Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wye Island; Forget It All

Looking toward Wye Island across the cows.

It was one of those days where the weather just fed me energy.  I had an hour to spend at Wye Island before heading over to Centerville for my daughters' basketball game.  Being a little rushed I did not have a good game plan for what or where on the island I was going to venture.  I drove past the usual places we start off from and settled on School House Woods.  After futzing for a couple of minutes, I said, "fz#ck it all" and started running down the trail into the historic woods.  I don't know if historic is the right name, but I do know some of the trees in that small section of woods are some of the oldest largest trees on the Eastern Shore; somebody had a hand at preserving that piece of nature.

So, why the big deal to take off running?  I have run a few times for short distances since my latest ailment with my right shoulder.  But, this time I didn't stop.  I ran and ran.  The more I ran the better I felt.  Though I ran only 4ish miles, it was a big step; that being my longest run since April.  What's better is that I took my shirt off and ran through the fields like a deer.  The only other time I ran on those fields was with Michael Valliant when we first started running together.  At that time I was very new to trail running (in fact that was my very first off road run) and my ankles would twist very easily (twice on that first run with MV).  So, I was not keen on running off road on that first trail run.  This time, however, I relished every moment.

I spent a couple of moments with the 275 year old holly that stands proudly in a field next to the river.  My time with the tree was spent in deep thought and contemplation; absorbing the energy,  realizing the age, honoring the caregivers of the tree, and coming to grips with my own and the tree's mortality.  Hmm.
The bridge to Wye Island

For what ever reason that this island is preserved is a true blessing.  It is a beautiful place to be oneself and to re-energize.  I did not have chance to barefoot any of the island this trip, though I do plan to do so in the future, or at least with my fivefingers.  Our homeopath has recommended for me to go barefoot.  It may seem basic or too simplistic, but going barefoot on the ground and on wood and tile floors can actually help "ground" you in the truest sense of the word.  It really works.  Feelings of being present or in the moment are present when I go barefoot.

Me running along the Wye Island trail road soaking up the sun on a warm November afternoon.

I absorb things around me.  I also look for escapes.  Running is the freest form of escape for me, yet it allows me to absorb good energy around me.  I come from a run refreshed and able to live life more full.  Running on Wye Island this week reminded me of why running is still my favorite discipline.  Live, love, and serve...
“Our love is all of God’s money” Jeff Tweedy, Wilco

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Washing Machine

Tuckahoe Creek in the fading sunlight.

How many times have we sprinted up the hill on Tuckahoe Valley Trail where the bricks are loose? It is the only hill with bricks. Valliant and I used to simultaneously break into a sprint as we’d race each other up that hill. Then, along the next ridge we pass an old red combine in the trees on the left and various abandoned appliances on the right; one of which is a white washing machine with bullet holes in it.

I took sharp notice of this appliance today, as I did many things during a second expedition to the trails in as many days. Oddly, I was inspired to park at Adkins Arboretum and pay $3 just to start my hike/run there. It was nice to use the restroom and to talk to the nice ladies there. It really is a wonderful place. As I wove through the Arboretum’s trails I connected to the regular trail route and soon found myself at the big bridge crossing the Tuckahoe. Continuing on the regular route, and after sprinting up the “brick hill” laughing at past times with Valliant there, I began walking the ridge and came upon the washing machine. That thing hasn’t moved in all the time I’ve been there. I saw so many things along the trail today that I never noticed while running: a monument, fairy houses, and signage.

I continued on, down and up the ravines, and a sharp right at the junction of Turkey Hill and Creekside Cliff Trails. It took me 40 minutes of walking and running to reach the same intersection after completing Creekside. Trail conditions have never been more perfect: dry, soft dirt and sand, colors galore, perfect temperature, and zero bugs. It was 4pm and I was due at home soon. I started down Turkey Hill toward the creek crossing, but decided better, knowing how much time I could waste with a river crossing and the following trail. As I turned around to head back to Tuckahoe Valley Trail a biker whirled by my sights.

Seth, the Tuckahoe Ninja Roller, creating a new jump from the Tuckahoe Valley washing machine.

I backtracked along the trail and I, eventually, came upon Seth who had gotten off his bike to create a deathtrap-stunt sculpture with none other than our bullet-hole-ridden, white washing machine. He said Thursday he would complete the project and risk life and limb on the washing machine and wooden branch jump. If you look at Tuckahoe Ninja Roll, you’ll see another sculpture jump he created in the gulley preceding the Turkey Hill junction. Seth seemed determined and focused, though personable. After looking at his video, however, I question his engineering techniques.

