Monday, August 26, 2013

Rocketman wins again... sort of...

Well... I was looking for some personal redemption from last year going into Rocketman '13... last year at this event I received a lesson in both hydration and bonking and I wanted to wipe that from the memory banks with a solid effort this year. I set the bar high given I just had C5-C7 ACDF surgery 4 months ago... given the recovery time I was not nearly as trained as I would have like to have been going into this race. I had certainly done the best I could with the time and limitations I had but setting goals high is just in my nature.

As I stood on the bank of the Tennessee River three things were abundantly clear... the swim was longer than last year given the buoy placement, the current was flowing as indicated by the paddle boarders effort to remain in place and the wind was blowing down river causing small whitecap waves. Now... everyone has to race the same course so the conditions were just part of the race day and last year we all knew the swim was short so I guess they were going to make sure that wasn't the case this year. The swim starts with a jump off a dock into shallow water... last year I did not know how shallow it was and upon impact with the bottom I set off immediate foot cramps... well... this year I was not going to let happen... can you tell from this photo?

So... after a soft landing I get on with the swim... I quickly settled into a really nice rhythm... I was calm and felt very smooth... for me anyway! After a couple of sightings for the first turn buoy... I feel like it is not getting any closer... and at this point I have had to stop breathing to the right as the waves were providing forced river water hydration. I started to take note of the trees on the bank to confirm I was in fact moving in the right direction... after was seemed an eternity I finally made it to the turn buoy... and with that behind me I settled into a nice, relaxed and smooth finish. I had probably one of my best open water navigation swims ever as evidenced by my Gamin.

Upon exiting the water I made a pretty good transition and headed out on the bike... at about 6 miles we made a sweeping right hand turn across some railroad tracks... given we were headed straight downwind at that point I was going right at about 27 mph into the turn and as I crossed over the tracks my Bontrager Aero bottle on the downtube launched off my bike. I watched it tumble off my left side as it went across the road... eventually the cap came off and all of my Fluid Performance came spraying out of it... so much for my "get ahead of the hydration curve" plan... I was now stuck with only one 24 oz bottle for the entire bike ride as there were zero water stations on the bike course. The rest of the bike ride was uneventful... post ride analysis showed I rode my intended power and heart rate from a pacing perspective and despite a few gusty crosswinds the bike leg went just as I wanted.... minus the bottle incident! Here I was pre-jettison... wish I had put a third bottle in that empty cage... hindsight is 20/15...

As I headed into T2 I knew I needed to take a moment to drink what water I had in my transition bag as the first water station on the run was a couple of miles into the run... as a result my T2 was bit longer than normal. The first mile went just as planned as I ran the trail portion through the woods in the shade. But not long after we exited the shade and headed out onto the gravel and asphalt roads that surround the ammunition bunkers, my right calf sent out a distress signal in the way of a knotted muscle. I had to stop and stretch it out... after a quick self massage I took back to running. But less than 1/2 mile later it was back. This time it knotted up solid... Now... I am talking about uncooked brisket kind of toughness!! It was in complete rebellion... and what ensued over the remaining 4 miles was a strategy of run-walk-massage-run-stop-massage-run-walk... I never could back into any kind of rhythm... and simply did what I could to finish.

One of the things I have truly come to love is the multisport community... you meet some amazing and incredible people as part of the journey. They come in all shapes and sizes... all kinds of backgrounds... all kinds of motivations... all out there with different aspirations and goals... some to win and some to just finish. This finishing photo is one of those moments... the young lady I am running with was the one person I spent most of the run with... she ran a continuous and steady pace and well... I didn't... she was well aware of my cramping issues... to the point that it became a joke between us... how many times would we pass each other... as we approached a 1/2 mile to go we were both running about the same pace as we crested the last uphill section... and she said... "C'mon... let's finish this together"... it was her first Olympic distance triathlon and we encouraged each other to finish strong... for just a brief few minutes we were each others biggest fan and supporter... what a spectacular way to finish the event!!

