My last post was over 5 months ago. I was motivated and enthusiastic, very much looking forward to, well, right now. I had a lot of hope that, with hard work and a good attitude that just maybe I would be a runner again in a time horizon measured in weeks rather than years. With the help and support of many Rocky Mountain Runners friends, my family, and good people scattered far and wide, I think I’m back to a place where I can call myself a runner again.
This past Saturday I ran the Dirty 30 50k up and down the mountains in nearby Golden Gate State Park. It’s a rugged mostly single-track course, much of which is above 9,000′. I ran it last year and finished middle-of-the pack. This year’s version added a couple miles, bringing the distance to about 33 miles, with what I’m told had more than 16,000′ of combined climbing and descending. That’s a lot of up and down for the distance (my first 100-miler at Cactus Rose had less total elevation change).
The run was a pretty good validation of the work I’ve done these last 5+ months. I was able to finish the race strong, feeling relatively good all day, in roughly the same overall position as last year. It took me – and everyone else who returned from last year – a good 30-60 minutes longer this year due to the course changes and heat. Last year I ran it in 7:08 for 131st place, this year in 7:47 for 129th place. So, all in all, I performed about the same as last year. That’s huge, considering that a couple months ago even walking a mile was far out of the question.
The whole weekend was really a nice getting-back-to-the-lifestyle affair. About 20 of us camped out near the race course, where I was able to break in the Sportsmobile (kick-ass name TBD). Spending the pre- and post-race with my trail buddies was uplifting, as was the on-course support by all the RMRers who were crewing, taking pictures, and running with (ok, mostly well ahead of) me.
As usual, I ran pretty much all the flat and downhill sections, sometimes cruising, occasionally pushing a bit. I probably hiked 2/3 of the climbs, only running when an especially good song came on or to close-in on the next runner (I think I passed 20+ runners between Mile 17 at Aid Station 3 and the end). Two days removed I’m still sore but my ankle held together without any real pain.
The months since my achilles injury have been mostly good. I think I did all I could to make the best of the situation, with lots of physical therapy help from Larry Meyer, and 10-20 hours/week of fitness/rehab work, combining stationary bike and hand cycle, strength training, and eventually a not-too-slow ramp-up of walking to hiking to running. I’m still far from where I’d like to be, or where I was or can again be, with regards to overall fitness. But, I’ve now been able to work mileage back up; the Dirty 30 marked my 5th long run in 2 1/2 weeks, 3 of which were in the final 9 day period.
Does all this mean the Western States 100 will go well? Of course not. But, I’m a runner again and I think I have a real shot of making it through the race. Time cut-offs will likely be, for the first time in my racing experience, a real concern. I’ll do what I can and knowing that I have a little bit of reason for optimism, that’s going to have to be enough.
That’s when I’m hoping/planning/fearing my start in Squaw Valley, California for what will be – if all goes well – something less than a 30-hour day to cover the 100 miles through the mountains to Auburn, California. My focus on the Western States 100 requires daily discipline, though the steps to getting there are rather ambiguous. I haven’t walked a step in a month, and haven’t had a legitimately long run since my lack-luster 100k around the Boulder Reservoir back in October. It is unclear when my first post-injury, unaided steps will be, though I am repairing a bit more each day.
I’m working on rehab and general fitness quite bit, with the “easy” days consisting of 90 minutes of band stretching to strengthen my hips, which my fantastic physical therapist (shout out to Larry Meyer!) says will help the achilles’ rehab and other running issues I’ve had. The longer days still include the 90 minutes of band stretching, done in three 30-minute sessions (often while watching Sons of Anarchy) as well as 1-2 hours on the stationary bike and/or hand bike, plus some strength training in the mix. And, then there are the twice a week PT appointments, which are entertaining, interesting, and moderately painful. All-in-all, it is a significant part-time job trying to get myself healthy and fit and whole again, with much support from Alison (my driver), Larry the PT, and the ongoing help and humor of friends and family, near and far.
