July 15, 2011

Sorry For The Convenience

Like many Washingtonians, I use the Metro (subway) to get to and from work on a daily basis. In general, it's very convenient. However, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is notoriously bad at escalator maintenance. As of this writing, here is a current list of all the escalator outages at Metro Center (the station closest to my work).

Because of the unreliability of escalators, I almost always rely on the elevator to get from the street level to the train level. Unfortunately, WMATA is only marginally better at elevator maintenance than it is at escalator maintenance, but that's a different story.

The late comedian Mitch Hedberg had a famous quote from one of his stand-up acts:

I like an escalator 'cause an escalator can never break. You would never see an 'escalator out-of-order' sign, just 'escalator temporarily stairs.' Sorry for the convenience.

If you take Metro on a daily basis, you know this awesome joke doesn't quite apply. This morning, after I detrained at Metro Center Station, I realized that at least 3 of the escalators within view were indeed "out of order." The remaining ones were stairs.

So, I took the elevator. Shortly after I got on the elevator, this (perfectly able-bodied) young woman came running toward the elevator, shouting "hold that elevator!" Usually in this situation, I seriously consider pushing the "door close" button as quickly as possible. Hey, if she's running to catch the elevator, she can probably handle the stairs. But, I don't (fortunately or unfortunately). Back to this morning. That girl managed to get on the elevator before the doors started to close. As soon as she boarded, she started repeatedly hitting the "door close" button. The doors started to close, but then just kind of lost momentum about half-way. It was like they were stuck. I immediately started laughing hysterically... not because of her ironic misfortune, but rather because of the frequency and relentlessness with which WMATA proves Murphy's Law when it comes to trains, elevators and escalators. I'm sure the other 5 people on the elevator thought I was crazy. Who cares. Anyway, she got frustrated, stepped off the elevator, and started walking toward the stairs. Almost immediately after she got off the elevator, the doors closed quickly and we started moving. To my slight surprise, the elevator made it safely to the street level where the doors promptly opened as designed. Lesson learned: if you don't need to take the elevator, just don't.

Update on the knee...

It's been almost 6 weeks since the surgery. I'm still on crutches, and I have 90 degrees of flex in my left knee. I'll be working on regaining range-of-motion for the next few weeks (months?). I'll be on crutches for at least another 3 weeks, and then I'll start slowly putting weight back on my left leg. How does one "work on range-of-motion?" Good question. It's a highly technical process of forcibly bending the knee until the scar tissue breaks. It's tons of fun and it feels great (sarcasm). Here's a picture of it as of today (July 15). There's still a good deal of swelling, but thankfully, it's no longer the size of a bowling ball.

In other news, I'm going to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part II tonight. I haven't read a single page of any JK Rowling work, but I have seen (and love) all 7 of the movies thus far. I'm sure #8 will be awesome.

Also, the Hamburg ITU World Championship Series race is tomorrow. Chris McCormack is racing, and there's no one named Brownlee on the start list. I'm hoping Macca (McCormack) can hang on to the pack in the swim. If so, I think he's got a good chance of a respectable finish. In case you have no idea what I'm talking about, here's an explanation. In the sport of olympic-distance, draft-legal triathlon, Alister and Jonathan Brownlee are like Lebron James and Kobe Bryant: seemingly unstoppable superstars. Macca, on the other hand, is like a Michael Jordan who has come out of retirement after playing pro baseball for a few years. Macca is a 2-time world champion at the Ironman distance, but olympic-distance racing is a whole different sport. Unfortunately, the only way to watch the race live is to drop 20 Euros for the streaming internet feed, which I did (best 20 Euros ever spent). So, I'll be hooking up the computer to the TV at 8am tomorrow to watch the race.

June 28, 2011

Injury Update (3 weeks after surgery)

A lot has happened since my last post. I had an MRI, had surgery, sat on the couch for 2 weeks, and had some staples taken out of my knee.

Here's a timeline of everything that's happened so far.

After surgery, my knee was wrapped up in gauze and an Ace bandage. When I left the hospital, doctors said I should remove the bandages after 3 days. Here are a few pictures of my knee a day or two after the bandages were removed.

