Thursday, July 18, 2013

One Mile

For the first time in over a year I've gone a week straight without a single run. The miles have been dwindling for a little over a month now, ever since I cashed in a Groupon deal for a two month CrossFit membership. I take the 5:30am class Mondays through Fridays, and I try to get in some additional weights and swimming a few times a week as well. This leaves little time for running, and with morning temperatures in the 80's with high humidity I really haven't been missing it.

The CrossFit classes are definitely difficult and very humbling, but they also seem to address more of the problems that Multiple Sclerosis has been causing. I've been doing a lot of complex and explosive large muscle-group movements that really require focus, coordination and fast-twitch fibers. All in all it's a far cry from the usual daily runs, and changing things up has been good for my motivation.

Several of the people I've met in the classes I've taken absolutely hate running, and when we occasionally mix it into the workouts or warm-ups there's often some groaning or scrambling for alternative exercises like rowing. Runs are usually 400 meters or so, possibly two or three repetitions with other warm up exercises thrown in, but yesterday the coach sent us out for a one mile time trial. I finished with a 6:05, feeling like my heart was in my throat and that my legs were barely listening to my brain. As I panted beside our coach while we waited for the rest of the class he said I "looked like a freaking gazelle out there".

At first I just shook my head no. This is a nervous habit I've picked up; a weird coping mechanism where I think I literally try to shake the bad thoughts out of my head. The eyes started to water up, but I kept it together. "Between you and me", I told him, "I could run 26 miles in a row faster than that mile before things went south."

I've told the coach about my MS, as I felt he needed to know in order to understand some of my limitations where fine motor coordination and balance are concerned. A few of the crossfitters there probably know too, but I certainly don't advertise it. I also don't let them know my old running times either, as I still have some hang-ups when it comes to comparing where I am now to where I was then.

It's only been a day, but I keep replaying that one mile time trial in my head. I always knew I would have trouble with the "winding down" (pull out that old copy of Once a Runner), but I never thought things would unwind so quickly. Obviously the illness has contributed, but it only accelerated the arrival of the inevitable. Everyone eventually slows down.

As hard as I work to enjoy running the way I used to, the steep decline in my abilities is hard to swallow. I'm a percentage guy; a type-A, measure and quantify, results-driven obsessive to the end. When I look at how much slower I am in this area (my passion, for god's sake), I can't help but worry about the same decline in other areas of my life. If I'm charitable in my analysis I could say my running performances have dropped off by a little over 20%. Am I a 20% worse father and husband? Am I 20% worse at my job? I'm a bit over two years into this disease; where does it go from here?

Thoughts like these don't help. They come and go, but they tend to come on strong after a particularly bad run or race. This is why I'm enjoying CrossFit. I was nervous about trying something new, especially since I didn't know how my body would react or hold up. As it turns out my body pretty much handles it fine. Best of all, I'm improving. Instead of the rapid winding down I'm ramping up, and as long as I can get past the pity party that follows the occasional time trial I should be fine.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Dangling the Carrot

What is the true price of squashed expectations? The approach I take in handling my MS involves having a positive attitude about my prognosis and future, even in the face of fairly grim statistics. I expect to stay well, I predict my symptoms will either stay as they are or recede, and I believe that while the disease will always be with me, there will come a time where where I rarely think about it.

Straightaway I can tell you that this way of thinking can and has bitten me in the ass. There are down and blue periods, there are setbacks (physical and mental), and by setting my sights high (perhaps unreasonably so to some) the lows can feel even lower than they should.

I'm keenly aware of the double-edged sword here, so much so that I feel a little cautious about how things have been going for the past month. Simply put, I've been feeling good. The miles have been steadily going by, and week by week I'm feeling stronger. There have even been days when I get a bit of the runner's high that I thought was gone forever. The coordination is still a struggle at faster paces, but my daily paces have been dropping steadily with the same effort. You can follow me on Daily Mile in the sidebar if you are the type who cares about that sort of thing.

