Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Why Do You Do It - Around the Bay 2011

Not going to rush this baby, taking it real slow and easy. Standing near the back of the pack, not going to pass or be passed. The sun is bright; the chill in the air is crisp rather than piercing. The pack moves forward glacially; I reached the starting line three minutes faster than this in a 20,000 plus field of runners at the Marine Corps Marathon.

We start running after the shrill scream of the timing mat harmonizes with the cheers of the crowd of runners and spectators. Running is a pretty generous term for what I'm doing; it's kind of a stride that focuses on reducing any bouncing, to avoid friction to my abdominal cavity as much as possible. This ingenious stride of mine will cause my hips and knees to be sore the next day, but that's all part of the madness. It was less than five weeks since I had my appendix removed.
I zealously refuse to weave around people as I'm prone to do near the beginning of a race of this size. I enjoy the scenery: the matchbox houses built long ago, the sense of time warping into the '50's or earlier that hit me last year and is one of my favourite aspects of this race.
The pain in my gut is occasional, ominous, scratching. Might be normal, harmless. Might not. If it were anything else, a shin splint or an Achilles, I could deal with it. I'd still, against all reason and intelligent action, continue, of course, but it wouldn't be as unpredictable somehow.
Chatted with a guy about his running, his son-in-law, and other stuff for a few kilometres. He wanted to go faster so we parted ways. Perfectly reasonable, so why it ripped my heart out to watch someone whose PR is light years slower than mine disappear ahead of me makes no sense.
I walked a lot. I walked much longer past water stations than I ever imagined I could. I drank more than I ever have, even when it was 30 degrees in Ottawa, 1000 percent humidity in South Bend, 28 degrees in an unending mass of bodies in Chicago.
I walked up the final mother of all hills with the rest of the halt and lame in my group. We cursed the uphill runners (both of them), partly in fun and partly because it helped to exorcise our own demons.
There were a lot of demons haunting the rear guard. Demons of past race times gone horribly awry, demons of injuries past and present, demons of weight loss issues in various stages of conquest.

I crossed the finish line running. I flashed peace signs, being absolutely unable to hold my arms up in victory because I was overwhelmed with an unfamiliar feeling of shame and unease. Of course I was relieved to have finished. Of course I felt guilt at the idea that this was disappointing in a sense I couldn't have imagined at the start.

Why guilt? Why not an "aw shucks at least I finished" feeling? Still grappling with that, but I think it's because a race demands the best of what you have to offer at the time. What I had to offer was an absolutely uncertain effort, an effort that couldn't be pinned down to any training issues pro or con, to any talent or fitness issues... I went through the motions with the sole intent of avoiding catastrophic injury, and with an incredibly stupid goal like that you can never achieve anything worthy of acclaim in life. But I had to run the race to discover that for myself.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Throw Caution to the Winds - Carefully

I feel a strange sense of calm and confidence, and I probably shouldn’t. Today marks three weeks since my appendix was ripped out of my belly button, and thirteen days before my scheduled 30 kilometre Around the Bay run in Hamilton. I think I’m ready for the race, but there is an inner voice urging caution.

I ran 10 kilometres three days ago, on Saturday, and did so a second time the next day, Sunday. It didn’t feel right; my insides were unsettled, I had ominous queasy feelings that aren’t part of the deal in my experience. So I didn’t run yesterday or today. Which begs the question: why do I feel calm and confident?

In those two runs I felt that I haven’t lost much conditioning. No problem with breathing, no undue weakness or injuries, and speed was pretty good. That is an immense relief. I was scared that I would be wobbling down the road like a drunk, no pace or muscle memory. I just didn’t know what to expect.

So it’s just the unseen threat of internal injury that holds me back, an invisible danger that can’t be dealt with in any way other than proceeding with caution.

Yes, it’s kind of frustrating, but I’ve taken the perspective that this is a unique training challenge. I won’t ever have this specific challenge again, although I may have similar ones if surgery rears its ugly head for some other reason in the future. So I frame the challenge thus: I have to maintain conditioning to the extent that I don’t cause further injury, push the envelope just as far as it is safe to do so.

No doctor can give precise advice on this. Everyone’s recovery time is different, although I should not run before at least the 3 week mark (so I was a tad early), and in many opinions I’ve received I should not run before at least 6 weeks. So the time frame posed by Around the Bay is a bit rushed, coupled with the possibility of doing enough damage to compromise my ability to complete the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 15th.

I know, it’s a bit of a tight rope to walk. However, a large number of runners go through exactly this sort of unpredictability when it comes to race readiness. That lurking fear of doing damage and resetting the clock is pretty daunting. This is simply my first encounter with this sort of handicap.

I’ll do a mall walk tonight, and hopefully hit the gym in the morning. Then try a run the next day and see how that goes. I think I could safely wait until the 27th and run the Around the Bay with no problem, but I’m afraid that that would be far too long. I would go crazy. What to do. What to do.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Ode to Daily Mile Folks

People are overwhelmingly good. I'm not talking out of some rose tinted perception of reality that is based merely on hope. I have had countless experiences that reinforce that fact throughout my life at various, random times, and it is one of the top reasons that life is so incredibly interesting.

