagnosed with a Sacro-ilial joint injury and got referred to a specialist for steroid injections. He told me to stop running until he was through treating me.

After my last steroid injection, he advised that I could run again, but not all out like I used to run. Two-three miles at the most. He said my disks were so shot, running for me was akin to riding on the rims of a car after the tires had blown.

I wouldn't want to take a car like that out to Daytona, would I? 

I've got news for him:  I couldn't if I wanted to.

Now, I find myself running at a 10-11 minute pace, barely covering 3 miles in under 40 minutes. I suppose that is what my doctor had in mind when he said to "use it, but cruise it."

Today was my fourth run since he gave me the green light. I'd say my pace has picked up since that first run, and the pain doesn't increase after a run. Those are good signs. My goal is to slowly and steadily improve my pace to under 10 minutes a mile.

Ultimately, I want to get to where a 9-minute pace feels like cruising, not racing.

And I want to lose another 20 pounds. I reached 205 this morning, good for 6'1" but be better. I still feel like I'm holding a 20-pound bowling ball in my lap when I sit down.

Slowly, once again, I am becoming master of my own universe again.

Now some Pulp:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Riding on the Rims

OK, so today I had the third and last of the steroid injections into my Sacro-Ilial Joint. Have I told you how painful it is to have a long needle jammed through your back muscles and into your hip? My doc calls it needle trauma. Ouch!

But hopefully it is the last time I will have to endure that, at least for a long while!


Anyway, while I was there, Doc and I chatted about my back. My spine. We looked at the MRI of my spine and he pointed out some salient features on that road map of my life.

Why? Because I asked him about post-treatment activities, like running. He said one or two miles a day -- or three to four in my case -- would be all right.

While my L3-4 disc was nice and plump, my L4-5 and other discs were toast. Flat as pancakes. My vertebrae were riding right on top of each other, without any shock absorption in between. And the facets were sitting on top of each other's gel-covered tips, where all the nerve endings are.

He explained that bone-on-bone was like riding on the rims of a car. Would I want to take that car to Daytona and drive around the track at 150 mph? No, I think not.

But, that is what I'd be doing if I ran more than a couple of miles a day. So be it.

Question is, really, can I pull off one more marathon on those rims? Can I qualify for the Boston? Don't trains run on rims?

Stay tuned. These tires are blown and I'm riding on rims, but I won't slow down.

Here's a new guy named Brock Zeman, with some pals, singing "Riding on the Rims."

Sunday, November 7, 2010

I Walk The Line

I decided this morning that, rather than drive or ride my bicycle to the corner 7-11 to get my Sunday New York Times, I'd walk the short (half-mile) distance.

So, I put on my sweat pants, draped a hoodie over my long-sleeved Giants T-shirt and set out down my driveway. Imagine my consternation when the joint pain settled into my hips and I could barely stand up straight. Hands on the back of my hips, I hobbled down the street like an old man. Oy!

"Good morning," the chipper store clerk chirped as I entered the sanctum of fresh brewed coffee, 12-packs, and assorted degrees of fried food-like objects. "Morning," I grumbled, paying for my paper via debit card.

On the way back, I forced myself to stand up straight, swing the shoulders back and pick up the pace. The sooner I got home, the sooner I could take the pain pill I'd forgotten to take before my outward bound trek.

Once home, I settled onto the couch with a fresh hot cup of coffee and started dissembling the Times, eventually getting to this story about Jon Mendes, a 90-year-old man who was still running the New York Marathon. Well, running isn't quite the right word, more like walking, although he planned to jog the last 100 yards in. “Makes it look like you ran the whole way,” he told the Times.

And he likes to finish the race with a glass of Black Label!

I was inspired by the story of this ex-Marine colonel who flew with John Glenn and Ted Williams so much that I've decided, should I make it to 90, I will celebrate by participating in the New York Marathon. If I can't run it, I will walk it. And I will finish, even if I have to crawl across that line.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Johnny Cash:

Friday, November 5, 2010

Dry the Rain

I've been bicycling as a substitute for running. Pumping my mountain bike over the Melbourne causeway makes me wish I hadn't sold my road bike, but it's good exercise.

I do 12 miles -- over the causeway to Melbourne Beach and back. It's a good workout because it takes about an hour, doesn't pound the hell out of my SI Joint or aggravate all those bone spurs lined up between the sacrum and ilium like so many coral formations. And that incline is a bitch.

But the traffic is hell, especially with all that construction going on. I have to share the path with walkers and joggers, something I'm not fond of doing, especially when I whiz by at 15 mph and make little old ladies jump when I say, "Bike left!" or "Heads up!"

Days I'm not riding my bike, I'm doing piriformis stretches, yoga, physical therapy floor exercises. And I use a styrofoam roller I got from my chiropractor, Dr. John Workman.

I was doing quite a bit of that with the rain we've had these last two days.

One thing I've noticed: as the pain eases in my SI Joint, it seems to be centering on the hip socket. My massage therapist, Tony, has done a lot of work trying to calm down the tendons and fibers that connect my femur to my hip. It hurts like a mother fucker.

And it makes me wonder how that would feel if I were to take to the trails.

And now, here are The Shins doing a song of one of my faves, the Beta Band -- "Dry the Rain."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Roadkill Reboot

OK. It's been two weeks since my major setback, when my neurosurgeon/radiologist told me to stop running while he continued the SI Joint injection steroid treatments. Let the medication do its job. Let those bone spurs dissolve, or whatever it is they're supposed to do.

