Saturday, May 19, 2012

8 down (sort of...) and 14 to go!

Monday, May 7th: Kalamazoo, MI

Today I was supposed to play golf with Shannon and her mom after our Sunday events (see last blog post). I was so looking forward to this since 1) I haven't played golf in several months and 2) I've never had the opportunity to play golf with someone else who wears the ToeOFF. As it turned out, the weather was really dismal and we all decided it was better not to play. I was disappointed and yet, admittedly, a bit excited to have an actual rest day. Shannon also conceded that she was sore after the busy race weekend; in addition to foot drop she has had 2 hip operations and is still battling some serious issues there. So, we all took the day off and agreed to meet again at the end of the week in Detroit.

So after my rest day I checked out of my hotel and began my drive east across the state. I had race Number 8 coming up in Dewitt, MI (just north of Lansing) but had some business in the Detroit area midweek before heading back up north. Since I spent nearly 10 years of my youth in Ann Arbor, MI while my parents were in school at U of M I chose to spend the night there and take time the next day to do a bit of sight-seeing. The drive was fairly easy but it was a rainy evening, which slowed the drive considerably... eventually I made it to my hotel minutes from the North Campus area. 

Upon checkin I had some business to take care of.... LAUNDRY! That's right, with back-to-back Half Marathons and several short training runs in between them this week, I was in dire need of clean clothes. Luckily, my hotel (Holiday Inn this time) had a coin-op laundry room and I took immediate advantage.
My Borgess Half Marathon bag was now my Laundry Hamper.

Glamorous facilities... but I had them all to myself!
Tuesday, May 8th: Ann Arbor, MI

As I stated earlier, I lived in Ann Arbor after moving south from the Upper Peninsula where I was born. As best I can recall, we lived in 2 places on the North Campus properties of U of M before moving to a real neighborhood--my first time living in a house! I wasn't sure how much I would remember about this house, but I still knew my old address... 1159 Pomona... so I set the GPS and went in search.

It was really strange, I hadn't been back here since I was 11 years old and I didn't remember much about driving to the neighborhood. However, as soon as I got to the bottom of my street the memories came flooding back to me and I instantly knew the way to my old residence. The yard was overgrown a bit and the color of the house had changed but for the most part it looked exactly as I remembered it.

My old house!
I could suddenly remember the names of old friends and neighbors... across the street was where Katen Steadman lived and my best friend from that period of life, Lisa Helber, lived behind my old school which was Wines Elementary. Susan Maten and Susan Carpenter were 2 other friends who lived nearby... my sister's friend Pam lived around the corner and Mrs. Mimi and babysitter Peggy (who drove a Gremlin!) lived down the street. Wow, I hadn't thought about any of these folks for many, many years.

I used to walk to school with my sisters and so I decided to see if I still knew the route. I parked my rental car at the end of Pomona and started to walk...

Voila! Right where I remembered it to be and surprisingly still looking very much the same to me.

On the way back, the end of my street and the turn I would take when I walked to visit my friend, Susan Carpenter, before she moved away.
Wednesday, May 9th:

After my early morning of touring Ann Arbor yesterday, I spent Tuesday evening working in the hotel as well as getting in a 6 mile training run. I woke up early and headed to downtown Ann Arbor for a quick breakfast and then found out I need to be in Lansing for an interview opportunity by 11:00a.m. I immediately got on the road, looking for Biggby Coffee shop on Ottowa St. in downtown Lansing where I was to meet reporter, Angela Wittrock. The drive was an hour-and-a-half each way but totally worth it for the opportunity to get our message out across Michigan.

