Friday, March 26, 2010

Hip Hip Hooray

Sorry, i'm running out of hip puns for these titles.

It's been almost 7 weeks now. I can walk pretty well-- most people would not know that i am still rehabing from surgery. I've done a couple of 15-minute sessions on my road bike trainer without any discomfort. I still have trouble with stairs and i can't really do any motion that puts much torque on my hip, but most signs are encouraging. This is the first time in almost a year that i've been able to walk without a limp.

I finished my outpatient physical therapy this week. I'll still have to do various exercises for the foreseeable future, but it's nice to be past the regular hospital visits. I'm eager to get back to some sort of routine-- maybe at least start doing tai chi in the next few weeks. My biggest frustration at the moment is that there is very little information on what i can or should do once i'm relatively well recovered. Obviously, there are pain and flexibility thresholds that you have to deal with, but information on what's possible otherwise is vague or unavailable. Generally anyone with a normal THR, regardless of the joint type, is warned against "high-impact" activities, but beyond running and basketball the guidance is limited. I gather that most doctors are conservative about post-THR activities, both because they don't really know how the latest generation of technology will last and because most of their patients are so old that they get no objections.

I don't regret the surgery, because whatever limitations i have now are less constrictive than the constant and unavoidable pain i had before. But i do feel a bit like a guinea pig in the sense that i will probably have to constantly experiment with what i can and can't do, and i won't know the consequences until i either do some damage or reach an age where i am necessarily sedentary anyway. Whatever. I guess i was on that path before, finding the barriers and the limits to what i could endure.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

My First Marathon

The following is something i wrote about my first marathon several years ago. I thought i'd put it here for posterity (and since i don't have much to write about running anymore). This is from 2003.

Personal stories about marathons are both abundant and fairly boring. Still, i couldn't resist, if only because there were a couple of odd twists in my case.

In spring i started running regularly again for the first time in several years (correlating closely to the age of Henry). I'd also been doing long bike rides, including my first organized century ride in February in Palm Springs. Employing a sublimely irrational leap of logic peculiar to people in their 40th year of life, i combined these two facts to conclude that i could run a marathon. At first, i just tried to increase my mileage, but eventually i started following a prescribed 18 week training plan. Working forward from my training start date, i chose the Santa Clarita Marathon in Santa Clarita, CA. The training went well, at least until the last few weeks, and by the middle of October i was pretty anxious to run the race.

Then on the Sunday prior to the marathon (Oct. 25), California started on fire. Since the major fires were almost literally in my back yard, the marathon was not foremost in my mind. It was late Monday before i realized that Simi Valley, site of one of the larger fires near LA, was due west of Santa Clarita. At first it appeared that the fire would not affect the marathon, but on Tuesday the winds changed direction and the fire started burning eastward. At noon on Wednesday, the marathon was canceled.

This is where things started to get strange. For some reason, the idea of not running the marathon was inconceivable to me. Since marathon training focuses on a particular race, i also couldn't figure out how i could delay until a convenient race came along. So i started looking for other marathons that i could run on the same weekend. There were three: the New York marathon, for which registration had long been closed; another in Kansas City, MO; and the third in Boise, Idaho. After a few hours of thought, i decided to try the last, so i registered for the race and bought airline tickets to Boise.

Yes, that's correct: Boise. Boise, Idaho. The place with the potatoes. Let me recap, just in case this isn't registering. I decided to fly voluntarily to Boise, Idaho at my own expense on my own time to run 26.2 miles. I'll never be able to explain this, even to people who understand the compulsion to run any marathon. I don't really understand it myself. Obviously, it's partially because i didn't want to waste the training. I think it's also because i am about to turn 40 and i subconsciously wanted to complete the race before that birthday. Also, at some point during my training i decided that i was going to run the race in honor of my childhood friend, Todd Bair, who was killed by a car bomb in Saudi Arabia in May. I don't know what i expected to accomplish by this, since even my best effort would a meager memorial, but the idea had motivated me while training. Because of this, not running would have seemed a double defeat.

