Wednesday, March 23, 2016

An Incredible Privilege... Talking Training with Norway's Head XC Ski Coach

During the Tour Canada XC ski world cup, myself and Ian Murray received a great privilege...talking training with Norwegian head ski coach Trond Nystad. It’s no doubt that the Norge’s rule the xc ski world. In race after race in the 4 day skiing extravaganza podium after podium was dominated by the Norwegian red and blue colors. At the end of the Canmore leg of the tour, the overall xc world cup season globes were awarded and in almost every category it was almost always a Norwegian sweep. So when the head coach speaks... you listen, carefully.

Did Trond reveal their secrets? Absolutely. And it wasn’t merely because he thought these two hapless sport chaplains were no threat, indeed, Trond stated he would freely share with anyone the secret to ski success.

So, as you sit on your seat with incredible anticipation, you’re begging for me to reveal the Norwegian secret to success. Here it is...

“Hard work’

Well duh, you’re thinking. That’s obvious. Be more specific. Trond, in a general sense summed things up in that statement. He must have repeated it a dozen times. “Hard work’. So what does that look like?

For the Norwegians it means 1000 hour training years. Some of his guys (and these numbers are for gals too) go up to 1250 hours. But that 1000 hours was the gold standard. Of course they can’t just be empty training hours with no specificity, strength and intensity, etc.  But in a basic sense there needs to be a lot of volume. What about intensity? That’s what we asked too. No surprise here, just the same basic training method we’ve been using for years and years...2 intensities per week. He said sometimes at certain times per year they go 3, but for the most part 2 intensities per week.

Years ago I sat down with NMU xc ski coach Sten Fjeldheim and he taught me how to train the Norwegian way. Actually it’s just the basic way. A few years later I read the book, “Serious Training for Endurance Athletes”. What Sten taught me was pretty much all in the book. Basic concepts like periodization, yearly phases of training, training zones, yearly emphasis, etc.  If you’re new to training and don’t recognize those terms, get the book. You’ll have the foundation and a knowledge pretty much on par with what Trond does with his athletes, the best in the world.

Even the Norwegians themselves have toyed with straying from this simple formula through the years, and have done so to their detriment. A dozen years ago I know they were doing things like “super intensity blocks” and other such extreme training, but their results really slipped. So, they’ve learnt their lesson the hard way, don’t mess with success! (Or stray from the tried and true methods of winning races).

Funny how athletes and coaches are always looking for the magic bullet that will propel them to success.  Or some coaches want to be the go to guy with the “know all” guru secret, but the message here ain’t rocket science, just get to work, put those hours in and see where it’ll get ya.  Now go do it!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Endurance, Patience and Strength. 3 things I really need right now. Coincidentally, these 3 are mentioned in a Bible verse we looked at during the XC ski world cup pre-race chapel we had last week (Colossians 1.11).  Funny how I often address topics in small groups or speaking events on topics that I really need to personally learn myself. In this instance one of the athletes, when asked of great examples of these 3, mentioned his competitor wife (who was also there). Her setback list included being dropped multiple times from the Nat’l team, not getting named to an Olympic team even though she had qualified, a serious concussion injury, tearing the hamstring completely off the tendon, lyme disease.... wow! And she persevered through it all to earn a world championship medal last year.

I walked away resolving not to feel sorry for myself nor to give up.

Winston Churchill’s most famous speech ever came on October 29, 1941, when he visited Harrow School to hear the traditional songs he had sung there as a youth, as well as to speak to the students. When he was invited to give a speech, Churchill stood before the students and said,
"Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up."

Great words from a great man, who really didn’t hit his stride as a politician/statesman until his 70's

Of the 3 I initially mentioned, endurance, patience, strength... I need them. I’ve looked into the axillary nerve graft surgery that I’ll most certainly need. I need to wait another 2 months before they make the final evaluation. After the surgery I’ll be either in a hospital bed or my own with the arm totally immovable and flexed outward for a week. The arm will be in a sling for 4-6 weeks. It then takes around 3 months for the nerve to begin firing at all. 9 months for just a little strength and  1-2 years before you get all your strength back.

Even though I want to learn patience and endurance, I’m not rolling over. I’m trying real hard to train my body to compensate for no deltoid muscle. I do strength 2x per day and I’m noticing a difference. I’m going to try to start running even though the only arm swing I can do is hugging it close to my body and moving it laterally across my mid-section. I’ll be road biking soon, and I’ll probably be able to hammer, as I’ve been doing high intensity spin bike workouts 2-3x per week.

