Double Bridge Run

Grateful

Before I talk about the race, I want to give testament to the power of friendship. Friends I don’t know well yet– people who literally flagged me down one weekend as I ran past their group– have added a tremendous, caring new dimension to my life. If not for those friends, I never would have signed up for the Double Bridge Run. More than that, my life was missing something that I didn’t even know was missing until they filled the void. I hope I can be a part of that magic for someone some day.

double bridge run shirt
My Double Bridge Run shirt and race bib. The shirt is a horrible fit, but the art is fun.

Double Bridge Run Recap

I signed up for the Double Bridge Run only a week and a half before the race. I hadn’t run a race in years, mostly because of my chronic back and neck pain. The last 5k I did was almost five years ago led to living a nightmare of back pain and insomnia. It’s hard to have an experience like that and get excited about trying again. The Double Bridge is a 15k— almost 10 miles— and as far as I know, it’s the only race of that distance in Pensacola

The Double Bridge Run is exactly what it sounds like— a run over two bridges. I’ve drive those bridges (the 3-mile and the Bob Sikes) countless times over the years, but since they’re both unsafe for pedestrians, I’d never been on them except in a vehicle. I’ve always been curious what it would be like to run the bridges. Mostly I just wished the city would’ve planned protected pedestrian lanes. I never considered signing up for the race, largely because of chronic pain but partly because I don’t like crowds or early mornings. The Double Bridge definitely draws a large crowd, although its start time of 7 a.m. isn’t the worst. A few of my friends convinced me to sign up since it’s the last year this version of the 3-mile bridge will exist. Construction is well underway for a replacement bridge. Between friends’ encouragement and the ending of an era for the bridge, I signed up for the race and tried to get excited rather than fearful.

Running has been a wonderful gift in my life, but the past decade has been very, very challenging. Chronic pain— especially in my back and neck— have kept me from doing the things that make me feel alive, and running is definitely one of those things. After getting a fresh round of help in Atlanta last spring, I finally got some insight that was life-changing. I’ve not only been able to run again, but in the past several months, I’ve quickened my pace and lengthened my distance. The longest I’ve done lately is a half marathon, although it wasn’t an official race— just a circular route around the bayou done for no other reason than I wanted to celebrate my ability to run.

I knew the 15k distance wouldn’t be a problem, but I was still very nervous leading up to race day. I had no idea what to expect, and since a big part of my ability to live with relatlively low pain levels is routine, it’s hard to convince myself that it’s a good idea to break routine. Mornings usually look like this for me: sit up slowly, get out of bed carefully, drink 20 ounces of water, then make my way to the coffee pot and fill my cup. While the coffee cools a little, I gently move my back and hips around to get them ready for function. My SI joints are usually off after lying down all night, so I often use my foam roller before I finish my first cup of coffee. If my back and neck are agreeable, I eat a protein bar, then head out for a solo run. If my back and neck aren’t right, I keep foam rolling, dynamic stretching, and doing mobility work until I’m able to run. Extensive routines like that aren’t easy to fit in before a race that starts at 7 a.m.

I set my alarm for 4:45 a.m. to give myself the best shot at getting through my routine before the start of the Double Bridge Run. For the most part, it worked, and after picking up two of my friends, I found myself in pre-dawn traffic on the way to the starting line. It was surreal, and not just because there’s usually no traffic at all at that hour. I couldn’t believe I was on the way to a race after all those years of chronic pain and corresponding disappointments. Pain can be very isolating, so to be not only returning to racing but to do so with friends was a little overwhelming. Even good things can take a minute to process.

We had a few hangups with post-race bag-check, and there were woefully few portapotties at the park where the race started. Once those minor issues were handled, I found myself surrounded by friends and strangers waiting for the cannon to fire and signal our start. As our corral slowly made our way toward the line, I still wasn’t sure what to expect. I almost always run alone, and the crowd was a bit intimidating. My friends were awesome, though, and I smiled at their caring energy and positive vibes. Within a few seconds, the cannon blasted and we were off.

