Week 7 of Recovery

It has been over 7 weeks since I broke my arm on a training run.  While I know that my arm is healing, it still seems like it is taking a long time.   In addition to the physical discomfort from my broken arm, I had the disappointment of missing races for which I had been preparing for months.  I derive joy not only from running a race but from the preparation for a race too.  Instead of being a participant, I ended up being a spectator.  That was really difficult.

I feel for Julius Randle, a rookie player on the LA Lakers basketball team, who fell and broke his leg during his NBA debut and the season opener.  There had been high hopes for Julius to become a star player on the team.  Now he will be out for the season.  Teammate Kobe Bryant said that they will “find a silver lining” to Julius’s injury.  Someone made the same comment to me about the silver lining of my broken arm.  I am still trying to find it.

I am slowly making progress.   With the help of massages, I am getting the locked-up muscles in my shoulder area loosened up.  Massages have increased my mobility in my arm/shoulder and reduced my pain.  Less pain means that I sleep better and sleep is extremely important for healing.

Keeping active was impossible for the first 3 weeks.  I tried walking in my neighborhood but my arm bounced when I walked and irritated my shoulder.  I resorted to riding a recumbent exercise bike, which is much less enjoyable for me.  I wanted to find a way to run again.

In order to run, I needed to get a running bra that I didn’t need to pull over my head – something that I can’t do one handed.  A friend who works in a running store helped me find one that I can easily put on.  Last week I was able to put on my running shoes and run 3 miles.  My husband said he hadn’t seen me smile that much in a long time.  I was finally on the road back.

In the last 7+ weeks I have watched a lot of documentaries and read a lot of books. Most recently I watched “Breathe” about William Trubridge, a Kiwi who attempts to break his own world record free diving, diving unaided, to a depth of 300 ft.  For his dive, William went to Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas, the deepest blue hole in the world.  I didn’t enjoy this film that much but I am not sure why.  It seems insane to dive to those depths with the distinct possibility of passing out and drowning.  William who can hold his breath from 7 1/2 minutes also does some crazy contortions to get as much air in his lungs as possible before he dives.  I found it disturbing to watch William prepare to dive.  In the trailer, you can see William’s contorted body.  Here is a link to his web site in case you want to check him out.

I also watched “There is No Finish Line: The Joan Benoit-Samuleson Story” (which helped get those disturbing images from “Breathe” out of my mind).  I have been a fan of Joanie’s since the 1984 Summer Olympics and this film made me an even bigger fan.  It was interesting to learn how Joanie came to become a runner and what drives her, not only on the race course but in her non-running life as well.  I had to laugh when Joanie recollected what her mother said to her when she won the Women’s Marathon in the 1984 Olympics: “will you stop running now?” I don’t think any of us can imagine Joanie not running.

One thing I tried to avoid during my recovery was couch surfing.  Every day was focused on getting moving again.  I recently read about three college friends who took the couch surfing concept to a whole new level.  They bought a 1996 Dodge van off of Craigslist, loaded a futon into the back with their 2 dogs, and headed off from Burlington, Vermont on a four month, 18,000 mile journey around the United States.  Apparently the trio had planned to take this trip last year but had to postpone the trip when one of them suffered a spinal injury.  When he recuperated, they agreed that this trip would be a celebration for all of them, but especially of his recovery.

The group also wanted to show how varied the American landscape is.  So when they hit a scenic spot, they would haul out the futon and take a selfie of the whole crew – dogs included – sitting on the futon.  There are pictures of them next to pristine lakes, straddling railroad tracks, in flower filled meadows with mountains in the background, in deserts, and even on the beach in Southern California.  Sometimes they hauled the futon over rocks, and an occasional river to get the right photo.  You can see their photos here.

So no couch surfing for me.  I will be slowly putting one foot in front of the other, trying to remain upright, focused on my next race.

Healing Through Exercise

I see articles all the time about how we should be exercising to stay healthy. But what is even more important is how we can use exercise for healing. Exercise is incredibly therapeutic.

The first person to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail (AT) was Earl Shaffer, a World War Two veteran who did it “to walk off the war.” Now Warrior Hike is helping veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to realize the same therapeutic benefits of long distance hiking. They support groups of veterans that hike the AT, the Continental Divide, the Pacific Crest Trail, and Florida Trail. It is such a positive way to help veterans transition back into civilian life.

Exercise helped my friend, Buzz, recover from a double mastectomy after her third bout of breast cancer. During her radiation treatments, she was getting exhausted. But Buzz realized that to get energy, she was going to have to expend energy. So she started walking. She couldn’t go far but she felt better when she walked. It was difficult to exercise during her chemo.  When she finished chemo, she started walking again to rebuild her body and get over the toxic effects of the chemo drugs.

