Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Improving Week by Week

OK, first the obligatory whining.  It's always something.  I have noticed in my workouts the past couple weeks that running is somewhat painful.  It seems to be in the area where my psoas muscle was removed.  Wearing high quality compression gear doesn't seem to help like it did before my latest surgery.

Monday night's workout had 3 x 400m runs as part of the workout, and by the third 400, I was reduced to walking part of it due to pain.  I told my wife that I'm really glad right now that I don't consider myself to be an ultrarunner any more.  If so, this pain would be a lot more worrisome.

Also, I'm still less than 10 weeks removed from major abdominal surgery.  I'm still healing.

And, my favorite physical therapist is on the DL, after two knee surgeries.  She helped me with rehab after the first surgery that removed some of the psoas.  I'm sure she could help me this time, but she's not working right now.  Hopefully, she will be back at work fairly soon.

But, other than that issue, things are going well.

My first week at CrossFit, I accidentally trashed my legs so badly that I could barely walk for a week.  The next week, I had to change the workout on Monday to avoid squats, but I made it to the gym 4 times that week.  My plan was no more than 3x per week until at least September.

Last week, I made it 4 times again.  I've been doing Olympic lifting twice per week, which is huge for me.  For a while, I'd sort of backed off on Oly lifting.  Mobility issues were limiting my progress, and I injured my shoulder doing snatches a few years ago.  Fear of re-injuring the shoulder led to me limiting what I did, rather than adapting by changing the amount of weight on the bar.

This time, I'm keeping the weights light, and treating it as a cross between mobility work and strength work.  I'm doing the Oly lifts fairly lightly, but it's heavy enough to create some stimulus.  And, when it comes time to do full depth snatches, overhead squats, or split jerks, I'm not backing down.  I'm doing the movements as written by the coach.

Currently, I've done 11 CrossFit workouts in the past 23 days, which is about average for me when I'm healthy.  I try to average 3-4 days per week.  I usually end up averaging 3 days per week for the entire year, but I have plenty of weeks where I'm there 4 times.

I am going to miss 2 days this week due to a day off work tomorrow and a trip out of town.  But, everything is moving in the right direction.  I'm sore and I'm tired, and I have some pain, but I'm not hurt.

Each week seems better than the last.

It is a bit frustrating to finish last in every single workout.  That's just where I am right now.  I'm older than most people in the gym.  I missed almost two entire months after surgery.  I had cut back on workout intensity for a few months before surgery due to side effects from chemo.  So, I'm older than most, I'm a cancer patient, my workouts have been limited, and I'm finishing last in the workouts.

People in the gym aren't having any of my whining.  They think I'm a hero just for being there after all I've been through.  They see me working hard, and that's good enough for them.  I have to let it be good enough for me as well.

The same attitude that carried me through so many marathons and ultras is now carrying me through this.  I'm just not ready to quit yet.  I still have so many things I'd like to accomplish, and my training in the gym is essential to most everything else I want to do with my life.

Monday, August 7, 2017

How did that happen?

Last week was week #2 in my return to CrossFit.  My plan was to go on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and to go at about 60% effort.

On Monday, because of a squat workout the previous Monday, my hamstrings were very tender.  I thought I was at risk of pulling a hamstring if I squatted, so I did bench presses instead.  Then, there were burpees in the main workout, and I'm not quite ready for them either.  So, I improvised and did 3 rounds of run 400 meters followed by 10 push-ups.  I have run very little since my surgery and it's still uncomfortable, but I need to just do it.  I bought some new compression shirts last week, and I'm hoping they will help with running, and make box jumps and burpees possible again.

I was going to skip Tuesday, but somehow, I ended up at the gym and decided to do the workout.  We started out with a 21 minute "every minute on the minute" snatch and overhead squat work.  We did three different complexes, each one 7 times.  I kept the weight light and got through it OK.  Then we did 10 minutes of air squats, knee-ups, and dumbells from the shoulder to overhead.

