Progress report: Between the darkness and the dawn

 Darkness and light

I am ten months out from the race of my life (NYC Marathon) and eleven months past the loss of my life partner Bernice B. Wagner. This Progress Report finds me almost in the middle of a journey that I know began with despair and I hope will end with celebration. At this point I find it almost as difficult to asses my progress in training as it is my progress in the grieving process. It is possible that this mid point is the darkness before the light for both.

The ironies

Both processes, training and grief are laced with irony. In conversation with a friend (also grieving) I described a day spent crying and writing, almost in equal parts. How I put it to her, “I have never hurt so much and wrote so well in my life.” 

In conversation with a running pal I remarked, “I’ve never run so poorly and had so much fun in my life.”

The day spent crying and writing in equal pain, while inexplicable, can at least speak to a known premise that all good art is born out of pain. The running poorly and having fun will take a bit more fleshing out.  

I have been extremely fit for some time, give or take a few reps. Also I have laid in my base over a period of three years. Yet I am slow even for a near seventy-year-old man. There are some reasons. I have recently been diagnosed with arthritis in my right hip and have been nearly hobbled with a combination of hip and groin pain. The decline has been somewhat alarming. On November 11, 2011 I achieved negative splits over an 11K course, running the final two miles in the mid-tens. Two weeks ago I barely averaged a fifteen-minute mile on my long run, a twelve miler.
Why or how am I so happy? I’m surrounded by joyous opportunities. I belong to a running club, Run 4 It Endurance Training. The members are among the most dedicated, supportive and humorous people I’ve ever met. I am privileged to be working with the Pat Tillman Foundation, its mission: to invest in veterans and military spouses through education and community. I’m also on a Ragnar Relay Team made up of a bunch of delightful crazies. Our team, the Ragnar Blue Line Crew is working with the 100 Club of Arizona to provide support for the families of fallen officers. In addition to that I have a coach (Jeff Hall) who has squeezed enough drive out of these old wheels that just last week I ran the best eight miler I have run in several months. Nothing beats a good workout partner, though so I have to give Tough Mudder Sharon Campbell a play for pulling me through the last two miles of that run.

In wrapping this up I’m reminded of a Paul Newman Line from movie Philidelphia Story. About his life he said, “I’m not as good as I hoped to be, but I’m not as bad as I was afraid I was.” That is pretty much me mid-journey

Progress Report: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Imagine a bumbling blogtser like myself has asked you to participate in a short survey. The purpose of the survey is to come to grips with the age-old question: Do runners really have more fun than blondes? Here’s the questionnaire:
Over the holidays which of the following events would you be most likely to attend?

1.     ( ) a Xmas eve run that starts at 7:00 am
2.     ( )  a New Years Eve race that starts at 10:30 pm
3.     ( ) an event called Over the Years for the opportunity to run for 24 hours straight
4.     ( ) a session with a Yoga master named Moonshadow
5.     ( ) 1—3 only
6.     ( ) All of the above

 If you can honestly pick All of the Above you get to choose which event goes in the blog.

But since I’m pretty sure you don’t’ know a Yoga master named Moonshadow, I get to pick. Ok, so I didn’t do Over the Years. But I did drive all the way from Paradise Valley to support our runners on Saturday morning. So I pick the Xmas eve day run, stride for stride the most dramatic and the most fun.

The gathering

Our merry band includes Runners from three outstanding organizations, Run 4 It Endurance Training, the Surprise Running Team, and the 2012 Ragnar team Streakers in Sneakers.

When I arrived Saturday morning I carefully maneuvered my RAV in amongst the party vehicles that  were sprawled in the vicinity of Jeff and Elsie Hall’s home in Sun City West.

It was pitch black on the corner of Conquistador and 125th Ave.  Despite the bone chilling cold the runners were in high spirits, bouncy and chatty. I could tell they were also in a Christmas mood because they barely chided me for being fifteen minutes late for our designated 7 am start time. Our only mandate: get your long run in by 9 am  so we can start our party, which would include potluck and a White Elephant Exchange with a running theme.

The start

Jeff called us together for final instructions. “Out and back” he declared as he pointed in the direction we are supposed to run: “Nothing but right turns, two turning points (forgot what they were) turn around at the Stardust aide station, retrace your steps back here. There will be mile marker cones and clearly marked turning points. Aid stations every mile and a half. Big aide station at Stardust.” After this initial round of instructions I see everybody’s head nodding, everybody’s but mine. After remarkably (to me) few repetitions, we are off to conquer our miles.

Every runner is going to have good days and bad days. Lately I’ve had more bad than good. The pain in my hip and the fact that my fellow runners were all talking to me over their shoulders as they sped by told me that on this day I was destined to do 10 the hard way.

I was good with that.  I only went off course once, overran the first turn. After about 7 minutes of wrong-way running Jeff’s instructions exploded in my brain. He had told us several times the name of the street we were to make our first right turn on. I guess I’m one of those people who are compelled to challenge statements like “you can’t miss it.” 

No worries, ran another seven minutes back to the turn street and gave myself credit for a mile.

The sun rose and the neighbourhoods awoke. The sidewalks filled with singles, couples and dog walkers all exuding good cheer. Some of our own speedy runners were starting to pass me on their way back. Bless their hearts, not one of them cast me a pitying glance.

Jeff was a prince. He came by me in his car several times, shouting “Run, Garry, Run”. Checking to see if I needed anything. Reminding me to hydrate. I said to him on one pass, “You’re coming up in the world dude. I remember when you had to do your coaching on a bicycle.”  

