Friday, January 26, 2007

One week later

It's been exactly that - one week, since my back went out. I was laid up, on my back, in bed, for five days. The first three, I wasn't really able to move much. I'd lie on my back, and to roll onto my side, I'd grab the headboard and slowly pull myself, usually having the back grab once or twice. By grab, I mean it would sieze up and send a shooting pain through my body. I took the muscle relaxer and the vicodin for just shy of two days, but couldn't stand being on these two drugs, so ditched them. The vicodin was brutal!

After three days, I was a bit more mobile while on my back, but still felt extremely weak and vulnerable. I'd left my bedroom maybe twice in these five days, to venture downstairs for a minute or two, only to retreat in pain back to the bed. I tried watching some of the Australian Open. The only thing that I've experienced that's more painful than this back injury is watching tennis while having this back injury. I watched a few movies, none that were worth recommending. By day five, I was starting to get depressed. I had been bummed about what had happened, but the feeling I felt on Tuesday and into Wednesday morning was really sorrow. Not a feeling sorry for myself type of sorrow but, I guess, just a depression.

Finally, on Wednesday morning, I dragged my sorry-ass out of bed at 9am, and painfully took a walk outside. Man, did that simple 20 minute walk do wonders. It hurt physically, but mentally, just to feel the sun and be in the fresh air - it felt awesome. Sorry if this seems dramatic, but I've never been laid up, immobile, feeling helpless, for five days. As I mentioned in my earlier post, I've had some very bad accidents where I was quite banged up, but nothing that left me so useless physically.

Coming back from the walk, I thought that it's time to start pushing myself a bit. I was in pain so I was back in my bedroom, preparing to lie down again. I took the folded up ironing board and placed it on the bed and lied down on it on my back. I then did some slow pelvic tilts and hugged my knees into my chest. I actually started to feel a bit better. Then, around 2pm, I went for another walk, came back and lied on the board again for a bit. At 3:30pm I slowly got in my car and drove to see my uncle in Stratford, who's a Chiropractor. He did a minor adjustment and gave me a belt to wear that supports the low back - like the one the Home Depot guys wear.

I had an active day, compared to the previous five, and my back felt better! Thursday I returned to work, and ditched the belt. I felt like it was too much of a crutch. Thursday, I stayed active all day. My back still felt fragile and would send some signs to me every once in awhile, but I would say I was 50% better. I went to see Paul Moyse Thursday afternoon - a chiropractor here in Monroe and an excellent runner. He spent some time with me, discussing the situation, and concluded that since most of the pain was on my left lower side now, and because of my symptoms, that my injury was related to my supraspinitus joint.

Paul also told me that I needed to stop sleeping on my stomach. This is a 39 year old habit, but I'm proactive. I'll do whatever it takes to get healthy and better. So I'm now on a quest to eliminate stomach sleeping. Last night, I was up every hour. I'd fall asleep on one side only to wake up uncomfortable or with my lower arm asleep. I'd roll to the other side and repeat. I think I figured out the pillow situation though for my new sleeping habits. I have to say that when I did awake, my back felt allright throughout the night. That is, until my alarm went off. The final time I fell asleep, I must have rolled onto my stomach, and when I awoke, guess what? My back hurt!

Today was even better. I worked throughg the day seeing my pt clients, then I stopped at the gym on the way home and ran a very easy 40 minutes on the treadmill. My back felt vulnerable, yet ok. So, since Wednesday morning, I've made huge gains.

In hindsight, I'm glad I experienced this. Being this vulnerable and helpless sure makes you appreciate your health more. And not just the super health of swimming and biking and running. I have a household ritual of giving my kids piggyback rides up to bed each night. It killed me to not be able to do this. It killed me for my kids to see me so banged up. For five days, the only time I spent with them was when they'd come in to say hi or check on me or say goodnight. They are used to me being active, playing with them and doing things. Kate was my little nurse though. This accident showed that I have some limiters that I need to work on to make me more balanced. I never really had any serious biomechanical problems in all my athletic career, yet I can't take this for granted.

The thought that I could be vulnerable to this again in the future is enough motivation for me to work on the things I need to. Thankfully, this happened in January instead of in June. My mission now is to ensure that a month from now, this will all be but a memory. That memory though is something I certainly won't take for granted.



Monday, January 22, 2007


Friday morning, I headed to the gym early to do some strength training before my first client. I was feeling a bit tired, as is often the case on Fridays, especially at 5:15am. The plan was to do some leg strength training first, then some light upper body.

I did a warm-up set of squats - 15 reps with 135 lbs. Then I immediatly did a set of 30 v-ups - I like to work core training in during strength training. I felt like I was in slow motion, and attributed this to just being a bit over-tired. I began my second set of squats with 200 lbs, and my mind was elsewhere. I was counting the reps, and simultaneously thinking about what I had to do that day. Five, six, the weight didn't feel so bad and my strength was coming around. Seven, just five more reps... Then it happened. As I pressed the weight up from the squat position on my eighth rep, about 1/2 way up through the range of motion, my low back gave out! My low back spasmed so bad that my strength just went dead. It was as though someone turned the main power switch on me off. I froze there in pain, then somehow managed to re-rack the weight.

My whole lower back, from the left side across to the right was in such a spasm that my stomach was protruding forward. This was caused by the erector spinae muscles siezing up. Think of a muscle flexed and not lengthened. I hobbled around the floor of the gym, with my hands on my low back looking like the lead in a gay broadway play (not that there's anything wrong with that.). I couldn't sit and the pain was intensifying. I tried to stretch out on the precor stretch machine, but my low back wouldn't budge, remaining in this arched position. Little did I know that the fun was just beginning.

How I got in my car and drove home, I don't know. I cancelled my clients that day and went upstairs to lie down. Every little movement sent severe pain shooting through my whole body. My low back would grab and sieze up something fierce. I like to think I have a pretty high pain threshold. I've been in some "interesting" accidents that caused many broken bones and well over 500 stitches cummulative throughout my years. I've put myself through some very, very uncomfortable situations. But this was setting a new bar.

Lisa wanted me to go to the hospital, but my stubborness wouldn't allow it. I felt that it was purely muscular, and that the vertebral column was fine. I didn't feel a pop as though I ruptured a disc. Then again, I have never had any major back issues like this before.

Friday, I didn't budge from bed. It hurt to just roll over onto a side. I got up once during the day to use the bathroom. On Thursday, the previous day, I ran 90 minutes at a 6:30 average pace comfortably. Friday, it took me 20 minutes to walk 20 feet from my bed to the toilet!

Friday night, I got up again before bed to brush my teeth and the pain was at an all time high. I was standing in my bathroom, sweating in pain, and lightheaded from lying around all day. Lisa was worried and said I didn't look right, to which I replied "I'm going down Lis!". I passed out and fell back on Lisa, who, unfortunately for her, broke my fall and prevented me from slamming my head on the toilet.

Lisa was panicked, and called my parents who came up to get the kids, and then, once they did, she called 911. The Monroe ambulance was here in like 5 minutes. First a cop came up and asked a few questions. Then he hung out in my room, more interested in the action movie on the TV than what was going on with me. Then, three EMT's came up and checked my vitals. I, once again being stubborn according to Lisa, refused to go to the hospital. I knew now it was muscular and that there was nothing that the hospital was going to be able to do. It was 9:30pm and I'd be strapped to a board for a bumpy ride to the hospital and then lay there forever, waiting to get checked out, only for them to tell me there wasn't much they could do. I was already taking a muscle relaxer and pain killers. A doctor friend of mine prescribed them for me in the afternoon, although they weren't doing much. The reason I knew it was muscular is because of when I passed out. When one passes out, there muscles totally relax, going limp. For the 20 seconds upon awakening from my passed out state, I was still a bit incoherent, but I stood up quickly, pain free and walked back to bed quickly. If it were more than muscular, I don't think I would have been able to do this.