My Fivefingers and Rocky Racoon's five fingers in the sand on the banks of Tuckahoe Creek.

So, what are the chances that I was on the trail, passing by the washing machine twice in one day, on the day that it is morphed into a new life? Go figure. Not much has made sense to me lately, including my shoulder. Dr. Murthi thinks I have multiple nerves disturbed in my shoulder with multiple muscles compromised. He wants me to immediately start Physical Therapy, get more tests, taper off the medications, get the inflammation down, and see him in 4 weeks. He said I was an “odd bird” but assured me he would not let this get out of hand. Luckily, from the time I left Tuckahoe last night through now, I have felt the first minute increment of improvement. Let’s hope it keeps going in that direction. I plan on hitting more trails in the near future. Work for me is limited to when I have help at this point. It is amazing how much we rely on our dominant hand. I missed all my buddies today on the trail and hope I can swindle some of you to join me in the near future for a walk/run. live, love, and serve ~ Michael

Phin at Tuckahoe

Tuckahoe refreshed our legs as Phin and I had a go of it for an hour this afternoon. We clamored out of Julius and set off down Tuckahoe Valley Trail at a brisk walk. The colors are fabulous with lots of green left, meaning there are more colors to come. The surface was crunchy which made every sound in the forest amplified. This drove Phin crazy; not a squirrel in the forest could move without Phin noticing. It was beautiful. Walking, rather than running, the trail is a whole different experience. I look forward to walking (and running) more of it in the future.

We made it almost to the bridge when I realized that we did not have time to make the full loop of Pee Wee’s trail and make it to Oaklands for dinner with my sister, mother, and daughters. So, we did a 180 and ran most of the way back to the car. Those who know me know we are a drug/medication free family at least that is what we strive for. However, with this latest injury I have been on Prednisone for 2 weeks plus a few pain killers, mostly Aleve and Ibuprofen. As I was running up the trail the drugs in my body came to mind and I backed off the intensity. Complicating things with a heart attack would not be cool.

Tomorrow I see a surgeon concerning my latest ailment which is the pain and major weakness in my right shoulder. The latest diagnosis is that the suprascapular nerve is entrapped in the suprascapular notch by a ligament(s). Tomorrow will mark three weeks that I have been in pain and not able to use my arm fully. We are hoping for the best news we can from Dr. Anand Murthi, chief of Sports Medicine at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore. Dr. Murthi is the surgeon who performed the successful surgery on my left shoulder 14 months ago.

It seems I am a rare bird for having this type of problem in the first place. I am exceptionally rare to have this occur in both shoulders. Not sure I’m excited about that claim to fame. I hope to have a good report for you soon. Remember to live, love, and serve ~ Michael

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Return to Running

Rise Up Runners from the Gunston 5K: Bickford, Landy, Eleanora, Michael, and AK. Photo by Glenn Michael
Cautiously, I say, “I’m back!” Yesterday, amongst family and friends I competed in my first running race since the Run for Hospice last November. At the first annual Gunston 5K over 100 runners and tens of walkers gathered on the sloping lawn of Middleton House. We embarked on a 3.1 mile course down Gunston and Hibernia roads and back. The sunny fall morning was filled with cool air whilst we helped kick off Gunston’s second century of learning. My wife, two daughters, three Rise Up Runner buddies, friends from the school, and I shot down the driveway at 0800.

Starting line 0759 Saturday morning with RUR's raring to go. Photo by Glenn Michael

Landy, wearing a red shirt, streaked out from the start like a flame and was never seen again until after he made the turn around and I was still half a mile from it. He and Bickford were one and two overall finishers leaving the fleet (and me) in awe of their performances. They were 17:36 and 19:36, respectively. I finished in the top 15 with a 23:15 finish time, over three minutes slower than my PR, but nearly 3 minutes faster than my practice times 2 weeks ago. The run felt good, but like all 5k’s, I was glad when it was over.

Eleanora recieving her age group award from headmaster John Lewis and daughter. Photo by Glenn Michael

It was wonderful to get to know AK, who is a pleasant addition to the RUR lineup. He and I ran the first 2 miles together before he surged forward in pursuit of a girl runner he had in his sights. He caught her, but she re-passed him near the finish. AK is not only good company on a run, but he is a gentleman in the truest sense.

