Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ride Across Alabama

Five years ago, three men set out to run across the state of Alabama. In the process they changed peoples lives, including their own.

On July 1, 2009 Eric Schotz, Jon Elmore, and I stood at the Georgia border, ready to set out on a four day journey that would take us 180 miles across the state on foot.  But the journey really began in 2008 when Eric and his wife's 11-month old son, Elliott, was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs disease.  Tay-Sachs is a rare genetic disease that causes progressive deterioration of physical and mental capabilities.  Sadly, there is no cure for this disease and within just a few months of diagnosis, Elliott began to deteriorate as the disease ravaged function in his young brain, taking his ability to even respond.  Fortunately, Elliott was never to know or understand the extent of his degeneration, but was able to live out his days enjoying the things he loved:  sunshine, shiny balloons, his sister, Fiona, the jogging stroller pushed by his devoted dad. 

As soon as I heard that Eric was planning to honor his son and raise awareness for Tay-Sachs through ultra distance running, I knew I wanted to get involved.  Eric, Jon and I all had a special connection. We all were originally from Wisconsin and now all lived in northern Alabama.

We met early and often to plan the route, discuss logistics and raise money to donate to the National Tay-Sachs and Allied Diseases Association. The plan was to start on July 1 and make our way westward, covering daily distances of 50, 50, 50 and 30 miles respectively until we crossed the border of Mississippi in Red Bay, Alabama on the 4th of July.  We would be joined along the way by friends and family who provided tremendous support in a variety of ways including, but not limited to running and crewing along the course.

It is an understatement to say that Alabama in July is hot, hot, hot! We ran under a perpetually blazing sun and often times wore long sleeves to prevent overexposure from its rays.  Deyhrdation was a constant threat and serious concern. At the end of the first day, Jon Elmore succumbed and was taken to the emergency room for a round of IV fluids.  Fatigue set in and compounded, making each step more arduous than the last. Thankfully, we had our crew close by so we were able to refuel when needed.  Our crew was such a welcome sight with their handmade signs and cheers of motivation.  Sometimes we walked, other times we ran, but with each step we made a difference, for Elliot, and for others like him.  Maybe we couldn't save Elliott's life in those four days, but we could help contribute to helping save the many lives of others.

Despite the low-low points, the high points were in the heavens. When Elliott was able to join us along the route, seeing his smiling face or sleeping body in the jogging stroller, took away all our pain. Eric would often say that the cure for Elliott's fussiness would be a run in the stroller. Seeing him pushed along became a cure for our fussiness.

One of the most moving experiences of my life took place over the last six miles as we approached the Mississippi border. Despite the fatigue and pain that we all felt, Eric and I were able to pick up our pace and run like the wind! I can only describe it as magical. I invite you to read about that specific experience in a blog I posted just days after we finished, titled: "4 Days of Pain that will fade and 10 kilometers I will never forget."

The exhilaration of that final mile was almost too much to handle. The three of us were overwhelmed with emotion. I told Eric that it was my honor to share in the pain of the last four days and in this experience with him. Jon mentioned that there was no place that he would rather be. Eric put his hand on my shoulder for a few seconds, as he had done two days earlier when I was sitting in the crew vehicle temporarily sidelined with pain, but this time to convey his thanks.

Through our effort, we became an inspiration for others.  Though it did not save the life of sweet Elliott, who passed away in May of 2010,  it did teach us and those around us to embrace each day.  Elliot brought many people together for a greater good.

In the years since, I have often wondered how I could continue to honor Elliott's memory, spirit, and life-lessons.  After a recent surgery to remove a tear in the meniscus of my left knee (suffered during a personal best time in Mountain Mist 50k), I started biking more frequently as an alternative to running.  Now, four months after the surgery, I still have pain that is preventing me from running at my previous level.  This injury has given me perspective on many things in my life and given me time to consider how I could honor the Schotz family and do something positive in Elliot's memory.  I decided that I would travel along the same route our little group ran in 2009, but this time on my road bike. On 4th of July, exactly five years after we finished our run across the state for Elliot, I plan to ride all 180 miles in a single day.

