The Ecstasy and the Agony

October 28, 2015

When it comes to feats of athleticism, a guy pushing 60 shouldn’t try to compete against a guy in his early ‘20s. Even if it is just against himself.

For each of the past two years, I have trained for and successfully completed a half-marathon.  My time in the 2013 Towpath Trilogy half was about 1:56, more than respectable. I didn’t do quite as well in April 2014 on a different course, but — still — at about 2:04, it was a very good showing.

Both times I trained fairly well.  I had the benefit of a terrific partner in Michael Murray in 2013.  Mike’s now gone on to training and running in marathons.

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Kerezy running a half marathon in 2013

Both times, I devoted time and put in the necessary miles running prior to the event. Both times, I alternated between “performance” runs and off days in the training regime. Sure I had minor aches and pains in the process, but that comes with chronological age.

Then this year, somehow I got a crazy notion that perhaps I could do as well in a half marathon as I had when I ran my first such race. That was back in 1978.  Jimmy Carter was president. Gas was 65 cents a gallon, and three loaves of bread cost one dollar. We hadn’t heard of Three Mile Island or Iranian hostages yet.  Saturday Night Live’s line-up featured Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtain and Gilda Radner.

One big benefit I had going for me this year was knowledge.  I had picked up a tremendously helpful book, Be a Better Runner, by Sally Edwards, Carl Foster and Roy Wallack. The three authors are perhaps the most knowledgeable people around about every conceivable aspect of running training. In fact, this trio has competed in dozens of marathons, triathlons, and ultra-marathon events. I read the book and followed their recommendations as best I could.

I put in the miles.  My log indicates that I either ran or (on some off days) did elliptical training that totaled 178 miles between August 16 and October 8, my last “good run” day before the October 11 half-marathon.  I exceeded 10 miles twice in the training and had about eight more runs of 7 to 9 miles.

I ate better than I have in many years. Following the advice in the book, more vegetables and fruits found their way into my diet. Monounsaturated fats became a favorite, as did fish. I didn’t get rid of the unhealthy foods as much as I’d liked though.

My lovely wife Kathy warned me not to overdo it. When I confided with her that I was aiming for a time of around 1:50 to 1:55, she tempered my enthusiasm. But she supported me with better food and a lot of prayers and well wishes.

So, at 8 a.m. on October 11, there I was at the starting line at Brandywine Ski Resort.  Bib No. 2136 adorned my shorts.  Ready to rumble!

There is some chess involved in running races nowadays, due to the huge number of competitors.  There were only about 300 runners when I did my first event, a Crawfordsville (IN) Jaycees Half Marathon, in 1978.  There were about 2,000 half marathon competitors on the trail that day – and the Towpath Trail is a lot more narrow than the county roads around Ladoga that I ran on back in the ‘70s.  I chose to not go full speed for the first 1.5 to 2 miles, letting the crowd space out, and then to settle into a good stride after then. My first mile time was 9:30, and I completed the second mile at 18:15. I was feeling better as the race progressed, and I gradually picked up the pace.

I got comfortable as miles 4 and 5 went by, finding a steady running rhythm that matched my training runs. Music helped a lot. There were no Sony Walkman or Apple iPod devices back in 1978! I was also on a “home” course – the same Towpath Trail I had used for longer runs in my training, and nearly the same course I ran in 2013.

When I hit the halfway point in the run, the stopwatch read 57:05.  That was faster than my time at the halfway point in 2013! The hard work and preparation prior to the race seemed to be paying off. Thoughts of a 1:55 or better finish entered in my head.

That stopwatch time bolstered my confidence as the other runners and I passed an orange cone which marked the turnaround. I swung counterclockwise around the marker, feeling strong and sure that I had a good physical and mental state for the finish.

But with minutes of the turnaround, all was lost. Shortly after the turn, I began feeling a steady shooting pain, emanating from my upper right leg and penetrating into my lower back. It was powerful. It was non-stop. It was far worse than anything I had encountered in the nine weeks of running leading up to the half marathon. The pain was even worse than anything I’d ever felt before in running. It was agony.

I slowed down, but the pain persisted.  I stopped and walked. The pain got worse.  I trotted slowly.  The pain lessened (or so it seemed) but it was still there, still searing down my back and upper right leg with each and every step. I stopped and stretched the leg. I poured some water down my leg and back. I tried resuming the race. The pain just got progressively worse.