I didn’t have a pace goal or really any concrete idea of pace since so many variables were in play. A couple of friends and I decided to loosely stay together, which was easier said than done as the race wound through downtown Pensacola on the way to the 3-mile bridge. The police blocked traffic, but our running lane was still sometimes tight for as many people as were racing. We passed people, got passed by others, and mostly just moved like a giant unit along Bayfront Parkway. My friends talked about sticking to a 9:30-9:45 per mile pace, which was good with me, but even without looking at my watch, I could tell we were going faster than planned. 

The 3-mile bridge section wasn’t as wonderful as I’d thought it would be. The bridge is concrete, and I underestimated how rough on my body it would be to run on concrete. As we pounded along the bridge, I realized I never train on concrete. Asphalt, grass, dirt, and trails. Never concrete. And yes, there’s a huge difference. Concrete is extremely unforgiving, which isn’t a good thing for someone with a bad back and neck. The sky was heavily overcast, so the view of the bay wasn’t spectacular, but that was ok. What surprised me most was the traffic. Only one lane was blocked for runners, and it was bumper-to-bumper cars right next to us for the entire three miles. I guess I’d incorrectly assumed that there wouldn’t be much traffic early on a Saturday morning. 

double bridge run photo
This photo is from the 3-mile bridge section of the Double Bridge Run. I’m in the pink shirt on the left. Thanks to Street Safari photographers for covering the Double Bridge Run!

As we neared the end of the bridge, my group of friends separated even more than we already were. I stayed with a friend and her husband, and what was an easy pace for them was quite difficult for me, but I reveled in the challenge. I can run pretty fast these days, but not for 9+ miles. As we hit the asphalt in Gulf Breeze, I noticed we passed people every few seconds and figured we must be gaining speed. My back started to hurt and a bit of radicular pain tingled in my left groin, so I concentrated on tightening my abs and shortening my stride. It worked well enough, and soon we were on the ramp to the Bob Sikes Bridge.

By then, I was in a hurt locker, although not so much from my chronic pain issues as from pushing the pace out of my comfort zone. The ramp out of Gulf Breeze is miserable. It’s steep, extremely slanted, and makes an almost hairpin turn. Luckily, it’s also short, and after only a bit of misery, we headed straight for the Bob Sikes. A cheering section gave me a little extra pep, but I was still at my max capacity. My friend asked if I wanted to catch a woman in purple who was well ahead of us. I told her to go, but that I couldn’t. She stayed with me instead, which I appreciated more than she’ll ever know.

Bob Sikes is a steep bridge both ways. The downhill, though rough on the knees, was a welcome reprieve after the uphill slog to the top. We could hear an energetic high school band near the toll booth. The yellow arch of the finish line looked deceptively close but the band gave us motivation. Nobody wants to give up in front of high school kids– especially high school kids who got up early to play their drums for a bunch of adults.

The last half mile or so was pretty brutal, despite a wonderful cheering section. As we neared the end, a group of people on spin bikes encouraged us to sprint while they did spinning sprints. I didn’t have a real sprint in me unless I wanted to puke, but I did pick up the pace just a little until we crossed the rugs that signaled our chips had registered their last time. When all was said and done, I averaged an 8:57 per mile pace. No records broken, but for the hell I’ve been through with chronic pain for so long, I was very happy. I got a great finisher’s medal and celebrated with friends at the race’s after-party.

I don’t know if I’ll ever sign up for a road race again, but I’m glad I did the Double Bridge Run. The day after the race was brutal. My left knee, which is arthritic from an old surgery, was very inflamed. My back was so badly beaten that I had trouble walking. But, as the day wore on, I used my foam roller, Sacro Wedgy, Denner Roll, and every other tool in my arsenal, and I started to feel better. The next day, I did an upper body and core workout and walked 3 miles. Today— two days after the race— I was able to run 5 miles on trails without much issue. 

When I look at where I’ve been and where I am now, things still don’t feel entirely real. To go from not running at all because of my back and neck to running a relatively fast 15k in a few months— I don’t even have the words. I’d love to do an ultramarathon one day, but only if it’s on trails. My days of concrete running are definitely over. But my days of running are hopefully only just beginning.

double bridge run medal
While the Double Bridge Run shirt is lacking, the medal is not. It’s huge, heavy, nicely designed, double-sided… and the 15k token spins!

