Fusion to 5K Part 14 (Time to get back up)

For the last three years I have waited for the day to come when I would finally run my first race since spine surgery. Four days before I would run in the Illinois Marathon Relay with my Body n’ Sole teammates on the “Slugs Racing Team” I still wasn’t sure how I would hold up running 6.7 miles. My brace was still causing pain on the bottom of my foot during runs over 30 minutes and unless a miracle happened, it was going to take longer than that. That evening in the local newspaper (The News gazette) I read an article about a runner (Lisa Victorius) that was competing in the Illinois Marathon, that also had foot-drop and running with a brace. Her foot-drop was caused by a running injury to her leg that happened in 2009 and wearing a brace had allowed her to run and compete in marathons.
The timing of this article couldn’t have come at a better time and I was hoping that I would get a chance to talk with her but with 20,000 runners in the race that would probably be unlikely.
After a busy week at the store and being on my feet working at the expo, by the time race morning came my legs were dead. I had warned my team that I would not be flying through my part of the relay but I would make it to the exchange one way or another. With a breakfast consisting of coffee,a Hammer Bar, Gatorade and one Aleve (The meal of champions) I made my way to the starting line.

Breakfast of champions.

Breakfast of champions.

Stepping into the back of my starting wave I looked around for someone to pace off of. Moving through the crowd I found myself near the front of wave and spotted Chris Migoski, an ultra trail marathoner that I knew. After discussing the usual runner things that you talk about before a race I decided to try to run with Chris and see if I could keep up. As the race unfolded we cruised through the U of I campus at a steady 8:40 pace and I tried to keep relaxed and ignore the feedback from my legs that were wanting to sit down on the curb. Whenever I would start to drop off pace, Chris would look back to see where I was and I would summon enough energy to catch back up. Around three miles my foot was burning from the pressure of the brace on the ball of my foot, but slowing down wasn’t going to help, plus my teammates were waiting for me hopefully unless they got stuck in traffic. As I got closer to finishing I thought about how lucky I was to be running again, but If I’m going to consider doing an Ironman (Did I just say that?) I have to find a way to make this brace more comfortable or find a better one.
Coming into the exchange zone I didn’t see my team,( I was thinking, oh ….) and as I was near the end of the exchange, Carol came running towards me taking the handoff and my run was over.

Michael warming up & Van cooling down.

Michael warming up & Van cooling down.

The rest of the race went smooth with everyone putting in impressive efforts and as we drove from one exchange zone to another, cheering on my teammates and other runners reminded me why I like relays so much.

Jana taking the handoff from Michael to run the final leg.

Jana taking the handoff from Michael to run the final leg.

Finishing the race running into Memorial Stadium with my Team was the icing on the cake.

Outside of the Stadium, Go Team Slug !

Outside of the Stadium, Go Team Slugs !

Body n' Sole Sports Team Slugs. L-R Van,Michael,Carol,Jana Polka dot leg sleeves -Zensah

Body n’ Sole Sports Team Slugs. L-R
Van,Michael,Carol,Jana
Polka dot leg sleeves -Zensah

After we were given our medals and had team pictures taken we all started to head out of the stadium and there in front of me was Lisa Victorius the runner that I had read about. I introduced myself and for next few minutes we talked about our races, discussed living and running with foot-drop and how lucky we were to be able to run again. She told me about the team she runs with called TeamUP that has runners with foot-drop running races all over the USA to promote awareness about foot-drop. If Team Up is looking for another athlete to help with the cause, sign me up.
Next on my racing calendar is an open water swim in June (Back to the pool), then some short course triathlon’s to start my next phase.
To be continued…………

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Fusion to 5k part 13 ( Two years later & the Illinois Marathon?)

It’s now been over two years since my spinal fusion and during that time I have put in endless hours of physical therapy, training and doing research about running after spine surgery and foot-drop. I discovered that most people never fully return to running or if they do it’s not at the same level they once did. I even read discouraging comments on forums telling the runner looking for help to “just give up”. Reading comments like that just motivated me even more to keep pushing through the rough stuff and to add new goals when things were getting easier. Competing in the Big Shoulders 5k swim gave me that racing fix I desperately needed, but being able to run a race was still a goal that I wanted to accomplish.
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Fusion to 5k Part 12 (Big Shoulders 5k swim)

Race day for the Big Shoulders 5k open water swim came faster than I expected. When I first started writing this blog I never imagined that my first 5k after spine surgery would be a swim instead of a run and here I was standing on the Ohio Street beach with my family and a thousand swimmers waiting for my wave to start swimming.


During the pre-race meeting they told us if you get in trouble to put your hands in the air, and I was thinking if that happened, how the hell would I be able to do that? I was in the fifth wave, so I got a chance to see the elite swimmers start ahead of me and make it look way too easy.

 The last wave of the 5k swim. I'm the one in the red cap.

The last wave of the 5k swim. I’m the one in the red cap.

Finally it was my turn, and with a blur of arms and legs I was off and moving away from the safety of shore. After being bumped into and grabbed by other swimmers I moved out to the outside edge of the course to have some space to try and enjoy this swim. Within ten minutes of swimming, my leg with the nerve damage was numb and I tried my best to relax and not let it cramp. Focusing on my form and looking up occasionally to check out the amazing view of the Chicago sky line kept my mind off my numb foot.

I managed to complete the first lap before my right leg decided it was time to cramp and make things more challenging. Trying not to panic I choose the swim faster and get the damned thing over with option, which I don’t recommend unless you are experienced swimming through cramps. With a hundred yards to go I noticed swimmers beside me were standing up and running to the finish line, so I stood up and quickly discovered that my calf was still cramped making running impossible. It looked like swimming until I beached myself and then crawling and hopping to the finish was how it would end. I ended up finishing faster than expected and except for a sore calf didn’t feel that bad.