I had 2 open incisions and 2 arthroscopic incisions. The large open incision (about 4") allowed access to my medical femoral condyle, which is where the lesions were. The smaller open incision (on the lower right side of the picture) allowed access to my fibula, where the surgeon harvested the pieces of bone needed for the bone graft on my femur. The arthroscopic incisions allowed access for the camera and other tools.

Last week, the staples were removed and steri-strips (like little band-aids) were applied over the incisions. Yesterday, I removed those myself. I'll post some updated pictures soon.

The next picture shows an arthroscopic image of one of the osteochondral lesions. If you look closely, you can see a kidney bean-shaped piece of white bone surrounded by a darker area of bone. The white part is the lesion. The darker part is a ring of sclerotic bone, which was cleaned/scraped out during the surgery, prior to affixing the lesion back to the rest of the femur.

The next two pictures show an instrument probing around the lesion. The white tissue on the bottom of the second picture is my meniscus. Despite years of running on asphault, the doctor said my cartilage is in good shape.

Yesterday, I started physical therapy to regain range of motion in my knee and quadricep strenth after the surgery. As of the end of my first visit to PT, I have 65 degrees of flex in my left knee and my left quad is 3cm smaller in circumference than my right quad. 3cm doesn't seem like much, but if you look at my thighs side-by-side, the difference is obvious. Only 3 days ago, I was (barely) able to lift my left foot off the ground (from a prone position) without any help. When I do it, it feels like sewing needles being pushed into my knee, but at least it's progress!

May 17, 2011


I have OCD. Unfortunately, not the obsessive-compulsive variety. Rather, the Osteochondritis Dissecans variety.

What is OCD?
It's a relatively rare (15-30 people affected in 100,000 annually) condition where blood deprivation causes cracks to form in the cartilage and the underlying bone in a joint. In my case, it's my knee. Essentially, there's a little piece of my femur that has died and is now floating around inside my knee.

Here's what archetypal case of OCD looks like.

Here's an X-ray. Left side = good knee. Right side = OCD. The red arrow points to the affected part of my femur.

What's the treatment?
Most likely, surgery. Non-surgical treatment is usually only successful for adolescents or juveniles who have OCD. In their case, their bones are still growing and can reform or reabsorb the affected tissue (called an osteochondrital lesion). In the case of a fully grown adult, the lesion will usually never heal without surgery, especially if it is located on the inside of the knee, where it has access to very little blood flow. Essentially, it won't heal for the same reason it was broken in the first place (lack of blood). 

There are several surgical treatments. Among other options, surgeons may...

(a) reattach the lesion to the bone using pins or screws. Depending on how much damage was done and how advanced the condition is, the "square peg in a round hole" problem may apply because the lesion may not fit the cavity anymore.

(b) perform a transplant. There are two types of transplants: allograft and autograft. Allograft transplants involve harvesting a bit of bone and cartilage from someone else, and filling in the cavity with it. However, you risk graft rejection and infection with this method. Autograft transplants involve harvesting bone and cartilage from my own body and doing the same thing. Surgeons usually pick a donor site that won't cause a lot of problems, like the top outside layer of cartilage. The "square peg/round hole" problem applies here too, as it's difficult to get the new pieces of bone and cartilage to fit the cavity exactly.

As of right now, I don't know if I will even need surgery, much less what type of surgery. The next step is to get an MRI. After that, my doctor will probably officially hit me with the bad news.

Based on what I've read so far, I'm looking at about 8 weeks in crutches after surgery. After that, physical therapy.

I've updated my 2011 Race Calendar accordingly (i.e., erased it), as I probably won't be fit for any races this summer, and I probably won't have enough time to get ready for fall races after surgery/recovery.

How did it happen?
I wish I could tell a cool story here, about how I got into a huge fight on the basketball court, but I can't. Truthfully, I've probably had this condition for a while. I can't say how long exactly... maybe 10 months, maybe 10 years. The repeated, micro-trauma caused by running, playing soccer and other activities is likely the original cause. However, the condition didn't come to a head until I was playing kickball last week (yes, kickball). I kicked, ran to first base, and couldn't run to second.

