Routines (Un)Interrupted

It is the rare individual that doesn’t live a scheduled life in some way, as our hours are often dictated by seemingly undeniable external forces, whether they be work, hunger, family, biology, etc. I’ve come to toe that line of routine somewhat precariously, often finding an urge to throw off all the shackles that have shaped my life against my desires, but all the same enjoying the sense of calm and comfort with knowing what is to come, what to expect and what I can control.  I am undoubtedly, almost viciously, a Type A personality. I crave simplicity and order in all things and try to create my life around these dynamics.

So it was no small thing when after having finally managed an insane, n0n-stop daily schedule that started at 6am and took me from bike commuting, to running, to design, to bike commuting, to work, to bike commuting, to food preparation and straight to bed to start all over the next day, that everything, and I mean EVERYTHING abruptly stopped. Indefinitely. It was like I the forces of gravity suddenly stopped working for me, and me alone. I knew what to do each day, to get me to the next hour, to complete the day on top of the game and now I didn’t even know what to for the afternoon. It was quite disconcerting.

I made it work though. As best I could, I tried to fill the days by starting new routines with writing, eating, and completing errands, all while I waited out the days to surgery.

I didn’t mind this really, because in the schedule of my future I knew this was still very temporary. This was just a looong break in routine where at some point I would get back to recreating my life, namely through a new job and, of course, running. The importance of those two daily activities can’t be overstated. But what I didn’t expect was this most recent news about the problems during surgery, problems with the cancer and now a timeline that has extended my state of hovering in anti-gravity that much further….so much further that I don’t even have an estimate for it. Previously, I was given a general 6 month timeline to work from, which however fluid this may be, was at least numbers on a calendar I could work from, but now, well, between recovery time and the effectiveness of coming chemo treatments, followed by the potential of this HIPEC surgery again and then recovery again….it’s going to be a long road. And I suspect without a lot of defined routines.

I’m not worried about what I will do with myself, I’ll find ways to make busy whether through more writing, creative projects, blogging, etc., but even just the option find continuous employment will be next to impossible knowing every interview will have to be underscored by my physical, psychological and emotional weakness that will come during chemo treatments, the looming date of surgery and so on. I just don’t even know what options there are for work in this state, outside of really making a push in freelance endeavors (which wouldn’t be the worst thing to be honest).

Looking further out though, I have an even greater concern for routine. Let’s just assume all goes well. I build my strength and start the chemo, which the cancer responds to and the HIPEC surgery is scheduled and performed. I recover well and finally find myself cancer-free and ready to create my life without further interruption. Then what? I’m 36, am looking at missing out on a year of my life, left a stop-gap, low-paying job when the cancer hit and then walk into a world as a 37/38 year old, still needing to manage my finances and secure stable employment. But, and maybe this is my Type A coming out here, I feel like losing the routine for all that time will have me struggling to get back on track, an unemployable adult, and relegated to another job that is unfulfilling and pays insufficiently. I just can’t face that sort of future coming out on the other side of this.

Let me take a deep breath here though. I know this depiction is being pessimistic, because I’m just preparing for one “worst-case scenario” in order to find ways to circumnavigate it, to consider the bad in order to find the good. Because maybe, just maybe, the experience of this whole situation might actually open more doors for me. Maybe the skills and knowledge I get from going through this might aid me directly or indirectly in ways that will alter my previous struggles with finding a solid career path and I’ll actually end up all the better for it. That certainly is an option.

For now, of course, I don’t dwell on considerations that far out. I can’t. I’m more occupied with getting my body to pass gas so I can eat again, pressing my pain button at the appropriate intervals so I don’t have full on pain attacks and just keeping a positive perspective through all this.

Which brings me back to the necessity of routine, even in the immediate.

The Mini-Marathon is coming to town on Saturday. This is THE premier running event for our city, heralded as the country’s largest half-marathon, drawing, I believe 45,000 runners. There is prize money and the winners are often overseas elites who come to sprint down a finishing time of 1:01 – 1:04. For the local elites though, it’s a stage for us, a race to throw down for and have a great showing amongst our friends, families and world-class crowds. It’s just damn exciting. Unfortunately, I have only raced it once, knocked out in other years by injury or hiatus.