Fortunately, my kids weren't here when the ambulance came. The EMT's were very nice. They pressed against my feet to see if I could feel (looking for nerve damage) and not only could I feel it, but I'm quite ticklish on my feet. Lisa got a laugh out of that one.

I slept maybe two hours that night. The pain is always worse in the middle of the night. I sleep on my stomach, and since this wasn't possible, it made things that much more difficult. For those that sleep on their sides, what the hell do you do with the bottom arm?

Saturday, I saw no progression. My uncle who is a chiropractor came by to look. He concurred that my erector spinae were still siezed up, and we couldn't do much until they relaxed. He put some bio-freeze on my low back and headed off. I continued to ice and heat. Getting out of bed was still a very painful chore. I slept no better Saturday night.

By Sunday, I was so sick of laying in bed, yet there wasn't much I could do. Then, it got worse. Lisa took Kate and went to pick up Ryan at CCD. Well, I get a call from her telling me that her car won't start. She called Volvo road support and they said they would be there in an hour. We thought of who we could call to go get her and the kids and bring them home, but no one was around. I started to get dressed and it was excruciating. I have never felt so helpless and man did I absolutely hate it. This is the worst feeling. I was able to get in touch with my cousin Liz who picked them up.

I continued to lay around and since things happen in threes, it was inevitable. the Patriots lost!

It's now Monday morning and I'm beginning to feel better. If I were at a 10 this weekend with the goal of getting back to a 1, then I'd say I'm at a 6 today. I think I'll be ready to head back out to work tomorrow.

How long this will set me back, I don't know. On Friday when I was laying there in pain, I was thinking "man, I'm not even 40 yet! First, I had that freak shoulder issue in Hawaii and now this!" The fact is though that I'm just pushing hard and not paying enough attention to myself. My shoulder - I go from hardly no swimming to more daily yardage than I've done since college in one week. As a coach, I'd never have one of my athletes do this! With this back issue, I am notoriously tight in my posterior musculature. This combined with being early morning, on a friday of a busy week and doing squats after a set of v-ups that fatigues the supporting core muscles - another stupid thing that I'd never have an athlete do. I guess it's good to learn the hard lessons on myself. I rarely have gotten injured throughout my lifetime of athletics. Much of this is due to good genetics. I am biomechanically very strong. I just can't take this for granted though. Live and learn.

I do know that I will never go through this again, barring some freak incedent that's out of my control. I'll do whatever possible to assure that this doesn't occur again. This means more posterior stretching and more warming up. Sometimes you have to experience a very low point to make changes and realize how important your health is. I never want to be in a situation again with my family where I feel so helpless. This was the worst part of the weekend by far.

Never a dull moment here!



Monday, January 15, 2007

Cleansing and Plunging

It's become tradition that I do my Cleanse program the beginning of each new year. I also have most of my clientel do it.

The Cleanse is a nutrition program I developed back in 1997. I had a personal training client of mine that was in her 50's. She exercised quite hard and very consistently, yet still wanted to shed 10 to 15 lbs. She had tried every diet out there, but as we know, these many times offer up false promises or don't work. I had watched many clients battle with diets and I realized that the reason most didn't work was because they weren't breaking old, bad habits, and establishing new, healthy ones. The other thing was that most people work better with a deadline.

I came up with the concepts of the Cleanse because I wanted something that would do just that, cleanse. It had to be easy on the GI system and it also needed to get the metabolism firing off efficiently. I came up with two weeks because I thought that those doing it could see an end to their plan, and, in the back of my mind, knew that if one followed it 100%, they'd want to carry it on for longer because they'd be feeling really good by the end of week 2.