So I did just that. I waited it out for two weeks, did some yoga, rode my bike, walked, ate painkillers and muscle relaxers, did physical therapy stretches, and somehow managed to lose a few pounds. I even rode about 12 miles on Sunday. It felt good.

Then last night, feeling antsy, I walked. And my hip joint flared right up again. Today my hip and piriformis muscle were in agony. But that didn't stop me from doing yoga this morning and taking a long walk after dinner this evening. I've got to do something to stay in shape.

Anyway, since running is out of the question until the end of this year, I had to rename my blog and shift the focus since I can no longer write about running and recovery. This is strictly about recovery now. Playing the Waiting Game. Hoping the treatment will heal my injuries so that I can truly run again. Without crippling myself.

But who am I kidding. I feel like roadkill, like something that's been trampled on, just like the slogan for the Tupelo Marathon that did me in a year ago Labor Day weekend predicted.

And now, "Dead Skunk In The Middle Of The Road," By Loudon Wainwright III. What did you expect?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bone-spurs on the saddle

This is depressing. I was doing great. Really enjoying building up my running regimen to about 20 miles a week.

But now I have to put a kybosh on the running, for a couple of months, anyway.

When I went in this morning for my second steroid injection for my SI Joint inflammation, my doctor and I discussed my running, how much of it I was doing, whether it was causing pain. He showed me a whole mess of bone spurs along my sacro-ilial joint. Strenuous exercise, pushing too hard, causes those spurs to jangle.

"Your injury is related to high levels of pounding," he said, preaching moderation in all things. "Although I suspect you and I have very different ideas of what moderation means."

Well, yeah. For more than two years I was training for and running in marathons. I was going through a new pair of training shoes every three months. So the idea of running three to five miles a day, with one nice 8-miler thrown in on the weekends didn't seem unreasonable, and it didn't seem to be hurting.

"The medicine I'm giving you lasts 4-6 weeks," he said, during which time I might not feel the pain that would normally register from my injury. Once the medication wore off, I'd be going around saying, "Like, hey, where did that come from?!"

Point taken: I'm still injured. His goal is to correct the injury, get me back to health and keep me from doing anything that would make that injury permanent. Pain has a way of following pathways, he said. If this had gone on for another year, I'd be owning this pain for the rest of my life.

That's why I'm here, I told the doc. Stop running, he said.

Do things that don't pound the joints. Stretch. Bike. Swim. Walk. Do yoga.

But for the next two months, he said, do not run.

That is going to be very tough indeed. Because these boots were not made for walkin'.

Now, here to ease my pain is "Blood on The Saddle," a classic Tex Ritter song done to death by The Dropdead Beats (with a lead singer channeling Tom Waits):

Police On My Back



How many times has someone told me that they wouldn't run unless a cop was chasing them?

Well, here's an interesting little story out of my own newspaper:

A boy, barely a man at 18, was running around nude except for a pair of swimming goggles. Why is not known. A frat stunt, perhaps? A dare? A drug-addled escapade inspired by Pink Floyd songs?

Who knows?

But it seems like an awful way to discourage kids from running, regardless.

And what does it say about the police department that resorts to Tasing a kid rather than taking him down the old-fashioned way?

I'm not judging the cops, but I want to know what the department's policies are about using Tasers. Do they have to try every other means of restraint available? Or is it just easier to get out your Taser out and fire?

And what about that kid, charged with indecent exposure? If convicted, he'll carry that stigma around for the rset of his life. Let's hope he's not counting on a track scholarship to pay for college.

If a police officer can't catch up with a streaking, possibly drug-addled teen without using a stun gun then does that say something about the physical shape of the officers of that department?

And now, what could be more appropriate than The Clash's "Police On My Back" covered by Asian Dub Foundation and Zebda?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Damn The Defyance (3)

This posting will be short and sweet.

I finally bought a new pair of running shoes this week, but not after having a disappointing experience with a pair of Brooks Defyance 3, the neutral version of the Adrenaline GTS, which has been one of my favorite shoes for years (along with the ASICS 2100 series).

Turns out they were not the best shoes for me because I have such a minor, almost undetectable pronation.

So I went to the neutral Defyance. Ran in them one time -- and found the left shoe was pointing my toe inward, causing the left foot to rotate outward.

I was running off the outer edge of my foot, and causing a serious ping in my IT band.

Ouch.

Still hurts, but thank god for ice packs and BioFreeze.

So after my eight-miler in the Defyance, I went back to my favorite store, The Running Zone on Wickham Road in Melbourne, FL.

They have a generous 21-day return policy, that if you don't like your shoes for whatever reason, they will take the shoes back and let you exchange them as long as you have the original box.


I explained my problem and the sales clerk was more than helpful. She understood completely what was happening. Unfortunately, there is no running shoe for my toe-in outward roll problem.

But she said a broader platform might do the trick. She brought out three other pairs of shoes to try on: Brooks Dyad, ASICS Landreth and the Gel Nimbus.

Running in the Dyads felt like wading in a pair of tour buses.

The Landreths had a nice heel insert that I knew would provide stability and support.

But the Nimbus was heavenly (pardon the pun). I felt like I was running on gel clouds as I took a spin around the back parking lot.

