Monday, December 22, 2014

The Dad Chronicles-Chapter 1

One thing I love about this time of year is that things usually slow down a bit at work, and it presents an opportunity for all of the family to spend time together and celebrate just being a family.  I am very fortunate that my family has somehow mostly settled in the same geographic area, and four generations of us can get together with an hour’s notice.    

Yesterday was such a day.  My daughter Monica offered to host a Chanumas gathering at her house to spread some holiday joy (and we found out a little later, the flu virus, compliments of her middle of her three sons).  My younger brother David was there with his lovely fiancĂ©e Linda.  Monica’s husband Wes arrived a little later with their three children, coming from another family gathering on his side of the family.  Together, that family has made me the proudest father and grandfather in the world.  And my mother and father were there.  They are still the glue that keeps us all as close as we are as a family, and chose to re-retire in Atlanta, just to be near us all.

During the visit, I made plans to see Mom and Dad today. At 83 and 88 years old respectively, they are both still vibrant and alert, look much younger than you might expect, and though there are signs of slowing down with both of them, they both still think about their own future with the assumption they will still be around for a while.  They are both still very active, alternating their time between here and Atlanta, with summers spent in Asheville, NC.  And they still drive back and forth when they go.

There is nothing in this world that I can do to make my father any happier than when I am running and writing.  That is probably because he knows it is a sign of contentment on my part, and a parent wants nothing more for their children than peace and happiness.  Well, I am running regularly again, and I am writing as well, and when we talked about it yesterday, he was almost in tears.  I could see that he could not be any more proud and pleased.

Of course it takes many things for me to arrive at my “place” but is seems to always start with running.  I have been doing it on and off for over 30 years, and writing about it, on and off, for about 20.  I say on and off because, as many things, it has ebbed and flowed.  There have been months I ran close to 300 miles, and there have been years I have not run a step.  There have been times I wrote every day, and there have been years I have not picked up a pen, or had a creative thought. And all around it, there has been the rest of my life, sometimes turbulent, and at some times, seemingly perfect.  But it has always been eventful.

Those of you who have read my writing over the years know that my father and I have had a special bond over the years, created by, and held together by our common passion for running.  When I first started running in early spring of 1982, Dad was already a seasoned veteran, who already had about 15 years of “jogging” under his belt.  But he never really caught the racing bug until I promoted it to him shortly after I started running.  Looking back, it is surprising he didn’t race all along.  I knew that I had a competitive spirit, but only discovered it in my father once we started racing.

I decided earlier this week to go through all my running logs in order to create a spreadsheet of every race I have ever run and documented.  After going through the first couple of years, I can see this is going to be a mammoth undertaking, but it has already brought back a flood of memories, and taken me back to the smells, feels, and emotions of each race.  I am so thankful that I journalized my runs so consistently for so many years.  And I found myself getting emotional mostly about the races I ran with my dad.  Over the next few weeks, I will share our running and racing history as best as I can.  It will be interesting to see if he recalls the races the same way I do.
This is for you dad.  Hope you enjoy!
1982 Races
OK, so we had actually done a couple of races together before this one, but I don’t count them, because I was not yet a “real” runner, and ran them mainly to support my father, whose company sponsored the race.  I also did it for the T-shirt, and was very disappointed when, the second time I did it, T-shirts were not even offered.  The race was called the Riverdale Ramble, and to this day, I  believe it was the most difficult 10K course I have ever run.  It was bad enough to give anyone a bad attitude about running, but was not bad enough to deter me for actually starting to train in the spring of 1982. So, fast forward.

July 3, 1982- Firecracker Run 5K- Massapequa New York

This was a nice hometown race that is still going to this day, but the year we did it was I believe the 2nd annual.  I have very few photos of Dad and me at races, but for some reason, we got one at this race.  I had run my first 10K the week before at Shelter Island (wearing the t-shirt from it here) and had gotten to about the 3 mile mark when I had to start walking.  My only hope was to be able to run the whole 5K without walking.

First "Real" race together, July 3, 1982
This was an evening race, and I believe it was a warm humid dreary drizzly evening and there seemed to be a nice sized crowd of runners doing it. Back then, everyone who ran in races was a “runner”.  I don’t say this to mock or offend regarding today’s race demographics, but things were much different back then.  If you didn’t run an 8-minute mile, you were in the back of the pack.  Runners were mostly young, male, and athletic, and most races stopped handing out awards at the 50 and over age group, because few people over 50 years old raced.

