April 11, 2011

Epic Man Team Blog - Edward Aten - Man Down

I messed up and didn't track my run last Sunday correctly. I accidentally paused the tracking on RunKeeper and only clocked about 13 of the 18 or so miles I ran. And quite a run it was.

One of those amazing days in the Bay Area where the winds are low, the sun is out and you snag an occasional high-5 from other runners who are out having the time of their lives. I had been out in DC and NYC a few days earlier so it was easy to get up early to try and get the 2.5 hour run from North Beach, across the Golden Gate Bridge, through Sausilito and around the Bay to Tiburon to make the 11:30 ferry. Of course things didn't go exactly according to plan.

First I spent more time than expected at Trader Joes waiting for them to open 5 minutes late then had to stop in the middle of the span of the Golden Gate Bridge to pull out my cellphone and sign the contract that would finally put my house in contract.Obviously time well spent, but even though I buckled down for the last 4 miles running close to 7 minute pace I missed the ferry by just enough to watch it back away and steam across the bay without me.

So I sat on the green and waited 90 minutes for the next ferry. I ate the salad I brought at Trader Joes. I ordered a cappuccino. I thought about the Epic Man that was only two weeks away.

This run had been my final long run of training. It wasnt as long as I probably needed but it was hard feeling bad after having so much gas left in the tank at the end. Then again the Epic man isn't a standard race, and my mood quickly moved from inspiration to intimidation thinking about the magnitude of the effort required in two weeks.

April 17th I'd be on Peaks Island Maine with a kayak looking across the bay at Portsmouth. After about an hours paddle we would hop on our bikes for a 50 mile ride to Portsmouth NH. There we'd break for some food and maybe a beer or two before the 107 mile ride to through the night to Hopkinton, MA arriving at something like 11AM the next morning.

There we are going to lock up the bikes, put on our running clothes and run the Boston marathon.

I've thought a lot about the Epic Man over the last few months almost always with the same questions: Was the concept overall crazy? Was it another life adventure? Was I crazy? Could I do it? What if I didn't finish? Why on earth was I doing this?

When George Mallory was asked why he climbed Everest he said three of the most famous words in the history of mountaineering: 'Because it's there.'

But the Epic Man wasn't there any more than cycling across the country is. Any more than me deciding I'm going to swim across the Pacific Ocean.

Sitting on the green that morning I was surrounded by all types of people. Italian tourists riding rental bikes while smoking. Lycra-clad cyclists that were either uber fit or just dressing the part. Couples over for a hike and lunch.

If I had approached them their reactions to the race would probably be as varied as their appearance. Most probably couldn't comprehend the distances. Before I started running real distances anything over 10 miles seemed completely insane. Some of the more aggressive looking guys would probably be into it. Many probably would just think I had some sort of mental problem to want to do something like that.

So what would be Epic to them? The thing that I have loved most about Epic Man from the beginning is the equality of it - it isnt just the huge distance event. People sign on for portions of the event or create their own ways of pushing their limits.

Everyone on the green could participate in some way if they had the desire.

I guess for me it just boiled down to: What happens if I take something that seems beyond possible and put everything I can muster into trying to do it?

For me the Epic Man is a real stretch. I'm not a cyclist. I'm not the fastest or best runner. But I figured if I'm going to push my limits, why not really REALLY push them?

- - -

I had another accomplishment today and while drastically different than my run last week it feels nearly as gratifying.

I took a walk.

The walk was short, probably only 400 feet but it was the first I'd stood up since checking into the hospital 24 hours ago.

I was in Miami when it all started. I ate lunch on Tuesday and afterwards felt bloated well beyond normal. I was in some real discomfort so I did the logical thing - I went for a run to the drugstore. I bought some GasX and ate the largest possible dose I could, after all I had a business dinner to attend. So I crammed in a quick few miles, some hopefully therapeutic jostling to my stomach and was still dressed and ready to go to the work dinner.

I went to dinner and figured I should eat incase food would help even things out. At this point I was uncomfortable, not in pain but not feeling like a ton of fun. We went out after dinner, I mean I had to see South Beach!

We called it relatively early around 1AM and all went to bed.

I woke up the next morning to worse discomfort. This time I really didn't want to get out of bed. I eventually made myself get up an hour later but, out of character for me, ended up back in bed a few hours later to rest.

My flight from MIA to SFO was approaching and I know I didn't want to be sick in Miami. I called my Dad and we decided even though I wasn't getting better I wasn't getting terribly worse so I got on the plane and flew home.

The flight itself was fine. I barely moved. Slept a few hours but when I got off I was hurting. No more discomfort, now this was real pain.

I'm kind of an over-thinking hypocondriac. I always think something is wrong with me but then talk myself out of it. As in, I have a pain and assume its something bad but then run the numbers and decide it is impossible I could actually have anything major wrong with me and decide to not do anything about it.

I wasn't sure I even wanted to go see a doctor. I don't even have a doctor! My primary care doc moved away two years ago and I still haven't found a replacement since I'm supposed to be in the prime of my life. I definitely didn't want to go to the emergency room. I mean I wasn't even bleeding. Stomach pain is not an emergency.

I called the hospital closest to me and they transferred me to the ER even though I had asked for Urgent Care. Apparently San Francisco didn't have any Urgent Care centers.


