Friday, October 30, 2009

Falls Apart

Wow, how much changes in just a few days...

I started the week hopeful to get back into the rhythm after an abnormal weekend. After the doctor on Tuesday, I went to PT on Wednesday morning and figured I'd get back on track, but I started to feel pretty crappy. Thinking the better of doing something that would make me feel worse, I took the day off. By Wednesday night, I was not feeling well at all. And by Thursday morning I was definitely sick. No pool/workout for me.

Thursday nights, since 2001, I've had a longstanding tradition. I have hardly ever missed an episode of Survivor (actually, I've never missed an episode, except for the entire season of China which I was boycotting. Not because it was in China, but because I was tired of not getting picked to be on the show). For the last 4.5 years, I've been having these Survivor Thursday nights with cousin Emily, but last night was the end of an era.

She and Bryan were leaving this morning, headed to Tampa, to begin their new life as Floridians. They are going to have a little baby in March, so it's a very exciting time for them.

Of course, for me, that means I'm now in the house by myself, as I am going to continue to live here. It's the first time I'll have lived completely alone, and it's definitely weird with nothing and no one in the house. Mad emptiness. When I have/feel like spending money, I'll have to acquire things like a couch or chairs or sources of light.

I woke up a bunch in the middle of the night to a nasty cough, and knew that I would be putting others at risk of getting sick if I went to PT today, so I called Stavros at 6am and said I wouldn't be able to make it. I walked down to the gym around 1, Justin and I were supposed to swim, but I wasn't getting in the water. Instead I just coached from land.

I'm feeling marginally better, but not enough to be able to do anything. Annoying as I've now just lost a week.

Tomorrow is my favorite day of the year - Halloween. A holiday that enables you to assume a different identity and revel in debauchery. As long as I've lived here, I've never missed an actual Halloween night in Fells Point. This year, being a Saturday, I'm particularly excited. An extra hour of sleep (or extra hour at the bar) and then the NYC Marathon on Sunday. A great weekend indeed, hope I can feel better soon.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Post Haste

Yesterday I had to drive up to New Jersey for my not-quite-8 week follow up visit with the surgeon. I walked down to Fells Point Enterprise to rent my car around 8am, only to find out I had apparently made my reservation with the Enterprise on Eastern Ave in Dundalk. Fortunately it wasn't a big deal and I was on my way in crappy weather. Fortunately the jams were pretty sweet during the ride and I made it to Red Bank in a pretty timely fashion.

First stop was to my PT guy up there. He was pleased with how I was doing, but still hits me with that "5 months til you're running" mumbo jumbo. Dude, that's just NOT going to work.

From there I stopped at home, picked up my mom and headed off to lunch. Got the "I'm worried about you" lecture, and again was like yeah mom, I usually just don't even want to get out of bed because that first step sets the tone for my day and when that first step is riddled with pain and hobbling, I'm never psyched. My confidence and motivation is near zero and one thing affects the other.

After lunch it was doctor time. My surgeon spends an inordinate amount of time with me. It's weird. Most ortho docs say hi and roll out. Dr. Torpey spends almost too MUCH time with me. I explained to him what I've been doing at physical therapy and also on my own, and he said that usually by the 8 week mark (this Friday, for me) they hope that patients have just restored their normal routine. I surpassed that mark weeks ago, but of course my normal routine, as he said, is much more vigorous and will take time to get back to.

I have a new contraption that I have to use, it's basically a styrofoam splint that goes under my leg, with a little foot thing that I prop my heel up on. Then I strap the leg down and grimace for 15-20 minutes, 3x a day, as it attempts to straighten my leg out with a little force.

Besides that I have to continue to work actively on my knee to get it to bend and straight more fluidly. The ligament is solid, so there's very little chance I could derail the surgery. That's good news.

I got back into the car and drove back to Baltimore, heading straight over to the track. It was dark and rainy, and chilly. All I could think was holy shit, by the time I can start running the weather is going to be so miserable I don't even know if I'll be able to handle it.

