Friday, January 27, 2012

Finally, photos!

Have you ever tried to take a picture of someone running? Unless you have an amazing single shot camera with special features, it's impossible. You get the streaky, fuzzy, ghost like, blur runner. That's why I am always excited that the events provide professional photography that I could never recreate.

Thanks to the folks at, I have some pictures to share with you from the Phoenix Rock'n'Roll 1/2 Marathon, 1-15-12. The first of my 20 in 2012.

As you can see, there were a few people there ready to run in Phoenix! Which is another difficult task in photographing runners. I had anticipated this issue, so I had armed my friend Steve with a very large sign - complete with dangly streamers - so that I could find him as I ran by. Any man that will carry around a streamer enhanced sign all day is alright in my book.

Professional race photography also helps in looking through that mass of people and providing some excellent single person shots. Like this one:

There are quite a few more shots, and you can see them all here.

In this photo, I am running in my ToeOFF brace. Or I should say, I would not be running in this photo without my ToeOFF brace. I know that foot drop is not curable; however, I have found the proper brace to return me to the activities I enjoyed so much prior to foot drop. The ToeOFF brace helped me to GET BACK UP!

If you could Get Back Up Today, what would you do?


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

1 down, 19 to go! Another long blog, spanning the 4 days in Phoenix...

On Sunday I ran the first of 20 Half Marathons in our mission for 2012. With all the preparations I'd been doing to get things going for this new job, I had little time to prepare for the actual run. I forgot how much effort it takes just to get to the starting line!

Wednesday, Jan. 11th

I arrived in Phoenix around midnight local time, which felt even later according to my "east-coast" internal body clock. Thanks to Priceline, I was able to book my stay at the Legacy Golf Resort on the south side of Phoenix. I was pleasantly surprised to see that my room had a kitchenette and a washer/dryer. These are HUGE assets if you're in town to run a race... I could now buy food at the grocery store and not stray from my regular training diet AND I could wash all my running clothes before heading back home...major score!

Thursday, Jan. 12th

After 5 hours of sleep I logged on to the "Map My Run" site to find a safe running route near my hotel to get in a 5- or 6-miler. There was a perfect trail a half-mile from the Legacy which wound around several area golf courses and along a scenic canal. The weather was gorgeous, 55 degrees before the sun was fully up, and I was envious of the few golfers I saw teeing it up along my run.

After the training run I checked in with Steve, who was in Phoenix coordinating the PR & Media assignments for our project together. We planned the race schedule for Sunday as well as the strategy for promoting our mission throughout the weekend. I then spent the afternoon/evening working towards these goals: answering emails, communicating via Facebook and Twitter, and getting my first blog entry posted. I finally finished all of my homework, went to the grocery store and made myself a sandwich for dinner, then went to bed early.

Friday, January 13th

I spent the early morning online then left for the marathon Expo with Steve at 9am. By the time we got into downtown Phoenix, parked and made our way to the building it was 10am and the Expo was officially opening. I picked up my race number, t-shirt and goody bag then made my way into the vendor arena. The first stop was the Team MS booth located directly outside the "Official Race Merchandise" corral, and the most important connection for me that day.

Team MS, more specifically The National Multiple Sclerosis Society, was the official charity supported by this year's PF Chang's Rock-n-Roll Marathon/Half Marathon. While I do not have MS, I have something in common with many who do. Footdrop is a widespread symptom of MS and most who get diagnosed are given very little knowledge regarding the condition or the variety of available treatment options. Like me, many MS patients had never even heard of footdrop until they began to trip and fall on a regular basis.

The importance of my mission with Allard really hit home when I met Suzanne from Team MS. She has had footdrop for 15 years and was never given an option for its treatment. Like most of us, she went with what was prescribed and never questioned whether or not it was the best available solution for her. She saw my brace and wondered why she didn't have something similar. I let her try mine (we both have left leg paralysis and are similar in size) and she was amazed at the difference.

I'm not going to go into the myriad of reasons why some braces are better than others... that's an entry for another blog. Please just trust me that overall health--both physical and emotional--is greatly affected by what treatment (brace) a patient is given. Insurance covers a wide variety of braces and yet, in most cases, these options are never presented to the actual patient.

This is why I am so devoted to my new job with Allard: patients need to become their own best advocates and to do this they need to know what's available to them. My entire quality of life changed by getting the right brace and as a direct result, my overall fitness improved and my depression suddenly lifted. Knowing that it took 2 long years to "get back up" makes me mad when it could've happened right away if I were given a different brace, with no difference in cost to my insurance company!

So, back to the events in Phoenix. I was really excited talking to the people at the MS Society and we're planning to join forces in the future to promote our mutual mission: support for a better life. They added inspiration to my weekend and in fact had several athletes with MS planning to run in the event to show all of us that you can GET BACK UP and live a great life despite medical challenges. Way to go, Team MS!

