Sunday, January 29, 2012

#385: "God Bless You," he said.

Sixteen years and a day ago, I spoke with my father for the last time. The Steelers were about to play the Cowboys. We usually talked after the game, but this was the first time I was ever going to watch a Super Bowl without him, and I wanted to check in. We talked about how he was feeling: "like hell," he said. It had been about a year since the heart attack, and in those few months, he had grown old and tired. Depression is very common after a heart attack, and it had hit him hard.

Dad had been planning his and Mum's retirement for a long time. He was a newspaper man, a printer, like his father. He spent many years working his way up in a union that taught him the craft that would let him give his kids the opportunities he hadn't had. The joy went out of his work the day they took the linotype out of the composing room and replaced it with the giant computers. He learned to work with them, but he didn't love them the way he had love the hot lead slugs that used to make up the paper. So he put his shoulder to the wheel, learned the new system, and started saving for the time when he wouldn't have to work the night-turn at the Press anymore. He had fought beside his union brothers for decades to save their jobs, to save the union my grampa Johnson helped to build. There were strikes, buy-outs, mergers, frustrations... The bosses did their best to break the unions, and failed. But the battle had taken a lot out of my Dad. He had poured his passion into his family, his church, his Boy Scouts, his neighbors. He took care of everyone but himself. And then, the heart that had pumped so much love into the world betrayed him. Sleep missed. Cigarettes smoked. Too many pounds. Too many worries. They took their toll. We would sit in the living room, and he would talk about moving back to the farm where Mum grew up. He updated me on how much was in the retirement fund. He had the date circled in his mind: the day he could pack up and move to the green hills and hardwood forests of northern Pennsyltucky.

But today, we talked about the Game. The Steelers chances, (they weren't good.) His appointment for more tests in the morning. Other than his dark mood, there wasn't anything especially memorable about the conversation. Except the end. Dad wasn't an "I love you" kind of guy. He was more comfortable living it than he was saying it. We had tried it on a couple of times, but it always fit like a new shoe, handsome, but just a little too stiff and pinchy to be comfortable. I settled for a good bye hug, and a "be careful going home." I knew what he meant. We finished up with "Well, I better get going. Enjoy the game," or something like that, then he said the words I will never forget.

"God bless you," he said.

In the Bible, sons are always asking their dying fathers for their blessing. It's the last gift a Dad can give to his boy. It was the last gift my father gave to me. I treasure that blessing more than my life.

The anniversary always sneaks up on me. His birthday will be in a week or so. I always see that coming. But the night the phone call came, (why do they always come at night?) that one always catches me unawares. I've been feeling really crappy this weekend. Staying in bed. Feeling depressed and tired. Skipping yesterday's long run. I had no idea why. Then this morning, my Mum posted it on Facebook. 16 years. "Do you think that's the reason I've been feeling so bad?" I asked Mrs P. "It happens every year," she answered.

There's so much I wish we could have shared. Two more Super Bowls. All the graduating grandkids. An Eagle scout. A linebacker. A lady Scoutmaster. A daughter who works to keep kids in school. The sons-in-law who held their families together. The daughter-in-law who became a child therapist. The wife who shared his home, his bed, and his heart who became the matriarch of our strange, unruly tribe.  And the son who finally figured out that life is worth fighting for.

We are his legacy. He spoke those words to me, but they were for all of us. All of us. When things get rough, we can keep fighting, just as he fought. We can keep loving, as he loved, even when we feel like hell. We can leave things better than we found them. We can build legacies of our own. We have his blessing.

God bless you too, Dad.

Peace,
Pennsy

Thursday, January 12, 2012

#384: From the Rubber to the Road - Leaving the Treadmill

A friend writes:
Hey, Pennsy. If you get a minute, could you reflect on your transition from the tredmill to hitting the open road? How far were you enduring inside before you went out? Is one easier for you than the other?
It's taken me a while to remember those first steps without the "training wheels." As always, I'm telling the story I recall, not necessarily the one that actually happened. Your mileage may vary.


