Monday, August 29, 2011

What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

I kept thinking that the worst thing that could happen with the Komen 3-Day is if my foot wouldn’t heal enough to allow me to complete the walk. But I think that, actually, there is a worse scenario…

I wake with a start, listening to the rain drumming on the roof of the little pink tent like a heavy metal percussionist on amphetamines. What woke me? It is not my tent mate, Kermit “Frog” Greenback, for he has finally stopped talking in his sleep and is breathing heavily. It isn’t the sound of the rain pounding on the tent, louder than 100 drunken Aussies playing didgeridoos at a frat party. No, it’s the 10 gallon aquarium – complete with enraged piranhas – sloshing around in my belly. All that water I drank to stay hydrated on that hot 20 mile day has now been efficiently removed from my blood stream and urgently wishes to return to the world’s hydrologic cycle!

I listen to the rain in dread. One way or another, I am going to get really wet. But there’s no sense getting my sleeping bag and “Frog” wet too, so I hunch over in the confined space of the tent, put on my crocs to keep my walking shoes dry, unzip the tent, and crawl out into the rain. I am soaked within seconds. I look wistfully back at the dry, pink cocoon and continue forward. “Row 17, tent 13. Row 17, tent 13,” I repeat over and over. Suddenly, I trip over a tent stake and land face first in a mud puddle, sliding about 10 feet through the mud. “He’s safe!” a lady heading for the latrine calls out in jest. I stand up and spit about a gallon of water the consistency of pancake batter out of my mouth, and say a word that I am really glad that my granddaughter didn’t hear me say.

I walk on, passing two women waiting for a porta-potty. They stare at me in disgust. “Oh my God, it’s a pig-man!” one of them whispers. Her friend replies “If that guy and a three legged Shih Tzu with bucked teeth and a bad skin disease were the only contestants in a beauty contest, he wouldn’t stand a chance.” I trudge on, mud oozing from every pore and crevice of my body, and enter the porta-potty. I try to be neat and considerate, but when I leave less than a minute later, mud drips from everything. It looks like a disgruntled Keebler elf went berserk with the fudge machine.

As the driving rain washes some of the mud from my glasses, I gaze through the dark at a sea of pink tents the size of Rhode Island. I pick up my mantra as I walk. “Row 13, tent 17. Row 13, tent 17.” They all look the same in the rainy darkness, but I find my tent. I don’t want to get my sleeping bag muddy. So I strip to my skivvies in the rain, wring out tomorrow’s walking clothes the best I can, and crawl into the tent and sleeping bag. Despite being wet, muddy, and nasty, I quickly drift off to sleep.

I wake abruptly when something heavy lands on me, followed by piercing screams in the ink-like night. I quickly realize three things: (1) it is a woman screaming, (2) she is lying on top of me, and (3) she is screaming “There’s a half-naked, muddy man in my sleeping bag!” Just as rapidly, Kermit springs from his sleeping bag and starts screaming his head off. Except (1) it is not Kermit and (2) it is not a he! The two women race around the little pink tent like a couple of deranged kinkajous until it collapses like a herd of water buffalo ran over it. Trampled, muddy, soaked, and horrified, I follow them into the rainy night, and stand shivering in my underwear. “Oh crap, wrong tent!” I think in misery.

Women, and a few men, are streaming from their tents like army ants converging on a cockroach - me! They are not happy. They are not smiling. They are not laughing. In fact, they are seriously angry. Within minutes, the police arrive, and start asking me for my ID, which is back in my actual tent. I spy Kermit in the gathering crowd – at six foot-four and sporting a goat-vomit green Mohawk, he is hard to miss. “Hey, that guy’s my tent mate! Frog, tell them!”

Kermit affirms my plight. “Yeah, it’s true, he’s my tent mate: Art. Our tent is over here, and his ID must be in that.“ Then, he adds, “But Art, sneaking into those women’s tent, that’s just wrong! It’s wrong, man!”

The police warily lead me over to my tent, and I retrieve my ID. I spend an hour or so explaining to the police and race staff why I ended up in the wrong tent, trade sleeping bags with the woman whose bag is now caked with mud, help them erect their tent – it looks like a rhinoceros used it for a mud wallow - and collect my soaked, muddy walking clothes. Around 4AM, everyone settles in to not sleep the remaining hour or so we have left before getting up to walk 20 more miles.

“What a mess!” says Kermit. “Man, it isn’t easy being pink!”

“Sorry about that, Frog,” I say as I dig a clump of mud out of my left ear and toss it outside the tent like it was a dead mouse. “I didn’t mean to cause such a big mess. I just had to go to the bathroom for a second.”