I shopped my way through the rest of the Expo then spent the afternoon back in the hotel working. Friday night was another early dinner (HIGHLY recommend The House At Secret Garden if you're in Phoenix) and another early bedtime for me.

Saturday, January 14th

5am wake up call on Saturday morning for the last easy run before the race. I ran a slightly different 4-mile course towards a Walgreens where I picked up a newspaper to read over breakfast. Then, since Steve was hoping to get video of me running the event on Sunday, we needed to make our plan for race day. We drove parts of the race route to find the best spots for him to spectate; we settled on a spot between mile 3 and 4 and then another at mile 12. To get to both places, then back to our meeting area at the finish, he would have to cover 8 miles on Sunday within the course loop. He said he was up for the challenge!

If you have ever tried to spot 1 runner in a sea of 30,000 bodies you know how difficult this is. After the first several hundred bob their way by you, they all become one big blur. You'll find yourself fighting a migraine trying to sort through them all just to spot your particular entrant. A better alternative is to have your runner find you. This was our plan and we hoped for the best: Steve showed me where he'd be standing at each of our designated spots and I planned to make a sign for him to hoist so that I'd see him from a distance and make my way over. I gave him an estimate of my pace so he'd have some idea of when I'd be coming through.

After the race reconnaissance was done, I returned to the hotel and ate another dinner in my room. Nothing glamorous: Peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Greek-style yogurt, steamed edamames and some cheese and crackers. After dinner I had difficulty sleeping as the anxiety of running 13.1 miles the next morning was creeping into my consciousness. Although I had run a full marathon at the end of October and a Half Marathon in November I was starting to worry that my lack of recent training would really hurt me. (Great time to think about that now, huh?! )

Sunday, January 15th

Race day! A 4am wake up call to get all my gear together for the day. The temperature was 40 degrees but would rise to the mid-50's during the run so I opted for shorts, short sleeves and my arm warmers... with a healthy layer of Body Glide under everything! Of course, I always have to wear my brace along with a knee strap to keep my ITB syndrome in check, and I packed my water bottle with an electrolyte mix and tucked my CarbBoom gels into my pockets.

I watched the morning news for any race/weather updates as I stretched and ran down my pre-race checklist.  I then packed my gear-check bag with a change of clothes for after the race and a sweatshirt to keep the chill away at the finish. Breakfast was a banana and more yogurt along with my usual full-strength coffee before leaving the hotel. We were on our way to the course at 5:30am sharp.

We found our parking lot at the finish area and scouted the family reunion zone where Steve and I would meet after the race. Since we were a mile from the starting line there were no lines at the porta-potties and I took advantage of this unusual perk! It was a good thing because by the time we walked the mile to the Starting zone the lines were 20-deep with nervous runners filing in from everywhere.

The race was due to start at 7:30 and it was 6:45 when Steve left for his spectator spot at the 3.5 mile mark. We took a few photos but since the sun wasn't quite up yet I'm not sure we captured the occasion very well. When Steve left I found the "runners' village" and grabbed a half bagel, another half banana along with some water, and found a spot to sit and stretch.

At 7:15 I made my way to my starting corral and waited with thousands of other runners for the race to begin. At 7:30 they made an announcement that due to traffic tie-ups many runners were having difficulty getting to the start, so they delayed the race. Steve called just then (yes, I ran with my phone) and said he made it to mile 3 already... I had to inform him that he'd be there for awhile before any of the runners got to him.

7:45 and we were off! I tried not to go out too fast and really hoped to settle into a 9- or 10-minute/mile pace, after all, I had not been training consistently. The course was very flat overall so it was fairly easy to settle in to a rhythm. When I passed mile 3 I started to look for Steve. Sure enough, from a ways away I could see our sign with the blue and white streamers waving in the air. I made my way to the left curb and shouted to Steve; he saw me and was able to get some good video of "Beth on the run"! We chatted for a second then I was off again, hoping to see him in 9 more miles at the 12-mile mark on the race course.

The next 9 miles were spent enjoying the bands on the course, high-fiving the kids who came out to watch and more than a few moments spent wondering what the heck I had gotten myself into. 20 Half marathons in 12 months?! I was huffing and puffing and wasn't even halfway through the very first event... yikes! I think there was a moment, while walking through a water stop, that I promised myself I would train for the next one...

Then I saw a sign that read "Failure is not in falling down but in refusing to get back up." The message seemed tailor-made for this new journey of mine and I was inspired to GET BACK UP and run with new energy. I made it to Steve at mile 12 with no major issues (besides fatigue!) and went on to finish the run in 1 hour 57 minutes and 28 seconds, almost exactly a 9-minute/mile pace. Whew!

1 down, 19 to go!