I found the coffee shop without a problem and went in to meet Angela. She was there waiting for me and was enjoying the "Red Eye" special, a large coffee with a shot (or 2!) of espresso added-- it sounded so good I ordered the same thing. Whether it was our mutual love of a good cup of coffee or our mutual appreciation of a good trail run, we hit it off immediately and talked for over an hour. I've met some wonderful reporters/journalists this year since embarking on this journey but I can't say I've ever enjoyed my time with one as much as I did with Angela. Talking with her was like hanging out with a good friend and our time together flew by. As it usually happens with the News industry, no promises can be made regarding airtime or press coverage but Angela said she'd do her very best to help us spread the word. I found out a few days later she had kept her promise, and although I'm not sure how many papers in Michigan picked up her article but somehow the story was out since I received online inquiries from Michiganders before I left the state. Here's a link to our interview:

After the interview I drove back to Ann Arbor and headed downtown for a bite to eat before retiring to the hotel for the evening. The weather was actually quite nice although the forecast was calling for rain later in the day... for now I took advantage of the sunshine and walked around for a few hours to stretch my legs.
Downtown Ann Arbor, MI

Another view.
I found a cool restaurant/microbrew pub called the Jolly Pumpkin among all the wonderful places in town. The lunch specials caught my eye and so this is where I decided to eat.
Yummmmm... so many great choices for a vegetarian!!
I narrowed my choices down to 2 of the specials and 2 features from the standard menu and asked my server what he would recommend from those. "No contest," he said, "choose the Falafel sandwich!" So I did.
I don't always go for fries, but I was so hungry and my server made them sound so good that I couldn't resist. They were crisp, fresh shoestring fries with truffle salt and rosemary. OMG, they were sooooooo good!

Okay, I know these photos don't convey how good this sandwich was but it was truly the best falafel I had ever had. A light and freshly made tzatziki-like sauce with tomatoes and mint covered the top...

...and the Falafel underneath was made with freshly shucked green garbanzos, a true delight!
After my late lunch, the predicted rain finally arrived. A few afternoon thunderstorms rolled through and I hopped my way in and out of stores until the coast was clear... then I headed back to the hotel for the evening to finish up my work and pack up for tomorrow's adventures.

A break in the showers revealed beautiful early evening skies in  Ann Arbor.
Thursday, May 10th: Madison Heights, MI

I woke up early to head to my meeting with Wright & Filippis, an O & P facility in the Detroit area with much experience fitting people like myself with ToeOFF braces. I am so happy whenever I hear of facilities which are progressive in their approach to helping patients GET BACK UP, and this facility was one of the most impressive I've seen. Here's a link to their Michigan operations:

When I first arrived I met up with Scott Hennessey, an Allard specialist in charge of custom bracing who was in town visiting the W & F facility. Scott surprised me in Nashville at the finish line of the Half Marathon (he was visiting his family at the time) where he told me he'd like to cast my leg for a custom ToeOFF at some point in the future. We discussed our upcoming schedules and realized we'd both be in Michigan this week, and so the appointment was set to utilize the facilities at W & F to make the cast.

FYI: The ability for Allard to make custom braces is relatively new. Although each brace is remarkably "customizable" by design (selecting product, sizing and controlling foot motion/stability with orthotic inserts) the Allard team believes the braces can perform even better for some with custom-molding. My legs are actually bowed more than the average person's and so they don't fit along a straight line down my shin. Although the ToeOFF works great for me as is, Scott thinks I may actually get more power from the brace if it's designed to fit the curve of my leg. So, here we go! A great opportunity for me to have a brace that no one else has ever tried, I can't wait for it to come back from Sweden when it's ready!!

Scott Hennessey making a cast of my leg, including the orthotic insert I wear for running (seen here under my foot)
My own personal cast! My foot isn't really this long though, he just didn't trim at the toes before this was taken.
Next, I got a tour of the impressive facilities at Wright & Fillipis. They not only make custom orthoses & orthotics, they also make prosthetics here and have several large bays where everything is specialized:
Central fabrications

Prosthetics in the making!

The sewing room!

Behind the scenes look at what it takes to help people Get Back UP.

