Just Say No to No

Recently my husband handed me an issue of Sports Illustrated, pointed to one article and said “read this.” The article was about Jeff Glasbrenner. When Jeff was 8 years old, he lost his right leg below the knee in a farming accident. He spent 47 grueling days in the hospital during which he had 14 surgeries, developed gangrene, and twice was resuscitated when his heart stopped. I cringe at the thought of how scary this was for a young boy. When he was finally discharged, his doctors sent him home with a list of activities that he must never attempt including swimming, biking, and playing any kind of sports. He was basically told “you can’t be a kid anymore.” For years Jeff followed his doctors’ instructions but he longed to be involved.

When Jeff went away to college, he met another student, Troy Sachs, from Australia who had his leg amputated below the knee when he was 2 1/2 years old. Troy was a world-class wheelchair basketball player. The next day Troy had Jeff out on the basketball court. While Jeff had natural ability, it took time for him to fully develop his skills. Jeff went from working the scoring table at his sister’s basketball games to playing the game he dreamed of.

Jeff went on to become a professional wheelchair basketball player. A couple of years later he was invited to participate in a 200-mile charity bike ride from Charlotte to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Despite having never used a hand-crank bike, Jeff enthusiastically agreed. From there he moved to a regular road bike, to swimming and running, and then completing Ironman Triathlons (25 total, in case you are counting).

Jeff and his wife have two children, one of whom, Grace, has a genetic disorder that causes her to have seizures. Through a program for people with physical disabilities, Grace tried rock climbing. They noticed that she never had a seizure while she was on the wall. Jeff got involved in rock climbing too and that led to him becoming a mountaineer, climbing mountains in North America, South America, and finally the biggest one of them all, Mt. Everest.

Although he spent years sitting on the sidelines because doctors had told him he shouldn’t be physically active, Jeff got the courage to toss that advice aside and pursue an active life. It has taken him to the top of the highest mountain in the world.

I love Jeff’s story. After reading about Jeff’s experience, I could understand a how he felt. I was training for my fourth marathon when I first began experiencing extreme neuropathy and muscle spasms so severe I could not walk. When I finally received my diagnosis of Transverse Myelitis (TM), my doctor was skeptical about my ability to run again. His words planted seeds of doubt in my brain and made me hesitant to put on my shoes and run. I was fortunate. I was not wheelchair bound but I was still afraid.  At my lowest point I was encouraged by Auntie C. who told me “Transverse Myelitis does not define you. You don’t need to have it control your life.” It was just the kick in the pants I needed to get focused again.

“No” was never a word I accepted lightly when I was growing up. (Sorry for all that aggravation, Mom.) It just meant I had to work harder to make whatever I wanted happen. I decided to try running again. Through the help of my running coach Leanne, I slowly built up my strength. I went from being the slowest runner in her class to running with the front of the pack. With Leanne’s help I got stronger than ever. Since my diagnosis over 6 years ago, I have finished 10 marathons and 48 half marathons plus completed the Rim-to-Rim in the Grand Canyon.

I have some thoughts from my experience and from reading about Jeff. First, doctors can provide information on challenges that I may face. But the only one who can say how physical activity is making me feel is me. Doctors aren’t inside my skin. I have always told my neurologist, Dr. T., we have a partnership in my health. He is another member of Team Funatical Runner. My responsibility is to give him feedback on how I feel. His job is to monitor how I am doing. According to one study of TM patients, exercise promotes functional recovery. Running has helped keep me healthier, even Dr. T. will agree with that.

Second, it is my responsibility to manage any challenges that I encounter such as having a risk mitigation plan for running in the heat and dealing with fatigue. Through trial and error, I have pretty much mastered these. When I told Dr. T. about my plan to run Rim-to-Rim in the Grand Canyon, he yelled at me “your organs will shut down and you could die.” But I planned for my challenges and I did just fine.

