Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Round Two Looming

The good news is that at my 3-week post surgical follow up today, the doctor indicated that the healing of my vocal cords is going well.  I should be able to return to talking "normally" by January, which is right on schedule.  My rigorous enforcement of not speaking for the first 10 days, followed by a schedule of only necessary speaking, in short sentences at a low volume, paid off in spades as the saying goes.

The bad news is that there were massive amounts of papilloma on my vocal cords and in the first laryngoscopy, they were not able to take care of them all (nor was it advised).  There was some early suspicions that this may be case leading into the surgery but they wouldn't know until the follow up to see how things had healed and what remained.  Now it is fairly clear that I will require another procedure, similar to the first, to finish the work.  

Deep breath.

Until the second surgery can be performed to remove the papilloma and polyps that still exist, I will probably have a lower than normal speaking volume.  The date of the second surgery is not known; for now I have a follow up video session to see in detail how they (my vocal cords) look and then we will determine a course of action.  From discussions with the doctor, I gathered that we may be looking at sometime late spring to early summer.  While I will not have the same exact symptoms leading into this round of surgery as I had with the first (raspy voice, sore throat, voice disappearing by mid day), the papilloma won't go away on their own and surgery is required to (eventually) return to speaking a normal levels.  Beyond that, additional procedures over the course of my lifetime may be needed if they return, but for now that is not likely.

After the second surgery, I can expect a similar recovery as to what I am going through now.  That means another 10 days of not talking, followed by 6 weeks of necessary speaking only, in short sentences and at a low volume.

It's not all gloom and doom.  The doctor was happy with my progress and acted like round two was just another routine out patient surgery.  I feel pretty good about his attitude.

In other words, I will have to relive November and December of 2014, again, in June and July of 2015.  It could be much worse; my air passage is now much clearer and I can breathe well without as many obstructions.  I am able to run and the rest of my health is good.  I am thankful for the little things in life and feel blessed to be surrounded by good friends and family.  I could not ask for anything more.  

Monday, November 17, 2014

Donut King

Some races you try to run your fastest.  Some races you run to win.  This race you run and try to not throw up on your shoes.

Back in 2011, coming off of running 2:54 at the New York Marathon, I decided to run the Krispy Kreme Challenge for fun and see how I would stack up versus the competition.  Being a skinny guy, people probably underestimated my ability to eat.  I managed to set the course record in 28:53 and had a sub six-minute donut eating split.

In 2012 the Challenge did not work out well for my running schedule, but I was back in 2013 and was able to win again, albeit with a slower time of just under 30 minutes.

This year I was very concerned about my ability to eat quickly, given that I had vocal cord surgery a few weeks prior.  I wasn't fully cleared to eat gluttonously that would be required for the Krispy Kreme Challenge, but I wanted to give it my best shot to defend my title.

I warmed up with my prime (running) competition, David Wall, who was a sub 2:30 marathon just a few years ago.  He had some setbacks with injuries, but was healthy again and running very well.  I knew that I would probably give away 30 seconds in the first 2-mile running segment.  Then there was David Rawlings, former Donut Champion from 2010, who is a great eater and can run fast enough to pose a threat.  Beyond the "Davids," there is always a chance that an unknown runner or high schooler would show up and run well.

With the temps in the upper 20's, I was doing my final warm up sprints out and back from the start to stay warm.  I was watching the clock as it ticked down to the 8:00am start.  With about 3 minutes on the clock, I heard the emcee start a ten-second countdown to the start. I rushed to the start and ducked under the starting banner just in time for the gun to go off.

The pack was out fast, but I settled into my goal pace quickly which helped me to move up to near the front before the first mile split.  By the time we turned onto Church Street, I had moved into 2nd place behind David (Wall).  The weather was perfect to run fast and I was able to turn into the Krispy Kreme parking lot in at under 5:45 pace.  I had only given up 30 seconds to David (Wall) and now it was time to eat!

I grabbed my box and a cup of water and moved over to the Huntsville Utilities Transformer, using it as a table for my donuts, to eliminate having to bend over to grab a donut and free up my hands to eat.

I can't give away my eating strategy, but if you were there you could easily figure it out.  I could tell that David (Wall) was struggling to eat his donuts, but David (Rawlings) was quickly making up the difference he lost in running by his supreme eating prowess.  The eating is such chaos with sugar flying everywhere.  I struggled this year with my eating, but still had a sub 8-minute split.


