Till I collapse: Getting through a major injury to get to the NYC Marathon

Till I collapse: Getting through a major injury to get to the NYC Marathon

Subway Squawkers

Till I collapse: Getting through a major injury to get to the NYC Marathon


Me after one of my many races this year. This is from Race #13 of 2017, an April Staten Island 3-Mile Fun Run.

One of the things I didn’t fully appreciate as a Yankees fan (and as a sports fan) before getting involved with athletics in my middle age is what it is like to be injured, something I have experienced several times now. Athletes can get hurt in a freak accident on the field (think Chien-Ming Wang getting hurt running on the basepaths), or off the field (think Goose Gossage busting his thumb after a shower scuffle with Cliff Johnson) and have their life turn into turmoil. Just today, I couldn’t help but feel awful for New York Giants star Odell Beckham Jr. when he  broke his ankle and seen was openly weeping as he was carted off the field.

All of this is to lead into the last part of a squawk trilogy of sorts for me. The first was me training for the New York City Triathlon, and the second was actually doing the triathlon in July. The last part was what happened two days after the tri, which could have destroyed not only my chances of doing the NYC Marathon again this year, but killed another milestone I had planned for this year.

How 50 for 50 got started

I turned 50 on February 28, and my birthday celebration was not quite what I had hoped. (I’ll save the gory details for my memoir!) Anyhow, I decided to take things into my own hands when it came to doing something fun in honor of the big 5-0. It seemed like running was the best way to it. I had scheduled and run a bunch of races by then, and it occurred to me that if I mapped out my year right, I had a chance to do 50 for 50 — 50 races in 2017 for my 50th birthday. And between volunteering at races to earn race credit, as well as some free and comped runs, in addition to the races I paid for, I would be able to do this without wearing a barrel! That’s how my 50 for 50 quest began.

I wanted to make sure I got as many races done as soon as possible so that I wouldn’t have to scramble in December if life happened (injury, getting too busy, etc.) Also, it’s much easier to find spring or summer races than late fall, early winter ones.

By mid-July 2017, I had done one marathon, two triathlons,  four half marathons, four 10Ks and a slew of 5Ks and three-mile runs — 35 in all. My goal of 50 was within striking distance. And my health was great. Thanks to the extra cycling and strength training I did for triathlon training, I was in the best shape of my life. I had even made it below 35 minutes for a 5K, which has been a huge goal for me. I was riding high.

Then just two days after the NYC Triathlon, I went for a routine bike ride on a rental bike in Central Park before work. I wanted to soak up the sun on a beautiful day, and I was planning on doing just one six-mile loop. I went exactly 4.2 miles before my trip abruptly ended, and my life turned upside down.

Me in happier times., after Race #26 this year, the Fathers Day 5K. I won third place Athena. This is the outfit I was wearing when I got injured, and that had to be cut off me.

From Central Park to the emergency room

I still don’t know what happened that morning, but around 11:20 a.m. on Tuesday, July 18, on the west side of Central Park near 102nd Street, I somehow fell off the rental bike and hit the pavement hard. Fortunately, I had a helmet on.

I had fallen on my right shoulder and I feared I had broken it, because it was where I felt the most pain. Fortunately, I never lost consciousness, but I was in a lot of pain, and was a little disoriented. I was also in complete shock that this happened to me. I was pacing around holding my arm when I wasn’t clutching my hip, worried that my marathon hopes were over. Not fun.

Thankfully, some good Samaritans came to my rescue immediately. Two young women who saw me fall called 911 and waited with me until the ambulance came. They also helped dial the bike rental place to tell them to pick up the bike (I was so glad I paid the $2 for insurance on the bike that morning!) I should have gotten the women’s names to thank them, but I was just focused on my pain and getting to the hospital. If they ever happen to see this post, I’d love for them to know how grateful I am.

As I waited for help to arrive, I called Squawker Jon first and told him what happened. He offered to come right over to help me. I was like, “No, you have to go in to work for me!” (Jon fills in for me when I take time off from work!) Sure enough, when I called my boss to let him know what happened, he asked me to tell Jon to come in right away.

In the meantime, I texted two other friends to tell them what had happened. My friend Sharon, got right back to me and checked on me throughout the day (more on her in a bit).

Finally, after what seemed like an interminable delay (it took at least 20 minutes, and by that time the adrenaline had worn off and i needed to lie down ASAP!)  the ambulance came. I hit my head going into the ambulance (as I’ve done before, due to my height!) and was strapped onto a stretcher. One of the EMTs put my right shoulder in a sling, because it seemed severely damaged.

The ride to Saint Luke’s on the Upper West Side was less than a mile,  but it seemed to take forever, and I felt every single bump on the road. And I was more than a little freaked out to be carried out of the ambulance into the hospital, and then transferred to a gurney there. At six feet tall, I’m not exactly tiny. So I was worried I would be dropped. Also, every bit of movement put my banged-up body in pain. Thankfully, everything went okay.

The EMTs dropped me off in the hospital lobby as I waited to be examined. Right after I arrived,  there was some crazy guy screaming and acting threatening. It frightened me a lot, especially since I was essentially a sitting duck on the gurney. I started screaming, “Get me away from him!” and some hospital employees moved me into a different room.