Let No Good Deed Go Unpunished

Jeff’s last pass was less inspirational. The Stardust aide station, our turn around point had suffered an invasion of local gendarmes.
I’ll let Jeff take the story from here.
Susanne (Hasty) called me. When I got to the aide station, I saw they had the intersection of R.H. Johnson (the major thoroughfare in Sun City West) and Stardust closed. I walked over to a group of about a dozen Sheriff’s deputies. I told the deputies, “I can’t believe someone called this in as a HAZMAT incident.” Immediately this rotund Deputy Sheriff started chewing me out, implying I didn’t know how serious the situation was. My reply, sarcastically, was, “It’s water and Gatorade.” At this point, I noticed there were about four younger deputies standing in the background kind of laughing about the whole thing. Meanwhile the Deputy Sheriff kept trying to rip me a new one. Suddenly, one of the bomb disposal members interrupted to diffuse the situation and simply stated that they had to take all calls seriously until they can prove it was safe. I told him and the others I knew that since I was a retired fire-fighter. At that point the Deputy Sheriff backed off. As he walked away I was reminded of what Bugs Bunny would have said about my chubby antagonist. “What a …..!”

David Basham had a different take on the invasion of our outpost.

While Kristin (Steele) and I were running mile 5 we heard the loudest fire siren ever as a truck sped past us. When Jeff pulled up and said, “We’ve had some drama” I was immediately concerned that the fire truck meant we had an injured runner.

Jeff may have gotten the last word. One of the responder group indicated off-the-cuff that he might be interested in joining our running group.

The party

When I finally touched the spare tire on the back of my RAV I was beyond caring that I was last and late again. Inside the party was in full swing. Everybody had a story to tell and nobody minded being cut off in mid sentence by someone who had a better one. Laughter is the best tonic for tired bones, so I found an unclaimed easy chair, sat back and let the joyful banter wash over me.

Runners make the best potluck. Every since it was proven that real men do eat keish I have tried to make amends for my former prejudices. Today I became a manly man indeed. I think I scarfed down a whole pie.

The party became more intense when the White Elephant exchange was announced. Apparently there are two schools of thought when it comes to WE. One interpretation asserts that when you know you are going to a white elephant affair, you get the cheapest, dorkiest gift you can find.

 The other camp has the opposite take. Observe the host’s rules such as all gifts must include a running theme. Go out and buy a nice running related gift that you would secretly like to have for yourself.

When you view the pic of Jeff holding my white elephant offering, you will get which camp I follow. But don’t be too quick to judge. As he hoisted his western scene Elsie said he looked sexy in that pose. You’re welcome Jeff.

The nice gift camp does make for a lively game of strategic thievery. Early on I stole a spiffy water bottle set with a dozen running aids attached from Susanne Hasty. She gave me a faux (I hope) scowl. But I forgot she might be able to something about her loss. Sometime towards the end of the game she blasted across the room and reclaimed her water bottles with a vengeance. 

That left me last to choose. I won’t say I got a lump of coal, but if I ever need to fill a gift box with paper stuffing I’ve got plenty of paper.  

My pecuniary habits aside it was a truly a joyous occasion! In conclusion, allow me to offer this toast: To our merry band of runners, may all our women remain strong, all our men stay good looking and all our children continue to be far above average. Garrison Keeler, eat your heart out.

BTW The polls are closed and it has been announced that runners do have more fun than blondes, unless you are a blonde who runs in which case your score is doubled.

Progress Report: Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

My training schedule for this Saturday called for a ten miler at South Mountain, but as indicated in last Notes on grieving, I opted for the Sally’s Run 5K in honor of Sally Meyerhoff and her family. My coach, Jeff Hall, was understanding if not pleased with my decision. Not only am I training for the New York City Marathon, I have the IMS Half-marathon coming up in February. In discussing ways to make up the mileage and keep to schedule, we agreed that I could do an additional seven miles on Sunday. 

Sally’s run turned out to be a fabulous success. Right at 1,000 runners showed up for this inaugural race. The weather was near perfect and the course, Kiwanis Park in Tempe, was great for wimps like me. It was touching to see and hear from people from all stages of Sally’s life, from pre-high school up to her short career at Duke University. Ordinarily I leave races as soon as I’m fit to drive home, but I stayed to the end this day and was able to have a few words with Sally’s mother. I would like to become part of the Sally Meyerhoff Foundation but don’t know if it will conflict with my commitment to the Pat Tillman Foundation.

But before I can give you my race evaluation, I have to bore you with an update on my hip/groin condition. I’m still having difficulty walking and the groin pain still wakes me up at night. However, I arrived early at the race-site and warmed up with some slow running and a few run-outs. At the start of the race, I was less cautious than I have been of late and felt like I moved into a nice pace for me. My hip & groin loosened up and I was able to focus on my pace. I know I picked it up on the last mile, but my time did not reflect any of these successes. Slow as it was, I was satisfied with my effort.

The Sunday seven did not go so well. I ran along a wash that extends for miles from the golf course bordering my condo complex. I didn’t warm up so the first mile was torturous, allowing for pity-pat progression. I did ultimately loosen up and achieve a tempo run pace. Unfortunately, I spent the first two hours of post-run-recovery in bed. But I did some yoga stretching, took a shower and went to a movie, My Week With Marilyn. By the time I ate my dinner, pan fried chicken thighs, and watched the latest Boardwalk Empire episode, I was feeling nearly human.