Sunday, September 7, 2014

Like A Rolling Stone

One a hot Friday afternoon, less than a mile into my run, I finally cracked. My knee was killing me, like being jabbed with a knife each time my foot fell. I stopped under the shade of a pine tree and made the decision to call my surgeon as soon as I could limp back from the miserable run.

I had tried everything to work around the pain. I took 6 weeks off running, TWICE. I reset my mileage to zero and slowly ramped, starting with run-walk workouts of less than a mile. I tried running slower. I tried running faster. I tried running on my forefoot. I tried hopping on one foot. I tried drinking more beer. I thought about trying to drink less beer, but that was just crazy talk.

Cut Me!
Surgery sucks, especially knee surgery. Well, actually the surgery isn't that bad considering the anesthesia, but the recovery definitely sucks. On top of that, I've already had 5 knee surgeries on the left knee, so deciding to go for number 6 on the right knee felt like paying Ferrari money for a clapped out Ford. But for now, running was still worth the price, so I made the appointment.

My ortho doc is damned good. He's a sports specialist and a runner, so he "gets it". He also does about 150 arthroscopic procedures a year, so when I told him I was ready for the knife, he pulled out his phone, checked his schedule and said "I have one slot open this Thursday". I agreed. Better to just get it over with as soon as possible. Besides I didn't want any time to change my mind.

Nothing is ever simple for me with running, and I guess that goes for running related surgery as well. The surgery itself went well ("excellent" was the word used by my doc) and I was off the crutches in less than a day. Yeah, my knee was swollen like a large grapefruit and the surgical tunnels stung like bee stings, but overall the knee felt great. No more stabbing pain in the rear of my knee. I rested over the weekend, gradually regaining my mobility. But then things got complicated.

Side Effects May Vary
I went back to work after surgery on the following Monday, feeling a little tired, but generally able to sit at my desk and be semi-productive. But by lunchtime, I was feeling rotten - tired, lightheaded, and dizzy. I chalked it up to recovery from the surgery and went home early. The next couple of days, I made it about the same amount of time before fatigue and dizziness sent me home. On Thursday, sitting at my desk, the world began moving, which was strange because that totally contradicted what my eyes were seeing. In the space of an hour, I got so dizzy I had trouble walking. Then I lost control of my breathing and my chest felt constricted. I called my regular doctor in a panic and she told me to come over immediately.

An hour later, after an ECG, blood work, and various tests indicated no cardiac issues, my doctor prescribed some medicine to help with the dizziness and scheduled me for an MRI of my head.

Of course I consulted Doctor Google once I regained my sense of balance. But that asshole always tells me that I have cancer. Same thing this time. It HAD to be a brain tumor. Great, just great.

A Tumor
A couple of days later I took a nice nap in a clattering MRI machine. The next morning my doctor called with the results. "Well, the MRI of your head showed nothing" she said. Har dee har har, doc. Very funny. "No brain tumors or other abnormalities" she continued. Well, suck on that Doctor Google! "However, your left carotid artery didn't show up well on the images, so I want to schedule you for another MRI, this time with contrast to see if you have a carotid blockage". Great, just great.

A day later, I lay nervously in the same MRI machine as it clattered away, but the IV in my arm feeding ice cold contrast liquid into my veins, and my own fears rampaging through my brain, meant no napping. I knew that a carotid artery problem would be serious, and potentially very dangerous.

These new images were sent off to a couple of specialists, so I didn't hear anything for a few very stressful days. Finally, my doctor called and gave me the news. I did indeed have lower flow in my left carotid artery, but I am one of the 2% or so of people who have imbalanced carotid arteries. Turns out, my left carotid is congenitally about half the size of my right, and is missing some significant branches. So, if you ever want to kill me, slash my right carotid. Cutting the left one would be like giving me a nick while shaving.

So, two MRIs and I'm still dizzy as hell. It's not a brain tumor. It's not an arterial blockage. Time to see a neurologist. Appointment made, I wait while the world shifts and wobbles around me.

And then my wife reminds me of something significant: ticks. I was in the mountains the week before my surgery and spent a lot of time in deer tick territory. And didn't I see a tick on my leg amongst the trail dirt after hiking through some heavy undergrowth? Oh hell, I think I might have Lyme Disease! I mention this seemingly insignificant fact to my doctor and she immediately puts me on doxycycline and drew a dozen or so vials of blood to send off to culture.