Specialized operations in every room

After touring the facility I spent some time with an Allard District Manager who, up to now, I had only known via phone and email. This is Shawn Notarione who covers all of Michigan and Ohio:

Finally get to put a face to the name!
Next I got a real treat, a chance to meet an impressive young man who was here at W&F today for some brace adjustments. I got permission from him and his mom to use his photo but forgot to ask if I could use his name, so we'll just call him "T" for now. T is an avid basketball player and wears 2 ToeOFFs to help him with his game (and the rest of his active lifestyle) and I must say he's got mad skills! You're looking at a future NBA superstar I think:
"T" has an impressive layup and scored baskets from all over this makeshift court in the parking lot behind W & F in Madison Heights, MI outside of Detroit.

After leaving W & F I made my way northwest to Lansing, MI where I would be staying before my half marathon in Dewitt, MI on Saturday. My hotel was minutes away from the Michigan State Campus and since I had never seen it I decided to make a visit:
Part of MSU campus on a beautiful spring day.

Cool architecture at MSU, a contrast to most of the old brick buildings on campus.

The details!
I found a great spot for writing postcards and grabbing my dinner, this restaurant was along the 'main drag' directly across from campus:

This time, a great vegetarian meal of hummus & pita, plus a delicious lentil dish and greek salad... YUM!
Friday, May 11th: Back to Detroit!

Yes, after my drive to Lansing I was due back in the Detroit area for another W & F event. This time it was in Rochester Hills where I would be attending a Gait Course given by Bob Meier to Physical Therapists at another Wright & Fillipis facility. Bob Meier has been instrumental in my success with the ToeOFF, he's a long-time consultant for Allard USA and specializes in orthotic-related gait education. When I've had issues with running in my ToeOFF he has always been able to suggest a solution--Thanks, Bob, for helping me GET BACK UP!!

The main reason for my attendance at this gait course was to meet another very special person who is now wearing the ToeOFF, Heather Turkopp. Like Shannon Poortenga (previous blog post), Heather found my story online and called me to learn more. She has been struggling with foot drop for many months now and was giving up on ever being able to run again. Unlike Shannon and me, Heather still has no medical diagnosis for the cause of her foot drop which is very scary. Instead of focusing on the fear and limitations though, Heather vowed to Get Back Up and soon after our discussions in February she was fitted for a ToeOFF. I am meeting her face-to-face for the first time today and am so excited for this meeting. She is the reason I chose to run the Dewitt Half Marathon: she vowed to get ready for the 10K there if I would come up for the event.

Heather was recently featured in an article, here's the link:

THANK YOU, Heather, for sharing your story!! It is through people like you and Shannon that we can help others to Get Back Up, too.

Allard requested for both Shannon and Heather to be models at this particular gait course and they consented... both Shannon and I got to meet Heather here and I can tell you that after months of online correspondence the tears were flowing once we were all in the same room!!

Three athletes with left-leg foot drop in ToeOFFs, plus Bob Meier who helped all 3 of us Get Back UP.

Bob, myself, Heather and Shannon in front of the Hall (Wall?) of Fame at W & F.
After the gait course and a wonderful lunch with Shannon, Heather, the W & F team along with Allard's team (including the head of Allard USA, Carol Hiemstra-Paez who made the trip from NJ!) I drove back to Lansing to get ready for tomorrow's race.

Although I neglected to get photos, I had a great dinner with Heather and her husband in Dewitt, MI. This was a nice opportunity to spend some real time talking about our experience with foot drop and the many common emotional battles that go along with the forced limitations it brings about. We finished our 2-hour visit and said goodnight around 7:30...after all, we all had a race to run in the morning!

Saturday, May 12th... RACE DAY!

The race start was scheduled for 8:00am and I was only about 10 minutes away from Dewitt High School where the races were being held. The weather forecast called for storms later in the day and yet when I left my hotel the sky was dark and it was already drizzling.