Friday, January 13, 2012

A New Year, A New Mission

Happy New Year (a few days late)!

Last week, January 3rd to be exact, I embarked upon a new and exciting journey. After 13 years in a marketing and design career I decided to join forces with Allard USA in their mission: Support for a better life.

This decision to join the Allard team professionally was not an easy one for me since I am so personally connected to this company. If you read the first installment of this blog you know the story of how I came to use their products, but you may not understand the roller coaster of emotions that goes along with my experience.

I won't go into the details in this post, but very briefly, after 38 years of leading a very active, athletic life I found myself sidelined by major spinal trauma and nerve damage as a result of my injuries. As tough as this was physically, I could not foresee the emotional toll my new reality would impose.

I had just been through major spinal surgery and after a very long summer of healing, trying to get back to work full-time and trying to spend more time in "my world" and less time in doctors' offices I was finally reclaiming my life. There was one thing that was keeping me from a complete comeback though and that was a condition called "foot drop." In a nutshell, foot drop (or drop foot) is a medical term for the inability to lift your foot from the ankle joint causing an awkward walk, or "steppage gait", which causes a person to trip and fall often.

I had never even heard of foot drop, nor of the AFO's (Ankle-Foot-Orthoses) they prescribe to "treat" the condition until it happened to me. Little did I know then that in the next few years I would become an unexpected expert on the subject, and here's what the medical description of foot drop doesn't tell you:

You will fall with foot drop. Despite any brace you use, you will trip on a regular basis. You will no longer be able to wear most of the shoes you could wear before having foot drop, and thus, your wardrobe will have to change. You will suffer the sensation of constant "pins and needles" in your foot if you're lucky, and a chronic burning pain if you're one of the not-so-fortunate cases. You will never be able to take "normal" mobility for granted again. You will have extreme cramping in your legs on a regular basis. In most cases, this cramping will keep you from getting the sleep you need each night. You may not be able to do the things you did before acquiring foot drop: walking to the kitchen without falling, playing soccer, returning to active combat in the military, chasing after grandchildren... whatever may been an important part of your life before may now be an impossible hurdle to maneuver. Your life will change and most likely you will suffer some level of depression as you come to grips with your new reality. Your self-image will be challenged and this will affect your identity as you once perceived it. You may be labelled as handicapped. People will see you differently.

What I have just described is the reality of living with foot drop, and yet I have learned that there are ways to overcome each and every challenge.  I have also learned that this is not an easy task and it takes perseverance, imagination and time to navigate the rehabilitation minefields. There are millions of people just like me. My case was caused by permanent paralysis of my peroneal nerve due to eventual complications from birth defects, but there are so many more causes: Multiple sclerosis, stroke, diabetes, spinal- or leg-trauma, neuropathy, cerebral palsy... and many more. The condition affects the very old, the very young and does not discriminate between race, ethnicity, gender or socio-economic demographics. It is a well-known, common condition and yet the technology/systems for treating foot drop lag behind the technology for treating amputees and many cases of paralysis.

In my personal journey I learned that despite amazing and talented professionals working to improve the lives of those with foot drop, there is a major disconnect in the health care system. I was relentless in my own pursuit of getting my life back, no small part of which was returning to marathoning, but it took so much effort and a span of 2 years to do so. Inspired by a Japanese proverb I saw somewhere, "Fall 7 times, Get up 8" I was determined to find something that returned me to the quality of life I had before my injury... and that something was one of Allard USA's braces, the ToeOFF. The ToeOFF literally changed my life, and I couldn't believe that although it had been around for years I was not able to access it before then. I've been wearing it ever since and returned to marathoning, even running the Boston marathon 3 times with foot drop. I was given this amazing gift of being able to take mobility for granted once again.

I'm not telling you this to tell you how great I am, but rather how grateful I am to be at this point in my journey. So many people with foot drop have not been so lucky, and now I want to give back... to be a part of the solution. My mission with Allard now is to raise awareness, to connect with other people with foot drop and to learn about their experiences. Together we have to find a way to connect our physicians with our orthotists and with our physical therapists and our insurance companies to get the right technology to the right people.  

The raw truth is that foot drop, as unsexy as it sounds, has shattered people's lives. It has severed careers, catalyzed depression and complicated relationships for those who are forced to live with it.

And that's the reason for this blog and my new mission for 2012, to inspire and assist others to GET BACK UP.

In pursuit of these goals I am planning to run in 20 Rock-n-Roll Half marathons across the US this year as an ambassador for Allard USA and on behalf of those who can't. I hope to raise awareness of the challenges of foot drop and to promote the resources and those professionals already out there working towards finding real-life solutions.

Please join me, let me know who you are and how foot drop or similar paralysis/deficit has affected your life. Whatever your situation, please know that all of us have the strength within us to GET BACK UP TODAY.