Sunday, June 25, 2017

You can Run but you can't Hide

Anyone who know me knows that running has become an important part of my life.   It’s what helped get me into and pay for college, kept me somewhat sane while working long hours and helping to raise 4 children.   It gave me a way to connect with my children (there is nothing like sharing a run with your kids), helped me deal with losing one, has been the focus of our charity to help others and it was the early warning that saved my life when I got cancer.    Getting back to running the Boston Marathon also served as a goal to help me focus and fight through the 6 months of cancer treatment.    In retrospect, I guess you have to be a few sandwiches short of a picnic to pick that as your goal.  I hear crazy is the new sane.

Two months after the last chemo treatment I was able to start running again and 2 months after that (Dec. of 2016) I began training again to get to the Boston Marathon.    Looking back, the whole idea of running a marathon (especially Boston) 8 months after chemo and while getting bone marrow biopsies every couple of months seems totally unrealistic.    By the time I started training, registration for the race was closed, I didn’t have a number to get in, I only had 4 months to get ready and my blood counts still hadn’t fully recovered.   In my myopically focused mind, those were all minor issues.  I had beat cancer and all other obstacles seemed trivial. 
 
Those of you that have followed my blogs over the winter know the rest of the story.   Help from family and friends and divine intervention got me trained up, got me a number, got me to the starting line and helped me complete the marathon.    What was not part of the story is that my blood count recovery peaked just before the marathon and has been dropping ever since.   A biopsy in mid-May still shows no sign of the disease in the blood but the genomic tests (see last month’s blog for details) continue to show signs the disease is coming back.    By mid-June my white blood cell count was half the April count (1.6K…normal is 4- 10K) and my neutrophils (white blood cells that protect you from infection) were at 200 (normal range is 1800 -7900).    Platelets (that help your blood clot) were at 18K (normal is 150-450K) causing a quick trip to the vampire store (blood bank) for a transfusion.

This week we started on a 3-4 month chemo treatment called hypomethylation.   The goal is to slow down the generation of bad cells and strengthen the immune system so that we can do a Stem Cell Transplant (also called a bone marrow transplant) in the fall.    Each hypomethylation treatment is 5 consecutive days of chemo followed by three weeks of transfusions, isolation and recovery.
   
This week has gone pretty well, other than being stabbed and jabbed more times than the shower scene in Psycho, and developing a bad case of what I call sleep “napnea” (sitting for more than 2 minutes is an invitation for a nap).     Nausea has been manageable and so far, no mouth sores, nose bleeds or rashes.    Running a few miles has me puffing like a steam engine.    Hard to believe two months ago I could run 26 miles and today I have trouble running 2-3.

So for now, life is again on hold.  From all accounts recovery from the Stem Cell Transplant will be 6 months to a year depending on the auto-immune reaction to the new stem cells.   They tell me if my donor is female my new cells will be female.   Guess I’ll be getting in touch with my softer side and finally have an urge to go shopping.  Pam will be thrilled.


Next month, more details on what’s ahead with the transplant.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Terminator

I’m not a big fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger movies with the exception of his Terminator series.   If ever there was a perfect role for him, this was it.   Scary massive robot guy who has super strength, single track mind, gets to show off his muscular naked body and has very few speaking parts.     For those who haven’t seen the movies he is a cyborg from a future where computers rule the world.  He is sent back in time to kill the future mother of the one person who can stop them.    This quote from the movie describes the Terminator It can't be reasoned with, it can't be bargained with...it doesn't feel pity or remorse or fear...and it absolutely will not stop. Ever. Until you are dead.”    I can’t think of a better description of cancer, especially leukemia.   

It’s easy for me to think of leukemia as this “thing” that you have to go to war with.  Like a Terminator it shows no mercy, the battle has one outcome….it or me.    If my story were a movie, in the first one I kicked its sorry butt. 

One of the few lines Arnold has is in the movie has become a hallmark for him.   When his attempts to reach the person he is trying to kill are thwarted he leaves but announces “I’ll be back”.   He of course returns with a vengeance. 

