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Hi. I’m Zach. You’re probably wondering why I look so happy despite obviously being in a hospital room.
No… at this point the “liquid margarita” hadn’t entered my bloodstream yet.
Maybe... but a very wise man once said that there was more to life than being really, really ridiculously good looking so I guess I shouldn’t put all of my happiness eggs in the good looks basket.
You’re getting warmer…
Is it because I’m finally getting my douche shoulder fixed and will have the freedom (see what I did there Murca?) and confidence to expand my adventures and skillsets to become more of a mountain athlete as opposed to just simply a trail runner?
Bingo. Ya nailed it. Congratulations. You win this one of a kind painting from Todd called Celebration
Like most people first getting into the sport… my thoughts and ideas on trail running were directly influenced by what I read in magazines and on the internets. All I could gather about trail running was that it was mainly about racing, getting fast and running long distances to get some kind of medal or buckle to show off to your friends and more importantly to the online community. Though I have never really been one to care too much for awards or even public recognition for that matter … I still just went along with the crowd. It took many many moons and many many races before I started formulating my own thoughts and opinions about the sport and the different kinds of people involved. I slowly discovered that racing and competing wasn’t all that enjoyable for me and at times felt like it took away from the real reason I loved trail running. Instead I found that I was happiest when I was spending hours upon hours simply moving through the mountains alone or with my closest friends.
Over the years I feel like I’ve become a pretty decent runner. I’m definitely not the fastest and honestly probably wouldn’t even have a chance to grace the podium of a local race anymore. I’m 100% ok with all of this because right now my focus and goal is not to get fast enough to win/podium races. One of my main goals over the past couple of years has been to always be in good enough shape to go out and cover long distances at the drop of a hat. So, for example… if I were to get a text on Thursday night from one of my friends saying “Let’s go run 40 miles in the Smokies this Saturday” – my only worry would be as to which pair of short shorts I would need to pack… not if I were in shape or not. My main focus and goal now? To get my douche shoulder back to full strength and be in the best all-around mountain shape I’ve ever been in by next Spring.
I’ve always treasured the simplicity of running and it’s by far my favorite form of movement when it comes to covering mountainous terrain. Surprisingly…even after years of trail running I’ve not found myself burnt out of the activity. I am currently a little over the race scene (maybe explains why I’ve only raced once this year) and perhaps slightly sick of the not so authentic social media scene that seems to be oversaturated with whimsical, “likes”- driven “inspiration” runners. But even when I’m feeling aggravated and annoyed by these now unavoidable aspects of the trail world… I always step back, vent to my closest friends and move on. Just because that kind of stuff is not MY thing doesn’t mean it’s not someone else’s thing. People enjoy the trail lyfe in completely different ways and deep down I will always support that… no matter how ridiculous some folks can be. It does make me legitimately happy when people are genuinely happy doing something they love. But the biggest thing? Please... just be genuine. For the love of God... just be genuine.
As my own personal trail lyfe progresses… the more I have found myself eagerly wanting to expand my horizons beyond running and into different forms of mountain movement.
“When you are one dimensional at something… you get really good at that one thing. But at some point… it becomes uninteresting.” – Anton K
pic: Trailrunner Mag
I honestly think Anton has it figured out. He is one a hell of a good runner but has been plagued with injury after injury because all he did was run. But the way he has transitioned from strictly a trail runner into an all-around mountain athlete is truly inspiring. I’m using Anton as an example because he is a highly recognizable personality in the trail running world that was forced to transition out of being strictly a runner. But Anton is just one professional out of a handful that I admire in the mountain world. There are plenty of other non-professional athletes (some in which I’m proud to call my closest and bestest friends) that mix sports in the mountains who have been a motivating factor in my own desire to expand my adventure activities…
I’ve done my fair share of mountain biking and have started incorporating that piece into my adventures as well but there are so many other avenues that I’ve wanted to explore. However… since my shoulder has always been prone to easy dislocation… I’ve never felt truly comfortable and confident engaging myself fully in rock climbing or kayaking other than the simpler scrambling and easy river paddling.
But now that Dr. Cain has so elegantly placed 7 anchors in my shoulder…
I’m in a position I’ve never been in before… a position of unlimited adventure possibilities. This concept paired with the amazing support and love my wife has shown me through the entire douche shoulder process has been the only things that have kept me sane. I seriously don’t know what I would do without my Dark Princess. Words can’t even begin to describe how thankful I am and how much she’s done for me.