Sure, they cost $25 more than the Defyance, but dammit! Your legs are worth protecting.




And now for your listening pleasure,"The Run-Around" by Blues Traveler:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Hard Eight


Gamblers have a term for betting the dice will come up double fours in a craps roll. Hard eight. The odds are so enormous that the payout is huge. There's a great character study of a film by the same name, directed by Paul Michael Thomas. It stars John C. Reilly and Philip Baker Hall and Gwyneth Paltrow as a hooker with a heart of coal.

Hard eight is what I ran Sunday evening. For me, it was the first time in more than a year that I ran eight miles without stopping, and ran it at a sustained pace of about 10 minutes. Not bad considering I laid off running for a year and am being treated for a SI Joint inflammation, which was misdiagnosed alternatively as diskitis, lower disk protrusion and rheumatoid arthritis. It's an inflamed joint, and the anti-inflammatories I'm taking have knocked it down enough that for the last four weeks I've been able to run four times a week, with at least one big run thrown in the mix just to see if I can do it. I can do it.

The first few times were tough. I'd run two miles, rest, maybe walk a bit, jog over the causeway, rest, walk a bit, and do the same on my way back. Last week I managed to run over the causeway without a break, a full 3.7 miles. I stopped for a water break, stretched and ran back over the causeway, took one more water break, and then home.

After two days off, with about 240 miles of driving to West Palm thrown in, a barbecue, some kayaking, much beer drinking and a depressing night watching the Gators get torn to shreds by Bama, I was back home Sunday, doing the laundry and decided to lace up -- still running in my year-old-plus Brooks Adrenalines. I can safely say, without any doubt, after tonight that the spring is shot, and I need new shoes.

For some reason, I felt pretty pumped. Bouncing off the balls of my feet, shoulders back and cruising along pretty nicely, until some kid motored by me like I was standing still. I decided to push up my game. I leaned into the causeway incline and kicked it at the top, then settled into a nice amble on the decline. By the time I got to Douglas Park, I thought, why not go all the way to the four-mile point before turning around. Why not go the whole eight mile?



My second attack of the causeway was better than the first. I drove up that hill as hard as I could, and when I got to the top I pumped it before easing into a nice trot down the hill.

The rest of the run was mostly flat with little ups and downs, and it was getting on twilight. A nice time to be running when the weather turns cool enough here in Florida. So I just kept pushing myself, willing the piriformis to loosen up and quit acting like an old codger. I ran the last half mile or so balls out.

And I finished in under 90 minutes. Maybe even 80. I should get a watch. But that means I was running right around a steady 10 minutes for a whole eight miles without stopping, except for some water at the halfway mark.

For me that is a huge milestone on the road to recovery. I was lucky to plod through four miles in 40 minutes or longer when I started running again two months ago. Running eight miles in a little over 80 minutes is huge for me, and that is saying a lot. I mean, my best running time about three years ago was a 5k where I broke 23 minutes -- my best! I used to run seven miles in 54 minutes during workouts. My time at the half-way mark for the Space Coast Marathon was 1:52, and my pace for the entire run was 9:27, for a 4:07 finish.

 It's possible that three months from now, with a couple more steroid injections, ice packs, massage therapy, yoga  and chiropractics, I could be close to those old times. It's just as possible I may never hit that 9:27 pace again, but I'm not saying I can't do it, either.

Now, for something a little different, a great scene from Hard Eight, where the duelling Philips -- Baker Hall and Seymour Hoffman -- test their wills against each other over a craps table:

Friday, October 1, 2010

Open The Pod Bay Doors, Hal

OK. Right. I've been running on a regular basis for about five, six weeks now, and I think it's time to kick it into high gear. And by that I mean it's time to choose a training program for my next marathon.

It's been a year and several weeks since my last marathon, the grueling Tupelo marathon that blew out my SI Joint and caused piriformis pain so severe I couldn't run for a year. But after the start of my epidural treatments, my condition has improved dramatically. I've actually run one 9.5 mile run and I'm up to about 20 miles a week.

But that puts me in a dilemma when it comes to choosing a workout program. I've used Hal Higdon's Novice II and Intermediate I schedules for my first two marathons, and did pretty well by him (4:36 and 4:09, respectively). But where do I place myself now? Novice? Intermediate? Somewhere in between? Do I start at the beginning, jump in at week four or five, or what?

I ran a 4, and a 7.4, and tomorrow plan to run another 4. That would put me at something like week seven on Novice II, which calls for a 14-mile run Saturday. I don't know if I'm up for that yet. I may be ready for an 11-miler, and I've got the course plotted out already (my house to Melbourne Beach and back). Maybe I should look for the week where the longest run is 9 miles and jump in there.

Or, maybe I should see what other schedules are out there.

Runner's World has several training schedules depending on your level of experience for $29.95. They also have plans to break the 4 and 3 hour marks, as well as a plan for prepping for Boston. I think I'll pass on that until I know I can finish a marathon at all.

Running Times warns you right from the the start that its training schedule is tough, and just looking at it gave me leg cramps. Maybe after full recovery. Maybe after I actually finish a marathon!

State of the Art Marathon Trainng has a 19-week mileage buildup schedule leading right into the week of a marathon, strategies for injury prevention, a reasonable 18-week training schedule and other resources, like speed and strength workouts. And it's free! Sounds good, but I'm not sure.

