Sunday, April 21, 2013

#436: The Last Long One Part 2: In Practice

Saturday Morning, 4:30 AM
The alarm chirps me awake. Mrs P breathes softly beside me. My clothes are already laid out in the bathroom. All I need is breakfast and a shower. Pad my barefoot way out to the den, trying not to wake the dogs. In the kitchen, I step on one of those damn cow hoofs that Mrs P gives them to chew on. I whisper my first four letter word of the day and start the coffee maker.

One cup of coffee. Only one. Two apple cinnamon scones. So sue me. I'll burn a couple of extra calories before this day is over. Check the route one last time. All city streets that I know well. I memorize the places along the way where I can find restrooms and Gatorade.

Check the page for Living Strong at the Y 2013, hoping for a little inspiration. I find a $1000 contribution from an anonymous donor, in honor of her mother whose cancer battle ended almost 8 years ago. I write the thank you note and feel the steel forming in my will. There are more important things than my depression. I see Coach's most recent message to me, posted last night. "I believe in you." I can only remember two people saying those words to me. One is my coach. The other is the love of my life. One is going away. The other will never leave me. My heart swells. No time for tears this morning. I can't afford to lose the water or the salt.

Time to shower. Dr Bronner's Magic Peppermint suds finish the work that the coffee started. I step out of the tub awake and ready to go. I pay special attention to drying off my hair. It's 34° outside.

Dressing. The new spandex bike style shorts I got from John's. Body Glide everywhere. inner thighs, toes, nips, armpits, collarbones. Sunscreen everywhere. Never know how warm this day might get. Hope springs eternal. Lip balm. Heart monitor chest strap. White, LIVESTRONG tank. Black warm up pants. The gray Y half zip pullover that Coach bought me for the Monumental Half. White terrycloth wristbands. Check to make sure my route is programmed into the Garmin. Grab my race shoes and socks and pad back out to the den, flipping the cursed cow hoof under the kick space of the kitchen counter with my offended foot.

Pull on the socks, fitting each toe into its individual pocket. Slip into my NikeFrees, and tie them securely.Two pairs of gloves. SPI belt with energy chews and my interval timer set to 2:00 / 1:00. Hydration backpack that I bought last night at Meijer, filled with diluted PowerAde. Flashing red light on my pack turned on. iPod loaded with my favorite running mix. Slip on my John's running cap with my sunglasses over top for later.

That's the great thing about running. All you really need are sneakers and a tee-shirt.

Kiss Mrs P. "Be so careful," she says, not really awake. "I love you." "And I love you, my darling." I may have a schoolboy crush on my coach. but I love this woman with every cell in my body. I run for my cancer people, but I run for her, too. She is the reason I chose to stay alive.  She is with me every step of every run. And so, we run.

Mile 1
11:56. Too damn fast. This one is always a struggle. I feel great. Of course you feel great, idiot. You haven't even run two miles, yet. I try to imagine what mile 26 will feel like, and run at that speed instead. I run the second mile in 12:09 and start being a little more deliberate about my walk breaks.

Run for Rememberance
Mile 4
I arrive at John's just a few minutes behind schedule. 300 runners have gathered to honor the dead and wounded of Boston. The mayor is speaking about the generous heart of our city. Then Kieth takes the mic. He has been running for probably 50 years. He speaks of family. He speaks of unity. He speaks of courage. His heart catches in his throat as he declares, "We are sending a message to the people who want to frighten and hurt us. We will run. Today. Tomorrow. Next year. In Boston. On Patriot's day. Every day. Every where.We will run." And run we do.

Mile 7
The North Lexington Family YMCA. I've been dreading this stop. Mercifully, I only see one person I recognize. I don't have much contact with the Saturday morning crowd. A quick pee stop, and add water to my pack. I have drunk a surprising amount already. Much more than I would have carried on my hydration belt. Trot out to the pavillion where the kids will gather for our morning run. 4 miles. Elissa greets me, a little concerned. "Has the doctor cleared you to run?" I wonder which doctor she means. I am paired with two boys, notorious loafers, and we start off in the chilly morning. I finally need my sunglasses.