Finally, the benefits to my mental health from being physically active are immeasurable. Running gives me a sense of personal accomplishment. When life gets overwhelming, I can always go for a run to put things back into perspective. I might not be the fastest runner out there but I still am able to finish a marathon.

Jeff could have sat back and continued to watch life go by. But he chose to jump in and live it. He started doing all the things his doctors took off the table for him when he was 8 years old. His life is richer because he did.  I thought my TM diagnosis was the end of my running career. A bump in the road maybe but not a brick wall. I didn’t allow someone to tell me what I could or couldn’t do.  Like Jeff, it was really up to me to figure out what I was capable of.  Looking back over the last few years, I can say I am glad I didn’t let “No” stop me.

No, I’m never giving up and I would have to say Jeff isn’t either.

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My Marathon Monk

Kaihogyo

Three years ago I read a book titled “The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei” by John Stevens.  The book focuses on the Tendai Buddhist monks who complete Kaihōgyō, 1,000 days of long distance walking, meditation, and prayer over a 7-year period.  Kaihōgyō is by far more demanding than any modern-day athletic endurance event, so demanding that the monks are required to carry a knife and rope to kill themselves if they fail.  Since 1585 when they started keeping records only about 52 monks have successfully completed Kaihōgyō (one monk has completed Kaihōgyō twice!).  Their motivation to attempt such a grueling feat is to achieve enlightenment and become a living Buddha.  I was so fascinated by the marathon monks that I wrote one of my early blog posts about them.  I have wanted to visit Mount Hiei and the monastery where they live since I read the book.  I didn’t have time to travel there in 2015 when I ran the Tokyo Marathon.  Last week I returned to Japan and visiting the monastery on Mount Hiei was at the top of my list of things to see.  Little did I know I was going to see a lot more.

Mount Hiei is over 2700 feet high and straddles two prefectures – Kyoto Prefecture and Shiga Prefecture.  It is a beautiful mountain, covered in trees and flowers, and home to a wide array of wildlife.  The monastery on Mount Hiei was founded 1200 years ago and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

View of Kyoto from the ropeway to Mt Hiei

Traveling to Mount Hiei from Kyoto was a bit of an adventure. I hired a Japanese guide, Maki, to help me get there.  We went by cab to a train station where we took a train out of Kyoto.  Then we transferred to a cable car followed by a ride on a ropeway (an aerial tram) and, after a short of walk, boarded a bus for the last part of the trip to the Mount Hiei monastery.  Along the way we were treated to breathtaking views of Kyoto, Lake Biwa, and Lake Shiga.  I even saw deer grazing along the cable car tracks.

Bell tower – visitors are permitted to ring the bell

As we walked around the monastery complex, Maki explained the history and significance of each building.  There were temples and shrines of all sizes, though the main temple, Enryaku-ji, was by far the most impressive.  Walking around the complex was not an easy stroll.  It was more like a stair master workout – between each of the buildings, we were going up and down very steep stairs.

Maki mentioned there is currently a monk in the midst of Kaihōgyō.  She lives along the route that the monk takes into Kyoto to visit the temples and shrines there.  Her mother has seen the monk on his walks.  I was thrilled to visit Mount Hiei but the thought of possibly seeing a marathon monk was incredible.  It is not something that happens every day.  Maki found out when the monk would be passing through Kyoto the next day.  He would be stopping at one of the temples I planned to visit, the Kiyomizudera Temple.  I decided to time my visit there so that I could see him.

My Japanese guide for the next day, Miho, was very agreeable to helping me see the monk.  We arrived at a location we expected the monk to pass on his way to the Kiyiomizudera Temple.  Miho checked with the surrounding shopkeepers.  One confirmed the monk would be coming past where we were.  After waiting nearly 45 minutes in the hot sun, we decided to keep making our way up the hill to the temple.  We stopped again halfway up where two roads intersected.  We weren’t sure which road the monk would take to the temple.  Another shopkeeper there assured us the monk came this way and had not yet passed by.  Again we waited.  Unfortunately marathon monks don’t wear tracking devices like runners do in races.  I had no idea where the monk was or when he would come.  I decided I was not going to see the marathon monk and we resumed our walk up the hill to the Kiyiomizudera Temple.

