Sunday, October 22 My grandfather had a bad heart. He was frequently hospitalized, undergoing angioplasties to remove blockages. When that wasn’t enough, he finally underwent triple bypass surgery. This had a lasting impact on my life but not in the ways you’d think.
After his surgery, Pop told me it hurt to sneeze which is something I can relate to now that I’ve gone through it myself. I taught myself to hold my sneezes in, so I could teach Pop to do the same. More than 30 years have passed and I still hold my sneezes.
To prep Pop for a procedure, the doctors put an X on each of his feet to mark his pulse. I would lay in the hospital bed next to him and they put X’s on my feet too. I had almost forgotten about the X’s until I got a pair of my very own just before my surgery.
Thanks to Pop’s time in intensive care, I learned to knit and to crochet. My grandmother taught me how when I was five or six. I wasn’t allowed in Pop’s room unless the nice nurse was working and she snuck me in. I had to sit in the waiting room for what seemed like hours while my mom and my grandmother were visiting with him. My grandmother gave me a giant ball of shaggy cream-colored yarn and a couple knitting needles to occupy my time. I don’t think I ever completed a project. My blankets were closer to triangles then rectangles after all the dropped stitches. My grandmother, on the other hand, could turn out a new afghan in a couple days. There was an entire dresser, brimming with her accomplishments, in her basement.
During my recent homebound week with the kids, Angela & Paulette each dropped off baskets of yarn and knitting supplies they didn’t need anymore. In the early days, the drugs made me too dizzy to focus on stitches. Now that my head is on straight and the kids have given up on being helpful and returned to constant fighting with each other, it was time to refocus their energy. Thanks to YouTube and my distant memories, each of the kids had their own yarn project. Josie finished knitting a hat before the night was over. Keegan gave up after a couple rounds and went back to playing video games. Mac is on a mission to knit mini hats for every baby he knows. After several false starts, I succeeded in reteaching myself how to knit a granny square. I’ve been channeling memories of my grandparents with every new loop.
Monday, October 23rd In March 2016, I signed the lease for what would be the bakery space on the corner of Forest and Label Streets. My bakery on Walnut Street was 600 square feet total. All the baking, selling and storage were crammed into the tiny space. The plan was to move the bakery’s production into the new 1300 square foot space and renovate the Walnut Street shop to be purely retail.
Everything was going as planned until a month before the $80,000 renovation project on Walnut Street was complete. This included laying hard wood floors throughout the space and a complete overhaul of the bathroom to repair the two foot hole in the floor that was a skylight of sorts, straight into the basement. My landlord sent a certified letter demanding a 250% rent increase because the upgrades to the space, the upgrades I paid for, make it more valuable. Even though this demand wasn’t legally viable mid-lease, it didn’t stop him from trying to take advantage of a small business owner. An eleven month legal battle ensued. Finally, I decided it wasn’t worth it for me or for my business to be in a contract with such a vile person, especially when the Walnut Street space was far less than perfect and needed significant upgrades to the plumbing, electrical and heating which he, of course, was not willing to pay for.
I had to vacate the Walnut Street space by April 30th, 2018. There was a cold front that hit New Jersey the last two weeks of December 2017. They called it a ‘polar vortex.’ The heating in the Walnut Street space gave up. After 10 days with no relief from the frigid temperatures, the staff refused to come to work unless there were better conditions. I didn’t blame them. It was awful. Even the doughnuts were freezing.
On Saturday, December 30th, I decided to move as much of the retail fixtures as possible into the Label Street production space, overnight, in order to be open to customers on New Year’s Eve. Brad, Jessica, Cori and I carried as much as we could. Jess and I pushed the retail counter down the street. The running club got word of the debacle and before long there were two pick up trucks and 10 runners at the door eager to help. It was an incredible display of kindness and support.