View from hotel parking lot... rain setting in!
Upon arrival at the High School, the clouds were looking more and more ominous. I was still hopeful that the forecasters would be right, that the storms would hold off until the afternoon.
Shawn and Carol drove all the way from Detroit this morning to watch Heather and me run today. Actually, Carol flew in from NJ for this event after spending the day in Detroit yesterday. Here, Shawn is setting up a table with a rep from W & F who helped to sponsor the event to day:

Carol helps to secure the banners in the wind... we are all hoping the weather improves!!

Early morning set-up, while I am waiting to meet up with Heather and her husband.

Race check-in for everyone who decided to brave the day's weather.

Carol holds our Get Back Up sign... with two hands to keep the wind from stealing it!! 

The skies are getting even darker with lighting scattered across the horizon, just as we're making our way to the starting line.

You can't finish what you don't start.

One thing I've preached to beginning marathoners for years is that the real accomplishment behind any one marathon (or half marathon) is the long, hard training in the months leading up to the race. This is the part we can all control: how much effort we put into our training. The race itself is just the 'celebration' of these long hours of sacrifice and effort put forth to that point. Getting to the starting line healthy and well-trained should be a source of great pride, no matter what happens to us on race day.

That said, it is extremely frustrating and disappointing to not have a great performance on race day. Every runner has experienced this and if not, they someday will. It's just the way it goes. Sometimes it's an injury, sometimes it's a cold, flu or other malady that keeps up from being our best. Sometimes it's as simple as "It just wasn't my day today" for no good reason that we can discern. And then there's a bigger element out of our control: weather.

Please, all runners, hear this and remember it throughout any training program you may embark upon:


On this race day, the day Heather and I plus hundreds of other race-warriors prepared for, Mother Nature had the final say.
Minutes before the race, the skies open up!! The rain, thunder and lightning were so severe that race officials delayed the start of the race.

Yes, that's right. After more than an hour of rain-delay the race organizers were forced to cancel the Dewitt race events. A severe thunderstorm had settled over us and was not predicted to move for hours. I was SO disappointed not to run but I must be honest: the race director made the correct call. This weather was not simply uncomfortable, it was downright dangerous. Rain and wind are manageable but serious lightning is nothing to mess with. 

So the Allard team, along with Heather and her husband, decided to plan a different course...

Carol and Shawn shown here, I'm across the table taking the photo and beside me are Heather and her husband. We are all happy to be warm and dry finally!
We were all upset about the race cancelation but took it all in stride. We enjoyed a great breakfast getting to know each other and watching the lightning from the safety of our table. In the end it's all about the journey we take, not the destination.

In closing I would like to share one of John "The Penguin" Bingham's favorite observations:

"The miracle isn't that I finished, the miracle is that I had the courage to start."

We all finished... our breakfast, that is.

Friday, May 11, 2012

7 down and 15 to go!!

My math is not wrong... we just added 2 non-Rock 'n Roll Half Marathons

That's right, because '20 in 2012' was just not enough running for me we added 2 more to the schedule! 

I am still hoping to get 20 of the Rock 'n Roll Half's completed but these 2 are back-to back Michigan runs that became important to me for special reasons.  I decided to add the 2 extra events because of 2 very special people who connected with me online after hearing my story... Shannon Poortenga and Heather Turkopp.

Thursday, May 3rd:

A 3:30a.m. wakeup call to make sure I'm ready for the taxi to the airport this morning. While I'm waiting I take a few extra minutes to water my hanging-plants on the porch and then I open some mail I forgot about. In one of the envelopes are more of the "bonus medals" that the Rock 'n Roll series awards when you run multiple events in the same calendar year. So other than the 6 R 'n R medals I've earned thus far, I've also received these extras: Rock Encore (for running 2), Triple Crown (for 3), Grand Slam (for 4), Rock Star (for 5) and Superhero (for 6). That makes 11 medals in 4 months, not a bad haul!!