I have had great support from my fiancee Rachel, who has put up with me spending hours and hours on the saddle and Saturday morning alarms that ring long before the sun rises, so that I could train to complete this distance.  Rachel will be my crew on the 4th of July by riding along and providing support and I am thrilled to be able to share this journey with her by my side.  Elliott inspired me then to do what I could to raise awareness for Tay-Sachs (along with Eric and Jon) by pushing our physical and mental abilities.  On the 4th, I will do the same again and hope that my small effort really can make a difference.

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1Continue onto AL-117 NStraight0
2Turn left onto Co Rd 896.1Left6.1
3Turn right onto Desoto Parkway0.1Right6.2
4Turn right onto Co Rd 6045.6Right11.8
5Turn left onto Gault Ave N2Left13.9
6Turn left to stay on Gault Ave N5Left18.9
7Turn right onto Glenn Blvd SW2.9Right21.8
8Turn left onto Pine Ridge Rd SW2.3Left24.1
9Continue onto Old Hwy 35 E0.4Straight24.5
10Turn left onto Long Hollow Cir0.4Left24.9
11Turn left onto Co Rd 880.2Left25.1
12Turn right onto Co Rd 4611.7Right26.8
13Turn left onto Co Rd 4580.9Left27.7
14Sharp right onto Co Rd 523.6Right31.3
15Turn left onto Lebanon Rd0.6Left32
16Continue onto Co Rd 573.1Straight35
17Turn right onto Lebanon Rd0.2Right35.2
18Turn left onto Co Rd 522Left37.2
20Continue onto Salem Rd0.8Straight42.1
21Slight left onto Crow St0.1Left42.2
22Turn right onto Co Rd 1113.9Right46.1
23Turn left onto Co Rd 5681.5Left47.5
24Continue onto Baker Rd0.8Straight48.4
25Continue straight onto Asbury Rd1.5Straight49.9
26Slight right onto Martling Gap Rd0.3Right50.2
27Turn left onto AL-227 N4.2Left54.4
28Turn left onto Florida Short Route/Gunter Ave6.5Left60.9
30Turn right onto Henry St0.2Right61.3
31Turn right onto Eddy Scant City Rd7.5Right68.8
32Continue onto Ruth Rd NW4.7Straight73.5
34Turn right onto Apple Grove Rd6.8Right80.3
35Turn left onto Crawford Rd0Left80.3
36Turn right onto AL-67 N2.1Right82.4
37Turn left onto Gum Pond Rd0.2Left82.6
38Turn right onto Lawrence Cove Rd0.3Right82.9
39Turn left to stay on Lawrence Cove Rd2.3Left85.2
40Slight left onto Gandys Cove Rd5.6Left90.8
41Turn right onto Nat Key Rd3.5Right94.3
42Turn right onto N Robinson Rd3.6Right97.9
43Turn right onto S Cedar Cove Rd0.8Right98.7
44Turn left onto Lawrence Rd0.3Left98.9
45Turn left onto N Cedar Cove Rd1Left100
46Continue onto Burleson Rd0.9Straight100.8
47Turn right onto Brownee Ln0.5Right101.4
48Turn left onto E Parker Rd0.2Left101.6
49Turn left onto Rock St SE3.1Left104.7
50Turn right onto Milner St SE0.4Right105
51Turn left onto Main St E0.2Left105.2
52Turn right onto Stewart St SW0.6Right105.8
53Continue onto Vaughn Bridge Rd NW0.4Straight106.3
55Turn left onto Danville Rd6.2Left112.5
56Slight right onto Iron Man Rd1.3Right113.7
57Continue onto Co Rd 722.9Straight116.7
58Turn right onto Co Rd 2032.9Right119.5
59Turn left onto Co Rd 870Left119.5
60Slight right to stay on Morgan St6.2Right125.8
61Turn left onto Court St1.1Left126.9
63Turn left to stay on County Rd 4604.5Left132
64Continue onto Moulton Rd/Old State Rte 249.6Straight141.6
65Continue onto Route 242.8Straight144.4
66Turn left onto AL-24 W6.6Left151
68Turn right onto Old State Rte 245.4Right159
69Continue onto County Rd 5241.3Straight160.2
70Slight left to stay on County Rd 5241.1Left161.4
71Turn right onto AL-24 W4.7Right166.1
72Turn left onto County Rd 4240.2Left166.3
73Turn left onto AL-24 W1.8Left168.1
74Turn right onto 4th St9.5Left177.6
75MS / AL Border2.2Straight179.8