I knew going into surgery that I would have to take off most of the summer from running and would even have to miss a race in Colorado that I had been looking forward to all year. Usually this would turn me into a Grumpasauros Rex… but knowing that this surgery was going to allow me to be even more adventurous made the time away from running relatively easy and pass rather quickly. I’m not going to recap every single detail from the past 12 weeks… but I am going to share some of the highlights from each week. This is mostly a reminder for future me of how the process went and the progression of my recovery. By all means if you don’t want to follow along with my 12 week journal… tune out… or grab a beer or cup of coffee and stick around if you want to look at some pretty pictures.
I had the operation done on the Tuesday after Memorial Day... so obviously I felt the need to be as Murca as possible...
Surgery was a breeze! Dr Cain is a fabulous surgeon and has a wonderful team that looked after me! I even had one of the girls that took the Alabama Trailblaze Challenge ensure the anesthesia process went smoothly (thanks Melissa!)! The absolute worst part for me was getting stuck with the IV… I made it very clear to the nurses that I was not a fan of needles.
After a few hours in LaLa land I came out drug induced coma feeling good! Even had a little Chick Fil A afterwards :)
Even though I despise pain killers (they make me extremely sick and nauseous) ... I was told I needed to “stay ahead of the pain” so I consistently took them every few hours. I even would wake up in the middle of night to take them. I was very fortunate to never have any real "pain" during the entire process. I only had some slight soreness paired with extreme stiffness. Now I say slight soreness but I think I have trouble understanding or expressing pain… so maybe it was extreme soreness as well? But I always had soreness when I was a pitcher so I think my mind just registered it as a normal amount of sore.
The first night I passed out quickly but would consistently wake up feeling achy from the surgery and I couldn’t figure out how to get comfortable sleeping sitting upright. Honestly the toughest part of the whole surgery process might have been the uncomfortableness of sleeping upright. I just never found a good position and probably only slept through the entire night 2-3 times in the 5wks I spent “sleeping” sitting upright.
I started physical therapy the very next day. I knew almost immediately that I was going to absolutely love Impact. The staff was extremely nice, welcoming and giddy. This place basically became my 2nd home for the next 12 weeks and by the end of my temporary stay… these folks had become like a family to me!
The first few days post-surgery were a mix of soreness, stiffness and not so restful nights. I still would wake up constantly from the awkwardness of having to sleep sitting upright with my not so slender sling. Per instructions… I kept a steady stream of pain killers flowing through my system but I hated the loopy, draggy feeling they created.
A mere 2 days after surgery I had somehow convinced myself that I felt fine and could go to work. I just really hate missing work and felt like I needed to be there. Don't get me wrong... I got it done... but I just felt kinda fuzzy and uncomfortable the whole time. My headache got so bad from the painkillers that I had to leave early on Friday. The headache progressed into Saturday and turned into nausea... which unfortunately forced me to cancel my black metal concert date with Kati. I felt awful that I was basically the reason she had to miss this show but I honestly couldn't even move without my stomach turning and feeling like I was going to vomit.
Sunday morning my alarm went off at 4am and Kati and I crawled out of bed and headed to Oak Mountain State Park for the Territory Run Co's Sunrise Run/Hike that I had scheduled a few months back. Even though I had surgery... I just couldn't bring myself to cancel the one my of all time favorite events. I was forced to sit out from the hike due to the fear of possible stumbling and jarring one of my anchors loose but even though I didn't get to hike and there wasn't a beautiful sunrise for everyone... it was still such a treat to see so many people come out and fellowship in the woods on a foggy Sunday morning! As always… I want to extend a huge thank you to the Oak Mountain Wheelers for providing an amazing breakfast…
Territory Run Co for sending some swag to give away…
And Oak Mountain State Park for allowing us to have the event!