The monk passed so quickly that I was unable to get a picture of him. This photo was displayed in the cable car station on Mount Hiei.

There were hundreds of tourists around the temple grounds.  Kyoto is one of the top destinations in Japan for both Japanese and foreign tourists, and Kiyiomizudera Temple is one of the most visited sites. We stopped at several shrines and smaller temples as Miho explained the significance of each.  Finally we reached the main temple,  Kiyiomizudera Temple.   As we stopped to look at a Buddha who protects businesses, there was a flurry of activity behind me.  I was pushed aside by group of 10-12 men who were surrounding the man I recognized immediately as the marathon monk.  The group stopped in front of another Buddha where the monk knelt and began a chant.  After about 2 minutes, he got back up and continued on his way, still surrounded by the men who cleared a path through the crowd of tourists.  He moved swiftly and quietly, except for the rhythmic sound of his wood walking stick hitting the ground.  I was so amazed that for several minutes I could not speak.  I had never expected to be able to see a monk in the middle of one of his “marathons”.  It was a magical moment, one that I will never forget.

That evening I enjoyed dinner at a traditional Japanese restaurant with low tables and mats covering the floor.  A Geisha in training was entertaining us during the meal.  I spoke to her through a translator about seeing the marathon monk.  We started to talk about my own running activities, including the 2015 Tokyo Marathon.  The Geisha, it turns out, is training to run the Honolulu Marathon as preparation to run the Kyoto Marathon.  It seems as if I can’t escape running even when I take a trip that doesn’t include a race of my own.

When I got back home, I was able to find out more about the current marathon monk, Kogen Kamahori.  He is nearing the end of his Kaihōgyō and expects to be finished this fall.  In 2015 Kamahori completed doiri, 9-days without food, water, or sleep, during Year 5 of his Kaihōgyō .  (Doiri translates to “living death”.  In fact, many monks have died during doiri.)  There were several news stories about him when he finished.

For anyone who wants to experience some of a marathon monk’s course on Mount Hiei, there is the Mount Hiei International Trail Run.  Runners can choose to run either 50 miles (with 5500 meters vertical) or 50 km (with 3700 meters vertical).  After I walked a bit on Mount Hiei, I can tell you that it would a challenging race.  (Here is a link to an interesting blog post by someone who completed the 2016 race:  http://alpine-works.com/2016/06/mt-hiei-50k-international-trail-run/.)  Runners have to be able to follow the whole trail without getting lost (even marathon monks sometimes get lost and they live there).  Among the equipment the runners must carry is bear bells.  I was tempted to take up ultra running so I could enter this race but common sense tells me this is a race for stronger runners than me.  Instead of running the ultra, I would be happy to return to Mount Hiei and hike down one of the trails from the top.  I can’t imagine what I would see if I did that!

Documentary Educational Resources put together a fascinating film about the marathon monks.  Here is a preview of the film.

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Setting Records in January

Winter is not the time of year I expect to hear about new running records.  But that is exactly what happened in late January.

Ron Hill probably has a big pile of shoes

Ron Hill probably has a big pile of shoes

First there is Ron Hill, a 78-year old former Olympian who lives in England.  Ron was a running streaker who had run at least one mile every day.  During a run in late January, Ron started having pains in his heart.  Ron was concerned about his wife and family so he decided it was time to hang up his running shoes and end his streak at 52 years and 39 days.   I would call Ron the Cal Ripken of running.

Although Cal’s record for most consecutive baseball games played will probably stand for a long time, there are a number of people who could break Ron’s impressive record.  I wrote about the US Running Streak Association (USRSA) a year ago because I was following the running streaks of several runners (Did They Make It?).  In looking at the current active streak list on the USRSA’s web site, I saw 66-year-old Jon Sutherland’s streak is over 47 1/2 years.  As long as Jon stays healthy, he has a good chance of breaking Ron’s streak record in less than 5 years.  In the meantime, I hope Ron basks in the glory of having the longest streak record.  That is one heck of an achievement.