Buzz would send me texts reporting her progress. I encouraged her to keep at it. Every day she wanted to do better and positive feedback from me helped increase her confidence. She kept pushing further on each walk and over time her speed increased. When she hit 16 minutes per mile, she decided to enter the Princess Half Marathon at Disney World with me. The race would be one year from her double mastectomy and finishing that race would be a great way to kick cancer’s butt once and for all.

She started training in earnest and as expected had self-doubts. Heck, the most she had ever walked before was 4 miles. But she kept at it. There were days that she wanted to quit.  Buzz kept this mantra in her mind “Quitters never make it to the finish line.” As she got stronger, she looked forward to getting up to go out walking.

Race weekend was exciting for Buzz. She had never been in a race before. She was in awe of the whole race experience from the Expo to the organization of the bag check and corrals, and the shear number of port-a-potties.

When the race started, she was nervous because so many other runners were zipping by her. But she remembered what I had told her – start slow for the first third of the race then speed up for the next third, saving as much energy to kick it in for the final third. Buzz stayed focused on that race strategy.

When she hit the half way mark of the race, she heard Alicia Keys “Girl on Fire” being played. Buzz felt empowered. “Yes, this is me. I have gone from chemo and not being able to walk to feeling strong.” She didn’t feel tired; she felt energized.  She started passing some of those runners who had zipped by her at the start. When the finish line appeared, she took a moment to soak in the experience and even stopped for a picture with Mickey Mouse. As she crossed the finish line, she knew she had kicked the door closed on all the bad stuff that cancer had thrown at her. She had gotten her body back.

Buzz’s oncologist was extremely impressed that a year after her surgery she walked a half marathon. Her doctor even uses Buzz as the poster child for her other cancer patients. She demonstrates how to be a survivor. She was living life; she was not a victim.  Exercise had helped her heal.

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Trains and Volcanoes

I know a lot of people who have done a Tough Mudder race and rave about how much fun they are.  An obstacle race that involves water, mud, and live electrical wires is not high on my to-do list.  In fact, I don’t think it even makes my list.  I am happy running in marathon races that are more like taking a sightseeing run through a city.  I have visited some very interesting places and running through them gives me a sense for what they are really like.  I don’t need to crawl on my stomach through muddy water, dodging barbed wire or climb over walls as part of a race (though I have climbed over snow fencing to get to the port-a-potties one last time before a race start but I don’t think that counts).

I can’t imagine the reaction of the runners in September’s Mill Race Marathon in Columbus, Indiana when a train approached a railroad crossing about a mile into the marathon course.  No kidding; this really happened.  Speedier runners heard the train whistle, picked up their pace, and bolted across the tracks, narrowly being missed by the train.  The train stopped, blocking the crossing for the majority of the runners.

Runners are pretty determined people, especially those that are going for Boston Marathon qualifying times.  The police and railroad personnel tried to keep the runners away from the train but to no avail.  Some runners ran across a field and cut through woods to cross the tracks ahead of where the train stopped.  Others climbed between the railroad cars.  Some very brave souls crawled underneath some of the cars.  Finally, the train’s engineer blew the whistle and started moving again.  The police were fortunately able to keep people from being flattened by the train.  It was an obstacle that no one, especially the race organizers, had expected.  I can’t say that I would have been one of the foolhardy runners that slid underneath or climbed over a railroad car, especially with an impatient train engineer with a schedule to keep.

Check out the news reports here. If you go to YouTube, you can see these two videos of the runners that are jaw dropping:  video 1 and  video 2.

Trains on the course are nothing compared to what I saw in the latest documentary that I watched “Volcanic Sprint” about the Mt. Cameroon Race of Hope.  This has to be the most physically challenging race I have ever heard of.  Mt. Cameroon is the highest peak in Western Africa at 13,435 feet.  It also happens to be an active volcano; it last erupted in February, 2012.  The race is held in Buea, which is about 2,800 feet in elevation.  The course has the runners start at the stadium in Buea, heading towards Mt. Cameroon for the climb to the top and then heading back down the mountain to the stadium.  The out and back course is about 24 miles.

The top runners can earn more in the 4+ hours it takes to complete the race than Cameroons earn in 4 years.  The incentive to win makes this race very competitive.  The locals cheer the most for runners from Buea.  Sarah Etonge, a local favorite, has won the woman’s race 5 times and has been named “Queen of the Mountain” complete with a statue in her honor.

