The curious runner

“In my most painful moments on the bike, I am at my most curious, andI wonder each and every time how I will respond.” - Lance Armstrong

Say what you want about Lance, but regardless of whether or not he used performance enhancing drugs he is still an unbelievable athlete and competitor.  I read this quote yesterday from him and realized that in one sentence he summarized the point I had tried to make last year in my "Runners are all a little crazy"  post when I wrote about "the sick enjoyment I get from pushing my body to new extremes to see what it is capable of doing".

I finished my first marathon a few months back just under 3 hours 45 minutes.  It was an awesome event and most definitely the hardest physical challenge of my life.  I learned a lot about myself, mainly that I can run 13 miles with cramping quads and somehow manage to put the pain aside for the last 3 miles when I stepped on the gas to get under 3:45.  I also learned that my long term goal of qualifying for Boston (<3:05 needed) is more or less unattainable, but hey, you never know, right?

I was surprised at how much the race took out of me, it took almost a month before my legs were no longer shaky/weak and then not until this past week (2+ months later) where I was able to run fast and pain free once again (I've had a few nagging injuries keeping me from running much).  It sure feels great to be back out there, and I can't wait for the half marathon I plan to run later this fall.

Battling sciatica pain - 5 months later

This past July I went to my soccer game, played hard, and then went home and fell asleep.  I woke up the next morning, walked to work, sat at my desk, and like most mornings I started working with my development team in India.  An hour or so later I stood up and could barely walk.  Pain starting in my left buttock was shooting down my leg.  My first reaction was that I must have pulled a muscle in my soccer game the night before and it just took a little while to feel it.  Basically, I thought I pulled my butt muscle. I rested a few days and the pain subsided some, but strangely I began to notice that it would come and go.  That sure didn't sound like a muscle pull, huh?  A trip to the doctor confirmed I was suffering from sciatica.  Sciatica is actually not a diagnosis, but a symptom.  In my case, I'd have to guess it's from a back injury I suffered while skiing last February. Essentially the sciatic nerve runs down your leg starting from the bottom of your spine and mine was getting pinched.  A severe case can cause sharp pain/numbness all the way down your leg.  In my case, it's mostly mild discomfort (such as when I sit here typing this).

Well, fast forward 5 months and I'm still more or less in the same spot.  I've missed two seasons of soccer, played 1.5 seasons of softball without being able to run past first base (I thought my team was going to kill me after 3 months of taking a pinch runner each at bat), got a super embarrassing standing desk at work, and ran a 1:38 half marathon.  Wait, did I just say a half marathon?  Yup, for some reason standing and jogging make my leg feel good, but hills, sprinting, and sitting in a chair/car start to cause issues.  I'm crossing my fingers that I'll be able to ski this winter pain free, but I think the thing that scares me the most is not actually skiing but sitting in a car or plane (yeah Colorado trip coming up!) getting to the mountain.  To the right is my most recent Amazon purchase to hopefully help that problem.  Yes, I'm 29 years old going on 89.  Come on single ladies, who wouldn't want to date a guy that owns a seat wedge?

So far I've spent a fair amount of time (and a LOT of money) visiting two different chiropractors and a physical therapist.  I've done lots of stretching, some yoga and tried two weeks of no exercise.  Nothing seems to work.  Next week I go to a back/spine specialist and will likely get my first ever MRI.  Other options could include more yoga, acupuncture, cortisone shots, or even surgery.

So what have I learned from all of this?  First, how important my health is to me.  I know I must not be the only one that doesn't appreciate my health until I'm no longer healthy (and I keep doing this over and over and over again).  I know it's affected my mood, especially at work where I'm in the most discomfort.  Second, how important being active and playing sports is to me.  Just the thought of getting worse and having to stop the ~20+ miles a week I run and the many days of skiing I hope to do soon makes me shudder.  Third, how completely messed up our health care system is in this country.  I have a comparatively minor health issue, have a supposedly high quality health insurance plan, and live in a city with some of the world's best hospital's and doctors.  And yet I've been shocked at how wasteful, inefficient, and expensive my experience seeking treatment has been.  I can only imagine what it's like for others in this country.  It's also really peaked my interest in the health care industry and how much  technology can disrupt the status quo (more to come on this soon).

Runners are all a little crazy

I've recently struggled with what makes someone a "runner" and I know my friends and family have certainly wondered what would ever motivate someone to willingly put themselves through so much pain, but I think I'm starting to find some answers. I started running seriously about three years go, mostly as a great stress reliever and way to stay in shape for the other sports I enjoy. Over these three years I've slowly acquired some nice running gear (thank you South Boston Running Emporium and REI) and began to talk the runner's lingo, but was still hesitant to ever call myself a "runner".  I have generally stayed away from races because in my mind they took something that was peaceful and relaxing (an evening run down by the beach after a stressful day at work) and turned it into something that consisted of a lot of pain during and after the race.  So why mix something relaxing with a race that will only bring out my strong competitive tendencies and result in lots of pain?

This weekend I participated in the NH Reach the Beach team running relay race.  Essentially, teams of 4-12 runners run 200 miles from the mountains of NH to the Atlantic Ocean in around 24 hours of non-stop running, a pretty crazy idea if you ask me.  My team of 12 had a great time running and did far better than anticipated (17th out of 138 teams in our division!), but for me this race was meaningful because of what I learned:  what it means to be a "runner" and that I now am willing to consider myself one.

Unlike other sports I enjoy that have periods of rest and those with max exertion, running a race requires constant physical and mental exertion and in most cases lots of pain.  Somewhere in my 2nd leg (~7 miles long), as I struggled through the pain of an injury I've been battling lately, I found myself finding even more from within to keep pushing myself harder to get that next "kill" (passing another runner).  This strength didn't come from my teammates, the scoreboard, or the desire to impress anybody, but rather from the sick enjoyment I get from pushing my body to new extremes to see what it is capable of doing.  Our bodies are unbelievable machines and I'm slowly realizing that if I take care of it I can push myself harder than I would have ever thought possible.  The rush I get from fulfilling this inner desire is what makes races enjoyable and the pain tolerable.  In my eyes it is what turns someone who simply enjoys running into a "runner".  It also makes me aware of the fact that every runner (myself now included) is a little bit crazy.

Here's a shot I took from the race, just as the sun was rising after a long night of running and barely sleeping.  Definitely, this moment was one of the highlights of the race and summer 2011: