Monday, March 30, 2015

2015 McKay Hollow Madness

I wish that every race report could be an epic tale of overcoming adversity, defeating evil or defying the odds.  That makes it easy to spin a tale that people want to read.  It is with great dismay that I record my thoughts on my favorite race with a ho-hum attitude but sometimes the build up and hype outshine the actual event.

Each spring for the last nine years has culminated for me with McKay Hollow Madness.  In the early years it was a trail half marathon, then later changed to a 25km and even that has had several minor course variations.  The course really only has two climbs (Natural Well and Death Trail), but Panther Knob, Sinks, War Path Ridge and Cry Baby Hill are nothing to shake a stick at.  Picture 100' of climbing per kilometer, shoe-sucking mud, hills that extract your will to live and rocks that have claimed many ankles and there you have the Madness.

Some have said that it is the toughest trail race, mile for mile, that they have come across.  Some have broken bones, walked away bloody or even finished crying.  This year was the trifecta as all three of those things happened in the span of a three and a half minutes.

This race matches my strengths perfectly; climbing, technical trail running, ability to gracefully float downhill on rocky terrain and in a sub ultra distance.  Historically I have fared very well at the Madness, finishing in the top 3 seven times, runner up twice and was the current two-time defending champion.  When it comes to the Madness, I've gone to toe to toe with some of the best trail runners around and given them all a run for their money.

Leading into this year, I was a little nervous about how my surgically knee would react.  I had been training exclusively on roads all spring to avoid aggravating it further after the lengthy recovery I needed after Mountain Mist.  My climbing had progressed nicely as I had been crushing some hill workouts lately.  My endurance was suspect but I didn't think that it would hinder my performance.

There really is no good way to say this and I am not trying to insult anyone; it is a fact that the competition this year was not as deep as it was in years past.  This year looked to be a one-man race as Josh Whitehead was signed up as he continued to tickle his trail running fancy.  Then there was me, and then it didn't go much further.  The good doctor Krichev is a solid athlete but self admitted to not having run over 15 miles in the last decade and was not as talented on trails as he is on the bike. So as part of my race plan, I had to figure out how to deal with the fact that I would most likely be running alone for two hours.

The weather was perfect; cold temperatures and not much rain meant that the trails were mostly dry and fast.  I would later recant that these were the best conditions I have ever seen.  New race director Cary Long gave us some inspiring words about his bodily functions and we were off.

Starting Line
Josh and Brandon Mader (running the newly formed 12km, or as he called it "the kids race") were out quick as was Nathan Hall.  The first mile is on the road so running at a low six pace, even in inov-8 x-talon 212's was not taxing at all.  By the time we turned on the cabin road I had moved into second place and would stay there for the rest of the race.  I did have an epic fall just before the climb to Panther Knob as some nobs had piled sticks and branches across the trail in a muddy spot so their mountain bike tires wouldn't get stuck.  I did a superman forward, but managed to brace my fall with my water bottle so I was just left with two scraped up and bloody knees.  The climb up to the knob was uneventful, as was most of my day.  After a small climb back up on Sinks to Mountain Mist, I was able to run out to O'Shaugnessy Point in the mid 7's.  I was right on track through the first third of the race.  I was fueling with Honey Stinger Acai and Pomegrante Organic Energy Gel which was perfect to top of my energy stores after 45 minutes of running.

Early road miles
The middle third started with a climb up War Path with a steady effort.  I wanted to have an even distribution of energy all day so I opted against blowing out this early climb.  After the crest and through the aid station, I confirmed with Beth Barry that Mader had, in fact, gone onto the 12km finish (confirmed) then I began the descent of Rest Shelter.  I usually am in a position where i have to take a lot of chances on the rocky downslope, either trying to run away from people to to catch people.  On this day I just needed to stay in control and not take any early risks.  Slush mile wasn't that slushy at all.  A few blow downs for obstacles but otherwise more running in the 8's onto the halfway point.  I have always said that this race really doesn't start until the climb up Natural Well.   On occasion I would glance back just to make sure that I wasn't getting rolled up by the doctor but I ventured to guess that I had at least a 2 to 3 minute lead at the base of the climb and that would extend on the climb.  I ran every step of Natural Well, up past the well and onto the flat top section heading west.  I have always been able to tell what kind of shape that I am in by how quickly I can recover.  My pace on Natural Well and Arrowhead extension were in the low 8's which meant that my conditioning were good.  I had been targeting a split of 1:22 through 10 miles just before the Trough Spring aid station and I hit it right on time.  I got to see the lovely Rachel at the aid station who was waiting for me with a new bottle but on this cold day I would not need it.