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Finish line of the 2013 Big Shoulders 5k swim or my tryout for Baywatch?

Carol and Van after the swim

Carol and Van after the swim

Now what, Ironman? Was the first thing to cross my mind, that and hoping the lake water I accidentally ingested doesn’t make me sick. I skipped the free post race Chicago style barbecue for a bottle of coke and a nice warm shower to rinse off Lake Michigan. With a two-week break to recover from a minor surgery (that I had postponed until after my race) I had plenty of time to plan my next challenge which would definitely involve running.

To be continued……..

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Fusion to 5k part 11 ( Braces, Big Shoulders & Jack Daniels )

It’s been several months since my last post and several things have happened during that time. Last March I went to see a pedorthist (Bob) to discuss the pros and cons of having a foot-drop brace made for me and decided to give it a try. After being fitted in the brace, he had me try running with it in the hallway to see if my foot would clear the floor and if it was comfortable. My foot definitely cleared, but the comfort was not something I could imagine running very far with. Obviously the brace designers didn’t have running in mind when they designed this thing. The following day I brought it with me to therapy, so Kim could video tape me running with it on the indoor track at the arc. My running form wasn’t exactly the way it used to be, but all things considered it wasn’t bad. For a few yards I could tolerate the brace, but there had to be something better.

I had a follow-up appointment with Bob two weeks later and he made a couple of modifications to make it more comfortable for every day wear. I asked him if there was a brace designed for runners and his best suggestion was to try an over the counter brace called the Freedom Brace that strapped around the ankle and connected with a buckle to my shoe tongue. It didn’t appear to be designed for serious running, but since it didn’t cost that much, I decided to order one. When I received it, I brought it and the larger foot-drop brace with me to PT so Kim could video me running with both braces to see which one was best for running.

Van testing out the Freedom Foot-drop brace.

Big Foot sighting or Van testing out the Freedom Foot-drop brace.

The bulkier AFO one gave me more clearance but the freedom brace was close and didn’t dig into my leg quite as bad. I was told that having to use a brace shouldn’t be a permanent thing but exactly how long was not known.

While all this was happening my wife informed me that she had just signed up for the Big Shoulders 5k swim in Chicago, on September 7th and since I wasn’t running yet, it might be something I could start training for, having 6 months to get into swimming shape. It had been almost 25 years since I competed in triathlons and the thought of doing a 5k swim in Lake Michigan wasn’t on my radar screen. A few days later I had one of my “What the hell” moments and found myself on the Big Shoulders 5k website checking things out and a couple clicks later I was signed up for the 5K (It’s way too easy to sign up for races) and by noon I was heading to the pool to do my first swim. I was hoping that the seven months of water running I had done would translate over to swimming, but after a few laps I was gasping for air and my arms were trashed. I was starting to wonder what I had just got myself into.
After a couple of weeks of swimming, a swim coach suggested I come to one of his swim stroke clinics, to see if they could improve my technique. Considering that I was moving though the water like an anchor and didn’t want to end up on the bottom of Lake Michigan, I took him up on his offer. During the class, they worked on my body position,video taped me swimming and gave me several swimming drills to improve my stroke.

My first swimming analysis shows that I had a lot of work to do.

My first swimming analysis shows that I have a lot of work to do.

With only one swim lesson under my belt, I started cranking out the laps after my everyday 1 hour water run, and then would go home and do a few 1 min runs mixed in with some walking. The cheaper brace I was wearing was allowing me to run, but it was digging into my ankle and causing blisters. Considering what I had already been through, this was a small price to pay to run again and I just purchased several boxes of band aids and plunged ahead.
After three weeks of alternating one minute runs with short walks, I was discussing my progress with Greg Walters (a local Track/XC coach) and he suggested I might enjoy giving the Jack Daniels running program a try. I was familiar with the program, but didn’t realize that he had a training plan for beginning runners or runners that were coming back from a long layoff. After reading the program I decided to give it a go and even recruited my next door neighbor Norman to train with me. He first thought the program involved drinking Jack Daniels Whiskey, but when I explained it was just a coach with the same name and how the program worked I found myself a training partner.

For the next four months I swam six days a week, (including more swim lessons) ran three days and continued to do my physical therapy. By the end of the summer I had developed into a swimmer and had survived the first phase of my running program. To celebrate my accomplishment my running partner gave me a bottle of Jack Daniels with a card saying congratulations and not to drink until after I finished my 5k swim which was only a week away.

To be continued……

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Fusion to 5k Part 10 (Are we there yet?)

It’s been a year since my surgery and I am frequently asked the question “Are you running yet?”
And presently the answer is “Not yet, but I’m slowly making progress.” This brings back memories of childhood family vacations driving across the country where we would constantly ask our parents “Are we there yet?”

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Fusion to 5k-Part 9 (Just Add Water?)

After waiting three more weeks and continuing physical therapy twice a week my second attempt at running finally came. This time there were no mountains,forest fires, just 754 ft of sweet, humid central Illinois air. I completed the run, but the pain was coming back in my hamstring/glut insertion. I tried to push through the discomfort for the next two weeks but that only made things worse, so common sense finally kicked in and I stopped running and returned to the ranks of a Nordic walker.

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Fusion to 5k part 8 (Fire on the Mountain)

In less than 48 hours I was about to find out how it would feel to run again.
Flying into Denver’s airport on June 22nd, I couldn’t help but notice how dry things looked on the ground. On the drive down to Colorado Springs there were signs about banning fireworks and open fires due to the dry conditions. The hopes of getting a break from the Midwest heat for a few days was traded for temps in the 100s and dry air.

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