I read a terrific article that our friend Roman Mica wrote on his blog Everyman Triathlon, “The Everyman Triathlete Gives Thanks“, which was also published on Active.com. In this article, Roman details everything that he is thankful for around the sport that we know and love. I encourage you to check it out.
This morning on a few brief minutes of sleep, more like a few moments of passing out, I went to the Rockland Road Runners Turkey Trot simply because I needed to just get outside. I’m in that strange fog described by those that have recently lost a limb. Over the past 24 hours I have heard Wally coughing, the cracking of his joints when he walks, his crying for food and have even jumped up from bed because I was certain I heard the steady stream of Wally peeing somewhere that he shouldn’t have been.
Cindy and I got up this morning around 3am. She began cooking for our friends that are coming over, a welcome task to focus her mind onto something other than the obvious. I also needed a diversion, something to quiet my mind. So even though I was under-nourished and sleep-deprived I drove up to Rockland Lake to meet up with Avi to run. On the way to quiet my mind, I put my headphones on and listened to a podcast from my friend Stacey Joannes, better known as Simply Stu as he recapped his triathlon year. He along with a number of other podcasters and triathletes including Roman trained for and successfully raced Ironman Wisconsin last September – a goal for me in 2008. This reminds me that I never posted my final race report from that race. The weather here is unseasonably warm with our race beginning in a 50 degree cloak of fog, with Avi commenting that following our orange Race with Purpose singlets will be the only way other racers will find their way along the course.
Truth be told, I just wanted to feel something beyond the emptiness that I have been feeling. I knew that after last weekend’s 60K race I was not going to run my best race but I also knew that any excuses would not be tolerated, not after what Wally went through, not after how we saw him fight to the end. When Wally was first placed in ICU a month ago, I participated in the Cadence Kona Challenge. During that time, seeing Wally struggling for each breath, I knew that whatever I thought endurance was, I had no true idea. I placed a picture of Wally up while I competed in the event to remind me that no matter what my mind was telling me, my body would still have so much more to give.
It was with this attitude that I began to run, right up in front with Avi, who I knew was going to torch me but I was hoping that my ability to suffer would give me an opportunity to stay close. I did not pace this race; I started out at a 5K pace and simply held on. I ran a 6:30 min/mile pace up the hills and faster on the descents. When I passed the point that I would normally be finished and still had two miles to go, I began to hurt and I welcomed it. My breathing was labored, with air coming in gasps, and I held on. In fact when two cross country team members passed me, I sped up to stay with them stride for stride. My brain was disconnected from my body by this point, with only a single phrase and picture in my head, “Wally wouldn’t quit!” All I was doing was trying to survive, and then with a final mile to go, I sped up again. I never looked at my watch, as that would have required thought, I just ran and when I felt that I had nothing left to give, I made my legs turn over even faster. Making the final two right turns toward the finish, I ran side by side with the cross country runners who somehow I had caught again and then I went numb. My measured maximum heart rate is 193 beats per minute and I knew I was pinned in the red for the final quarter mile. I didn’t care. I thought of Wally gasping under sedation for his final breaths and all I wanted was for my heart to explode out of my chest. I just wanted to do something to stop the pain I was feeling that had nothing to do with the race I was running. And so I ran past the athlete in front of me and sprinted under the American flag and across the timing mats, gasping for oxygen and almost falling down in my extended hypoxic state.
I don’t know what I expected as I stumbled to bend over a folding chair to have my chip removed. As my heart rate began to come back down, I realized that nothing had changed. That nothing I did could approximate the experience that Wally went through and that he was still dead and we were still without our family member. Uncontrollably, I began to gasp again, but this time it had nothing to do with the race. I simply couldn’t breathe. And then I began to cry. I have no idea what the people around me must have thought and I couldn’t have stopped if I had wanted to. I was gasping and gagging and crying all at the same time, holding myself steady using the folding chair in front of me as best I could.
And then as quickly as it started, it stopped. Without thinking, I did the only thing that I could; I began to run. I went back out onto the course and ran the final mile with those that were still out there. They were at that stage where they were giving it everything they could and I was simply putting one foot in front of another. Not knowing I had already finished, runners gasping for their own PR’s grunted to me encouraging remarks, like “Come on, you’re almost there.” Or “You can do this.” That’s the thing about this community of endurance athletes. We support each other sometimes without even knowing why. To them their comments meant one thing, to me they were interpreted completely differently and they were no less valuable.
I said goodbye to Avi, who ran another awesome race and the tears begin to swell up in me again, having nothing to do with the fact that he kicked my ass. As I drove back home to Cindy and the rest of our family, Henry and Ellie, I finally looked at my watch. My time wasn’t a PR but it was the fourth fastest 5-miler I’ve ever run and the second best time on this particular course. My heart rate during the last mile was 197 beats per minute and my pace was still 6:30. On this day that was all my body had to give, just as it was yesterday for my very good friend.