The other records set at the end of January were all associated with the 2017 World Marathon Challenge.  I wrote about the World Marathon Challenge at the end of 2015 (7x7x7).  Participants run 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days.  If you think about it, the World Marathon Challenge is also a running streak of sorts.  The only difference is that it ends after 7 days (though I am sure somebody somewhere is thinking about how many days in a row they could run a marathon, if they haven’t tried it already).  When I wrote about this challenge last year, I thought it was a flash in the pan (the price alone would deter a lot of people).  But the number of runners has grown every year with only 9 men and 1 woman in the first year (2015) to this year’s challenge with 22 men and 9 women.

The records set with this year’s participants are impressive.  Sinead Kane from Ireland became the first blind person, guided by John O’Regan, to complete 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days.  Guoping Xie set a new world record for women by completing 7 marathons on 7 continents in 6 days 8 hours and 30 minutes.  Nahila Hernandez became the first woman to run an ultra marathon (50K or 31.0686 miles) on all 7 continents in 7 days.  And to think there was a time when women were not allowed to participate in the marathon because there was a fear it would physically harm them.

But the big record was the one set by Michael Wardian, a 42-year-old ultra marathoner who has a day job working as an international ship broker.  From the first race in Antarctica where the windchill sent the temperatures to -30C to the last in Australia, Michael set a blistering pace for each race.  He won all 7 stages of the challenge.  Michael set a world record for the average time for completing each of the 7 marathons – 2:45:57.  Michael’s overall time to complete the 7 marathons on 7 continents was 6 days 7 hours and 25 minutes.

Michael is no stranger to world records.  In 2007 Michael set the record for running the fastest marathon while pushing a stroller with his son in it.  He even finished that race in third place.  In 2015 Michael set the world record for the fastest 50K run on a treadmill in 2:59:49. In 2016 Michael set the record for the fastest runner to complete each of the 6 Abbott World Marathons (Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York) in one calendar year, averaging 2:31:09.

I am not sure what is left for Michael to run.  He has run the most challenging ultra marathons all over the world.  He even ran at the North Pole (in the 2014 North Pole Marathon).  Michael isn’t the type to stay home, running local 5K and 10K races.  In a recent interview, Michael said he likes to do stuff that scares him.  I don’t doubt for a moment Michael has something he wants to try.  No matter what it is, I will be cheering for him.  He is an incredible athlete.

Interested in running 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days?  They are currently taking applications for the 2018 challenge.  Visit their website for more information http://www.worldmarathonchallenge.com

Gratitude

This is a good time to bring back a post from 2 years ago (and give an update).

...and to run. :-)

…and to run. 🙂

Thanksgiving is this week, a time when people give thanks for many things – a home, food to eat, a job, their family and friends.  For me, and probably for Kayla Montgomery, the thing I am the most grateful for is the ability to move, and especially to run.  Most people probably don’t even think about the ability to move as a gift.  But for Kayla and me, it is something that we do not take for granted because both of us have neurological conditions that could result in losing the ability to move.

At 14, following a soccer injury, Kayla was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).   It was a devastating diagnosis for an active teenage girl.  For 8 months following her diagnosis, she did nothing but sit in her room.  Then she decided if she couldn’t play soccer, she would run.  And boy did she.  Kayla became the fastest female runner in North Carolina while competing in the 3200 meter event for her high school track team.

Kayla’s MS creates challenges for her when she runs because she loses feeling in her legs.  It begins in her toes and moves up her legs to her waist.  The loss of feeling is triggered by the increased body temperature as she runs.  Kayla can run very fast because she can’t feel her legs, can’t feel the pain from over exertion.  But because she can’t feel her legs, she collapsed every time she crossed the finish line.  Kayla’s coach had to stand at the finish line to catch her.