Photo courtesy of Jacob Bright

I finished my last donut and got a sticker indicating that "I met the challenge."  I tossed my box into the air and took off running.  People were yelling as I took off and then I realized that I the sticker did not stick and I had to double back to get it.  Unfortunately, when I came to a stop, I slipped on a donut and fell down hard.  I cut up my elbow and cracked my head pretty good on the pavement.  Luckily, it was cold enough that I was wearing a winter hat that softened the blow.  The fall gave me a little rush of adrenaline, along with being the first eater to head back out on the run back.


Photo courtesy of James Hurley

Last year I was able to hold just under six-minute pace on the way back so I thought that I would be happy with that, but knowing that the competition was much better this year, I probably had to run 5:45 to hold them off.  I love seeing all of the runners heading out to eat as they cheer while I am running back to the finish!

I was surprised that I felt comfortable at 5:45 pace but I love running in the cooler temperatures so I just focused on the lead cop car heading back to the finish.  When I got to Monroe, I could hear the dread train... luckily I was already across the tracks so it would pass behind me but I didn't know how it would impact the rest of the pack.  I didn't see anyone behind me on glance, so I knew that I would not have to worry about anyone closing the gap in the last mile, but it may make the race for second place very interesting.

My watch was a little messed up so I wasn't quite sure of my overall time until I saw the clock at the finish.  I crossed the line at 30:38 and managed my third win in three attempts at the Krispy Kreme Challenge.

I  mentioned it in my AL.com interview with John Corrigan, but I will mention it again here.  While I love the (Krispy Kreme) challenge, for me it really is about supporting the cause.  United Cerebral Palsy of Huntsville does great things for people who have disabilities and any way I can help bring attention to their cause is the least that I can do.  While it is nice to be crowned winner for another year, I just like to have fun with this event and  I even break out a running singlet from my hometown Kingsford Flivvers for the race, even though I didn't start running until I was 28 years old.

The battle for second was decided by train! David Rawlings left out of the parking lot in second, but when stopped by the train, David Wall was able to close the gap. Some people complain about the train crossing as it is unpredictable; I actually enjoy it because it adds an element of adventure.  Here are the top three.

Official Results



The award this year for overall winner was very "fitting."

Photo courtesy of David Rawlings

Photo Courtesy of Katie Beth Peirson

Now I have another year to think about defending my title and going for number 4 (wins) or if I should retire on top, as Donut King.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Thankful. Birthday. Donut

As part of the recovery from my recent direct laryngoscopy, I was advised to begin with a 7-10 day period of total silence.  Not a single word spoken aloud, not even a whisper.  Just two days into the quiet time, I reflected that it was one of the most difficult things I ever had to do.  Not being able to talk made me feel very alone and isolated.  It was difficult to interact with people in real time and impossible to have a "conversation".  I just want to say, something.  Anything.

As the week progressed, it did not get easier, but I got better at interacting with people using hand gestures, hand written notes and text messages.  Just yesterday I participated in a work meeting where everyone else was present in a room and I typed and had someone interpret.  It actually gave me a new found respect for how and when to add value and interject with a point I needed to make.  People were very patient with me and that helped very much.

Being able to run made the time seem less like solitary confinement imprisonment and more like county jail.

So today was the day that had been circled on the calendar for when I could begin speaking softly (using my inside voice as it was described to me) in short sentences and only very sparingly.  No full conversations and rest after speaking even a few words.

I had built up in my mind that I would just open my mouth and the words would flow out just as they did before I initially became hoarse back in August.  So it was very disappointed when I uttered my first words and it was not the case at all.

In a scratchy sounding voice with hardly any volume and cracking on every syllable, I said my first three words.

"Thankful, Birthday and Donut"

I had to do more research to feel better that the symptoms I was experiencing while speaking were common.  

I called my mom and dad and talked to Rachel.  I said real words.  Outloud.

I spoke sparingly but can tell that it hurts and need to now rest for the remainder of the day.

The recovery schedule includes another week of just sentences or sentence fragments.  I plan to dangle some participles and drive Rachel crazy.  Then after that will be 2 more weeks of speaking for no more than 15 minutes per hour, with 45 minutes of rest.  Then there will be a progression where I can speak more and more each week until I should be back to normal by January.