“No problem, man – honest mistake. But you do this walk again, you might just want to stay in a hotel! At least you’ll be able to get to the bathroom and back to bed without starting an international incident.”

....Oh yeah, that would be worse!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Disrupted Training

Hurricane Irene raised havoc with a lot of things the weekend, the least of which was probably my training schedule. She washed out my training yesterday. We lost power last night (now back after 26 hours - really lucky) and that kind of messed things up for this morning. But I decided to go out and walk 9 miles this afternoon. I had planned on 26 miles this weekend, so compared to the 12 I did walk, it was a big adjustment. But at least I got some walking in, and the 9 miles this afternoon with a hot sun beating down for much of it didn't seem hard. So although it is late in the game, training is coming along. I have only one more chance at really long miles - the weekend of 9/10 - and had better take advantage of it. But given that even a few miles two or three months ago was painful, I am happy.

Here are some photos of tropical storm damage during my walk today.
Downed trees block my path.
This good side tree was uprooted and fell across the trail. Sycamore seed pods lying on the trail. The entire trail was covered with leaves, little branches, and seed pods.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Mean Queen Irene

When even the Team in Training folks are not out and about on a Saturday morn, you know the weather must be bad. I'd planned to walk 14-15 miles today. I had one friend joining me for the walk, and a second joining us for the middle 7 miles. When I left my home at 5:55 to meet them, I already had a message, which I listened to as I parked at the meeting point 20 minutes later. It was my friend Debbie, who lives on the southside. Her message was that it was already raining steadily and pretty nasty, and she was not coming. As I listened to her message, the first drops hit my windshield, and within minutes, I was walking in a steady rain. I called Lelia, who was going to meet us at 7:00.

We agreed that it was not a good day for a walk. I decided to keep going until I reached Byrd Park where Team in Training links up every Saturday. In the six seasons I have trained with TNT, I can remember two cancelled trainings - back to back major snowstorms. A few others were shortened when thunderstorms rolled in. But when I got to Byrd Park after a mile or so of walking, it was deserted. I was soaked and had only seen two other runners the whole way. This is a sign to just go home, relax, and walk another day. And that is just what I did.

What a week in Virginia - a big earthquake on Tuesday, and now a hurricane. The earthquake shook my office building like a terrier shaking a rat, with us being the rat. Here in Richmond, we don't expect hurricane force winds, but we should get plenty of rain and some wind. I feel a bit like I wimped out, but I can always mix in some treadmill and eliptical miles later.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Surprise Goosing

Yesterday, I met my friend Lelia for a four miler after work. Lelia and I trained last year with Team in Training as "runalkers." Right now, I am walking only to prepare for the Komen 3-Day in four weeks, and she has walked with me a number of times in support.

So, I was waiting for Lelia at Byrd Park. I walked a lap around the lake to warm up. I did some Achilles stretches as I watched people enjoying the park. Among them were a woman and a couple of little kids feeding the Canadian geese, of which there were several dozen in the lake. The kids were maybe three and five. Now, I don't want to say that the lady was large, but let's just say that her knickers were made out of the mainsail of the USS Constitution!

There was a lip of stone along the lakeshore, and the waterline of the lake itself was maybe 2-3 feet below the stone. Suddenly, a goose exactly in front of the lady and her kids flapped its wings rapidly, making a sound like the Space Shuttle on steroids. And in the same motion, it launched through the air like a heat seeking missile and landed on the lip of stone just a few feet from the people. The lady let out a shriek that would have shattered the glass at the National Aquarium - several car alarms went off. The shrieking had no effect on the errant goose, which stood at the edge of the lake honking in triumph. As the lady was shrieking, she turned and started running away. Well, the act of screaming and running - plus the goose - scared the hell out of the little kids, and they started screaming and crying. There was a little rise to get back to the road, and as she ran, the lady slipped and started to fall. She regained her balance, but not before her pants came partially down, exposing her impressively vast knickers. All the while, the kids were wailing!

It was all pretty hilarious to watch since no one got hurt. But I felt bad for the little kids, who were genuinely scared. Plus they probably have an unnecessary fear of Canada geese now, which is too bad. They took to feeding pigeons, which are a lot smaller than geese, and the kids would still scream when a pigeon got too close. It was a good reminder how children learn both good and bad things by watching adults.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

One Month to Go!

It is hard to believe that in exactly one month, if all continues to work out, I’ll be walking about 20 miles on the first day of the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure in the Washington, DC area. The walk starts very early in the morning at the National’s baseball stadium in the Southeast part of the city.