Immediately following a race, they had to cool her body down as fast as possible so that her symptoms would subside.  For Kayla that is just the cost of competing.  I have to admire how tough this young woman is.  As she lay on the ground being iced down after a race, she could be heard asking “Do you know what my time was?”  A true runner through and through.

I was stunned when Kayla said in an interview that some consider her condition an unfair advantage in a race.  Who in their right mind would want that kind of advantage?  Anyone who says that is incredibly insensitive.  I can guarantee you that Kayla would prefer to not have MS.

You may think that Kayla is taking a big risk by running.  But running makes her feel whole again.  There is no guarantee that she will be able to run in a few years.  Kayla wants to get every moment of movement out of her legs as she can.

I understand exactly how Kayla feels.  I have Transverse Myelitis (TM), another inflammatory disorder of the central nervous system where the immune system attacks the nervous system.  Although TM is often a one-time illness, for some people, TM is an early symptom of MS.  Similar to Kayla, I get tingling sensations in my legs when I run (known as Uhthoff’s phenomenon).  Running in hot weather is a challenge for me because those symptoms become more pronounced.  I have learned ways to keep my core cool during warm weather races such as putting bags of ice inside my shirt or wrapping ice in a bandana around my neck.

Sometimes I feel like I am a bit fanatical about running in marathons and half marathons.  But like Kayla, I don’t know if/when I will lose the ability to run.  When my doctor told me last year to go run every race I want to do, I took that as a warning sign.  I don’t want to regret not taking advantage of every chance to get out there and race.  I want to have lots of great memories of being part of the excitement as I cross a finish line.

On Thursday, when I sit down for our Thanksgiving feast, I will pause to say thanks, thanks for the ability to move.  Because it is a gift that none of us should take for granted.

Update:  Kayla is in her sophomore year at Lipscomb University where she is a member of the track and field team.  Sadly, Kayla suffered two relapses of her MS a year ago.  That and injuries to her hips prevented her from competing in the last year.   But she has no plans to stop running.   Kayla is a fighter.  I wish her many more years of movement. 

Here is a video about Kayla’s high school running career.  It includes video of her last run for her high school team.   If you enjoy nail-biter finishes, you won’t want to miss this!

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Why We Run

I remember when I first started running many people questioned why I wanted to do something they thought was a waste of time.  From their perspective a marathoner runs for hours and hours and the only reward they receive at the end is a piece of medal on some ribbon, a banana or bagel, and very sore muscles.  I guess when you put it in that context, running seems a bit silly.  As someone pointed out to me, that is why they invented fossil fuels – so we didn’t have to run everywhere.

I was reading the obituaries one day and one caught my eye.  It was for Wendy Bailey, a woman who passed away from breast cancer at the young age of 47.  In her photo she had a beautiful smile, the kind that would welcome anyone she would meet.  As I read about her life, I realized she was the kind of warm friendly person you would love to know.  There was a quote in her obituary that struck a chord with me.  “When you constantly challenge yourself, you discover a lot about who you are.”  Marathon runners understand how true that is.
screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-10-11-41-pmI can tell you from my own experience there is something that happens to you when you finish your first marathon.  You are not the same person who started the race.  Crossing the finish line transforms you like a butterfly coming out of its cocoon.  Before my first marathon, I was intimidated by many things.   I was not an athlete and the thought of running a marathon was frightening.   But after I crossed the finish line of my first marathon, I was never afraid of anything again.  Along with my medal came a big dose of self-confidence.  Hey, if I can run 26.2 miles and not die, I must be much stronger than I thought.

There are plenty of reasons why people decide to take on the marathon.   They may be running to raise awareness and funds for a cause that holds deep meaning for them.   People run to fund research to find cures for diseases like breast cancer, Crohn’s disease, or neuroblastoma, or for social causes like clean water in Africa.  I ran my first marathon in honor of a friend who was battling an incurable form of lymphoma, fundraising in the process.