When I get back home I'll try to get a better photo of these medals, what can I say?! This was taken before 4am!

I love to "FlyPTI" whenever I can, that stands for "Piedmont Triad International" airport here in Greensboro. The only problem with PTI (airport code GSO for those who want to fly in/out of here) is that you usually can't get anything to eat, drink or read if you fly before 6am or after 6pm. In this case, my flight was leaving at 5:20a.m. and although they instruct you to arrive an hour or more before your flight, even security isn't open if you follow these rules. 

A common view for me this year: A view of what the airline officials call "weather in our area" which I've come to find out really means "you'll be sitting here enjoying this same view for an indefinite amount of time". 
Woo-hoo! Made it to Michigan finally and rented my car for the 10 days I'll be in the state. I've got lots of miles to drive (and to run, for that matter!) but at least I won't be at the mercy of the airlines.

Friday, May 4th:

Strong thunderstorms last night kept me awake for hours, but I must say the view from my hotel room of the lightning was pretty cool. Since I didn't sleep as well as I had hoped, I treated myself to a late wake up call and relaxed in the room for most of the morning. I eventually ventured out for coffee at a cool place called Water Street Coffee Joint, this was walking distance from the Radisson in the downtown area. I worked on my computer for a few hours here then walked back to the hotel to meet Jim, his flights were delayed due to the thunderstorms so he was a day later arriving in K'zoo. 

Water Street Coffee Joint in Downtown Kalamazoo
Once Jim got settled in the hotel, we headed out to explore a bit more of the downtown area... but first we needed food! From the coffee shop earlier I spotted a local brewery that just happened to make one of my favorite beers, Bell's Two-Hearted Ale. I forgot that it was brewed here in Kalamazoo and since Jim collects pint glasses from microbrew pubs I thought this would be a perfect spot for lunch.
The day's beer selections on the chalk board behind the bar.

The pub had a fun, eclectic decor and every server sported a variety of tattoos!
After our late lunch we walked around the shops downtown. The town was  pretty and although the sky was dreary, we made it through our afternoon there without a drop of rain.

More views of downtown. It may look as though no one was out and about, it was actually a very busy area.
A monument in the foreground, in the background you can see the Radisson  hotel, the host hotel for the Kalamazoo Marathon and Borgess Half Marathon

After scoping out the city we headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. I was so excited about this evening because I was finally going to get to meet Shannon Poortenga, the reason I was running in Kalamazoo this weekend. Shannon has foot drop, too, and had spent many months in depression before a clerk in a shoe store here in Michigan told her something that changed her life. She was shopping with her mom for a shoe that would fit her white, plastic, bulky AFO (similar to the one I wore...and hated... before finding the ToeOFF) and he told her that they made better braces. He didn't remember Allard's name but he had seen the ToeOFF at a course he had taken in the area and heard that someone was running marathons with it. Shannon went home and searched the internet where she found my story and, as she later told me, she found hope. Although she wanted to reach out to me, my contact information was not listed online at the time and so she didn't go any further. Her mom, however, wasn't going to let things drop so easily... she played detective and found my home phone number and promptly gave me a call! 

I still remember the evening that I spoke with Janet, she was so desperate to find anything to help her daughter "get back up". We talked for a long time, she reminded me of my own mom in her concern and in fact, Shannon's story sounded so similar to mine that I felt an immediate connection to them both. Janet explained that Shannon was hesitant to reach out to me and so I promised I would call her myself. 

From the first time I spoke with her I knew that we would be friends. Our lives have so many similarities and I could hear the pain in her voice, the same pain I felt when I thought I'd never be a runner again. I connected her with the wonderful Allard team and she was fit with a ToeOFF very shortly afterwards. For the first time in months and months, Shannon could now imagine a better life. 