On a side note, I kicked a pop-fly and kept running to first base even though I knew the pitcher would be able to catch it easily. In the end, he fumbled it, the ball hit the ground and I was safe at first base. That's a good example of why little league tee-ball/baseball coaches tell their players not to stop running until the umpire calls you out.

May 6, 2011

National Half Marathon

Back in March, I ran the National Half Marathon.  Here are some pictures (thank you, brightroom).

I ran 1:28:56 (6:47 per mile).  That put me 233rd overall (203rd male, 59th in my age group). 

What's the point of measuring myself against the rest of my age group when I'm 59th? If I'm 1st, great. 2nd? 3rd? Top 10? All good, depending on the race. But 59th? It's not like I'm going to make my goal next year "top 50" in my age group. That's silly.

Congratulations to my college teammate, Charlie Hurt, who came in 4th overall in 1:08:25.

You only beat me by 20+ minutes, Charlie. Watch out next time.  Here's a picture of Charlie, basking in the early morning Washington glow.

May 2, 2011

2011 Race Calendar

Fort Ritchie Duathlon
Saturday, May 14, 2011

This one's organized by the Racine crew (husband & wife pair, I think). I did their Hagerstown Duathlon last year and thought it was a well-run, low-key event without the pretentiousness that's associaed with many multisport races. Also looking forward to this one because I'm heading to the Wine & Food Festival at the National Harbor immediately after the race.

Salem YMCA Sprint Triathlon
Sunday, June 5, 2011

This is the innaugural Salem YMCA Sprint Tri. It should be a pretty low-key event just like Fort Ritchie (but with a pool swim). Like the Blue Ridge (Half) Marathon, it takes place around my old stomping grounds. Specifically, the race starts/finishes at the site of this epic battle between two heavyweights of Southwest Virginia high school cross country circa 2000. Southwest VA high school cross country isn't exactly West Texas high school football, but still. Anyway, I lost that one by 0.82 seconds.

DC Tri
Sunday, June 19, 2011

The DC Tri's Sprint variety is comprised of an 800m swim (in the Potomac River), 20km bike, and a 6.7km run. Compared to the usual distances of a sprint-distance triathlon, this one is very run-heavy, which is good for me.

3Sports Sprint Triathlon
Sunday, July 17, 2011

I did this race last year and really enjoyed it, so I'm doing it again. Hopefully they'll have Chipotle tacos at the finish again this year... there's nothing quite like eating Chipotle at 9am.

Fort Ritchie Triathlon
Sunday, August 7, 2011

This is another Racine event. It's relatively close by, and fit right into the long time period between the 3Sports Tri and Nations Tri.

Nations Triathlon
Sunday, September 11, 2011
 This will be my "A" race for this summer, at least as far as triathlons go. I'll be looking to do much better than last year.

Ragnar Relay - DC
Friday/Saturday, September 23 & 24, 2011

This is the big one. It's a 12-man, 200+ mile relay race from Cumberland, MD to Washington, DC. I'm running with a team of (hopefully) 11 others; some with running experience, some without.

Hagerstown Duathlon #2
Saturday, October 15, 2011

This one's just for fun.

Richmond (Half) Marathon
Saturday, November 12, 2011

I ran the 8k version of this race a couple of years ago and enjoyed it. Also, most of downtown Richmond is pancake-flat, so it should be a fast course. My goal may be to run a NYC Marathon qualifying time (1:23:00).


Click here for the 2010 Race Calendar

Click here for the 2010-2011 Race Calendar

April 22, 2011

2011 Blue Ridge (Half) Marathon, Continued

More pictures from the half marathon!  Enjoy.

The first 2 pictures were taken on the way UP Mill Mountain, about 3 miles into the race.  I'm already soaked from the rain.

The next set of pictures was taken in Wascena Park, about 2 miles from the finish.  Thankfully for me, you can't tell how much I'm hurting in these pictures.  This is right after I got passed for 4th place.  Still raining.

And here's the finish.  Still raining.

April 20, 2011

2011 Blue Ridge (Half) Marathon

This past weekend, I ran the Blue Ridge Half Marathon.