All of this is happening before three upcoming races- the same three I had to skip last year when I was feeling quite the opposite. The carrot is dangling right in front of me, and I'm tempted to expect good finishing times and places. I think this even though racing feels so much tougher than it did before. The distress signals that go through my body when I really push it echo more loudly and deeper than they ever did during my peak years of racing, and with seemingly less to lose in backing off it's easier to succumb.  Still, I'm anxious to climb into the ring and content to put off the feelings that might result until after the race. I still enjoy the challenge, and it's still a big part of who I am.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Disease of the Week

So it's Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Week, which seems redundant as March is MS Awareness month. In case you have some awareness to spare, consider some of the other causes that try to go viral in March:

Colon Cancer Awareness National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month
Brain Health Brain Injury Awareness Month
Kidney Cancer Awareness National Kidney Cancer Awareness Month
Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month
Multiple Myeloma Awareness National Myeloma Awareness Month

National Nutrition Month

National Endometriosis Month

Workplace Eye Wellness Month

National Save Your Vision Month

Hemophilia Month

Mental Retardation Awareness Month

National Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Awareness Month

American Red Cross Month

Learning Disabilities Awareness Month

National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

National Eye Donor Month

National Poison Prevention Month

National Professional Social Work Month

Save Your Vision Month

(list courtesy of

 It's a busy month, but I guess every cause needs its 15 minutes.

Tucson hosted an MS walk last weekend as part of the week's festivities, and the local paper printed a story about a local high school athlete who was recently diagnosed with MS and organized a fundraising team for this event:

I applaud Braden's efforts, but I have a hard time not being somewhat cynical when this week rolls around each year. For every genuine story about real people dealing with the disease or synopsis of new research to find the causes and cure there are dozens of ads along the sidebars of our lives hawking everything from overpriced supplements and procedures to photos of people waving $100 bills proclaiming the availability of disability windfalls. This month above all others reminds me that a chronic illness is a cash cow, and I personally feel taken advantage of when I see such blatant money grabbing at the expense of genuine suffering.

I go back and forth on the awareness bit. Long ago I stopped telling people I have MS unless they mention it or keep badgering me about being slower on the race courses. If people ask I'm happy to discuss what it's like, though it gets iffy when it comes to describing some symptoms if I'm talking to someone like my boss or anyone I feel is sizing me up. I'm not embarrassed or ashamed, but I am...cautious. That said, if you want to know about MS feel free to ask, though I can only speak to how it is for me.

On the running front things are going fairly well, though inevitably I compare my training to what I was doing last year. The thought of further decline due to age or MS is difficult to swallow, and I've taken to measuring my pace only once or twice a week to push these thoughts away. I've done very short speed(ish) workouts for the last few weeks with mixed results. I would probably be better served by following Mystery Coach's advice to start with short bursts (30 seconds to 2 minutes) of up-tempo running, untimed, but inevitably I fall prey to comparing this week's 400's to last week.

 I have a 5K coming up this weekend, which is followed by a 7.4 mile race up and down the road in Sabino Canyon a few weeks later. I'm hoping to run similar times to last year for these races, and with the weekly mileage hovering close to 40 I should be able to. Before I know it March will be over and I can start focusing on National Library Week.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"Dad, why do you take shots?"

A few weeks ago my wife warned me that our 10-year-old daughter had asked her about the injection bubble-pack wrappers she'd seen in the master bathroom's trash. My wife told her that they weren't hers, and that she would have to ask me about them. Tonight she did.

I'd had time to rehearse, but my mind still raced as I started my answer. "My doctor says that the shots are supposed to help my nervous system. Remember when I was really tired and limping a few years ago for a month or so? Remember mom driving us instead of me? The shots are supposed to help keep that from happening again."

This seemed to satisfy her, but then she followed up with "Oh, I thought that maybe there was something wrong with you." I paused for a bit, not knowing exactly what to say. I try my best not to lie to the kids (as evidenced by the bizarre death-burial-cremation discussion at dinner earlier in the evening), but I also don't want to burden them with unnecessary worry. Worrying about something you can't control is only good for dealing with it twice instead of once (anticipation and actualization), so why lay it all out right before bedtime? "Well, there could be something wrong with me if I don't take care of myself and give myself a shot each night" is where I left it, and that satisfied her.