A month ago, I was walking a few miles at a time. A month before that, I was not walking at all except for what I would call incidental walking. In the past four days, I have walked 27 miles: 12 on Saturday, 10 on Sunday, and five this morning. Yes, my heel hurts at times, but even at its worse, it is not as painful as day to day was earlier this summer and spring.

The plantar fasciitis has been part of my life for four months now, and I’ve been getting active treatment for it for about 2.5 months. This was the ART (Active Release Therapy) that I have mentioned before. I got that today, with the starting point of a sore heel from the five mile walk. The treatment was moderately painful this morning, so there is still inflammation and scar tissue in that left heel.

The plantar fascias in both feet are much more flexible than they were two months ago, when they were like taut steel cables. I continue to work on a bunch of stuff most days to make more progress. In fact, my doctor today stressed how increasingly important that is, since I am only getting the ART once a week now.

One month to go! I feel that I can continue to walk enough to get strong and durable enough to walk for the three days, and I feel blessed about that. It will be a very emotional time, and I will mourn my sister’s death as I walk. But overall, I am so glad to be doing this walk for this cause.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Soothing Massage

Ah, there is nothing like a soothing, deep-tissue massage. The relaxing new age music that makes you want to drift off. The aromatic, warm oil lightly massaged into your sore muscles. The agonizing feeling of having your muscles, tendons, and ligaments slowly ripped from your femur!

Yesterday, I had my active release therapy treatment for my heel. It was barely painful, but all of my walking this past weekend – 18 miles – had given me some soreness in my left hamstring tendon. Every three visits my health insurance allows a 30 minute massage, and the masseuse that they use is really good. Yesterday being my third appointment since a massage, I went in to the little massage room. “I’ll leave, and you can take your trousers off. The doc said I need to work a bit on that hamstring,” she said.

It started off well – the oils, the music, a light probing touch, focusing on my left foot and tight calf. Then she moved up to the hamstring – a little more painful – and started digging in. “If it hurts, take a deep breath and then…” she started to say, before going silent as I breathed in so deeply so as to remove all of the oxygen in that zip code. When I looked back to see her turning blue, I breathed out. “.... breathe out slowly,” she gasped.

Her strong fingers started digging deep into my hamstring, finding a knot of muscle that must have looked like a python that had swallowed a large feral hog, along with its parents and grandparents. Wow, that hurt! “You know, try some visualizations,” she said, somehow picking up on my discomfort. “That might help.”

“Like what?” I stammered through gritted teeth. “Well, like a peaceful field, with flowers,” she suggested.

Yes, a nice field! I can see it now! It is golden in the sun, with beautiful flowers. A gentle breeze is blowing. Birds are singing. I felt myself relaxing. Ahhhh! Oh, look, there’s a zebra in the field. No, it is a herd of zebra – they are so beautiful! Owww! Holy crap, a group of lions just attacked a zebra and are ripping it shreds as it neighs in agony! Wait a second, that is me neighing in agony! “The visualization isn’t working so great,” I wail. “Try a stream,” she says. “I think if I start visualizing a stream, I am going to see a huge crocodile tearing the leg off a wildebeest, or something like that,” I moan.

She starts tearing into the knot of muscle again with fingers of titanium. “How did I get a big knot like that in my hamstring?” I ask. “Probably scar tissue from an old injury,” she explains. “Try to relax, it makes it easier if the muscles are not all tense.”

Easier for what, I wonder? Easier to tear my strong muscles into a quivering, jelly-like mass of glop?

“Well, I think I’m done with this area,” she states. “Thank God, because I don’t think I could take much more of it,” I wanted to say, but I just give some kind of strangled monosyllabic reply. I’d been seconds away from offering her $100 to stop.

“Now, this area is going to be pretty sore tomorrow, so ice it a lot and take some Ibuprophin if you need to. You may have noticed that I dug in pretty deep at times,” she says. “Yes, I did notice. What gave that away? Was it the way I squirmed a bit? Was it the way I had a hard time relaxing? Or was it when I screamed so loudly that all the glass in the building shattered, and I dug my fingernails through the drywall there?” I asked. “The latter,” she said. “Make sure you drink plenty of water.” “What about wine – like a couple of liters of wine?” I asked, receiving no reply.

I got dressed, tipped her, and limped out to the car. And she was right, it was not only sore today, but all of yesterday, although I was able to walk about 3.5 miles last night. And ice has been a frequent companion to my left hamstring last night and today.