Onto the trail
Onto the final third of this race which starts with 4 really easy miles.  The ditch wasn't bad at all given a clear line across and then the short climb up the gravel road to the top of Arrowhead was just as the other miles; steady and even.  I grabbed another Honey Stinger for the drop and sipped on it for a bit.  I let loose a little on the fast downhill to the cistern, only slowing once when I had to whisper to a runner that he had taken a wrong turn above.  Big Cat was like little kitty on this day as I was able to run the whole thing.  Don't take that as boasting or bragging that I was able run the entire thing; it just wasn't that taxing on this day.  Back toward the 4-way intersection was muddier than slush mile but nothing compared to a few weeks ago when it was ankle deep in freezing water.  I dropped down deep into the hollow and crossed the creek, looking forward to the final series of climbs.  I knew that Josh was at an unreachable distance ahead and my lead on 3rd was probably the same but I continued to run hard.  Death Trail seemed slow as I walked a few steps on the lower section below fat man pass, but ran most of the top.  The waterfall was a nice sight with a few people cheering as I made the summit and to the line in 2nd place overall.

Atop the falls
So once again a bridesmaid to much better runners (Riddle in 2009, Mader in 2012.)  The course seemed to be a touch long this year with the modified starting line as in previous years I had measured 14.8 or 14.9 but this year I was closer to 15.4 miles.  My time was 2:13:46 or spot on from last year.  Rachel was there at the finish for a post race hug, a piece of cookie cake and then that was that.

My hot date for the finish line
Top 3
Old school finisher board
Like I said, it wasn't a harrowing effort by any means.  I trained hard, had a solid race plan then executed it perfectly.  There were no surprises, no deviation from what I needed to do.  I tried to smile as much as I could and enjoy the experience.  I had a great distribution of energy all day.

I am proud to be the only person to have started and finished all 8 "official" runnings of McKay Hollow Madness.  (*Note that 2011 was a washout year so even though this was the 9th running, and I did the unofficial race that day in a monsoon, 2015 was just the 8th event.)

Now 48 hours after the race I am in a minor world of hurt.  Not having run many trails recently and having the knee issues which was all multiplied by the tumble, I do feel like I was run over by a Mack Truck.  I am sure it is just the normal bumps and bruises that are amplified by age but I hope that the soreness and stiffness subsides soon since I have two more goals yet this spring.

All photos courtesy of Gregg Gelmis, We Run Huntsville, Cary Long and James E. Hurley.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Thank you Mr. Carpenter

As I previously have written on my blog, my struggles with speaking continue amidst fighting recurring vocal cord papilloma and multiple surgeries.  Recently we have had the good fortune of working with a specialist at UAB who has a great strategy for moving forward and we are very excited about the possibilities of treatment.

At work I have been using a cheaply made microphone and speaker to amplify my voice, but now that I may have this low volume condition for a few more months, I decided to look for a more professional model.

On Wednesday, I placed an online order from a medical supply store for a Chattervox.  It was supposed to be delivered to my home on Friday.

On Thursday, it arrived at my office.

I thought that maybe since I was emailing back and forth with the online medical supplier, that they had my work address from my email signature and they just shipped it to work instead of my home.

Today I got an email from a sales account manager at work asking me 'if the package from Mark Carpenter had arrived'. Mark is the Senior Vice President of Oncor Electric, the power company in the Dallas/Fort Worth area that supplies power to 7 million people. They are the largest utility customer for Intergraph. Over the last few years I have consulted with Mark and his team on numerous occasions.  Mark also has trouble with his voice and uses a voice amplification system. Recently I had asked Mark for a suggestion on a better model for voice amplifier, including which one he uses personally.

At first I was very confused on the email from our account manager.  What package?

Then I realized what had happened.

Mark actually had ordered the voice amplification system for me and had it shipped to my office. What? Seriously? That's several hundred dollars of equipment, out of his own pocket. I am literally and figuratively speechless.