While there’s not much to see as far as me sitting on various exercise equipment at the Y, Alison and I thought the stretching poses were worthy of sharing. Here’s the worst of the three poses…
Then there’s the leg-spreadder…
And finally the belly-exposer…
72 total minutes of static holds every single day (with 18 minutes of trying to efficiently change positions during the 8-20 second timed rest breaks) has my hips and core constantly tired but there’s no doubt I’m getting stronger, having increased either the time per rep or level of resistance roughly every other day. It’s not running but it’s something and, combined with the cardio work, has me feeling like I’m at least maintaining fitness.
And everyone knows there is nothing more important in the history of the universe than the maintenance of my fitness.
Last month I posted about my plan to run/hike 50,000 vertical feet over the course of November. It took me 20 days, 24 runs with no days off to hit the number, a pretty cool personal challenge during a time when I didn’t have any specific plans to race and was looking to get trail time before winter.
Contrasts are cool. In November I got in a bit of strength training but it was all about trail time and getting vertical miles. In December, since the achilles snap and subsequent surgery, I’ve run 0 times but it has been an interesting stretch. In order to stay relatively mentally healthy and increase my chances of getting to and through the Western States 100, I’ve re-dedicated myself to gaining fitness, however I can get it. That’s tricky when homebound, as I was for about a week, or unable to use my right ankle, which is still the case.
I came up with the do-everything-you-can-figure-out-to-do workout plan. In the first 20 days of December, that’s included the following:
110 minutes on stationary bike (just cleared to do so a couple days ago so slowly ramping volume, as advised)
200 minutes on stationary hand cycle
many hours of core exercises
3 hours of hip exercises per PT (90 minutes/day in 30 X 30 min blocks, everyday, just getting started)
perhaps a few miles of hopping on one foot, including up and down stairs – the most difficult physical activity I do
All in all, I feel like this has been a few weeks of quality total-athletic training. All the more so when factoring in the actual surgery and recovery was in the same period. The PT exercises are helping me with some long-time areas of weakness and I feel strong and lean. I don’t know that this time off will make me a better runner, exactly, but I think I’m probably more all-around fit than I’ve been in quite some time.
My ankle is starting to regain flexibility, having improved by 10 degrees of movement (now able to go almost 90 degrees again!) in just two PT appointments. Being able peddle on the stationary bike is a big step, one I didn’t think would happen for a number of weeks. This allows me to get some leg-specific cardio exercise, better for run fitness and leg rehab than the hand bike (which I also like and will continue to use).
Sorry for the nuts-and-bolts post. Not too witty or clever but I appreciate having so much support and this is a good way for me to let everyone know things are moving forward well!
The good news: I’m out of the cast! The not-so-good news: the “use it or lose it” thing is real, at least as it pertains to muscles. Today I got to have my first look at my ankle since the surgery. Now 19 days since the injury, it’s all starting to feel like I’m inching towards recovering and despite some discomfort greater than I’ve had in about a week, I’m feeling like progress is being made.
Anyone who has had the misfortune of an extended stretch in a hard cast knows the experience is something of a lateral move from the injury itself. They are bulky, itchy, and they stink. And with a foot casted up to the calf, by design, there’s no ability to rotate the ankle, which causes intermittent cramping and chaffing issues. So, cast removal day is something to celebrate.
We started with the not-so-precise hacking off of the outer shell, which eventually necessitated a saw that could have just as easily removed my tibia…
Next, the big reveal! The fantastic Dr. Jonathan Bravman unwittingly complisulted me by commenting “you look as good as you possibly could.” (For an atrophying, scraggly-bearded, poorly dressed, rapidly aging wannabe athlete?) He didn’t laugh or cringe when I brought up Western States and he thinks it is a worthy goal…for a guy with this…
While the incision site is a bit gruesome, the really alarming part was seeing the level of atrophy in my right leg. I knew it would happen at some point to some degree but it is shocking how quickly and significantly muscle is lost. Since I’ve been getting around the last few weeks primarily by hopping on my left foot, my left calf has gained a bit of size (though not as much as has been lost on the right) so the comparison is all the more striking…
First PT session is tomorrow morning. I gave the hand cycle a shot yesterday, logging 80 minutes of various 20-minute programs. The upper body muscle fatigue on the machine kicks in long before much real cardio but it is better than nothing. I’d say that it was the cardio equivalent of a lengthy walk with a few hills thrown in. I’ll hit that again tomorrow and with any luck I’ll hold onto a bit of fitness while working towards an Iggy Pop-like physique.