The Cleanse was never a diet or weight loss plan! It, again, was a way to break old habits, establish new ones, and cleanse the system. One of the main benefits derived from it however was the sense of empowerment from having the willpower to stick through it for two weeks. Those that did, and did'nt cheat, not only reaped the physical rewards but also felt really, really good about their accomplishment. But weight loss was never the main objective. It has, however, become a side effect if you follow the plan 100%. In fact, the average weight loss over the two weeks is 7 lbs and I know most of you are thinking that "this is just water and you'll gain it all, blah, blah, blah..." but the weight stayed off because of the changed habits and increased mental strength and discipline. My 50+ year old client that I first developed this for was fitting in her high school jeans for the first time since high school, and her energy was through the roof.

OK, now that we have a history of the Cleanse, let's jump to the last two weeks. I received more e-mails and phone calls from the athletes I coach saying things like "I eat pretty healthy so I'm doing a modified version." or "I don't want to lose weight so I don't need to do it." or "I am starving on this damn diet." My responses were always; You are copping out by modifying it. How many times have you been on the Cleanse? How many times have you finished it? It appears that you need it more for the mental challenge and willpower than for the physical benefits. We can justify anything, so keep telling yourself that you could do it if you had to but since your healthy, a modified version would be fine. It's, again, not about weight loss. You're not freakin' starving! Unless you haven't eaten in a few days, you aren't starving. In fact, the Cleanse isn't as low in calories as you think.

Lisa and I finished the Cleanse on Saturday and went out to the Bar in New Haven to meet friends who joined us for the Plunge that day and had some great pizza and beer. After eating clean, we both awoke the next day feeling like shit. Lisa said she was hung over, but she didn't drink enough to be hung over. She really just had food hang over, as well as I!


This past Saturday, we did our third annual Plunge in LI sound to raise money for something charitable. The first year, it was to raise money for the Tsunami victims in the South Pacific. That event went so well, that I organized it again the next year for my friend Denny White's nephew who was battling cystic fibrosis. This year, I chose two other friends who have two children, both diagnosed with autism.

People commented that this years plunge would be easy since the weather has been so warm here in New England. I don't know about anyone else, but it's still not that comfortable diving into 50 degree water on a 45 degree day!!! However, compared to the year it was 17 degrees out and windy, this was a cake walk.

I'm always encouraged, thankful, amazed, gracious, at the amount of support my friends show for these fundraising wacked out ideas of mine. We raised $8000 for the Wade family. They have been wanting to get their kids into this specialist in Boston, and the funds we raised for them will do this.

It was really great seeing friends Saturday morning take the plunge with me, or come out to watch, or send in contributions even though they couldn't attend.

When I originally sent out a note recruiting people to Plunge and raise $$, I mentioned that I'd dip in my speedo if we made over $5000. I stayed true to my word as the pictures and video on the home page attest to.

Thanks everyone. I'm honored to be associated with such decent and great people.



Thursday, January 04, 2007

Blog hiatus is over.

It’s been a few weeks since my last post! A few things took place over this time. I’ll begin with Lisa’s marathon in this post.

Lisa ran her first marathon back in late November at the Philadelphia Marathon. Man, what an experience!

Lisa signed up for this race at the challenge of my father. He was also supposed to run, but unfortunately came down with bad bronchitis a week before. They set this challenge back in May. It was a $100 bet. Before making this challenge, Lisa’s longest road race was a 5k. That, plus she hadn’t really run regularly in over 11 years. She was an All-American runner in college but that was in track in the 400 meters. Going from a 55 second event to a 3 hour 45 minute event is just a bit of a change!

Her training plan called for three to four runs a week, building up her long run. The fourth run never really happened each week, and she averaged three runs per week until the last six weeks, where time constraints and a slight knee irritation got the best of her and she averaged two runs per week. She did build up her long run and got in two - three hour runs plus a bunch of two and a half hour ones as well. It was pretty cool watching her go through the process. She hasn’t had a big personal goal for herself in a very long time. It was great seeing her take a small amount of time for herself each week and using it towards a challenge or goal. She’d come back from some of her long runs emotional, feeling proud of what she just did.