This morning I went to PT at 6:30 and felt pretty good. Much better than the past few days. At the beginning of therapy here in Baltimore, so just about 4 weeks ago, I was able to leg press 313 with my left (good) leg and I forget what the right leg was, but it was at least 40-60 pounds less. Today I did the little test again and it was 373 with the left leg and 333 with the right. So I'm getting back. My right leg has lost an inch in circumference compared to the left.

As far as bending I'm well over 100 degrees now on my own, and can get to 130 degrees with help. I need at least 110 before I can even really contemplate running.

The other good news is that I asked the doc if there was anything that would prevent me from doing the swim at Ironman Arizona, and he said no - so as long as I can get a reasonable flight I'm going to head out there and do the swim.

I began to think about my various injuries over the years at the hands of running and riding, and how, much like when Frodo gets stabbed by the Nasgul in LOTR, I will always have to live with this pain. In 2003 I obliterated my Talus bone - a bone situated in my ankle, and tore the ligaments in my foot. It took me two years to really work through the residual problems there and I still don't have the same flexion in my left ankle as I do my right. Similarly this ACL/meniscus deal is going to haunt me for quite a while.

Every day I think about 2010 and when I'll be able to compete again. My physical therapist said "well even if you can't start running for a while you could always walk" - and I said "man, I've been there, done that." It's not like I'm proving anything to anyone by going to Columbia next year, having a decent swim and bike split and then walk/jogging the run. It's not worth it for me to just finish. Same goes for Eagleman. That race is hard enough and long enough to begin with, I don't want to go there and plan on walking. Mostly I'll be upset if I go to Miami but can't run the half in January.

I need to get back. I know my confidence and motivation are tied to how I feel physically, and I am tired of being down.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Bustin' Makes Me Feel Good

Halloween week! My favorite holiday of the year. I always love when Halloween is on a Saturday, too - because as a kid you think you can start trick-or-treating right after breakfast and go all day. This year marks the 5th consecutive year of celebrating in Fells Point. I've never seen a street party for Halloween like this one anywhere, and I'm always psyched to spend hours people watching.

Last week turned out to be pretty decent. 5 days in the pool for a total of 21,000 meters - by far the most I've ever done in a week. By Thursday I rode one of the spin bikes at the gym for 15 minutes, and did 20 minutes on Friday.

I knew the weekend was going to be a lot for my knee. Pereless was coming up from Quantico which meant two nights of going out (and, consequently, two very late nights). Friday was spent in Fed Hill, getting home at about 2:30. Woke up around 8 Saturday to on-and-off torrential rain. This altered my ability to endure the Navy-Wake game, as I am not a fan of getting soaked while watching sports. Left at halftime and came back to go out in Canton Saturday night. Probably a little too much on my knee, and I was paying for it yesterday. My knee was swollen and sore.

I woke up at 6 this morning and walked down to PT. I was really sore and it was the slowest I've walked since I came back to Baltimore. After getting worked on, it felt considerably better and I feel like I'll be able to get down to the gym later today. This week's expectations are to increase the swimming a little (by Friday I was dead last week and had a terrible workout) and ride every day for an additional 5 minutes. If I can do that, it'll put me at 45 minutes by Friday.

I don't use much resistance on the spin bike, so I don't know how I'll react when I have to go out onto the road that first time!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


We first met Denise a few winters ago as we congregated in Canton Square for our Wednesday Night Run. She was probably the coolest homeless person I'd ever met. She was telling us all sorts of wacky homeless stories, about her sexcapades, how she gets money - it was like a book you just didn't want to put down.

But as her mental state has dilapidated, so too has her kindness. A few months back she was in the Inner Harbor and threatened to push Cheese into the water, referring to him as a skeletor motherfucker or something along those lines.

People spot her all over town; she's easily identifiable by her bright red lips and cheeks, and her nasty demeanor. I liken her to a prostitute that dresses as a clown but caters exclusively to pirates.

Anyway I saw her yesterday. That was where I was going with that thought.

I made it into the pool Tues-Fri of last week for a grand total of 11,000 meters. The rain was particularly soul-crushing as it was cold, and I had little desire to walk down to the gym on Saturday and Sunday in it.

My knee is bending a little better, although it still feels just as tight as it did 6 weeks ago. I'm so close to being able to pedal, but it's hanging up right at the end. I've been back in the weight room though, attempting to make up for the strenf deficiencies that have nagged me over the past few seasons. Looking back at my log, I'm "stronger" than I was in 2002. Except for the legs, obviously.