When it comes to my fight, “I’ll be back” is not what I want to hear, but unfortunately, we weren’t so lucky.   In movie parlance, it’s time to make a sequel.  The same stars are all back and the stakes are the same.    The plot starts with our main character (me of course 😉)  living a quiet life believing he has terminated the Terminator.    But the Terminator was never completely destroyed and has been in hiding.    The main charater's side kick (Dr. Kropf) suspects something is not right and deploys some new  technology to detect if the Terminator is still alive.    The hero gets the bad news, the Terminator survived the last battle and will be back.   This time the hero has time to prepare and Dr. Kropf has some new weapons to deploy in the battle.   The rest of the script is still unwritten.

Now the back story.   Several months after chemo the basic monthly blood test had improved to just below normal ranges in most categories but the platelet counts had not recovered and the white blood cell counts were a bit low.   The Feb. bone marrow biopsy didn’t show signs of the disease but given the sluggish recovery of the blood counts the Dr. wanted to run a more advanced test.   Back in for another biopsy mid-March (having a love affair with those 6 inch needles in your hip bone). 

Those of you not interested in the science can skip this paragraph.   I find the technology of the testing fascinating.   If you don’t, well tough, it’s my blog.  You can skip ahead.   There are for 4 levels of testing that can be done to detect Leukemia.  The first is simple blood testing which shows bad blood cells (what are often called immature cells or blasts).  These are visible in more advanced stages of Leukemia like when I first entered the hospital.   The second is using Flow Cytometry.  This is typically done on a bone marrow sample and involves passing a sample through a device with a laser beam that causes cells to “light up” if they have a specific Leukemia antigen.   This can tell you the presence and type of Leukemia earlier than waiting for it to show up in the blood tests.    The third is a FISH test.   They compare your cells to those of a salmon or flounder if they match you have Leukemia or are going to grow gills.  Only kidding.  FISH stands for Fluorescence in situ hybridization, a mechanism used to look at bone marrow at a cellular level to determine not only the presence of cancer but also the type.  In simple terms (mostly because I don’t understand the details) the process goes into a cell and pulls apart strands of DNA in the targeted gene to see if there are chromosomal abnormalities.    The type of abnormality determines the severity of Leukemia and treatment options.   My initial FISH test showed I had t16 which is a translocation of chromosome 16 (one of the better abnormalities in terms of survival rates).     The fourth test is called a PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction).    I never took molecular biology so I am way out of my knowledge base here but in my simple (potentially slightly inaccurate) translation, this test looks into the cell for the presence of the protein that would cause the abnormalities in the DNA.   The presence of that protein foreshadows the return of the disease.    When monitoring a patient in remission the monthly blood tests are the typical regiment with a more aggressive monitoring being periodic bone marrow biopsies with Flow Cytometry tests.   FISH and PCR tests also require bone marrow biopsies, are substantially more expensive and take several weeks to get results. 
   
Now back to the back story.    With the March biopsy, the Dr. ran all 4 tests.    The first three came back clean but the PCR showed the return of the Leukemia causing protein in the cells.     While I’m not showing signs immediately, the return is just a matter of time.   “I’ll be back” are never the words a cancer patient wants to hear form their disease.      In early May we returned to the porcupine ward for another biopsy which should tell us the speed of the resurgence and the plans for starting treatment.


This blog is already too long so I will leave the details on treatment plans for future writings.  In the meantime, I’m following my son’s mantra and doing the 3 L’s…..“living life large”.   If only we didn’t need things like cancer to remind us to do it.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Giving Leukemia the Finger

Image result for boston marathon 2017Can’t sleep, more nervous than usual.  It’s 4 AM and I’m lying in bed mentally walking through the day ahead.    I’ve been doing this for the last half hour and will continue until it’s time to get up at 4:30.     Have I got everything I need for the race?  Don’t forget your race number or the pins to put it on.  No number, no race.    Is the weather really going to be that hot?  What’s the right amount of clothes to bring and wear today to stay warm in the 4 hours before the race and cool during the race?   Do I go out at a fast pace for as long as I can and then struggle in or do I go out slow and hope I’ll feel well enough to maintain a the pace all the way?
  