I’ve poked a little fun at my treatment (and at myself), but rest assured, she does an excellent job, and I’ll be back. But the next time I go in there with a sore area, I might just keep that knowledge to myself!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

My Physical Therapy Regimen

I've been going to the chiropractor for about two months now for ART (Active Release Therapy), and as reported several times earlier, it is finally working. The heel pain varies, but even on the worst days now, it is a lot better than the best days before, starting about a month ago. Today, I feel almost no pain at all when walking. Last Saturday, walking 10 miles, I had moderate pain at times, and I iced the hell out of my heel that day. The very next day, walking 8 miles, I had very little pain.

It's the same way with the ART - when he digs into that heel, hitting the exact sore spot, it always hurts. But several times lately, it was just normal pain. Other times, it hurts quite a bit. But at no time recently has it hurt the way it did two months ago, when I about shrieked like a little kid who's mom took away his ice cream cone.

Along the way, the doctor has added exercises and stretches, which I try to do most days, even though I usually miss one or two of them. In rough order of assignment, the last couple being assigned last week, these now include:

Foot and Achilles stretch (2 sets 4-5 times a day)

Foot roll (roll sore foot on frozen water bottle or foot log)

Slow heel drop (forefeet on step, drop heels slowly to count of six, bring heels back up to count of three - repeat 10 times)

Towel stretch (sit on floor with legs out, loop a towel over one foot and pull back)

Marble pick up - pick up flower pot glass stones with toes. I'm a pro at this now, and have minimal trouble with either foot. I can pick up 50 stones in about 2.5 minutes with my left foot, and about 3 minutes with my right).

Side planks (Get in side plank position and 15 dips each side, then hold the plank for 30 seconds)

Side leg raises (lie on side, raise leg slowly and lower slower, repeat 15 times - 2 sets each leg)

Front planks (I do these with my forearms down, which I can hold for up to 3 minutes; I also do them hands on floor and lower half way down, like being partway through a push up. I can only hold that about 30-40 seconds)

Runner stretch (for upper calf)

Single leg squats (repeat 5 times each leg, trying to get close to 90 degrees - although it is more like 110 degrees for me most of the time)

Four way elastic band (heavy elastic band anchored under the door, 10 repeats each of four ways each leg: (1) to the left (2) to the right (3) forward (4) backwards

That's quite a list. Many of these are for the hips (abductors and adductors) because these muscles are weak with me and many other runners and walkers. Weak hips can cause many problems, including contributing to plantar fasciitis. Well, time to go do a few of these - later!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Training Milestone, and a Double-Digit Day

For nearly four months now, I should have been walking my butt off. For nearly four months now, I have spent much of the time feeling that someone was hammering a nail into my left heel with every step because of plantar fasciitis. So for nearly four months now, I have not done consistent training for this long walk that is now just 40 days away.

But this past week, I hit a training milestone - for the first time, I managed to walk every single day that I was supposed to, even if the miles were not what they should have been according to the schedule:

Saturday - 8 miles
Sunday - 5 miles
Monday - 1 hour of water aerobics on a rest day
Tuesday - 4.5 miles
Wednesday - 30 minutes of weights on a cross training day
Thursday - 5 miles
Friday - rest day
Today - 10 (ta-da!) miles

That is nearly 33 miles of actual walk training in the last 8 days, and my first double-digit day on my feet in I don't know how long - certainly of 2011 due to the foot surgery and plantar fasciitis. That is the good news. The bad news is that the pain in my heel got a little more severe as each walk was done and the week went by. It is not as bad as it was, but today it hurts the most in a while, despite Ibuprophin and ice. Tomorrow, if I am up to it, I am going to try 8 more miles.

So, mixed results, but all in all, the glass is at least half full.

Today, I walked about 7.5 miles with my friend, Lelia. We improvised a route all around Richmond's near West End. Before Lelia and I linked up, I walked 2.5 miles by myself and ended up visiting with the Fall Team in Training Team at Byrd Park for a couple of seconds. That felt like a little bonus for getting this walk in today. What a great bunch of people!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Joy of a Peach

Did you ever eat a peach that was so sweet, so juicy, so delicious, so pleasurable that you were tempted to smoke a cigarette afterwards (even if you don’t smoke)? I was reminded of such a peach the other week when I bought a peck of peaches from an orchard in scenic Northwestern Virginia. These peaches were really good, and I was sad to see the last one disappear. They were so sweet and so juicy that you almost needed a bath after eating one. And they made me think back nine years….

In the summer of 2002, I was in the early phases of my chemo for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and feeling pretty ill most of the time. I could stomach some meat but mostly starchy foods – cereal, rice, soup, and so forth. I could not eat fruit or vegetables, despite my normal love of them, most of the time without immediately wanting to hurl. After trying a few times, I just realized that fruits and vegetables were not going to be part of my diet. I wondered if they would ever taste good again.