Thanks to all of the colorful guess as to what my first words would be.  Congrats to Lori Gierloff and Shari Crowe for guessing correctly!  You win my lifetime friendship which means a lot to me!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Reality of Dreams

The backstory

I was pretty smart as a kid which was to my advantage and earned me many favors from teachers.  I was tall and lanky, but uncoordinated and socially awkward which was made me a prime target to be picked on.  I was subjected to more teasing from the school yard bullies than any kid should have to bear.  My grade school and preteen years were fairly lonely times when I would rather bury my head in a book than risk the brutal nature of kids on the playground. While most of that time is a blur, I remember specifically a few people who made life very difficult for me.  For the most part I just put up with it and never stood up for myself.  I do remember fighting back once while in 7th grade, when the years of rage had built up and I was pushed beyond my tipping point.  There was this tough kid who took every opportunity to tease me and it was more than enough for him to make my life miserable.  I finally stood up to him one day in the locker room after gym and landed a pretty good punch to his face.  It barely left a mark and really did nothing to his deter his constant harassment, but at least I drew a line in the sand and said that I had enough.

I did play sports from an early age, but through my middle school years I had some significant growth spurts that made me very clumsy and in a lot of pain.  I still have the stretch marks on my lower back from the year I grew six inches.  I lacked the size or tenacity to play football, which ruled in our small town.  I did excel at soccer and had a few very good years as an all star first baseman.

My dream

I am 15 years old and standing at the plate in one of our last Babe Ruth baseball games for Town & Country.  We had an unbelievable team that went 15-0 that year and our lineup was stacked from top to bottom.  Batting lead off and now standing on 3rd base was my boyhood friend, Scott Giuliani.  Scott and I grew up just few blocks from each other, which meant we went to all the same schools, but I shared more than just proximity with Scott.  We shared a birthday, and along with a couple of others, were inseparable all throughout our youth.  Skeeter and I were best friends.

In the dream, I drive the ball to the fence, which was about right for me... never hitting for power but always hitting for average and driving in runs from the clean off spot.  Coming into score after Scott were Andy LeBlanc and Don Bunin.  I round first base in excitement knowing that we had won the game.  Everyone from the bench was waiting at home plate, which also included our coaches (my dad, Andy's dad and Scott's dad Ernie).  I cut through the infield and run straight for home plate. When I finally find my way through the celebration tin find Scott, he picks me up off the ground and is yelling that we won.  When he finally puts me down, he gives me a big bear hug to celebrate.

The reality

Here is where the reality of today meets the  dream.  Even though I am just 15 years old in the dream, I know that in the present time I don't have a chance to see Scott again.  I don't have a chance to thank him for standing up to me as the weakest member of our group of friends and for always having my back to the bullies of the playground.  I don't have a chance to thank him for riding bikes with me or trading baseball cards with me or to even thank him and his brother Paul for picking me up for school everyday when it was clearly out of there way.  I don't have a chance to tell him how much it meant for me as the uncool kid, to have such a cool best friend who never let his popularity go to his head.  Scott continued to get better as a high school athlete and we tended to go our separate ways after that season of baseball but he was always my friend.  Even as he was surrounded by the best athletes of our school, he never once picked on me, even when I probably made a pretty easy target.

Scott passed away a few years ago, so in reality I never got the chance to tell him what his friendship meant to me as a kid.  I don't know that I knew it at the time or maybe it has taken all of these years to figure out, but he was one of the reasons why I made it through those tough years and have had the strength to go on today to be a successful runner today.  I can see him running fast as lightning around the bases both a vivid memory of our childhood and like it was happening in real time of my dream.  Sometimes when I am running a race I picture myself chasing him, knowing that I will never catch up.

In the dream, when Scott gave me the bear hug, I refused to let go.  I just remember hanging on. While combining the reality of present with being 15 years old, I know that I won't have this chance again and I am not ready to let him go.  He doesn't slip or fade away in the dream; I just wake up.

I don't live my life with regrets.  I have made the best of every situation, worked very hard, gotten some lucky breaks and had help along the way by people like Scott.  People who will stand up for you and stand by you through thick and thin.  Right now Scott is sitting in heaven wearing his Detroit Tigers jersey, talking about baseball with his dad Ernie and they are looking down on me as I type.   I don't regret missing the chance to tell him how much I appreciated his friendship because I know that he knows.  Scott knows.

I don't regret this, but I also am not going to lose another opportunity to tell those people around me how much I appreciate them.