Monday, December 26, 2016

Brain Surgery Recovery, the Saga Continues

Two Weeks Plus

I closed the last blog entry just short of the two week mark, when I was going to get my staples removed at a follow-up appointment.  The day before this appointment I couldn't stand being inside any longer and joined my wife on one of her runs.  While I didn't run, I did manage to walk 2 miles.  I took it slow maintaining a 20:43/mile pace.  I felt pretty good up until the last 10 or 15 minutes and could tell I was tired and probably over doing it.  This made me a bit nervous, but to be honest I was really glad to be back outside.

The next day I did go back to the hospital and get my 30 staples removed as well as the stitch in my lower back.  Getting the staples out was a bit uncomfortable (more so than when I had my appendix removed), but was certainly tolerable. During the visit I did ask the nurse about physical activity limitations and if I could get back to running.  She made it clear that it was okay for me to get back out and start running again, but that I should take it slowly and not do too much too soon.

At the hospital with staples out

As I pointed out in my last blog entry I was running about 35 to 40 miles per week and running every day.  Going from that to zero was hard, but I knew I was going to have to be thoughtful as I got back into my routine.  The day after I got my staples out (which was day 12 post surgery) I did get back and walk another 2 miles.  I ran about a tenth of a mile at a time every so often to get my heart rate up and see how I felt.  The took my average time down to 14:37/mile, certainly quicker than two days earlier.  I also felt better overall after this run.

One thing I noticed was the clicking that I used to hear in my left ear while running occasionally had changed significantly.  Instead of a higher pitched short click noise as my right foot hit the trail it had turned into a much deeper slightly longer sound and it also felt like there was something in my ear, perhaps behind my ear drum.  Certainly something I need to follow with my ENT on when we meet again.  Perhaps a side effect of the surgery, or perhaps whatever we had seen on the MRI/CT to begin with has shifted.

My hair was growing back faster than I had anticipated and the scabs on the scar were healing quickly.  Everyday it seemed I had lost more of the scabs and that coupled with the hair growth was rendering my surgical scar less noticeable.  I would feel some sharp very short periods of pain around the scar occasionally and was told this was the nerves that had been damaged during the surgical procedure healing and that is normal.  At the two week mark I was just taking Tylenol as needed and by day 16 or so I was off all meds.

Getting Back to Running

I took three days off from my last activity and then did a three mile walk/run.  I slowed the pace back down overall to 17:45/mile since I wanted to go a little longer.  I was pleased with how I felt overall during the activity but was fairly wiped out that evening.  I have to admit it is hard to hold back when you get out there and just want to go all out without stopping for hours.  But at the end of the day I didn't want to set myself back so I was trying to proceed with caution so to speak.

On the 18th day post surgery I started back to work again full-time.  Since I work from home most days the transition was really great.  If I started to feel fatigued or simply needed to get away from the computer screen I had those options.  While not the release of getting out for a run, getting back to work was a sense of normalcy and help enforce the fact that I was indeed recovering.

Two days after my three mile run/walk I got back out for a 5 mile run.  I picked up the pace some and averaged 10:05/mile.  This felt great, I was able to take a few of my normal routes and ran to the local Starbucks for my standard quad shot Americano.

On my three week post surgery anniversary I got back out for a 5.5 mile run and clocked in at 9:27/mile.  I took a very similar route as the previous 5 mile run and worked more on my pacing to see how I felt.  Things felt somewhat normal again except for some irritation around the scar mostly due to wearing a hat.  The weather is cold and I wanted to protect my incision and ears.  I am still hearing the deeper sounding clicking in my ear, but seems to not last as long as it did the prior weeks.  After a mile or so it seems to stop.

Two days later I drove into Frederick for some flatter territory and did a total of 8.6 miles at an average pace of 9:19/mile.  Running through some new territory at the Mount Olivet Cemetery was great.  I hadn't run this area before and oddly enough, it was beautiful.  The weather was cool at 41F, just perfect.  Of course when I was done I ran to the local downtown Frederick Starbucks for my standard after run beverage.

Mt. Olivet Cemetery, memorial to Francis Scott Key

Rolling hills and monuments in Mt. Olivet Cemetery

Today, day 25 post surgery, I dove back into Frederick and did another 6.3 miles at an average pace of 8:46/mile.  Really starting to to get back to normal.  I use Strava to manage my runs (via a TomTom Spark 2) and I love filling in the Strava Heat Map by running all the roads/trails available in any given area.  Frederick is somewhat large, but I am slowly making progress getting it all covered.  It was really great to get back in Frederick and start working on this again.

All of the scabs on my scar have come off and with the continued growth of my hair it is really hard to notice the scar unless you really look for it. I was told not to cut my hair for 4 weeks after getting the staples removed.  I also have to go back in mid January for a followup CT Scan and consultation with the surgeon.  Hopefully that all goes well.

top left to bottom right: day 5, day 8, day 12, day 14, day 20 and day 22

Thank you to all the readers who have posted comments on social media wishing me well.  I really do appreciate your words of encouragement as well as appreciate the fact that you took the time to read about my story.  I will post a short summary following my January visit.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Tale of a Runners Recovery from Brain Surgery

I thought it would be useful to document my journey through brain surgery and back into running.  If for no other reason than for me to be able to look back on this and see how I managed to get through it, and perhaps it can help at least one other person get through something similar.

Brain surgery wasn't something that was on my bucket list by any means, but after months of trying to figure out why I was losing my hearing and got tinnitus in my left ear, that is where the diagnosis led me.


I have had very serious ear infections my whole life.  Serious enough that on many occasions I have had my ear drums burst in both ears.  While doctors had recommended as a child that I get tubes in my ears this wasn't something that was done as often as perhaps it is now.  At any rate they wained in frequency as I got older and I learned how to keep them at bay, but every year or two I would get one.