However, before I could even make it to my neurology appointment, and before any of my Lyme cultures come back from the lab, I have a severe "attack". I can barely walk, barely breath, have pain and tightness in my chest, and my hands and feet are going numb. I panic and have my wife drive me to the emergency department at Duke Hospital. My blood pressure is 20 points above normal on both ends and my resting heart rate is around 90, which is crazy since I'm normally in the 50-60 range (running for the win!). To cut a very long ER story short, they tested everything under the sun related to my heart and lungs and came up empty, discharging me after a very long night in the hospital. The ER doc was actually apologetic about not finding anything, but encouraged me to keep my neurology appointment. Great, just great.


Two days later, I see the neurologist. I spend a solid 30 minutes telling him the entire history (he has seen the MRI scans and nods along as I describe the findings). The last thing I say to him is "Apparently, no one can figure out what is wrong with me."

He doesn't say a word, but puts me through a battery of balance and coordination tests, some of which I ace and some of which I flub. Then he asks me a single question. "Did they intubate you during your anesthesia for the knee surgery?"

"Umm, yeah" I reply. "But it was a light anesthesia."

"That doesn't matter," the doc says, "you have rocks loose in your head."

I look at him like he has 3 heads (jokes on him, since I was only seeing double at that moment) and ask "What the hell are you talking about?"

The doc goes on to explain something called Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo. You can follow the link to read all about it, but it really does just boil down to "rocks loose in your head", little calcium crystals called otoconia actually, but "rocks" sounds way cooler. His guess was that during the knee surgery, as either part of intubating me or moving me around to work on my knee while my head was in an extreme decline due to the intubation, some of my "rocks" were knocked loose. "This is fairly common in "older" patients," the doc says "and you are close enough to 'older'". Smart ass doc. I like this guy.

Those rocks were rolling around in other parts of my inner ear sending bogus movement signals into into my brain. My brain being of the logical sort thought the world had gone mad and that I was about to fall off of it, so prepared me for the fall into the inky void by releasing the adrenaline hounds of war. Hence the high blood pressure, and shortened breath, and the tingly appendages, and the fight or flight panic I was feeling when I checked myself into the hospital. The human body is simply an evolutionary mess.

I asked the doc about treatment and he says it is quite simple. He shows me a set of maneuvers to perform twice a day to get the little rocks in my inner ear rolled back into position. Basically these maneuvers involve me falling over in different positions and laying very still. He assured me that I would feel better within a week. I could barely restrain my skepticism.  I had just spent a night in the f'n hospital! I had Lyme Disease! Or an undiagnosed blood clot! Or a hidden brain tumor! Loose rocks and some nutty falling over exercises were NOT the answer.

But damned if they didn't work! Within 4 days, I was feeling totally better. I had been dizzy and miserable for 5 weeks, and suddenly I felt normal again.

What's the point of this long, snarky medical history you ask? Well, it was to get to this point: I ran again this week, and the pain in my knee is gone! The surgery worked. And all the side effect insanity? Well, it takes more than fear for my life to stop this rolling stone. Roll on, runners. Roll on.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Selling Hens from Holes I Dug

This post will only make sense to a handful of people, and that's just fine. I've dug a hole for myself lately. Another knee surgery in the books (the seventh for those of you counting) has meant DNS's for all of my Summer and early Fall races. But I did manage to finish the Rust Hill Micro Run this weekend. I actually placed in the top 10 for my distance. How you might ask? Chickens. That's how. Specifically hens that I excavated while I dug my hole. I had planned to sell these strange hens, but thought, who would buy dirt covered chickens? Turns out, a dug hen sells quite fast.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

How to Run While Injured

I've finally cracked the code. I don't know why I didn't discover this ages ago, but somehow I missed it. I've figured out how to run through severe injury pain, and the solution does not involve drugs or alcohol. Not that I would ever run under the influence anyway, but this new discovery promises to be the breakthrough all of us broken down runners have been seeking.

In an effort to launch Scott 3.0, I've started slowly running again. I'm limping and shuffling around a track for 30 minutes even though all the injuries of the past 8 months are an ever present source of nasty, persistent pain. My knee aches. My hip flexor flexes painfully. My achilles kills me. And my PF is blackmailing me with nasty letters made with clippings from articles in the latest Runner's World magazine. But I think I have beaten them all at their own game.

