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First, I’m not doing P2P next year. I’m too old and it’s too technical.
What brought out this revelation you say? I’ve been running on Saturday mornings with the Van Cortlandt Track Club and the route has been up the Putnam Trail. In the Bronx it’s narrow and there are numerous railroad ties as well as tree roots. When it hits Westchester it becomes paved and heads all the way through the County.
It was the Bronx part that was the issue and about 2 miles into the run with a nice group of folks I hit one of those ties or roots and found myself aloft. As the saying goes, it’s not the fall that’s the problem it’s when the fall ends. And end it did. Based on my post-action incident report — a survey of the damage — I landed on my right hand and rolled on my left side, with lots of cinder residue on my lower and upper left leg as well as a nasty scraping on my left elbow and plenty of cinder covering the left back of my (ironically-worn) Paine-to-Pain shirt.
That left elbow itself contains a few plates and screws from the 2008 Incident and I landed right on them. Fortunately, it looks much worse than it is. But it could have been very, very bad.
I completed the run, getting just to the 10-mile mark. But a reassessment is in order. I’m old and not only does it take longer to heal — other than skin damage I have a strained muscle in my back which makes up-and-down movement painful — and the frailty of age makes things that could have been laughed-off in the past are not so easily dismissed now. So I’ve considered where I run in that light. Certain trails I’ll be skipping going forward, including the one on which I ran with Bobby and Ian last week and about which I was so enthusiastic afterward.
This running thing, as is true of life, is not risk-free. And perhaps it’s more dangerous to “run” on trails than carefully navigating a technical trail, where you are careful about each foot-plant. That’s kind of different though from what I enjoy doing. So Rockies: Yes, Putnam: No.
One year ago I was desperately clutching to the dream of racing NY. After 23 years of not doing a marathon, I rediscovered the event in 2006, shortly after I turned 50. In 2007, I did Reach-the-Beach and did not feel up to two major efforts for the year, so my plans to really race a good marathon, to adjust my training from the lessons learned in 2006, were deferred to November 2, 2008.
Training went well early in the year. I got in a number of 2 hour runs of 16 or 17 miles in the late winter and early spring. A solid road 15K followed by a 35:35 10K at Healthy Kidney. A barely sub-5 mile on the track. All this before formal marathon training had begun.
Then I started having slight issues. Nothing major, but enough to force me to miss a few days here and a few more there and to drop out of a Club 5-miler. Come summer a series of bad races, culminating in a wretched Club Champs.
I knew it was not too late. Not plenty-of but enough time to get in the requisite long runs and the marathon pace runs. Plus I wanted to get some purer speedwork in for the Club 4-miler in September.
It can be tricky to find a track around here on which you don’t get hassled by walkers. I had done some work up at White Plains HS, but then thought of the Pelham track, a couple of miles from home. On Monday the 17th I included it on my run to see how easy it would be to run home. It was only a couple of miles, perfect for a cooldown, so on Tuesday, August 19 I took the train to Pelham in my running gear and jogged to the track.
After a series of 1000 intervals, I headed home, up Route 22. Knapsack on, nice and easy. Half-way home, I tripped on a beaten-up bit of sidewalk. Next thing I knew I was on the ground, my watch ripped off at the band. I hurt, my upper left arm periodically throbbing like a blood-pressure device squeezed far too tight. I couldn’t find my phone, but someone lent me his and I called home. My wife was just about to go out for a walk. I told her I had tripped and fallen and needed to get to the hospital. I was lying on the grass off Route 22 a mile south.
This was not the first such call I’d made. I broke my wrist in an accident involving my bike and some sand upstate years ago. I broke my collarbone close to home some years ago while I was cutting from the sidewalk to the street. Always the left-side; I’m right-handed.
People asked if I was OK, and I said help was on the way. My wife soon arrived, and the guy with the phone helped me into the back of the car. We drove to Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville with every bump sending pain shooting through my arm. Then I couldn’t get out of the car. I don’t remember exactly why, but I couldn’t get up for a while. Eventually I got into a wheelchair, in my shorts and t-shirt. X-rays, and I almost pass out as they maneuver the arm. Soft cast, some painkillers, call your orthopedist, it should be OK.
I try to walk to the car with my wife, but I almost collapse in the ER driveway, and my wife makes me go back inside with her, instructs someone on staff to keep an eye on me, and gets the car. I get in upon her return.
Thankfully our house has a screened-in porch and a wicker sofa. This sofa would be my home during the day for a while, but at this point I’m expecting to be back at work on Monday. I didn’t lose time with the broken wrist or the broken collarbone, so how bad could it be?
My orthopedist was away, so I make an appointment with another one in Bronxville for Thursday. Get a call Wednesday afternoon from the ER. My wife is told that it might be a tad more complicated than they originally thought. Just a head’s up.