The last 10 months have been a struggle. The retail team and the bakers are constantly fighting to find space. Even though we once managed to work together in 600 square feet of space, we’ve grown so much that we just don’t all fit. I’ve stared at the space from every angle and tried to find ways to create a better flow for work and for customers. I spent the entire day cleaning, purging and reorganizing the bakery. I started my mission after the kids went to school and I threw away the last load of garbage just in time to feed them and put them to bed. We were all completely exhausted.
I am proud of the bakery I have built. Sometimes I get caught up in the day-to-day grind and forget how much I love this space and the community around it. Leaving the Walnut Street space behind is the best decision I didn’t get to make. At least the doughnuts keep people happy while the space continues to be a work in progress!
Tuesday, October 24th I’m getting reacquainted with 5am alarms. This morning, I went back to Adrienne’s interval class. Though I can’t quite keep up with 100% of the class, I managed to complete my share of squats, lunges & planks. I haven’t noticed any pain related to my surgery this week. Instead, I’m experiencing muscle pain from the work I’ve put in at PT and with Adrienne. It’s a great feeling.
Last December, I was approached by Julie from Keller Williams Realty. She was constructing a new office space for her agents in Upper Montclair and she wanted me to open a mini version of my retail store in the front window. The town approved the project and I started preparing to duplicate my retail presence. After living through the build-out of my Label Street bakery, I knew these projects never go as planned so I sat and waited to hear someone say ‘go,’ before I wasted valuable time jumping through hoops.
The last week of July, seven months behind schedule, I finally got the call. The space was ready for Montclair Bread Company. My carpenter, Shaun, who built the fixtures for the Walnut and Label Street bakeries started building a new counter for the Lorraine Street space. My coffee partner, Stumptown, helped me figure out what I needed to duplicate all the brewing systems.
All progress was halted when I won a surprise vacation to downtown Newark. I asked Jessica, my #2 at the bakery, to add this to her growing list of responsibilities. Through August and September, she picked up where I left off with Shaun and Stumptown. She met with electricians, interviewed potential new staff, ordered supplies and coordinated with our vendors.
Today was the first time I was able to see the new space she created. We went together with carloads of supplies to unpack. Although we have no choice but to blend into the Keller Williams aesthetic, our little outpost is taking shape and it’s starting to feel like an extension of our home base. Jessica has done a remarkable job handling all the moving parts, most likely better than I could have done myself. This is yet another shining example of my inability to ‘do it all,’ and my ability to depend on a strong team of independent, motivated people to get the job done.
Wednesday, October 25th I knew my marriage was over five years before I had the strength to leave. Five years spent with one foot out the door and one foot hoping for change. I was so angry. I took my aggression out on everyone around me….the cashier at the grocery store who was too busy looking at her phone to ring up my cereal, the customer who asked if anything was gluten free or vegan or gluten free AND vegan, the bank teller who lost my deposit…
Running didn’t make me happier but it did refocus my anger. I was training for a half marathon. There were lots of days I would only run three miles (I know, “only” is subjective). On these days, I ran as hard as I could. I ran until I couldn’t feel my anger because the pain in my legs was greater. I felt myself running faster and faster each day.
Every time I signed up for a race, I got a new PR…5K, 10K, 13.1, 26.2. When my body started to tell me it couldn’t go any further, I used my rage to get me to the finish line. Jokingly, I told my running friends, I could never go through with a divorce because I wouldn’t be able to run fast anymore.
The joke was on me. The year after I finally succeeded in making positive life changes, my training times were the fastest ever. I ran my fastest mile on the road and I could run even faster during track workouts but my race PR’s stayed the same. Some of them, like my marathon time, increased. I lost my edge. I lost my ability to push through the pain in those final miles.
I was happy. I am happy. It didn’t matter if it was the 5K Lager Run or the Chicago Marathon, I would get to the point where I needed mental strength above physical strength and I would give up. I didn’t NEED this race. I didn’t NEED to prove anything. I just wanted to be comfortable and finish.