Wednesday, I was back again.  It was our wedding anniversary and we had a dinner reservation, so we went to the earlier class than normal, and it was hot.  We were working out in some of the worst heat of the day.

This workout, despite the fact that I scaled it quite a bit, was simply one of the toughest workouts I've ever done at CrossFit.  Every five minutes, I ran 200 meters, did 3 pull-ups, 6 push-ups, 9 air squats and 5 barbell push presses.  I then got to rest for the remainder of the 5 minutes.  In the first round, the work took me 3 minutes and I rested for 2.  But, I got slower each round and it took me 4 minutes to do the work in the last round.

But, we weren't done there.  At the 30 minute mark, we started an up ladder of kettlebell swings and box jumps (I did box step-ups).  It was 3 reps of each the first round, then 6, 9, etc.  I was so exhausted from the first 30 minutes that I simply could not go straight through.  I saw some really strong athletes resting during this part of the workout, so I didn't feel too bad.  But, it took a lot out of me.

On Thursday, thankfully, we took a rest day.

On Friday, we did clean and jerk complexes, similar to Tuesday, in an EMOTM style.  Then, 8 minutes of rope jumping and wall balls.  By the time we finished, the fatigue from the week was pretty intense.

On Saturday, my wife and I got to the farmer's market early.  We shopped there, hit the supermarket, and once we got home, I spent the entire day cooking a nice meal as a belated anniversary dinner.  We had gone out for dinner on our anniversary, but the meal was disappointing.  So, I wanted to make up for that.

I had some really nice wines planned for dinner, but the entire week kind of caught up with me by the time I was done cooking.  I had been trying to stay away from pain medicine, not wanting to mix pain meds and alcohol, but eventually, the effort of the day was too much, and I needed some pain meds.  I had a little bit of wine, and my wife enjoyed some, but we never got around to opening the bottle I really wanted to drink - an Hermitage La Chapelle from 1990.  So, we saved that one for another day.

I was much happier before this cancer stuff, when I took no pain meds and I could have a drink without having to worry about the two interacting.  I simply need to be more careful these days, and I need to accept that my body can't do right now what it could do 3 years ago.  If I'm lucky with my next few scans and I keep working hard in the gym, maybe I can reverse some of this.

Monday, July 31, 2017

And now, it's been a week

It's been a week since the CrossFit workout that nearly crippled me.  Yesterday, while mowing the lawn, my left hamstring was still screaming in pain.

Later in the day, I went fishing, and I dropped an expensive box of flies in the river by accident.  I had to put down my rod and run 200 yards downstream to a slow spot to attempt to rescue the flies.  The box itself plus the flies it contained, was worth close to $400, so it had to be saved.  Amazingly, my hamstring did not complain when I was running over small rounded boulders for a minute or so.

But, today is squat day again.  And, the workout includes running.  And burpees.  I honestly don't think I can squat yet.  I might be able to jog.  Burpees are possible, but honestly, they will hurt.  My abdomen is simply not healed enough to do burpees without actual pain.  Not the normal burpee pain, but real pain.

So, I'm not sure what I can do tonight.  It's amazing to believe that a week later, a single workout still has me incapable of doing another.  And, I'm afraid that if I do try it, I may end up like last week.

We will see.  I still have five hours to decide if I want to give it a try, just do something completely different (bench presses won't hurt my hamstrings), or just go for a walk.

I'm leaning towards giving it a try, which pretty much proves that I'm an idiot.

Friday, July 28, 2017


I have done some crazy athletic events in my life.  Long triathlons, ultramarathons, long solo mountain hikes, etc.

Squatting on Monday has left me more sore and incapacitated than any of those events ever did.  I squatted 25% of my lifetime best, and four days later, I can barely walk.

I did 5x7 squats at 85# and 95# on Monday.  On Tuesday, I was a bit sore, but I walked 3 miles.  I'd been planning that instead of CrossFit.  I'm not planning to do CF on back to back days until early September or so.

