Friday, June 7, 2013

A Pain in the Neck!

I draw a certain line when it comes to putting personal information on the internet. Honestly, I shut down my first blog (an outlet for writing) and deleted most of my fb page almost two years ago. Then people started asking me why I was gone. I was surprised by the number of people who told me that they were motivated or inspired by what I wrote and by the photos of the places I visit. Thus, I chose to stay on the internet. I have decided to only relate information about my involvement in athletic events and my travels.

This post is as close to personal as I will get. I have wavered over relaying this story for two days and I am only posting it because I think it might serve someone out there.

If you follow this blog, and many people do as judged by more than 20K hits in the last year, then you know that I have had a difficult spring. Just how troubling and taxing it has been for me, you are about to learn.

In March I ran the LBL Marathon. In that race I tripped a few times within a matter of seconds. I had been struggling to keep my form after about an hour, but I thought it was because I had pushed the pace.

Then, in early April, I ran in the Oak Barrel Half in Lynchburg, TN. I felt extremely lucky to finish, let alone to win. In the closing miles I was once again struggling to keep my form. My left leg was simply not pulling through normally. As I had in all of my practice sessions, I forced myself to remain as balanced in gait as possible. I somehow managed to keep a steady pace.

After the Oak Barrel Half I was not sore at all. This is highly unusual since my low mileage approach to running almost always results in post-race hobbling. I became extremely tight in my left buttock, hip, and leg in the days that followed that event. I kept to my stretching and strength routines, but struggled even more to get through workouts as I approached the Indy Mini - my goal race for the spring.

Those workouts were much more taxing and difficult to finish than I expected. A few times I even wondered if I was actually getting - dare I say it - old. Still, from those efforts I knew that, given a fair weather day, I could run at or below 1:16 for a half marathon. I did not. Approximately 4.5 miles into the race I turned hard left and felt/heard a loud pop from my left hip. And my running gait disintegrated. I looked down to see my left foot striking the pavement at nearly a 45 degree angle. Whoa!!!

My hip had not come all the way out of the socket, but it had been twisted out of its normal position. It was painful and annoying. I swung my left knee from inside to outside and outside to inside as I continued down the road to the Speedway. Again, if you follow the blog, then you know how I stubbornly finished. I made it to the finish line despite three more of these popping incidents.

I was devastated. For years I have gone to events (except for those two Leadville 100s :) and performed exactly as I planned to. And I have not had a sport related injury, setting aside bike crashes, in more than twenty years.

When I resumed training in preparation for the Apple Duathlon my struggles worsened, even though I was seeing specialists and following every detail of their course of treatment. Oh, I was still nailing some awesome workouts at the same paces I've been running/riding for many years, but the efforts to prepare for and complete those workouts had increased significantly. I would work hard to limber up and then even harder to power through a run at goal pace, only to have my left hip and buttock grow extremely tight after even a light three mile run.

For better or for worse, I'll side with you, the whole left side of my body became extremely tight on the long drive to Minnesota. I once again limbered up well and then my left side tightened up immediately after the horn sounded. I couldn't even run a 5K at the pace of my the first four miles in the Mini a month earlier, Something was wrong and worsening. The treatment served as patches that were lasting for shorter and shorter durations.

So, I got another opinion. I visited a doctor specializing in neurology on Tuesday. He put me through a battery of diagnostic tests similar to what the others had done. Then he went further. A test of my eye movement led to the testing of the extension reflexes and strength of many muscles.

At the completion of the testing the doctor asked me if I had suffered a neck injury lately. Yes. Yes I had. At the end of January I was explaining how a dip in the Blue Ridge Parkway gave me whiplash and nearly knocked me out. As I retold the story of this May 2012 ride I whipped my head forward and my neck popped loudly and began to hurt like hell on the left side of the spinal column. The pain lasted for almost two weeks and varied from dull to intense. My necked continued to pop with normal movement right up until - Tuesday.

The early pain I knew came from the self-inflicted whiplash due to my overly demonstrative story telling. The later tightness and popping I decided had been caused by my return to cycling on a bike that I could not get comfortable on.

This doctor had a different take on it. He showed/told me how a misplaced vertebrae could compress a nerve bundle and result in a neuropathy. That neuropathy, in turn, would cause diminished capacity for body functions relying on those neurological signals.

I became shockingly aware of that weakness when, during his diagnostic exam, when my left side produced a far less strength than my right side. My mind had, since that whiplash, been compensating for compressed nerves by sending signals through the right side of my brain. The result was a weakened response by the left side muscles, hence bad form. By recognizing this and forcing my body to complete workouts while maintaining relatively good form, I had overtaxed muscles on my left side.

The gluteal muscles were the first to cry out when my bike seat moved them into an even more stressful position. Those super tight muscles pulled at my hip, making it hurt. The IT band became inflamed as it fought to maintain the balance. The destabilized hip moved from its normal position. Mayhem, pain, and stupidity ensued. What a mess!!!

The pressure has been released from the nerve bundle. My strength is nearly back to normal. Boy is it back!! I know it is because I have been cleared to ride, but to protect my neck. Running is on hiatus for now. How long? I'm not certain, but I know I intend to race in the ITU Duathlon World Championships at full strength in nine weeks.

So why did I reveal this personal story? Because of words the doctor and others have said to me. First of all, the fact that I have regained so much strength so quickly has been attributed to my exceedingly good health. Several medical professionals have recently told me that I am the healthiest old man they have ever worked with. This, in itself, validates my healthy lifestyle of moderate exercise time and proper (unAmerican) eating habits.

Secondly, and the most important reason why I told this story, is because I (and others!) realize how stubborn I have been. I did what most guys would do - I ignored the signals - I adapted changes - I did not seek medical attention when I first hurt my neck. I was a fool.  I could have caused permanent nerve damage that would have changed the way I live out my life. The next time it could be something lethal like cancer.

Tough guy instincts must yield to the wise old man who understands his limitations.  That is why I am about to leave for the most relaxing western journey I have ever had. Stay tuned!!

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