So on Saturday, Nov. 1, i flew to Boise and got a room at the Owyhee Plaza Hotel, which was the start/finish point for the race. I spent most of Saturday trying to figure out what i'd wear, because it was cold. I'd brought gloves, a hat, and several layers of clothing; but i'd forgotten how cold 20 degrees really is. The next morning, the temperature was about 22 degrees at start time. I had a base layer, a long-sleeved shirt, and a singlet that i wore to hang my number on. I wore shorts, mostly because i don't own any running tights. There were only about 300 starters for the marathon, so we were able to go straight from the hotel lobby to the start area, and we waited in the cold for only a few minutes before the gun went off.

Near the end of my training plan i developed a case of what's called iliotibial band friction syndrome, which means that the long tendon that runs from your hip to below your knee gets really tight and rubs against the bottom of your femur when you run. After the first mile, my knee started to hurt but not enough to affect my stride. Like all rookies i went out too fast. I'd planned to run about 8 minute miles, with the goal of finishing in about 3hrs, 30 minutes. I did the first two miles in 14:28, but i felt like i was just jogging. My knee got gradually worse up to about mile 6, but it still didn't seem to change my gait.

Up until about the half way point i tried to find people who were running a similar pace and i ran along with them. One of these people was an older man whose shirt said that he had finished marathons in all 50 states. Twice. I figured he must know what he was doing, so i hung with him for a couple of miles. Amazingly, after about mile 11 my knee started to feel better. I was warm enough, my legs felt good, and i wasn't straining at all. I reached the halfway point in about 1:40, or about a 7:40 pace. I probably should have known this wasn't a good sign.

For the next two miles i ran very comfortably, but then at mile 15 i started to feel pain in my left quadriceps. I hoped this was just some temporary tightness that i could run through, but it didn't go away. I started focusing on getting water and Powerade at the aid stations, but i could sense that i was slowing down. Between miles 15 and 20 i focused on passing half-marathoners who had started about 10 minutes before i hit the second half of the marathon. I reached 20 miles at 2:38, still a bit below 8 minute pace.

Mile 21 featured the only major uphill on the course. Compared to San Diego hills this wasn't much, a big-ring sort of hill for a biker, but at the time it hurt plenty. Just after the 22 mile aid station, my legs rebelled. I had to stop and walk for about 200 yards. Then i slowly eased back into running, but i was probably going slower than 9 minute pace. For the next two miles, every time a spectator yelled out "You're looking good", or "You're almost there", i wanted to stop and beat them with a large stick. Good thing i couldn't lift my arms.

At around mile 24 we went down a hill, which made my knee start hurting again. Fortunately, the next mile and a half were straight, flat, and picturesque. For me, the end of the marathon was like a cruel manifestation of Zeno's paradox. Even when i turned the final corner and saw the finish banner in the distance, i could not convince myself that the end was any nearer. The banner seemed to float backward and i felt like i was chasing it. Finally i did cross the line, but i was virtually insensible. I couldn't speak or even acknowledge the volunteers, and it took me several seconds to remember to stop my watch. My watch said 3:38.40, although my chip time would later be listed as 3:39.10. Slower than i'd hoped, but all things considered i was happy. I beat P. Diddy, and George Bush's PR :-)

Some people have an intense emotional release at the end of hard runs like this. I did not. I felt pain and depletion, but little else. I stood in the finishing area for about 10 minutes, wrapped in mylar, drinking orange Powerade. It was still only about 30 degrees but i wasn't cold. After 3 and half hours of running it's almost difficult to walk. The ground seemed a little too far away, kind of like when you're stepping off a curb in the dark. Some clever sadist decided to put the post-race food and race t-shirts up two flights of stairs. I had to walk up sideways to avoid putting too much pressure on my knees. I had two arcs of salt on either side of my face from the sweat, and depressions in my forehead from the hat i'd been wearing. I must have looked frightening, not in an intimidating way since i was so decrepit, but sort of like those transients that you see on street corners arguing with nobody in particular.