After the hike, we headed to Tannehill for a rock and gem show. I was desperately trying to make up for missing the black metal concert. Everything was going great until my stomach decided to become “unstopped up” from the pain killers. I don't think I have EVER had a bathroom experience like I had that day. Not even the Wendy's 666 Grindstone 100 experience matched the pain and cramps I had on this dreadful Sunday…
Week 1: Braided (6/4 - 6/10)
I felt pretty good throughout the week. Physical Therapy was moving extremely slow. I was told the first few weeks would be super repetitive and uneventful but to stay patient and diligent with my exercises. I was still having some trouble sleeping sitting upright and unfortunately didn't completely sleep through one single night. But I didn't have any real pain so the tradeoff was worth it. Since I still had my stitches in... Kati had to help me wash my hair and shower. I wasn't being active so I could obviously go a few days without taking a shower but I still felt bad that she had to take time out of her day to help me bathe. I decided to call up my friend Katina to get her to braid my hair to make life a little easier while I recover and while Kati was out of town. Can I just say I absolutely LOVE having my hair braided? I don't think I will ever go another summer without braids! I hadn't felt the air on my scalp in almost 10 years! I seriously can't wait until next summer...
Week 2: Stitches, Mean Girls and Father’s Day (6/11 - 6/17)
I finally got my stitches out which made showering a hell a lot easier on me... especially since Kati was heading out of town to South Carolina for a few days. I caught a showing of mean girls at the Alabama Theatre with Katherine and Mary Margarete before heading up to Hartselle for the weekend to visit the parents and celebrate Father’s Day. It was a pleasant and relaxing weekend filtering through old baseball scrapbooks with my family and hanging out by the pool with my Day 1’s…
Week 3: Breaking a Sweat (6/18 - 6/24)
I finally got released to start doing some super easy gym work (treadmill walking and leg work) as well as some light, flat hiking. I took full advantage! The gym work was still awkward because I was being overly cautious as to not irritate my shoulder. I mostly stuck to short vertical hiking spurts on the treadmill, easy stationary biking and some light weight machine work. Though it wasn’t much… it did feel good to break a sweat again and to get back into the woods!
Week 4: Ralphing (6/25 - 7/1)
Things finally started getting a little more intense in PT. I started doing some weighted movements, heavier bands and the stretching amped up a bit. Though the stretching was uncomfortable and I often found myself involuntarily shaking when the “Temptress of Torture” (aka: Audrey) would push my shoulder to its limits… it felt AMAZING in a weird/painful way.
For the past couple of years, we have gone up to OJG’s cabin for the 4th of July. The main focus of the weekend is to relax at the cabin, eat good food, drink a lot of colbeer, run in the mountains and then participate in the Firecracker 5k.
Unfortunately, Kati had to fly down to Miami for a sorority function and couldn’t make the trip. This year I rode up with Kyle and Jenny after I got off work on Friday for an extended weekend getaway. Let’s just say I had a lil toooooooooo much to drink on Friday night and woke up feeling… (how do I say this and still sound classy?).... we’ll say… less than perky on Saturday morning. Though I felt less than perky… I still sucked it up and went with the planned Saturday hike with Katie Gregg.
KG and OJG were in the midst of training for an epic mountaineering adventure on Mt Adams which would require them to haul 55lbs worth of gear up 4,000 vertical feet in less than 6 or so miles. So, to mimic this… KG threw two 20lbs kettle bells and gallon jug of water into her pack and we headed up to Wesser Fire Tower from the NOC (basically a 6 mile constant climb with 3,000ft gain). She went beast mode and as for me... well I took a fanny pack and 17oz of water.
Her climbing this route was probably the single most impressive thing I have seen in 2017.
What was not impressive? Me ralphing (aka: throwing up) 11 times and falling asleep on the edge of a cliff. That’s 1.8 RPM (ralphs per mile) for those keeping up at home. All ralphing aside… it was good to be moving up a mountain again with my friends…
Week 5: Firecrackering (7/2 - 7/8)
I woke up feeling like a champ Sunday morning. I was still told by my Physical Therapist to be overly cautious hiking because any jarring could still cause some damage to the healing process. So, I kept my promise about being super cautious while doing a 16 mile round trip hike up to Cheoah Bald….
I mean… that’s kinda light right?
It felt wonderful to spend +5hrs roaming the mountains again! As expected… I woke Monday morning with an extremely stiff and sore shoulder. Despite the soreness… I went back up the Cheoah side with Kyle and Katie G for another 9 mile hike…
Since I couldn’t actually “run”… I had to sit out of this year’s Firecracker 5k. It was still a ton of fun watching and following everyone during the race! Unfortunately I lost the Cabin Course Record for the Firecracker 5k. I reckon I have something to shoot for next year….
The weekend was exactly what I needed to boost my spirits and am so thankful I have these people in my life.