About four years ago (2012) I went through one of those most severe cases I had ever experienced.  I ended up needing to go to a local ENT and get very specific treatments for about 7 to 10 days.  After the infection cleared up and the ear drums healed I had a hearing test and everything seemed to go back to normal.

About 6 to 8 months ago I noticed that the hearing in my left ear wasn't as clear and things sounded muted.  I also started to hear a constant white noise sound in my ear that was somewhat faint.  It also felt as though I had something stuck in my ear.  I went back to my local ENT and he was able to remove what looked like remnants from an ear drum burst in my left ear, but after a hearing test we found I lost about 50% of my hearing in my left ear.

There was no visible damage in my inner ear that could explain this to him and placing tuning forks on my nose (and various other locations) seemed to reveal that I had some kind of concussive hearing issue in my left ear.  While I had not experienced any type of head injury that could of caused this, nor was I exposed to any abnormally loud noises, his initial conclusion was that I could have either scar tissue and/or fluid trapped behind my eardrum.  Since tests showed that ear drum movement seemed to be normal, odds were that it was scar tissue.  He quickly referred me to Dr. David Eisenman, an ENT at University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore.

Over the course of about 2 or 3 months we did two CT Scans and a high end MRI and believed that what I had was called Cephaloceles in its somewhat generic form.  In short, the MRI and CT scans showed that I was missing a part of my skull that separated my brain from my inner ear.  It looked like brain was herniating into the inner ear canal behind my ear drum and resting on the bones that transmit sound to the brain.

While there was a small chance that this wasn't the cause, the prudent course of action was to approach the inner ear from above the ear through the skull, remove the brain that has herniated and then repair the missing elements of the skull to prevent this from happening in the future.  If I were to get a serious ear infection at this point the infection could spread to the brain.

Since the ENT would need to get through my skull and under my brain (and perhaps remove some as well) I was referred to Dr. Howard Eisenberg, of the Neurosurgery Department of University of Maryland Hospital.  After a consultation visit with Dr. Eisenberg the surgery was scheduled for December 1, 2016.


I am an avid runner, not a great or fast runner, but a near daily runner.  I was bit by the running bug late in life, about 3 years ago (2013) seriously, but since that time I have worked my way up to 17 half marathon races, 5 full marathons and a smattering of 5k, 10k, 15k and 10 milers in the mix.  I typically sign up for 5 to 10 races a year and summarize the event here on my blog.  I run about 40 miles per week on average covering 6 of the 7 days of the week.

I love doing back to back races on consecutive days so for the past 16 months or so that is how my training has been geared versus outright speed.  My next back to back race is the Backyard to Vineyard Challenge at the Biltmore in Asheville, NC in March 2017.  After this race I would like to get back to training for speed and eventually qualify for the Boston Marathon.  That event, unlike brain surgery, is on my bucket list.  Check-out my previous blog posts for past single and multi-day racing events you might be interested in trying out.

As the surgery date approached I made sure to take advantage of every day to go out for a run.  I was extremely nervous about the procedure, things that could go wrong, the recovery time, and of course more serious issues that could arise.

Surgery Day

NOTEMy plan is to be as detailed here as I can recall; for the purpose of helping anyone else that might be going through something similar understand what they might go through to help them make decisions along the way.  If this doesn't sound palatable, just skip down to the subheading ICU.

In order to make getting to the hospital by 6am easier we stayed in Baltimore the night before the surgery.  Looked up a good restaurant for what depressingly to me could have been my last meal I guess, but all I knew is I wanted some good food a great glass of wine.  We ended up at Capital Grille on Pratt Street, walking distance from the hotel.

The food, decor, and service was outstanding.  It was expensive, even by my standards, but was totally worth it given what I knew my day was going to be like the next day.  In all for two drinks, two salads and two main courses, including tip, the bill was just shy of $200.

I slept better than I thought I would before surgery day, so up at 5am to get ready and then walk over to the hospital.  I got to the surgery waiting room on the 2nd floor right before 6am, did my paperwork, and then waited until 7:15am or so before I was called back for pre-op readiness.

After getting a quick blood pressure (BP) and temp, I got into the hospital gown, had an IV put in the top of my left hand and then waited.  It didn't take long before I realized they didn't tell my wife to come back so after about an hour I was able to get the attention of a passing nurse who said she would grab her, but that didn't happen.  I am sure she got side tracked.

At about 8:15 or 8:30am a team member from the Neurosurgery Department came in, put what looked like lifesavers all over my head and then took me for a MRI and CT Scan.  Basically they were putting "way points" on my head for GPS-like location markers so they knew where they were going during surgery.  While he was explaining all this to me I was totally focusing on his cool Neurosurgery Department Nike running jacket.  It was totally awesome looking with the University of Maryland Hospital logo and Department of Neurosurgery embroidered on it.  I totally wanted one as a running clothes hoard.  Although I am partial to Under Armour, I would have taken one if given to me.

After the scans happened they were able to grab my wife and bring her back.  At this point a close friend had joined my wife in the waiting room so she didn't have to wait the day alone.  I was really grateful that he was able to do this.

All "mapped" out for brain surgery

I started to see more and more folks as I got closer to having my surgery performed.  The OR nurse came in and introduced herself and gave me a quick overview of what was to transpire as well as the head intern (Dr. Patel I believe) Neurosurgeon that was going to assist in the operation.  He went over the highlight of the procedure and was also sporting the very desirable running jacket.

The last visit was from the anesthesiologist team.  The anesthesiologists gave me a more detailed run down on their role, the prep I would be going through and some of the recovery process before heading to ICU following surgery.

We discussed the drug they were going to give me right before heading to surgery to help me relax.  I had two very bad experiences with Valium in the past (it causes my BP and heart rate to drop significantly and I pass out), so they assured me the drug I was going to get wasn't in the same family.  So, while somewhat comforting I was a little nervous.

