I keep asking myself that question and the answer always come back, because I love it!
By way of history, I started running in the summer of 1977. With a family history of heart disease and a a long life anything but assured (whose is?), I finally decided I needed to take some positive action. Not much at first, however, within a few months I was running about 2-3 miles 3 times a week. This certainly wasn’t marathon training, but was a step in the right direction. As the story often goes, it was too little, too late. In May of 1978, I suffered a near fatal heart attack at the tender age of 37. The prognosis was not too good and a team of doctors convinced me that bypass surgery was the best option.
I was determined to make a full recovery and lead a full and meaningful life. That meant some significant lifestyle changes including diet and exercise. The diet was the hard part. Pritikin (very low fat) was suggested and Pritikin it became. I loved to eat and following it was difficult, but when you are 37 you take life-threatening events very seriously. It also took the encouragement and hard work on the part of my wife and family without whose support and encouragement I couldn’t have done it. But let’s get on to the running because that became my real passion.
Over the next few years I continued to learn how to run and enjoyed it more and more, slowly increasing my mileage and increasing my speed.
Not coincidentally, the same fate befell my older brother and one day he suggested that we run a “tenkay”. What in the world is a “tenkay” I thought. He explained. It was a ten kilometer race (or 6.2 miles). I thought that might be fun, but wasn’t too sure about my ability to go that far. That was about the time the running boom was starting and races were popping up everywhere. We picked a race in Torrance, the first annual “Love Your Heart” run that included a special “cardiac division” primarily for recovering heart patients. No competition here. Just showing up and finishing was the goal. I ran 47:32 but that was not the story. No competition, right? But I finished 353 out of 600 runners. That meant, if I can count right, there were 247 runners behind me. The next 16 years was an incredible and satisfying journey.
That “tenkay” in the early summer of 1980 led me to several more 10Ks and to my first marathon in the winter of ’81, the sixth annual Los Alamitosmarathon. I trained for three or four months, only to suffer a shin splint about three weeks prior to the marathon. It was very difficult to run but I felt that the training was probably good enough to rest for a week prior to the marathon and hope that I could get by. My intent was to see how it felt in the first mile or two and either quit if it hurt or go for it if not. The adrenaline flow was incredible and I never felt a thing. I began to experience what I perceived as slight chest pains at around 22 miles and decided not to take any chance given my history so I slowly walked and jogged in. As I came around the final corner, I saw my wife, my 4 month old daughter and the finish banner. I began to cry for joy uncontrollably for the next several minutes. My time was 3:58:35 good for 360th place out of 434 runners. At that moment, I felt the joy of victory as maybe I never had before in my life. For the next week my leg was badly swollen from my knee to my foot as a result of the shin splint, but I never felt it while running. It was probably numb or my mind blocked it out.
Over the course of the next few years, I met incredible encouragement from a number of sources. One was Joe Carlson, the owner of the Running Experience store in Belmont Shores and founder of AREC which I joined in December of 1982. The years were good to me. I ran the Long Beach marathon 13 times including the first 8 consecutively, the Boston marathon 3 times (as a qualifier) and in addition Honolulu, New York, and Los Angeles among my 25 marathons spanning 15 years. The races are behind me now; over 150 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons and marathons. No regrets, just great memories. My PRs are 3:08:07 for the marathon (3:12 at Boston); 1:28:36 for the half-marathon and 39:38 for the 10K.
I have been a club Sunday runner since Joe first introduced me to it. I have seen the Sunday run go from as many as 50 runners to as few as two, Dave Duckman and myself and am ashamed to admit that I haven’t paid my dues for the last several years, not because I don’t want to but because I never think of it at the right time. The Club has meant a lot to me over the years and I owe more than I have given. I promise to put up this year. Just a word about Dave. He is one of those special people that has also encouraged me by simply being there for me every Sunday that I show up, water bucket in hand. Thanks Dave!
On to my story. Sometime in 1998 I began to slow down and notice occasional chest discomfort. Working with my cardiologist, we learned that one of my four bypasses, now 20 years old, had closed. The others remained wide open. Intervention became necessary but it only lasted about a year or so and the discomfort returned. I became slower and slower and intervention was again necessary. The same bypass, which now had a stent in it, had closed again; intervention was once again required to reopen it. That was in 2001. I continue to run, sort of. My body leans forward, probably looking for air, but no one knows for sure why. I look miserable. Sometimes I feel miserable, but I can’t give up my running. Many a time a car has stopped and asked me if I was ok. So I can only imagine how bad I look to all of you. But not to worry all is well (sort of). The 6:30 miles have turned into 11 minute miles, the distance has fallen from 26 miles to 5 on the good days, but I remain thankful for all of it and especially to the club that has stayed with me for all these years. That friendly smile I get from each of you as I run outbound on the course and you are on the way back does wonders for my spirit. So the next time you pass me, not to worry, just give me the high sign or smile and go for the finish……….. I’ll get there.