Monday, December 22, 2014

Reminders and Progress Since my Crash

Five months ago to the day I was going for the podium in my second triathlon of the summer. My conditioning was in great shape. Earlier in the year, I broke one of my goals for the year in breaking "sub twenty" in a 5K. I "blew that away" with a 19:21. I knew my open water swim needed help this last summer and I spent a lot of time out at nearby Chatfield Resevoir working on the open water aspects of my triathlon game; remaining calm and swimming straight. The bike was the least of my concerns, but became my weakest link in my first ever "DNF" (did not finish) in any race in the Rocky Mountain State Games on July 19th, 2014.
Before my race

I had a good excuse for my "DNF" as a wicked downhill corner caused a "spill." Spill is a poor choice of words as this was a full-on crash. I remember looking down and seeing the corner of a highway cone that met my tire and caused my bike and body to slam onto the asphalt in the turn. I thought I had the wind knocked out of me. Later at the hospital, I learned that I broke four ribs and collapsed a lung. Two months later, when my shoulder still hurt worse than my ribs, I learned that I'd separated the right shoulder and torn my labrum. No surgeries were required, but it was the first time in my life where I stared at death. Sometime early Monday morning less than 48 hours from my crash, I was "unresponsive" and they administered Narcan which reversed the plethora of pain medications I induced on Sunday. This meant I was wrenching in pain more so than when I was admitted as I now had a garden hose stuck in my chest cavity to drain the fluids to help re-inflate the right lung.

In the E.R.
For those of you that have had broken ribs before, I'm sorry, and you can relate. I've heard stories of friends who have had bruised ribs or cracked one rib. Three of my four broken ribs were completely "snapped."I needed drugs...a lot of drugs to temper the severe pain. I'd have to go back to my hospital records to list all the drugs I had on Sunday, but it was a lot including the button I would push in my hospital bed to give me a boost of pain medication. I clearly took in way too much as it lead to my unresponsive state that early Monday morning. As I started to "come around" my pain was at it's highest point. The Narcan wiped out any relief. I needed to throw up. I think I did. I had the chills, but the worst was the look on the young nurse's face at Memorial Hospital. It scared the ever living shit out of me as she had the concerned look of a nurse who was losing a patient. I thought I was in Kansas City. I was not. They were screaming at me to calm down. I'd learn later that my blood oxygen level was at 50%. Google would tell me that anything below 80% is considered dangerous or life-threatening. My first conscious thought was my wife and daughter aren't here and I don't want to die alone.

Six months later, there are still more than subtle reminders that this was not a spill. While I have been "off" the hardcore pain meds for six weeks, I'm not "pain-free." Sleeping has improved as my official Boston Marathon training started this week. Swinging arms and pounding pavement for 40 miles in a week probably have something to do with that. I manage during the day with things pretty much back to a normal life. Nighttime still remains the worst time of the day as normal activities combined with training raise the pain level ever so slightly by the time I head to bed.
My first race after the accident. 5th in my AG.

Sleeping brings out the "worst" if I happen to roll over onto my right side where all the body-slammed injuries occured. My ribs will occasionally wake me up and I'm sore when I wake up in the morning. Training likely exacerbates the pain, but it has the benefit of raising my morale, getting me back into shape, and more often makes me more tired than I've been so getting to sleep seems to be getting easier.

Halloween weekend was the last weekend where I rode the "oxy train." Oxycontin is highly addictive and my regular doctor did not want to fill the last prescription he gave me, but "over-the-counter" meds did absolutely nothing at that time to help me get any amount of sleep. I went with a "cold turkey" plan and stopped taking oxy the first week of November. That week was hell as I was essentially going through narcotics withdrawal. I had three sleepless nights with "restless legs" where I paced the darkness of my house the entire night. I can honestly say, I have no desire to take another pill and drop back into that "abyss."

There are other physical reminders of the Rocky Mountain State Games Triathlon. I have a "hunk" of flesh about the size of a large fishing lure under my skin that's adhered to my lower right rib area. My "Google MD" wife labels it as "scar tissue." I'm sure it's harmless, but I subconsciously grab it throughout the day and it reminds me of the crash. I have road rash scars on my right hip and I look at the pneumothorax scar every day in the mirror along my rib cage where 10" of tubing lived in my chest cavity for ten days in the hospital. My right elbow has a small red scar that hurts when I glance my elbow against something. This is a long way of saying, I don't have the podium medal I was hoping for, but have plenty of reminders of my first DNF.
My longest run since the accident. Eleven miles last weekend.

With the injuries I sustained, running was out of the question for at least two months and biking was not an option as the thought of even tipping over while waiting for a red light to turn green would be bad...very bad. The later was not an option since my bike was totaled. This was the same bike I hopped back onto after I crashed and completed the first of three loops in the bike leg of the race. It was after the first loop that I pulled off the course just beyond the transition area and knew my day was done.

It's good to write these words and reflect on the accident as a reminder of how lucky I am. How lucky I am to still be able to do some of the things I love; running, swimming, biking (indoors,) and writing about it. While I'm still the same person I was before the crash, I am also different. I love my wife and family more. I love life more, and I'm beginning to train again.

Over the last four weeks, I have started to implement portions of the training routine I'd grown accustomed to; notably "pushing myself" at least two days a week. Part of that is speed work on Tuesdays. That's a bit of an oxymoron as I don't have the speed I had back in March when I set my
Getting back into the swim of things
PR in a 5k and grabbed 1st in my age group. My favorite speed workout are Yassos (1/2 mile repeats.) I have slowly increased speed each week initially starting out with five sets and "up'ed it" to seven sets this week. My running coach often layers on alternating speeds so I've done that with my Yasso's alternating between "fast" and "faster." This week that meant starting at a 6:15 pace and progressed (another one of her training aspects) to a 5:56 pace. Fast by some people's standards but not close to the 5:30ish pace I was pushing myself earlier in the year with much less stress. I have also started to go a bit further in time and distance on the weekends.