Other people may be striking back at something that has taken away their own ability to move such as wounded warriors.  They prove to themselves the strength they still have.  In some cases, people are striking back at abilities that they never had.  A good example is Tatyana McFadden who was born with spina bifida and has not known anything other than a wheelchair.  Tatyana has won 11 marathons.  I have watched Tatyana compete and she is an amazing young athlete.

As for me, I was healthy when I started running until Transverse Myelitis changed my life five years ago.  While I started running to show support for my friend, now I run for myself.  I don’t know what the future holds for me.  If the music is going to stop some day, I want to make sure I cram in everything I want to do while I can do it.  I won’t let TM run my life.

Kathrine Switzer said once “If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.”  Running a marathon takes courage, determination and strength (both mental and physical).  When you watch a marathon, you will see all kinds of people.  They all have one thing in common – they had the courage to show up at the start line and challenge themselves.  And at the finish line, as Wendy said, they will have discovered much more about who they are.

Preconceived Notions

Preconceived notions.  We all have them about something.  We form opinions without adequate knowledge.  The funny thing about life is something always comes along to shatter whatever preconceived notions we may have.

I discovered this on my last trip. It was a long flight so I took advantage of the in-flight entertainment.  One program caught my eye – “The Autistic Gardner” – a British documentary television series hosted by Alan Gardner, a gardner who has Asperger syndrome.  Alan works with a team of young gardeners who also have autistic disorders to transform overgrown and neglected yards into magnificent gardens.

At the time I had a limited understanding of people with autism.  What little I knew lead me to believe people with autism are generally unable to lead productive lives.  This program totally changed any preconceived notions I may have had.  Watching the team develop and implement the new garden design gave me insight into how autistic people process information.  The end result was a creative space that incorporated features I would never have imagined – a sleeping giant, a wildlife hotel, and a sculpture from a tree stump.  Alan has a mission – to prove to the world that autistic people are “not mad… we just see things in a different way.”  I applaud Alan and hope he and his team continue to create beautiful gardens while changing our understanding of autistic people.  Alan certainly changed mine.

I think people have preconceived notions about what marathoners look like.  There appears to be a belief that only people who are tall and slender are marathoners.  Anyone else need not apply.  But marathoners come in all shapes, sizes, and capabilities.  They are tall, short, thin, heavy.  They have two legs, one leg, no legs.

One of the marathoners participating in the Portland Marathon this year was about as far from that preconceived notion of marathoners as you can get.  Adam Gorlitsky has been paralyzed since 2006.  Using a robotic exoskeleton machine, Adam was able to complete the last 6.2 miles of the race.  It is like science fiction brought to life or as Adam describes it, “Iron Man meets Avatar”.

screen-shot-2016-11-05-at-9-07-11-pmAdam has started a non-profit, I Got Legs, whose mission is to “bridge the gap between what it means to be disabled and abled body.”  With the Portland Marathon he kicked off the “1 Million Steps to a Cure” campaign.  Adam has participated in several races including the Marine Corps Marathon, logging 54,316 steps towards his 1 Million goal.  Talk about shattering preconceived notions of what paralyzed people can do!

Both Alan and Adam challenge us to think beyond our preconceived notions to see possibilities.  I think that is pretty exciting.  Are there any preconceived notions that you would like to see shattered?

Want to learn more about the Autistic Gardner?  Visit their website:  https://theautisticgardener.wordpress.com

Check out the I Got Legs web site to learn more about Adam’s story.           http://www.igotlegs.org

Here is a video of Adam in his first race.  Just amazing!

Slow Down And Enjoy the Trail

Last year I followed Scott Jurek as he ran the 2,160 mile Appalachian Trail (AT).  He wanted to break the speed record for a supported thru-hike set by Jennifer Pharr Davis in 2011.  She completed the entire trail in 46 days 11 hours and 20 minutes.  (It normally takes hikers 5-7 months to complete the entire trail.)  Although Scott is a well-known ultra marathoner, he had a few injuries along the way.  It wasn’t in the bag that he would break the record.   Scott made it from Springer Mountain in Georgia to the AT’s north terminus at Mt. Katahdin in Maine in 46 days 8 hours and 7 minutes.   An amazing record!

