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Harbinger : “one that presages or foreshadows what is to come”

It had become somewhat of a fixture in our dining room. I’d pass by it pretty much daily. Can’t help notice it. It’s not small, my bike, given that I’m 6’3″ and it’s a custom frame. And although when clean, it does look somewhat like a piece of art, by no stretch can one pass it off as part of the room decor. But I wasn’t ready yet. Served me well last race, but just didn’t have it in me to get her ready to ride again. Fall came and went. Winter arrived along with the holidays and still it sat…collecting dust, patiently waiting.

The calendar year turned, and with it, renewed resolutions, dark days and cold weather. Ingredients to make indoor morning bike trainer rides somewhat more palatable. So the bike was moved (no roots had set) to the basement, and we (yes..for those on the outside of the world of biking, bicycles are people too) said hi to the computrainer.  Forty minutes later, in full biking attire (no small feat, trying to find my bike “kit” buried in a pile of summer workout gear), with the Husker Du song “New Day Rising” churning in the back of my head, I’m ready to go. This is it. Rising from the ashes…building a new “bridge” to 2015. I start spinning easily to warm up and then…ouch!

A few months ago, it was just a little “niggle”.  A little bit of pain in my right knee. Nothing too horrible. I mean, in general, the rest of the 5am workouts with the trainer (see Limits) overall were much more uncomfortable. But the right knee thing kept popping up. Harbinger. On sled drills, squats and so forth, it would rear its head. I’d work around it, go home. Rest, Motrin, repeat workout. After a month, these morning workouts were turning more into physical therapy sessions with the trainer than the beat-downs I had grown accustomed to. So I decided to take a little break. And after a few weeks, perfect timing to hop back on the horse (bike). Who would have thought that with every downstroke of my right leg, my knee would say (hey…don’t do that…what…cut it out…do you hear me…WTF are you doing…do u not understand English…hey…hey… HEY!!!) about 85-90 times a minutes (if the cadence monitor on my bike is accurate). So all dressed up and nowhere to go, I dismount the bike and directly walk into a state of denial.

Now “denial” for me is my “go to” mechanism for dealing with unwanted things.  Not very sophisticated for sure, and frankly quite counter-productive. Sarcasm is my other method of choice but that takes energy and thought…which is not my initial reaction. I mean it is hard to use sarcasm when late with one’s taxes. The IRS is not particularly known for its sense of humor. Returning challenging patient phone calls always seems more palatable tomorrow than tonight. Bills…well they can be paid next weekend. Comcast usually is nice enough to give a few warning calls before shutting cable down and sending my kids into a tizzy.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I am a relatively high functioning, procrastinating denialist. (By the way, I think that would make a great name for a punk band.) The house has never been foreclosed on. I have managed to maintain my board certifications in medicine with some hours to spare before midnight deadlines. And if you allow for ALL of 2014 to pay 2013 taxes, then I’m doing pretty good. (Yep…I set the bar pretty high). But as a 44 year old child at times, it might be time to rethink this approach.

There is something about the shortening of days, the constant gray skies, and a perpetual chill in the air that makes me turn more “inwards”.  What else is a “niggle” in my life right now? What am I pushing off till “tomorrow”. Work is not hitting on all cylinders like it has in the past. Missed connections with friends keep popping up. My kids are growing up so fast. I find myself looking at their pictures from what seems like a lifetime ago, with my mind frozen in the past…But am I missing some of their present?

I had an MRI of my knee yesterday. I went and saw the doctor. Had the scan done in less than 24 hours. The meniscus is fine. No tear. Some bone contusion and a cyst of some type. Not “career” ending or threatening. I guess more Motrin or PT or rest or all of the above. But all will be good. But I think it’s time to start working on some of the other “niggles” in my life. Closing my eyes and looking in the other direction when things are suboptimal at work is not a successful nor fulfilling long term strategy. And just hoping for chance encounters with long time friends is a poor way for maintaining contact. Being present and in the moment with my teenage kids…well that’s always a work in progress.