The next step was to have some blood work done to make sure things looked good.  Unfortunately a poorly printed label required that the blood be drawn a second time.  While I thought the "error" on the label after seeing it was acceptable to me, it wasn't to them.  I certainly didn't mind having blood drawn twice if this is how careful they were going to be during the actual surgery.  It was a good sign in my mind.

It was now close to 11:15am and the anesthesiologists came back in to start the process.  As he gave me the meds via the IV I felt incredible pain.  Something wasn't right.  He checked the lines and it all seemed to be correct so he tried again.  Once more I felt extreme sharp pain.  I have been through a few painful things in my life (arrow through my hand, kidney stones, a perforated appendix, broken foot, etc.) and this was by far the worse to date.  About 30 seconds later I could also tell I was going to pass out.  I was able to let the anesthesiologists know what was about to happen and then I was out.

I don't think I was out long, probably a minute or so, and when I came too I had 6 people standing around me, had IV fluids running and was on a BP cuff.  I could hear them saying my BP was around 80 over 40 and my HR was around 43 (my normal resting HR is about 53; a benefit of running).  After about 10 or 15 minutes I started to feel somewhat normal and we now had to decide what to do next.  They gave me the option to cancel the surgery but after all the anxiety leading up to this I wasn't about to do that if I didn't have too.  The anesthesiologists assured me that during the surgery they would be keeping a close eye on me and if anything happened they would take appropriate actions to take care of my safety.  For some reason I found this very reassuring and so we decided to proceed.

I was then wheeled back to my surgery room and my wife and friend were informed where to go on the third floor to wait.  The surgery was planned for about 6 hours or so including all the pre-op work that would need to be done first.

Once I was put into the OR I moved myself onto a very narrow operating table and the OR team immediately started getting me prepped.  The anesthesiologists started to run some new IVs.  Two on my right hand (one that was needed for surgery and the second a replacement for the one on my left hand that was hurting) as well as a arterial IV line in my left forearm so they could measure my BP in real time during surgery instead of waiting for the cuff.

At the same time, nursing staff started covering me with blankets since it was so cold and putting the compression leg gear on my legs to start compression during the long process to help prevent blood clots.  Personally I find that these feel great, basically a massage of sorts, but I do know people that don't care for them.

They were unable to get a new IV line in to replace the one on my left hand as the veins in my right hand kept collapsing.  I don't really understand why they didn't simply move up my right forearm, but after the arterial IV was in place they wanted to start pushing the drugs to put me to sleep.  As soon as they started pushing the drugs I felt that intense pain again.  I let them know of course, and they let me know that some of the discomfort was that the drugs do burn as they enter the blood stream.  While I was able to tell that was the case, that was only a minor discomfort to the overall pain.  I was trying to keep my composure, but one of the OR nurses could tell I wasn't doing well and came over to my right side and started to talk with me and rubbing my shoulder.

She asked me where I wanted to go when I fell asleep and I made some remark about going for a long run.  She said that sounded good to her but that most people simply say the beach.  As they continued to push the meds through the IV line I struggled with the discomfort.  The nurse took my hand and I am sure I was squeezing to the point where she would have preferred I backed off.  I very much appreciate what she did for me and I wish I could remember her name to thank her.

It seemed like forever as they continued to push the meds into the IV to get me to fall asleep, but it was probably 5 minutes or less overall.  This was not the way I wanted to go "out" for surgery at all but at least I had fallen asleep.  Given what I experienced I certainly won't allow an IV in the top of my hand any longer and I would recommend that readers follow that same guideline.  I am not sure why they choose that area over the multitude of over viable locations (many of which I have had), but based on a few google searches myself it seems no one is a fan.

The next thing I remember was coming too, being told that the surgery was over, and that I was in recovery and that very soon they were going to take me for a post op CT Scan to make sure everything looked okay.  Not long after that we were on our way through the hallways and I noticed my tinnitus, which was disconcerting to say the least.


After the quick 2 to 3 minute CT Scan I was taken to the 7th floor to one of the Neurosurgery ICU units.  My wife and friend were already there waiting for me.  They ran down a few of the things that I was still hooked up too from surgery and that would remain for a day or so in ICU.  Basically a urinary catheter, a line in my back/spine to drain excess spinal fluid (a side effect of having your brain manipulated), BP/Oxygen sensor, IV line for fluids and antibiotics and a BP cuff that was going off every 15 minutes.

I have to admit the first few hours in ICU are a bit fuzzy, but they were doing well asking me about my pain levels and helping with pain management.  I was all bandaged up on my left side and was a little afraid to move much so I stared at the ceiling a lot for the first 24 hours I think.  They were giving me IV Dilaudid for pain initially which seemed to work well, but wore off just short of me being able to get my next dose, but after about 6 hours or so the timing started to work better.

I am not exactly sure how long it took, but the ENT doctor, Dr. Eisenman, came in to visit and gave me the run down on how the surgery went.  I was actually only in the ER for about 4 of the 6 planned hours.  Turns out that once they got to the ear canal from above my ear and under my brain they did find a rather large hole that they were able to successfully repair by grafting some skull bone into place, but my brain was not in fact herniating into the inner ear.  So, they closed everything up and I was out of OR early.

This is why I was still experiencing tinnitus, and so my hearing issue was also the same, I just couldn't tell that yet due to the bandages.  He let me know that after I healed enough from this surgery that we would touch base on next steps which would most likely include a surgery through my inner ear which would be far less invasive.  So, even though the root cause of my hearing issues weren't resolved, we did in fact address what could have been a very serious issue in the future that I perhaps would never had known about if we hadn't pursued this avenue of treatment.

ICU all bandaged up

At this point I was left to rest with the exception of hourly or so checkins from the ICU staff to make sure I had strength in my legs, my arms, could smile, could lift my eyebrows and could move my arms with my eyes closed.  I lost count how many times I had to do these activities in ICU.  The good news was I wasn't having any issues at all, and a small "left side face droop" they said I had right after surgery went away in a few hours and I was looking normal.