A couple of friends of mine whom I know from social media interaction have given me an incredible gift of motivation, a gift that has almost 150 participants to date. I was throwing around the idea, in jest, that one of these friends should run for me too. We threw the idea around as a joke, but suddenly the other friend had a brainwave and, using his exceptional powers of organization and his clout as a great athlete and eminently respected member of the dailymile community, set up a challenge whereby people run a mile for me. This challenge has been the strongest trending challenge on dailymile.com for over twenty four hours now.

So in this challenge we see the result of dozens of runners who, simply, want to give one of their own a bit of a boost. I will never forget this gesture; everyone who has participated is a hero to me, and I know that their kindness and generosity has had an enormous effect on the world in ways I can only imagine, and will collectively and individually move this world, bodily, in the right direction. Gestures of this sort are evidence of a power to make this world a better place in every way. Of this I have absolutely no doubt.

So I would like to issue another challenge to everyone who reads this post. Do something nice for someone else whenever the opportunity arises. Make it a habit; give directions when people ask. be generous with compliments, give time to people who seem to need it. You'll get back way more than you give, as you probably already know.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Stronger By the Day

Today didn't start out great. My back felt like hell when I woke up, undoubtedly because I haven't had the courage to sleep on my stomach yet post-surgery, and that's my preferred sleeping position. And I was tired.

I dragged myself out of bed, made my outlaw omelette, and went to the mall for my daily walk with my mother. Today's walk was the best yet. I actually felt comfortable, no dizziness or exhaustion whatsoever, and body temperature was higher. I almost started sweating, whereas yesterday I was still quite cold despite coat, toque, scarf, mitts... inside the mall, remember.

The mall walk is quite entertaining. Stores were just beginning to open, so there were a few people around. The crowd around the mall ice rink was pretty big, which makes sense since it is a Saturday. It was also a good opportunity to catch up on mother's gossip.

So now I feel quite good, have been at 100% all morning. I ate a pretty subatantial lunch, caught up with emails, published an article on the work website, caught up on news, and cleaned up around the house a bit.

So my focus is on making the most of these daily walks, being ready for the time that running becomes an option. I know, must take it easy, but I'm feeling much more comfortable with the idea of running Around the Bay. Completion of that race would be the sole goal; time won't matter in the slightest. I want that medal.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Going Bananas: Half Baked and Slow to Rise

I'm learning patience. Waiting for sufficient healing to take place since this appendectomy is slow sweet torture, like waiting for banana bread to be done. I think about banana bread all the time now, constantly reminding myself that if I try lifting things or running before it's time to do so I risk having a gooey mess that doesn't taste good. Mixed metaphors make this recovery thing even more repulsive.

So I go for walks once a day. Sure, these walks are slow and short, but they're getting better every day. No planks yet, although my stiffening back sorely tries my patience in resisting that activity.

I read a lot. I'm reading a novel called Doghead by Merton Ramsland right now, which I recommend highly. I've watched untold numbers of movies as well. Think I'll watch Spirit of the Marathon today; watched it when it first came out, really enjoyed it.

I'm getting a lot of busy work done as well, things like refining my cell phone plan, reviewing other bills for trimming and accuracy, organizing files...

It's not like a vacation. I can't run, can't move things around that weigh more than a pile of paper, can't travel around... and it's cold outside, so if this had happened in the summer I could at least lounge in the sun and burn that damned incision shut.

Oh well, got a whole weekend ahead of me so might as well line up my tax forms and get that done. Fun.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I Actually Don't Mind an Appendix if it's in a Book

It's been a very satisfying road to recovery thus far. I've seen exponential progress every day since my appendix was removed a week ago. This morning I went for a fairly long, brisk walk at the mall and felt no dizziness and far less tiredness and weakness than on previous days. I'm going to try going back to work tomorrow, which shouldn't be terribly arduous. After all, I just sit in front of a computer all day. The hour-plus commute will likely be the most difficult part of the workday initially.

So when to start back at running? I'm sorely tempted to set Saturday or Sunday, three or four days from now, as a target for a slow easy short run. We'll see; while I don't want to rush things and cause problems, I'm convinced that there is no forward movement without forward movement.

I've lost 5 pounds this week, but that's nothing I couldn't handle. Even my abdominal area feels quite strong, thanks in great part to the virtual lack of incisions in the procedure. I have two tiny cuts in the lower abdominal area that didn't even merit stitches, and a smiley face on my belly button which also didn't have stitches. While I've been lazing about I've also been working my arms with a dumbbell that's always at the side of the couch.

This experience has proven to me that staying in shape is an immense contributor to faster, more complete recovery when these little setbacks inevitably occur. Let that be a lesson!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Don't Think Twice, It's Alright

I think I could sit and listen to Bob Dylan all day. Hell, I might in fact do just that. The dog looks content. He's licking his paws, settling down for a nap, eyes getting heavy. Sun is shining. Looks cold but less than hostile outside. This is indeed the life.

I haven't really kicked back like this on a weekday in a very long time. Usually we're travelling on vacation, so the days are full of things to do and see. Days of doing nothing are necessary. There is, after all, no way to fully appreciate Bob when you are preoccupied with other tasks or thoughts.

This neighbourhood is pretty quiet on a weekday. Almost no traffic in or out of the circle. I don' think I would like to have a living room that faces the back yard; it's better to be looking out at the street, even if nothing seems to be happening.

Restless again. Gonna watch a movie. One that I've seen before. Kid has my library card and won't be home until 10:30 tonight.