Friday, August 31, 2007

Feeling Funky

Just feeling funky so thought I'd let you know. Thirty days away from a heart attack makes the heart grow fonder for friends, sunsets and monarchs that are willing to flit through the sky and do my exercising for me. Pigeons waddle around and poop a lot and unfortunately I still feel like a pigeon. Maybe someday I can again spend more time in the air with the butterfly and less time waddling around.

Hoping someday I'll return to the trails where my tough friends dwell so I can tell them about my setback if they want to listen, and they usually do want to hear from a fellow runner. I suppose it's just one of the responsibilities of running that brings runners together for sometimes brief and occasionally lengthy chats.

Do really good people naturally gravitate to the trails or do ordinary people attack the trails and become really good people?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Mental Speedwork

A recent post by Red has had me thinking about my personal revulsion at doing speedwork. Now that I'm on some sort of injured-reserve status and can't do any work at all, the mental aspects of running are hitting me full force and the concepts of speed and speedwork have been swirling in my head. And since I'm not working or running right now there's plenty of space in my head for some swirling, not always a good thing, but I'll try to harness the energy and stay out of trouble.

Words and how they're used are interesting to me and I've always seen the use of words as an art form. And since I've been making a living writing for a number of years the use of words and the impact they have on my mind and my readers minds continue to become more and more important as the days go by. I've become much more aware of the influence that words either written or spoken can have.

Thus the current obsession with the word speed or speedwork.

I get really excited when I read the word speed or hear that word, think "Chariots Of Fire?" But throw the word work into the mix and the whole concept goes down the toilet. Speedwork my ass, I think to myself, just give me the speed and forget the work. Yep, now you know that I'm basically lazy.

It isn't always possible to find a group to do speedwork with and I've been lucky to live in Chicago where the running groups are large and there are great turnouts for the weekly speedwork sessions. I've been running with Chicago Endurance Sports for the past two years and each Wednesday our marathon or half marathon groups would meet in Lincoln Park for a roughly 30 to 45 minute speed session that features a variety of interesting workouts and relays. The speedwork seemed less like work when done with a group and also done with smaller group segments so I could find a pace to tuck in with.

CES also offers a speedwork session on Tuesday nights for "hardcore" runners. I've managed to stay away from that damned thing!

I would like to pick up my speed though when I heal up from my setback and right now I'm frustrated as each day that goes by because the time wasted is eating into my mileage base and limiting my opportunity to not only run but run faster.

I know speedwork can help because of the experience I had during the summer of '98 on a 400 meter track here in the city. I completed my first marathon that spring and my mentor at the time invited me to the track that summer to do speedwork with a separate group. Some, like I, were preparing for the fall Chicago Marathon and what my mentor didn't tell me in advance is that maybe half of the track runners were Boston qualified or would soon be qualified. I told him I wasn't fast anymore and he said it didn't matter as long as I liked the track atmosphere. I was dumb enough to believe him.

Needless to say, I spent every Thursday evening on that track in last place but I did get faster just trying to keep up with the next-to-last place runner.

I never was a burner, even in High School, but I could hold my own back then and I was fast enough to earn a spot on our mile relay team when I was a senior. Our mile relay team was advancing to the state regional track meet and for whatever reason some of the faster juniors and sophmores saw me running laps on my own about a week before that regional track meet and asked to join me.

Frankly, I wasn't looking for company because I usually preferred to suffer alone but the sun was getting low in the sky, I was running fast and didn't argue at their attempt to be cordial. I was bored anyway so why not cut up a little.

I knew I was faster than any of them but there was one exception I was worried about, a lithe junior who was soon to become a "burner." I kept bumping up the pace, run hard a lap, jog a lap and so on. After a half dozen or so of these quick laps it because obvious to me that this young junior was just having too easy of a time keeping up with me soooo I pulled out the stops for a lap and damned he stayed on my shoulder. We all jogged the next lap and took off with me determined to lose him this time and I did gain maybe a stride on him by the end. So we all went again, jogged a lap then I announced that this was it, the final, all for one one for all we're going flat out fast and man we did.

It had become a game, it was fun, and we each were probably training faster than we ever had. I remember managing to stay ahead of that young whipper snapper junior on that last lap, but not by much and I also remember his laughter once we caught our breath a bit. He knew he had almost beat me, and that his spot was more than likely ensured on the following year's mile relay team. I felt pretty good that we had pushed each other like that and could laugh about it.