“Oh my God.” This is not the first thing you want your doctor to say when she looks at your x-ray. This is what my ortho said. Turns out that I landed on my wrist (hence the broken watchband) and the force shoved the bone in my lower arm into a bone in my upper arm, pulverizing the top of the former and splitting the latter. Surgery. Things were stabilized so it could wait a few days. Saturday it would be.
But not before a CAT-scan. This may have been the nadir of the experience as I was forced to lie on my stomach with my arm over my head. And hold it. It hurt, but nothing like it hurt when they tried to get me up. Somehow two people got me on my feet. Blood work. See you tomorrow.
Saturday. Wait in ER and then taken up to the OR. Now I am nearly blind without my contacts or glasses. I cannot even see a blur where an eye chart is. Been wearing glasses since I was one. So off go the glasses and I am a blurry alter-universe as I wheeled up. When they did my shoulder, I was knocked out before going into the ER. This time they took me in. First problem: Getting the wedding band off. It had only been off twice before, once on the honeymoon, once when I broke the wrist. Now they couldn’t get it over the wrist. They knock me out, and apparently using sutures they pull it off and give it to my wife.
The next thing I remember is waking up in my room. The operation took a couple of hours and it seems that when I woke up in recovery — I recall none of this — I said “shoot me.” Twice. The doc put a pair of plates on either side of my upper arm and then a series of pins to connect them. The idea is to hold the bone together until it heals and to allow the pulverized part of the lower-arm bone to regrow.
So it’s Saturday, August 23. Not only is this my brother’s birthday, but it is also Sunday in Beijing. The final day of the Games, and the marathon is on. So I watch that race on this tiny screen. And then I watch the final track events.
Anyway, no boring details about the hospital stay, which lasted two days. Home on the couch on the porch listening to WFAN most of the time during the day and dozing off. I had been told not worry about the painkillers, and I didn’t, at first taking one every four hours and an Ambien before bed. I lessened the dossage graudally.
Of course my 25th anniversay was August 27, so there was no celebration for that and the September trip to Paris would have to be moved to May of this year. The NY Marathon was gone.
Back to work, but some bad days when I just couldn’t go in. At first typing with just my right hand, and eventually if clumsily using my left again. At times I felt good enough to start walking and would do that for half-hour and then a full-hour. Showers with plastic covering my arm. I was longing for the day when I could take a shower again.
Eventually I was able to take the cast off (it did not completely encircle the arm) and take a shower and then the doc told me I could run again. He was quite sympathetic. The first run was short, but it almost killed me. But they got longer and longer.
As winter approached, the issue of running at night arose, and I agreed with my wife not to chance it. So we bought a treadmill. It was tough and I still don’t like it and a 7 minute pace on it feels infinitely faster than a 7 pace outside but I got used to it.
Physical therapy started, thrice and then twice a week. There was a limit to how much range of motion my arm had. And my hand had swollen dramatically and barely worked.
After a while it was clear that some cleaning up had to be done on the elbow. So back into surgery I went in January. The decision was made to leave the plates and pins in. They did a bunch of things I won’t get into, but in essence they cleaned out a lot of scar tissue and stuff and were able to move the arm straight out. After an infection scare, I left the hospital after 4 days.
Back to PT, and back to running. As I’ve posted, I have had somewhat of a hard time getting back, culminating in my recent decision not to race NY this year. The arm still won’t straighten out although I’m done with PT. My doctor is very very pleased about how it has done, telling me how lucky I am. It seemed simple, but turned out to be anything but. I scoffed when I was told it would take at least a year to get better, and here we are a year later and it’s getting there, but it hasn’t arrived.
A final note. I could not have made it this far without the support of my wife.
I had a good run today. I had a 9:30 appointment with my orthopedist — who says things are going well with the bones well-healed and the sole issue being range-of-motion — so I had time to head down to the B’ville Track for a tempo run.
Last Tuesday’s tempo run did not go well. It was my first bit of speedwork on the treadmill. I set it for 6 min. pace. The first minute was disconcerting, but even after I became accustomed to that type of run on the treadmill, it was a strain. So it ended at 10 minutes.
Today was difficult for the first few laps. How many of these can I do? The plan was 20 minutes. But after a too-fast 1st 402 (it’s a weird track) at 83 I settled in. From there, it was a strain, yes, but I was able to get relaxed and run consistent 89-92 laps. So my 20 minutes for 13.25 laps or so.
When I’m in better speed-shape, I can do them a little quicker and do 2 sets of 20 mins., with a 4 minute rest between, in flats (today’s were trainers). So I have a way to go. But this was: Result: happiness.
I see that Julie has encountered one of those aches that seem inevitable (although I don’t know if they are), and sees running through it. On Tuesday, out of the blue, I suddenly had a pain in my hamstring tendon so I’ve been sidelined. I hobbled through Grand Central on my way home and am icing it. Fortunately, in a sense, I’ve not really started training so I don’t feel completely thrown for a loop (as Julie likely is since she is in the middle of training).