All in all, i'm glad i made the trip. Boise is a nice little city, very pretty and clean, and the course was good for a first-timer. Finishing a marathon gives you a tremendous feeling of accomplishment, although in my case it took some time to sink in. Like many worthwhile things, i think what makes the marathon special is that it's just hard enough to make you uncertain that you can do it. For most human beings there seems to be some sort of limit reached between 20 and 25 miles, so by definition you have to exceed that limit to finish the marathon in the time you hoped for. It's a controlled environment in which you can push yourself beyond what you were designed to do, which in principle gives you confidence that you could push yourself in a less controlled environment. I heard Oprah say that the marathon is a "metaphor for life", but i think that's only true in the sense that life's a bitch and then you die. Life is messy and complicated, marathons are not. To me, the appeal of organized marathons is that they remove all of the complications, so that all you have to do is show up and subject yourself to some degree of suffering for some number of hours. There's something very liberating and joyful about lining up with a bunch of other lunatics dressed in similar goofy clothes to run the exact same course, but in the end only really caring about how you did relative to your own expectations.

Saturday, March 06, 2010


Like many families in our community, mine was deeply affected by the Chelsea King case. Only my older son knew her personally, because he participates in two of the same activities that she did at their high school (cross country and orchestra). But it still feels like losing someone for whom we were responsible. I guess i also felt a personal connection because she was killed while running along trails that i've run dozens of times. There is a special kinship among runners whether you are acquainted or not. I was frustrated that i could not help in the search on these trails, since at the time i could still only walk for short distances with a cane. I'm also sad that i can't go out and run there again, to reclaim them in some sense.

I feel the same way as most people about the murderer in this case (whose name i won't dignify by writing). I want him to die. Not after some protracted legal process during which he gets more and more publicity until he transforms from scumbag loser into "notorious". I want to put a bullet in his brain, dump him in the landfill, and forget about him. This case might end up changing the laws regarding sex offenders, but that should be credited to the inspiration of Chelsea and not the evil of the criminal.

As a non-religious person the concept of evil is sometimes difficult for me. For the religious, the existence of an agent of evil is a necessity to reconcile the preponderance of evil behavior with the presence of an omnipotent and benevolent God ("hell must exist for heaven to have any value", to crib from a favorite author). I do not know if this culprit was in control of his impulses and chose to be evil, or was compelled to do evil things. I don't know if he was abused as a child, or if he lacks some crucial part of his brain that endows most of us with empathy. I also do not care. The point at which sympathy for him could be useful has long since passed. The damage that he has done to the world is out of proportion to any abstract notion i or anyone else might have about the sanctity of life. This is evil, simple as that. Whether you believe that this human being is a demon who needs to be sent back to hell, or a deeply dysfunctional machine that needs to be switched off, there should be no debate that he should be removed from our midst.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Update on My Borg Implants

It's been three weeks since my surgery now. I've been walking with a cane for the last week and a half, and i can take small steps unassisted. There are still certain things i can't do, like bend past 90 degrees at the waist or cross my legs, but things are slowly approaching normalcy (i can't say "returning" since this is my new normal). I've returned to work, and i can drive (one of the benefits of having a left hip surgery).

I'm eager to get back to some level of physical activity since i feel like a large bucket of Kentucky fried chicken at the moment. I have managed to do some low-key weight lifting, and i have a set of rehab exercises i go through for my hip, but i really need something that will make me sweat. It'll probably be 6-8 weeks still before i can do anything too strenuous, but i'm hoping i might be able to start some swimming before then (i assume you sweat when you swim even if you can't tell).

I haven't quite come to grips with the idea that i am partially artificial yet. Since i'm still swollen and weakened from the surgery, i can't say that i notice a difference between the real hip and the replacement hip, but i have this image in my head of a gap in my body filled with machine parts or makeshift framing. Or like a patch of bondo on the fender of a 1960s Chevy. Although i no longer have the hip pain that bothered me before the surgery, i can't shake the feeling of "otherness". I'm hoping that when the hip strengthens and i can walk normally that i will eventually just forget that it's not "stock".