Getting the logistics right is a challenge these days and adds to the nervousness The real issue in the back of the minds of most of the runners however….Will I feel good today or will it be a painful death march to the finish?     Any thought  that you might not make it to the finish would put a crack in your commitment that would only grow wider as the day wears on.  There’s no room for self-doubt….but it’s there anyway.

At 4:30 it’s rise and shine time (rise and stumble around in the dark is more appropriate).  The race for me won’t start till 11:15 but I have to drive into Boston, find a parking garage walking distance from the finish, and catch a bus to the starting line over an hour drive away.   Because of security and logistics of handling 40,000 or so runners and spectators the roads into the Hopkinton (a relatively small town) shut down around 7AM.     Fortunately I’m staying with my sister and brother in law Marena and Ron only a half hour drive into Boston.

After the 2013 bombing the security got tighter and there were a number of changes that make it logistically more challenging.    For example, most runners end up hanging around in the staging area near the start for several hours.  It’s outside so they need clothes, water, food, etc.  (and of course, with the current generation, their phones) while they wait.   You use to be able to bring a bag to the start with all your extra “stuff” and then just before the start you could put it on a bus that would be waiting for you at the finish.   With the changes there is no bag drop off at the start so you are pretty much limited to the clothes on your back and a small transparent bag of food/water.   It may be obvious but this means if you wear extra clothes to stay warm while waiting for the race to start you either are stuck with carrying the clothes to the finish or throwing them away before the start.   It leads to some pretty humorous and creative pre-race outfits (I was wearing  head to toe painter’s coveralls…very stylish).

So you might ask what runners do when they finish 3-6 hours later if they can’t ship their clothes back to the finish.  Turns out there is a place you can drop a bag of clothes the morning of the race about a half mile from the finish line. I love that they call this “a short distance from the finish”.    When I’m done running a marathon, my idea of a short distance is measured in inches, and it better not have any stairs.    The challenge with this set up is that it assumes you go into Boston drop your bag and then take the Boston Athletic Association cattle car school buses out to the start.  If you have another way to get to the start (like I do), then the bag drop is not helpful.

Long story short, when you leave for the start you better have everything with you that you need for the race and better be willing to dump it if you don’t want to carry it 26 miles.   Also, if you don’t want to freeze at the finish you better figure out how to have some clothes/survival gear waiting for you.    For me, I leave my clothes/phone etc.  in my car in Boston about 6 blocks from the finish line.  Even 6 blocks seems like light years after the race.   When I leave Boston I have the clothes I’m wearing (or discarding), my number, safety pins, a bottle of water and my car keys.   Whatever you do, don’t lose the car keys (at least one runner I know of dropped/lost his/her keys this year).

As I’ve mentioned in the past, the staging area for the start is outside in the fields surrounding the local high school.   With the new security measures this area is surrounded by fences, metal detectors and security personnel.    Inside the secure area are tents with food and drink,  music blasting over a site wide PA system and enough  port-a-potties  (1000 give or take a few) to service 30,000 water filled, nervous runners.    Since most runners will be discarding the outer clothes worn before the race, it has become a bit of a tradition to go into your closet and find those old outfits that you swore you would never be caught dead in and  wear them to the start.  Between the outside venue, the music and the eclectic/bizarre collection of outfits the staging area could be mistaken for a modern day Woodstock (without the drugs and naked people). 

One major difference this year was the number of runners who were wearing their phones.    While the more elite runners were taping injuries, rubbing on Vaseline, and strategically placing Band-Aids, there was a large number of you runners talking about their play list, what headphones they were wearing and whether to carry a portal battery charger for their phone.    I guess I’m just an old school purest, no phone or headphones.  This does leave me open to having one song stuck in my head for 26 miles. 