So, I return to Hal. His programs are simple, easy to follow and don't require a lot of concentration. I figure I may as well start in at the Novice 2 level, starting at week one. It'll give me a chance to dial things back, and slowly work my way up to marathon level in 18 weeks -- just in time for the Disney Marathon!

Or I could just continue to run four, five days a week, increasing my mileage by about 10 percent a week, continue stretching and throw in some bike riding and swimming. I haven't made up my mind yet, but stay tuned. I will let you know.

Meanwhile, as I contemplate the universe of training plans available, let's listen to a real groovy, Grammy-winning version of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" by Latin Jazz artist Eumir Deodata:

Monday, September 27, 2010

Do The Hip Shake, Baby

I started running decades ago, before distance running became anywhere near as popular as it is today.

It was a more primitive time, before the Nike Waffle Trainer, before The Complete Book of Running, and before any of the magazines that line the racks of major book stores, magazines like Runner's World and Running Times.

Only crazy people and Olympic athletes ran marathons.

It was a much different time in 1973, the year I entered high school, the year my stepfather said, "You have to go out for a sport."

I'd been pretty good at baseball as a kid, so-so at basketball and really did not like football.

Plus, by the time I entered high school I had developed a sort of anti-establishment attitude toward team sports. They were uncool. As were marching band, proms, clubs and organizations of any kind.

But my high school guidance counselor, who also happened to be the school's cross country coach, suggested I try out for the sport. Actually, he said, I should just show up at the track infield and be ready to run. Cross country then had no tryouts, and the coach/guidance counselor was grateful for anyone who showed up.

Cross country had kind of an outsider mystique, a lone wolf status -- just you competing against your own best time, crashing through the woods in all kinds of weather and terrain. Rebels without a play book.

Up until then, the fanciest sneakers I'd ever owned were a pair of Converse All-Stars, which served as well for basketball as they did for tennis and gym class and running and bicycling. Think of them as primitive cross-trainers. Oh, well, I did have those baseball cleats from my Little League days but that was about it.

The coach said I had to get myself a pair of running shoes, and I thought and so I went out and bought my first ever pair of specialized shoes that were not traditional cleats or gym shoes.

I'd never heard of running shoes before (track cleats, sure). And there was not a lot on the market back then. The Nike Waffle Trainer hadn't been invented yet, and the Tiger running shoe was too expensive. But I remember the track stars at the 1972 Olympics wearing these crazy, red shoes. And the salesman convinced my step-dad those were the best for the money, so those were the ones we bought.

I'll never forget those Adidas SL 72s. Red suede-and-nylon tops with three-white stripes. A weird grippy white sole unlike any other with a slightly built-up heel, a pinched middle that followed the contours of a person's arch, broadened out at the ball of the foot and tapered at the toe. The shoe was snug, stable and fit like a, um, glove.

I loved them. I wore the hell out of them, slapping their spongy soles along the hilly, paved roads of Northport, NY, during practice and on my own.

There was no widely known manual for distance running, no Jim Fixx book on the shelves (The Complete Book Of Running came out in 1977). Only my guidance counselor coach to guide me.

His instructions abut running have stuck with me to this day:

  •  Head up, shoulders back and hips tilted forward.
  •  Sway those hips from side to side slightly and push off the balls of your feet. 
  • Listen to the sound of your shoes hitting the pavement, like a snap or rim shot. 
  • Don't pump your legs straight up and down like a soldier or marching band member.
  • Don't drive down on your heels, for god's sake. 
  • Let gravity guide you. 

My cross country coach was the closest thing I had to a guru, and I've done OK by him. I've never had a shin splint, IT band injury or seriously whacked out knees, which could be physiology and good genes as much as anything.

But I also never had any serious running injuries until last year. And that more likely was the result of normal wear and tear on a 52-year-old body, stress from a non-running back injury I'd received more than a decade before, and improper training before running a grueling marathon in 95-degree heat.

As I continue my rehabilitation, I tend to focus more on form than anything else. I feel myself sagging, or my shoulders drooping and my feet shuffling, and I remember those words of my coach. I snap my head up, throw my shoulders back,  and tilt those hips forward and suddenly I can hear that crisp staccato of my waffle soles hitting the pavement. And I'm right back where I started.

Now, watch this hip-shaking clip of the Rolling Stones rehearsing for Montreaux in 1972:

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Rehab 101



So, now that I'm running again, and feeling better than I have in a year, I've got to resist the temptation to fall off the wagon so to speak, and go full out on my workout regime.


That's not to say I haven't pushed the envelope with a couple of longer runs, and one really serious workout this morning where I pushed up my pace, chugged up some hills and ran as hard as I could till I felt like hurling.


That being said, I realized that there are several really good rules to follow when recovering from an injury, especially the epic SI joint inflammation that I've been dealing with.


RULE # 1: Listen to your body. Respect its limitations. You can't just go from laying on the couch for a year to putting in eight-mile runs every day. Run your best, but when the piriformis pings or the knees ache, stop and stretch, walk a bit, and ease your way back into a comfortable pace.


RULE # 2: Drink. Lots. Of. Water. The muscles like water. They need to be bathed in fluid, according to an article read in a recent issue of Running Times magazine.For two hours after a run your body is still in recovery, even as the metabolic rate slows down, according to Julia Lucas. So drink up.