I’m volunteering this weekend at the Ken Jones Skimo nat’l champs. A race I did well in last year, hitting the podium. The first time on skis for me in 2 months. My plan is that my presence won’t lead to sadness at not competing, but stoke the fire and motivate me for a comeback next year.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Steve'os Last Run Update #5... The Good the Bad, the Ugly

Gratitude. It’s an important thing to have. I was reading this morning about a family that was incredibly upset because the Canadian health care system in ON wouldn’t pay for an operation that would save their son’s eyesight. They had to pay 3000$. I thought that was a pretty low price to pay for an operation that would save their son’s vision. On the other hand, in the waiting room before finally getting to see my nuerologist this morning, I talked with an RCMP officer that was in a motorcycle accident in MT. He had a head injury and some other issues. His 12 day hospital bill came to 249,000$, of which AB health promised to pay 1000$ (thanks a lot). Fortunately, he had Blue Cross that I’m guessing came through for him.

I’m grateful for our health care system. I’m grateful for my friend Dr Andy Reed that is not only skilled, but very committed to helping me with my injuries. I’m grateful for my friend Dr.  Denise Hill that took over my nuerology issues. She connected me with a gifted specialist in my injury that is closely connected with the clinic that now may have to operate. Finally,  I’m grateful for what may have been a miracle in my healing.

Andy’s original ultrasound indicated what he believed to be a couple significant tears in my rotator cuff (very common in shoulder dis-location, especially in us older fellas)  with surgery imminent. A few weeks later at the ultrasound clinic in Calgary with a better machine, they  could only locate the one small tear I already had. Andy’s good...I’m sure he would not have read the situation wrong. Did God heal me (a lot of people, myself included, have been praying) I’m not for sure-sure; but I am very grateful and glad I don’t have to endure a painful r. cuff surgery with 4-6 weeks in a sling followed by a slow ~2 months of rehab.

My attention has been so focused on my hand’s improvement that I really didn’t notice that my numb deltoid and tricep muscles really weren’t working properly. I tried some light jogging last week, but my arm just wouldn’t move properly. I figured it was due to the shoulder damage. However, now I know after getting my nerves shocked and jumped and poked with incredibly sophisticated medical equipment, that the nerve running to the deltoid muscle is totally fried and I basically have no working deltoid muscle. This major muscle is key to moving the shoulder and arm.

The plan is to wait 2 months and see if by some chance the nerves will regrow. If not, then a quick surgery. With nerves you’ve only got a small window. Operate too soon and you don’t give the slow healing nerves a chance to heal. Wait too long and the muscle permanently loses the ability to communicate with the nerves. So for my next appointment I’ll meet with the entire clinic team... dr, surgeon, therapist and decide if any healing has taken place and if not, or enough, then a quick surgery plan.

Back to gratitude...the hand is really starting to thaw. Still lots of numbness, but enough progress that it’s full restoration will come, and it seems soon. Good chance my hand will be able to play my guitar for Easter, if only my deltoid has the strength to hold it up.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Steve0's Last Run update #4

Progress. Sometimes it seems to go so slow. I’m 5.5 weeks out. This morning I was washing my hands and realized, “hey! I can feel the temperature of the water!”  It may not seem like much, but it’s progress and I”ll take it. I will say though that my hands seem to be unthawing.. In the winter when you freeze your hands you can shake them out forcing warm blood into them. In a matter of minutes they unfreeze providing a reliving warmth, however it’s quite painful as the warm blood flows into the frozen cells. For me in my situation it’s a similar feeling, though instead of minutes, it’s weeks. Fortunately no pain.

Some other good news, my Nuerology and EMG test have been moved up 10 days. So now it’ll only be 6 weeks post crash that I’ll see him (for the first time). Ultra sound to access the Rotator Cuff damage comes 4 days before this. Then after the EMG I”ll meet with Andy to discuss the next step which I’m pretty sure will be an appointment with Butchko or Heard, surgeons to chart a likely surgical path to repair the tears in the cuff.

It's March 1st today. I realized I didn't ski once in Feb. I haven't done this since I started skiing downhill in 1974. It's such a weird feeling just wanting winter to end and spring to come. If I can't ski... but then my older daughter was saying how sad she feels when she sees a brown patch of ground. For her winter could keep going and going. As they say, "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree!" Funny how proud of her I was when she said this.

I looked at my shoulders in the mirror last night. One is round, healthy and somewhat muscular (I’ve been doing dumbbell exercises realizing I only have 1 good arm,  better keep it in shape), the other is bony and sickly looking. Imagine what it’ll be like after another month waiting for surgery, then 4+ weeks in a sling. Just like the hand model in Zoolander, I could be a ½ shoulder model for ...?

Thursday, February 25, 2016


Slowly, slowly, slowly things are coming together. I have an appointment with the nuerologist on March 17, at which point he’ll hopefully be able to determine if I need surgery for the nerves. It seems like a long wait but the timing actually isn’t that bad as he’s on the board that meets monthly to decide the surgery schedule for Calgary Nuerology patients, and that meeting comes right after my appointment. My hand strength this week went up to 47%, so after 4 weeks I’ve gone from 0 to almost ½ recovery. I guess that’s right in line with what the Canmore Emerg doc said, 2-3 months for nerves to heal. That is if it’s only the mylin outer sheath that is damaged. It kinda seems like that is the case as the healing process is coming, albeit slowly.