After spending some time reflecting on yesterday's race I have come to realize that triathlons are an amazing mirror of life in general... there are good times and bad... there are strengths and weaknesses... there are struggles and triumphs... you are challenged both physically and mentally... at the end of the day times and paces don't really matter... it is you against yourself manifested through a swim, a bike and a run... you can bore down and dwell on the negatives or you can chose to accept the day as it unfolds and enjoy the experience along the way... in the end it is a choice... and how you define success determines the payout... yesterday, despite my own personal challenges, was a huge payout for me... not by the clock but as a first big step in my recovery from surgery.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Peloton... WHAT Peloton? (Humble Pie- Part II)

So... day 2 of the SRS stop in Montgomery was a Road Race... 24 miles for Colby and 44 miles for me... The course was a 7 mile leg outbound to a 10 mile circle... so the Juniors rode out and around and back for a total of 24 miles... the Cat 5's rode out and made 3 loops then back for the 44 mile total.

Today the Cat 5's went first... so we lined up and made a rolling start...

The group of 21 took off...

we settled into 2 pace lines averaging about 22 mph... I was on the back and found out just how nice it is to take advantage of the draft line... then just as we hit the 3.5 mile mark and that slight incline you see above... BAM.. . the guys up front wanted to shake us strap hangers off... and shake us off they did... 3 of us settled into our own smaller pace line each taking a turn up front to try and bridge the gap... NO SUCH LUCK! The lead group just kept getting further and further away... one guy decided to go alone and try it on his own... I settled in with a guy named Jimmy and we worked together until we hit the next rise at 6 miles... it was my turn up front and I just put my head down and gave the climb my best effort... it wasn't until about mile 8 that I realized Jimmy was no longer behind me... in fact... I could not see a rider in front of me or behind me... I was on the country road all by myself... and that would be the case for the next 36 miles... a solo ride to the finish... I decided to just enjoy the ride and settled into a moderate pace realizing this was not a "baby step" the Neurosurgeon told me to take and this would be the longest ride I have done (if I don't count the leisure Bo Bikes Bama ride). Each pass by the KOM (King of the Mountain) checkpoint I joked with the USAC officials asking... "Is there a transition to the run up ahead?" and "I think I was tricked... is this a bike race?"... it was a long solo ride but I enjoyed it just the same... officially I finished 16 out of 21 and almost 40 minutes behind the winner but in my mind I won by just finishing... each of us have goals... and mine was achieved.

The juniors started 2 hours after my start... so when I was on the stretch back to the finish I passed Colby on the outbound leg and he was down on the drops hammering away... "Race your own race buddy boy!!"... to which I got a thumbs up... so once I finished we (Sherri, Maddison, Sydney and I) got in my truck and drove out the course to find him... he was about 6 miles from the finish when we pulled up along side of him to yell encouraging words... he again was down on the drops and hammering away... so we sped ahead to watch him finish... IT WAS AWESOME... a bunch of folks had stuck around to cheer on the Juniors as they finished... the last 200 meters was a closed course.. and when he hit the sign he stood up on the pedals and sprinted to the finish like he was in a sprint for a Tour de France stage win... AWESOME!!! After a short cool down ride he made his way back to the parking lot... took off his helmet and headed straight over to one of the other Junior riders who finished just ahead of him... he wanted to thank him for the advice he gave him throughout the day and for teaching him how to ride a pace line... as it turns out they rode together for most of the day with each taking a turn up front... AWESOME!!! His numbers were fantastic... he rode 24 miles in 1:26 with a 16.8 mph average... I could not be more proud of him and his accomplishment... his longest ride to date!

{Insert Jack Handey intro} At the end of the day... you have to reflect on your own goals and fight the tendency to compare yourself to others... each of us are different... with different challenges... different schedules... different motivations.. different goals.... and what might appear an utter failure or waste of time by some may actually be a goal achieved by another... keep that in mind... enjoy the journey and encourage others to join in and share it with you... watching them succeed in their own pursuit is the most rewarding achievement from my perspective! I am a proud Dad and cherish the opportunities I have to share this passion with my son!

