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Watch out for the Walnuts

I knew the moment it happened that I broke it. It was about 5:15am, the only light I had to go by was the moonlight, and as I ran around the tree at the back corner of Picadome golf course, I rolled my ankle over what I think was a walnut.

Its amazing how something so small can do so much damage. It felt like a wish bone snapping, I somersaulted forward, and instantly severe pain shot through my right foot. My heart was pounding as I tried to stand up but I was unable to tolerate the pain. I was alone about a mile and a half away from my car, and it took nearly half an hour to hobble/crawl back. I drove to work and got ready for the day, hoping it was just a bad strain that would quickly go away, but the pain in my foot only worsened. I made it about half way through the day hopping or rolling around in the desk chairs, and I even resorted to using a wheelchair at one point before my boss told me to go get my foot looked at. Of course I soon found out that I broke my 5th metatarsal. I ended up in a boot, and there was 10-12 weeks of no running or biking. I initially did crutches…but try to cover long distances with crutches and maneuver around a hospital and you’ll quickly realize you need something better. So, I resorted to a scooter. It was embarrassing, but at least the kids I was treating thought it was awesome.

Me and my push scooter!

This was the first time in my life that I was literally unable to run, and it was very difficult emotionally. Running has become such a part of my daily routine that I literally do not feel like I have accomplished anything for the day unless I run. Its my own way of dealing with all of my daily stress. My wife tells me I was depressed the entire time I was in the boot. I was short tempered, uneasy to please, I didn’t want to talk about it, and as she puts it – I wasn’t really myself. My injury occurred 2 months after my 2nd Ironman, and I was already planning for #3. Rather than continue doing other exercises to maintain my fitness, I sort of went into a slump and just quit everything. I threw myself several pity parties. I quit eating right and ended up gaining 10 pounds. At the end of my time off, I was so disgusted with myself and so anxious to start running that I personally committed to myself never to completely give in like that again.

One of the never-ending risks in training for an Ironman is that for over-training and the resulting over-use injuries. In a way it is inevitable because you are preparing to push your body beyond what is thought capable. I personally have had longstanding issues with posterior tibial tendonitis in my right foot (the tendon that holds up the arch of the foot). It seems just about every year I deal with at least one flair up where I have to drastically cut back. It has actually sidelined me twice before when preparing for major races – leaving me to change my racing plans or press on and race injured (obviously those races did not go so well). And 3 weeks ago, in an effort to supercharge my cycling by doing 10 max effort cycling workouts in 10 days (which I did complete by the way), I found myself again unable to weight bear on my right foot 2 days later. Oddly enough, I woke up, felt the pain, and hobbled into work, just as I did a few years ago. I could hardly get around the clinic. Several of my staff members looked at me in pity trying to figure out how to help, and for the others I tried my best not to show pain because I’m trying to maintain face for the fundraiser. I began to feel all of those same emotions again, and the overwhelming desire to say screw it, and quit altogether. Fortunately, that wasn’t very long lived. I have a little better mindset this time around, and a cause I am working for, so I just shifted my attention. I immediately started icing, rest, elevating, etc. I did no more hard bike workouts, quit running for 2 weeks, and only swam easy. After 3 days, I could walk without limping, so I wore an ankle brace hidden under my dress clothes at work. I was icing my ankle all day long without anyone knowing, and I started biking easy a few days later. The day that WKYT came to film a news feature about my campaign (to be aired on July 10th) was actually the first day I ran in 2 weeks, and now I have been running again for almost a week and I have no issues or pain in my foot. Of course I do not feel as good running right now as I did a few weeks ago, but at least I am running. And funny enough, my 10 days of cycling hell obviously did something, because I just biked 100 miles over the weekend, and I actually did the course at 10% higher intensity and about 10 minutes faster than I ever could previously. So, despite my little hiccup a few weeks ago, I feel like I am right back on track… and I still have 8 weeks to go!

Its relatively easy though to shift my attention and recover from an injury such as foot and ankle tendonitis, but when I tell some of my patients my story above about breaking my foot, I sometimes get a few eyes rolling. I did happen to have a patient who literally came into my clinic a few months after I broke my foot, and she too had a lower leg fracture (just her’s was due to metastatic breast cancer). She opted for the knee scooter as well, and we would at least share experiences with each other. Her name was Susan and she worked as a business executive here in Lexington. Despite her injury and more importantly her breast cancer diagnosis, she was continuing to work full time. She had to support a family and financially needed to work, and she kept such a positive attitude. To her, the injury was just another little thing and she’d constantly say “you just have to address each issue one at a time.” She would also joke about how awesome it is to be able to zip around on a scooter, and she finally got to have the best parking space on campus – the handicap spot. Unfortunately, Susan’s cancer did progress and she passed away last year, but she was always a joy to see in clinic. She required a surgery and radiation to heal her leg, and after treating this area, I was involved in her care for about another year, intermittently treating another bone mets. She would always ask about my foot and inquire whether or not I was back running, and I was always proud to tell her “of course.” It was actually my interactions with her that made me realize just how trivial my ankle injury was in the grand scheme of things. Back then, I allowed a foot injury to derail my whole outlook, when at least my foot was going to heal and I could return to the normal routine afterwards. She on the other hand had an incurable cancer. A funny thing is that at the end of every visit I had with her, she would always remind me to “stay away from the walnuts.”

So eventhough I had a small setback with my preparations for Ironman Louisville, I managed to get around it smoothly and am now back on track. There’s a very good chance that I will likely encounter something else in the next 8 weeks, and even if I do it won’t derail me… I’ll crawl across that finish line if I have to!

This by the way is the video my wife took of me the first day I got my scooter. She thought it was hilarious.


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