During my walk today I tried jogging a few steps and it was the wierdest feeling as that arm really doesn’t move properly. I think it’s the combi of nerve damage (my shoulder is quite numb still) and rotator cuff tearing damage. It took a great effort just to swing that arm in a normal running motion. Man, the things you take for granted.

So in a week I get to have an ultrasound that will hopefully determine the extent of rotator cuff damage. I then meet w/ Dr Reed to evaluate the need for surgery, at which point I”ll meet with Banff ortho surgeon. But I guess ortho surgery takes a back seat to nerve stuff. I’m hoping and praying progress continues on that front.

I’m not even thinking of running or skiing much. Certainly not the latter. Conditions are lousy this year anyway. My quest is recovery. Although I have enjoyed challenging myself on my spin bike intensity days. I record every possible value I can (heart rate, distance, max hr, apprx watts). I can be feeling a little low sometime as I enter the training centre weight room viewing people skiing on the adjacent trails, but a good hard effort can really up the spirits. Funny how sometimes the things you feel least like doing are the very things you need to do.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Steve0's Last Run update #2

Well, I might have been a little too optimistic about my comeback timing. I was reading today rehab protocols for shoulder surgery. It starts off with 6 weeks in a sling, followed by a couple months of slowly working back into activity. So if surgery comes (optimistically) in April, that puts me well into summer before I can start running. Given that it’s currently Feb (my birthday today) I’ve got a long way before I can do any substantial training. My goal of course is to get back to full strength. I don’t want to have a half healed shoulder that can pop out at any time. I’d hold back the rest of my life and there are just too many things I still want to do ski wise and otherwise to slow down now. So if it means losing a year, so be it. I’ll gain several more in terms of quality years later.

The one issue I’m concerned about, after making sure I get back full use of my hand and shoulder, is the VO2 max loss that I’ll sustain. Currently I’m spinning the bike and doing intervals 2-3 times per week. At this point the training goal is to minimize losses. During my rehab my plan will be to do a lot of walking combined with 2-3 higher intensity spin bikes per week and core and light strength. That’s basically the plan I’m on now. Besides maintaining fitness, I believe that activity increases blood flow and helps speed recovery. Another added benefit is the release of endorphins while training that could help mask some of the overall pain of surgery.

I’m still waiting for my nuerologist appointment. It’s been a month since the accident, so I”M READY!! Hopefully they’ll soon give me the ok to schedule the surgery, but this won’t happen until we know the nerves are generally healed and my hand and arm function are mostly back. I have an ultrasound appointment in 1.5 weeks to confirm the size of the tears. Then it’s just a waiting game from there.

Thanks for your thoughts and prayers!!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The saga of Steve’s last run and shoulder continues...

I’ve decided to blog my comeback, a diary of sorts. It may be boring to many, but if you want the gory details, etc. They’ll be here.

It’s been 3 weeks now since my crash at the Fernie skimo race and in that time not a whole lot has happened. I still haven’t seen a nuerologist for my numb hand. There has been some slow progress on that front though. It was a small improvement one week out when I could actually squeeze toothpaste out of a tube. Then after 2 weeks I was able to muster up enough strength in that hand to pull up a zipper. Lately, typing hasn’t been too difficult and some feeling in my fingers has returned, although they’re still quite numb.

On Friday, a good family friend saw the prayer request at church and contacted  Deb & I  immediately. It turns out her dr specialty is nuerology and I think she kind of acts as a coordinator to Calgary nuerology services. In any case she took me on and got to work setting up an EMG conductivity test, gave me a couple perscriptions for pain and set up a doc that specializes in brachial plexus injuries.

I hope it comes soon, as I saw my sport doc today...the news is interesting. It seems I have not 1, but 2 significant tears in my rotator cuff (in addition to the 3rd small tear I already had). If I were to fall there wouldn’t be a whole lot holding that shoulder socket in. Not good news as I’m already nervous about the nerve damage I’ve sustained. Another dislocation and stretching of those nerves this time could easily permanently damage my nerves and ability to use my hand/arm.

So for now, I’m waiting on the nerve doc and another ultrasound to confirm the cuff tears. The good news is that my sport doc, Andy, b/c he works with national teams, is able to fast track a lot of surgical procedures, plus either of the 2 surgeons are friends and know me and my lifestyle and being a Bow Valley local, they usually rush us right in. So if my nerves cooperate I could conceivably have a shoulder surgery April/May? With a 6 week recovery, perhaps I could be running by June?

Maybe I'm being overly optimistic, but I ordered some running shoes today.