RULE # 3: Feed your body. You've just had an intense workout, and you've robbed your body of lots of nutrients as a result. I like taking a multi-vitamin after a tough workout.


RULE # 4: Take it easy. The hard part is over. Relax. Enjoy yourself. Do some gardening. Read a book.


RULE # 5: Treat yourself. After my nine-miler Thursday, I had a 15-minute deep tissue massage and a chiropractic adjustment. I allowed myself a full 48 hours to derive the benefit of that massage. The New York Times just reported on a study that shows one massage session can cause amazingly beneficial biological changes. As someone who had one of the most excruciating but most beneficial massages of my life, let me say, Om.


RULE # 6: Take your meds. I don't care what other doctors may have to say about the subject, but I'm a firm believer in a doctor-supervised medical treatment as part of any recovery program -- in moderation. The meloxicam (anti-inflammatory) I take every day works on the SI inflammation, along with the massage and the regular stretching exercises. If I need to take a tramadol or muscle-relaxer to ease that piriformis ping, so be it.


RULE # 7: Stretch. Always incorporate some kind of stretching as part of your recovery. I do a combination of yoga and physical therapy positions I've learned over the years. The worst thing you can do is sit around and stiffen up.


RULE # 8: Ice it down. If it aches, alternate ice with heat to reduce the inflammation. It works.


And now, "Body Rock," by Moby:




Thursday, September 23, 2010

Turd On The Run

Sorry. But there is no delicate way to broach a subject every distance runner has hurdled at one time or another, and that is the efficient, discreet disposal of certain bodily wastes.

Nature sometimes calls at inconvenient moments, particularly on a nine-mile run to the beach and back before the sun is up, before any stores are open. Your stomach cramps, your intestines writhe, and.... you gotta drop a deuce. So what is a runner to do when that dreaded call comes?

Well, the answer is simple, unfortunately. You must do that doo doo that you do so well, and make due best as you can under the circumstances.

Relief is no simple task. You've got to find a secluded spot where no one is going to find you au naturel, shorts around the ankles, in an undignified squat. Running into the woods with nothing but a Harvest Moon to guide your way is no fun. Brambles, thickets and god knows if you're squatting in Poison Ivy.

If you're lucky, you can find a secluded spot under the beach boardwalk or a dune crossover.



I don't know how else to put this, but you've got to hope that the end result is firm and compact.

Finally, you pray that it is all dealt with quickly so you can pull up your shorts and run away from the evidence as fast as you can.

And now, Phish doing its own version of the Rolling Stones' "Turd on the Run," off of Exile On Main Street.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bowling For Buddha

One of the hardest things about laying off running and pretty much any really strenuous exercise for a year is the weight gain. For me at least, it took forever to adjust my diet to the change in metabolism and the outrageous calorie burn you get running 40-50 miles a week, plus swimming and biking on cross-training days.

Despite the lack of exercise, I kept eating and drinking wine like Bacchus, failing to adjust my caloric intake. And I kept expanding like a balloon.

At the peak of my training two years ago, just before the Space Coast Marathon, I weighed just shy of 195 pounds. After the Tupelo marathon 10 months later, I was hovering around 205. By the time I got my doctor to get me an MRI three months ago, I weighed 229. Fully clothed. Wearing my five-hole Doc Martens.

 I was a happy Buddha, smiling and loving life.

But my doctor said lose the weight.

Running with an extra 34 pounds feels like lugging around two bowling balls strapped to your midsection. It is not fun. Your breathing is heavy. You plod along like Wimpy after indulging in a hamburger orgy. It does not feel good. You can only do about 3-4 miles a day, very slowly (10-12 minute pace in my case).





I've discussed weight loss plans with friends, nutritionists and doctors. The best one: eat less. Seriously. And cut back on the booze, never mind the miraculous restorative powers of Resveratrol contained in every bottle of red wine. As one writer once said, You have to stay hungry and stay sober.

And moderate exercise. Forty minutes a day of walking or biking or swimming, light jogging if your doctor OKs it. Basically, I've gotten back to running several times a week after my SI Joint injection and chiropractic treatment. I do regular physical therapy and yoga exercises to stretch out and strengthen my core and leg muscles. And I'm gradually losing weight. I am down to about 212-215 stark naked following a run or bike ride. I know that's cheating because there's a few pounds of water weight that will come back by day's end.

But I've noticed as I lose weight and recondition my core, I am running faster and stronger now that I'm no longer running around with two bowling balls strapped to my gut (down to one!).

Also, my back doesn't hurt -- hardly at all these days. I've stopped taking the Tramadol and the muscle relaxer, just a daily ant-inflammatory. My recovery rate is quicker, and I'm now running on average five to six miles a day, with an eight or nine mile run planned for this weekend.

And now, for your listening enjoyment, "Take The Skinheads Bowling," by Camper Van Beethoven:

Bowling For Buddha

One of the hardest things about laying off running and pretty much any really strenuous exercise for a year is the weight gain. For me at least, it took forever to adjust my diet to the change in metabolism and the outrageous calorie burn you get running 40-50 miles a week, plus swimming and biking on cross-training days.

Despite the lack of exercise, I kept eating and drinking wine like Bacchus, failing to adjust my caloric intake. And I kept expanding like a balloon.

At the peak of my training two years ago, just before the Space Coast Marathon, I weighed just shy of 195 pounds. After the Tupelo marathon 10 months later, I was hovering around 205. By the time I got my doctor to get me an MRI three months ago, I weighed 229. Fully clothed. Wearing my five-hole Doc Martens.

