run bike swim

breaking back

October 10, 2013

The plan was to drink enough wine Saturday night as to thwart any attempt at being able to run a 5k early Sunday morning. I happily submerged into a hot bath with an $8 Montepulciano (the grape–not the town), and-don’t laugh (if you’re not already)-a copy of Born to Run, occasionally using my big toe to dispense hot water as needed. Certainly I would be too groggy to run a race in the morning.

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After battling some lower-back fuckery for the past seven weeks surely this course of action would be enough to brush off a little ol’ 5k to conserve my physical prowess for the following weekend’s Boston half-marathon–this, considering the amount of “bad attention” my back had recently been demanding, i.e. the visits to my doctor, the visits to my spine surgeon, the MRI, the physical therapy… the massages.

See… I have one of those backs. But first… I need to preface this with an explanation… and I know this is going to sound like conceit and/or some kind of douchey a-holery, but I am confident in saying that I am a fit dude with a fairly solid core. I only bring this up because anytime I mention lower back pain there is a fairly consistent and rote knee-jerk retort, “bro, ya gotta work on your core”. Oh cool because I HAVE NEVER, EVER HEARD THAT BEFORE IN THE LAST TWENTY YEARS.

When I am not running or swimming my workout is basically planks, side planks, plankings followed by a round of shooting planks into a planket. (I don’t what that last one means.)

NHL’s  Dustin Penner reached for a stack of pancakes and just like that BAM! missed a handful of games. He didn’t get whacked on the back with a hockey stick. Mr. Penner didn’t wreak havoc on his back by hyper-extending a mystery-tendon while defending a power play. Ol’ Dustin was just reaching for one of his wife’s delicious pancakes. I reached for a hand towel. Pancakes… towels. Whatever… same thing. Minimal reaching for a pedestrian object was involved. Relative to lower back fuckery, neither incidence was induced by a cinder block throwing competition.

It’s like this elusive spinal panic attack that no one can treat (or readily diagnose for that matter). As fast and furious and unannounced that it happens it just as quickly disappears as if it never happened. One second I am reaching for a hand towel, the next I am screaming “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” in a steadied cadence ripped straight out of a Joel and Ethan Coen screenplay. This is followed by standing frozen for 20 minutes that even the best Faneuil Hall human statue couldn’t compete against.

My official diagnosis is that I have a minuscule bulging disc between my L4/L5. Clinically speaking it’s not even classifiable as a protrusion… it’s a very, very minor bulge. So minor, that when my spine surgeon says “very” and “minor” he cocks his head to the side–wincing as if maybe there are words escaping him that mean just more than “very” and just less than “minor”. Regardless, the bulge is enough to occasionally hit nerves in the spinal column which simply put, LOCKS SHIT UP. (For lack of better nomenclature.)

In the days that followed this particular episode, I became a panic-ridden mess after looking in the mirror to observe that my torso was in the shape of a one-sided parenthetical. Not a ) from the side, but a ) from the front. My muscles and tendons were playing a sick game of tug-of-war–pulling so hard that I had contorted into some kind of perverse unwatchable performance art.

Completely indisposed (and very, very cranky), I posted a query to my various social networks regarding what television show I should emotionally invest during my new found downtime. It was fairly unanimous–Breaking Bad. I knew of it but hadn’t seen a single episode. The pain medication and muscle relaxers (designed to unparenthesize myself) made for a perfect companion to the Netflix queue of what I can honestly say is probably some of the best television theatre ever created. I proceeded to watch 4 1/2 seasons of Breaking Bad. Straight. Sometimes I watched six episodes in a day. I was actually able to make it to the last 4-5 episodes of the final season as they appeared live. That’s a lot of fucking television.


Best. Downtime. Ever.

[Having lived in Albuquerque for nearly a year it was definitely a trip to see familiar landmarks; most noticeably the crack-whore motel that was a block down from our apartment just off Central. I’ll never forget the “ice cream truck” in our neighborhood that rolled around at 10 in the P.M. (In February).]

I digress.

Normally when I have this exact type of back complication it goes something like this: I engage in some hyper-over-the-top macho activity such as listlessly sighing or daintily pouring some tea; my back freaks the fuck out; I go to my primary doctor for an adjustment (he’s a D.O.); I see my spine surgeon for an injection; I rest; I ice… maybe a massage. Two weeks go by and it’s done. I’m 100% Back to normal. (Until next year!)

This round = a seven week picnic of shit sandwiches.

I thought the spasm crisis of 2013 was over and I had been through the worst of it. Over three weeks had passed since my last long run in preparation for my first half-marathon. With the race fast approaching I needed to get back on track.