Goals for this week are:

1) 4k a day when I get into the pool. I should be able to do at least M-F, Sat/Sun may be tougher this weekend

2) Be pedaling by Wednesday

3) Become a bully and intimidate 4th graders

Monday, October 12, 2009

Is This the Beginning?

It's no secret that the last 12 months have not been terribly kind, in particular the last few; but as Ben pointed out on Saturday, it all started with the Baltimore Marathon 2008 and maybe with this past weekend's Marathon in the books, it's time for a fresh start.

Last year at Baltimore I traveled on my trusty steel steed, the 2002 Airborne. I parked it in the Inner Harbor, locking it to a light post outside of Hooters. When the race was over I headed back to it, to find it gone. This was impossible - surely there was no way, amidst thousands of people, someone had cut my lock and stolen my bike.

A year later, my fleet of bikes has been decimated, ravaged harder than [insert things that get ravaged here, including but not limited to naval fleets, porn stars, carcasses]. I had 4, but after the stolen bike, a bike on loan and the crash, I'm down to just the trusty Orbea, which is now 4 years old.

Following Baltimore it was a series of missteps, from a terrible day at New York Marathon, to the land of the unemployed, to an even worse day at Boston, to the accident, and the list goes on. The good news is you see that you can have just about everything taken from you, and yet life goes on - particularly when you have the help and support of friends and family. So I'm pretty fortunate I've got a standup crew in my corner.

This year's Baltimore Marathon included me, on my feet, at the expo for 12 hours on Thursday, with another 7 hours on Friday. Long days. My brother came in Friday afternoon and after a PT session late in the day, we headed to Zero's for a little pasta party. Saturday morning came and it was oddly warm, and we were over at the stadium to see the start before making our way to mile 9/the half start. There we met up with Barf, Stanford and Alyssa, watched runners go by at miles 9 and then 13, and then the half marathon start. Then it was time to go to the finish. Conditions deteriorated and it was no longer enjoyable to be outside. Emily walked down (a hefty walk for her in her condition!) and we watched until my brother came through.

As a result of the long days on my feet, my brother in town and a late night Sunday, I didn't make it to the pool after Wednesday of last week. On Monday I had only the mental fortitude to make it to PT, and Tuesday looked like I was headed towards another day off. I just didn't have it, mentally I was wiped, physically I am and have been wiped. What I struggle with is the eternal question of "why?"

Why would I want to put time into real training right now when it hurts to do it, and I can't do anything anyway? Why would I want to make the effort when the chances of me racing anytime soon, or even in 2010, are slim to none, because there's a million things that would have to happen first to allow that? Why even try, when it could all be snatched from me again anyway in another split second?

One good reason is that I still have (at least) one goal: to qualify for and compete in the biggest event for a triathlete, the Hawaii Ironman. As I've mentioned a million times, it's what got me where I am now. I've tried, unsuccessfully, for the past two seasons to get there. Next year it may not happen either, but I've got to keep trying. And when it comes down to it, that's all we can ever do. I know 6 people who competed at Kona this weekend, and I'm trying to keep their efforts in mind as I've been slumping.

Instead of moping on Tuesday, I dragged my butt down to the super warm, over-chlorinated pool and swam. It wasn't much, just 2000m, but it was something. And then after timing everyone in the cold up at the track, I felt like I finally earned that Tuesday Night Chipotle.

Today was a better day. I had a good session at PT, then smacked the pool up for 3000m. It's hard right now because I lost a ton of fitness in the month of September, and all my parts aren't functioning at 100%, so I'm swimming a bit slower than I was in August and it's taking more out of me than it should. Following the pool, I hit the weights and I feel like I'm getting some strenf back.

I even felt good walking home, with a fairly normal rhythm, but later in the night my knee was on fire and fairly swollen. Maybe I overdid it a little today.

But at least it's not the end.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

There's Another Kind of Hero

I have this PowerBar box that I keep random things in. Stuff I've accumulated from travels, college, ticket stubs, business cards, whatever. I found an article in there I haven't read in a few years, and I figured I'd share it here. I can't remember where I got it from - whether it was something we picked up at a running camp, or something my high school coach gave us.