For the last 10 weeks, comfort has not been an option. In fact, there has not been one single day that my body has been comfortable. I’m training for the race of my life, the race to recovery. All the doctors and health professionals are in disbelief with the amount of progress I’ve made in such a short time. I’m months ahead of where most patients would be if given the same obstacles.
I am taking each day as it comes. Some days I feel good and I move forward. Some days, I need a break and I take a two hour nap in the afternoon. I don’t have the ability to settle into a comfortable place because there isn’t one. I have a greater understanding of biomechanics. I know what pain is good, what pain I can push through and what pain is telling me to stop.
The good pain reminds me of all the finish lines I pushed, with all my anger, to cross. This accident has given me a new reason to push through the pain, only the anger has been replaced with gratitude. I am thankful I can feel the pain and thankful I have the ability generate enough power to feel discomfort in my muscles.
I often feel guilty about the progress I’m making because I know for so many people, it’s not attainable. Then I remember the countless early morning hours spent training for the next big race. All the tempo runs settling into a seemingly unreasonable pace for 10 miles, all the 800’s looping around the track holding back puke, all the miles, all the races, prepared me for this. My surgeon said, if someone could train to be in this situation, if someone could be the perfect candidate for a speedy recovery, it would be me. The hours of my life I devoted to running are hours I can shave off my recovery time. I am comfortable with discomfort. I earned this.
Thursday, October 26th When I was in the hospital, Yana brought me a sandwich-sized ziploc bag filled with granola made by her mom. She told me, for years, it was the only thing she could eat in the morning. During the rest of my hospital stay, it became the only thing I could stomach for the first part of the day. It’s the perfect blend of oats, nuts and fruit to make you feel like you’re eating something indulgent but know, at the end of the day, it’s still pretty healthy.
I made the little baggie last as long as I could. When I was out, I begged Yana to bring me more. I was more addicted to that granola than the pain meds. Unfortunately, Yana’s mom lives on the west coast AND her oven isn’t working. I had to wait weeks before she was able to bake at a friend’s house and ship more granola my way.
Yana came over early in the morning to deliver the goods. This time, I was gifted a giant freezer bag full AND the recipe to make my own which may have been in lieu of a note saying ‘fuck off, quit asking me.’ Either way, I am incredibly grateful for the supply and the means to make my own batch. Hopefully, I will do it justice.
I’ve become so addicted to Yana’s mom’s granola that Yana and I have hatched a plan to sell jars of it to the general public or at least the general running public. It’s best if it’s covered in milk. I let mine get extra soggy before I eat it. On at least two occasions this led to Josie and/or Brad throwing my bowl away when it had probably reached it’s maximum flavor potential. Yana has offered up her favorite repurposed Bonne Maman jelly jars as vessels for the sale.
It’s interesting to see the ripple effects of this accident. A lot of good has come from of a very bad situation.
Friday, October 27th Two weeks after my surgery, I had my first follow-up visit with the doctor. My stitches came out. I was granted permission to shower. It was the best thing I could have hoped for. My next appointment was scheduled for four weeks later. I didn’t ask the surgeon if I could start putting more weight on my left side, get in a swimming pool or drive a car at the end of the four weeks because it seemed so far outside the realm of reality. I couldn’t possibly be ready to drive in that short amount of time.
When the four weeks was up and I was in the office again, I couldn’t wait to ask about driving, weight bearing, and swimming. In fact, I couldn’t tolerate one more day if I couldn’t get approval for at least one of these activities. Of course, Dr. Adams said yes to my requests and a few more. I also asked about the stationary bike which was given a green light.
For the last month, I’ve lived to my maximum potential within the limits established by the doctors. I’ve been in the pool. I’m riding my bike on a trainer. I even went to a spin class this week. Dr. Adams said I was to spend the six weeks after my visit with him working up to full weight bearing and, at the end of the six weeks, I might be able to start strength training. One week after my appointment I was full weight bearing and a week later, my strength training began, five weeks ahead of schedule.