Gunston put on the best post race 5K spread I’ve ever bitten in to. Coffee, juice, muffins, bagels, fruit were bountiful. Awards were deep, too; even I came home with a third place 40-49 age group plaque. After the awards ceremony the day at Gunston continued to be enjoyable with a sail on skipjack Ellsworth, a sail on a 420 with my friend Francis, a car show with the Parkersons, and an alumni versus current team field hockey game.

Bickford recieving 1st place Master's award. He was 2nd overall behind Landy. Photo by Glenn Michael

Oh, yes, and there was Uncle Victor’s pink Cadillac, loaned to me for the weekend of Centennial festivities. Yesterday afternoon was spectacular. There was a quintessential warm fall air as I wheel the 1965 pink convertible DeVille around the back roads of Queen Anne County. From my friend, James’, farm on the banks of the Corsica and Chester Rivers we canoed out to his uncle’s moored 1949 black Frers yawl. The only thing that could have made the day better would have been a sail on this boat.

But, the day was waning, and I needed to return the caddy to Easton and ride my bike home. My bike, fully assembled, fit comfortable in the trunk of this Cadillac. I watched to sun sink in front of my bike helmet as I pedaled over Oak Creek Bridge. With red flasher blinking I made my way home to Wittman in the lowering darkness over the Bay Hundred. I was greeted by my family and a hot spaghetti dinner. What a day and it feels good to be back in action. Live, love, and serve ~ Michael

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Live, Love, and Serve

Red Pine Lake Trail and Lake, Wasatch Mountains, Utah, elevation 9620 feet.

It was a HOT August, Sunday afternoon and the thermometer on my bike was reading 99 degrees. Becky, Jon, and I rode earlier that morning on our bikes to the Belleview Ferry so that I could hitch a ride to Oxford and sail a log canoe race. We had a great race; winning by a good margin in the light air, but I was beat. The two water bottles on my cages were either warm or empty and I needed to ride the 16 miles home to Wittman. Upon entering Royal Oak a sign caught my eye, and then I saw the table with thermoses of water and lemonade sitting in front of the church. I was forever thankful for the cool libations.

The Royal Oak Community United Methodist Church was providing cyclists with free water and lemonade. They had a few business cards in the box, but that was all the literature there was…except the sign that said, “Live, Love, and Serve.” The four words struck me as simply perfect. Live the true meaning of those words and how could life go wrong?

I’m doing well! I’m not 100% recovered from my back, shoulder, or knee injuries, but I’m doing well and still improving. I’m able to do most anything I want, just not to the extent or intensity I once was,.... yet.

I just returned from Utah where I visited with my sister and brother-in-law and shared 5 days of adventure with them. Four of the five days were spent on trails. My sister’s house sits in a nice neighborhood of well groomed lawns with views of the Wasatch Mountains. Their development butts up to a dell with miles of mulched trails for the runner, cyclist, dog walker, or equestrian lover to enjoy. Within a 10 minute drive you can be in Little Cottonwood Canyon at one of many trail heads that lead to mountain lakes, 12,000 foot peaks, mountain meadows, and rocks for climbing. There are many miles of trails that lead to infinity, so it seems. Cyclists are everywhere on the roads and trails. Trail runners were on the mountain trails where we were hiking for the day. It was totally blissful heaven to be in that atmosphere.

I am pretty sure that multi-time winner of the Wasatch 100, Karl Meltzer, passed us on the trail Saturday afternoon. Earlier we crossed paths with Neil Kaersley, a friend of my sister, who is taking part again this year in the Wasatch 100 as a pacer for his brother-in-law, Mark Colby. (The race starts this Friday at 0500.) There was freakin electric on the trails. Neil and my brother-in-law, Jim, both said they see Apollo Ono, the Olympic speed skater, on the trails regularly. I was totally “amped” up there in the mountains. My mind has been spinning on how to figure out how to spend more time out there.

My sister, Judy, and I hiked Antelope Island, which is the largest island in the Great Salt Lake (GSL). Home to buffalo and antelope, we hiked the Frary trail. Judy sent me on to the peak after getting most of the way there, herself. Alone, I forged on to the false summit where I shortly thereafter got off trail and onto an animal trail by mistake. It looked simple enough to get to the summit; just follow the knife edge until I get there. However, after much risky climbing with Jim’s coveted Alaskan hiking stick in one hand and a backpack on my shoulders, a point came where I said to myself, “do not do anything stupid”. The realization that the limit had been reached came when I found myself perched on top of a knife edge with a 1000 foot drop down either side. My legs were straddling what looked like a steep roof peak. It was a beautiful view, but I was not able to go any further on the rocks without climbing ropes and nerve medication.