Given the volume of runners there are now 4 starts (called waves) each including approximately 7500 runners.   The waves go off about 25 minutes apart.  It’s handled pretty much like a cattle call, with announcements at the staging area for the runners from a particular wave to head down to the starting area.  Did I mention that the starting area is a half to ¾ of a mile away?     Waves are seeded by your qualifying time in the last year and since they don’t give credit for the laps I did in the hospital last year, I got put in the last wave.    As you head down to the starting line the streets are lined with volunteers collecting the discard clothes.  Imagine an entire street packed with half-dressed runners as far as the eye can see and with all sorts of discarded clothes flying through the air.  I wish I could do the picture justice.   The bags of clothes are donated to the salvation army.  The quantity is now measured in thousands of pounds.

Whew…we made it, we are finally at the start.  Or at least standing in a corral (yup… that is what they call it and it actually is a good description)  some distance from the start.  Turns out when you fill a road with 7500 runners the crowd, packed heel to toe, can extend back over a quarter mile.   So to manage the crowd they break us up into corrals.  I’m about half way back in the crowd.   When the gun goes off it takes a while to get to the start.   For me it was about 5 minutes of doing this crazy dance where you take a couple steps, start to jog and then the whole crowd just stops.   Kind of like rush hour on the highway. 

Once across the starting line it tends to open up a bit.  Just a bit.  It’s downhill at the start so the crowd tends to pick up speed but once it flattens out the pace slows down.   Everyone around you is supposed to be running at your pace but given the nature of wave 4 (a lot of first timers) and the fact that some people choose to go out faster or slower than their pace, the first couple of miles can be a tedious game of jockeying and weaving.   It was a slow first 2 miles, over a half a minute slower than the pace I was expecting to run. 

The weather was beautiful although very warm for the runners by the time my wave started.   The sun was out and the temp went up into the 70’s but with a nice tail wind.  Over the course of the day over 20 runners will have to be put in ice baths due to lower their body heat.  One runner had a temp of 108 degrees.   I ran in just a singlet and shorts and I saw a number of runners who ran topless (no woman that I was aware of).  There was a guy called the caveman who ran in a loin cloth and barefoot.   He beat me.   
As usual the crowds were awesome.  The closer you get to Boston the louder and more enthusiastic they get.  Could have something to do with the number of university students and alcoholic intake.   I was offered a couple of beers along the way but I refrained from partaking.  It’s really hard to throw up and run at the same time and it really makes a mess of your shoes.    At times, it can feel like you’re running through a food court with people offering you all kinds of food.  Oranges, bananas, hot dogs, sausage sandwiches, popsicles, juice, the aforementioned beer, chips and jelly beans to name a few.
 
My legs never really felt great from the start.  I felt a bit sluggish and the legs were stiff.    There are water/Gatorade  stations at every mile and my strategy given the heat was to alternate between the two every other mile.  By the time I was half way the legs were cramping off and on and I had switched to drinking both at each station hoping the electrolytes would help.    Water stations are a real joy.   Picture a 4 lane highway full of cars approaching an exit ramp and suddenly all 4 lanes of traffic swerve to get of the exit.     If you are lucky enough to find an opening without stopping the next trick is to grab the cup on the fly without spilling it.    I drink on the run which for the most part works assuming you are willing to live with spilling about half.    Works fine for water on a warm day but not so much with Gatorade.  Who knew Gatorade stings when you get it in your eyes.

About mile 16 I met my family cheering section.  Pam, my daughter Tiff and her three boys (the twins have only missed one marathon in their life), my sister Terry and two of her sons,  Marena, Ron and their son Drew, and my sister in law Candy.     I feel a bit like the pony express as I come cruising through with a few high fives, grab a water bottle and some jelly beans and move on up the hills.    Seeing them gave me a second wind.