Humble Pie- Part I

Okay.... it has been a while since I logged an entry into the blog... so here is a quick update...

April 17th Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion C5-C6-C7
      - Dr. Lee Warren
      - East Alabama Medical Center; less than 24 hours in hospital
      - RESULTS: Instant relief from all the pain and nerve pulses down my back and left arm

3 Week Check-up
      - Everything progressing as planned
      - "Green light" to start riding indoor trainer

6 Week Check-up
      - Everything progressing as planned
      - "Green light" to start running, swimming, golfing, etc
      - Back to see him in July for x-rays to check on healing

THANK YOU for all of the the wonderful notes and encouragement along the way... I certainly could not have made it through the process without the love and support of my family and friends and for that I am forever grateful.

Alright... to satisfy my competitive nature and given I was only able to ride my indoor trainer since the surgery I decided to sign up for 2 local events... the Southeast Regional Series had a schedule stop in Montgomery for the 22nd and 23rd of June... a Criterium on Saturday and a Road Race on Sunday... so I signed Colby and I both up to compete... him in the Junior Category and me in the Cat 5 group.

WOW... all I can say is that those guys can ride... this would be a first in both events for Colby and I and we would quickly learn that guys that ride for competition are beasts on their bikes. The Crit was a 1.5 mile course on a closed section of downtown Montgomery with the start/finish line on the hill going up Dexter Ave towards the State Capitol... and then around the Capitol... back down Dexter...

The Juniors were up first and it was incredible to see the talent in 16-18 age group... Colby held his own for a little while but eventually fell off the pace... to his credit he did not quit and pressed on to finish the race under tough weather conditions and to say the least I was really proud of him for that alone!

The Cat 5 race was next... now... look at this photo... this is special... because this is closest I came to ever leading the race...

Much like Colby... I held on with the pack for a couple of laps but once I was dropped... I DROPPED... my individual effort remained consistent but the guys up front ramped up their pace and left me behind... despite the lackluster performance I can tell you that it was a win-win for both of us... it was something neither of us had ever done and the rush of going 40 mph on the downhill into a 90 degree turn was exhilirating!

It was an experience we will not soon forget!!! Later that day we went back out to watch the Pro/Cat 1 guys race... 70 started... 32 finished... one wreck and lots of dropouts due to the heat of the day and the hill... they raced for 75 minutes at a blistering pace... it was incredible to watch!!! 

If you have never done a Crit race... don't be scared... ride within your own limits... hang on... and pedal like you are being chased!!! 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Road to Recovery

Well... it finally caught up with me... over the past 18 months... I have taken an untold number of Naproxen and Flexeril tablets.... 6 Cervical Epidural Steroid Injections (CESI)... countless hours in Physical Therapy... hundreds of dollars in Massages... and many sleepless nights due to neck pain... I gave the "Conservative Approach" my best effort... but it all finally became life consuming!

At my initial consultation with Dr. Lee Warren at the Auburn Spine and Neurosurgery Center last year he told me... "when you are ready for repair... I can fix you!" I opted for the Conservative Approach in hopes that I could put off the inevitable... in his words... "it is not IF you have surgery... it is just WHEN".

I was doing great this year... after some time off during the Winter I got back on the bike and started a Winter Power Improvement Program... I was making great strides in my power production... Then, the day after Thanksgiving I started my Hal Higdon Half Marathon Training Plan... and in February I ran a new PR and hit my target time at the Mercedes Half Marathon in Birmingham. Following that Sunday run I took the next week off and the following Monday I hit the bike. Now... I woke up on on Tuesday morning with that "I slept funny" feeling in my neck... no worries... just from getting back at it right? Yeah... that is what I thought too so I continued with the plan... I was still seeing the Physical Therapist and told him what was going on the next week and he was convinced that the Half Marathon was culprit and not the bike. Anyway... we continued with the Conservative Approach... with little relief.. the 2nd round of CESI's did nothing to alleviate the pain shooting down my back under the left scapula and down my left arm. Over the course of a few short weeks it continued to get worse and worse... I ended up in a really downward spiral that led to another round of ER visits... more and heavier narcotics... MRI... and significant down time with little relief! Following another visit with the NS I received a terse warning from him... he "did not need to see me again unless I was ready for surgery"... I left hoping I would be able to get back on track but started seriously considering my surgical options. He gave me two of them... a minimally invasive procedure where he would enter my neck from the posterior side and shave off the herniated discs in hope of relieving the symptoms... or a full on Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF) at the C5/6 and C6/7 levels. I bounced back and forth... until the pain began to ratchet up and the tingling in the left arm with associated weakness continued to increase... nearly everyday... until it started to seriously affect my quality of life. Over the course of the one weekend I went from considering my options to "when can I get in for ACDF... Sherri worked miracles with the NS office, Tricare and the base clinic to get all of the authorizations approved and surgery scheduled as I just tried to maintain my existence.