It seems that’s the question I’m asking myself daily regarding my attempt to even start the Western States 100. It is unquestionably too early to know but lately I’ve channeled my inner Lloyd Christmas and have come to the place of “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”
I’ve spoken with the head trainer of the Colorado Rapids, Jaime Rojas, who was incredibly generous with his time and expertise. I also have been trading emails with WS100 finisher, fellow Rocky Mountain Runner, exercise physiologist and coach, Adam St. Pierre. I got an in-depth response via podcast on a recent episode [10 minutes starting at 42:52 of the show] of Endurance Planet’s “Ask the Ultrarunner” (thanks Tawnee and Lucho!). And of course, I’ve been talking with bunches of running friends, some with medical backgrounds and been reading online about achilles recovery. The consensus seems to be that, if all goes well, I could be healthy enough to make it to the starting line of WS100. That assumes no major setbacks, at least an average physiological ability to repair myself, a serious dedication to rehab, and virtually no legitimate training heading into the race.
If nothing else, this whole experience is an interesting experience and study of one. Today is Day 1 of stationary hand cycling to work on my cardio, something I hope to do at least a few days a week the next few months. It’ll be good to sweat from something other than hopping up the stairs. Tomorrow is my first doctor visit since the surgery and I’m hopeful I can transition to a boot from the cast. Wednesday is my first PT session, assuming the doc signs off on it tomorrow. All in all, things are moving along. The kindness of my friends and family has made a big difference, as has the seemingly endless content available on Nextflix (thank you, The Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy).
I have done a little bit of grossly premature thinking about what a “solid” performance at WS100 might look like. There’s frequent talk of a finish being most everyone’s primary goal in a 100-miler, with a good time/performance a secondary consideration. That’s kinda true and kinda bullshit, I suspect, for highly trained runners spending $100s to enter a race for which they have trained months and often traveled great distances, dragging crew and pacers and gear along the way. This time, I can truly say that a 29:59 finish (the max time allowed) would be supremely satisfying. To do so, I’d need to maintain an 18-minute/mile pace. I think that, given the course profile and wild swings in typical conditions (mountain and trail terrain and temps varying from 20-110 degrees F), I’d need to be able to run at least 25-30 miles and efficiently hike the rest, without any significant stops along the way. It’s like a puzzle I’ll have to solve with my feet.
Thanks for stopping by and I look forward to documenting the process in the months to come!
2013 has been one of the most remarkable years of my life. A move from my adopted hometown (Austin) to the place I’m meant to be (Boulder). The winding down of a nearly 20-year run as a ticket guy as I ramped up my activity in my new(ish) career as a private investor. A change of life and lifestyle for my family, made all the easier by the great neighbors and new friends across the front range. For most of the last decade, perhaps most of my adult life, I’ve wanted to be in the mountains, to be master of my own time, to pursue the activities and relationships of my choosing. Now I have all that and I’ve not been disappointed.
Running is something of a selfish pursuit. It takes lots of time, energy, focus, and some cash to do it the way that most appeals to me. I’ve been super fortunate over the last handful of years to be able to significantly orient my days around what is, for most, a hobby. In 2013, through late November, I ran almost every day. I raced long and often – 8 times with the shortest being a hard mountain marathon, as well as my first 100k and my 2nd 100-miler within 10 months. November was a special time where I set and met an ambitious solo goal. All that was left was to wind the year down, which for the Randall family means a return to St. Louis for Thanksgiving week and a largely care-free December.
Part of my Thanksgiving tradition is a Friday morning football game with my high school friends. It has been going on for 20 years, the first dozen or so were still tackle, until we noticed a trend of games ending earlier each year, usually as a result of one or more guys needing escort to the ER. In the last few years, some of the guys have retired, as even flag football has proven to be a bit dangerous for us late 30-somethings. Not only have I strongly advocated for the continuation of the tradition, I was one of the few who fought to keep it tackle before it was clear that was a losing battle.