Tuesday night, while sleeping, I woke up to go to the bathroom.  I couldn't believe how much more sore I was.  My upper hamstrings were on fire.  Getting in and out of the bed was very difficult.  Getting into the car to go to work was horrible.  And, while this may be TMI, most lifters can tell you that getting onto and off of a toilet seat can be excruciating after a tough squat session.  On Wednesday, my wife skipped CF, so I had an easy out to skip exercise.

And, Wednesday was the second day after the squats, the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is often worse the second day.  So, I thought I'd be fine after that day.

By Thursday morning, things were worse.  I could barely walk.  My hamstrings would seize up randomly, and despite some big doses of Tylenol, I got no relief.  I'm not allowed to take NSAIDs, so that wasn't an option.  My wife went to CF on Thursday night, so I decided to go for a walk.  Five minutes into my walk, I was really struggling.  But, it started to rain, so I used that as an excuse to bail on the walk.  Let's just pretend that there really isn't a treadmill at the gym, because that's what I did.

This morning, things are different.  The soreness has moved down to the middle of my hamstrings.  Well, the tops of the hamstrings are still sore, so we've just added a new issue.  I had to drive our car in stop and go traffic this morning, and it's a standard transmission.  My left hamstring kept seizing up on me every time I used the clutch.  It's continued to seize up all morning at work - left and right.

So, it's now been almost 96 hours since I squatted, and I'm still incapacitated.  There is no way I can do CF tonight.

I'm guessing that by Monday, I'll be able to do CF again.  It will be squat day.  I wonder how many days of rest it will take to recover from that day.

It's kind of funny, actually.  I expected this to some level after not squatting for two months.  But, I went ridiculously easy for me, and it still crippled me.  It could easily take a month before squat night doesn't inflame my hamstrings.

I said I wanted to ease back into CF, but I didn't expect it would be just one workout this week.

Hopefully, I'll get some good hiking or biking in this weekend.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


The things I complain about week after week continue to improve.  I'm getting by on less and less sleep, although I feel like I could always use more.  I am still taking naps at times.  My appetite continues to improve and is pretty close to normal.  I still have some night sweats, but they seem to be getting better as well.

But, the thing I'm most excited about is going to CrossFit yesterday.  Ideally, I should have waited until 2 full months after my surgery, so I'm technically about 2 weeks early.  There are clearly some things I still am not ready to do (box jumps, burpees, etc.), but I feel I can do most of the movements, with light weight.

I also do the workouts in compression shirts at times.  After losing some of my psoas major muscle in my previous surgery, the shirts seem to help with overall core stability.  After losing more of that muscle in the latest surgery, I ordered two more compression shirts yesterday.  I think I'm simply going to need them all the time for CrossFit, moving forward.

Last night we started with 5x7 back squats.  I knew that after not squatting for 8 weeks, I was going to end up being sore today no matter what weight I chose.  I chose very light weights (85 and 95 - about 25% of my lifetime best), and I'm still sore today.  Oh well.

Next, we had reverse lunges with 2 barbells in the rack position.  I completely skipped this segment of the workout.  If I hadn't, I probably wouldn't be able to walk today.

Then, a 10 minute up ladder of 3 med balls over the shoulder (50# ball) and 20 rope jumping reps.  The second round is 6 and 40, then 9 and 60, etc.  I completed four rounds, 15 more balls over the shoulder, and 33 rope jumps.  I have no idea how that compares to anyone else.  I was just glad to be there.

My basic goal is to only do CF on MWF for a few weeks.  I don't want to do 2 days in a row for a while.  I'm also roughly targeting to do a 50% effort this week, (hence the skipped lunges and the slow, steady pace for the second half of the workout), 60% next week, then increasing by about 10% per week until I'm back to going hard.  That should take me until the first week of September or so.

Today is a rainy day, so while my wife does CF tonight, I'll walk on the treadmill.  I haven't even looked at the workout for today, but I know I don't want to do it.

Monday, July 17, 2017


I listed four key problems in my last post.  Four things where I really wanted to see some improvement.