We went back to see Dr. Warren and this time when he walked in the room that Tuesday morning... me laying on the now horizontal examination table... all I could utter was... "I am here because I AM READY!" He briefly explained the process and the procedure and said... "I will get you on the schedule in the next couple of weeks"... A-HA... no you won't because my wife the superhero already has be scheduled for Thursday at 0930... a miracle to say the least! Following the visit we headed to the East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika to complete all of the preliminary steps for surgery. It was an agonizing couple of hours of paperwork, interviews, data collection and bloodwork. Over the course of the next 48 hours I simply tried to exist by wishing time away... I could hardly wait for Thursday as the pain had continued to increase in both frequency and severity to the point that I could only maintain a standing position for about 30-45 seconds before the pain would literally drop me to my knees... I move swiftly between laying on the couch and laying in bed... getting up to do anything was out of the question and I was as bad off physically as I have ever been in my life.

Finally Thursday arrived and Sherri drove me to the East Alabama Medical Center where I would have my surgery. It was an uneventful ride as I laid in the fully reclined passenger seat. We arrived and proceeded to walk from the parking lot to the Surgery Center where I proceeded to find the closest chair as Sherri got me checked in... I sat and focused on simply trying to not lay on the waiting room floor as we waited for my number to be called... to be honest I really cannot recall much of what went on during that time... I lost all since of time and situational awareness... I remember them pinning a red number on me... then someone getting me and walking down a long hallway to another waiting room... that was even worse... the only thing I really remember from that room was a guy praying with someone... and his voice appeared to be on volume 11... then they called me and I headed into the pre-op area...

In the pre-op area I was finally able to laydown after discarding my clothes and dignity for a hospital gown... but laying down was okay... the pre-op nurse was really nice and she asked me a lot about my situation as her husband was a triathlete and battling a herniated disc in his neck... she put the IV in... asked a ton of questions... then the Anesthesiologist came in... after some basic questions he asked if I was in fact Navy and what I did... I told him I flew... he asked "What?" to which I replied "P-3s... but you probably don't know what they are..." and he surprised me with "The hell I don't... I was a Navy Flight Surgeon!!".... after exchanging some timelines we realized that we knew some of the same people as we were nearly the same age... too funny... he talked with me for about 45 mins until he was late for his next surgery... LOL!

Then it was my turn... they gave me a shot of feel good juice then wheeled me down the hall and into the ER... I remember being moved to the ER table and being placed on my back... then the "Are you ready for the good stuff?" question... YUP... BRING IT... and suddenly it was dark!

NEXT.. I wake up not knowing where I am... my throat hurts... I feel like I cannot breathe... I am reassured by the Recovery Nurse that everything is alright... I then wiggle my fingers and toes to make sure everything still works... ALL GOOD... so as I slowly come out of my post-op funk I begin to take in my surroundings...  occasionally a nurse stops by to ask me how I am doing... ALL GOOD... I made it through... I am stoked... and very much looking forward to seeing my wife's face... so after some time they tell me I am headed to my room... YEAH!!!