Lisa is probably more competitive than me. She times every run, and when running routes that she had done before, she would compare times. She’d often overanalyze specific training runs, putting all of the weight of her marathon results on these sessions. Initially, she wanted to just finish, and feel good. But, by July, Lisa was asking me if I thought she could go under four hours.

I’d find myself nervous about her when she was out on her long runs in training. The kids and I would check up on her from the car or from bikes each week during her long run. I also ran with her on her shorter runs, pushing Kate in the jogger, while Ryan would ride his bike. She’d constantly be looking at her watch and analyzing her pace.

Race weekend:

I had a few athletes competing in the race besides Lisa. We went out with Baker and Gus for dinner the night before to a cool restaurant in Philadelphia. Lisa was nervous. I thought it would be good for her to laugh, so we took an entertaining taxi ride from the restaurant to the movie theatre to see Borat. Baker and I laughed so hard that it actually hurt. This was a fun diversion that took their minds off of the race for awhile.

The morning of the race, Lisa and I were in the lobby of our hotel, waiting to get an elevator. A few guys also waiting asked if I was racing. This was bizarre. I mean, it was a total role reversal. I replied “nope, she is!” already proud of her and enjoying being in the other shoes. It was real cool to step back and listen to them talk with her about the race, pacing, training, …

Race day was nice – sunny and low 50’s. I took Lisa and Baker’s extra clothing and stuffed them into my backpack, gave Lisa a kiss, and ran out to the two mile mark so that I could get some good pictures. As I stood there waiting for them to run by, I found myself overly nervous. I hate when things are out of my control, and, although I was confident in Lisa, I was worried. Not worried about her finishing. I knew she would. But just hoping that she had a good day and that she got everything out of it that she had hoped to. I was a bit worried too that her competitive nature would get the best of her and that she’d go out overly quick.

Soon, she came running by, and I snapped a few pictures off her, and then ran along side her for a few more miles, taking more photo’s.

At the thirteen mile mark, I ran into Gus who looked relaxed and strong. I asked if he had seen Molson, to which he hadn’t. 30 seconds later, Jeff came by and I told him to go get Gus. There were so many people running that Gus and Jeff never even saw each other!

I then saw Lisa and she said she felt fine, but her knee was beginning to bother her. I told her to not focus on it, and to stay steady and get in her nutrition. I ran with her for the next two miles, snapping some more photos. Finally, she turns to me and says “get out of here!” I smiled, told her she was mean, and dropped back. The reality is that she would get emotional when she saw me and she new this was something she had to do on her own and that I couldn’t help her. Not seeing me was an easier way for her to deal with this. I dropped back for a bit and found Baker. He looked smooth. He asked how Lisa was doing and I replied “solid. She’s about 3 minutes up the road.” Bewildered, he pointed forward and said “in front of me?!”.

I then spyed on Lisa from mile 15 to mile 19. I was like a stalker, running either in front or behind with my camera snapping shots, but staying out of site. At the 23 mile mark, Gus comes by looking strong and I say “Gus, keep this pace and you are doing a 2:55!” He said “I’m there!”. He died at the 24 mile mark and finished in 3:01! He still pr’d by over 15 minutes. Jeff was close behind him, finishing his zillionth marathon this year in sub 3:10.

Next in came Lisa. At the 25 mile mark, I reappeared and told her that she had done it and that she should be really proud and to enjoy the last mile. I raced ahead to the finish and watched her cross in 3:46. To say I was proud would be an understatement. Her knee was a bit banged up, but I could tell she was elated.

To witness her do this was the coolest thing that happened in 2006 for me. To watch and help her train, and to see her actually enjoy it was great. Viewing the transformation from May to November was incredible. To see her learn a bit more about herself was special and for our kids to see her do this was inspiring.

The next week at Thanksgiving dinner at my aunts, my father gave Lisa $100. She took the cash and placed it back in his pocket and said “I don’t want your money Jimmy! If it wasn’t for you, I’d never have done this. Thank you.”