It was this time last year that I was still in a self-imposed running hiatus, feeling sorry for myself for not running competitively and instead just trotting out 5 early morning miles on the treadmill before I would head into work every morning. Something started happening about this time though. The weather started getting better, more runners were showing up at they gym and suddenly I wasn’t just running intermittently, but repetitively, 2 week stretches at a time. The fire was building, and the warmer it got, the faster I ran. Then on race day I sat on the steps of the Y just prior to opening, watching the runners stream into the downtown on a beautifully sunny day, some sub-elites doing warm-ups in their racing flats and the nervous excitement just filling the air intoxicatingly.

But the doors opened and I went inside to run. 11 miles. At 6:30 pace. Just for fun.

And suddenly, at some point during that run, the switch had flipped. As I stated in great detail in a blog post soon thereafter, I WAS NOT DONE. The fire turned into an inferno and the only thing I wanted more in the world was to start training again, doing whatever it takes to balance family life and competitive running…so that’s what I did. I set my alarm an hour early every morning, drug my weary butt out of bed and rode downtown to start my workouts in the pitch dark, by myself…whatever it took.

Fast forward to just over a month ago and I was still on a similar routine, getting up early to run then starting the rest of my day, and although I wasn’t in my best shape, coach and I had decided I would run the Mini this year as a gauge of fitness, going into it without much “race readiness” and just to see what happened. I was psyched. I was finally going to experience such a huge local event again and I already started doing the calculations in my head to determine if I could be my previous time on the course.

Then…well…cancer.

And no routine. No long runs, no gym, no speed workouts, no intervals, no hills. No nothing. Just a new focus and the Mini given up on once again….almost.

A part of my recovery process is making sure my legs don’t swell out of control and develop blood clots from lack of circulation post-operation. They told me that going for repeated walks during the day would be a strong factor in getting that blood flowing, not to mention would keep me from getting lulled into the passive comfort of an adjustable bed, letting the rest of my body whither all the same. I wasn’t sure what other physical strength options I had at the time were, but if walking was presented as something that would create effort, than it was good enough for me.

On my first time down the hallway I realized it extended pretty far, took a quick turn and then came all the way back to my original starting point, effectively creating a “lap” for me to work from, as if a hospital had designed a local track instead of a sports group. Good enough for me. After just a few laps I realized how important this was for me, this sense of routine, specifically related to physical effort. Sure, it was just walking, but post-operation walking is not much different than a “preparation pace” run in a normal state. Beyond the physical benefits there was that mental space I needed. Running provides such an open time where the body does it’s thing and the mind can do it’s own, allowing for not just valuable insight and considerations, but that mental space alone. That sense of clarity and simplicity that I have yet to find elsewhere. So even more than just getting out there and doing laps, I was experiencing the mental benefits of running all the same as I did when I was knocking down 6:00 pace instead of 16:00 pace.

Of course, I couldn’t just leave it at that. The mini was coming up and my team is getting psyched to chase down their own PRs, and I didn’t want to be left out of the phone. Without much thought I made the declaration,

“I’m ‘running’ my own hospital mini.”

I’m going to get up on race day, wheel my contraption out into the hallway with me, and when the gun goes off downtown I’m going to start 13.1 laps of the hospital hallways myself, most likely finishing my own distance AFTER my team finishes the real 13.1 miles.

And just like that I have salvaged a piece of my old life routine for my current one. I’m both running (oh, just let me use the term) for the physical and mental rewards of the effort and training, in a way, for a specified goal.

The value of that routine simply can’t be exaggerated. And if I can find a way to hold on to these routines in the hospital, then surely I can find a way to do the same when left to my own devices. Until then, I’ve got time to think on that more, and some training to get back to.

Good luck Team Athletic Annex and all other friends running the Mini Saturday.

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4 responses to “Routines (Un)Interrupted

  1. Doing your own “Hospital Mini” is a great plan. You will definitely PR and will own the course record! The Indy Mini is special to me as it is the home of my half PR, and it’s a great excuse to drive down from Chicago to Indy to run with and hang with my Indy friends. The crowds and the venue definitely lend a world-class-race-feel to it. Here’s to you competing in the Mini again next year, but in the meantime, good luck in the Hospital Mini on Saturday morning! 🙂

    • Pete, Yes, this is a PR and record I hope to never have to beat again! 🙂 I look forward to running the real race down the line. Good luck!

  2. Beautiful expressed, Scott. Go for it!

  3. Thinking of you, Scott. Amy H

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