Fusion to 5k part 7 ($80,000 coffee mug ?)

The days after walking the Illinois Marathon 10k reminded me that I may have pushed myself too hard and needed to back off until my body recovered. I continued to walk and go to physical therapy although my energy levels that week were not at their best and leg soreness forced me to cut back on the distance I was walking. In physical therapy the main focus was regaining strength and flexibility in my right leg/foot and working on my balance, which like my walking were not that great the week after the race. In just thirty days (Not that I was counting) I would out find out if my spine was healing and starting to fuse giving me a better idea on when running would become a reality. My improvements that month were not dramatic, but even a slight weight increase in my legs extensions (2 lbs to 5 lbs woohoo!) I took as a victory although knowing I still had a long way to go. When the day of my six month follow-up appointment finally came with Dr. Harms, I had to go in early to have an X-ray taken of my back before the appointment. (Too bad I don’t get frequent flyers miles for all the X-rays and MRI’s I’ve had in the last twelve months.) While sitting in the waiting room after the X-ray I couldn’t help but notice the other patients getting X-rays and waiting for the results. Some walked with limps and others moved a little smoother and I appeared to be the youngest of the group there that day. When my name was finally called I was taken to one of Dr. Harms offices decorated with Star Wars collectibles from floor to ceiling.

Dr. Harms Star Wars Room

While waiting I thought about what I had been through in the past six months and soon I would find out how my fusion was healing and when I would be released to start running again and I even started counting how many Star Wars  characters were on the wall. I guess we will never know the number because a few minutes later Dr. Harms entered the room. He asked me how things were going and went over my records and then pulled up my X-ray’s on the computer to show me the results.

Screws & Rods & donor bone ( oh my! )

He informed me that the fusion was healing well with the donor bone starting to grow together and the rods and screws were still nice and solid. I was also told that I only needed to wear the brace for strenuous activities for the next three weeks and I could start to add a little running to my routine but to be very gradual and listen to my body. Before I left I was asked to answer a few questions on a post-op six month survey and when I was finished I was given a spine institute travel coffee mug which I have renamed “The $80,000 coffee mug”, the amount that my surgery has cost so far.

$80,000 Coffee mug?

The next day I was back at physical therapy and could start adding core strength exercises to my routine. I discussed with my PT. Heather that Dr.Harms had released me to start running again and she suggested I wait until my core, leg and foot strength improves which I agreed was probably a good idea. After three more weeks of PT including more difficult exercises, Heather brought up the idea of having me run that weekend and doing 4 x 30 sec runs with 5 min of walking between each run. That weekend I would be traveling to Colorado Springs, Colorado visiting family which meant I would be doing my first run in almost sixteen months at an Elevation of 6,035 feet above sea level. I would also be attempting to walk up the incline at Pikes Peak with the restrictions that I would have to wear my brace, use hiking poles and only go half way up.

Pikes Peak or Bust

To be continued……..

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Fusion to 5k part 6 (Illinois Marathon 10k)

After waiting what seemed more than five months, race weekend finally arrived. Race morning I woke up feeling sore and exhausted after working two long days at the Illinois Marathon Expo and at Body n’ Sole, plus hearing the sounds of rain made me want to roll over and stay in bed. It brought back memories of the first Illinois Marathon, where I suffered the worst back pain I had ever felt running the half marathon , covering the distance around an 1hr 40 min. Dragging myself out of bed I took a couple Tylenol and headed downstairs to have some breakfast and get dressed for the race.
Since this was my first time Nordic walking a race I figured wearing a singlet and split shorts or tights, etc would not be appropriate (but would be kind of funny and make a fun finish photo) and so to avoid scaring any fellow walkers I put on a rain jacket and pants.

Dressed to walk

Not wanting to fight traffic and park too far away from the start I arrived around 6am. The marathon & half were scheduled to start at 7am with the 10k starting around 7:35am. I had the overwhelming urge to do my typical 2-3 mile warm-up, finishing with a few sprints, but since I was only walking the race, I just chilled out in my car, listening to the pre-race show on the radio and doing some last-minute adjustments on the HD hat cam that I was going to wear during the race to capture the moment.
I had almost decided not to wear the camera because of the rain, but soon after I arrived the rain stopped and Robert Reese, the local meteorologist, announced that the rain was moving out just in time for the start.

Once the marathon got underway I got out of the car and did my walking stride outs at a Galapagos tortoise pace and headed to the back of the pack to get ready for the start. Old race habits never die, so here I am, at the back of the race, sizing up my competition. The lady with the baby stroller looks too fast, but the guy wearing jeans and a parka should start over heating after a couple of miles so I will keep my eye on him.

Illinois Marathon 10K Start

Besides finishing and beating “Parka Man”, my main goal was to make it to the finish before the first marathon runner. There were a couple of Kenyan runners with PR’s under 2:15 so having the 10k start 35min later would require me to walk at a pace considerably faster than I was currently doing.