In my younger days, I always tried running outside, on the streets or on an available track like the big cinder oval at my high school. I can't say for certain why the habit never "took" for me back then, but it never did. For one thing, I never had the right clothes. I would wear basketball shoes and my feet would blister. Or I would wear sweat pants and my thighs would chafe. Like any rational person, I didn't like doing something that hurt me. I was probably feeling self-conscious, too. A Fat Man Jogging is always a potential target for the judgement and taunts of strangers. I was still young enough for those things to bother me, I guess. Sooner or later, my excuses always out weighed my good intentions.


Back in December of 2007, I developed a painful, hot spot on the inside of my leg, just above the knee. Mrs P was concerned, so I called the nurse hotline and the lady told me to get to the emergency room NOW! Turned out I had cellulitis, but given my 400+ lbs and sedentary lifestyle, it could have been a blood clot. The experience spooked me, and we decided to jump on a New Years special at a local gym. It was a great decision. They got me lifting weights again, and taught me how to use the cardio machines: bike, elliptical, stairmaster, and treadmill. 


I walked for a long time on the mill, always trying to go a few minutes longer, a little bit faster. Now and then, I would try to trot, but neither my wind or my knees were ready for the challenge. One night, while Mrs P was in her spinning class, I started jogging and was able to keep it up for a minute. I never changed the speed on the belt. It was probably about 4 mph. I walked till I felt ok, then started jogging again, knocking off portions of 15 minute miles. I was gasping for air and sweating rivers, but for some reason, my feet kept going. I closed my eyes, and felt myself running for the first time in years. When I opened them, Mrs P was standing there in front of the treadmill, weeping and proud. 


After that, I jogged the same way I had walked: patiently adding time and speed. Not much speed. I could run at 4.5 mph max, but I was running, and I was happy.


Sometime in early Spring, I noticed a poster on the gym bulletin board advertising a 5K race to support a local shelter for women in recovery. I liked the idea of running for a cause that mattered to me, and Mrs P and I talked about whether or not I was ready to take on the challenge. I had never run that far, and I had not run outside yet. She encouraged me, and I sent in my registration. 


I took my first steps outdoors early in the morning, running the sidewalks around our neighborhood. Jogging before sunrise gave me a little anonymity, and the only other runners I encountered were always friendly and encouraging. I ran too fast and too far. I still hadn't discovered the magic of walk breaks. My knees and ankles ached. I went back to the treadmill till I felt better, then tried again. Went a little farther, this time. I know now what a dangerous approach this was: running till you get hurt, then waiting till you get better. Knowing that the race was out there, (and that I had paid to run in it,) kept me motivated to keep going. Eventually, I could run 3 miles on the mill, and three days before the race, I decided I should go out to Coldstream Park and run the course. It was cold and rainy. The hills were much harder than I expected. An old man passed me twice while I   navigated the 1.5 mile circle. I felt pretty good.


The day of the race, I started too fast. Around the 2.5 mile mark, I felt a sharp pain in both Achilles tendons. I had strained both of them and would be limping for weeks. I thought they were just cramping, so I stopped to stretch (bad plan) then continued jogging along. I saw the 3 mile marker (the one in my profile picture) and knew the finish line was just around the bend. Running as fast as my fat, crippled legs would carry me, I reached the chute, high-fived the supporters lining the path, and handed in my bib stub to record my finish order. Mrs P was weeping again, of course. 


It was the greatest feeling.


The pain went away, eventually, but the pride in my accomplishment never did. I will never be a speedy runner, but I will always love running, I think. I'm hooked. I like the treadmill because it offers simplicity. I can set the speed and incline, put in my headphones, close my eyes, and go. I have also come to love the road. A lot of that has to do with living in the Bluegrass. I can leave my driveway and be running beside horse pastures in about 15 minutes. You have to be more alert on the road. I never wear my iPod there, but the music of the morning more than makes up for it. 


So back to the question... I guess I just stayed on the treadmill until my body told me it was time to leave. Having an event to prepare for helped. Seeing myself get stronger helped. At some point, I found the courage to try something new, just like joining the gym had been new. I could have been smarter about the way I made the transition, and after my cancer, I used Run/Walk/Run to train more safely, but I liked the feeling of running outside.  I like them both. The treadmill is easier, but road running can be heavenly. 


Trust your spirit. You'll know when it's time. One step at a time.