The knife edge leading to Frary Peak, elevation 6500 feet.

I carefully backtracked, but was unable to “un-climb” some of the areas I climbed up minutes before. Then I saw a hiker several hundred feel below. We screamed to each other, with me gaining the knowledge that I was “off-trail” and that she was “on-trail”. The executive decision was made for me to attempt to climb down to the trail and have another go at reaching the summit. Minutes later I found myself lodged in a chute with nothing below my feet for 40 feet, hanging by my arms (my chest and arm muscles screamed at me for the next 2 days). I was in a spot. Repeat mantra, “do not do anything stupid”.

I dropped Jim’s stick and watched it land 100 feet below me. Now, with more fingers in use, I climbed back out of the steep chute and found another way down. It took me a while to find Jim’s stick. In the process of all this, which included scrambling down rock scree, a microwave oven, sized rock dislodged because of my antics and crashed down the mountain. I could hear it smashing everything in its path as it rolled down the mountain for the next 2.5 minutes. It was so loud that I prayed my sister couldn’t hear it, for fear she would think it was me.

I eventually reached the summit and called Jim who was in his office. I told him I was “okay” and that I had Judy’s cell and I had reached Frary Peak (it had taken longer than anticipated). Then the voice in my head said, “dance naked on the summit”, so I did (the sole hiker on the trail was 2 miles back; I was alone). Crazy, I know, but maybe it was the altitude’s thin air at 6500 feet.

Later, that same day, Judy and I waded from the beach into the Great Salt Lake. I floated unbelieveably high, just like everyone ever told me. Instead of floating up and down like in a pool, I was able to have head, hands. feet, knees, and stomach out of the water while laying on my back. The GSL is much saltier than the ocean. It is all that remains of the ancient inland sea of Lake Bonneville.

Me floating in the Great Salt Lake

There is so much to tell. Being with Judy and Jim was awesome; adventure during the day, good meals and games at night, plenty of sleep, and a ton of laughs. It was a great break from my wonderful, yet busy, life in Maryland.

With Judy and Jim on the Red Pine Lake Trail, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Wasatch Mountains, Utah.

Monday morning Jim woke me early and said we’d hike to White Pine Lake at 10,000 feet plus. By 10:30 we were 5.5 miles up the trail at the lake looking at mountain goats on the nearby mountain meadow, which was straight up and down. There was ice in places and a vein of snow left over from winter. The trail was spectacular; full of vistas even an artist couldn’t render. Half way back down the trail we saw Neil again and we chatted. The trails were empty considering the number of cars in the parking lot. Shortly after we saw Neil we came upon a bull moose. We were 30 feet from him. He was really cool to watch and photo; a good sport, I’d say.

The moose on White Pine Lake Trail

By day 5 of my trip my legs had adapted well to the ups and downs of the trails and my lungs had adapted well to the altitude. Sunday, Jim lent me his mountain bike and I rode the dell until my heart was pounding out of my chest. It has been a long time since my heart rate was up that high. During adventures, I hiked in my trail shoes, but wore my new Sport Trek Vibram Fivefingers on the plane both ways, and all the time off the trails. They were too new to my feet to risk wearing them on the trail. Upon my return to Wittman, however, I ran 2.25 miles on Wednesday in them with success. I plan on running the Gunston 5K in fivefingers.

I could go on, but I won’t. Good to have some trail-tales this time. My new mantra is now, “Live, Love, and Serve” ~ Michael

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Where to Begin?

Lake Koocanusa near the family cabin in Rexford, Montana.

This can only begin with an apology for not posting anything to the Runners On Trails blog site for nearly half a year. Last you heard from me I was jumping into the freezing ice-choked waters of Town Creek, Oxford. So much has happened in these past months, but very little has to do with running on trails. These legs haven’t been on a run in over three months, and it may be longer than that until I can run again.

On April fourteenth I seriously hurt my back. I spent the better part of 6 weeks on my back for 20 hours a day. My family drove me to appointments, lacrosse games, and graduations while I laid flat in the back of Julius (nearing his 240,000th mile). Gradually, the amount of time “up” on my feet or sitting has increased, but I am still in sciatic pain daily, yet, getting better daily. It has been an excruciatingly slow recovery.

Now, my adventuring includes core/back exercises every morning, physical therapy twice a week, swimming lightly twice a week, and cycling slowly, increasing my time by two minutes a day. The doctor told me I do not need surgery, that I tore a disc, that I have three discs that are showing normal signs of age and deterioration, and that I should probably never take up running again. If that last comment caught your eye, what do you think it has done to me?