The ICU nursing staff was outstanding.  I spend the most time with Tim, Yasmin and Molly and they were all very professional, very empathetic and very good at what they were doing.

Early in the morning on my second day in ICU I had a visit from the head intern from the Neurosurgery Department again to see how things were going.  He was doing rounds with what I suspect were other interns or students since this is a teaching hospital.  Of course this time he was wearing a gray Under Armour version of the running jacket. Yeah, it was killing me, I joked about wanting one, but I should have been more convincing.  With all of these jackets walking around the hallways they looked like an elite squadron of healers.

In the afternoon of my second day in ICU I had a swallow test performed so that I could get off IV pain meds and start taking pills that would last longer as well as get off the IV fluids.  A nurse from the Neurosurgery team came in and removed the spinal fluid line and put in a stitch.  Yes, he also was wearing the cool black jacket, and I still wanted one.  The nurse on duty then came in a removed the catheter.  If you have never had this done, it is a little uncomfortable when it comes out, but not horrible.  It does give you the sensation that you might be urinating everywhere, but rest assured you probably aren't.  I will say, just to keep everyone informed of all the odd things that happen post surgery, is that you will probably pee air for a few days, up to a week.  A little different, but totally normal as air was pushed into your bladder during the process.

I also had a visit from the Physical Therapy (PT) nurse and we went on a short walk to check on my strength and stability.  I passed with flying colors and was told that I could now eat and drink real food, and move around a little more freely with assistance from a nurse.  I was also directed to go for one more walk later that afternoon to keep moving so they took off the leg compression device.

My wife stayed with me in ICU over night both nights I was there which was really helpful.  I couldn't do much on my own so having her there to help with simple things including a sponge bath and watching the door as I used the urinal once the catheter was out was great.

My first meal was a late breakfast on Friday that was totally comprised of fluids.  Chicken broth, orange juice, Italian ice and something else I can't recall.  I ate the chicken broth and the Italian ice.

Later in the day I had baked catfish for lunch with green beans.  Totally inedible so I skipped it after a few small bites.  I could certainly swallow, but things were sore from being intubated during surgery.  Thankfully I was asleep when they put that in and took it out.

Dinner was a little more tolerable with a loose meat loaf and mashed potatoes along with broccoli and cauliflower.  I did appreciate the fact that all the food was soft.  As part of the surgery they irritated the jaw muscle on the left side so it was difficult to open my mouth very far or chew anything of substance.

I was dosing off and on since I got to ICU but wasn't able to get any good sleep.  Mostly from the BP cuff going off all the time.  It would wake me up thinking that someone was tapping me on the arm.  I finally asked the ICU nurse if it was still necessary and she apologized that it was still going off every 15 minutes and reset it for 1 hour.  I should have asked earlier.  Not a big deal overall.  I was very pleased with everyone I had interacted with so far and felt that I was getting top notch care.

I did manage to go on a much longer walk after dinner and it felt great to get up and move around.  After my first walk I was told that transfer orders had been put in to have me moved out of ICU but that no beds were available.  I actually didn't get to move until 4am on Saturday at which point I ended up on the 5th floor in a single room, thankfully.  I let the nurses there know I was able to walk well and asked if I could unhook myself to use the bathroom (there wasn't one in ICU).  They watched me go back and forth the first time and then after that I was more ambulatory which was great.

I had another visit from Neurosurgery at about 8am and had my bandage removed.  They stated that thinks look like they were healing really well, gave me care instructions for the following two weeks when the staples would be removed (30 in all) and was told I should be discharged by 11am.  Sure enough by 11am I had all the paperwork, prescriptions to take home and was out of the hospital by 11:15am or so and headed home.

Bandage is finally removed

2 Weeks

For the next two weeks I was told to keep my head dry, take it easy and certainly don't run or walk much (I needed to be as sedentary as possible so I could heal) and shouldn't lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk.  My appointment to go back ended up being schedule for December the 13th (just shy of 2 weeks).

As the days passed I realized I could run out and do small errands so we had to come up with a plan for my hair.  As it stood I had half a shaved head and that simply looked silly.  So, I decided to go full on mohawk and bad ass as possible.  Turns out I kind of like the look and certainly never would have given it a try otherwise.

Mohawk hair style with a splash of Mad Max

Now that I am able to spend more time on the computer and typing (the screen was bothering me some initially which is why it took so long to get this blog out), I will catch up to where I am now as soon as I can.  Today happens to be the 13th so I did get my staples out today, more on that later...(follow-up post)

Friday, November 11, 2016

Disney Wine and Dine Lumiere's Challenge

The Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon has always sounded like a really great event to me.  Of course as a Disney fan and past Disney runner (see Disney Dopey Challenge), it seemed to only make sense to give this event a try in the same year since I was opting for annual park passes.

However, much to my initial disappointment, Disney decided to change the format of the race.  In the past this race has been held at night (a 10pm start time) with a large "after party" at Epcot upon completion until 2am!  You ran through Animal Kingdom park, then through Hollywood Studios through the Osbourne Family lights and ended at Epcot.

While I don't know the real premise for the change, I suspect a few events may have been the catalyst.  First, is the release of the up coming live action Disney Beauty and the Beast movie.  The other is probably the construction going on in Hollywood studios for the new Cars and Star Wars areas.

It didn't take me long to realize that this event was going to be much smaller than the Dopey Challenge I did in January.  Not because I read up on the number of runners for each of the events, but simply by how much smaller the crowds were at the Expo.  Packet pickup was an absolute breeze with hardly any delay. The downside to the event being so much smaller was that the expo itself.  The Run Disney merchandise was also very limited and not all that "special" compared to January.