 I was a happy Buddha, smiling and loving life.

But my doctor said lose the weight.

Running with an extra 34 pounds feels like lugging around two bowling balls strapped to your midsection. It is not fun. Your breathing is heavy. You plod along like Wimpy after indulging in a hamburger orgy. It does not feel good. You can only do about 3-4 miles a day, very slowly (10-12 minute pace in my case).





I've discussed weight loss plans with friends, nutritionists and doctors. The best one: eat less. Seriously. And cut back on the booze, never mind the miraculous restorative powers of Resveratrol contained in every bottle of red wine. As one writer once said, You have to stay hungry and stay sober.

And moderate exercise. Forty minutes a day of walking or biking or swimming, light jogging if your doctor OKs it. Basically, I've gotten back to running several times a week after my SI Joint injection and chiropractic treatment. I do regular physical therapy and yoga exercises to stretch out and strengthen my core and leg muscles. And I'm gradually losing weight. I am down to about 212-215 stark naked following a run or bike ride. I know that's cheating because there's a few pounds of water weight that will come back by day's end.

But I've noticed as I lose weight and recondition my core, I am running faster and stronger now that I'm no longer running around with two bowling balls strapped to my gut (down to one!).

Also, my back doesn't hurt -- hardly at all these days. I've stopped taking the Tramadol and the muscle relaxer, just a daily ant-inflammatory. My recovery rate is quicker, and I'm now running on average five to six miles a day, with an eight or nine mile run planned for this weekend.

And now, for your listening enjoyment, "Take The Skinheads Bowling," by Camper Van Beethoven:

Friday, September 17, 2010

Road Hard

Daddy needs a new pair of shoes!

Or does he?

At what point do you know it's time to hang up your old running shoes and get a new pair? Do you wait until the tread is worn down to nothing? Do you chuck them when the foamy cushion has lost its snap and is squashed to the thinness of an 80-year-old's lumbar disk? Or do you keep running in them until the odor becomes absolutely unbearable, so foul even your dog won't sniff it anymore?

I've had these Brooks Adrenalines for over a year, bought at the Running Zone in Melbourne. Truthfully, ever since I injured myself during the Tupelo Marathon last Labor Day Weekend, they haven't seen a lot of mileage until lately.

But I have noticed the tread wearing down. And the heels are wearing down evenly. That's good. That means this must be the right model for me. Other brands I've worn -- the popular ASICS 2105 and the Mizuno Wave -- tended to wear unevenly, decomposing more quickly on the outer strike zone of the heel.

And they wore out more quickly than the  Brooks. So I guess I'm stuck with the Brooks Adrenaline.

That brings me back to the original question. Is it time to replace them? Or is there still plenty of life in them yet? Can I bear the smell for another week, two weeks or even a month?

While I ponder these questions, I think I'll listen to "Bad Sneakers" by Steely Dan. I never quite figured out what the song means, but I love the line, "I'm going insane, laughing in the pouring rain."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Better Living Through Chemicals

When I got the injection into my SI Joint (left), I thought I would be tossing out my meds, the ones that have been keeping me going the past few months as I dealt with this excruciating lower back/hip/butt pain.

But the post-procedure instructions had a sentence that meant worlds: "Continue your previous medication."

The technician in the doctor's office, whom I shall call X-Ray Annie, said I should keep taking my meds, but only the pain pill and muscle relaxer "as needed."

Sweet.

For the record, here's what I've been taking:

  • Meloxicam, 15 MG
  • Tramadol, 50 MG
  • Metaxalone, 800 MG

Meloxicam and metaxalone sound like two ancient Aztec potions meant to raise the spirit of Quetzacoatl, and should probably chased down with mescal, but the doctor recommends against combining any of these drugs with alcohol.

Meloxicam is a pretty mild, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory which can have some effect on kidney function output if I take it too long. It appears to cause severe kidney damage in cats.

Metaxalone, a muscle relaxer that goes by the trade name Skelaxin (sounds like a Swedish diuretic or weight loss medicine?), is the gold standard. It doesn't make me drowsy, so it's good to take during the day. I can work and function pretty well on this medication, whereas even if I took one Flexoril at night before bed I would be groggy all the next day. Sometimes they make me hyper. Relatively few side effects, and even the people who invented it don't exactly know how it works except that it has some liver interaction.It a

Tramadol is bliss. It's an opiate-based painkiller that does the trick and still leaves me coherent and bright-eyed. Actually, I've noticed my pupils are like pencil points when I've taken one of these. Gotta watch it, could affect the kidneys.

I will keep taking the anti-inflammatory meds, as long as it takes until the inflammation is knocked down. And I promise to take the muscle relaxer and pain meds, only "as needed."

And now for your listening pleasure, "Sex and Drugs and Rock'n'Roll," by Ian Dury and the Blockheads:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Roadkill Report

The SI Joint injection today was a big succes. The doctor gave me two valium to loosen up, and then shoved a needle full of fun into the crown of my sacrum, and another needle into a bone spur sitting on my ilium. Instant relief!

But drowzy! Man, I slept for three hours after I got home. The doctor recommended 24-48 hours of rest before resuming normal activitie

So while I'm shut down in recovery mode I think I'll answer some fan mail.