Peace,
Pennsy

Saturday, January 7, 2012

#383: A Week of Workouts

I'm fighting off a cold, so this morning I'm blogging instead of running the 13 miles I had planned. After I wake up a little more, I'm going to the gym to run some hill repeats on the treadmill in solidarity with my friends out there who are doing the real thing. Meanwhile, here's how the week went.


Strength and Cross Training


Here's how my circuit workout is progressing. 

12/2812/301/2 1/5
Squats 72 86 93 82 
Push ups 70 68 81 66
Lunges 23 22 26 27
Planks 120 120 120 120
Leg curls 62 83 88 82
Russian Twist 58 64 91 84
Pull ups 18 20 9 21
Dips 41 41 25 46


 It's pretty clear that I was getting tired by Thursday, even after a day off. I think that's when my cold was starting to catch hold. During my workout, it felt as if my upper body was really weak, but now that I look at the numbers, I see that my arms and shoulders are actually getting stronger. That's the kind of surprise that makes me glad I keep a log.


I started a TRX class on Friday. It really challenged me in a good way. TRX is a body-weight exercise you do using nylon straps hanging from the ceiling. I can't really describe it, so here's a video.

This workout hits all my weak links, engages muscles head to toe all the time, and provides a great, low-impact cardio challenge. I'm going to like this, and will be making it a weekly part of my cross training routine.

One of my favorite parts of the week was a 2 mile walk with my friend Dee Dee on Friday. She's one of my LIVESTRONG  sisters, and has had a much tougher cancer battle than mine. I admire her courage and determination as she continues choosing life. Our walk was a nice way to button-up a good week.



Running


I did quite a bit of work on the treadmill this week. I had trouble finding a machine with a heart rate monitor I could rely on, but for the most part, the pace and distance readings I got from the treadmill were consistent with my Nike+.
Sunday, 11 miles (6.5 LSR, 5 race)
Tuesday, 2.25 miles (Recovery run on Treadmill)
Thursday, 6 miles ( 2 Tempo on Treadmill. 4 intervals)
Thursday's intervals were fun. I was at the Arboretum and my legs were very heavy and tired. I didn't want to bail out on the workout, but I could tell I wasn't going to make it using my usual approach. I switched my watch to 30 second intervals. 0:30 run/0:30 walk. There were a couple of very cool things about this run. I was able to run much harder, because I knew there was a break coming up any second. I was able to recover quickly, because I had only run for 30 seconds. And my time for the four miles was 47:13. That's 11:48 per mile. Essentially, walking half the time did not slow me down. It allowed me to run faster, longer. There's no way I could run 9:00 miles for 20 minutes straight, but that's just what I did, using these very short intervals. Good old Galloway strikes again!

Nutrition

Something weird is happening. I'm gaining weight. This makes no sense to me, but there you have it. I spoke with Nancy, the Dietician at the Y, and her first question was, "are you getting enough protein?" I'm not really sure, so I'll be keeping a food log for the next week, then she and I will sit down and look it over. My body fat is staying pretty consistent, around 23%, but if I'm going to be logging all these miles, I really don't need any extra weight to carry along. Training for a marathon is a really bad time to think about going on a diet, but I don't want my eating to be working against me.

Epiphany


So yesterday was Epiphany: Twelfth Night; the last day of Christmas. For the church, it's the finish of a journey that started way back at the beginning of Advent. Tradition has it that Epiphany is the day the wise men finally made it to Bethlehem to visit the Holy Family. Here's my favorite line from that story.
Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way ~ Matthew 2:12
There is a literal meaning to this passage, of course. The magi took a different route home than the one they had traveled to Bethlehem. But I think it means something more.They had made a long, difficult trip, these wise men from the east. Finally, they did what they set out to do: they met Jesus, and the meeting changed them. Their lives were not the same once they saw Christ. They had to live another way. That's the heart of Epiphany, to me. Once you see God in the flesh, once you bear witness to the Holy Spirit in the eyes of another human being, you just can't keep living the way you used to live. If we take Christmas seriously, if we are really willing to take the journey of the Magi, we have a chance to be changed. Once we know that Jesus lives in our neighbors, we can never treat them the same way. Christmas can change us. We can come to the manger just as we are, but like JT says, we can go home another way. 


Merry Christmas, for another year.