Mile 16 marks the beginning of a series of hills.  Five miles of them to be exact.   Heartbreak Hill marks the last of the significant up hills and is aptly named.   If you crest that then you face a thigh and knee beating downhill that feels like someone is pummeling you with a baseball bat….with a nail in it.

I won’t bore you with the mental exercises you go through to keep yourself going after 18 miles.  On a good day it’s a struggle and on a bad day….it’s just that.    This year was kind of a middle of the road.   I had started out slow enough that I had the strength but my legs were stiff and clearly there was some impact from my reduced red blood cell count in trying to get enough oxygen.    But I ran a pretty consistent pace and kept the cardinal rule marathoning,  run so  the second half is faster than the first.     While I didn’t run fast enough to requalify for next year (although if I was a year older I would have)  I did finish in the top 42% of my age group.   Given where I was 8 months ago I’ll take it.

So where do we go from here?   Well it turns out the news from the last biopsy was not so good.  Two weeks before the race we found out the protein level in my cells that cause the Leukemia is increasing.   My Dr. is recommending we start planning for a Stem Cell Transplant.    We will know more on the plans after the next biopsy in May and I will post something then.


In the interim it’s party time.  All that ice cream and beer that I avoided while training is calling my name.  I would hate to disappoint them.   

Man plans and God laughs

I love proverbs.  Never use to.   I heard them all the time when I was growing up as my parents, grandmother and sometimes teachers would pass along their tidbits of wisdom in a form that was totally lost on me.  Asking simple questions like “why do I have to wash the car today” might get me a cryptic “A stitch in time saves nine”.  What’s that got to do with a car.  I don’t even sew.   Whenever my older brother and I were the target of these pearls of wisdom we would create our own translations.  “A Penny saved is a Penny earned” became “a Penny saved is Penny candy tomorrow”.     “Two wrongs don’t make a right…but three lefts do”.  “Don’t judge a book by its cover…read the cliff notes”.

As I got older I realized proverbs could be useful when communicating with my children, driving home in a few words concepts and wisdom that normally might take paragraphs.    Suddenly I was my parents, spouting my own wisdom that I’m sure was as frustrating to my them as it had been to me (getting the eye roll is a dead giveaway).    Even if it didn’t mean anything to them it certainly made me feel better.   If nothing else, I just created a new legacy that they would someday pass on to their children. 

What’s this got to do with this weekend’s Boston Marathon?   For a number of years (11 to be exact) I’ve written about what it’s like to be getting ready to run “The Marathon”.    Those of you who have followed me during that journey know that I started with the desire to make something good out of Nick’s death by raising funds for people in need.  It’s been a journey of healing, full of joy and sadness as well as ecstasy and pain (lots of pain).   Somewhere along the way I decided my goal was to complete 10 Boston Marathons in a row, a goal that assures you of getting into future Boston Marathons as long as you can meet the qualifying time.   It was a goal that at times seemed impossible.   How could a weekend warrior stay healthy and trained at a level to qualify to run Boston for 10 years in a row?  But as each year went by and I managed to finish (and my sanity slipped a little more), the goal looked more achievable.   Qualifying and being accepted to run last year turned a decade of effort from a goal to a reality.  In my arrogance, nothing would stop me from finishing my 10th in a row.     Except maybe something life threatening like, oh I don’t know, say….Leukemia?  

It was a year ago this week that I got out of the hospital from my first 5 weeks of chemo treatment.   As I stand on the starting line Monday it will be 8 months since my last chemo treatment and 1 month from my last bone marrow biopsy.     Unlike other years I’m not running to beat a qualifying time (not a prayer of that happening), and I’m not running to reach a goal of 10 in a row (my sanity hasn’t slipped that much, although there is a man this year planning to be the first to do 50 Boston Marathons in a row.  Beyond amazing).    This year in addition to raising funds to help children with cancer, I’m running to thank all the people who helped me through a difficult year.  The doctors who saved my life; the angel nurses who sat by me on the bad nights; the friends who sent words of support, visited, and donated to Help in the Nick of Time; and the friends who helped me get officially back to the starting line of the marathon.   Most of all to thank my family who were there for me every day.    Believe me, that is no small task.

Oh yeah, let’s not forget I’m running to give the finger to Leukemia.  While the battle continues, the disease hasn’t won yet.

For those of you that might find yourself curious about my progress on Monday (or maybe just plain bored), you can check it online (my number is 22239).  There will be four waves of approximately 7500 runners each.   I’m in the 4th wave which starts at 11:15 (by then the leaders who go off at 10AM will be at 16+ miles).   


I’m a man with plan for Monday…hoping God is laughing with me this time. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Courage to be Afraid

I’m not one of those people that does well watching horror movies.   It’s not so much the gore (there is a lot more in some war movies like Saving Private Ryan and Hacksaw Ridge than in most horror movies), as it is the suspense.  It’s the not knowing what’s next that sets my teeth on edge and gets the blood pumping.      I’m typically the guy in the theater that jumps and spills his popcorn when the unexpected happens.

You would think that after 19 Boston Marathons all the excitement and fear would be a thing of the past.  Au contraire.   Each marathon brings with it a new set of challenges and thereby a new set of concerns.   Sometimes it’s injuries, sometimes the weather, sometimes the training (lack thereof) but most of the time it’s all of the above resulting in fear of failure.   Failure in this case would be not finishing, although in most cases there is the added pressure of finishing within a predetermined time.

Last weekend I ran a race with my niece Ali, nephew Drew and sister-in-law Marena.  The race was a half marathon but Drew, Marena and I would run it as a relay while Ali would take on the whole 13.1 miles.   For all of them, running this race would be the farthest they had ever run.   They all finished and they all did awesome.  It was a thrill to be a part of their accomplishments.    On the drive home I marveled at the courage it took for each of them to commit to a challenge of doing something they had never done before knowing it would not be pain-free.  They didn’t have to, nobody made them.  

So, why do it?  For many of us I think we thrive on challenges.   For me, the bigger the challenge the more excitement about the accomplishment but also the bigger the fear of failure.   I’ve found it’s not about convincing myself I’m not afraid, it’s about having the courage to let myself be afraid and to do it anyway.   Granted, even in my daffiest moments I wouldn’t sign up to run across the Sahara Dessert (it was an actual race) or run 1000 marathons in 1000 days (monks in Japan).    Sometimes being afraid of failure is just good common sense.   BTW…if a monk starts the challenge and doesn’t quit before 101 marathons then rumor has it he has to kill himself if he doesn’t finish.    Serious motivation.

Last week I had the privilege of visiting a hospital pediatric cancer floor.    It was, uplifting, heart rending, and a lesson in true courage.    Children as young as infants and as old as high school teenagers who have had their world reduced to a single room, frequently only leaving to go for more tests and treatments.  They spend as much time plugged into intravenous bags as plugged into their iPhones.   The rooms are often decorated like they might be at home with posters, and pictures, and of course stuffed animals and video game consoles.     For many of them their fight is a multi-year process that includes multiple setbacks.   One teenager told me that the biggest fear they face is not the fear of the unknown, it the fear of a relapse.     It’s knowing what it took to get through it before and facing the knowledge that they have to go through it all again.    Having the courage to face being afraid but to keep fighting.   It certainly puts my more trivial fears of finishing a marathon in perspective.  Keeps me focused on raising donations for Help in the Nick of Time as well.

With two weeks to go I’m winding down my training.    My last 40-mile week is behind me from here on in it will be shorter runs and rest.   At this point, nothing I can do from a training perspective will help.     Runs have been almost a minute a mile slower than last year which means I’ll likely be out on the course almost a half hour longer than normal, but who cares…I’m just thankful to be healthy enough to get out there and privileged to have a number this year.    

Nervous about finishing?  Yes!  Excited about being there?  Hell yes!   

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The 40% Rule

I was babysitting for my nearly 1 year old grandson the other day and he was demonstrating his newest trick, climbing stairs (don’t tell his mom).    He does the typical 1 year old crawl…hands on the stair, followed by a knee up, second knee up and then hands up another stair and the shaky stand and repeat.    Not much different than the method I’ve been using to climb stairs these days, only he’s a bit faster than me.   As you may have guessed, my body’s reaction to marathon training has been less enthusiastic than my emotional passion.
   
There are three main parts of your body that have to play together to complete a marathon; your lungs, your legs and your brain.   There are certainly other parts that play significant roles like your heart (if you’re not pumping blood, all the lung capacity in the world isn’t going to help), your blood (bleeding out is never very helpful while racing), and your digestive system (try running for hours when you have to go to the bathroom.  It’s especially tough passing the water stations).  But assuming you are of a relatively sound body and not leaking anything, the lungs, legs and brain are the key. 
 
For me this year, the lungs are really not much of an issue.   At the pace I’m running I get passed by little old ladies walking their dogs.   On a particularly windy day last week, trash was blowing down the street faster than I was moving (never thought I’d be racing a tin can and paper cup…and losing).    It was my lung capacity (or lack of it) that last year drove me to visit the doctor and probably saved my life.   My lack of good red blood cells had me breathing like I was coughing up a lung when I was running.  While my blood counts are still not back to normal levels they are way ahead of where they were this time last year.

As far as the brain is concerned, we’ve covered this pretty well in past blogs.   It takes a certain level of insanity to want to run a marathon but there is a whole separate class of crazy for those that do it more than once.    Case in point, when I was initially told I had Leukemia last year I asked the doctor if the treatment might be complete in time for me to run the marathon.   My oncologist just paused a minute then responded…”ahhh, no.”   I suspect she was trying to decide if I was kidding and then whether she should start my chemo treatment on the psyche ward.  Looking back, it was a stupid question but at the time it seemed a reasonable request.   

There is a rule that the navy seals use called the 40% rule.   When your brain starts getting messages that it is time to shut down whatever physical effort you are performing you are only 40% of the way to what you are capable of doing.   It’s based on research that says that the brain monitors your body and wants to assure that it always keeps a reserve (something about historical fight or flight and keeping enough energy in case you happen to bump into a saber tooth tiger).    Training your brain for a marathon is teaching your brain to ignore the signals and keep going.   When the legs, feet, knees, hips and lungs start whining (I’m tired, I don’t want to do this anymore) the brain tries to distract them, simply tells them to be quiet or ignores them.   When they start asking why they have to keep going the response is “because I say so”.    Not dissimilar to what you might hear from a tired parent of multiple young children.   

That leaves the legs.    Age has stolen my memory and my ability to make it through the night without visiting the bathroom but has sharpened the body’s memory of all my previous injuries.    It’s not that those pulled hamstrings, knotted IT bands, stabbing knee pains, achy hips or tweaked Achilles are hurting all the time.  It’s more that they lie in wait for that first day you are feeling good and maybe run a little farther or faster than they like.   Then they attack with a vengeance, bringing with them all the history of previous times they have been injured (think couples therapy session…dredging up all the old wounds).     Not all at once mind you.  They are much too clever for that.   It might start with a sore hamstring which causes you to favor the left leg resulting in the resurrection of a knee injury in the right leg which is really caused by a tight IT ban in the right hip which in turn causes a problem with the left Achilles.  Before you know it, you’re limping down the street trying to favor so many different parts of your body that you look like the hunchback of Notre Dame.    A rational human might decide at this point to take some time off to heal but when you are ramping up for a marathon, time is not your friend.

I was reading a running book the other day that touched on the subject of muscle memory in runners.  The basic premise is when parts of the body get injured or fatigued then the brain will shut down the use of those muscles.   Turning off muscles puts stress on other areas which in turn causes them to be turned off.   The longer this goes on without a reset, the more tired/injured/weak you become.  Part of the craze around training programs like cross fit is to train up a broader range of the muscles so that you have less chance of triggering this cycle.   The author also mentions that there are pressure points that can be used to switch the muscles back on.   One doctor said his patients likened the pressure point treatments to child birth.    I had something similar done to me by a chiropractor a few years ago and while I don’t have a point of reference for child birth I can certainly say it was in the same general area as having a tooth pulled.   Despite that, it may be time for another tune up.

At this point you might be asking “Why are you putting yourself through this?”.    I’m glad you asked.   We’ve already established my mental instability, that’s certainly one aspect.   The other is a desire to do something hard to support the children who are also facing the daily challenges of dealing with cancer treatment.  What they are doing is much harder than doing a marathon and often is measured in years instead of hours.    I don’t like asking for money and I know there are lots of good causes that people can give to.    I figure if I want the privilege of asking for help I have to demonstrate my level of commitment and passion too.  
 

Here's a marathon trivia question for next time.   It’s common knowledge that Kenya and Ethiopia have the top marathon runners in the world.   After these two countries, what country had the most marathon runners in the top 100 in the world in 2013?   Drop me an email with your guess.    I’ll include the answer in the next blog.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Everyone knows an ant can’t, move a rubber tree plant

Image result for ant manWhen I’m in the midst of training up for the Boston Marathon, Saturday is my long run day.  As is often the case,  my mind wanders to all sorts of strange topics.    This morning it was the  Academy Awards.  Don’t ask me why, I’m not particularly interested in award ceremonies and I suspect my taste in movies would have the “critics” rolling their eyes.    Normally I haven’t seen many if any of the movies nominated so I wouldn’t have much of an opinion and typically found watching to be  about as exciting as watching a 12 hour cricket match between Sri Lanka and Kenya.    I’m sure it is passionately important to some people but I’m not one of them.    I’m good with just getting the results at the end.

This year however I have actually seen a number of the movies (cancer recovery has it’s perks…Tuesday is movie  day for $5).    This year  I actually have an opinion on both the movies and the actors/actresses, and while I suspect my views don’t match the critics, it will be interesting to see where they are wrong.     Who knows, we might even agree.  Stranger things have happened.  Look at the presidential elections. 

What’s all this got to do with my long run?  Really not much except I was having a particularly difficult time getting through the run today and a song popped into my head that it turns out won an Academy Award in 1959 (and yes I do remember 1959…just don’t ask me about the 70’s).   It was sung by Frank Sinatra in the movie “A Hole in The Head”.  It’s called “High Hopes”. 

A part of the song includes the title of this blog:
Anyone knows an ant, can't
Move a rubber tree plant
But he's got high hopes, he's got high hopes
He's got high apple pie, in the sky hopes
So any time your gettin' low
'stead of lettin' go
Just remember that ant
Oops there goes another rubber tree plant

This week will mark the 1 year anniversary of being diagnosed with Leukemia.   In some ways it’s hard to believe it has only been a year given how much has happened in that time.   Maybe it’s just I’m more keenly aware of each day.  Could be that time just seems to drag when you are living from test result to test result.     There were times in the last year when I wasn’t sure I would ever get to run again.   After treatment was complete and I began to run again it was pretty clear that the road back to running anything like a marathon was going to be long and slow.   But I needed a goal to keep me motivated in my recovery and getting back to Boston carried so much emotional significance, not only as a milestone for my recovery but to give back through Help in the Nick of Time.    Unfortunately the registration for Boston was closed while I was just finishing up treatment and there was no way for me to qualify anyway.     But I had High Hopes.

This week I got word I have an official number for Boston (thanks to a lot of begging and help from friends).    I have a long way to go to be able to make 26 miles and clearly my pace will be a lot slower than my previous times but God willing  in 6 weeks I will be at the starting line (and assuming I don’t come to my senses sooner).     Right now it is riding on the results from the latest bone marrow biopsy.  We hope to have those within the next week.

Will we make it to Boston and can we make it to the finish?  Not sure but I have High Hopes. 
 

Oops there goes another rubber tree plant