"A cold wind blew the golden leaves across the hard ground. They made a rasping sound, like a death rattle. It was a sound that matched his breathing. Harsh and grating and painful. The sweat was frozen in crystal crusts at the end of his hair that flopped each time he took another stride and his feet fell heavily, jarringly, on the ground.

He wore sneakers that were tattered and shredded from the shrapnel of a thousand small pebbles over which he had run. His sweatpants were gray. It was a color that matched his complexion. His arms drooped with exhaustion, like the flowers bending to give way to winter, and his was a lost, hopeless cause. For the winner was already across the finish line, far ahead, out of sight. And the other runners had long ago left him behind. His legs screamed at him to stop. His scorched lungs pleaded for rest. Even his socks seemed to fly at half-mast around his ankles, soiled flags of surrender.

Still, he ran.

In the autumn of our dreams, we are all quarterbacks. We are cunning and graceful and when we step into the huddle everyone bends forward eagerly and the crowd rises expectantly because it knows we will deliver the bomb just as the clock blinks down to zero.

Ah, but that is in the autum of our dreams, not in the winter of our reality.

You want to know about reality? Then go watch the other autumn sport. It is called cross-country. Watch it and you will know what they mean when they speak of the loneliness of the long distance runner.

Cross-country runners don't get scholarships. Or no-cut contracts. Or offers to endorse deodorant or pantyhose or coffee or cars. Cross-country runners get shin splints and blisters on their feet and runny noses and watery eyes. One thing more. They get a special kind of self-satisfaction that few of us are ever privileged to experience. Oh, it is not from winning. It is merely from finishing, from ever going out there in the first place and running through the puddles and briar patches and up hills and down hills and telling lies to your legs, and running on even when the others pass you, one-by-one, and geez, don't they ever get tired, don't they have a chest that's on fire, don't they ever get the dry heaves, and who cares anyway because there's no crowd, no cheerleaders, just hard ground and ugly ol' trees with no leaves and som guy driving by in a car, honking his horn and grinning like an idiot, and oh God, why don't I just slow down and walk for a little ways?

That, friends, is reality.

Oh, us silly damn sports writers, we get all caught up in down-and-outs and slam-dunks and power-play goals and a frost-bitten World Series and sometimes we get the notion that what comes out of the mouth of some semi-literate who is a millionaire only because his glands went berserk at an early age ranks right up there in importance with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

So we tend to dismiss things like cross-country as 'minor' sports, and besides, who the hell knows how to read a stopwatch past the 4-minute mile anyway? So in our jock fantasies, the hero is the guy who scores the winning touchdown. But that is not reality. Reality is the kid you'll see when you're driving through a park or past a golf course, the kid with the stocking cap and the sweat-stained sneakers, loping along way behind the field, his eyes rolling wildly, this hypnotic trance of pain and puzzlement contorting his face.

Maybe he will not be able to put into words exactly why he still runs. Maybe he will mention something about 'gutting it out' or pushing through the pain barrier or running on because he has this curiosity that drives him to discover just how much he is capable of...or not capable of. That can be the harshest kind of reality, and anyone who is willing to confront it, then he is, in the truest, purest sense, an athlete."

Monday, October 05, 2009

Bloomin' Onion

As we all know, thanks to Outback, but the bloomin' onion - a glorious heap of battered and fried onion shards - is, in fact, the national dish of Australia.

When I lived there, me and my friends would ask every restaurant we went to if they served bloomin' onions and then when they said no, would feign disbelief. Surely they had to serve it if Outback did.

For the first time since I've lived here, I visited the Outback Steakhouse on Boston Street. I've driven by it more than 1 million times and whistle (ahem, hum) the song everytime I go by. I don't dislike Outback, but it's one of those places that I'm generally not going to choose to go. But since a few of us went to the Orioles game on Sunday and received a scratch off card for a special surprise at Outback, we decided to hit it up after Fells Point Fest.