In short, the event was moved to Disney's fairly standard 5:30am start time and they decided to add a new 10k event over the weekend in addition to the Christmas oriented 5k and Half Marathon they have had in the past.  They also added a "bonus" medal if you did the 10k and the Half Marathon, hence Lumiere's Two Course Challenge.  They still had the after party on Sunday night starting at 9pm and while we had good intentions on going, some feedback from prior years ended up keeping us away as the food and crowds didn't seem worth the trouble.

My wife and I did both the runs together this time, which was a change from our January event since we both ran independently.  The weather was great for both events with relatively cool temperatures in the morning (low 60sF) and highs in the afternoon right around 80F.  With the events starting so early in the morning, the rising sun doesn't become much of an issue except for the last hour or so of the half marathon.

Transportation from our Disney resort started at 3:30am and we managed to get on the 3:45am bus to the starting line at Epcot for the 10k.  The event was well managed and staffed with volunteers, so things ran smoothly as expected.  No issues getting through the port-a-potty line at all, and then made our way to the starting corral perhaps a little early.  Our corral got the go ahead to start at 6am.

Both events had plenty of runner support with water stops about every 1.5 to 2 miles.  The 10k course didn't have any food stops, but the half marathon does have one right around mile 7 or 8.  All stops did have both water and Powerade.

If you have done the 10k during the Walt Disney World (WDW) Marathon weekend in January this new Remy 10k is exactly the same thing.  Basically you make you way West out of the Epcot parking lot and then do a 180 degree turn back onto Epcot world drive.  You then enter the backside of World Showcase behind Mexico and emerge into the park proper between Norway and China.

Disney Remy's 10k Strava Map
Thankfully they do have the bathrooms open through World Showcase so if you need to make a quick stop it is very doable in a timely manner.  After going around the worlds just past France you make your way out of the back of Epcot and then run clockwise around the boardwalk.  You re-enter World Showcase behind England and then make your way to Future World past the large fountain, past Spaceship Earth and then finish in the Epcot parking lot.

Somewhere in World Showcase
There were several photographers on the course around the World Showcase area, the Boardwalk, the pathway from World Showcase to the fountain, and then just past Spaceship Earth.  Unlike past Run Disney events I have done at WDW the photographers this time were Disney PhotoPass photographers and not from Marathon Foto.  The great thing about this was as an annual passholder I had access to all the photos right away for free! (well free as in I didn't have to pay for them outside the annual passholder fee).  I assume photos would have also been included if you had purchased Memory Maker as well.  A great deal to be sure based on the number of photos that had been taken.

My wife and I headed out of Epcot to the Finish Line
Early start, short distance, so back to the resort before 9am and the kids are all still asleep.  So, what do you do?  You shower, change cloths and go to Disney Springs and hit one of the coolest Starbucks you have ever seen.  Lastly, a few short hours in the parks and dinner at Seasons in the Land, but nothing to crazy since there is a half marathon the next day.

Inaugural Remy 10k Medal

Once again, up early and on the bus at 3:45am to head to the starting line.  This time, however, the start is at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex.  While I did get to run through this during the marathon leg of my Dopy Challenge back in January, this is the first time I have started here.  Setup is very similar to a start in Epcot, but the coral placements are a little different.  After arrival, did the requisite port-a-potty stop and then made our way to our starting corral.  There were only 3 minutes between corrals for this race so we started at about 6am.

Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon Strava Map
As with all Disney races in Florida the route is practically flat with a few minor exceptions over bridges and/or exit ramps so there is really no point talking about elevation gain (or loss).  After exiting the ESPN area, you turn left onto Osceola Parkway and make your way to Animal Kingdom.  This is a great treat for runners as you usually only get to run through this park if you do the Marathon run in January.  So, if you aren't up for that distance yet and want to experience running through Animal Kingdom (AK), keep this event in mind.

Animal Kingdom near Discovery Island

Once you enter the AK park area, the race director builds anticipation by first making you run around the parking lot.  At that point you enter the park (around mile 3.5), head around the rainforest like entrance to the left then get your first glimpse of the incredible Tree of Life.  As you head to the back area of the park you go to the right to Asia and then back towards the park entrance.  Just when you might be thinking that was a short trip through AK, you turn left towards Dinosaur Land and head around the water counter clockwise past Expedition Everest back towards Asia and the Yak and Yeti restaurant before heading out of the back of the park onto Conservation Road.  As with the 10k race all the restrooms are open within AK.

As you continue to make your way out of AK and towards the direction of Magic Kingdom (MK) you will of course pass photo opportunities with characters and get to see some of the animal housing.  There is a quick out and back on Western Way before heading north on Bear Island Road back towards MK.  If you have done the WDW Marathon you have been on this road before, just in the opposite direction.

When this road ends, you make a right onto Floridian Way, merging back onto World Drive and heading back to Epcot for the finish.  At this point you have about four miles remaining, so while you are making progress, still have a long way to go and you will see runners around you starting to hit the wall.  At mile 7 we hooked up with one of the volunteer pace groups which really helped us through a couple of miles.  It is nice having the support of others around you during an event like this.

As we worked our way around the on ramp to Epcot Center Drive to head into Epcot the crowds were getting really thick again.  This is a much smaller event than the January run, and yet it was very hard to pass people on these narrower routes.  This can get frustrating at times, so it is important to remember that Disney races are about the journey for sure (and the bling at the end) and less about setting a PR.  Unless you find yourself in corral A, don't even try it.  And even then, depending on the number of runners, that may not help.

Once runners enter the Epcot parking area they are now safe from the sweeper bus, which is why you can see runners with finish times longer than the advertised limit.  I think the imaginary line is about a mile from the finish line.

Once your in Epcot you enter the park behind the bathrooms/camera shop on the West side of Spaceship Earth, turn right to go past the main fountain and head into World Showcase.  Just at the entrance to World Showcase you do a 180 degree turn, head back towards Spaceship Earth, out the park to the right, and then across the finish line in the parking lot.