Peace,
Pennsy



Monday, January 2, 2012

#382: Resolutions

Here's my line for yesterdays race:
Coldstream Research Park
Lexington, KY
January 1, 2012, 1:00 p.m.
(~45 degrees, Cloudy Skies and VERY Windy) [Swackett said the wind chill was 31°. I believe it]
Overall Name Age Gp  Place Time Pace
251/354 Pennsy M 50-54 7/8 53:55.6 10:47.1
HTML Tables

 Yesterday was a great start to the new year. I wanted to run arbout 12 miles yesterday, but Coach Melissa kept talking about this race that would be raising money for a young man named "RJ" who had Hodgkins Lymphoma, Stage 4A. That's one I couldn't say "no" to. 


I decided to make up the mileage in a LSR with a friend in the morning. 
50°. 6.08 mi/1:10:48 @ 9:00 AM. LSR, Legacy (b) from Coldstream. Adidas. 5:00 run/0:30 walk. Splits 12:04 11:40 11:44 11:40 11:29 11:14. Beautiful morning run.
The sun was shining and the air was a perfect 50°; a little too cold for standing around in shorts, but just right for running. We trotted down the Legacy Trail into the Bluegrass morning, along the fence rows and the cow barns and the horse farms. These runs always make me so grateful for the place I live and the chance to run in such beautiful scenes. We kept a nice, easy pace, and finished with breakfast of eggs and grits at the Cracker Barrel.


The race was scheduled to start at 1:00, so I made my way back to Coldstream and parked to wait. Tried to call Mrs P, but got voice mail. I called Mum to wish her Happy New Year, and we caught up on one another's news. As I sat in the Honda chatting with her, I noticed that the car seemed to be rocking. Outside, paper, branches, and other surprisingly large objects were moving horizontally past my windshield. The blue morning sky cooled to a steely glow. Winter had decided he had waited long enough to visit Kentucky. When I opened the car door, it felt as if the temperature had fallen 20°, though the thermometer swore it was only 5. I reluctantly pulled off my warm-up pants. Even more reluctantly, I took off my damp shirt, greased the nips, and pulled on three top layers for the race. I could always take one off if I got over heated, but to be honest, I did not anticipate that eventuality. Then I kicked myself for taking those gloves out of my bag in the morning when the back yard felt more like April 30 than January 1. It was a short jog up to the hotel where registration was going on.


The big, beautiful lobby was filled with people in running gear, some of it seasonally appropriate, some of it just plain crazy. My friend DJ was just wearing shorts and his "Run Kentucky" technical shirt. I didn't know whether to admire him, or to medicate him. A strangely familiar man greeted me warmly. "I'm sorry," I said, "But I don't remember..." "I'm John," he smiled. "I work with Dr. Kudramoti. You probably don't recognize me in my civilian clothes." John was the resident who raced me to the ER when they discovered I was about to die from a blood clot in my chest. Not the kind of guy you want to forget no matter what he's wearing, even without your glasses. We shook hands and smiled. I assured him I was doing great, and wished him a good run. 


Registration was in a large meeting room off the atrium. To the right was a loooong line of runners waiting for on site registration. (This not a strategy I recommend, by the way.) From the left, I heard another familiar voice greeting me. My friends Krissie and Nathan were volunteers, distributing bibs to those of us who had pre-registered online. Krissy told me she had decided to volunteer for more races than she ran this year. Nathan was wearing an orange safety vest, and said he would be at the last turn, pointing weary runners in the right direction. These are some very cool people. But soon, they would be much cooler. I decided that I would like to do some volunteer support one day, but that I would look for a chance to do it in May, not January. I don't imagine there was much demand for Gatorade yesterday.


I wandered the lobby for a while, listening to Indian folk music on my headphones and greeting runners I knew from John's Striders. It's surprising how many new people I've met this year. We run together on weekends, and keep up with each other online during the week. Yet another pack that has welcomed me in.


My LIVESTRONG cohort, LaDonna showed up and I went with her to the registration room. by now the line stretched around the walls, but by some miracle, an angel with a handful of bib numbers offered to sign her in as we were making our way to the end of the queue. LaDonna has earned a lot of karma points during her battle. I suggested she might want to pick up a lottery ticket on what was obviously a lucky day.


R.J. Hijalda
On my way to the start, I met a bald young man in the hall. He was surrounded by friends, and was wearing a bib. I heard someone introduce him, and stopped. "Hey, are you RJ?" I asked. "Yeah," he said. He had a friendly, open face. "I'm Bob. I had cancer last year. You're doing great. You can beat it. Keep fighting." He met a lot of people yesterday. I hope he remembers me. RJ has a lot of friends, and a lot of heart.

This is the part where I should tell you about the race. I'm not sure I remember many details. I remember feeling numb. I remember running into the wind, praying for the next turn that would change it into a tail wind. Early on, I looked down at my sport band and saw it blinking crazily. I pushed the buttons until it stopped, but I knew from the first quarter mile that something had gone screwy with it and I wouldn't be able to rely on it for time or distance today. I set it to monitor my pace, and chugged along,  Trying to sustain  11:00/mile. There are a couple of long climbs on this course. Mercifully, the wind blew from behind on them. I tried to glide on the downhills, letting gravity and an easy stride carry me along. I had a hard time finding anyone to keep pace with. I'm sort of half-fast, now. I'm either passing people, or watching real runners pull away. On the other hand, I don't get passed nearly as much as I used to. Around mile 3, I found a woman I could track, and we exchanged places several times. You sort of get a feel for when somebody likes running with you. She was kind of hard to read. Not everyone appreciates being passed by a Fat Man. At mile 4, she shifted gears, and pulled away on the last long climb of the course. I thought about trying to keep up, but knew if I tried to push my way up the hill, I would be out of gas before I got go the top. I let her go, but I was just a little grumpy about it. A couple of young men zoomed past me, playing hare to my tortoise. It wasn't long before they learned that Aesop was right. I confess, that felt good. I turned the corner at the top of the hill feeling surprisingly fresh. Up ahead, I could barely see my former traveling companion steaming along. I know this course well. With the exception of one last little rise, it was all downhill from here to the finish. I decided to see how close I could get to her before the finish.


Jeff Galloway talks about "dirty tricks," little mind games you can use to keep your head in a race. I fashioned an invisible rubber lasso and threw it around her waist. Then I tied my end around my head. As she ran, without realizing it, she was actually pulling me closer. On the last rise, my watch beeped: my last walk break. Instead, I eased back to a jog, gathering steam for the downhill to the finish. As my watch beeped again, I crested the hill. I looked down and saw my friends Krissie and Nathan, freezing their butts off, pointing runners toward a side trail. Through the bare branches, I saw the timers and the finishing chute. I dropped my imaginary lasso and turned on the treadmill I have been training on this week. The belt spun faster, but my legs moved easily, Krissie and Nathan cheered my name and I smiled as I passed them. Ahead I could see the finish line, and my nemesis, just ahead. She had no idea I was about to pounce. She turned into Wile E. Coyote, mystified at the "whoosh" of air and the cloud of dust that flashed past her, 15 yards from the finish. Far behind me, I could hear an Acme anvil falling. I didn't look back to see if it got her.
Resolution Run, 45° 5 mi/53.55 @ 1:00, Coldstream. Adidas, Intervals, 5:00 run/0:30 walk.
At the end of the chute, we smiled. She wasn't such a villain after all. "Were you keeping time?" she asked. I looked at my watch. "50:33," I read. We were both amazed and delighted. Runners like us can only dream of that kind of pace. It wasn't until I got home and downloaded my runs into Nike+ that I discovered my gizmo had failed to record the first 4/10ths of a mile. I kind of hope she never found out. She looked really happy about her new PR.


I went to the car, put on a coat and some pants, and walked back to Krissie and Nathan's corner, hoping to see some friends finish. It wasn't long before I saw LaDonna coming down the hill, running strong and smiling enough to beat the clouds and the wind. I joined her for the last hundred yards, but at the end, I pulled back and let her finish on her own. After she got through the chute, she came to me, glowing. "That's the first time I've ever run 5 miles," she said and we threw our arms around one another. I know what that feels like; to go somewhere you've never been before; to reach something you once feared you would never reach. It is the greatest feeling in the world. And it's an honor to be there when someone you love feels it. That's holy.

God, but I love to run.


Peace, y'all.



Pennsy
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