Enough with the foreshadowing, right? In this year’s game, early on, there was a guy who knocked legs hard with a defender. He was out for the game. Turns out he broke his tibia. That seems like about as bad an injury as might be expected playing flag football but, no. Roughly an hour into the game I released from the line (I’m still a blocker despite my precipitous drop in BMI over the years), made a catch, and turned upfield for my rare moment of glory. Then someone threw something at my leg, maybe a chunk of concrete with rebar sticking out or perhaps a toaster oven. It seemed odd and I felt the object pop against my heel and I was initially both confused and pissed off. Looking down, I saw nothing but the pain was real and I hobbled off the field.
What had actually happened wasn’t all that odd: my right achilles tendon had snapped. It is a gross and disorienting injury – it doesn’t look like much but where there was once a tight, sinewy elastic-like band joining heel bone to calf muscle, there was nothing. Just, as the ER doctor later put it in clinical terms, “mush”. The pain was acute when it popped but not as bad as a stubbed toe. The real hurting took an hour or so to set it while waiting not-so-paitiently without pain medication in the hospital.
It’s been 11 days since the injury, 5 days since the surgery. My left leg is constantly fatigued but getting stronger, as one-leg hopping is my primary mode of getting around, including up and down the stairs. Though I’ve been in a cast or hard boot since the injury, I’m still training, sort of. Every day I do an odd assortment of core work and I’m alternating days of push-ups and pulls. Running, however, is off the table for quite some time, most likely months, not weeks.
In an twist of fate that I’m still grappling with, over the weekend (two days post surgery) I was selected in the lottery to run the Western States 100. There were over 4000 entries this year (all of whom had to complete one of the designated 50- or 100-mile qualifying races) for just 270 spots. The race is June 28-29 in mountains of California and is arguably the most storied ultra marathon in the world. It is certainly one of the most difficult to get into. If it were any other race, I’d not even consider trying to ready myself for the challenge. Fully healthy, this (or any) 100-miler is a lot to tackle; contemplating doing so 6.5 months after my sort of injury is daunting. Good chance I don’t make it but I’m sure going to do all I can to make it to the starting line.
It’ll be an interesting, challenging, exhausting winter and spring. I’m guessing there will be setbacks and frustrations, too. So much of moving across the mountains is about dedication and persistence and adaptation and I consider myself quite lucky to even have the chance to test myself.
Some days I’m super motivated, others pretty discouraged. I’ll try to write about all of it when the mood hits me. Thanks to so many of you who have helped so much already. Stephanie and Alex, Brianne and Bill, Tammy and Nick, Sophia and Dave, my RMR peeps – Ryan L., Alberto, Chiara, Ryan S., Silke, Matt, our awesome baby-sitters, Haley and Davis, my parents, and thoughtful, supportive friends across Boulder County and the rest of the U.S. A special mention goes out to Alison and Sagan, who have been patient, helpful, and empathetic while I’ve been mostly cranky, stinky, and otherwise difficult. Story has been pretty unhelpful, other than having an adorable tiny head.
Starting in about 45 minutes I’ll be logging as much vertical ascent as I can before heading to STL for Thanksgiving. I’d wanted something to shoot for this month and don’t have the interest in racing. While 50,000 feet of climbing (presumably with a similar amount of descending) is more like a long weekend than a 23-day goal for many of the die-hards along the front range, it’s a stout number for me to hit. It’ll mean little time for any flat running, though some will be necessary to link up routes.
My guess is that, with possibly a few days off in the stretch, I’ll need to get about 3,000′ per day to hit the goal. Come spring, I’m contemplating trying to hit 100k’ in a month – like some of my local rockstar buddies probably do – but that’s a bit beyond my fitness and time available at this point.
For all those who are interested, which will probably be something between nobody and perhaps my parents, I’ll update on here as I move through the next few weeks.
Fun stuff, eh?