I'll also never forget the mile relay finals in the regional track meet the following week. I was running second and just before I took the baton from our "burner" leadoff senior the runner in the blocks next to me said something that really pissed me off. To this day I don't remember what he said but I do know that he took his baton before I and I remember knowing I had to kick his smart ass. I always ran better when I was pissed off.

I was clocked in my quarter at 54 seconds, yes I know not burning fast for a quarter miler, but the 54 second quarter was a full two seconds faster than my PR of 56.

So I know from experience that speedwork, speedtraining, speedplay or just speed can help. It worked when I was young so there is no reason it won't work now.

Now, I just have to heal up, extend my daily walks to some light jogging, get a little mileage base built up and then hook up with a few zanies who I can sort of keep up with and see if we can burn up the track. Maybe next summer?

Ah, isn't the mind a fun place to dwell? I move so much faster in my mind than on the track or trail.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Starting Over

It seems amusing to me that I would sit around on my butt three weeks removed from a heart attack and bypass surgery and beat up on myself because I'm not doing something to get in better shape. But that's what I've been doing.

The doctor's orders now are to basically do nothing and heal up. I sleep, eat, go for walks; sleep, eat, go for walks and on and on and on. It's an abrupt change from my life just over three weeks ago when I was busy each day writing about the insane grain futures markets and pursuing my hobby of running and working out.

The walls came tumbling down in a few short seconds and I'm now faced with starting over and I don't have a clue where I'm going. Some of my fellow runners have asked me when I'll be able to run again and I don't have an answer to that. Frankly at this moment I've lost my enthusiasm for running since I'm able to only see slight improvement on my daily walks.

I'm walking 4 segments a day with the total walking time around an hour. Maybe someday I'll be able to run a slow 5k again but for now I'm truly starting over, and I don't like it one bit.

But I'm alive and able to enjoy the pursuits of my fellow runners and bloggers. I hope to rejoin the parade someday.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Setbacks, Disappointments And Critics

I don't think it's possible to have much of a life without taking a few risks. And sometimes taking those risks result in setbacks and disappointments, which aren't pleasant experiences but they can with time reveal a better path to accomplish the original goal.

I suppose an easier life would be that of a critic. Critics, you know, are only little people who somehow have been allowed to criticize others either verbally or in writing. All of my good and real friends are performers, not critics. Sure we don't mind offering some constructive advice here and there but usually only if it's asked for. Once in awhile I've seen a friend or two headed for obvious disaster and I've simply told them so, but I usually do a pretty good job minding my own business.

Not all of my good friends are runners so I'm not so smug as to think that everyone needs to be a runner in order to be what I call a performer. Most of my friends and family members have recognized a simple truth in life and that is this. They take care of their responsibilities and their first responsibility is to themselves. By taking care of their needs they are healthier, happier and therefere much better friends, fathers, mothers, brothers or sisters.

I think this attitude can make running more enjoyable too. I've been guilty of the old "I'm slow and not a good runner" curse, an attitude of self-loathing that stems from the childhood years spent in competitive sports. You know, if you weren't first then you don't count. And, unfortunately I sometimes run into control-freak tiny-minded little people who are willing to nurse along that defeatest attitude in others. I suppose it makes them feel big and important if they criticize someone who was second and not first.

I'm in setback mode right now so my thoughts, actions and writings are certainly a lot different than I thought they would be at this point in my training life. I have to maintain faith in the ability of my body and mind to heal so I can again perform at my best on the running trails of life. I don't want to sit around and become a critic, it looks like a miserable way to live.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Thanks Jerry; Mystery Unfolding

A public, indeed global internet THANK YOU to a fellow runner named Jerry Olsen who called 911 early Saturday, August 4th to get the paramedics to me in time to save my life.

The mystery is unfolding as to the names of angels who swooped in on me when I went down that Saturday morning on the Chicago Lakefront running trail and despite my current bit befuddled state of mind, I love a good mystery.

A public think you too to Sue Burkwald for passing along the info of Jerry's quick thinking and good deed.

"Bambi" asked me a long time ago if I believed in angels.

Yep, I sure do. That lifeguard and nurse were busy helping me that morning too and deserve at least a big heartfelt shout out!

I want to do more but am at a bit of a loss for words right now.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Drama King

Early Saturday morning August 4, I met my training group for a little 6 mile run as we wound down to the annual Chicago Distance Classic half marathon that was held early Sunday on August 12.