First was my appetite.  In the past week, I have been eating more real food and relying less on shakes made with ice cream and Ensure.  I will admit that certain foods, especially cooked veggies, still aren't very appetizing.  But, proteins, some carbs, and salads all seem to be going down better.  On Saturday, we went to a concert in Boston and visited a fantastic restaurant called Row 34 for a late lunch.

My wife and I shared 18 oysters, I ate a very rich lobster roll, and I even helped my son finish his fish and chips.  Plus, I had a glass of wine - my first adult beverage since surgery.  While the food did seem very rich, it went down just fine and it was nice to eat such a high quality meal.  Of course, if you pay close attention, I had no cooked veggies.

Sunday for lunch, I went to Shake Shack beside our hotel and had a shake and a burger.  I wasn't surprised at all that this went down just fine.

Secondly, I was complaining about how much I was sleeping, with some nights being 14-16 hours of sleep.  I did sleep 10.5 hours on Saturday night, and would have slept later but the hotel had a checkout time.  And, I did take a 3+ hour nap that afternoon.  But, I am not sleeping as much during our commute.  I stayed awake the entire drive this morning.  Getting out of bed for work is getting easier.   And, my total sleep time is decreasing, although I was over 8 hours every night for the past 10.

Thirdly, I complained about lack of desire to exercise.  Last week, I just started forcing myself to get out and at least go for a walk.  I walked 5 of 7 days leading into this weekend, and then walked quite a bit in Boston on Saturday.  I have to admit that my back is a bit sore when walking and I'm hoping that will improve as soon as I start lifting.  It is still my goal to resume CrossFit a week from today on 7/24.

Lastly, I had complained about night sweats.  They are markedly better.  I think I've gone four nights in a row right now without changing my pajamas.  I was sweating a bit last night, but it honestly wasn't too bad.  Hopefully, this trend will continue.

So, I'm making progress in all four areas where I said I needed to do so a week ago.  That's good news.

On the other hand, I got my post-op pathology report on Friday and that wasn't such good news.  The chemos I've done have had two primary goals.  The first has been to shrink tumors to make it easier to remove them.  My first chemo did this very well, and the second showed only moderate success.  The second goal was for the chemo to kill the more aggressive and dangerous cells in my tumors, hopefully reverting the disease to a less dangerous form.  The report I got on Friday showed that this simply isn't the case, and this report showed more aggressive cell types than after my surgery in March of 2016.  This is very disheartening, to be honest.  I've sent an email to my surgeon's office, trying to get more information from him on what this really means for my prognosis and treatment going forward.  I haven't heard anything back yet.

Hopefully, this morning's thunderstorms are over and I'll get to walk while my wife does CrossFit tonight.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Slow and Steady Progress

First, the bad things, some of which are repeats from my last post:

  • I still have no appetite
  • I have no energy and I'm sleeping 14-16 hours per night on the weekends
  • I have very little desire to even go walking, much less any other exercise
  • Night sweats are still an issue

And, while it's not quite the same, I still haven't gotten out fishing.  But, that's a combo of fatigue and weather, not just the fatigue.  I would have fished this past Sunday if the weather had been better.  Part of the fishing is that I either need to fish in very low water flows if I am using any pain medicine at all, or I have to have the strength and ability to fish without pain meds if the water is higher.  We just haven't hit the ideal point yet.  I'm not willing to risk becoming a drowning statistic because I insisted on wading under the influence of pain meds or in current that was too much for my current strength.

On the other hand, my hair is growing back at a fairly rapid clip.  The hair on my head is still pretty thin but growing rapidly.  I may need to get my hair trimmed soon.  My beard is patchy, but is mostly back.  Even those annoying nose hairs are back.  I didn't miss them during chemo.  Below the neck, body hair is returning, but at a very slow pace.  This isn't really an issue or a complaint.   I think it tells me that I'm still dealing with some after-effects of the chemo, but those are fading over time.