Week 6: Not So Dismal Dismalites (7/9 - 7/15)
By the time week 6 rolled around I was ready to be out of my sling. I was so fed up with this blausted sling that I even decided to start trying to sleep in the bed again. I had been sleeping sitting upright in a room all alone for far too long. I take that back… I had Wobbles to keep me company… so not completely alone…
Regardless… I was sick of not sleeping in the bed lying down with Kati. It was still really awkward trying to find a good resting position with my big padded sling but I managed to start sleeping in bed again. PT kept progressing ever so slightly and I continued to improve my range of motion and strength.
Later that week we headed up to Hartselle to visit with the family. We had all planned a trip to the Dismals Canyon to take a hiking tour followed by a night tour to see the Dismal Lights! It was so much fun! Though it rained practically all afternoon… we had such a good time hiking and exploring the canyon. I loved getting to spend time in nature with my entire family!
It warms my heart to see my niece’s eyes fill with wonder and excitement when she’s exploring the great outdoors…
What’s really mind-blowing is that the dismals are only found in 2 places on this planet… New Zealand… and Ala-freakin-Bama!
I highly recommend checking this place out!
Week 7: Partial Release (7/16 - 7/22)
Dr. Cain finally released me to start running on Monday! Take a seat sling!
I practically ran out of the hospital and went for the most awfully awkward 5 mile run at Red Mountain…
And to celebrate I met up with Sonia, Stephanie and Alison for some margaritas!
The rest of the week’s runs were really really bad and really really sluggish. My gait felt weird and my shoulder was still extremely stiff and stayed tucked in close to my side while running. Everything was just so awkward. That’s really the only way to describe it. I finally started finding a rhythm by the time I ran with Season on Friday evening. Though I could hardly breathe and basically walked every single incline… my stride no longer felt “off.”
I did my first “long” (11 miles) run with Hump and Joel on Saturday. It was an absolute shit show. Though I felt ridiculously out of shape… it felt good to get out in the woods and cover some distance again! Mentally I needed to get this run out of the way. Thank God I have good friends that never complained one bit during all of my wheezing and heavy breathing!!
Even though I was released to start running… Dr. Cain was very adamant about me not going out to run an alpine 100k. He said that even though I was mostly healed and that I wouldn’t jar anything loose… I could still find myself in bad situation with a real possibility of setting back my recovery months and perhaps even another year if I were to fall wrong. Even if he had released me to go out and do the Never Summer 100k… where I do believe I could have physically finished the race… it definitely would not have been an enjoyable experience. Missing the race itself wasn’t the end of the world… but what I did hate was having to miss a trip with the people that were heading out to Colorado. They kept me updated with all kinds of pictures so I got to live vicariously through them…
Week 8: Back to My Roots (7/23 - 7/29)
After a mere week of running… I felt like I needed to get back to my roots and back to where my love of mountain running began. Since Kati went to visit family in Tennessee… I decided to set out early Saturday morning for a quick trip to the Smokies. I arrived in Cades Cove around lunch and quickly set up camp…
I figured I would ease back into some endurance. I had planned out a route where I would bike 8.5 miles from my campsite to the far end of the Cades Cove loop…
Stash my bike at the Gregory Bald trailhead…
Run/hike the 11 mile round trip up to the bald…
And then bike the 7.5 miles back to the campsite.
It. Was. Glorious. I was COMPLETELY exhausted by the time I got back to camp. Strangely enough… my buddies Kyle and Ryne had a campsite adjacent to me. Even more strange was the fact that I first bumped into them atop Gregory Bald. (I think the universe wants us to run together). It was great catching up with them and swapping stories over some colbeers.
The next morning, I woke up before the sun so I could meet Ashley, Molly and Ash B at New Found Gap. I hadn’t seen my Mountain Girls since before the surgery so I was stoked to get to run with them! Since we were all kinda doing a different route… Ash B and Molly took the car down to Alum Cave Trailhead to do an out and back and Ash and I headed out from New Found Gap…
We took the all too familiar AT out to Charlies Bulge…
Boulevard up to LeCoontay…
And then down Alum Cave. We made a quick lil pit stop to scramble a bit… but the shoulder just wasn’t feeling strong enough yet to traverse anything serious…
We caught up with Ash B and Molly on the way down Alum and ended the day with a cold soak and colbeers in the river!