The kindness that I have been shown throughout my surgeries and voice troubles have been tremendous, but this utterly blew me away. There are some truly genuine people in this world and my friend and colleague Mark Carpenter is one of them.

Acts of kindness like this are those that inspire me to want to be a better person.  They make me want to pass this kindness forward my other personal relationships.

Thank you Mark.  Your gesture made me smile and tear up a little.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Mark my words

It has been five weeks exactly since I had my second direct laryngoscopy to remove papilloma from my vocal cords.  At the time, the ENT indicated that this didn't look to be recursive and he was simply removing the papilloma that he was unable to reach during the first procedure in October.  I was very cautious in this prognosis since my ability to speak rapidly declined around Christmas and it seemed as if the virus has aggressively come back.

Just two weeks after this latest surgery, I was removed from voice restrictions and permitted to talk.  That doesn't mean that I was able to talk.  Rachel and I both could tell right away that things were different this round; I was still wheezing and passing air directly through the laryngeal inlet and my vocal cords were still not coming together.  This could only mean that despite the initial words from the ENT that the procedure went well, that either the virus had once again come back aggressively or that he actually did not remove all of the growths.  Oddly enough, even though the local ENT in Huntsville indicated that this would most likely not return, he suggested we see a specialist in Birmingham at UAB, just in case.  You can imagine our confusion; he was saying that it would not come back but that we should see a specialist anyway that focuses on prevention.  We refused to speculate since the follow up appointment was not until today, five weeks after the surgery.

In the mean time, Rachel has been feverishly researching laryngeal papillomatosis and found a lot of research on the virus.  The specialist at UAB is one of the best in the country at remediation as well as prevention through certain medications and direct injections into the vocal cords, both of which can be done in his office and doesn't require anesthesia.  Our only problem was that it would be nearly two months after surgery until we could see the specialist, all the while I still can't talk.

So we both have been very frustrated and angry.  Frustrated and angry that we were not given the correct diagnosis and not referred to the specialist in January.  I could be on my way to remission and recovery now, instead of looking at another procedure.

We both went into the appointment today with questions but tried to contain our frustration.  When the ENT asked how I was doing, in a raspy whisper I said, "I am hoping you can tell me," indicating that my voice had made no improvements since before the surgery.  To my dismay, he did not seem surprised at all; I thought that we would be taken aback at least a little, but this only reconfirms that maybe he has suspected all along that he knew this would reoccur but never clearly communicated it to us.

After another round of sticking the scope down my throat, he confirmed the aggressive regrowth of the virus on my vocal cords, which was obvious to us, given zero progress made on being able to talk since the last surgery.  This is when Rachel did what she does best; she politely got into his face and expressed our frustration and concern.  She has been my voice through all of this and more importantly, my rock of stability.  She asked if the ENT could escalate the appointment with the specialist, to which the ENT indicated that he would call right away.  Its great news that (hopefully) we will get into see the specialist before the scheduled March 30 appointment; its just unfortunate that it took 5 weeks and another visit to the ENT to get there.

So for now we remain patient and await the scheduling of the appointment.  We are very optimistic that the experts at UAB can help us return to a normal life.  That they can bring sound back to my vocal cords.

Everyone I "talk to" has been so nice and thoughtful.  Just tonight I was on a walk with the dogs and stopped to talk to my friend Tracy Bagwell.  Before I could get out a "word" he immediately asked about the dogs then onto my health.  I have been running with Tracy for some time now and he has known me through several injuries and comebacks.  This past weekend after finishing up my pacing duties at the Scottsboro Half Marathon, I ran back out on the course and found him with just a mile to go.  We ran together almost to the finish; later he would tell me that it was one of his faster miles, even as he struggled with the difficult course.

It is people like Tracy, that have made more bearable.  People that show genuine concern over my health and wellbeing.  Yes it is still painful when I talk for more than a few minutes.  Yes it is painful when my vocal cords dry out and I can't breathe.  Yes the blockage in my windpipe makes it more difficult to breathe.  But, I am still very active and healthy and doing everything I can to remain positive, with the help of Rachel and my friends.

You will never know what it is like to not be able to talk and I hope that you never have to know.

I am going to talk again someday.  You can mark my words.