Today I had a great run. Yeah, it was only six miles. And yes, I only ran a 13-minute per mile pace. But REMARKABLY, I felt good! You see, it’s been a tough year for me. I’ve experienced the personal health version of "when it rains it pours"…
My deluge of health-related problems began in May when I fell climbing in Zion National Park. The fall resulted in a torn rotator cuff. At first I was hopeful that a cortisone injection and rest would be all that was needed. But after several months still no improvement.
Shortly after the fall I began experiencing pain in my groin. The pain was particularly acute when striding-out and descending. I thought I had somehow pulled something in my groin or inner right thigh. Rest, ice, and massive quantities of ibuprofen offered no relief. Ughh!
Then I learned that I was anemic. WTF?? I began taking iron supplements and changing my diet to include foods high in iron and foods that facilitate the absorption of iron.
Needless to say, I never felt good running all summer. My shoulder and arm hurt and I found myself taking spills due to the limited use of my right arm for balance. The pain in my groin nagged me and I found myself holding back on flats and descents to manage the pain. And, most days it felt like running was taking more effort and "work” than I was used to. And on some days, the pain and malaise made runs simply suck.
I desperately wanted to run the Wasatch Front 100 this year and try to set a personal record. But, by the end of August, there was no more running through the pain and I had lost confidence I could finish the race, at any speed. It was time for surgery. Five days before Wasatch I had rotator cuff surgery. About this time I learned that my blood counts were continuing to deteriorate and I was referred to a hematologist to find the cause.
Why I had anemia and why it was continuing to worsen was a mystery. In short, we began to investigate whether I; a) wasn’t absorbing iron, b) wasn’t producing healthy red blood cells, or c) was bleeding out red blood cells. On the surface, none of these made sense. During an endoscopy to determine if I was bleeding from the stomach (a possibility given the very high doses of ibuprofen that I had been taking over the summer to manage the pain in my shoulder and groin) it was suggested that while in the neighborhood to take a biopsy to rule out celiac disease. Bingo, I had sprue!
During the time we were working on finding the cause of my anemia I learned that the cause of my groin pain was a hernia. While my abdominal wall had not completely failed, the bulge in the weakened area was causing pressure on nerves that were causing the pain in my groin and inner right thigh.
The Tuesday before Thanksgiving I had surgery to repair the hernia. The next day I spent 6 hours in an infusion center getting IV iron to jump start the development of healthy red blood cells until such time that my small intestine heals adequately to begin the normal absorption of iron. Most of the people in the infusion center were there to receive chemotherapy. It was a good and needed reality check for me. Here I was whining about not being able to run as fast as I would like, but other than being a slow and broken for the purpose of running – I was in good health. It was a reminder as to how I lucky and fortunate I am.
While there is no cure for celiac disease, the treatment is pretty straight up - a gluten-free diet. So on Thanksgiving Day I had one last gluttonously gultenful meal before saying good-bye to wheat for life. It will take about three months for my small intestine to heal and be able to adequately absorb iron and other nutrients again. Yet, already I can feel the stop-gap effects of the IV iron.
I’m feeling refurbished. My arm and shoulder feel great. My groin pain is mostly gone. And I can already feel more energy and strength. In fact, I’m quite certain that with a bit more rest and healing, I’ll have an effective age of 40 and be able to once again run with all of you with whom I so enjoy running. See you on the trails soon!