I don’t remember hearing the start, but everyone started moving forward and it was go time, with AC/DC’s Thunderstruck cranking out of the PA system.
It took around three minutes to get to the starting line, with frantic runners that must have shown up late, weaving in and out through all the walkers. As the pack spread I could hear the loud sound of shoes slapping the ground and realized that it was me creating that annoying noise. I tried adjusting my stride and speed but nothing seemed to help, my feet would just not pick up, so it looked like it was going to be a long day. By the time I had walked a half mile, even Parka Man had a huge lead and the lady with the stroller was out of sight. The good news was that the crowd had thinned out and I had more space to move. I started using my arms more to take advantage of using the poles to increase my speed. Within a few blocks I was getting into a rhythm and started passing some people and discovered that even walkers are competitive with a few glancing at me and passing me back.

Getting passed by the lead marathoner.

Part of the 10k route was on the middle section of the marathon course and that’s where I first saw the lead marathon runners go flying by me like I was standing still.

For the next few miles my speed continued to increase and with a mile to go I could see the stadium where the finish was and that’s where my wife informed me that the first marathoner was not too far behind. According to her I said something like “I better get my butt in gear” as I picked up the pace.
As I entered the stadium I could hear the announcer saying that the first marathon runner was coming and the finish was only fifty yards away and on the sidelines Mark from Body n’ Sole was yelling my name with a high-five waiting for me.

High Five From Mark

By the time I was handed my finishing medal I heard the police siren, turned around and there was the marathon winner crossing the finish line, looking like he could turn around and run another marathon.

First marathoner crosses the finish line

With my mission accomplished, it was time to head home, get off my feet and start the next phase of my comeback.
To be continued……….

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Fusion to 5k part 5 (Cramp…..Cramp….Cramp…)

With only three months to build up to walking 6.2 miles I had my work cut out for me.
The distance itself was not daunting, but the thought of being out there for possibly over 2 hours didn’t sound like much fun.
The good news was that I was starting to have more feeling on my right side and my speed was improving; the bad news was that the muscles were still extremely weak and when I tried to use them, cramps the size of tennis balls would stop me in my tracks.

Cramps the size of tennis balls

The old trick of pinching my upper lip when the cramps hit worked occasionally, but other times just gave me a sore lip. I even tried increasing my electrolytes but that didn’t seem to help the problem.

The next two months were uneventful with my walking increasing gradually week after week. Most days I would do a longer walk in the morning between two to three miles and a second walk during my lunch break covering one mile using the walking poles for all but the times I was forced inside on the treadmill. One highlight was needing to contact Omni where my brace came from to have them make it smaller. Apparently all that nordic walking I was doing was burning off the pounds and shrinking my waistline . I still had more to lose before I get to my ideal running weight but it was a good start.
Near the end of March I made the commitment and signed up for the Illinois Marathon 10k, a distance at one time I could complete under 32 min, now just hoping to keep it under two hour’s and not falling on my face.
I had thought about maybe walking it without the poles but if my balance didn’t improve soon there wouldn’t be a choice.
In March I had another follow-up appointment with the Spine Clinic and asked about the muscle weakness and cramping  I was dealing with and was told it may take up to a year or more to improve and to expect some permanent muscle weakness. The cramping was caused by the muscles that for some time having little nerve function basically waking up with cramping as a side effect. Permanent weakness is a phrase I would not accept so I asked about when I could start physical therapy and was
scheduled for an evaluation later that week.
My first session made me realize that my strength was worse than I had thought and if returning to running was ever going to happened, physical therapy was the road to that goal.

The long road to recovery

For the next 4 weeks leading up to the race I continued walking twice a day, increasing my longer walks from four to five miles and going to therapy twice a week.
I had thought about getting in a six-mile walk in before race day but between walking, therapy and work I was starting to feel a little fatigued and decided to save it for the race.
To be continued….

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Fusion to 5k – Part 4 (Losing the Walker)

Looking for a way to be free of using a walker, but not risking falling or injury, led me to the thought of using Nordic ski poles to help me get around and improve my fitness. My right foot and leg were not fully functioning so going very far without something to hang on to was not a smart option. My three week follow up appointment was that week so I asked if it would be ok to use Nordic walking poles and was given the go ahead to use them, but was told to make sure to not overdo it and to keep my posture straight while using them. I already owned a pair of adjustable ski poles that I used to run with on trails to prepare for Nordic Skiing, so I was ready to go. The next day I headed out for my first Nordic walk, doubling my distance (a whopping 1/4 mile) from the previous day, stopping a couple times to rest and get the numbness out of my leg, before returning home. I was excited to finally be free of the walker, but I had forgotten that adjustable poles can sometimes slip, and a few days later I almost hit the ground when one of them collapsed.
Unless I wanted to continue to risk falling I needed to find a pair of one piece walking poles and after a little research I ordered a pair of Swix Nordic poles from skiwalking.com. A few days later the new poles showed up at my door along with a DVD on how to use them. Since I already had a XC skiing background I quickly picked up the technique and gradually increased my distance to 1/2 mile in 20 min. A tortoise pace for sure, but I knew it couldn’t get any slower.