The next thing I remember was my gurney being wheeled into another room where an entire trauma team was there to work on me. They introduced themselves and said they would have to cut off my clothing to examine me, as they didn’t want to injure me further. Bye bye, striped Nike shorts and my new Under Armour sports bra and the pink Father’s Day Race t-shirt  that I loved. Fortunately, I had my work clothes with me, but I wondered what happens to people if they didn’t happen to have an extra change of clothes with them. Do they leave the hospital in one of those paper gowns?

Tests and tears

The doctors asked me what happened, and I told the story about how I had done a triathlon in the Hudson River just two days before and survived without a scratch, but got hurt doing a little bike ride! In fact, I still had my temporary NYC Triathlon tattoos on my arm and hand, something they noticed when they examined me.

The fall from the bike had banged me up pretty good. I had used my left hand to break my fall, and ended up hurting that hand, as well as my right hip, hamstring, and the aforementioned shoulder. My shoulder and hip hurt the worst, and they were the biggest concerns of the doctors.

When the trauma team was checking me out, they were about to give hook me up to morphine when I had to tell them to stop — a medication I am on has a contraindication effect with morphine. So no painkillers for me!

I forgot until I found this photo today that they had an IV in me when I was in the hospital!

After the physicians examined me, they sent me for X-rays, CAT scans, and MRIs. (All told, my ER bills were over $14,000 — fortunately, it only cost me $150 thanks to my insurance!) A nurse even gave me a tetanus shot.

Each test was in a separate room, and meant more pain, as my body was contorted and moved off the gurney, and then onto a table to be examined, and then moved back on again.

Finally, I was wheeled into a room in the ER while I waited to hear what the tests revealed. One of the doctors stopped by and said she thought I had fractured my hip. I then made the mistake of using my phone to look  up what the healing time was for that injury. Google said it was a year, and involved surgery and time in a wheelchair! Not exactly what I wanted to hear. I started weeping in my hospital bed, thinking about how my marathon chances were ruined. Lesson learned: Never research health issues on the internet until you get a definitive diagnosis!

About a half hour later, we got the test results, and the doctor and I were both thrilled to find out that nothing was broken, just strained. I asked when I would be able to start working out again, and she said about how “you athletes” always want to get back at it, but that I should take it easy for the next week or two. I was thrilled to be thought of as an athlete!

The long road home

After getting the diagnosis, I was eager to get out of the hospital and get home. And my friend Sharon really came through for me that day. She had been texting me throughout the afternoon to check on me and asked me how she could help. I said I wasn’t sure how I was going to get home. She ended up paying for a Lyft for me (not cheap to get all the way back to Staten Island!), which was one of the nicest things anybody has ever done for me!  I was so relieved to not have to get jostled on the subway, ferry, and train in order to get home. The driver even took me to CVS so I could get a few prescriptions filled.

I was so happy to be home, although I was walking with a bad limp, Squawker Jon arrived a short time later with an Eataly rotisserie chicken and a Levain chocolate chip walnut cookie — I had requested them as indulgences for being injured. Both were delicious and were a bright moment on a lousy day. For the rest of the week, Jon would fill in for me at work while I tried to get better. And I got a lot of encouragement from both real-life and Facebook friends, as well as members of my running club. I was getting frustrated not being able to work out, though.

Rest and recovery

I have learned through running that you can’t achieve things without a positive attitude, but being injured was a real downer. I was in constant pain, and the painkillers I was prescribed did less than nothing. Every morning for about a month, I woke up in pain. My ribs were bruised, and it hurt to even breathe hard or laugh. I had aggravated my right piriformis muscle and hip again (an injury I had had two years before) and I walked very slowly, with a pronounced limp, for the first few weeks. My shoulder hurt when I rolled over in bed, and my hand hurt with everything I did. I was covered in massive bruises all over my body that lingered for weeks.

I had worked so hard to get myself physically fit, and now that was being taken away from me.

I remembered what it was like to be fat, and so out of shape I couldn’t run for the bus. Now, I was very slow again, and everything took extra time — climbing stairs, walking down the street, even getting up and down the steps to my apartment. I haplessly watched nearby express buses go by, unable to sprint dor them. I remember going to pick up my salad greens from my weekly CSA, and how daunting the subway steps in Stapleton were, and how long it took me just to go down the stairs.

This was after the bruises had started to fade a little. Still pretty bad.

My friend Lynn took me to a Staten Island farmer’s market that weekend, which was great, because there was no way I could get there on my own. I was trying to be very conscious of eating healthy again, because I didn’t want to get fat again when I couldn’t exercise. (I ended up losing eight pounds so far since the accident!) 

Eleven days after the injury, I went to the gym to see if I could cycle and strength train, but it took a lot out of me, so I had to put off going to the gym for the immediate future. A few days later, I was still in pain, and still was not able to move around well. Several races I had signed up for I was unable to do, too weak to even walk. The clock was ticking, and I was worried that my marathon chances were slowly slipping away.