While running around the track today in the 95F heat, with the symphony of pain from my various ailments blaring their awful muzak in my sizzling brain, I fell down. Yes, I know I'm an idiot. Yes, that's sad that I fell on seemingly flat ground (I swear there was a root!). Yes, now shut up and listen because this is the important part!

I banged my knee pretty hard on the pavement, and it hurt like hell as I started running again. But lo and behold, none of my other ailments could penetrate my brain with their songs of pain. My bruised knee out-sang them all! And I ran semi-normally for the first time in as long as I can remember.

The solution, as you have surmised, is to mask pain with MORE pain. Works like a charm! So, if you see me out on the track in the next few weeks punching myself in the nuts as I run, you'll know why.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Scott 3.0

222 miles. Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? Seems like a lot if you are talking about running. Not so much if you are talking about running mileage over EIGHT MONTHS. Sadly, that's true for me. I've been totally busted or partially busted since last October. I've muddled from plantar fasciitis (finally gone! woo hoo!), to a Baker's Cyst, which I burst on long trail run (hurt!), to a strained hip flexor (no conjugal activies?! ARGH!!!). Of course, you aren't surprised. I'm the king of injuries after all.

What IS surprising is that I'm not as depressed about all of this as I would expect. Not that there isn't some depression, but my life is good, better than the vast majority in the world even, so I try to maintain some perspective. But not running is indeed quite a bummer.

So, I'm initiating Scott 3.0. I'm starting over from scratch. I'm rebuilding from my pathetic base just as soon as my latest hip flexor is flexoring properly again. But before that starts, let me tell you about Scott 1.0 and Scott 2.0.

Scott 1.0
Oh, how I miss Scott 1.0. That was the Scott who joined the cross country team in high school so he could goof off in the woods with his friends. The Scott who could run a sub-20 5K with only minimal puking at the end. The Scott who rarely trained hard, and never raced hard, preferring to run at the back of the pack and talk smack for the entire race. "You so slow, they time your 5K with a calendar!"

Scott 1.0 faded away in college, replaced with marathon sessions of studying and homework, and pizza eating. But he returned after college, again running 5Ks a bit over 20 minutes. But Scott 1.0 had no sense. He had never learned to train. He had never learned to run for fitness. Inevitably, he imploded, along with his knee. So he switched to rock climbing, snowboarding and mountain biking. Much more knee friendly in Scott 1.0's brain.

Scott 2.0
It took Scott 1.0 about a decade to totally destroy his knee, but by god, he managed it. Who knew landing big jumps on a snowboard were bad for an already battered knee? Not Scott 1.0. When the knee had finally had enough, and the work-life balance scale had crumpled under the weight of 70 hour work weeks, Scott 1.0 slid down the slope of obesity and bad health. 25 year old 128 pound Scott 1.0 landed on his 185 pound fat ass at 38. And then promptly fell into a hospital bed with a litany of stress, weight, and lifestyle related auto immune issues. Followed shortly thereafter by 2 more reconstructive knee surgeries (ACL, MCL, meniscus, kitchen sink, etc.)

From that pudgy, sick pile of Scott 1.0 arose Scott 2.0. Determined to turn things around, Scott 2.0 went on a long 3 year journey to reclaim his health. That tale of that journey is for another time, but it involves caffeine cave monsters, sour dough dragons, and the flaming sword of fiber. Truly an epic tale.

Scott 2.0, returning to health and happiness, decided to take up running once again. That tale has been written in the pages of this very blog. Stupidity, forever inscribed into the great halls of the interwebs.

Sadly, Scott 2.0 had little more sense than Scott 1.0 when it came to running. True, Scott 2.0 had a more seasoned and mature perspective on life in general, but running still seemed to involve Scott 1.0's smack talking lizard brain. 222 miles ago, that road ended in pain, and the end of Scott 2.0.

Scott 3.0
With the sad, slow, 222 mile death of Scott 2.0 now truly and utterly complete, I embark on the journey of Scott 3.0 - The Way of the Plan and The Plan of the Way. Stay tuned for the next chapter in the epic Saga of Scott.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Falling Off The Wagon - Running of the Bulls 8K

The first race back after a long injury layoff is a peculiar event. You are filled with fear, excitement, doubt, hope, and more fear. Sometimes I think a physical injury in a runner requires 90% mental recovery and 10% physical recovery.