This year another ultra marathoner, Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer, is going to attempt to break Scott’s record.  Karl has won 38 100-mile races, more than anyone else in the world.  While Scott ran the AT from south to north, Karl is going to start in Maine and head south.  Not only is Karl getting himself in shape, he is rehearsing his rest stops with his support team to ensure they are as efficient as a NASCAR pit stop.  He plans to eat dinner with ice on his legs while his crew clean and tape his feet.  Sounds like ultra multitasking to me.

I understand the desire to get from Point A to Point B as fast as possible.  It seems like we have a need to do everything faster these days.  But it also makes me sad.  I consider the AT to be one of our national treasures.  The AT isn’t something one should rush through.  It should be savored like a fine wine.

An experience I had in 2013 taught me to spend more time enjoying the moment.  That year I participated with a group of women who ran Rim-to-Rim in the Grand Canyon in one day.  It was an adventure that was important to me.  I wanted to prove to myself that I could take on an extreme physical challenge and succeed.

We started out at the North Rim before daybreak, wearing headlamps,  and went down the North Kaibab Trail into the canyon.  We stopped for lunch at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon then headed back up the South Rim via Bright Angel Trail.  I completed my Rim-to-Rim adventure in about 13 hours (including an hour stop at Phantom Ranch).  Except for that stop at the bottom of the canyon, we kept moving all day.  There wasn’t time to stop and linger to admire the view or look for the petroglyphs carved into the rock.  We had to be out of the canyon before dark.

One of my friends had tried to discourage me from doing the Rim-to-Rim before I left.  The Grand Canyon, she explained, is a beautiful place.  By running through it in one day I would not be able to really appreciate it.   I wouldn’t be able to take time to see all the different layers of rock or observe the different ecosystems within the canyon.

In hindsight I admit she was absolutely right.  I was more focused on getting from the North Rim to the South Rim as fast as possible, without getting hurt.  There were rocks everywhere along the trail and I had to be fully attentive to each step.  I spent most of the time looking at my feet.   Looking back on it, running through the Grand Canyon in one day seems wrong.  Although it was important to me at the time to run Rim-to-Rim, I wouldn’t encourage anyone else to do it.  To fully enjoy the Grand Canyon you need to spend much more time there than I did (and I was slow by Rim-to-Rim runner standards).  I plan to return to the Grand Canyon to see everything that I missed, including the petroglyphs.

So while Jennifer, Scott and now Karl scamper along the AT, I hope others take a slower route.  One that allows them to stop and listen to the birds, to pause at an overlook and enjoy the scenery.   Because there is more to life than just getting from Point A to Point B as fast as you can.

Read more about Scott’s AT adventure at his web site: http://www.scottjurek.com/appalachian-trail

Brooks Running put together this video of Scott Jurek’s 2015 Appalachian Trail speed record.

Karl has a web site – http://karlmeltzer.com – where you can read more about his achievements as well as his blog.   His sponsor, Red Bull, has set up a web page for people to follow Karl’s attempt to break the record.  It should be interesting to watch his progress.

Racing Meb

IMG_4788Last weekend I headed to Indianapolis, Indiana to run a half marathon – State #30 on the road to running in all 50 States.  I picked this particular race – the Indy Mini Marathon – because the course included a lap on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  There isn’t any other way I would be able to get on that iconic track and kiss the bricks.

But that wasn’t going to be the most exciting part of the race.  The race organizers had arranged for Meb Keflezighi to make an appearance at the Expo.  On race morning, Meb was going to start the first two waves of runners before heading to the last corral and running the race himself.  It would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for amateur runners like myself to run with one of the most famous competitors in the running world.

To make things more interesting, they had a contest where the participants in the Indy Mini Marathon were asked to predict how many people Meb would pass before he reached the finish line.  The person who predicted the closest number received a free registration for next year’s race.