My wife and I crossing the finish line

As with the 10k, there were lots of great photo opportunities on the course in both AK and Epcot, as well as lots of character stops along the way staffed with Disney PhotoPass photographers.  Always a good idea to take advantage of these if you can.  I probably didn't do a great job in that regard.

2016 Wine and Dine Half Marathon Medal

As with all the Disney races I have done, once you are through the finish line you are greeted with happy volunteers handing out medals, water, sports drinks, bananas, snack boxes and of course the first aide area.  If you are in need of Tylenol, ice or BioFreeze, they will have you covered (literally).

The medals make it worth it!
If you are eligible for a challenge medal you will make your way through the Challenge Tent before getting to bag drop off for proof of eligibility (they compare  your expo photo to you and verifying you ran the required events).  Examples of these medals include the Lumiere medal and the Coast to Coast medal for this event specifically.

Inaugural Lumiere's Two Course Challenge Medal (the flames glow!)
As with the Dopey Challenge in January this was a fun event.  An expensive event for sure, but a fun event.  The flat nature of the course as well as the scenery make these interesting to run.  These events make a great first Half Marathon or Full Marathon event for newer runners attempting a longer distance for the first time.  With the lack of hills and focus on having a good time it takes the pressure off hitting a specific time, which is the best way to run your first longer distance.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Baltimore Marathon

Travel plans required that I miss the Marine Corps Marathon this year, so I quickly deferred to 2017.  That left me one marathon shy of five which I was shooting for after the Marine Corps Marathon so I could purchase a yellow OSAAT Sport band.  The color of the bands signifies the number of marathons you have run, and I figured getting to five would be a nice place to start for my first band.

The solution to this problem?  A last minute sign up for the Baltimore Marathon.  This event was actually my first official Marathon race ever, and it happened only a one year ago in 2015.  You can read all about it in last years blog post.  My marathon PR was captured here and while I knew the time would still be safe from any threat on my part, the challenging nature and location of the course seemed like an easy choice.

The weather was absultely perfect.  Running weather in the Maryland area becomes exceptional in October, but this was a really great race day.  Cool temperature, no humidity, clear skies and absolutely no wind.

Last year I drove up for the race expo and packet pickup on Friday and then drove up again early Saturday morning for race day.  As you can read in my prior post, traffic and parking was very well managed so it wasn't much of an issue, but this year I decided to stay the night Friday night so that I could sleep in a bit more Saturday morning.  Since my wife was running the half marathon we could both benefit from the extra sleep.

View of 5K/Full Marathon start from hotel (Camden Yards to the left)

I got a fairly good price at the Hilton Baltimore via a link/discount code off of the Baltimore Running Festival website.  While it was higher than normal for Friday night, it was a very convenient location as the starting line for the Marathon (and the 5K) is right in front of the hotel, and the Half Marathon starting line is just down the street.  You finish in the parking lot between Ravens Stadium and Camden Yards, so the walk back is short.

Location Map

This year the Expo was in the Baltimore Convention center which you can see in the map above is just down Pratt Street from the hotel as well which even made that a short walk.  Last year it was in Raven's stadium which was actually a longer walk from the parking lot as you wind up the walkways in the stadium to where the Expo was located.  I think this new location worked better.

Starting line view looking back at the Hilton
The Full Marathon course was largely the same as last year with a few minor exceptions around the Wyman Park area and also by the Under Armour headquarters.  Last year we actually ran around the primary building and then back towards the Half Marathon starting line, but this year we stopped short and did a quick 180 degree turn back to the Half Marathon starting line area.

I am a huge Under Armour fan, and have way to many cloths from them, so not getting to go through the entire campus was a bit of a let down, but they still had the DJ and music blaring which is great as you are approaching mile 11 at that point in the course. [footnote: if anyone from UA reads this and wants to sponsor a old, mediocre runner, I am your guy]

Strava Full Marathon Map

With only minor changes to the course I could determine outlined above, the overall elevation challenges of the course didn't change dramatically either. You can get a detailed description of the course in last years post, but according to Strava the elevation gain this year was right on the money at 960 feet.  Nothing to take lightly for sure; hill training is a must if you plan on doing any of the races in Baltimore, but especially the Full Marathon.

Strava Elevation Chart

Last year I ran the race alone and frankly went out of the gate a little too fast, and while I held good split times until 16, my times continued to degrade after that until the finish.  While I didn't think I could beat my PR this year (I have been running slower as of late), I decided to try and stick with the 3:45 pace group if for no other reason than to have better pace management on the course.

I have to say that running with the pace group was really great.  The lead pacer (Marcie) has done this race about 10 times if I remember correctly so her knowledge of the course and challenges was exceptional.  She was great at reminding us to conserve energy on the long down hill runs even though we may want to pick up our pace (which I did last year).

I was sticking with the group fairly well until about mile 11 when I got hung up at a water stop and I was never really able to catch back up.  After that my times continued to fluctuate through the remainder of the course.  I had some good split times at miles 13 and 15 but overall I was degrading on average.  I had run the Via Marathon the month before and I think that not only was I struggling against my lack of training this year, but also had not recovered fully from that event.

So, while I didn't set any time records Strava did point out that this was my second best Marathon time overall, so not a bad day after all.  I can start focusing on speed again through the winter and try and improve my time next year.

As with last year, race support was great.  Lots of volunteers out there cheering you on and working the water stops.  There are plenty of stops throughout the course and I never felt as thought was was "overdue".  My favorite stop is still the snack stop right around mile 20.5 for the full marathon and 7.5 for the half.  They have the standard water and sports drink but also have potato chips, bananas and other snacks.  While I didn't partake of anything last year, I had several potato chips from the bag and really felt a pick me up.

Full Marathon Medal in Closed Position
While I thought the medal last year was really special, this years medal was really unique.  Since the race is in Maryland they went with a full on crab theme.  The 5k medal was a small crab and both the half marathon and full marathon medals were large 3D looking crabs that open up via a magnetic latch.  The primary difference between the half and the full is the color and the total milage carved into the top of the crab shell.