Every aspect of my life has been affected by the back injury. Nothing is the same, and though I am told by several professionals in the field that I will make a complete recovery, it is hard to imagine being the same again.

My family and friends have been hugely wonderful to me. It is difficult for me to rely on people to “do” for me. I do not know how I would be making it through this bout without my wife, Carita. She has been an angel in more ways than one.

Where does all this leave the blog? Let’s just get on with things from the trail. In my next post, I hope to write about my last run in Montana in early April…during a snow storm. Appreciate what is in front of you ~

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Simple Run

The plunge-escape of the 2nd Annual Stupidathon. This is Town Creek, Oxford on a mid-January Saturday afternoon. Hmm?

About a week after the preceding blog entry was written I was scheduled for knee surgery. It was December, the holidays were coming, and my knee was not improving since re-injuring it during the April running of the Delaware Triple Crown. Since, all one does around the holidays is sit, eat, and socialize, I thought it the perfect time to try and heal my knee.

It now has been six weeks since Dr. Rick Mason put two holes in the front of my knee, cleaned away my torn meniscus, and cleaned away “moderate” arthritic growth from under my knee cap on my right knee. Since I was fourteen, I had never gone six weeks without running. This really hit home on Monday.

I had epoxied myself out of the shop by 4:15, and the mood struck me to try running as I walked to the house in the warmish still air of that January afternoon. The headcold that had held me captive for a week still lingered, but, “damnit” I was going to try to run; it had been long enough. This run needed to be private, however; seen by no one. I’m not sure why this was, nor why tears gushed out of my eyes while driving Phinn and me to Rabbit Point so we could work all this out. Perhaps the answer lies in an answer to another question, “why DO we run?” The weight of all those reasons why I love to run; why I must run is tremendous. That weight had brought me to this moment.

With the truck parked by the gate at Rabbit Point, I set my goal of running to a fork in the lane a couple hundred yards away. This was it; a defining moment. I wanted to run really BAD. It was awkward and a little painful, but I did it. It felt like I did not know how to run, at all. Small strides (all my running buds know how long my stride is) with a great deal of thought got me there. Another goal was set and made, then a longer one; set and met. In the end my new-feeling knee carried me just under 2 miles. Near the end my old stride was making guest appearances, but I also felt the use of my core, which might be more integrated into my new running style; we’ll see.

Phinn licked me as did my stretching at the bench on the point. We ran back to the truck feeling like running was going to be a part of our lives once again. At Dr. Mason’s the following morning, he officially released me from his care and instructed me to continue running twice a week for a while, increasing my distance by half a mile each week until I reached a comfortable distance.

Folks, I’ve run the past 2500 miles with knee pain of some level or another. The thought of running without that pain absolutely sends my spirits soaring. I’m not there, yet, but the possibility now exists. Patience and prayer will get me there.

What about my shoulder? On September 4th I had surgery on my left shoulder. Some of the professionals that have worked with me over the months believe I am stronger and am showing progress with my nerve palsy. I am still hopeful of a full recovery, but only time will tell. My swimming is going well. I swam a personal best on last Sunday in Annapolis in the 50 yard free leg of a relay. The most enjoyment I have are with doing the custom workouts created for me by the Galans. More than speed, I am concentrating on holding form in my strokes as I tire by adding distance.

The Stupidathon crew: Mike V, Shaun, Dominic, Jeff, Brennan, Joel, Lori, Andrew, Wood Frog (in Shaun's cape), Lando, and Bickford. Missing are Brian and Megan.

On a not-so-smart, yet, very fun note, thirteen of us participated in the 2nd annual Stupidathon on Saturday, January 16th. The course was from Dominic’s home on Needwood Avenue in Easton to Oxford via bikes, then run from Hinkley (Crocket Brother’s BY) to Bachelor’s Point via the Strand and return. At this point there was no open water shoreside in Talbot County. Bickford had to chop a hole in the ice for us to use. The water was frigid, though I think I won the “least amount of time in the water award”. Several of us, including yours truly, went for multiple plunges. Perhaps this is why I’ve had my worse cold in 15 years.

There is so much I want to look forward to this year, but, at this point I am not planning on any events. I want to be able to swim, ride, run, love, and appreciate all that life has to offer first. If life throws in a few competitions, then I’ll have at it. Happy New Year, everyone. ~ Michael