I was feeling good after completing a 30 mile week that included a hard 12 mile long run the previous Saturday in heavy humidity and a bit of heat.

I was looking forward to cruising through the easy six miler because everything was working fine and I was looking forward to a good half marathon because I knew my training had been going very well. I wasn't in shape to PR the half but I knew I was in good enough condition to shave a minute per mile off of last year's pace should I have chosen to open it up a little.

But, I didn't make it to the starting line of the half marathon.

I give you my word I'm not making up what I'm about to write. To the best of my recollection and from what people have told me the following is what happened.

With about a mile left of our six mile run I started to feel sick to my stomach. I remember thinking to myself that this isn't quite right, something just isn't right because I never get sick unless I'm really pushing a run or doing some intentionally hard speed work. Nevertheless I was getting sick and it wouldn't pass.

I told my 10 year running buddy Tanya "Bambi" and our mutual friend Jill that I had to veer off the side of the path and upchuck, throw up or puke...whatever you want to call that gross encounter that sometimes grips runners and other athlethes when they've been pushing it to the edge.

They said they would wait for me and I'm alive to write this little story because those two beautiful girls waited for me.

They later told me that I veered off the path to do my thing, bent over and I went down like a ton of bricks. The last thing I remember is leaning over to puke. The next thing I remember is seeing Tanya, Jill and Jenny Hadfield the co-owner and coach of my running group Chicago Endurance Sports in my room at Saint Joseph Hospital here in Chicago. I'm told that Mike, one of the running coaches was in the room too. It was a blur and I didn't have a clue as to what in the hell was going on.

I vaguely remember asking what happened and they told me I had a heart attack, was in the hospital and would have to have surgery right away. The next few days were a blur and I remember very little other than my kids, sister, some co-workers and fellow runners popping in to visit off and on.

I'm told that as soon as I went down on that running trail Tanya and Jill ran to me, Tanya started giving me CPR, for whatever reason she had read up on it the night before, another runner who happened to be a nurse was trying to find a pulse and a lifeguard who was driving by stopped to assist in reviving me. The lifeguard and Tanya were going through several series of CPR and despite no pulse they kept me alive long enough for the paramedics to arrive and do their thing. I'm told it took the ambulance 12 minutes to get to me.

My son Jake, who along with his girlfriend Jess had arrived at ER said my heart stopped again in the hospital and there was a lot of commotion as the medical staff shocked me back to life. Needless to say this wasn't a pretty sight for anyone and I missed the whole darned thing.

Early Monday morning August 6 a couple of supremely confident, re-assuring and brilliant surgeons named Dr Breyer and Dr Bradshaw cut through my chest to get to my heart. One artery was completely blocked and the other was something like 90-95 percent blocked. I had a double bypass and the doctors said my heart wasn't damaged by the trauma, I would be able to come back stronger than ever and be able to run better than ever. At this point, I'm happy to be walking around.

I was told only 1 percent of the people who have this type of heart attack survive, I was lucky to be a runner and that my fellow runners saved my life. Needless to say I'm still struggling to find the words to express what my life has undergone the past two weeks and at this point where it may be going.

I mean, what do you tell someone who has saved your life? Thank you? That seems lame but for now it's all I know to do.

So thank you "Bambi"for saving my life, thank you Jill, thank you whoever the runner nurse was and thank you caring lifeguard. I'm just now feeling up to searching for the unknown saviors so I can at least send them a card and there surely must be some special award or citation of some kind for saving a life.

I've been saturated with calls, messages and cards wishing me a speedy recovery and basically my whole life as I thought it existed has evaporated. The summer was going well for me. The running and workouts were up a notch in intensity from last summer and the Tuesday morning before my heart attack I had the biggest coup or scoop of my journalism career.

What's it all about? Damned if I know. Right now I'm just trying to hold on, expanding my walks a little, short-term disability from work, preparing to set appointments for rehab and hoping I can extend this second chance at a life into something good for myself and others.

I do know there are many brave, courageous, insightful and bright people in this world and for whatever reason a group of them descended on me a couple of weeks ago and gave me a chance to keep on living.

I also know that on my walks through Lincoln Park whenever I see a fellow runner I want to shout at the top of my lungs.

"Pretty big setback, but I'll see you out here in a few months"