Chronic Pain Book Sale

fibromyalgia bookTemporary price drop! The Kindle version of Hurting Like Hell, Living with Gusto: My Battle with Chronic Pain is down to $3.99. If you or someone you know has dealt with chronic pain and/or is an athlete, you can probably relate to my story. I was originally injured while working as an emergency medical technician and have fought for years to regain my life on my own terms. Among the series of diagnoses I received was fibromyalgia, which was the catalyst for starting this blog.

My publisher handles pricing so I’m not sure how long the sale will last, but I’d be eternally grateful if you’d spare a few dollars and check out my work. My book recently earned a gold medal in the Florida Authors and Publishers’ President’s Book Award contest. Thanks for your support through all these years of blogging and writing! Click here to find the book on Amazon.

Book Sale!

hurting like hell, living with gusto
The book is a spinoff of the Fibromyalgia Athlete blog and tells some backstory and a lot more details of my journey with chronic pain.

I got word from my publisher that the Kindle version of my book will be temporarily discounted. Now’s your chance to snag the e-book for less than the price of artisanal coffee! Click here to check it out.

My book, Hurting Like Hell, Living with Gusto: My Battle with Chronic Pain, is helping me spread the word about those of us living with less-than-ideal health. I have no idea where the journey will end, but I’m happy with all the chances I’m getting to advocate for chronic pain patients.

As for my health, I’m having ups and downs as usual, but I keep seeking new information and trying new solutions. I met two awesome chiropractors while I was in metro Atlanta for book tour events, and they gave me invaluable feedback after taking specialized x-rays to analyze my posture. Since meeting with them, I’ve been able to return to running, albeit carefully and not easily. I work hard every day to correct my excessive lumbar lordosis along with the other postural misalignments they showed me on x-ray. Good health is definitely a work in progress, but the work pays off slowly and surely.

 

Tuft & Needle Mattress Review

I bought a Tuft & Needle mattress last week and it arrived yesterday. I’d heard great things about their mattresses and ordered one to try. I hate the high pressure and high prices in mattress stores and have never felt that lying on a bed in a showroom gave me a realistic impression of how the mattress would perform at home. Tuft & Needle has a great guarantee and their mattresses are made in the US. Their prices seem fair— not dirt-cheap, but they shouldn’t be, since they’re good quality— and they use a patented type of foam that’s supposed to be awesome. The mattress arrived within a few days, as promised, and was tightly rolled in plastic for shipping. It was heavier than I expected, but two of us were able to get it into the house and out of the box.

After we cut away the plastic, the mattress expanded. It was like magic. Not only did it get much bigger than its shipping size, but it quickly took nice, firm shape. Tuft & Needle advises waiting 2-3 hours before lying on it, so I let it air out in the bedroom while I went for a long walk and played with my dogs. The mattress had a bit of an odor, but nothing like the horrific, chemically smell I’ve experienced with other new mattresses. When it was time for bed, the odor was only detectable if I put my nose against the mattress.

I stretched out on the mattress with high but cautious hope. Sleeping—especially getting comfortable at night— is still a major problem for me. I’d done a two-hour private yoga session that morning to try to work on my rigid legs, and my back was aggravated from the new movements. The Tuft & Needle mattress had to be perfect if I was going to get any sleep at all.

And it was perfect. I mean, literally perfect. I still had to stack pillows under my knees to keep my back comfortable, but that’s no fault of any mattress. Once I arranged myself into my usual sleeping position, I laid there and closed my eyes and waited for discomfort that never came. The mattress was absolutely awesome— the best surface I’ve slept on in many years.

I needed to shift to my side once during the night, and because the T&N is quite firm, I had to make sure the fatter part of my cervical pillow was stuffed under my neck just right. Twenty seconds or so of pillow placement yielded good results, and I slept for another two hours without disturbance.