They wheel me in and a couple of dudes transfer me to my bed.... that is when I realize I have on leggings that are connected to an air pump that cycles every 15 seconds or so... okay... the Floor Nurse comes in and takes my vital signs and gets me settled... she offers me something for the pain... HEY... NO PAIN... HOLY CRAP... NO PAIN... so I decline for now... she gets the TV on for me... gets the bed just right and tells me that if I need anything to just ring her! A few minutes go by and Sherri walks in... RELIEF! I was thrilled to see her... she tells me about Dr. Warren coming out to tell her that everything went as planned... "text book procedure" from his perspective but that he was somewhat surprised to see C7 and it was way worse than he had anticipated... tell me about it! Anyway.... we sit and talk through the afternoon as the nurses cycle in for the occasional vital... and pain med... NOPE... still don't need it. Miraculously I feel wonderful... now I have some incision pain and a sore throat but not anything that requires medication at this point. The relief was instantaneous... I went from literally having knee dropping pain to zero pain... simply awesome!

Eventually it had to happen... dinner is delivered... well... they called it dinner... I lifted the lid and took a glance and knew instantly that although I was somewhat hungry... that was not on my agenda. Sherri then went out and brought back Chik-Fil-A.... I managed to literally choke down a few nuggets and fries but swallowing was difficult. I was feeling so good that we decided there was little need for Sherri to have a sleepless night on a recliner in my room and she took off to drive home and give everyone an update...

My night was actually peaceful... I eventually got up to pee and it was pain free... I stood for about 10 mins and had ZERO pain... it was awesome... I decided to try and get some sleep so I turned off the TV and put the night lights on... but I just tossed and turned... the night shift nurse came in and offered some morphine which would help me sleep... so I obliged... I also asked if I could take off the leggings and he said sure... then... for the first time in weeks... I rolled onto my side... a position I had been unable to get into in bed... this time... ZERO pain... and minutes later I was asleep. Now... I know the nurses continued to check on me throughout the night but it was a restful 7 hours of sleep.

I woke up at 0615... flipped on the TV and watched the morning news... Dr. Warren came in around 0715 to check on me... very routine stuff... he was pleased with the surgery... told me I could go home... and scheduled my first followup which is this Thursday. His orders were this... DO NOTHING FOR 2 WEEKS... no work... no driving... don't lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk... no yard work... no house work... NOTHING! This... with the promise that if I followed his orders he could almost guarantee that in 6 weeks I would get the green light to do all the swimming... biking and running I desired!!! Sounds like a dream doesn't it??? IT IS HARD when you are a naturally active person but given I want to get back to being active I did my best to comply... although others (READ: Sherri) will tell you otherwise.

So... breakfast arrived... and I ate like someone was going to take it away from me.... everything bad about the dinner option was alleviated with breakfast... it was awesome... scrambled eggs, turkey sausage, grits, biscuits, juice and coffee... AWESOME! Sherri called and asked if I wanted anything as her and my Mom were headed my way... just a good cup of coffee...

They arrived... I got up... showered... put on my clothes... packed up my stuff... signed some paperwork... had a nurse unsuccessfully take out the stitches from the drain.. but soon we were on our way! Now... as much as I looked forward to walking... hospital policy required that I be in a wheelchair... I could not wait to walk as I hoped it would be pain free... what followed was an uneventful ride home... and by all accounts I would call it a success.

Okay... fast forward to today... I feel great.... have been pain free... still some muscle soreness in my neck but ZERO nerve pain... a few days of tingling down the left arm but that subsided... I actually started driving today and spent a half day at work... it felt great! The prognosis looks good but I report otherwise if the Doctor comes up with something later this week... the next hard step will be trying to not do too much too fast.

The incision is healing nicely... the dark line is the Dermabond... hard to believe but it is looking good!

I want to thank everyone for the words of encouragement and support. I want to thank my Wife for all of her support and tenacity to get the system to work for me.... I want to thank my Mom for dropping what she was doing and coming up to help out and keep me company during those 2 weeks... and of course my kids who took care of me once I was home... without all of them and skillful hands of Dr. Warren I am not sure where I would be today. So far so good and I look forward to continued recovery!