 If I recall correctly, Mom and my brother David were there too as spectators.  I knew I couldn’t beat Dad.  Though I had been training for three months already, it was intermittent training, and with my natural propensity and body type preferring sprinting, it was talking a long time for my abundance of fast twitch muscle fibers to convert over.

When the race started, I remember actually staying with my father for about a quarter of a mile before he started to distance himself from me and pull further and further ahead.  I could still see the back of his head when I passed the mile marker, but he was well out ahead of me and distancing himself further by the minute.  When my mile split was called at 8:05, I gasped.  I had never run a mile in my life in under nine minutes in training.  This was my first ever experience of what Joe Henderson referred to as “race-day magic.”  I liked it, but at the same time, it scared me, because I had never experienced a kjile like this before, and knew I still had two miles and a little more to go.

I don’t remember much of the detail of the next two miles, but I know dad pulled further and further ahead, and ended up beating me by about a minute.  His final time was in the low 24 minute range, and I think mine was in the mid 25’s, so I actually averaged 9 minutes per mile after the first one.  I do remember I ran the whole thing, and was very tired, but felt accomplished at the finish. Racing was now in my blood, as was a desire to beat him in a race.

October 3, 1982- Suburbia 10K- Eisenhower Park, NY

Between July 3 and October 3, 1982, I ran ten races on my own all around Long Island, and experienced a new breakthrough just about every race. My training became consistent, and I was shattering my PR’s just about every race.  I had run a 5K PR of 22:10 in the Long Beach boardwalk in early August and a 10K PR of 43:55 at the end of September in a new defunct race in Cold Spring Harbor of Billy Joel fame.  I knew I had dad’s number, but after all, I had just turned 27 the day before, and Dad was closing in on his 56th birthday the next month.

I’m guessing Dad doesn’t remember much about this race, as it was a low key race in a very popular park for running, Eisenhower Park.  I had only discovered it less than a month earlier, and had eased into a training routine which included regular runs in this park.  At that time, within the park, there were marked loops of 1 mile, 3 miles, 5K, 4 miles and 5 miles, all with the same starting point, and each route was marked with a different color arrow. A couple of the loops actually went outside the park, and when I went back years later after moving away from New York, I learned that the longer routes were no longer marked because they went outside the park, creating a liability issue.

Log entry from the day I first discovered Eisenhower Park

I was starting to recover from my first ever running injury, knee pain which was caused by a terrible choice of running shoes.  It may have not been the model as much as the size, which was about 2 sizes too small.  As a new runner, missing a single day because of an injury was unacceptable, so I started seeing a chiropractor who was also a friend of a friend. Not so smart in retrospect, but I was a new running addict, and would have run through about anything.

I switched from my original misfit pair of shoes to Saucony, I believe it was the Freedom Trainer, a solid, burgundy-colored shoe that probably weighed about 2 pounds, but boy were they cushioned.  The knee pain started to ease.  Runners are a funny breed, especially when it comes to brand loyalty.  From 1982 to this day, I have never worn any brand of running shoe except Saucony,and doubt I ever will.

As mentioned earlier, I had run a wonderful 10K PR of 43:55 a week earlier but the knee was very tender afterwards, so I had only run a couple of 4-milers during the week.  My expectations were not very high for this race, which was much flatter than the Whaling Museum race the week before.  I remember being surprised at my finishing time of 44:10, not far off from the previous week’s time.  Dad ran in the 52’s, so I beat him with ease, but it was a good race for both of us.

Suburbia Challenge 10K journal entry-Oct.3, 1982

These were the only two races Dad and I ran together in 1982, but it laid the foundation for a long history of memorable races in the years that followed, and a special bond that ended up shaping everything in my life, which probably none of which would have been possible without running.

Next chapter- 1983 races and thoughts.  For everyone reading this that is not my father, hope you enjoy the journey.  For Dad, I’m running and writing.  Are you as happy as I am?

Friday, December 19, 2014

2015-Goals Renewed

Goals.  Any runner knows that, to keep one’s interest, goals are a motivational requirement for ultimate success.  Running goals come in all shapes and sizes, and are a varied as the runners who set them.  They could be based on time.  They could be based on physical health.  They could be rooted in mental health and well being.  They could be based on distance or consistency.  But there has to be a reason, and end to the means, or running withers and dies.

December, to a runner, tends to be a time of reflection on these goals.  It is a time to look back at the past year’s successes and failures, and it is a time to look forward to the coming year and set the dangling carrot far enough ahead of us to push us forward.  Sometimes, the backwards glance goes back way further than a simple 12-month time-frame.  And sometimes the future planning goes far beyond the next calendar year.  But December seems to always be a time of reflection and a time of future thought.