Nordic Walking around the neighborhood


 I still wasn’t sure if I was going to the Body n’ Sole New Years Eve run until the day of the event and once I was there decided to walk 1/2 mile without the poles.

At the turn around point, pain and fatigue forced me to take a short break (holding on to a street sign) and then I slowly made it back to the store.I stayed long enough to visit and hand out prizes for the run and with the pain meds wearing off I quickly headed home to lay down on an ice pack. This was a December that I will never forget, but I’m glad that it is over.

I’m the one behind the camera.

During the month of January my distance and pace started to improve dramatically so that by the end of the month I was up to covering 1 1/2 miles at a 20 min/mile pace with a total of 40 miles. Most days, if the weather was decent I Nordic walked outside and the few times that we had ice or snow I walked inside on the treadmill. I also went back to work the week after New Years, for only 3-4 hrs at first then adding a few hours at a time until I was back to full time.
My nine week follow-up appointment was the first week of February and Dr. Harms was very pleased with my progress. I brought up my idea to possibly do the Illinois Marathon 10k in April, adding that I would be walking, obviously not running and he said that would be ok if I gradually increased my mileage. The longest I had walked at that point was 1 1/2 miles, but with the race three months away there was plenty of time to get to 6.2 miles.
To be continued………..

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Fusion to 5k – Part Three (The Walker 500)

Waking up at home the first day after returning from the hospital, I wondered what the heck had happened to me. My head was spinning, pain levels beyond description and on the table next to me was a smorgasbord of pain meds, muscle relaxants and ice packs. I was warned by Dr. Harms that I would have doubts on why I volunteered to put my body through this ordeal, and even be mad at him for doing this to me, especially the first few weeks after the surgery. I think that’s why they were all wearing masks in the operating room that day, so I wouldn’t get a glimpse of the guy holding the chisel and power drill. I wasn’t really mad at anyone because I knew deep down that without the surgery things would only get worse.

Since I was restricted to not climbing too many stairs for a while, my base camp for the next few weeks would be on a day bed in the corner of our family room, right next to the Xmas tree. (I hope I don’t have flash backs during next year’s holiday and start having back pain whenever I see a tree).
Because of the limited trips up to the second floor where the shower and my razor are, I started to look like a scruffy dog.


Not quite the look I was going for, so it was time to get training and make it upstairs to clean up my act. At first one lap around the lower level three or four times a day was all I could tolerate, but after a couple of days I was cruising laps around the dining & living room like a geriatric race car driver leaving a path on the carpet, timing each lap with my Ironman watch (and no I didn’t strap my GPS watch to the walker, because the speed I was traveling wouldn’t have registered). With the first level of training done, climbing the stairs to the second floor stood between me and a shave and nice warm shower. The first few steps were a little shaky, but after several minutes I made it upstairs and after getting my incision covered over with press & seal (great product BTW) to keep the incision dry, I was able to make “Scruffy Man” go away.

With the Body n Sole New Years Eve 3 mile Fun Run just three weeks away, I had my work cut out for me if I wanted to be able to make an appearance and try to help out with the event. I gradually increased my walking time to 5 min indoors and decided since there was no ice or snow to bundle up and take the walker outside and get a change of scenery. I only made it to the next door neighbor’s driveway before my right leg went numb and decided it was time to head back and try again the next day.

The following days were filled with walks outside, gradually increasing my distance one house at a time. The following week one of my running buddies, George came by to walk with me and I made it a little over a block before needing to return home. Having a training partner, even for that one walk, seemed to motivate me and soon I was traveling further and further around the neighborhood. The only trouble was that the plastic skids on the walker we’re wearing away and I really didn’t want get another set or stick tennis balls on the legs, so I needed to find another way to safely walk without using the walker.
To be continued……

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Fusion to 5k – Part 2 – (All I want for Christmas is a new L5)

Surgery day could not come soon enough. Time seemed to stand still as my symptoms continued to get worse, with walking (the only fitness activity I could do) becoming uncomfortable. When my alarm clock went off early on the morning of December 2nd, the anxious feeling I had was similar to the one I have on a Marathon day. I just wanted to get the thing started and get to the finish. The start in this case was a L5-S1 spinal fusion, and the finish, more than six months away with the prize being possibly running again. By the time I was rolled down to the ER I was nice and relaxed (could have been the meds) and even joking with the anesthesiologist to make sure I didn’t wake up during the surgery.

Waiting for the anesthesiologist.

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Fusion to 5k (Part one)

With all the training programs out there, I have not found one that fully covers how to return to running after spinal surgery, and that is why I started “Fusion to 5k.” The last time I ran was in March of 2011, a three mile run that left me with pain and a sick feeling that it may be the last one for a while. I didn’t expect my hiatus from running to span more than a year and  jean size.

I started running in the late 70s, where short shorts, tall socks, and long hair were the style and the first running boom was just getting started.    My first race was the inaugural  Sage City 10k  using  running shoes stuffed with two extra  insoles to make up for the lack of cushioning that ended up causing the biggest blisters I would ever see in my running life.

1979 Sage City 10K Monticello  –   Short Shorts & Long Socks

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