The race is difficult for a number of reasons.  First, there is a 10,000 foot elevation change and runners can get altitude sickness.  Second, the temperatures fluctuate 50 degrees between the stadium and the top of the mountain where it can be windy, rainy, sleeting or even snowing.  Visibility also becomes a problem.  Finally, being a volcano, the terrain is very rocky and rough.  There is no nice path.  The best runners scramble on all fours to get up to the top.  Others use a walking stick to help get up the mountain. One woman runner’s shoes were shredded by the terrain.  Someone gave her shoes to wear but when she got back to the paved roads, she took them off and finished the race barefoot.

At the top, each runner’s bib is marked as proof that they made it and then they head back down.  Here is where things get tricky.  Speed going down the mountain is the key to winning but it is also very dangerous.  In the film, many runners took horrible falls as they ran down.  I can’t imagine how it would feel to wipe out on volcanic rock.  Though they did not say, I was convinced one had a broken leg and another had broken some ribs.  Over 46% of the 300 or so runners in the race quit.  There is no sag wagon; they had to walk back to the stadium in Buea.

One of the most interesting things about the race is how the spectators get involved.  When Sarah – who was going for her 6th win – got back to the paved roads, it seemed like the entire town was running behind her and cheering.  I don’t think that you would see unentered people on a course like that anywhere else.  Crowd control is a big deal at most races.

I continue to recuperate but I have to admit I am getting more antsy.  I am not so sure how many more documentaries I can watch.  There are loads of surfing, motorcycle racing, and skiing films but I am not so interested in those.  I will keep up with the recumbent bike and maybe get out for some brisk walks.  The only thing the doctor told me not to do is fall.  Now that is a doctor’s order I plan to follow!

Bubble Running

When you have a lot of time on your hands like I do right now as I recover from my broken arm, you end up reading all sorts of crazy things on the Internet. Last Wednesday I found an article about a man, Reza Baluchi, who was trying to “run” from Florida to Bermuda inside a large plastic bubble – a journey of 1,033 miles. The pictures I saw of his bubble reminded me of one of those plastic balls you can put a hamster in so it can roll around a room.  Mr. Baluchi had apparently successfully used his bubble to go from Newport Beach to Catalina Island, about 32 miles in 2013.  This story caught my interest and I kept looking for updates on his progress.

Mr. Baluchi had protein bars, bottled water, a GPS, and a satellite phone with him but he did not have any support team in a boat following him.  When the US Coast Guard checked on him the first time on Wednesday, he was a bit disoriented but refused to stop his adventure.  He did ask for directions though.   The Coast Guard wisely monitored him and no one was probably surprised when he activated his Personal Locating Beacon on Saturday so they could rescue him.  He was extremely fatigued.  Apparently it also gets really hot in that bubble (120 degrees).  He had only made it 70 nautical miles off Florida.

I became very curious about Mr. Baluchi so I visited his website to learn more about him.  According to his website, he has completed several marathons and a few ultra marathons.  In 2007, Mr. Baluchi ran around the perimeter of the United States, a distance of over 11,700 miles in 202 consecutive days.  (I found this interesting because I once wanted to drive the perimeter of the United States in a red convertible.  I did a lot of research on the route but that was as far as I got with that idea.)

Mr. Baluchi also has “a dream to run through all 194 recognized countries in the world.”  His objective for this goal is to inspire people to unite.  I know that running races on each of the 7 continents or even in all of the 50 states is ambitious.  But all 194 countries?  That is a bit crazy.  Some of those countries might not let him in, especially since he left his passport in the bubble that is still floating around out in the ocean.

For some reason, Mr. Baluchi’s big adventure reminded me of one of my favorite documentaries “10 mph: Seattle to Boston”.  This film follows two friends that quit their jobs and cashed in their 401ks to pursue a dream of riding a Segway across the US.  When I watched this film, I thought about how much courage it must have taken to chuck everything and go ride a Segway for 100 days.  They asked Segway to help sponsor their trip but the company declined to provide any free or discounted equipment. (Segway did give them a little party and a couple Segways when they arrived at the Segway headquarters at the end of their journey.)   As one might expect, they met many interesting people and learned a lot of interesting life lessons as they rode across country.  It is a fun film.  You can see the entire film on YouTube.

I think the reason why they were able to make it across the US on the Segway was because they had a team of people committed to the success of the trip.  Mr. Baluchi might want to get a team behind him before he heads out again.

I am hoping that I get the green light from my doctor this week to start physical therapy.  That will put me a step closer to getting back into my Sauconys and heading out for a run.  In the mean time, I have started riding a recumbent exercise bike to try and get back into shape.  It feels good to work up a sweat again.