Then one July day, one I remember so clearly, I had been off chemo an extra week because it had made me so sick I got hospitalized. So my oncologist gave me the additional week to try to regain some strength. And this particular day, I was in the kitchen, and I looked at these peaches that had ripened nicely, and I said to myself, “You know, I am feeling pretty good. I wonder how one of these peaches would taste?” So I decided to find out.

I picked one up, sniffed it, and the smell did not seem sickening to me. I hesitated a second, and then bit into it. The juice ran down my chin. The taste, after such a bland diet for over a month, was incredible – like an explosion of deliciousness in my mouth! I almost felt like weeping with joy! I slowly savored every bite, licking the juice from my fingers, and then I ate another one. It was just as delicious. And it suddenly hit me.

It is the little things in life, whether we remember each of them or not, that make life worth living. The smile of a child as she wraps her hand in yours. A stolen kiss. A memorable meal. A family get-together. A wonderful book that you read. A gorgeous butterfly or bird. A walk in the woods. A beautiful piece of music that you heard. A conversation with a friend. A sweet, ripe, juicy peach.

Now, many of these moments are not going to be remembered in every detail the way I remember that peach of nine years ago, a peach that made me feel normal for a few minutes while I forgot how sick I was and how many hard times were yet to come. But trust me – with a few exceptions, these are the moments that have made your life what it is. They are the moments that make you, you. And you wouldn’t trade them for any amount of money.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Finally, Weekend Training!

Finally, just seven weeks before the three day Komen walk, I was able to do some weekend training. Although plantar fasciitis is far from the worst thing in the world - and probably doesn't even make a list of the top 100 bad things - it has been a real pain, literally and figuratively.

I should be walking 14 miles today. Given that my longest distance to date since getting PF is about 5 miles, that would have been beyond stupid. So I walked about eight miles, nearly six of it with my friend Lelia. We walked in the beautiful Windsor Farms neighborhood. Next time, I will bring a camera. The weather was pretty warm but not sweltering.

It feels so good to be walking again with minimal heel pain. My heel definitely feels some discomfort after the walk. I iced my entire left foot for five minutes, and the heel for five minutes more. I took some "vitamin I" (Ibuprophin). I did some massage with my foot log. If all feels pretty good, I will walk five miles tomorrow morning. And each weekend, I will add a mile or two. If in four weeks, it is looking like I am not going to get close to 20 miles by the time of the walk in Washington, I'll consider switching to the Philadelphia walk. That is my home town, and it is three weeks later, and an extra three weeks for rest and training could be crucial.

But for now, four months since I signed up for this walk, three+ months after getting plantar fasciitis, and more than two months since my sister's death, I am feeling happy and positive about getting some real miles in, and hope to cross double digits in the next week or two.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Light at the End of the Tunnel

"You have plantar fasciitis? When I had that, it took me over a year to get over it!" I received many such comments over the past few months, each of them making me increasingly nervous. I didn't have a year. I had a few months at the most, with the 60 mile 3-day walk for a cure coming up on September 23.

In the three months and a week since I discovered that I have PF in my left foot, I've been trying everything I can think of to get over it. Probably the most significant thing was to start with Doctor Green and the active release therapy (ART) two months ago. The progress was slower than he or I wanted, but it finally seems to all be paying off. And progress has suddenly been rapid, after 6 weeks or so where it moved at the pace of a glacier. It was July 16, the day of the TNT Silent Mile that I finally walked more than a couple of miles. In the 2.5 weeks since, I have noticed less and less pain. Yesterday morning, I walked 4 miles, and realized that I didn't get a little shock of pain with each step. It was more a feeling of discomfort than pain, although I had some minor pain at the end.

During my ART session yesterday, it still hurt when Dr. Green dug his fingers into the sore spot on my heel. But it was not the near agonizing "drive a railroad spike into my heel with a sledgehammer" kind of pain that it has been as recently as my last time (July 22). And when I roll my foot on a frozen water bottle or my foot log, it hurts when the sore area of my heel rolls over it - but not as much. I also stopped wearing the uncomfortable night splint the middle of last week. When I roll out of bed to head to the bathroom, I might hobble for a step or two - but don't almost fall over from sharp pain as I previously did.

I am feeling quite encouraged by all of this. After three months of not being able to walk without pain, I finally can! With the 3-Day just 53 days away, there is no time to lose. My training schedule calls for something like 14 miles Saturday and 12 miles Sunday. That would be crazy to attempt, so I am going to try for seven and five. Seven will be the most since my painful 7 mile walk in Washington, DC to pay respects to our former neighbor's son three months ago, and it will be a good test of whether or not I can start adding miles each week to prepare.