When I woke up this morning, my usual aches and pains weren’t cured (and I didn’t expect them to be), but I’d slept well and actually look forward to going to bed tonight. I haven’t looked forward to going to bed in as long as I can remember, because it’s usually a disappointing battle that leaves me stiff and in pain. Assuming the T&N keeps up its quality, I can see where sleeping on it could be life-changing.

This afternoon, I contacted one of their customer service reps to ask if they make camping versions of their mattresses. They don’t (yet?!), but the rep was not only instantly available via online chat, but extremely helpful and polite. What a relief, and a departure from the norm for a lot of purchases— a good product, good customer service, and made in the United States.

I have no connection at all to Tuft & Needle. I paid full price for my mattress and only wrote this review because I hope other people will read it and potentially find something that may help them sleep comfortably. Night-night, y’all.

Sprained Ankle and Sore Achilles Tendon

ice sprained ankle
I wrapped my ankle with a soft icepack and a bandage, then elevated it while Otis watched from the couch.

I don’t often have a so-called normal injury, but when I do, it’s a tough battle to force myself to take care of it. I worked on some posts about chronic pain and insomnia this weekend (which I’ll publish soon), then ironically got a relatively great night of sleep. I woke up Sunday morning ready to run. The weather was beautiful, I’d actually gotten some rest, and my back and neck were behaving pretty well. I decided to go 9-10 miles, depending on how I felt on the road.

I took off on terrain I’ve run on for years and was quickly bored with the usual sights and sounds. On a whim, I ducked behind some fenced-off private property (no location details here, but don’t try this at home, kids) and discovered a network of hidden trails in the middle of suburbia. Birds sung loudly, the air felt fresher, and all I could see were trees—real, hardwood trees! I had no idea how long the trails would last, but I hoped for at least five minutes of traffic-free running.

As I rounded a corner under a canopy of oaks, I realized I’d been in the woods for at least a mile. I was thrilled. So thrilled that I stopped paying close attention to the leaf-covered ground ahead. I ran at a 7:30 per mile pace, fast for me on a long run, and felt carefree. My feet landed on soft ground and I couldn’t smell smog or see any cars. I looked up at a cardinal in a tree and my right foot came down on a small stump. My ankle rolled so badly that I felt my fibula slam into the ground. I heard and felt a “pop” but instinctively kept running. Continuing to move was my way of assessing damage.

A few steps later I decided, despite the pop and severity of the roll, nothing was badly damaged. Pain shot up from my ankle to my knee on initial impact, but the sharpness dulled to an ache as I kept running. “Stupid,” I said aloud. “Watch where you’re going.” I was lucky, for sure, but I also make a habit of running in grassy medians and through debris-strewn parks as much as possible to help keep my ankles strong. I’m pretty sure Sunday’s outcome would’ve been a lot worse if I hadn’t spent lots of time strengthening my ankles.

I managed another eight miles after the trail ended and returned home full of excitement, energy and nagging concern for my ankle. I drank coconut water and described the trails to my wife, who smiled but expressed her disapproval at my adventure. She was right—I should at least tell her where I’m going if I decide to cover new ground. Oh, well. Live to die another day.

I spent the rest of the day like normal, throwing toys for the dogs, reading magazines, and stretching my tired body. My Achilles tendon ached, but my ankle didn’t show any swelling. I pinched along the margins of the tendon and it was sore, but everything seemed relatively in order. Then, as is the case with many sports injuries, nightfall brought pain and stiffness.

By the next morning my ankle and Achilles throbbed. My foot, ankle, and knee were stiff, and I tried everything I could think of to remain in denial about the injury (although I ordered some K Tape, so I wasn’t in complete denial). I have chronic pain—not normal injuries! I don’t have time for normal injuries! A sprained ankle and a sore tendon seem so alien.

The ankle felt unstable, so I bought a cheap drugstore compression sleeve to add support. I was able to walk around the neighborhood, but that was probably stupid. I felt worse after the walk. I hoped to run this morning—not quite two days after the initial injury—but when I woke up (yes, I slept again!) I knew it would be a very dumb idea to run. I probably could, but what if I turned the ankle again? I’ve seen friends with horrific Achilles injuries, and I don’t ever want one of my own. I put the compression sleeve on and set out for a walk. Too much pain. Time for plan B.