I should note that there was no “event” associated with this. It simply started to bother me on Tuesday afternoon; my prior run was Sunday morning.
In recent years, I find that rest generally heals things like this, so I’m not doing any running. Maybe by the weekend. I hope.
On a separate front, my orthopedist gave me a thumbs up today. He said I was lucky. Were I not improving, he was going to numb my arm and straighten it out that way. In part, my PT Tin Tin tells me, there’s a mental aspect of this; my bicep, which should be passive when I extend my arm, is resisting and holding it back. But I’m close to the point at which the bicep is letting it go and not creating an impediment. Each day is giving me more extension — straightening — and flex and I can now use both hands to button the next-to-top button on a shirt and to put in my contact lens (did that for the first time today). So things are looking good on that score.
Her mental observation is interesting. There has been more and more written on that as a “limiter” of running performance, by Brad Hudson, Allan Besselink, and Matt Fitzgerald, all of whom speak of paying attention to neuro-muscular development as part of overall training. Once I get a few weeks of training in, I’m going to have to integrate some of that into my training program.
Actually, so far it’s just the treadmill. Went to see the Doc yesterday, and he gave me the all clear on running. I’m a project; he wants me to be “competitive” by the Spring. (His wife is a top local Masters runner.) Staples out of my arm. The blistering and bruising almost gone. Range of motion greatly enhanced. And I can almost make a fist.
So yesterday got in 2.5 miles on the treadmill, after 11 days off. Now I have to think of training for the Spring. I’m thinking of the May 16 Healthy Kidney 10K as a target race. One + lap of Central Park, finishing at Tavern on the Green. I managed a 35:35 last year, and it was my best race of the year. Plus it’s a team race (although I doubt I’ll be one of our three scorers). Greg Diamond beat me (he beat me numerous times last year), so I got second in 50-54, although I was still only 94th overall.
More immediately, I’ll see how I feel after a week and then start thinking about a specific training plan. I’m planning on integrating some of the concepts in Brad Hudson’s “Run Faster,” particularly related to including hills and speedwork early in the process. (Here’s a Running Times audio interview with Hudson.) As a rule I have no problem with the concept, since I love doing speedwork and hillwork, which help break up the monotony of straight runs. Plus if the track’s clear, I can go there, even at night. (As an aside, Kevin Beck speaks of an article he wrote in Running Times about John Cook and makes reference to Cook stalking Shannon Rowbury (I believe) in Oregon while she was wearing a headlamp to run on the dark track. I have been known to run on tracks with my headlamp.)
The surgical experience was a bit more than i anticipated. I checked into the hospital at about 1:40 on Friday. They rolled me towards the OR at about 3, but first i stopped in recovery. There I met with an anesthesiologist who inserted a catheter into my arm to block the nerves into the arm. This was to numb the arm and allow for elbow manipulation.
I should note that I’m very, very nearsighted and so I can’t really see much of anything. So they then roll me into the OR. This is where it got surreal. My arm was draped over my stomach. Or so I thought, and so my brain told me. But I looked to my left and could see my arm at shoulder height. Yet my brain insisted it wasn’t there.
In any case, they soon gave me gas and I was gone. I woke up about 3 hours later in the Recovery Room. From there to my room, in which I got the window seat. My wife told me that the docs were very happy about things, and that one had shown her he could bend my arm straight out. I haven’t been anywhere near that.
They cleaned out debris and new bone growth that had been impinging on my elbow. They stretched the arm to have the muscles get used to the movement. But the big concern became the prospect for infection. I still had the catheter in me, blocking a significant amount of feeling in the arm. This concerned me. What would happen when they took it out? In fact, I haven’t particularly felt any pain there.
So they kept me for several days with an antibiotic drip. Things got a bit dicey on Sunday when the arm got very red. But that cleared by Monday morning. After one more day, and a couple of PT sessions in the hospital, they let me go.
Right now I have good stretches and bad stretches, as happened after my first surgery. I’m trying to keep an even keel. The prognosis for recovery looks good.
i’m home after 4 days in hospital. operation went well, but there was concern about infection. everything’s good now. right now i feel like i was hit by a train. not the arm, but overall.
The original plan was to take out the plates and pins in my upper arm and try to manipulate the elbow to make it work. Right now there’s little range of motion, up or down. But my doc decided to get a second opinion and that is that we should leave the hardware in but clean up some of the debris in the elbow and numb the arm for a couple of days to manipulate it and then get into some heavy-duty PT. Chances are that I won’t get full mobility, but I should get enough.
So surgery’s on hold for a bit. Good news, I can continue to run because there’s not a lot of damage that can be done. Of course the fact surgery is out there puts a damper on long-tern training plans. C’est la vie.
In other news, someone down the block — she’s in college now — knocked at our door yesterday with a bunch of friends and they proceeded to sing a Christmas Carol, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” This immediately put me in mind of the end of “A Charlie Brown Christmas”: