Sunday, February 27, 2011

At some point we all need Help

At some point we all need Help.
I’m fortunate in that I have a lot of places and people I can turn to get help. These days it is likely to be Google and the Internet but it could just as easily be the instructions that came with the Ikea chest I’m re-assembling (that I didn’t read the first time through), or my wife (as long as it doesn’t involve sports or assembling anything), or family members and friends, or even getting direction from a GPS. The last is particularly useful since in the past I would have preferred to ride around all day using the “process of elimination method” rather than stopping to ask someone for directions.

For running, I’ve often turned to other runners to get advice. Depending on the topic this can be about as reliable as a weather forecast in New England. Over the years I’ve asked a number of runners (both elite and plodders) what they eat the morning of the marathon. I’ve heard everything from candy corn to pancakes, from nothing to bananas and peanut butter on bagels. Despite the variety, each runner is adamant that their solution is the best. It would take a lifetime of marathons to try them all and for many; the result would not be pretty.

But the area where I’ve needed the most advice has been in handling injuries. When you are marathon training, particularly in the winter (which you have to do for Boston), you are bound to run into the occasional injury. I’m not talking the normal aches and pains but more the “someone stabbed me in the hamstring with a dull knife”, kind of pain. I’ve tried the doctor route numerous times. The non-running doctors all have the same predictable answer….Stop Running. When you have put all the time and energy into training for a marathon, especially Boston, you might as well ask me to stop breathing. I tried running doctors, and while they are very sympathetic to the issue, depending on the injury there is little they can do fix things in a short time schedule. The conversation usually ends with “you don’t want to do anything that will cause permanent damage” followed by “there’s always next year”. Like I’ll take that advice.

Not one to behave rationally, I turn to fellow runners looking for some advice that will miraculously cure whatever injury I have while I continue to train up for the race. Desperation and a “never say die” attitude can make you do some insane things (look at Moammar Kadafi). I’ve changed shoes, running style, clothes, diet and terrain. I’ve iced, heated, swabbed with salve and taped parts of my body that were never meant for that stuff. I’ve taken aspirin, Aleve, Tylenol, herbal remedies, and ice baths (try that in the winter). I’ve had massages, done stretches that are like being on a medieval rack, tried yoga strengthening, weight work, elliptical machines and swimming. I stopped just short of the witch doctor, astrologist, and tarot card readers, although I can say I actually thought about it. You have to draw the line somewhere. All of these were recommendations to me by other runners. Sometimes a little help is too much.

In the end, cherry picking among the advice, some common sense, and a bit of stubborn fortitude have gotten me through most of the injuries. I haven’t always been able to successfully make it to the starting line, but with the help of others, I was there many more times than not. The key for me has always been the support and help of others, and the hope if I just hang on a while longer things will get better.

But what would you do if you had nowhere to turn for help. What would you do if you had no friends or family who could help you? If you lost your job, and were about to lose your house. If you were a single parent living hand to mouth and your car dies. If the choice on a daily basis is feed the kids or pay the rent. When you are one accident, one leaky pipe, one broken appliance, one bill away from falling over the edge?

If you have gotten this far you are probably asking, “OK…have you lost it? What has any of this to do with running”? I’m glad you asked. When I started blogging about running Boston 5 years ago it was to help me raise money for a local homeless shelter in my son’s name. Nick hated to see people (and animals) in need and often reached out to help. Running and doing something that helped others helped me deal with the overwhelming grief and at the same time carry on with what Nick would have done. As the years went by I’ve been working on a way to have the effort survive time’s assault on my body and my ability to annual achieve a qualifying time for Boston. This is the year.

I’ve started a memorial in Nick’s name that I plan to turn into a foundation over the course of this year. "Help in the Nick of Time" has as its goal to help people who are right on the edge, the ones who need just a bit of help and hope to keep going. It will start by providing money through charities and churches but ultimately we hope to offer volunteer services as well.

It wouldn’t be a Boston for me if I didn’t get some kind of injury at a critical point in my training. This year is no different. The jury is still out if I will heal fast enough to get in the training I need. But I have my fingers crossed and I’m counting on a little Help in the Nick of Time.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Baby it's HOT outside

No the cold hasn’t gone to my head, and no I have not found some new radical self heating running outfit or some new Zen running technique where you think your way to warm when it is so cold the rubber on your shoes are cracking. I was fortunate enough to escape the snow and cold for a bit by heading off to the Caribbean.

For the past few years I’ve regaled you with whining examples of the tortured long distance runner slogging through the cold weather in heroic style. But after the last blog I figured it was time to report the other side….what it’s like when fewer clothes are better, sunscreen is mandatory and a run without water is an invitation to a death march.

First day out is always the toughest. You would think the body would respond well to going from 20 degrees to 80 degrees. Certainly when I was sitting on the beach soaking up the sun, sipping a cold drink and watching the sun set, the weather seemed perfect. And it was perfect the next day when I headed out for a run with as few clothes on as I could wear and avoid being arrested. By the time I reached the first mile it was clear I was overdressed. It turns out that over 65 degrees most people start to build up heat faster than the body can dissipate it. …even without clothes. By 2 miles I was soaked in sweat and thinking a float in the ocean would be a lot more fun. The body responds to the heat by sweating and by moving more blood flow to the skin to move the heated blood out to the cooler skin (much like a furnace sending hot water around a house).

By 3 miles I was a soggy, red faced, wild eyed tourist that was scaring the locals. Even the local dogs (called Potcakes) were giving me a wide berth. This is about the time that the body can start shutting down if you haven’t been replacing fluids and pacing yourself to lower the effort. The blood flow is moving to the skin and away from the vital organs and is robbing the muscles of the critical oxygen you need. I use to do pretty well in the warmer weather but after a particularly bad marathon where I suffered from significant dehydration I’ve struggled with hot weather. It doesn’t help that the body wants a few days to acclimatize and 24 hours before I had been running in temperatures that were 60 degrees colder.

When I got to 4 miles I decided I had run 8 and headed for the beach. It was easy to rationalize it was 8 miles because at this point I was bordering on delusional. The core body temperature at this point is racing towards critical and the speed it arrives there is a function of the outside temperature, the humidity, the speed of the runner, the clothes they are wearing and their fluid situation. The body’s fluid level is determining the ability to lower the body temperature and move waste from the muscles. Unless the fluids are regularly being replaced it’s like having a leak in your car radiator. At some point the car overheats and the engine seizes up. The spiral down is rapid….kidneys shut down, the body stops sweating, the brain stops getting enough oxygen, and core temperature rises to a level where you cook from the inside out.

While I never got to the point where I was seeing mirages, it was a huge relief to jump in the ocean and down a bottle of water.

Right about now if I was reading this I’d be saying something like “Oh…poor baby! He escapes from 10 degree weather and 3 feet of snow to a tropical island and 80+ degrees and he is moaning about running in the heat.”. Guilt as charged! Whining is one of the less attractive aspects of my marathon training. Pam has learned to ignore me, feel free to do the same.

If it is any consolation, since we came home the temperature has been less than 12 degrees on my runs.