I ended up riding my bike around the neighborhood, but if I put the bike into a gear that offered much resistance, my Achilles screamed at me. I managed 25 minutes and headed for home. I couldn’t believe that all of my chronic pain issues were finally, blessedly feeling under control, but I was sidelined by an avoidable, normal injury.

As soon as I finish typing I’ll wrap my ankle in ice and elevate it for 15-20 minutes. I’m trying not to jump out of my skin about being unable to run. My perspective is weird—on one hand, I’ve dealt with horrific health issues that kept me from running (or doing much of anything) for a long time, so a few days off for a sprained ankle shouldn’t be a big deal. But, because of those stolen years when pain and bad health kept me down, I don’t want to lay off another day. More down time seems unbearable.

The reality is, those of us with chronic pain still get routine injuries, too, and we have to treat them with respect. Time to ice my ankle, dammit.

Running, Progress, and a Plastic Pony

I woke up at 7:59 this morning with my back in alignment and my neck mostly mobile. My wife and dogs snored lightly in rhythm, and as I took stock of my body and nothing hurt, I knew it would be a great day.

I decided to go for eight miles instead of ten, partly because I’d recently fought a sinus infection and partly because I wanted to get back home ASAP and deal with my visions of waffles and bacon (although I eventually ate roasted chicken and mixed greens).

The air was colder and windier than I’d hoped, but the sun made my goose bumps lie flat, and by the fourth mile, I was actually sweating while wearing shorts in February.

plastic pony
My new friend.

I rounded a corner near a cemetery and the bright yellow butt of a plastic pony stuck out of the dirt like a beacon. I didn’t know how badly she was wounded, but I knew we needed each other. I tugged on her back legs and plucked her like a mushroom out of the dirt. Dirt dulled her sheen and filled the swoop between her pink hair and yellow face. The turquoise paint that colored her eyes was partly worn away and she had linear cuts through her plastic flesh. One of her ears was almost shorn off. She’d obviously been hit by a mower, but she was beautiful.

I ran with the little plastic pony in my palm, the space between her legs and belly perfectly suited for my fingers to grip her securely. I resisted the urge to talk to her as the miles ticked by. I didn’t just feel good—I felt great, like I didn’t really have chronic pain anymore. I felt like a normal, healthy runner, and I smiled with every footfall. A real, entire night of sleep is rare for me, but last night I’d scored one, and the difference in my body and mind was incredible.

I dodged potholes and broken sidewalks and thought about the last couple of years of rebuilding my writing career that I threw away for a long list of stupid reasons. I thought about how those same years haven’t been good to my body, despite my addiction to health food and exercise. I’ve busted my ass and scored new writing and editing jobs, but I still work in healthcare to pay my bills. I used to obsess over wanting to rewind my life to that moment when I walked away from a potentially awesome book contract, but recently I realized that the anxiety over what could have been was literally killing me. My body hurt anyway, but when I thought about what I’d given up, my muscles went into lockdown and I slipped into misery. My fingers curled around the plastic pony and I realized I’d buried myself headfirst in dirt and hit myself with a mower. You dumbass, I thought, not for the first time.

Of course I’d known for years (and beaten myself up for it daily) that I’d made poor choices and possibly squandered the rest of my life as a writer, but only recently did I understand that I have to move on. Not just want to move on—I have to move on. Maybe a combination of friends’ Facebook-posted internet memes—I particularly like the ones that tell you to go after what you want no matter what—and my erratic health helped me see the light. While I may never forgive myself for some of my questionable choices, the worst choice of all would be to give up again just as I start to rebuild.

8 mile run
Fun run!

I stared into the shabby eye of my new pony as I rounded out the eighth mile of the morning run. I realized I’d pulled my own head out of the sand when I decided to reclaim my health and writing career. Lots of days I feel like I’ve been hit by a mower, but so what? Life is short whether I feel well or not, so I might as well live it wide open.