We've stayed in touch since then (this past summer) and when she learned about my new venture with Allard she became one of our best online supporters. She noticed that the Rock N Roll race series didn't have a Michigan stop and asked whether I'd consider adding an event to the schedule, she really wanted to be able to support me in person. As luck would have it, I had an opening in the schedule that corresponded with the Kalamazoo Half and so we made our plans: I would run the Half and Shannon would start her training to complete the 5K.

So, here I am this weekend about to meet my new friend. We were to meet at an Italian restaurant called Fricano's just north of the city and I was so excited to get there that we arrived before Shannon and her husband. When I checked in to the hostess stand I was told that Shannon wasn't there but that there were 2 other people who were... Shannon's mom and dad, what a great surprise!!
Jim was savvy enough to capture our first meeting on camera... big hugs between Janet and me!
Shannon's parents and me after all the hugging was over. We were able to catch up on everything before Shannon arrived, it felt as though I had known them forever.

The star arrives!! And then the tears flowed... this was such a happy meeting for both of us.

Saturday, May 5th

After a fabulous evening with Shannon and her family, we finally parted ways and made plans to see each other at the start of the race. As luck would have it, I got to see her once more before then, we ran into her in the parking lot of race check in.

Shannon and I sporting our fabulous Allard bracing outside the race Expo.

The race Expo check in area. Although this wasn't one of the bigger Rock 'n Roll events, they were expecting 3- to 4-thousand runners for the events this weekend.

During the afternoon Saturday we went to meet some other new friends at Gazelle Sports, a running/soccer store downtown with an amazing inventory of running gear. The guys from Gazelle do a fabulous job of encouraging and informing area runners... from the novice to the champion. This is in my top 3 of all-time favorite running stores (along with Team Nashville and of course, my hometown store, Off 'n Running). When you're in Kalamazoo, please check out the store and if you see Rob Lillie (store manager) in there working away, tell him I say "Hi!"
Rob on the run!
Later on Saturday we tried to find a place to eat before retiring to the room to get ready for the race. There were dozens of great restaurants to choose from but we couldn't get in to any of them without reservations! As it turned out, not only were there thousands of folks downtown trying to eat before the event, this was also Prom night for area students and thus every nice restaurant was fully booked. We finally found a little place with room at the bar for us to eat:

Menu from Central City Taphouse... lots of great options!

The beer selection. :-( Sadly, I could only have water tonight but their selection was fabulous.

First course, steamed edamames, with a pinch of salt and drizzled with toasted sesame oil... YUM!

More vegan protein for me... a delicious bowl of thick, spicy lentil soup.

And finally, some fresh veggies to finish my meal: a greek salad with roasted beets, another favorite of mine.

Sunday, May 6th... RACE DAY!!

Today was an early day but not nearly as early as some of my other races this year. It was a 5:30am wake-up then off to the races for me! As usual, we got to the event site early in hopes of landing an interview to help spread our GET BACK UP message. The weather was a bit chilly at the starting area but the day was looking to be perfect for running... high of about 64 degrees and no rain.

Score!!! We had a great interview with WWMT before the start:

Maybe by the end of the year I'll figure out how to talk with my eyes open.

Shannon telling her story, she was such a pro!

But apparently, she can't keep her eyes open either. :-)
I'm not sure how long this link will work, but hopefully you can see the finished piece here:  Thanks to this reporter, Josh Roe, we got the word out and almost immediately after airing we were contacted by a local woman looking to find a better brace... thanks, Josh!!!

We did it!!!
Shannon finished her first 5K in years and I made it through Half Marathon number 7.

Brian, far left, ran the 5K in support of his wife, Shannon. Shannon's mom, Janet, did her first 5K ever in support of her daughter. Jim, far right, said he ran in support of me to make sure I didn't finish last. 

I made the first page of finishers in my age group with a time of 1:56:17

From left to right: Jim then me, with our 7th medals of the year, Brian and Shannon Poortenga and Shannon's mom, Janet Bird. We all finished our events upright!!!

Medal #7 (first non-Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon this year)