In my life, I’ve probably run 50-plus road races of varying distances. I’ve raced in Alaska and Indiana. I ran a 5K and a 10K race in Washington DC and Northern Virginia. I’ve run the Revco 10K (that was its name before it became the Cleveland Marathon/Half Marathon etc.) the Bees 5K, and more short- distance races than I can remember.

I never dropped out of a race … until October 11. There was no way I could finish. I left the course near Station Road in Brecksville. I was a little less than five miles from the finish line, but the checkered flag might as well have been on the moon. Only with great help from the race’s support team, employees of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, was I able to get to the paramedics at the race, and then to my car for the most disappointing ride home in years.

Today, more than two weeks later, I’m still hobbling around. The diagnosis – sciatica, more precisely, inflammation of the sciatic nerve. It is NOT a simple-to-treat condition.

NEXT:  Lessons learned


Throwback Thursday – August 1978

October 22, 2015

(NOTE: This story appeared in the Crawfordsville Journal-Review in August 1978. Coming soon: an explanation about why I’m posting it.)

SOMEWHERE IN SOUTHEASTERN MONTGOMERY COUNTY – I still don’t know how I got conned into this.

It started three weeks ago when I was in Bloomington to see two college classmates run in the Monroe-Morgan 10-mile race. They’d heard about the Crawfordsville Jaycees holding a first-ever marathon and half marathon, and soon I had talked myself into running the 13.1 mile half marathon Sunday if they would, too.

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The author in ’78

People at Wabash had little faith in my ability to finish the race. Andy Anderson kept asking me if my affairs were in order and if my last will and testament was written. Brenda Amstutz merely questioned my sanity. Both Anderson and Amstutz placed friendly wagers on my run.

They weren’t the only ones either. They merely led the list of unfaithful. Fred Ford, Herman Haffner and Mike Reidy, who all planned to run the half marathon, had their doubts about me finishing the course alive. Even Don Sperry, who is about as nice as they come, had misgivings about my effort.

So I had no choice but to run.  I developed a training schedule and practice as hard as any hopelessly out of shape and overweight man in his early ‘20s should. I missed days, ran too few miles, and found myself more worried about the race as the day approached.

Of course my college friends never made it to the starring line: One took off to Maryland and the other stayed in Fort Wayne. Only the unbelievers were in the race with me to see what would happen.

The first half of the course was manageable. I ran with two late 20-ish men and we moved along in the middle of the 300-plus field.

We reached the 6.5 mile turnaround point on Ladoga Road where a burning ache appeared in my side. Then my legs changed to lead, and every step was like lifting concrete off the road. My breath went from a slow pant to a hoarse, rasping noise that would have scared rabbits from the neighboring farms.

I struggled on to eight miles, the furthest I had ever gone in training, and told my two running mates to leave me behind. In short order, Haffner, Sprerry and about 50 other runners passed my body, now half-walking, half-crawling to the finish line.

My legs went from lead to jelly, melting away with every step. Each breath came with great effort; my heart thumped like a jackhammer, and the hot sun wilted my willpower.  The winding, hilly course seemed to zap my already-waning strength.

It was useless. I walked. I ran – barely. I stopped. I walked some more. I couldn’t go on. “I won’t make it,” I thought. “They’ll have to carry me away.”

Somehow I reached the last aid station.  Just 2.5 miles to go! I drank some lemonade, dumped two glasses of water of my tiring body, and somewhere discovered the stamina to keep going.

Larry Grimes joined me for the last 1.5 miles. I completed the course in 152:20, just behind Haffner.

The feeling at the finish was terrific. I placed 236 out of about 300 runners, but that didn’t bother me. I made it, and Anderson and Amstutz will be providing me with a lunch and some liquid refreshment for my efforts.

I felt even better 15 minutes after my finish, when Mike Reidy came into the chute. I’d even managed to beat out one of my unbelievers!

Now that I’ve got blisters all over my feet and I’m looking for a pair of crutches, I can boast that I did it – and vow to never try it again.  Those guys and girls that can run 13.1 or 26.2 miles can keep their sore feet and aching bones.

When is next year’s marathon, Jaycees?  Sign me up.