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Road to Recovery: Epilgoue

Back in January during one of the greatest races of my career, I suffered a medial tear in the posterior horn of the meniscus in my left knee.  I went on to complete the last 10 miles of Mountain Mist 50km after the trauma.  On February 12th I had surgery to remove the tear and chronicled the first 50 days of my post-surgical recovery in a recent blog post, which was through March 29th.  At that point, I felt like my knee was about 60% healthy.

During the month of April I continued to ramp up my training with a few structured workouts, while still keeping the total amount of running (and impact) to a minimum.  I supplemented additional time on the bike to maintain my overall level of fitness.  I ran a few races and even posted a decent 5km time of 17:42 on a negative split approach at Cookie Dash in mid April and a very good run segment at the Lake Guntersville duathlon later in the month.  

Sometime around the beginning of May, I realized that my pain level was about the same as where I should have been at 8 weeks post surgery.  In other words, excluding the setback of McKay Hollow, I had made no progress in about a month of healing.  I thought that even though I was ultra conservative with my comeback approach to that point, that maybe another month of recovery would be best.  So I decided to remove nearly all running and just cycle or do elliptical (non impact activities) and then re-evaluate in early June.

Fast forward to early June and the nagging pain that I felt 4 weeks early was still present so I scheduled an appointment to see Dr. Cantrell again (my orthopedic surgeon).  My visit to him took him by surprise as normal patients have completely healed within 4 months of surgery.  He quickly was able to locate the pain point, which is on the inside of my left knee; the same location as the previous tear.  He speculated that there was an outside chance that it was another tear, maybe bone marrow edema or maybe a tear of another kind.  He ordered an MRI, which I was fortunate enough to have later that day.

Just 24 hours later I was able to get back in to see Dr. Cantrell.  Hoping for answers, I was just ready to know what was happening so I could set a course of action to recover and start training again.  The MRI results ruled out any other type of tear (ACL/MCL) and also ruled out the BME.  There also were no traces of an obvious tear, but it was difficult to determine if there was an additional microscopic tear, as the meniscus had already been partially removed. 

At this point we discussed two course of action, which included a second surgical procedure (which the scoping may find nothing, or it may find another tear, which would be removed).  In this case it would either rule out another tear or remove it and the recovery would be another 2-3 months.  The second course would assume no tear and that it was just taking longer than normal to heal.

I suggested another month of non impact activities and continue to cycle.  My goal for the year was to run the New York Marathon in November, for which I qualified and was accepted.  If I ran it, I would need a 16 week training cycle, which would begin in mid July.  So from now until mid July is about a month to allow for any additional healing.  Dr. Cantrell said that if it was his knee, he would take the latter approach and begin to run on it then and see how things go.  He suggested anti-inflammatories to help get through some workouts as the training would begin, and then over time as the healing progressed, I could wean off of them.

So that's that.  I have happy that there is not an additional tear, but at the same time there is nothing there that should be causing the pain I have on a daily basis.  I am going to make the best of the situation and pray that when the time comes to start training for my goals, that the pain will be manageable and eventually that it will not exist at all.

Thank you all for the continued prayers; they have been helpful.  This is God's plan and I am making the best of it.