I am gradually decreasing my pain medicine, which has been a goal.  I must admit that where the surgeon removed another good chunk of my right side psoas major muscle, I am having issues.  Just a 3 mile walk is simply painful due to this.  I am guessing that my baseline after this surgery will be a higher level of pain than before.  I'm also afraid that having lost a lot of such a key stabilizer muscle is going to have a profound long term impact on both running and lifting.  I can't imagine being able to get my full strength back for hip extension, which is needed for running, the deadlift and the squat.  And, I'm guessing that each workout will have me in worse pain now than I was before this latest surgery.  But, until I actually pick up a barbell, I can't know for sure.

I hope to get back to CrossFit at a very easy level, in 2 weeks or so.  I am already anticipating that the first month or two will be very trying.  I'm simply going to be a lot weaker than I was, and this will be frustrating.  And, it may be painful.  it will certainly be difficult.

As for the bullet points, above, I'm doing my best.  I weighed 225 or just a bit higher when I started chemo in February.  I got to 215 before surgery.  I got home from surgery at about 205 (I still haven't seen the pathology report to know how much the tumors weighed, and that's likely part of the weight loss).  But, I've dropped to 195 since getting home.  Literally no foods taste good.  My oncologists both locally and at Sloan Kettering have given me some tricks to arrest the weight loss.  I'm having shakes almost every day made with ice cream and Ensure.  That's a fast way to get in 1000 calories.  Salads taste OK, so I'm having them and putting a lot of dressing on them.  Fruits taste OK, so I'm eating them.  But, the everyday meals that I'm cooking (or that my wife is cooking) aren't very appealing.  Sometimes, I manage to eat the meal, but sometimes not.

A few people have asked me about medical marijuana and if it's helping me with my appetite.  It does help, but to be honest, I'm not using it as much.  The extra pain medicine plus the medical MJ are just too much for my brain.  I don't want to be that "altered" and when I mix the two, I do end up eating, but I also end up just lying on the couch for hours, which I'd rather not do.  I'm hoping that as I continue to decrease the pain meds, I'll take more medical MJ, and that will help with appetite.

I don't know what to do about the sleeping and energy levels.  In the past, after surgery or chemo, I was always ready to go for a walk as soon as possible.  I needed to do something every day.  I just don't feel like that right now.  According to my FitBit, I've slept 15 hours or more 4 days in the last 10.  I think the smart thing is simply to sleep when my body wants to sleep.  I came back to work a lot sooner than most people would have from this surgery, and by the time the work week is over, I think I simply need the rest.  So, I'm going with it and hoping it gets better.  I'm also sleeping on the way to and from work.  That's two hours per day (my wife drives) when I normally work or just surf the web.  But now, I'm sleeping.  I'm hopeful that as my nutrition improves, my energy levels will improve as well.

As for the walking and other movement, I'm simply forcing myself to do it.  I've walked the past 3 days right now.  I'm actually a bit sore from it, but I'll probably walk again tonight.  I don't see any reason that an easy walk for an hour is going to hurt me.  At least, I hope not.

Night sweats really suck.  I've tried sleeping with and without the air conditioner and that's made no difference.  Twice last night, I woke up and changed my pajamas.  When I go to bed each night, I am sure I have 2 spare pairs of pajamas nearby, so I can switch if needed.  I'm sure this will pass with time.  I think my wife may have joked that it's menopause, which she is regretfully dealing with full on right now.  Maybe so...

Lastly, I'm trying to be myself again.  I'm a person who prides himself on making his wife laugh.  I don't seem to make that happen very often these days.  I'm someone who finds pleasure in mundane activities, like shopping for groceries, cooking dinner, or just going out for breakfast with my wife and daughter on the weekends.  I'm trying.  I really am.  I feel like I'm doing better at work, because I feel I need to keep the bosses convinced that I'm OK.  Our company is in a funding crunch right now, and I simply cannot appear to be a weak link.

I need to harness some of the energy that my company is getting and give it to my family.  My family is more important by far, although I have my reasons for working very hard right now.  Finding a new job right now would be very challenging, and I like my current job.  So, I don't want there to be any doubt at work that I'm fit and ready to go.  As my energy levels return, hopefully, I'll divert more and more of that to my family.