This last weekend I went the furthest I've gone which was eleven miles. Distance and speed still feel very "labored" to me mainly from a cardio standpoint. It scares me that the right lung that collapsed won't get back to where it was six months ago. I try and convince myself that I'm merely "ramping back up" on my conditioning and it will get there.

As I'd mentioned above, the hospital did not diagnose the separated shoulder, but I knew something was wrong two months after the accident and went in for an MRI which diagnosed the separated
shoulder and torn labrum. I have Steadman Hawkins Clinic and my physical therapist, John, to thank for rehabilitating my shoulder. When I went in for my first PT session, my right shoulder blade literally "floated" around my back and John could fit his fingers under the scapula.

I have been "religious" with my rehab which includes 20-30 minutes each day with a variety of exercise. I had tried to swim a month after my accident, but it was a disaster and filled with pain. A
Returning to speed and drill work
freestyle stoke and a separated shoulder do not go together. I have started to implement at least one day a week of swimming into my weekly training plan and I was surprised the first time I got in the pool that it didn't hurt and my swim conditioning was not that bad; in fact better than my run. I now have my standard routine of two 800 meter sets (one mile) each time in the water. I will continue to rotate one day in the water each week as part of my cross-training.

To give myself a morale boost, I had my first race since my accident at the end of November for a Turkey Day 5k. I knew this was not going to be a podium day. I had gotten spoiled prior to my accident as I'd hit the podium in 11 out of the last 12 (not counting Boston and Columbus Marathon) races. My race result was almost three minutes slower than the PR day I had in March, yet I came within eighteen seconds of first. I "pushed it" in the first mile, and throttled it back in the second mile on a somewhat hilly course. I was disappointed in coming in fifth in my age group, but knew this was an honorable time. The beer in the beer tent after that race tasted sweeter than normal.

While I was not hard on myself for the turkey run, I wanted to get one more boost of adrenaline before the end of the year so I signed up last minute as a walk-up registrant for another local 5k, the Santa Stampede. I flew home from Seattle the day before on Friday and had a late business dinner Thursday night so I crashed hard Friday night before the five kilometer race. My wife had a bout with allergies so my sleep was a wreck and Friday night pizza had my gut in knots Saturday morning. In other words, I was set up for a perfect race. I'd say I didn't have a time goal, but that would be a lie. I wanted to improve on the twenty two minute 5k from three weeks earlier and deep down, I wanted to taste the podium again (not literally.)

The weather was "crisp" and cold hovering the lower 30's yet I still opted for shorts and a singlet, but added arm sleeves and gloves. It was great to see many local run friends since I didn't really run into anyone at the previous Thanksgiving race. I warmed up a full three miles with one of my really fast run buddies from my 2014 Race Team, Working Class Athletics (Kevin.) I "dosed up" with some Generation UCAN and did a few sprint drills as well before the race. Like the previous 5k, I went out fast, slowed a bit in the second mile, and finished fast in the last half mile despite a perplexing windy route through some trees and packed snow (not as perplexing as the earlier leg through an apartment complex that ran through a huge patch of ice.)

I met both goals of improving my time shaving 74 seconds off my previous race and grabbing second in my age group. It was great to hear my name called out again and get a gift certificate from Runner's Roost which is my 2015 Triathlon Race team. Five days before Christmas and Santa delivered early.

In April I will race my fifth Boston Marathon. It's too early to set any goals other than "complete the training" and "toe the line" in April. If I had to guess at this stage, it would be a lofty goal to grab my eighth BQ. It might be a lofty goal to run 26.2 miles since the eleven miles I ran "slow" this last Saturday completely wiped me out.

Given all this, I have so much to be thankful for with Christmas coming next week. Christmas has always been my favorite holiday as a child and as an adult. Each year it's a time when I can finally
relax and not stress over work, sales quotas, or finances. My daughter came home yesterday from her holiday break of her sophomore year. My favorite Aunt Marge is coming into town. My boys are out
of school and are anxious to see what's "under the tree." My wife is happy she has a husband, and I'm happy to have all that and to say I've started training for my fifth Boston Marathon.

Footnote: My son raced the same day with his triathlon team. I thank the Barber and Oliva parents from Teens That Tri who helped me that day and for William for calling the Race Director to tell him about the severity of my crash. I still don't understand why they told him they couldn't contact me due to any potential liability. I contacted the same race director when I got home from the hospital to see if he would send me my brand new goggles that were left behind in the transition area to my home. He said he would, and never did. Not likely I'll give them my race dollars in 2015, but I will leave it behind me.

1 comment:

  1. Rough year for you! Last summer when I was heading out for a training run, less than a block from my house, I came upon a cyclist who was laying in the road, in a pool of blood. Hit and run victim. I waited with him until the paramedics came. Took his broken bike home with me. And tried to shake it off on a run after he was taken to the hospital. I'm a nurse practitioner, but that incident bothered me so much, on so many levels. The good thing is that they caught the driver, thanks to a description of the car given to me by the cyclist...and that I knew the car from many miles on my neighborhood roads.

    But I couldn't help but think, here we are, out doing something healthy, yet it is risky! I run a lot but I ride my road bike for cross training too. I have had close calls with cars doing both...and I've crashed independently both biking and running (I'm clumsy). I'm so glad you're recovering well, and I look forward to following your journey to Boston. I hope to get there someday myself!

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Average guy w/ an above average appetite for marathon racing and triathlons. Ran my 5th Boston in '15. 3:21, 1:29, 19:21 PR;full/half/5K Opinions & wit are mine