Friday, November 5, 2010

Mile 9 - The ART of Coming Back

So I've made the phone calls. No New York Marathon. I've also recieved a few calls.
My high school coach and long-time running consultant Dave Foley asked, "How are your logs looking? NY marathon is nigh. Hope you have several 20-milers in the log."
Photo Courtesy of Dave Foley's fishing obsession

I know I had come to grips with it weeks ago, that I probably was not going to run. This sealed it.

Mon - A.M. ART Treatment at Duke Chiropractic with Doc Duggan (

P.M. 4 miles on the Hudson River Pedestrian Path at who cares how fast with almost no

Tues - Strengthening exercises - toe raisers and hamstring curls - no running

Wed - 4 1/2 miles in Central Park (Briddle Path)

Thurs - ART Treatment at Duke Chiropractic with Doc Duggan

Fri - 5 miles easy over Brooklyn Bridge through Dumbo and back. Hit two tourists but otherwise no pain

Sat - Strengthening exercises - no running

Sun - 5 miles in Brooklyn

Looking at this, the math here is 18 miles of running. Dave was the one who taught me way back at Cadillac Sr. High School that good running demands absolute honesty.

And if you thought things looked lean back then in 10th grade, my running log from last week is anemic. So it's time to adapt and keep Marathon Derby going until next year . . . the next attempt. In the meantime I'll be writing about recovery, and building back up / the ART of coming back. The NYC marathon is nigh, and I've got a few friends running. So check in again soon.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mile 8 - A different kind of advice

Now, being injured brings all kinds of different problems. It's not only the physical and the mental struggle to find the right approach to getting healthy. There is advice and there is more advice. Everyone has advice, and to quote one my favorite bands, "opinions are like kittens, everyone is giving 'em away."

Most runners have been injured, at some point or another, and can sympathize. Most people want to truly help especially if your problem is, say, tied to the very mission of the place where you work. And only some people actually think about your problem outside the realm of their experience. In my case, working at Urban Athletics, I've been gifted with an entertainingly drastic range of perspectives. I love our customers in the kind of way you get to see your cousins once or twice a year and talk about the things you know you have in common, but sometimes even those conversations go horribly awry.

After telling one person about my tibialis, I was told, "Well, if you just think about getting healthy, then your body well begin to heal." Though I did not look into the efficacy of this kind of advice, I suspected that this may not be the kind of opinion, or kitten, that I would take into my own home.

And then of course, I listened to another person explain, "If you take ten or twelve aspirins there isn't really any pain to respond to. I'm not saying your liver will love you, but hey, you'll be running."

About two weeks ago, Toby Tanser, a longtime friend of Jerry's, walked into Urban Athletics off 92nd and Madison and sat down. Toby was a fast runner in his own right, did some successful coaching, wrote a few books, and works in some capacity with the New York Road Runners. Currently he describes what he does as a "Full time volunteer, CEO & staff, of Shoe4AfricaPLEASE SPONSOR ME FOR AN AMAZING RUN:
Picture from Runner's World Article about Toby Tanser (,7120,s6-238-411--12443-0,00.html)

He asked me how I was doing. I outlined the problem as stated above and he thought about it for a minute. This is what he told me.

"In the late nineties there was a phenom runner called Dominic Kirui. He had a really bad achilles injury. Most doctors said it would be career-ending; as he was an elder athlete most advised him to just give up. One doctor said complete rest would be the cure. Dominic did that--for an entire year he stayed home and did absolutely no cross training. After a year he returned and ran a PR of 27 minutes on the American roads. I think the lesson is there for us all to be learned, that sometimes plain and simple rest is the way to get injury-free. Cross training, PT and the rest of it are sometimes best left aside because the body will recover strongest if allowed to heal in its own natural way. In the same way a nutritionist could never invent a powerbar food with all the exact goodness of nature's apple."

What does that mean? There are no shoes to suggest for rest, no compression socks, no apparel or sports drinks. Sometimes all that can be done is waiting for the next fight. And maybe I'll think about getting healthy while I'm at it.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Mile 7

My family and friends have bought plane tickets and made hotel reservations for the weekend of November 7.

Every other person I see seems to ask me, "Hey, how is your leg?" or "How is the training going?"

There's been something of a gap between Mile 6 and Mile 7 precisely because I don't know how to answer these questions. I've signed up for the marathon, did the base mileage, went to see my prophet, bought all these vitamins, and took Dan's suggestion and did ART... but my training in the last four to five weeks has either taken place sitting on a stationary bike or barely jogging four miles only to find that familiar pain in my right leg whispering, "Remember me?"