This past year has been a year of downs and ups for me, in that order. The year started with a thought that, after 32 years, my running days may be over, and I was mentally preparing myself to live with that fact.  The past two year, about the only exercise I practiced had been an exercise of frustration.  Last December, I was recovering from a stress fracture (or so it was diagnosed) of my left big toe when a pain developed in the inside of my left knee.  Pain from time to time is expected if you are a runner, but when it lingers, and rest seems to not contribute to the healing process, it’s time to take further action.

Early this year, while grounded with the knee, I was working at a running expo with my wife.  Two booths down, a local orthopedic medical group was represented.  I strolled over to their booth, and casually mentioned to the surgeon representing the practice that there what was going on with my knee, and described the symptoms.  Without pause, he shrugged, shook his head, and said “That’s just age, it happens” and offered little, if any hope.  I was not happy with his bedside manners or his lack of concern.  It made me wonder why he was even at a road race representing his group.

Later that week, I made an appointment with a different Orthopedic Surgeon in the same group, since they have a very good reputation locally, and a subsequent MRI revealed a slight medial Meniscus tear of the left knee.  If I was not a runner, I would have been happy to live with it.  It didn’t really keep me from doing anything I wanted to do.  Well, I could do everything I wanted except run, and running was what I wanted to do more than anything.  So I opted for surgery to repair the damaged knee, which was performed in early May of this year.  And with it came the hope that goals could once again become a reality.

The surgery itself was surprisingly easy.  Within ten minutes of the time I woke from anesthesia, I was walking out the door without assistance.  I thought recovery would be a piece of cake.  But the reality was it required patience, which isn’t my strong suit.  I didn’t do the best job of staying compliant to my prescribed physical therapy, which I’m sure hindered my recovery.  I tried to run too much too soon, and then repeated that error on several occasions.  An accidental half-marathon  in Dublin in early August with long runs of 3 miles in training probably didn’t help much either.

But eventually, despite my sabotage-like efforts, the healing process took hold, and within the past month or so, I am starting to feel completely healed and am once again ready for some review and goal-setting.  So here it is, mid-December, and I’m thinking like a runner is supposed to think again.  In fact, yesterday, I pulled out almost 20 years of history in the form of old running logs, the hand-written kind, and over the next few weeks, I’m going to take every race I’ve ever run and documented, and put it in a spreadsheet, race by race, year by year.  Just going through the first four years yesterday, 1982 through 1985, was very enlightening, and brought back an avalanche of memories and an excitement of what I still have to accomplish as a runner.

Next October, I turn 60, and with it come personal goals and of course, running goals.  Every decade represents new opportunities for a runner, and for that reason, runners are probably the only people I know who actually look forward to getting older.  From Masters (40-49) to grand masters (50-59) to senior grand Masters (60+) every decade represents new goals, new opportunities, new PRs  as the tables are reset.  I gulp at the thought that next birthday, my title will be accompanied by the word Senior, but at the same time, I look forward to enjoying all the old person’s discounts I’ll be able to take advantage of.  My point is, I still feel young, and age as a number is not going to stop me from feeling that way.

So now that I’m feeling better, I have decided that for my birthday present to myself, I am going to run another marathon soon after I turn 60.  I honestly don’t know exactly how many I have run, but by the time I finish my spreadsheet, I will have the answer.  In my mind, I think it’s somewhere around 20.  I do, however, know when my last marathon attempt was.  It was on October 18, 2009, when my wife and I traveled to the Metro Health Grand Rapids Marathon, a beautiful course directed by the very hands on Don Kern.  He and I first developed a kinship through three passions we both share; running, writing, and beer.  Don recently published a book titled “And the Adventure Continues” which documents his world record whirlwind tour while running marathons on all 7 continents in less than a month back in 2011.

Well, I didn’t complete that marathon, as my wife started experiencing stomach distress at around the 20-mile mark of that race, and I made a decision to stay with her while she received medical attention.  She was fine, and I never regretted my decision to stop when she did for a moment, but it did leave me with a feeling of unfinished business.

So, Mr. Kern, I have decided that Grand Rapids will be my marathon of choice to celebrate my 60th birthday, and just like last time, I will contribute my running musings towards that goal race in your monthly newsletter.  And by the way, I will even bring a seven-pack variety of my favorite Atlanta-based micro brews for your enjoyment when I come.  One for each continent you ran a marathon on during your record-breaking accomplishment.

As you like to say…And the adventure continues.