Dear Jeffro:
"Have you ever stumbled over a gator or slipped on roadkill?"
Frank Garza, Northport High School, Class of '76

Well, Frank, that is a really good question. As you know, both alligators and roadkill are savory delicacies among the true Floridians, the "cracker." Or as they say down here, "Dem's good eatin!"

As a longtime resident of Florida I've lived from Miami to Tallahassee, from Gainesville to Port St. Lucie. I've pulverized slow-moving pidgeons on the morning commute, and have smeared armadillo meat across the tarmac.

As a runner, I've seen a lot of those guts and gizzards up close and personal. Recently, I saw a small corn snake that was barely beaned in the head, but enough to kill it. Remember the difference between the benign corn and the deadly coral snakes: "Red touch yellow, kill a fellow. Red touch black, venom lack."

I also saw a gathering of turkey vultures or buzzards murdering something totally unrecognizable on more than one occasion.

They're fascinating creatures, actually. Nature's death scene cleanup crew. Only without the van, toxic chemicals and snug-fitting coveralls and gloves. I mean, they sit on the road, picking at dead rotting flesh until the only thing left is a grease stain. That is some serious, ruthless efficiency.

And they remind me of the vultures in the Disney movie, Jungle Book. You know the ones, the ones with Liverpudlian accents drawn to look like the Beatles, complete with mop tops!


Anyway, Frank, I came close to stumbling over a gator just the other morning. I was running along this quiet residential street that winds along Crane Creek, when I hear this crash through the rushes. I turned quickly enough to see a four-foot gator splash into the creek. Coolness.
And now, since my birthday is coming up and we been talking about roadkill, here's a video from the Drive-by Truckers (note the 40 Watt Club backdrop):

An SI Joint (Burnin' Down The House)


This is it, the day I go in for my steroid injection into my SI Joint. Ironically, my lower back and right hip feel better than they have in months. I have almost no burning or pain in the hip and butt, but no matter.

I'm doing it.

My neurologist explained that the inflammation is like a room on fire in a house. The injection will put out that fire before it spreads throughout the house and burns it down completely.

The attached video explains it pretty clearly, but you'll have to put up with a commercial from the Mormons first.

I've tried for a year to get this thing right, and my chiropractor and massage therapist have been very helpful pinpointing the pain and easing it through manipulation and massage. My chiropractor called it months ago -- telling me the pain was coming from my SI joint.

But they've taken me as far as they can on this, and now it's time to knock it out thoroughly and decidedly.

The doctor will first inject me with lydocaine to numb out the area, then inject a steroid stew into the crown of my right sacrum. I should feel the effects almost immediately. Here's hoping.

And so, here's a great video by the legendary Talking Heads:

Monday, September 13, 2010

Like A Sauna In Here


Running this morning, started at the crack of dawn to avoid the heat. Still spritzing like crazy.

Feeling well enough to tackle the causeway, and just as I'm heading up the eastern incline, two or three dolphins break the surface of the Indian River Lagoon, their black-purple backsides glistening like eggplants in the orange dawn.

Ancient Greek mariners read it as a sign of good fortune when dolphins followed their triremes out of the harbour. I look on their presence as fortuitous as well. Only one song I know of uses the word triremes, by the way, and that's "Deeper Down," by Wilco.



I logged 7.5 miles this morning, got lapped by the high school cross country team and sweated like a whore in church. I guess it's the humidity after all.

Capped the morning run off by chasing down a meloxicam  (15 MG) with a mango/strawberry smoothie. Yum!

Tomorrow's the day I'm scheduled to get a steroid injection in my SI joint. Can't wait. Hope to give the meloxixam, tramadol, and skalaxin the big kiss-off.

This morning's running song is "It's So Humid,"  by 2 Live Jews. Enjoy. And Mazel Tov!

1

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Blue Light Special

Living on the east coast of Florida poses two serious challenges for long-distances runners: terrain and climate. It's flatter than a surfboard, and the heat index is off the scales.

Training for a marathon in the subtropics is downright crazy.

No escaping the heat. You just have to run before the sun gets up, because as soon as the sun crests the first yardarm, it's already into the high 80s with the humidity ratcheting up the heat index several more degrees. We have two temps: what it says on the bank thermometer, and what it feels like. There ought to be a third category: what it feels like running.

Finding a place to get in some decent hill work isn't easy, but if you live along the Intracoastal Waterway like I do, you go for the next best thing: a causeway.

The one I run is the US 192 Causeway, or the Melbourne Causeway. The official name for the span is the Ernest Kouwen-Hoven Bridge, named after a Dutch man who emigrated to Florida, and liked to build bridges and grow timber. He built the original Melbourne Causeway in 1919, and the Florida Legislature named a subsequent bridge after him in 1977. Nobody locally calls it by its proper name, and very few people who grew up here even heard of Kouwen-Hoven. My friends who grew up here call jokingly call it Mt. Melbourne.

Yesterday I ran to the blue light at the top of old Ernie's bridge, stopped and turned around, making a nice 5.5 mile run on a hot-as-balls Saturday morning. Here's the song, "Blue Light," by the band Bloc Party.

That's a big milestone for me, because it's the first time since injuring myself in the Tupelo Marathon that I was able to exceed 15 miles in one week. Not that I'm setting any land speed records yet.