Mile 11
If I wanted affirmation for my decision to take time away from work, this was it. I spent four miles restraining the urge to cuss out a pair of 10 year-olds for their lack of motivation. They hate it out here. Elissa is waiting at the finish when I cross the line, alone. They are walking spitefully over the crest of the last hill. Their own personal drama of defiance. "Send them home." I tell her, as I run past the group and out onto the road. It was a mistake to come out here with them today. Kids need patience. Mine is gone. A pee break at the gas station on North Broadway, and I head for the gentle rolling hills of East Loudon Avenue. I am beginning the climb toward the highest point in my run.

Mile 14
The good news is that my four miles with the kids have slowed my pace considerably. Just over half-way through a marathon, and I'm finally warmed up and at tempo. The bad news is, the little store where I planned my next water break has been sold and turned into a restaurant. My pack still sounds full, sloshing happily, but I have at least three more miles before I get to the next water. I set my cap and run on.

Mile 18
I was sure there was a gas station here. Instead, I wander into Kroger. Glassy eyed. I buy a liter of Gatorade and one banana. The little guy monitoring the self-checkout lanes seems mystified. I'm carying a back pack with wires hanging out of it. I'm wearing an ear piece, dark glasses, a black cap, and am covered with little electronic devices that beep every couple of minutes. Not the best outfit to wear 6 days after a terrorist attack. I squint at the keypad without my bifocals, and make my way out of the store, find a place to sit down, and pour a jug of sports drink into my back pack. At least now they know I'm not carrying a bomb in there... Mrs P has sent me a worried text. "Where are you?" I tell her back, telling her where to find me on the map I left her. The sun feels nice, and I pull of my soaked warm up pants, tucking them under the cargo net on my pack. I have now gone farther than either of my last two runs. I figure I've consumed about 3 liters of fluid so far, with only two low volume pee breaks. No wonder I crashed last week. This big motor uses a lot more water than I realized. I pop an energy chew into my mouth, and I'm back on the road.

Mile 19.5
The first cramps.First hint of the approaching Wall. They start in my quads, way down above the knees, which is unusual for me. I consider it a triumph of Coach Carrie's training techniques that she has strengthened my calves so much. That's where I started cramping in Pittsburgh, right around mile 15. As if on cue, both calf muscles turn to fists. Now I can barely straighten my knees to take a step as I make my way through the rolling hills. As icing on the cake, my hamstrings join the symphony. I have felt more pain than this in my life, but never during a run. I think of Becky, doing chemo again for the second bout of cancer: the cancer they found in her spinal fluid. Becky hurts worse than this. So I run.

Mile 25
A very strange point for a break in a marathon. I arrive at the Beaumont Family YMCA, the flagship of our association. I always marvel at this place. It seems as if our entire branch at North would fit inside their basketball court. I haven't got my key tag, so I ask the woman at the front desk to check me in. I think we have taken some kind of class together, but I don't think either of us really remembers the other. I make my way to the restroom, and am surprised at how little urine I produce. For the first time today, my pack is empty of water. I have drunk a gallon of fluid, and not processed enough urine to fill a specimen jar. I've learned something very important about hydration today. I refill my ugly green backpack: my new training partner for life. I send my second text of the day, letting Mrs P know that I'm 3 miles from home. My phone is full of messages of encouragement and concern, many from other cancer fighters. If I could feel anything, I would feel love. But right now, I'm so stoned on Endorphin that all I can feel is my leg muscles seizing into petrified meat. Time to run.

"Bob? It's Dave."
Mile 25.3
Running downhill is a challenge with healthy legs. It is torture when your legs are made of stone. I arrive at an intersection, and there is a car waiting at the stop sign for me. I wave thanks and step off the curb. The driver's door opens, and a familiar bald pate pops out. "Well this is perfect," he laughs. Yesterday, when I was at my lowest, my phone rang. I recognized the number was from a YMCA, and answered with apprehension  "Bob, it's Dave. How are you doing?" It was the CEO of the Central Kentucky YMCA calling. I burst into grateful tears. Who are these amazing people and how in the world have I managed to fall into their loving hands? I was still crying tears of gratitude when Mrs P called to tell me she was coming home. I'm crying them again now as I type. And I cried them yesterday, just a drop or two, when Dave stepped out of his car in the middle of the street and threw his arms around me. "It's good to see you out running, " he smiled.