So what do I do? On the one hand, you don't want to disappoint your family and friends. But there are phone calls that need to happen that make me anxious here:

"Oh, hi, Mom, yeah I was joking about coming to New York for the marathon. What's that--you didn't raise a quitter. Oh, right, and did you raise me to look like a leg-dragging zombie? Yes, I think that has something do with it, well, then don't you think we can disagree about that. No, tell Dad there are no leg operations that are cheaper than the plane fare."

My parents are actually much kinder than this anticipated conversation, but as Dan said in Mile 6, "An injured runner is a danger not only to himself but to others." I can find as many reasons to make this about something other than my personal desires as you can possibly imagine, but the leg is still there whispering. It's hard to ignore. And perhaps it's a little demented to say that my right leg is answering the question "Hey, how is your leg?" or "How is the training going?" But so far it is. So what's it saying?

It's not making the phone calls to tell my friends and parents, but it's telling me that, contrary to my packet from the New York Road Runners, I might not be in and Marathon Derby is an endangered species.
Imagined Reconstruction of my Skeletal Remains to appear as a Dodo

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mile 6 - The ART of Running

In the "warm up," I claimed I would "have regular contributions from marathon correspondents of all levels." You'll notice the writing is better and more to the point in these miles. Enjoy! 

This is Dan Seidel. He moonlights as a Russell Crowe look-a-like. 
Dan Seidel's Personal Bests Include: 15:40 5K, 33:33 10k, 1:12:48 Half Marathon

Below is Dan's Mile 6 "The ART of Running."

An injured runner is a danger not only to himself but to others. Friends, family, and lovers alike will feel his wrath. Like a bird flying into a window, he will try to escape his predicament by doing precisely what he shouldn’t do: continuing to run, against all self-interest and common sense. Eventually, once he has passed through the stages of denial, rage, and acceptance, he may turn to beer.

It is at this point, when all else has failed and much money has been wasted on doctors, masseuses, chiropractors, and other nostrums, that the hobbled runner may finally be ready to throw himself at the mercy of ART — active release technique, a specific combination of deep-tissue massage and movement.

Let me state my thesis boldly and clearly: ART is the most effective and quickest treatment for soft-tissue injuries caused by overuse. It is shocking to me that most distance runners have never heard of it, or wait so long until they try it, because most running injuries fall into this category. ART will not instantly heal a stress fracture; it cannot work miracles, and it doesn’t promise to. What it does address — by direct, painful pressure that will make you grit your teeth when done properly — are muscle strains, tendonitis, neuromas, plantar fasciitis, nerve impingement, and other degradations of soft tissue.

My conversion to ART came about six weeks ago. In May, I had been doing some strides on the track and my left knee buckled. Naturally I assumed I had tweaked my knee. It turned out, though, that my hamstring had given out. A nasty case of tendonitis ensued that I couldn’t shake for two months — not with rest, ice, massage, laser therapy, ultrasound, Advil, yoga, or positive thinking. I became a miserable son of a bitch, particularly since I’d just moved out to California and every day I was taunted by perfect running weather. When I started coaching high school cross country in July, I was whining about my injury to the head coach, who quickly cut me off and basically told me to shut the fuck up and go see a guy named Brian, a triathlete and ART specialist.

Brian’s waiting room offered about fifteen magazines, all of them related to cycling or triathlons. A bookshelf held an impressive number of sports performance books, among which were sprinkled in works of Eastern philosophy and New Agey–themed titles. I could hear Enya softly cooing from one of the back rooms. I started squirming in my seat. But then out came Brian. I had never met a more energetic human being. The energy was not constant but erupted in intermittent spasms of laughter or just excess movement, as though he were being shocked by some remote, unseen force. He had a bottle of lotion holstered to his belt like a pistol, and without looking he would periodically squirt a small dollop into his hands and start leveraging all his considerable strength — he’d been a bodybuilder at one point in his life — into different tendons and muscles of the hamstring as he moved my leg in an arc and maintained a rapid-fire monologue involving the intricacies of the leg’s anatomy, with abbreviated anatomical Latin used as casually as a native tongue.

Now let me skip ahead for a moment, although Brian deserves his own magazine profile. I got better, and I got better quickly. A handful of sessions were enough to get me back running four or five days a week, and within a couple weeks of running and building back strength I was able to do workouts again. As a bonus, during a follow-up session with Brian he took a crack at a neuroma in my foot that had been bothering me for three years, and which forced me to wear an expensive set of custom orthotics and cost me more money than I’m willing to admit. A week ago I ditched the orthotics and my foot feels fine.
Picture of Dan Feeling Fine

All the usual caveats apply here — every person is different, everybody responds differently to treatment, not every injury will respond quickly to ART, you’ve got to find the right practitioner with the right experience, etc. But frankly, after years of pussyfooting around with conservative R.I.C.E. and with what Brian dismissively calls the “allopathy” (in a word, pill-popping) espoused by most doctors, I’ve got little patience for caveats. Just get me out the door and running, and I don’t care how much the therapy hurts or how exactly it is that it breaks up the hypoxic scar tissue so effectively. I’m sure all hobbled marathon hopefuls will agree.