I didn’t ask about running. At the time, I couldn’t walk on my own. My left side ached with pain. I couldn’t lay on my right side and I couldn’t even think about laying on my left. Just thinking about running was painful, there was no way I could possibly be ready to run before my next appointment with him. After all, when I was in the hospital, I was told it would be 6-12 months before I would be able to pound the pavement again. I’m still a couple weeks shy of the three month mark.
Just like the pool and the car at my first appointment, I wish I’d asked about running. It was in the back of my head. I didn’t ask because I didn’t want to be let down when he said no. Before this week, I wasn’t anxious to run again. I knew my body couldn’t handle it. I was expending enough energy just getting through one day of normal activity. PT, swimming and riding my bike on the trainer was a lot to do and to be grateful for having the strength to do.
Yesterday at PT, I asked Dr. Mayes for a timeline. I need a goal. For so many weeks, walking was the goal. I’m at the point where every daily activity, walking, lifting bags of flour, going up and down stairs, getting in and out of the car, feels normal. I don’t have any pain in my hip. There’s still a huge chunk of my thigh that doesn’t have any nerve sensation which is uncomfortable but not painful. I’m no longer experiencing extreme fatigue during the twilight hours after too much activity caught up to me. I don’t need 24 hours to recover from a workout or PT session. I’ve completed a tough workout every day this week. Life feels normal in every way, except I can’t run.
Dr. Mayes has enough experience with runners to know, he can’t commit to a date or even a concrete timeline for my return to running. He knows that if he gives me a date, I will do everything I can to make it happen, even if it means jeopardizing my progress thus far. I can say I won’t and I can even convince myself I won’t, but I will. For now, he told me I can walk the 5K Doughnut Run course and report back. That’s exactly what I did with Hillary today, pain free after 3.1 miles of brisk walking. Now that it’s checked off my list, I’m eagerly awaiting my next assignment.
Saturday, October 28th Feeling normal doesn’t feel normal without goals. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t registered for a race. I’m a planner. When Brad and I first started dating, I struggled with his inability to commit to a plan. At first I thought he wasn’t sure if he wanted to spend time with me, then I realized he just wasn’t keen on scheduling things in advance. Both of us work in industries where things change constantly and it is legitimately difficult to plan ahead. He has photo assignments pop up out of the blue. I have staff call-outs or last minute orders throw a wrench in my plans.
I tried to hide my type-A and pretend that I could go with the flow too. That lasted until a major scheduling error left us with a canceled trip to San Francisco. This was the trip that was rescheduled for the day after my accident. Third time’s a charm??? Now I try to look ahead for both of us. I communicate this-is-set-in-stone dates and I’m flexible with the rest of the calendar.
My eagerness to plan is especially prevalent when it comes to training. I often register for races at the earliest possible opportunity. In the case of the Lake Placid 70.3, it was a full year prior to the start of the triathlon. Now that my body feels normal, the only thing that doesn’t feel normal is a lack of race goals.
Taking mandatory time off from training has given me a different perspective. I’ve spent the last four years focused on distance and shaving minutes off my marathon time. Running any less than 40 miles a week made me feel lazy. My half marathon pace and my 5K pace are the same. I have the ability to settle into uncomfortable for miles after miles but I lack the strength and the fast twitch muscles to make uncomfortable even more so.
A date is set and registration is finally open for the sprint triathlon in my hometown I’ve set my sights on. My primary goal is to swim 750 meters, bike 11.5 miles and run 3.1 miles on June 2nd. Like any good goal, I need a plan to achieve it. Over the six months leading up to the race, I want to set new PR’s in the 5K and the 10K. Having never trained for short distances before, this should be realistic. The only wild card is the new hardware holding my pelvis together and that I haven’t been cleared to run at all…..yet.
If all goes well, I should be able to train for distance again next fall and put the NYC Marathon back on my calendar. I’ve tried my best to be supportive and happy for everyone running the race I had to drop out of this year, but it has been incredibly difficult to let go. Setting new race goals for myself is part of my healing process. Sometimes the mental wounds hurt more than the physical pain.