Saturday late afternoon, 5PM. The sun was beginning its trajectory westward casting what photographers sometimes call side-light. It’s a strange phenomenon where one looks around and might say, “am I high, or does everything look kind of… strange?” Architectural details of buildings, that might otherwise go unnoticed, suddenly demand attention. Trees radiate an intense auburn glow. Shadows dance. It’s life perfectly lit.

I left my Boston hood of Jamaica Plain and started up the Southwest Corridor–a run/bike path that essentially runs on top of the Orange Line until Back Bay. I skirted to Southend fleeting past rows and rows of treacherous up-ended brick sidewalks lined with café’s, bars and restaurants. From there I passed an enormous wedding in Chinatown–I sashayed past a troupe of bridesmaids in billowy purple satin. I briefly traipsed through the Leather District and then onto the wharf, running along the Fort Point Channel boardwalk with maybe one of the best views of Boston’s skyline–heavily doused in side-light. (I briefly paused to take a photo of a family so the dad, attempting a family selfie, could be included in a proper picture.) I gazed out past the harbor before heading into the towering halls of the financial district. Then onto The Common where the Boston Ballet was gearing up for a public performance… families, kids, grandparents… all walks of life gathering for a beautiful cultural event. Onto the Public Garden where another wedding was being photographed on a bridge (yes, that bridge, the one with the sawn boats in the background)–a groomsmen, that I can only assume was a fellow runner, held out his hand to high-five me as I passed. I ran up Boylston to Mass Ave… started feeling the hamstrings tighten up. I stretched out amongst the crowds heading to Fenway to see the Red Sox march their way into the post-season. I continued onto The Fens and started my trip home, sun long since set. It was getting dark as I passed an ice-truck company that had dumped it’s tertiary ice cargo–essentially a runner’s oasis–“this can’t be real!” Huge blocks of perfectly solid and clear ice stood before me. I stopped and imagined I was Walter White looking at the most perfectly formed crystals ever, and then proceeded to immediately ice myself. I had to keep moving… I ran through the rest of the Emerald Necklace. Home.

Best. Run. Ever. 12.25 miles at a 8:00 minute pace.

Three days later I ran four super shitty miles at a 9:30 pace and had to stop. And by stop, I mean I had to walk home, with my hands on my hips, gingerly, for an additional two miles. Because of my back.

Since then–and several massages, sacral joint injections and tissue work later–here I am in my bathtub reading Born to Run and drinking red wine–I am definitely not running this 5k in the morning.

I mean, of course I have to suit up… I already have my bib, and hey, I’ll need it to enter the beer garden when this thing ends. (It is, after all, an Oktoberfest themed 5k sponsored by some of the best local brews in Boston.) But most importantly I gotta represent my running group the Forest Hills Runners!

I don’t have to tell you how this ends…

“Fuck it. I’m running.”

It’s a big crowd for a 5k… 1,679 runners shivering in the cold. It’s also raining. There’s no side-light this time… in fact, it’s pretty dismal. Perfect race conditions.

I saddle up near the front of the pack. The gun pops and I am off… and it’s perfect. I feel light and free. It feels so fucking good, it’s difficult to explain… I just run and I’m smiling. I’m wearing a brand new pair of Mizuno’s (which is usually a no-no for race day)–but it’s such an apt metaphor… that sensation of being a little kid running wildly down the sidewalk in a brand new pair of sneakers.

This is the best thing I’ve felt in awhile… better than soma, better than wine… the freedom I feel on this run, I’m just absolutely flying. No pain.

I didn’t PR, but I came within about ten seconds; still, a sub 20 5k after weeks of heating pads, Biofreeze and little to no running. (19:54/6:25 pace) I placed 56th overall out of over 1,600 fellow runners. Comparatively there were still five mother fuckers in the master class beating me out (a dude, 65, ran a 18 minute 5k). I really hope in 20 years I am that annoying motherfucker.

Also, is mother fucker one word or two?

All things considered, this was a pretty amazing run for me. Sheer joy–but it’s also terrifying because it made me realize just how much I am in love with the sport; and when I can’t run, it’s debilitating. I suppose this is something I’ll have to work on. Especially considering Breaking Bad has ended.

Wish me luck on my first half. But I’m sure you’ll hear about it–as runners are mercilessly wont to do.

“I did it for me. And I liked it. I was good at it.”–Walter White


If you want to follow me on my run with text updates (hello, only nobody.) The race starts at 8:30 AM EST, Sunday, October 13th, 2013.

I am bib #1183. And the tracking ends at the finish line. (Hopefully.)


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  • Reply born to run (I was not) | david the tornado November 10, 2013 at 6:23 pm

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