Also, it marks the second time I tackled the causeway since I began running again three weeks ago, after a year of suffering from a back injury I got running the Tupelo Marathon. I call this route The Blue Light Special because of the blue navigational signal at the crest of the causeway, which I suppose serves a two-fold purpose: it lets boaters know where the channel is at night, and keeps planes from flying into it.

But it doesn't keep people from jumping from the top of the span, 55 feet above the Indian River Lagoon. People have died doing it, and a brass plaque right near the blue light serves as a reminder of what happens to fools who dare to dive off the bridge at their own peril. Don't wind up like "Doug Bob" commemorated here -- born in 1986, died 2002 -- you do the math.

Anyway, I think I hit another milestone that comes with old age -- erm, make that wisdom. When it hurts, stop. Which is why I stopped at the blue light and turned around. I could have kept going across the two-mile causeway, and done an eight-mile run instead of 5.5. But the heat was getting to me, I'd run all out and was pretty spent by the time I hit the top of the causeway.

And my SI joint was pinging something fierce, along with a little pain tickling the piriformis muscle. I knew it was time to quit, that my body had had enough for the week and I should be happy with what I'd accomplished reaching that 17-mile mark in one week, without dying of heat stroke.

Maybe I'll double-down and hit the Blue Light Special twice tomorrow, the day before I go in for my steroid injection.

OK. Now for a cool running song, the one that was pounding in my head while bopping down the causeway: Step On, by Happy Mondays:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Devil's Backbone

"Ouch! I think I done broke my sacro-crackerjack!"

Had my epidural consult with a neurologist/radiologist today. Nice guy. Very informative. Tells me what's going on is I've got a lot of cloudy inflammation obscuring what should be a nicely defined line in the joint between my sacrum and ilium bones on the right side of my hip. Where there's smoke, there's fire!

That's the old Sacro-iliac, see song references to "The Hucklebuck," the "Lewis Boogie," "Rub It In," and "The Message."

By the way, if you're tired of doing the Booga-Loo or if you're scared of The Swim, you might want to do the "The Sacro-Iliac," by 10 cc.

Anyway, he explained as he viewed the MRI taken in July, I've got a lot of wear and tear on the old spine. Some disk compression, some outright disintegration in the case of one disk, and some still healthy disks, notably the ol' L4-L5 that had been operated on 13 years ago after it blew out while lifting a Sunfish sailboat onto its trailer. Sunfish is the most popular single-person sailing boat in the USA. Go to the Wikipedia article here.

He also saw some mild facet arthritis (facets are the little hooks that link together on the spinal column) and some bone wear, but nothing unusual for a guy my age.

"I can tell you've done a lot of living, and never missed out on an opportunity," the good doctor told me with a wink and a grin. Made me feel a bit devilish, as if he could read all my sins like a map etched all over my spine. Ah, well. Yes, I've abused the old body running, mountain-biking, dropping out of airplanes etc.



But he didn't see any real problems with disk protrusions, and recommended an injection right in the upper part of the ilium. It should douse the inflammation and mend the old hip joint.

I return in one week for the first of my injections. And afterwards, I should be up and running again in no time.

Oh, P.S. I ordered a copy of the MRI and will post as soon as it's available.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Back from the dead

It has been a year since I ran the Tupelo Marathon, which has the intimidating motto: "Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead." As the motto implies, Tupelo is a grueling run in searing heat, and can tackle the best trained athletes.

I hadn't run a marathon since the previous November, and had not been training as rigorously as I should have. I also had driven 14 hours from Florida to get to the race, and probably was not in any shape to run a marathon. But I'd driven all that way to make the cut-off, paid my fee and got my shirt. And I was determined to finish this marathon, to get that medallion, if nothing else.

I ran the first half nice and easy, at a slower pace than I've started out in previous marathons. I was heading into the second half at a comfortable pace I hoped to maintain and finish at around the four-hour mark.

Well, right around mile 20 I threw a major brick. I seized up, my right hip socket seemed to go out of place. The pain shot up and down my legs. I couldn't move.

But I finished the race, with a personal worst of 5 hours, 35 minutes or something abysmally close to that. And I got my damned finisher's medallion.

I spent the next day hobbling around Tupelo, checking out where Elvis was born and looking for some good BBQ. Next day, I drove to Memphis, where I found the best BBQ in my life: Interstate BBQ. Even got to meet the BBQ god himself, Jim Neely.
And for a year since I have suffered for my sins, with unimaginable sacro-iliac pain. My inept doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong with me, and I couldn't run. I gained 20 pounds. I felt miserable.

Finally, an MRI revealed I had disk protrusion at L4-L5, where I'd had back surgery 13 years previously. I'm fortunate that I bounced back from the microdiskectomy and was able to run and bike and stay active all these years.

But now I face the specter of never running again. My new doc (a former team doc for a big midwestern college) says no more marathons. Hang those medallions on the wall and take it easy. Sounds reasonable.

But if I give in, won't I become one of the trampled over? I've been on anti-inflammatories for a month, and been stretching and strengthening with ashtanga yoga. Yes, the right leg tingles, and the pain is still there in the lower back, but I've been slowly able to run again little by little. Four miles a day, every other day for the last few weeks, and today I ran my first 7.5, with causeways!

I feel better than ever, and plan to run at least one more marathon before I hang up my shoes for good.

Am I crazy, or is this just the exhilaration one feels bouncing back from the dead?