Week 9: Beach Better Have My Money (7/30 - 8/5)
My first real mountain weekend of running kinda sorta completely kicked my ass. Thankfully we had a beach trip planned for the following weekend and spent the weekend with our toes in the water… ass in the sand… not a worry in the world… a colbeer in my hand…
Week 10: #TimetoPlay in West Virginia (8/6 - 8/12)
My buddy Fred works part time with Salomon and heads up the Salomon tent/booth for the East Coast Ragnar Trail Relays. He had shot me a message about possibly coming up to West Virginia to help him with the demo. It worked out that missing the Never Summer 100k had left me with the perfect amount of vacation days to tag along on this adventure. I had such a good time working the tent and running with Fred and Chris…
And our Air B&B hosts were awesome! They even had an adventure cat who mountain bikes, rock climbs and SUPs!
West Virginia was gorgeous!
I am very thankful that I got a chance to go on this trip but even more thankful that I got to hang out and get to know Fred better. He is such an amazing dude with an incredible passion for the outdoors. I can’t wait for more adventures with him!
Week 11: Finger Banging Firetowers (8/13 - 8/19)
I knew that the Rut 50k wasn’t going to be much of a “race” effort for me… but I did know it was going to be hella hard and that I needed to get into some kind of shape for it. With that being said… Matty Fierce and I headed up to the Smokies for a big weekend of mountain running in hopes of completing a very stout loop route on the Cosby side of the park that my buddy Ryne had mentioned. (who by the way was up in the same area… again… UNIVERSE I HEAR YOU! I swear we will run soon!)
After a semi restful night of camping… we set out early Saturday morning on the big loop. We started at Cosby Campground and headed up Low Gap, popped down Walnut Bottom and connected with the Swallow Fork Trail. It was really cool being in the heart of the Smokies on trails I had never been on before…
We connected with the Sterling ridge line and made our way up to the Mount Sterling Fire tower…
After an Arby’s sandwich and a Red Bull, we headed down the long Baxter Creek Trail to the cool off in the river.
To be perfectly honest… I was pretty wasted by the time we got to the river. I had only been back running for 3 weeks so I had already anticipated the climb up to Mt Cammerer to be slow and sluggish for me.
It was as tough climb up to Mt. Cammerer but we eventually made it up to the tower.
Per usual… Matt took off his shirt the moment he saw other boys without theirs on…
After a few minutes relaxing up on the summit we headed down the AT back towards our car.
Out of left field I got a second wind coming down from Cammerer and bombed (relatively speaking of course) the descent. I knew that I would be paying for this choice on Sunday’s run… but at the time I was just happy to be moving through the woods at a good clip at the end of a long 28 mile (8700ft gain) day. Needless to say… plenty of colbeers were had at the end of the day…
Sunday we woke up and headed towards Mt LeCoontay. The game plan was to head up Rainbow Falls Trail...
Tag Myrtle Point and Cliff Tops…
Refill our water at the lodge…
Hit Brushy Mt summit on the way down Trillium…
And end the day with a quick dip in Grotto Falls before heading back home to Alabama.
The route ended up being a little over 17 miles (4600ft gain). I couldn’t have asked for better weather or better company on the trip…
I crawled into bed Sunday night worn out and happy. I was so thankful to be getting back to my normal self…
pic: Matty Fierce
Week 12: Lulu Street Jive (8/20 - 8/26)
2 big wins came during this week!
1) I finally wrapped up my almost yearlong dentist project
2) I graduated from Physical Therapy!
I can’t even begin to express how thankful I am to have had such an amazing team of people working so hard to nurse me back to health! Despite their torture themed nicknames (Mistress of Misery, Temptress of Torture, Princess of Pain)… the ladies at Impact are some of the sweetest, most genuine people I’ve ever met! Thanks so much Jessica, Audrey, Michelle, Cowan and Rhonda… yall are da best!!
Later that I week I linked up with OJG, Matty Fierce and 2.0 for a fun Saturday morning at the Lululemon Surprise Run Social in Homiewood…
I even got a chance to swing by Oak Mtn to catch Hump finishing up his 20 mile Ridge 2 Blazing Ridge Race…
Week 13: Full Release (8/28)
“Your range of motion looks great… strength is a little bit better than what we expected at this stage… everything looks fantastic. You don’t have to see us anymore.”
I could have hugged Dr. Cain but he didn’t look like a hugger so I opted for a manly handshake.
“Any plans for the Labor Day weekend?”
I just smiled and said… “I’m heading out West…”
It was time to go put the new shoulder to the test….