Standing in the starting corral for the 2014 Running of the Bulls 8K, I felt about 20% recovered mentally, and about 7.5% recovered physically. So, just about normal for me. As the race began and the crowd swelled up the first hill, I temporarily lost my my mind and broke into a strong run. Luckily, my body has a new alarm signal to inform the racing insanity center of my brain. My cranky right knee sent a few level 7 pain signals firing into my adrenaline addled brain, and I settled down to a stately walk. Going up hills is a big problem for my right knee, which I guess is lucky for me, because I hate hills.

Walking along as the crowd surged past me, I settled into the normal mental debate mode that my brain seems to occupy during a race. Debate team A consists of the ever optimistic, bright siders who live near the endorphin production factory in my brain. Debate team Z consists of the cynical, cranky old people who live near the pain receptor facility in my brain. The debate consistently goes like this:

Team A: Woo hoo! Race time! Giddy up mud butt! Let's pass some people and set a PR!

Team Z: Shut. Up. Feel that twinge from your right knee. In a mile or so that will be a tsunami of pain.

Team A: Run while you are feeling good! Maybe you'll make it all the way to the end! Besides we can surf the pain tsunami to a new PR! Wooo!

Team Z: You guys are IDIOTS. You don't surf pain waves. You are swallowed by them. You are pounded into so much hamburger on the reef of reality.  And then you are eaten by the injury shark.

Team A: Hey, that old woman and that 9 year old kid just passed you! You can't let that happen! Crush that old lady! Pummel that kid into the pavement with your awesome speed! Pain is just weakness leaving your body! Yee Hawwwww!!!!!

Team Z: Aww hell, we give up! We'll talk again during your next visit to the physical therapist. Pass that annoying little kid!

One day, I hope Team Z will actually win this debate. One day...

Before I knew it, I had passed about 100 old ladies and a dozen or so annoying kids, and I was closing in on the finish line. Not a PR by any means (well, maybe a pain PR, but I purposely do not track those), but I had run-walked most of the race. Glad to be done and still in relatively one piece, I picked up the pace around the outside of the ball field which served as the finishing chute for the race. I imagined that I was flying. Surfing along on an endorphin wave of victory, I ripped turns on the foamy pain break near the top of the wave.

And then I tripped over the finish line timing mat. I sailed downwards towards the  hard, red, infield dirt. Thumping the ground, I knocked the breath out of my heaving lungs, and dust and dirt filled my watery eyes. For a moment I couldn't see or breath and panic engulfed my brain.

Finally managing to open my eyes, I was confused by a white sky which moments before been clear blue. I shook my head and a ceiling fan came into focus. I had been dreaming. I had fallen out of bed. My knee throbbing, I crawled back into bed to dream about bitter beer and sweet, pain free running. Soon. Hopefully soon.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Being the Best

I've never been the best at anything, even the things I worked hard at. Oh, I'm mediocre in lots of areas, and even above average in a few (for my weight, I'm a decent beer drinker), but nowhere am I brilliant. However, I'm beginning to change that.

Slowly, it has begun to dawn on me that I may have discovered my hidden talent. Since I started my second athletic life several years ago with this whole running thing, I've had grand aspirations to be slightly better than average. To finish in the top half of the field. To perhaps even squeak out an age group award. Alas, lack of talent has prevented my attainment of that lofty goal. Well, lack of talent, lack of training, lack of will power, and lack of restraint in beer drinking have factored in heavily as well.

But now, I think I've found the true measure of my greatness - illness and injury. No one, and I mean NO ONE can injure themselves as easily as me. Over the past few years, I think I have tweaked every single joint, ligament, tendon and bone from the tips of my big toes to the base of my skull, all simply by running. On the illness front, I've spread more contagion in race starting corrals than Typhoid Mary could ever dream of at her pathogenic best. I've been sick before, during or after every single race I've run for the past 3 years. I'm thinking of changing my trail name to Symptomatic Scott.

Think you have the stuff to challenge me? Think you can depose my monarchy of malady? Well, let me leave you with a taste of what you are up against.