It was actually a pretty busy Sunday - 6:45 wake up to drive down to DC with Jen and Arjun. We spectated the SHIT out of Army Ten Miler. On the road at 9:30 back to Baltimore. Got to the game about 50 minutes late, which somehow put them in the 4th inning. Fortunately for us we still got our money's worth as the game went into 12 innings. It was mad nice in the stadium. Then we headed over to Fells Point Fest, kicked it there for a minute and then it was Outback time.

Oh, the scratch off cards - yeah we're pretty sure they were all good for a free bloomin' onion. I've never eaten onion rings before, and generally I'm not a fan of onions or fried versions therewithin.

Today I had a better day at PT, at least I think I did. Hard to say when the tasks they prescribe seem so menial, yet I can't turn a pedal due to my knee's lack of desire to bend. It was mad nice out again, so I then went to the gym only to discover that the pool is still closed. WTF Merritt, get that shit open. When it's the only thing I CAN do, I want to be able to do it! Lifted instead and then headed home. Then I got antsy so I walked the 3.75 miles to Federal Hill (59:20, not bad) and hung out at Fed Hill Runners. Sad that I missed all the Mondays in September.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

4 Weeks Post

Yesterday marked 4 weeks since surgery, and I've got to say, I honestly thought by 4 weeks I'd be on a bike in a real way.

Instead, I walked down to my physical therapy place down here - Canton Orthopaedic and Sports Rehabilitation ( - to start working again with my boy Stavros Rologas, and found that I'm way behind in my rehab.

He feels like I probably should have spent another week or two on crutches as my knee is constantly bent at too much of an angle. It sits around 10-12 degrees, far from the 0 I need it to be at. Basically every step that I take I'm just reinforcing the problem, so the #1 objective is to get the knee to 0. The bending will come, apparently.

My tibia or fibula, one of those two, still hurts a little from where they drilled into the bone to insert the bioabsorbable screws. And when Stavros worked me over, I was not feeling swell for most of the rest of the day. I also had to sit on the stationary bike and the objective here was to get my knee to go all the way around. I had to raise the seat up to its highest level, and even then I still had to adjust my form just to force it around. It wasn't pretty.

It's tough because within 4 weeks of getting hit, I was able to do so much more. This past week was another rough one, and it makes you forget what feeling good even ever felt like. I'm approaching 3 months now of this injury affecting me, and I'd guess it's going to be another month til I'm really able to ride and probably another month after that til I can run.

The ongoing legal drama has become even more complex, and I believe that it will not be settled for quite a while.

So it's Saturday, and it's pretty nice. I'd like to walk down to Fells Point Festival, but it's pretty far and I probably shouldn't walk that much. But it's really nice out so I'm torn. Also today the O's are 2 games away from ending the season, and there are tons of college football games on.

Next week is another week of the PT grind, hoping to get to a point where I can move around better as we've got the Baltimore Marathon expo on Thursday and Friday, and then the Marathon et al on Saturday.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

My Gina

Well, I'm finally back in Baltimore, after a long month at home in NJ.

It was ashame I couldn't really enjoy my time at home, by which I mean I couldn't really go to the beach, swim in the ocean, run at the parks, pillage and plunder...

Over the past week I've gotten out a little more. Friday I went over to Celeste and Jay's - they live right on the water now so we rode their Danzi over to Highlands and ate dinner at Windansea, then rode back. It was a fun way to spend a Friday night. Then Saturday me, bro and parents hopped in the whip and drove to College Park - to watch the Terps get smoked by Rutgers, in the cold rain. That was not so fun.

I did my last two New Jersey PT sessions on Monday and Tuesday, at which point I was not able to bend my knee anymore than I have been able to for 10 days. 88 degrees on my own, 92 with help. I can straighten to 0 with help, but sit between 5 and 10 on my own. Not great. According to the therapist I am apparently behind where I should be. Motherfucker, how am I behind on anything?

I saw the surgeon on Tuesday as well, who recommended I take an anti-inflammatory for the next month because my knee is still pretty swollen. I've got PT down here tomorrow at 9, and then I'll hit it 3 days a week for probably the next 6 weeks I'd guess. It really isn't not a lot of fun.

Alyssa was kind enough to come up to NJ to retrieve me, and we stopped by TNT when we got back to town. It had been a really long time since I've been at the track. And man does it get dark early!