I'm sitting here now struggling over my answer. Telling our 10-year-old that I have Multiple Sclerosis seems to serve no purpose. Yes, there is something wrong with me. Hell, there's plenty wrong with me. Depending on how you look at things everyone has something wrong with them, and we are all falling apart at different paces from the moment our feet first touch the ground.

There will certainly come a day when I say the words to both her and her younger brother. It's my sincere hope that it happens when they are in high school. I imagine myself much the same as I am now: husband, runner, musician and active participant in my life. I take exceptional care of myself, and I believe what I am doing is working. The low-fat Vegan plus fish thing can be annoying when I eat out, but by following in the footsteps of Dr. Swank and George Jelinek on the diet and exercise front simply feels right. If it is, then the news will come as a big surprise to the kids, and by that time I hope to not even be thinking about the disease anymore.

On the running front, the kids and I attended our running club's awards dinner last Friday. I won the age 40-49 category for our Grand Prix Series of 12 races, and I followed that up two days later with a Master's win at the Sunrise at Old Tucson 4 mile(ish) trail race. Check out the day-go threads (courtesy of Brooks) as I try to hurdle the town drunk on the Main Street movie set (I'm on the left):

Thursday, November 29, 2012


I'm feeling good today after reading the overall results from the Southern Arizona Roadrunners Grand Prix series. Back in January I made a goal of competing in as many of the races in the series as possible, and through some small setbacks and scheduling conflicts I ended up racing seven times. While I'm far from what used to be my peak condition I was able to win my 40-49 age group in the series with a fair amount of decent placings. I was certainly helped by the fact that the one runner ahead of me was pulled out of my group so that he could win the overall Masters division, but just the same I'm really happy to be competitive again.

I'm still trying to maintain a 40MPW average these days, though I trailed off a bit during the past two weeks as work began taking up more of my time. There used to be a time where I could maintain mileage and intensity through these busy weeks, but I'm finding that I feel better and perform better if I take the more reasonable path and back off. I find that taking two days off from running and putting in several 8 milers works better than trying to run each day, and this allows me to spend more time with weights, Pilates and other nonsense.

Health-wise things are good for the most part. I'm wondering if the herniated and bulging discs are acting up a bit in the lower back, but it's pretty much impossible to determine whether the numbness and tingling I have are due to that or the multiple sclerosis. I've considered lobbying for a full set of MRI's, but the thought of going through lumbar, cervical and brain sessions is a bit daunting.

I'm trying to figure out goals for next year. Part of me wants to attempt another marathon, but I'd need to find a way to keep working on balance, coordination and strength at the same time. When I check in again hopefully I'll have it figured out. Stay well and thanks for reading.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Greatest Effort...

is not concerned with results. It's a very familiar phrase for the Buddhist crowd, and I've mentioned it here before. I came upon it first in a fortune cookie around the time things started to go downhill with my running, and for years it was stuck to our bathroom mirror as a daily reminder.

I took the word "results" to mean race times then, but it has slowly crept into other areas in my life. The efforts I've made with my diet-lifestyle and with trying to quiet my immune system since being diagnosed with MS came to mind when I recently read this quote again in a book. When I started making changes I kept a daily journal of all my symptoms along with my energy levels, which I evaluated and scrutinized along with my now pathetic running log (these were the five minute run-five minute walk days). I expected things to change quickly for me, and I couldn't wait until enough time had gone by that I could bug my neurologist for another full boat of MRI's so that I could compare the activity and number of lesions to my original scans.

About nine months ago I inquired about when I could go back in the tube for more tests, and my neurologist got all head-shrinky on me. "I can order the tests anytime, but I have to ask why you want to know, and what you will do with the results. You are clearly doing well; you've said so yourself. What difference will the tests make?"

I was expecting a fight, not an existential dilemma to ponder. Still, after thinking on it for several months and discussing it with my wife I saw the doctor again, and I told him I would hold off on the tests unless I had an attack or exacerbation, which I don't see as imminent given how I'm doing. The daily symptom weather report suffered the same fate, replaced by the inventory I mention in the previous post. Damn you cookie.