Mile 5

The price of getting healthy again? Not priceless. $89 at Whole Foods. Hamner's slew of vitamins and Traumeel.

So you have to rub the Truameel on your leg twice a day. Take the Vitamin C, the Simply One for Men, the chewable Vitamin D, Magnesium, and the Zinc once a day. Pheidippides didn't have to do this, but I guess he didn't have Whole Foods either. 

I'm also plunging into cross-training, but this is a discipline I've yet to excel at. I've never been good at pill-popping either. Here's a video of me going for the plunge, (featuring a very healthy right leg from a year ago) which I hope to make a routine part of my cross-training. I have yet to set up a rope swing to practice this in the Hudson River. Stay tuned. I might get a bright idea

Video courtesy of Ben Foley, co-founder of Organization for Visual Progression, (

In the meantime, I'll also be looking for other forms of treatment and Mile 6 will be all about that. Should be interesting...

Mile 4

"Failed opportunity to name something you do "Demolition Derby" - Dan Maher

I'm still wrestling with this leg. I also had a failed attempt over the weekend to actually become superhuman, which involved a nacho recipe that got out of control.

Photo courtesy of Isaac Paul

This isn't an actual rendering from this past weekend, but a photo of successful nachos from months before. What does this have to do with running? I won't get too much into the wrong sort of details but the nachos only resulted in drinking and thinking more about this leg.

Anyway, I meet Doctor Hamner.

I need a true medical opinion about what's going on so Marathon Derby avoids becoming a lot of puns on my last name and nacho nights. Hamner is my kind of doctor. You can see it. He looks like he's been struck by lightning, traveled through time, and is kind of amazed we exist at all. He's just running with it.

(He advocates the Caveman workout, which is an easy way to see how training is done where he came from. The video link for this on his website under "Media," which is really worth it if you have some time and goes a long way to explaining a few things.)

Anyway, Hamner is the chosen prophet of a true medical opinion. I need him to tell me why my leg feels like it got hit with more than a few practice swings of a baseball bat. I tell Hamner about the race and the pain. He's looking at my leg and twisting and turning as we're talking about Tucson, AZ. I went to grad school there and found some great friends, running, and then left to come to New York, and I miss Tucson.

"Ummhhh, yeah we need to do that again," he says, "you got me daydreaming about the '70s."

He takes a foot and turns it to the right and left to test my range of motion. He pushes my leg back and over to the side. Yes, both legs flex. No sacrifice of limbs to the Marathon yet. Then it starts to occur to me that wherever Dr. Hamner may have learned about medicine, this table could have been a sacrificial altar. I feel like I'm being prepared. That and the contributing feeling of anyone touching the sensitive spot on my right leg makes me want to bolt out of the room. But bolting is not really in the cards right now. Hamner has begun "Mmmhhhing" and "uhhuhhing" in a very professional tone, which settles me down and impresses me. Do they teach that to doctors?

"Got something there. Don't I? And how many miles a week were you doing, buddy?"

"I was in the middle of an 80-mile week."

"Mmmhhh," he says.

Now, Hamner is the kind of guy who is just that interesting. I remember, suddenly, a story Jerry Macari, the owner of Urban Athletics, told me about Hamner from when he had a heart operation done. One morning, Hamner was sitting outside the story when Jerry arrived for work. Hamner stood up, pulled up his shirt displaying massive scars around his heart, turned around, and walked away playing the harmonica. Hamner snaps me out of this thought process.

"Yeah, Jerry, your boss and I go way back. He's a good friend."

To make this quick Hamner puts me through a battery of tests and treatments. I walk, only to discover my left leg is compensating for my right leg. I can barely jump on my right leg without falling over. I hear another "MMHHH" after this test. Then I'm back on the sacrificial altar getting painful deep-tissue massage, an ultrasound (I'm not pregnant), some laser treatment (not as painful as it sounds), a stim or electrical stimulation (a massive pulsing vibration which feels almost like someone putting a quarter in a vibrating bed), and then he puts me in the hyperbaric chamber.
Hyperbaric Chamber

We don't sell these at Urban Athletics . . . yet. Maybe it will come in our Winter line. I've included a description by the American Cancer Society of what a hyberbaric chamber does.  (You can skip that, though, because it just makes you feel high and removes the social filter which stops you from saying whatever comes to mind.)