It was hard to walk but I still resisted and considered my options when I rememebered my HMO has a nurse call line. After waiting on hold for 10 minutes I finally connected with a nurse.

We talked for a few minutes and sounding like she was reading off of a screen she told me I had to go see someone within an hour. 'Go to the emergency room.' she said. I guess you don't mess with abdominal pain.

So I did as I was told.

The ER was empty when I got there but immediately started worrying about bumping into my friends that work at the hospital. I know at least two residents that I think even work on that floor! Are they going to see me in the ER ask what is going on and decide that I'm a tax on the already burdened system. That even though the hotline lady said I should be there what does she know and now they think of me as a wimp?

These are the kinds of things I think about.

But I've already checked in and the nurse ushers me in and within 10 minutes I'm sitting with a doctor who has sat down in front of me and is asking for my history.

We speak for about 5 minutes and he tries to do an inspection of my abdomen with his hands but can't because it hurts too much so he calls for pain meds.

After a few minutes later and mildly sedated I feel better and after poking around my stomach he is convinced I need a CT, he's pretty sure its appendicitis.

Apparently appendicitis is pretty common and happens to about 1 in every 15 Americans. The good news is that appendectomy (removal of the appendix) is such a standard procedure that there is very little risk in having it, going under is the most dangerous part.

The CT comes back and I need surgery. Supposedly the next morning.

I ask him how long recovery is and mention I have a race in a week. He laughs.

He recommends taking about a week off of work and within 4 weeks I'll feel more like myself but wont be back to full activities for another 4 weeks. From there he says it will likely be 3 months total until I feel 100%.

This is kind of a problem.

I ask him what my options are and unfortunately they are pretty limited. Apparently appendicitis very rarely goes away. If we decide to give it that opportunity the trade off is that it could rupture spilling the contents of my intestines into my stomach. If that happens its a much larger surgery, a week plus in the hospital or if something goes wrong maybe death.


What he is really saying is get the surgery dude. This isn't really elective.

So my Epic Man 2011 plans are over. I ask about running a section or biking a bit with the team. He says I should talk to my surgeon about that.

I realize I should probably stop stressing about the months of preparation and the excitement I've built up for the adventure and try to put it on hold for a while. After all, in a few hours I'm going to be in the OR with someone poking holes through my abdominal muscles cutting off part of my organs.

I call my friends and family and tell them whats up. Everyone is amazingly supportive including the nurses, surgeons and team at the hospital.

Surgery goes perfectly (at least from what they tell me) and at 4PM the next day I'm somewhat lucid again.

Over the next few hours I pull it together even more and want to feel how much things have been moved around. I've never had surgery before and while laying in the bed is giving me a sense of what has happened I haven't supported my own weight. I haven't sat up.

So the nurse does her rounds to her other patients, disconnects me from my IV of fluids, antibiotics and pain meds and our adventure has begun!

The entire time all I could do was think about my run the previous Sunday where miles 14-18 I turned on the after-burners and ran like hell to catch the ferry. Here I was 5 days later and waddling around the hospital for a few hundred feet felt like an accomplishment - and in some ways it was a bigger accomplishment.

- - -

Two days later there are two things that have had an impact on me from this experience thus far. First, how quickly things can change and second, how good most of us really have it.

The first point is somewhat obvious. Within a week my plans changed from doing a 180+ mile adventure to hoping I'm strong enough to attend let alone participate in any part of it.

I probably mean something a little different on the second point than what you expect. Through my entire stay in the hospital I was so glad to only be there for my appendicitis. Almost without exception, at any point during my stay I was one of the most healthy people there.

It didn't have to be appendicitis that took me our of the full distance of the Epic Man. It could have been a car accident. It could have been cancer. It could have been anything and now two days later I'm out of the hospital sitting on my couch able to write these words.

So if you are running the 1 mile run before the kayak (which I definitely will), participating in the 50 mile ride to Portsmouth, NH (this is against doctors orders but we will just have to wait and see!), doing the full Epic Man (damn!) or doing anything else that pushes yourself you are inspiring to me.

Any step, any goal, any attempt at something that pushes you is amazing no matter the distance, situation or contraints is a victory of effort, a victory against fear of failure and a victory of taking charge of who you want to be.

Stay strong. Keep trying. Dont give up. Be epic.



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  2. Great post! Although, for me - a beer lover, the best part of your story is untold. The doctor is getting up to leave. You remember one last very important question: "How soon can I drink beer?".

    You sir, inspire me! Not to do some crazy 1,000 mile race, but to run longer, and maybe faster, to ride toward the sun, not the sunset, and to raise my pint to every day and the miracles around me: my friends!


  3. Ed! I'm so sorry, I hope you feel better soon and plan on doing Epic Man next year, you are Epic for even deciding to do it and train, a lot of people would never even consider it. Best of luck


  4. Ed, you're the man! Really cool for you to share your experience, it puts everything into perspective. You are definitely proving your epic abilities by staying positive with everyone you've gone through. Don't want to come off too soft, but I'm proud to say I'm part of a team with such inspiring people. Epic Man is a life changing experience whether or not you complete the goal you initially set out to complete. It's about the journey we take together to get there. It's about the mindset you develop to take on a challenge you may fail at, you've done that and so, you're epic! Looking forward to having you around for as much or as little you can handle next weekend. Okay, Okay I'll stop. What I mean to say is your post got me totally pumped and all in all, glad you are in good health and spirits.