How am I doing? Here are the miles from the last month or so (you can follow me on Daily Mile in the sidebar above to see more)

I've started to get back into the 40+MPW window, which is where I am hoping to keep things. The paces are coming down into the low 7's on days when I'm recovered and rested, and there have been some great moments during recent runs where a palpable feeling spontaneously comes over me. The runner's high was one of the first things that disappeared on my runs after my exacerbation, and I welcome it back. July and August were especially hard for me, and I'm thankful that I seem to be coming around a bit again. I'm still struggling to run at faster paces, but I think my abilities are probably fairly close to where they were this spring before falling off in May.

I'm racing the Jim Click Run & Roll 8K a week from tomorrow, and I'm going to try to keep a 6:30 or better pace if I stay calm. It's a long way from the 5:20 pace I held at this race in '08 when I was at my strongest, but it certainly beats sitting it out as I did last year. The legs still get jittery and stop following through when I push too hard or get overexcited, so I'm going to do my best to keep relaxed while staying focused. I don't see the pace goal as a result I'm chasing so much as a strategy I'm following that will hopefully allow me to give my best effort without overcooking things and getting myself in trouble.

This post is dedicated to a reader who is going through the painful and uncertain possibility of an MS diagnosis. I know my last post indicated I would focus only on my running and not my illness on this page, but the two are part of the same whole, and trying to segregate two things that are so obviously intertwined is futile. I know it's possible and necessary to observe and reflect on how things are without dwelling or getting overwhelmed, and I'm giving it a try here in an effort to show a reader in a similar situation that it's worth it. Good luck in NYC.

Monday, July 02, 2012

The Last Dog and Pony Show

I'm lying on my back on the pool deck at Kiera's mom's house, gazing up at the cloud formations while listening to the kids splashing beside me. I've been in and out of the water a bit, and after tossing each of them several times and repeatedly lifting and steadying them so they can jump from my shoulders I'm content to rest my head in my hands and take inventory while the sun warms me.

The feet are a bit numb and buzzing, and I feel a bit more tired than I would have a few years ago ("before I turned 40", Kiera would say), but that's it. I think back to this morning when I shut off the 5:15 alarm in favor of sleeping in, which killed any chance for a run, but I'll have another chance tomorrow. Soon my thoughts drift to later this evening, when I'll finish off the last of this month's Copaxone injections. This ends my first 12 month cycle on the drug, which makes for another milestone of sorts.

When these little blips appear on the radar I sometimes think of this blog, and how I'm able to look back over the years of posts and find many of the significant moments from the last 7 years of my life chronicled here. I look through my logs and I laugh and shake my head at the level of fixation on my running in the face of everything else going on in my life. I'm happy that I chased the dreams I had of realizing my potential, and I genuinely hope that I helped other like-minded runners by posting as often as I did.

When I look at the past year, I don't get the same feelings or smiles. The posts are therapy of a sort, and while on the one hand I feel it's good to have a record, I'm also beginning to realize that I'm more inclined to keep that record to myself.

The fact of the matter is that I simply don't want to write about Multiple Sclerosis anymore here. It's an incredibly difficult thing to deal with, and there is a difficult stigma that goes along with it. Putting it out of my mind while continuing to take care of myself takes a lot of effort, and having it hang in the air here doesn't help me right now.

I'll always remember the first phone call to Kiera when the MRI results came back with what looked like M.S.. I'll remember the calls that followed to my mom and siblings, and the discussions with my boss and other friends. More recently, I remember telling someone else about it. He wasn't someone close to me, and it didn't really matter whether he knew it or not. A few minutes later as I was thinking about the conversation it became apparent that this was the last person I was going to tell about my illness. What I mean is that for the past 16 months or so I've felt at times that I needed an excuse, and I don't feel that way anymore. I don't owe anyone an explanation for why I'm not as fast as I used to be.

Whether I'm staring at the clouds or at the ceiling fan whirring above our bed at home, the inventory I'm taking is of this moment, and it serves no purpose to compare it to anything in the past. The questions I ask myself at these times assess whether or not M.S. or any other factors are keeping me from being the person-husband-father I want to be, and the answers, while not easy, are better answered in private for the time being.

Thank you for following my blog, and hopefully some more running and training entries will follow once the last year is erased.