Mile 26.2
There is a park near our neighborhood. Its ball fields are usually empty when I run through. But yesterday, as I reached the marathon distance, I was surrounded by happy kids in brightly colored uniforms. Bats cracked out base hits all around me. I thought of the two boys who hate running so much. I hope they find something they love as much as these kids love kicking the dirt in the batter's box and pounding the pockets of their mitts into spring softness. My legs still hurt, but the pain was bearable now. I'm not sure if they were relaxing into submission, or if I was past the point of caring, but I felt myself rise up taller as I watched the mileage on my watch flip over to 26.2. 06:36 total elapsed time. That included all those breaks and the long stop in the Kroger parking lot. My time in the Pittsburgh was 6:21. I was going to beat that in Cincinnati, but the Buck-a-Minute donors were going to get quite a bargain.

Mile 28.37
It is finished. I run to the last corner in my route, and shut off my Garmin as I pass the stop sign. I am proud. I wish the neighbors who wave as I walk past could know what I just did. On the other hand, it feels good to carry such a secret inside. I didn't do it for them. I walk and trot easily, carefully cooling down. My next-door neighbor is mowing his lawn, and he shuts off the engine to greet me. He has been following me on Facebook. He knows I've been having a hard time. I thank him for his kindness and can't help bragging to this handsome, strong young man. He smiles. "You know. Most people don't ever run 26 miles until the race. But now you already know you can do it." Yes. Now I know.

I step inside and The Pack greets me. They love it when I come home from a run tasting of sunscreen and salt. I receive an enthusiastic leg massage as I make my way to the kitchen table and drop my nearly empty backpack. Strip off the sweat bands, the shades, and the hat. Grab a towel to protect my chair. Walk back to the den, and ease gently into my desk chair to read the loving messages that friends have posted during the 7 hours I have been out on the road.

Mrs P comes in the door. My heart soars. Her voice. Her tender kiss. Her concerned eyes. She checks me for signs of dehydration, and pronounces me cold, but OK. She mixes a jug of PowerAde for me, and brings me glass after glass of the rejuvenating stuff. She puts some chicken tenderloins on the grill, and warms up a can of beans. Protein and Carbs. Recovery food. I finally have a good long pee. My heart is so full of my wife, I can hardly breath. Here is the love of my life. She is the reason I'm alive at all. We laugh together about our day. We listen to each other's stories. My hands may be cold, but I can feel the fire between us. There are places between a husband and a wife that no one else can be or even understand. It has never been easy, loving me. Many times, I've made it harder than it had to be. But she's never given up on me. No matter how much it hurts. After all my sermons and rants and righteous speeches and altruistic sounding pronouncements, Martha is the reason I run. I run for my life, yes. But I run toward her love. Always.

Sunday Morning
When I woke up this morning, the darkness was back again. A little less than before. A few tears. A few. Just a few. Guess I'm having an endorphin hangover. Time with my dogs. Time with my wife. Time to pray and reflect. I don't understand this journey that we're on. I don't understand why people I love suffer. Why I hurt them. Why they hurt themselves. I don't understand why I can't be the man I want to be: the man people see when they look at me through the eyes of love. I don't know how I've managed to live so long, make so many mistakes, and survive so many consequences. I'm 52 years old, and sometimes I don't think I know a damn thing. Except this. God made me. My Creator gave me deep flaws, but also gave me strength. More strength than I could have ever imagined. Strength to endure. Strength to survive. Strength to serve. Strength to love.

May God grant me the strength to run the race set out for me. And may I never stop loving the people God uses to teach me that strength and that love. May I never stop working to deserve their faith and their sacrifice and their trust. Today. Tomorrow. Next year. Every day. Every where.

The Fat Man runs.


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