As with many half marathons, there's a corresponding marathon event. This one is billed as "America's toughest road marathon." On this particular day, it was even harder than usual thanks to a heavy rain storm that lasted the entirety of the race. In fact, the race was "called" due to torrential downpour and thunder about 5.5 hours after the start, with about 100 people still out on the course. Most of them finished anyway. I guess if you're mentally prepared for a 6-hour marathon, thunder and torrential downpour don't really sway you that much.

The half marathon's still pretty tough, though. There's 2,528 feet of total elevation change. There's no net elevation change, so exactly half of that is uphill. Sure, the uphill part is difficult, but the real problem is the long downhill section from mile 4 to 6. It wasn't extremely tough to get through, but it made the rest of the race a disaster. I ran 5:50/mile pace down Mill Mountain (the summit around mile 4) with relatively little effort, but it made my legs feel like jelly for miles 6 through 9.

Photo: USATF

Speaking of that downhill section from mile 4 to 9, here's an old postcard I found of the exact road we ran down. It's called Sylvan Road, and it's still there... pretty much the same way it is in the postcard, except no cars are allowed past the point where this picture is taken. Most Roanokers know it as the "old road" up Mill Mountain. In fact, there's a really ornately decorated house, directly behind the camera. It sits near the top of Mill Mountain and is visible from most of downtown Roanoke. Once, it happened to be the home of the mayor of Roanoke (just a coincidence).

Photo: Maury Postal

Here's another photo of the road. This is what most of the downhill section looks like... sort of Tour de France-esque. It didn't look anything like this on Saturday, though. Visibility was closer to 20 feet and it was raining heavily.

Photo: Roanoke.com
 Here's a photo from the start of the race. The marathon and half marathon started together. If you look closely, you can see me on the right side (white shirt, green hat, yellow number ending in -07).

Photo: Roanoke Times

After mile 10, I pretty much hit the wall. It got more and more difficult to run under 7:00/mile pace. Somewhere between mile 10 and 12, I got passed by the only runner who passed me the entire race (40 year-old dude who ended up in 4th place).

I ended up in 5th place overall, first in my age group. Overall time was 1:31:02 (avg pace: 6:56/mi)

The award trophies were one of the coolest parts of the race. They were actual used railroad ties that had been welded and painted by Roanoke area high school students. Roanoke became the bustling metropolis that it is thanks to the railroad industry, and the race even finished right next to a rail yard in downtown Roanoke. So, the trophies were very apropos. Here's mine.

As you can see, the trophy resembles a runner wearing a medal... very meta. He is wearing a medal and he is the medal.

January 6, 2011

Surf N Santa 10 Miler

I'm only a month late posting this one...

On December 4th, 2010, I ran the Surf N Santa 10 Miler in Virginia Beach, VA.

Before the race, I expected that the best I would be able to run was around 1:06:00. I ended up running 1:03:58, thanks to some excellent pace setting by my friend and fellow former CAA runner Reagan (4th place female, 1:04:09).

The course was completely flat, but the wind was brutal as we ran along the boardwalk.


Cold and windy along the boardwalk

On race morning, I realized that I hadn't brought any pants to warm-up in. I wore my long compression socks for warmth, not performance enhancement.

The finish line and finish festival (with Sam Adams beer) were both inside the VA Beach conference center.

Each runner received up to 3 free beers. I'm sorry to say I only had 2.

Drumstick Dash 2010

I'm a bit late posting these, but here are a few pictures from the Drumstick Dash in Roanoke, VA on Thanksgiving (2010).

I've always wanted to register for a race as Quenton Cassidy, the legendary runner in Once A Runner, the fictional novel by John L. Parker. Admittedly, I was too afraid to do it in high school. But now that it doesn't matter anymore, that's exactly what I did. See below. I even marked my hometown as Gainesville, FL, location of the fictional Southeastern University.

Before the race, I thought if I could run under 19:00, I'd be happy. I managed an 18:06, so I was happy.

Here are a few pictures from the before and after race. I couldn't find any pictures of me during the race--only before I crossed the start line and after I crossed the finish line.