Full Marathon Medal in Open Position

The only negative I experienced is the food at the finish line.  The variety isn't great and certainly not what I normally eat after a long run.  I know my time wasn't great and the 5k runners, several full marathon runners and half marathon runners had all finished, so perhaps they ate all the stuff I would have wanted.  All that was left was a few bananas, some hot and spicy chips and lots of sugar loaded "protein bars".

Unfortunately my wives experience was a little worse.  Not only was there really no real food left at the finish line for her, she didn't get her event medal.  Apparently runners were either taking extra medals because the volunteers said they could, or they were just stolen, but either way they ran out and the last 150 or so runners didn't get one.  As of the first week in November we are still waiting to get her medal in the mail, but according to the event staff it is in process, they have been very communicative on the issue.

UPDATE (11/10/2016): My wife's half marathon medal arrived safely packed in a bubble envelope.

Overall, this was a good event.  A great time of year in MD for a race and nice scenery and great support overall.  I do recommend this race, but let me reiterate that this is a challenging course all around, for all three races, so please keep that in mind and train well.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Adam's County Half Marathon -- Run with the Amish

UPDATE (4 November 2016): It would seem that this event has been cancelled indefinitely.

After running the Bird in Hand Half Marathon in September of 2015, my wife spotted the Adam's County Run with the Amish website.  Although it was going to be a long out and back trip we decided to sign up for 2016.

It was a long 6.5 hour drive from our house in MD to packet pickup in West Union, OH, but I have to say the drive was absolutely beautiful.  The weather was great and the scenery through the Appalachian mountains was stunning.  We left early Friday morning and didn't experience any traffic issues along the route.

Packet pickup was a breeze as the race overall isn't that large (less than 1500 for all three events) and there is plenty to do around the pickup area.  The Miller's bakery had some really great treats including fresh baked bread that we purchased after the race to take home.  They also have a bulk food store and a really nice amish furniture store.  And of course they have a photo opportunity in front of an Amish buggy.

Amish Buggy

After getting our packets we drove the 30 minutes to our hotel in Piketon, OH.  The overall area is actually fairly far from major cities, so finding a place to stay that had some reasonable dinner options wasn't easy.  We ended up at the Comfort Inn which was nice enough, but didn't offer the friendliest of staff.  When we heard the first train go by I couldn't help but think of "My Cousin Vinny".  Surely trains wouldn't be that frequent?  We settled in and then went off to dinner.

We found the Lake White Club online and decided that it seemed to have the best options for a pre-race dinner.  The location started in the late 1930s and has had many owners, the most recent one only 3 months earlier.  The "lake" that this establishment sits on has been drained for about 3 years as they make repairs to the dam.  The owner indicated that this work should be done by the end of the year and then the long process of filling the lake can start again.  There are some beautiful million dollar homes along the lake near the restaurant.  It was odd to see all of the boat piers rising out of the water like a post apocalyptic nightmare.

While the food was pretty good, the service and staff were great.  The food was a little salty, but everything was freshly prepared.  They had a nice selection of wines and cocktails as well if you care to indulge.

Back to the hotel...yes the train does come that often.  But thankfully I had the air conditioning and my white noise machine cranking so I actually wasn't that bothered by the noise.  However, if you are a light sleeper keep this in mind, they do run all night and the tracks are less than a 10th of a mile from the hotel.

The next morning the weather was a little humid but was suppose to be cloudy and not too hot; should be great for a half marathon.  We arrive just over an hour before the start time so we could get settled, use the facilities and walk a little to prepare.  The sunrise over the farms was a great start to the day.

Sunrise over Miller's farm

All three events start at the same time (5k, half marathon and full marathon) and we all started right on time.  The event is chip timed and was extremely well organized.  There were plenty of announcement and helpful volunteers milling around prior to the start.  They also had numerous prizes as well as the medals out to see.

The race started on time at 8AM local time.  The 5k run does an out and back, while the half marathon does a lollipop like shape and the full marathon does the half marathon twice.  Of all the races I have done, this had the best race support I have ever experienced.  There were water and food stops every single mile.  Each station had water, Powerade, Honey Stinger Gu and other options like pretzels, chips, etc.  There were portable restrooms at least every other water stop.

Strava Course Map

The Strava course map show the start as you being the race on a slight downhill trajectory.  The course stays relatively flat until you make the right turn around the lollipop shape at mile 3.3.  At that point you do a few up hill climbs but overall the course is net downhill until mile 6 where you start to make your way up the steepest climb on the course (about 12%).  Right before this climb you will pass a section of trees where signs for each and every half marathon and marathon runner are posted.  This was a very unique and inspirational surprise.  While I looked for my sign, I didn't find it.  I did see one that had fallen off the tree and joked that it was probably mine; I guess it was after all.  We did manage to find my wife's sign.

Signs of inspiration for each and every runner

The photo of the steepest climb on the course does not do it justice at all.  While it was only a half mile climb it was challenging, and of course the marathon runners got to do it twice!

Half mile 12% climb

Overall the entire half marathon course had a climb of 512ft according to Strava.  It was packed full of small up and down rolling hills with some challenging downhill and uphill climbs.

Strava elevation map

The small detour out and back you can see at mile 11.4 is the same detour that the 5k runners took after starting.  Basically we all started in the same direction but they turned left here as we proceeded straight and then they went back to the starting line for their finish.

While the race support was fantastic and the overall course was very beautiful, the only complaint I would have is the traffic.  The roads are not closed during the race and while most motorists were easy going and polite there were a few vehicles that were obviously in a hurry and less concerned with our safety.  Things got particularly sketchy as the marathon runners started their second lap and there were runners on both sides of the road as well as cars trying to go in both directions.  These are small country roads and that didn't always provide a safe feeling.  However, in between all the cars were sights like this horse drawn buggy to put a smile on your face.