So when my knee started to hurt, I thought it would be a harbinger of the “big” injury. The one that that tells me “you’re 44 years old, dude…you’ve done 5 Ironman races. Maybe it’s time to dial it back. Can’t cheat father time…”  But I think it’s telling me something else. Something far less ominous, but more subtle. That it’s time to stop ignoring the “niggles” in my life and start doing something about them. Maybe as a 44 year old adult, it’s time to move on from denial to action. From passivity to activity. At work. With friends and my family. Time to get started… But if only I knew where I put this years W-2’s?


back pain

One month. Actually one month three days to be exact since I did Ironman WI.  The physical stress on my body has passed and along with it most of the intensity behind the wave of emotions and excitement that followed.  Having finished the race on such a personal high, it left me like a meth addict craving for more. (Yep…been watching  Breaking Bad almost non-stop…almost done with season four!)   It took me all of a post-race shower, 3 slices of pizza on state street, and watching a parade of inspirational midnight finishers to start my brain spinning forward to 2014.  Visions of winter marathons and spring bicycle time trials filled my head as I wondered what building off this new level of fitness could bring!  Yoga and Pilates would help my congenital flexibility deficiency.  My nutritional focus would only continue to grow  into new realms of anti oxidant loaded foods. I even bought a packet of chipotle seitan to try.  Yeah me…the guy who lived on Burger King in High School and Taco Bell in college.  Those post race endorphins are pretty powerful stuff.

Although my brain was riding high, my 42 (soon 43) year old body had a different opinion of things.  It fired its first warning shot two weeks later after getting on my  bike.  A beautiful Saturday morning…perfect for riding. A little on the cool side but a great excuse to show off my new long sleeve “Ironman Finishers Jersey”.  Although I felt ready to rock and roll, my left knee took exception and stated so five minutes into the ride.  A “hiccup” I thought. Just a little more time. Only two weeks. I had earned some time off right?  A thirty minute run a few days later went fine.  And I was only a weekend away from getting back into my groove!

The second warning I failed to notice.  It was too subtle and only in hindsight did I recognize its signifance.  The neck and upper back strain that had been building up all week I tried to ignore. My ill fated mid-week yoga session (see  Disequlibrium) did not help and I shrugged it off before getting in the pool that Friday evening. 2500 yards later, a twinge under my right shoulder blade seemed reasonable for not having been in the water for 2 weeks.  I went to bed excited to set a 6am alarm (yeah…I know..6am and alarm when put together should never be associated with excitement).

My body decided though, at 4am, to make sure I paid appropriate attention as my upper back spasmed so bad breathing was painful. Despite the lack of oxygen currently making its way to my brain, the irony of the situation was not lost. Having just swum/biked /ran 140.6 miles three weeks earlier, I was now barely able to get out of bed, much less down the stairs to some Motrin and what I hoped was some left over flexiril.  I would spend the majority of the weekend moving only to change my position on the bed to find the least amount of strain and pain.

I now find myself on day twelve of “injury # 1” on my road to IM WI 2014.  One bike ride, a 30 minute run and 2500 yards in the pool and I’m already out of commission.  And with no workout to anchor me, I find myself having no reason to  pass on the Lou Malnati’s pizza, or the Ben and Jerry’s Pint of Ice Cream (Cinnamon Swirl…WOW!) or the Blue Moon / Sangria filled Happy Hour or the Fried Calamari or the Gyros or the….well..you get the picture….Life has become one giant evolving buffet!

The inability to workout (versus the lack of desire)  is having a profound effect.  I often  grumble trying  to squeeze  in an hour swim on a busy midweek day. But I find with no workouts to focus on,  the  days seems to just evolve around me as opposed to being an active participant dictating how things will unfold.  Now no one will ever confuse me for an “organized” person. But it has become quite obvious my daily workouts provide more than just exercise. When trying to BALANCE a week of workouts, I am an expert on the 3 day weather forecast (optimizing running outside),  participate in laundry (gotta have my favorite clean running socks),  dishes are done (along with an array of water bottles and hydration systems), and the fridge is stocked with a better array of nutritionally dense (yet often odd looking) foods. Snacking gives way to prevent stomach cramps on the run.  Television takes a back seat to stretching.  Late night TV gives way to much needed sleep.

So, what have I learned? First, I miss working out. Its absence leave a void bigger than the hour or so it would have occupied.  It is my anchor…my center and helps me approach the rest of the week in a more BALANCED way.   Second, there is a mind/body struggle going on. My mind has visons of setting  personal bests and setting new records. My body is reminding me I’m no longer 21.  And for time being, the body is winning that struggle, making me RESET.  Reset the fitness gains I had made. Reset the confidence in what my body is capable of doing.  There are just under 11 months till Ironman 2014. It is both a long and short period of time. But I will start from the beginning.  Ill take the energy and enthusiasm of my “21” year old mind against my 42 year old body (along with some help from my sports medicine docs, physical therapists and ART/Chiropractors) and a large bottle of ibuprofen, as I start the journey again.