October 27, 2010

Army 10 Miler

The first race on my 30-week training plan is the Army 10 Miler, which was held this past Sunday.

Here's a pic from the start of the race. There were a zillion runners. Seriously, I counted them. There were a zillion.

According to the results, there were 21,621 finishers. As far as I know, the race was capped at 30,000 registrants. That means 8,379 people registered for the race and didn't cross the finish line. The results don't list DNFs (people who did not finish), so we don't know how many of those 8,379 crossed the START line.

Here's the distribution of all finishers' performances. The winning time was nowhere near the 3rd standard deviation, but there were plenty of performances outside 4 standard deviations on the slower end.

The mean finish time was 1:37:36, which is 9:45/mile pace.

10 runners ran under 50:00 (5:00/mi pace)
50 runners ran under 55:00 (5:30/mi pace)
175 runners ran under 1:00:00 (6:00/mi)
473 runners ran under 1:05:00 (6:30/mi)
1074 runners ran under 1:10:00 (7:00/mi) 

Note: data are organized into 'bins' equal to .01 std dev, or about 11.8 seconds.

Here are a few pictures from my race:

According to the Army 10 Miler website, the course is USATF certified. But, my Garmin said I ran 10.20 miles by the time I crossed the finish line. So, my time of 1:07:28 may have actually been closer to the 1:06:10 (6:37 pace) that my Garmin was telling me.

Why did I run an extra .2 miles? Glad you asked. First, see the warning note below from the Army 10 Miler website. Notice where it says "no one is allowed to proceed to the start line after 8:00am."

Well, at 8:00am when the gun went off, I was still in a port-a-john about 300 meters away from the start line. 

So, once I got to the start line, after navigating the massive crowds and dodging Army guys yelling at me, I found myself surrounded by expecting mothers and octogenarians. Ok, not quite, but I was definitely surrounded by people who weren't interested in running as fast as I was. So, I spent the entire first 3 miles weaving through a massive crowd of people. In fact, I spent the entire race passing people like they were standing still.

Before the race, my goal was to run no slower than 1min per mile off of my only 10mile race from high school. That race was a 58:02 in 11th grade, after not running for the whole week before the race (I had the flu). So, in the end I was only about 8 min off my time; well inside my 10 min goal. I definitely could have run faster if I hadn't had to fight the crowds the entire way and if I had a group of guys to run with. So, I'd put my race in the "good, not great" category.

October 14, 2010

On Motivation and My Training Plan for Blue Ridge Parkway Marathon

Sophomore year of college, I decided to quit running. Or, at least to quit running as seriously as I had been up to that point. It was both the best and the worst decision of my life up to now. I can think of a lot of reasons I should have continued. Conversely, I can make a long list of good things that happened as a result of not running. To this day, I don't regret my decision at all. What I do regret, though is letting myself slowly cease to be an actual athlete. It didn't happen all at once, but at some point in the last year or so, I realized that I'm a lot fatter, slower, and generally less athletic than I used to be. It's a tough pill to swallow when a large portion of your self-image is predicated on a particular type of athletic abilities. So, there was a bit of an identity crisis confusion.

Whether I consider myself an actual runner or not, in the end, I missed the physical outlet and athletic challenge that running provided. That's why I decided to train for this marathon... as a challenge. I don't want to wait until next spring and realize that I'm even fatter and slower than I was this fall. Instead, I want to realize that I'm actually in decent shape and can get excited for whatever I decide to do that summer and fall, whether it's another marathon, (half) ironman, or 50k trail race (not that I'll be averse to shorter races).

I remember when I used to get excited for races with tough competition... and it's way better than just feeling fat and slow. What's a 30 miles a week (or 65, if we're in December) when it means actually feeling excited for races instead of fat and slow?

Here's my training plan for the next 29 weeks (starting a few weeks ago).

I'm currently in week 3. The "type" is the workout type:
 PWO = Primary Workout
SWO = Secondary Workout
LR = Long Run

Weekly Mileage Graph:

Mileage on the Y-axis, weeks on the X-asix.

I hope this post provides some motivation for my friend and fellow blogger (if you can call me that), the Freckled Italian. She recently wrote a post on "Giving Up."