Horse drawn buggy traffic

After crossing the finish line there was plenty of water, Powerade, cake and pie for all the runners.  For those that managed to win the race or place in their age group there were a variety of hand made items given out including picnic baskets, bird houses, lanterns and baskets.  Incredibly even the finisher medals were hand made little 2D baskets.  The name of the person that made the medal and their address were written on the back.

Certainly one of the more unique finishers medals I have even received.  The other unique one was for the Biltmore Half Marathon and Marathon as those are made out of wood from the estate.

So, a 13 hour round trip car ride.  A hotel that sat on train tracks.  A restaurant on a drained lake with salty food.  Would I do this again?  Yes, I think I would, and I suggest that you check it out as well.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

2016 Via Marathon

On September 11, 2016 I participated in my first Via Marathon.  The goal of this race when I had signed up many months prior, was to establish a baseline Marathon time so that I could work towards and Boston Qualifying time.  I had read that this was the 2nd or 3rd fastest race in the country, was net downhill, and was designed by a fellow runner, so I figured, this is the the one!  Alas, this was my worst marathon time to date, but those things happen and I shall be working towards the next event.

A lot got in the way even before the race happened.  As you can see from previous blog posts, I had already done two full marathons and several other races in 2016.  I spent most of 2015 preparing for those races and focusing on distances and back to back races instead of speed.  In early Summer I started a new Marathon training program from Runner's World to work on my time.  In July the company I worked for bought another software company in Nottingham, UK and I travelled back and forth three times in the following ten weeks.  This put a crimp in my ability to stay on top of my training plan and really do the speed workout and the long distances runs that I needed to get done.

Race bib and supplies for the run

The race is located North/West of Philly in PA which was about a 3 hour drive from my house.  I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn off Airport Road which was really nice.  It was close to several different locations for food options, and they provided both late checkout for runners (2pm) as well as a shuttle server to/from the starting line.  The weather was warmer than I would have expected for Allentown, PA in September, but it wasn't horrible.  The temperature was about 72F at 6:15am when I caught the shuttle from the hotel to the starting line with some humidity in the air.  There was a nice breeze and it was cloudy as the race start approached.

My TomTom Spark watch didn't cooperate at all and after the first 1.6 miles, I lost my GPS signal and ended up just turning off the watch all together (it did manage to calculate over 44,000 steps).  So unfortunately I don't have a map or elevation information to share.  The course is advertised as a point to point net descent course with a drop of 240 feet, but I tell you, with the trails and the steady inclines in some areas, it was a lot more challenging than I had imagined.  You can see an overview of the Map on Page 6 of the Athlete Guide.  Clearly part of this was due to my lack of training, but the Biltmore runs I had done in March were fair more challenging, and my overall time was significantly better.

As the day progressed, the weather didn't really seem to be a factor. It was warm, but was cooler than my training had been all Summer.  The majority of the course is actually shaded so even thought the sun came out after the first hour or so, the sun never really became and an issue.  I think what took the toll on me personally was a combination of not having my watch, so I couldn't race against my own goals, and the trails.  As bad as my times where, some of my splits according to the results page were actually faster in later sections of the course that weren't trail.

I don't run a lot of trails and I am not used to the extra punishment that can cause on your muscles and joints as well as the amount of mental fatigue paying that much attention to your footing.  While I hope no one was injured on the trail sections, I did have a runner in front of me tumble over a tree root.  He managed to get back up quickly and was on his way.  While the event staff actually did try to mark larger roots and rocks with blue spray paint, some of those marks were faded and of course some were missed.

The trail quality varied a lot throughout the course.  In some sections it was a combination of small gravel/dirt with medium sized rocks and roots in areas occasionally.  In some cases it was a really fine bluish colored powder, and in other sections it was as narrow as a car tire track.  As I indicated earlier, you really had to pay attention to your foot falls to ensure good footing and to prevent injury.

Powdered trail surface

The overall course was very scenic as it followed the river and canal mostly between Allentown and Bethlehem and then again between Bethlehem and Easton (where the race finished).  There is a slight out and back in Bethlehem across some train tracks and around a few historic buildings which actually provided a nice backdrop for race photographers.

Out and back in Bethlehem, PA

Race support throughout the marathon course was very nice.  Great volunteers were directing runners on which way to go, police officers and other folks were watching over traffic, and there were water stations about every 2 miles or so. There were two or three sections of course where it was over 3 miles between water stops.  I actually did feel myself slowing down here and I think that was really the only time I noticed the heat.  These sections were primarily on trail parts where getting volunteers into those areas with an ability to hand out water in the available space as well as deal with cups could have been a challenge.  So for future reference, it may be a good idea for some runners to have some fluids with them on the course.

The final mile of the course was really nice along the river into Easton with a slight hill near the end as you run a "fish hook" off the water and up into the town streets, back over the water via a bridge and into the finish chute.  Since I came in so late in the day, the party at the finish line was well underway with live music, runners relaxing in the park, and a half mile long "free beer" line.

Finish line

There was plenty of medical help at the finish for those that may have needed anything, lots to drink and a fast line to grab a pack of food before you headed into the beer line, if that is your thing, or just wanted to walk around and relax.

Since this is a point to point race, there were buses standing by to take the Marathons back to Allentown or the Half Marathons back to their starting line.  It did take a while for my bus to fill up and get underway for the 20 minute ride back to the starting line, but having someone pick me up at the finish line would have been challenging given the number of runners, spectators, volunteers and road closures.

Panoramic of the Steel Stacks

The race was very well run, from packet pick-up at the Steel Stacks in Bethlehem, PA to the actual event.  The Marathon and Half Marathon both start at the same time which is great since it allows first time half marathoners some extra time to finish.  The course was very scenic even though it ended up being more challenging than I had imagined.  Knowing what I know now about the course, I would certainly train a little differently in terms of the kinds of surfaces I use for training.