If you've been reading this sad blog, you'll know that I gave myself a raging case of plantar fasciitis at the Medoc Trail Marathon way back in October. In and of itself, that's not so grand of an injury. However, since that time I've been struggling to recover. I've been cross training. I've been visiting a very bemused physical therapist. And I've been lamely attempting to run again, on a foot that seems to be permanently busted. Four months after my injury, still struggling to heal, I missed my favorite local trail race this year because of that latest injury. Sitting out the Umstead Marathon was it's own exquisite torture - a masochistic volunteering pleasure.

Oh, I had big plans for even my volunteer activities at Umstead. I couldn't run, so I volunteered for bike duty, and was lucky enough to get one of the lead bike assignments. I would pace the leaders through the race and into the finish. How exciting is that?! So, weeks before the marathon I began biking. I hauled my bike into work, and spent my lunch hours pounding away the miles in Umstead, beating my quads into shape. Of course, I injured myself. I gave myself a wicked case of patellar tendonitis, and had to drop out of the biking volunteer duties.

That's right. I injured myself trying to train for volunteer duties at a race that I was already too injured to run. Think you can top that? I think not. I am the best!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Blood and Whisky - Uwharrie Mountain Run 8 Miler

Whisky is the answer. The questions are many, but pointless, especially after whisky. But here's one to ponder - how do you make Uwharrie Mountain Run your first trail race after a long injury layoff? Whisky. Just trust me on this.

Ok, I don't blame you for not trusting me. Hell, I don't trust me when it comes to running, racing, or training advice. But stick with me here, there's a more important idea behind my madness that I'll get to eventually.

The Long Suck
I've never been a great runner, but I do like to run. Actually, I need to run. It's what keeps me healthy and sane. Having a doctor tell me that I couldn't run for at least 2 months and possibly up to 6 months (or risk permanent disability) was like being smacked in the face with a porcupine. It sucked! Of course, I couldn't complain too much. It was my decision to run my last trail marathon with an injured foot. So don't feel sorry for me, that's my job anyway.

After 2 months of suck, filled with pool running, bosu ball balancing, and innumerable sessions of stretching, I finally ran again. For ONE minute. Starting back slowly was one thing, but this was ridiculous! But I stuck to the plan of my physical therapist (also a runner, who sympathized with my situation) and slowly ramped up over the coming month, making it all the way back up to 4.25 miles. Not that my foot was perfect, it hurt after every run, but I was moving again.

Great Friends And Bad Decisions
I had long ago given up hope of running Uwharrie this year. I just didn't have the training miles or the health. Luckily, I have a co-injured running friend who is even more prone to rash decisions than me. Although it was stupid beyond belief, Ryan and I goaded each other into running the 8 miler at Uwharrie.

As soon as I committed to running the race, I started worrying. Originally I only wanted to drive down and pick up my race shirt, and then hang out at the finish to see friends. Actually running a race again, especially Uwharrie, scared me. Deciding to run the race from the rear of the field and committing to have as much fun as possible, was the smartest decision Ryan and I could have made, although it wasn't even close to leveling the overall stupidity of the situation.

Blood And Whisky
Determined to have fun, even if I self destructed on the hard, rocky trails of Uwharrie, I brought some decent whisky along for the trip. We bought a couple of McDonald's coffees (and an apple pie or two) just before arriving at the check-in. I dumped Maker's Mark into my cheap McDonald's coffee and less than an hour later, poured my decrepit old body onto the trails of Uwharrie.

I don't think I've ever had such a good time during a trail race! The whisky helped, of course, but running with a like minded friend made most of the difference. Not that I could ever strip down to some questionable bikini briefs for most the run, like Ryan, but running with no goals and no worries was pretty damned nice, especially on a gorgeous day in Uwharrie.

Yes, Uwharrie is insane.

And gorgeous!

Not everyone can or should attempt this
sort of douche-baggery. Eventually, afraid of tripping
and smashing my front teeth on a trail rock, I had
to run in front of this distraction.

A beautiful day in Uwharrie.

Good to be back.

Have you ever been scared to do something you love? Scared of failure? Scared of injury? That's what coming back to running after a long recovery from injury was like. Thank goodness for Uwharrie. And great friends. And good whiskey.

Totally worth it.