The patient lies on a padded table that slides into the tube. The chamber is gradually pressurized with pure oxygen. Patients are asked to relax and breathe normally during treatment. Chamber pressures typically rise to 2.5 times the normal atmospheric pressure. Patients may experience ear popping or mild discomfort, which usually disappears if the pressure is lowered a bit. At the end of the session, which can last from thirty minutes to two hours, technicians slowly depressurize the chamber.
"MMHHH," and after I get out of this the hyperbaric chamber I'm Buddha. Right with the world and completely at peach, I mean peace. Before I leave, Hamner gives me the medical oppinion I've been seeking.
"You're not totally screwed here, buddy."
He tells me that I need to reduce my mileage by at least half and begin cross-training. This is the last known picure of me cross-training. That's me in front.
Sean and Peter Derby cross-training circa 1985

Hamner suggests a slew of vitamins and an analgesic cream, Traumeel, to mask the pain, because as it turns out my muscolskeletal system has endured quite a bit of stress. (

"I'm pretty sure your tibialis tearing away from your bone . . . uhuhh . . but since I can’t get an MRI there’s no way of telling for sure. You may also have a stress fracture."

I’m not going to get into the reasons why I can’t get an MRI except to say that after the hyperbaric chamber, I crave those nachos pictured above and remember what I said about the social filter? Well, after Hamner told me to slid down in that enormous plastic tube and the wooshing sound, the sound of oxygen filling the chamber, filled your ears and your lungs, you accept whatever it is that’s happened. Mostly because you have to. I mean, you’re zipped into an enclosed chamber. So as Hamner is telling me all this I say, “My mom’s prayers are my health insurance.”

Hamner gives me this look, and yeah you've seen it before, so imagine this but he's inspecting me through a pair of square framed hot-green eyeglasses that match his hot-green pants.

"You’re interesting, buddy," he says. "See me next week. And stick to the cross-training. Also only run on the bridle path in Central Park and cross-train. Oh yeah, and run in a soft training shoe like the Nike Vomero. You can probably pick those up at the store you work at, buddy."

Nike Zoom Vomero. Retail $130

In Mile 5, I will be cross-training and looking for new forms of tending to my injury. You may even see me towing my brother Sean through Central Park in a Red Radio Flyer Wagon in my Nike Zoom Vomero, which I purchased at Urban Athletics.

Any ideas on how to recreate these training outfits from 1985?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mile 3

I have two friends, Laura and Austin, also training for the marathon, who wear Icy Hot to work to ease their daily leg pains. Stepping into the elevator at the investment firm, they find coworkers' heads turned. Then comes the audible sniffing, as if someone had let loose a strange inappropriate peppermint odor. This is not good elevator etiquette, but even when a runner isn't dressed as a runner, even on the job or at home, there is still one focus. Injuries make one do very unusual things.

These people, and you know who they are if you're paying attention at all, focused on training sit in office chairs with a tennis ball under a sore hamstring, keep "the stick" on their shelf to roll out their muscles every hour or so, and then there is wearing compression tights, or my beloved compression socks, underneath one's pants. 

Yeah, all this gets a little weird after a while, and so generally I just don't say anything. If the people back in that elevator had any idea that Icy Hot was just the tip of the iceberg, well.

I had been thinking about all this as I waited to see if I could get in to see a sports doctor, a specialist in the field of running and elite marathon training, Dr. Dan Hamner. It's strange but a lot of runners have alter egos. I'm not saying we're superheros. There are a few similiarities. For example, I want to run "faster than a speeding bullet, more powerfull(y) than a locomotive, and (be) able to leap tall buildings in a single bound," but I'll settle for faster than I did last time.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Macari

In this process marathon runners do have to save their own bodies and sometimes this requires special hydration mixes for hydration, extra sleep, extraordinary discipline, and risk. And it's true I wish I were superhuman.

Even those guys had their problems. Achilles had his heel. Superman had his Kryptonite, David had his Goliath. David Beckham had his achilles.

 Brad Pitt was Achilles. 

Photo of Carl Dambkowski as Brad Pitt's stunt double. 

Joan had her Arc.

(French marathoner not to be confused with Joan Benoit Samuelson)

And Pheidippides, the Greek messenger who first made up this whole business back in 490 B.C., dropped dead.


(O.K. so the historical, classical, comic book, and religious figures are a little mixed up). Also it looks like, the Greeks pre-dated the whole barefoot running movement.

What do I have? I have the ING Philadelphia Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon coming up and unknown injury. Mile 4 I will be seeing Dr. Hamner.

So if you're smelling Icy Hot in the elevator, be very careful. You're probably around someone who is trying to defy pain and weakness. Someone you might have worked with and known for sometime, but underneath they have a marathon to run.