I had been trying to keep up a positive front, but two weeks after the accident, I was in despair over my slow recovery, and complained about how I felt on Facebook. And I’m glad I did show this moment of weakness. I got great feedback from friends, with several people, like my friend Ruth, recommending physical therapy. I had gone to a few physical therapy sessions two years before when injuring my hip and hamstring, but I didn’t feel the sessions made a difference. Plus, they cost $50 a session.

But I was willing to give physical therapy another shot. Two days later, I went to my first appointment at Orthology in Union Square. Sure enough, the physical therapy, as well as doing the exercises they gave me for “homework,” helped a lot. By the second visit, the pain in my leg was gone. And less than two weeks later, I was able to do my first race again — the NYC Runs Governor’s Island 5K.  I only ran about 20 to 30 percent of the race, and walked the rest of the way. But I was thrilled to be moving again.

An unorthodox marathon training method

In the meantime, I had started cycling at the gym a lot. Oddly, given that I had injured myself on a bike, I had no pain or mobility issues when bicycling. I also was doing the elliptical machine as well as strength training. My friend Chris, a legendary Staten Island athlete who had given me great advice on my triathlons, had recommended both cycling and the elliptical to keep me going for the marathon. He said I should do two-a-days — one workout in the morning, one in the evening — for a total of 90 minutes each day. He also recommended cycling outdoors on the weekends. And he told me about relying on muscle memory to get through the marathon.

Back on the bike at Summer Streets.

I’ve heard of people who get injured on a bike and never ride one again. Or have a car wreck and never drive again. I was determined to not be somebody like that. I don’t want to live my life in fear. So I went on a Citibike for all three weekends of Summer Streets on Park Avenue. By the third weekend, I had built up enough strength to ride the 7-mile length of the route and back.

I also did something at my gym called the Vuelta a Expresso (Expresso is a high-end bike.) This cycling challenge had 21 stages and a total of over 130 miles over 21 days. I didn’t hear about the challenge until it was over half over, but I still managed to do the entire challenge in eight days, which made me feel like I was making progress.

But I was still way behind on my running schedule, even though by mid-August, I was starting to run a little. I was being very careful so I didn’t aggravate anything, so I took things slowly. I gradually started to build up my running, doing a few more races I had previously signed up for, and starting to feel myself get my groove back.

Till I collapse

Since I run by myself 99% of the time, music is crucial in motivating me. It was at the Caesar’s Bay 5-Miler in Brooklyn in late August that I heard the song that has become my marathon training theme song: Eminem’s “Till I Collapse.” In particular, the first verse of the song struck a nerve with me that day:

Cause sometimes you just feel tired, feel weak
And when you feel weak, you feel like you wanna just give up
But you gotta search within you
And gotta find that inner strength
And just pull that shit out of you
And get that motivation to not give up
And not be a quitter, no matter how bad you wanna just fall flat on your face, and collapse….

Music is like magic, there’s a certain feeling you get
When you real and you spit, and people are feeling your shit
This is your moment, and every single minute you spend
Tryna hold on to it because you may never get it again

After the Bronx 10-Miler, in front of a familiar location. Race #45 of 2017.

I’ve listened to this song while running ever since to inspire me and take the lyrics to heart, because I have had to use my inner strength when I’ve felt tired and weak over the last 2 ½ months. I can be very hard on myself, and am frustrated with my lack of progress, especially given how much time I have spent working out. Then I have to remind myself that I missed an entire month of running, and had an additional month where I ran very little as I took running easy to not aggravate my injuries. 

It’s now October 8 that I write this. I have now completed 12 races in the last seven weeks. I am still not where I want to be physically. My stamina is not what it was just a few months ago, and I’m much slower than I was earlier this summer. Last year, when I ran the Staten Island Half when I was in peak marathon training shape, I had a PR for the distance of 2:39:02. Today, the race took me 3:03:30, nearly two minutes more per mile.

To top it off, I fell just before Mile 12 today, and reaggravated my right shoulder and cut up my knee, disorienting me for the rest of the race. No good Samaritans helped me this morning. Several runners asked if I were okay, I said, “No,” but they kept on running! Nobody even helped me stand up again. (I totally understand if people don’t want to stop — they have their own races to run — but don’t ask if I’m okay, hear me say I’m not, and keep on going!)

I briefly did want to give up after this setback this morning. Then I reminded myself about finding that inner strength to finish. I also remembered some apropos lyrics from Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life,” another song that inspires me:

After the Staten Island Half, Race #47 of 2017. I was thrilled to finish!

I said, that’s life (that’s life) and as funny as it may seem
Some people get their kicks
Stompin’ on a dream
But I don’t let it, let it get me down
‘Cause this fine old world it keeps spinnin’ around
I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate
A poet, a pawn and a king
I’ve been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing
Each time I find myself flat on my face
I pick myself up and get back in the race

And I did just that before finishing the Staten Island Half today. It felt pretty sweet to finish, especially considering where I was physically just a few months ago.

The TCS New York City Marathon is exactly four weeks away. I probably won’t beat last year’s time of 6:16:09. It may even take me much longer. But I will finish. And when I do, I know that all that I went through this summer and fall to get to the finish line will be well worth it.

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