Don't climb this before you run the Indy Mini

Don’t climb this before you run the Indy Mini

Race morning I was a bit sore from all the sightseeing I had done the day before the race.  Among other things, I had climbed 330 stairs to the top of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument and my quads were sore.  No amount of stretching had helped me.  [Note to self: no climbing hundreds of steps the day before a race.]

It occurred to me when I got into my corral that I was going to be racing Meb.  Well, it wasn’t actually racing.  My corral started at 8:00 AM but Meb didn’t start running until after the last corral was off at 8:30 AM.  It was more like Meb was giving me a 30-minute head start.  Regardless, I was going to do my best to stay ahead of him.

The course took us out of the downtown area towards the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  I think there was more on-course entertainment than any other race I have run.  The Rock ’n’ Roll races claim to have entertainment every mile.  This race seemed to have entertainment on every block.

IMG_4803When I reached the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at Mile 5, I was stunned by the size of the grandstands.  I later read that they have seating capacity for between 250,000 and 300,000 spectators.  I did stop and kiss the bricks but only because I knew everyone would ask if I did.  As I headed out of the speedway after Mile 8, it occurred to me that Meb hadn’t passed me yet.  Good, I thought, I must be running pretty well.

I was approaching the Mile 10 marker when I heard people yelling behind me “Meb’s coming! Meb’s coming!”  I turned to see a group of runners in neon green singlets weaving through everyone on the course.   Meb was in the middle of them.  He was running with 5 very fast young men who had “Meb’s Crew” printed on the back of their singlets.  Before I had a chance to pull out my camera, they had zoomed past me.  I picked up my pace in a vain attempt to catch up to them.  But my quads were still screaming at me from climbing the monument the day before and I couldn’t run fast enough.

I later learned that Meb had stopped for selfies and high fives with the runners he passed.  What a thrilling experience that must have been for them.  As he approached the finish line, Meb grabbed the hand of a man running next to him.  They crossed the finish line together, arms raised, in a scene reminiscent of his finish at the 2015 Boston Marathon when he did the same thing with Hilary Dionne.  Oh, to have had that honor – I would have been over the moon.  In case you were wondering, Meb passed 15,327 runners/walkers during his race (over 30,000 people were entered).IMG_4651

I love Meb.  I have been privileged to meet him twice, including the 2015 USA Half Marathon Invitational where I took a selfie with him at Mile 6.  He is the most gracious, approachable professional athlete in any sport.  He deserves all the praise and admiration that people bestow on him.   Seeing him at the Expo and again during the race just made me admire him even more.

Wow – They Did It Again!

I have written about some pretty determined people over the last couple years.  People who ride bikes for thousands of miles, over deserts and mountains.  People who swim in the coldest waters on Earth or run across the Sahara Desert.  They leave me shaking my head in disbelief of their incredible feats.  Recently I came across news articles about two of the people I wrote about back in October 2014.  It was interesting to read about their latest adventures.

First there is Reza Baluchi.  Back in 2014 he was trying to “run” in a bubble from Florida to Bermuda, a distance of 1,033 miles.  His bubble looked like one of those balls you can put a hamster in to run around the house.  From what I read it sounded like he wasn’t well prepared for this adventure.  It didn’t surprise me that 3 days after he departed, he sent up a signal to the US Coast Guard (USCG) to rescue him when he was 70 nautical miles off the coast of Florida.

Reza is one determined man.  He spent the last 18 months redesigning his bubble and training.  His training plan consisted of jumping rope in a sauna (it gets very hot in the bubble – up to 120 degrees) and running 20 miles a day.  A couple weeks ago he announced that he was ready to head out again.  This time his goal was to trace the Bermuda Triangle – Miami to the Bahamas then south to Puerto Rico and then back to Miami.  I have to hand it to him.  Reza dreams big.

The USCG warned him not to start his adventure.  They don’t want to spend a lot of time and money plucking people out of the ocean when it can be avoided.  The USCG deemed his “hydropod” unsafe.  While Reza planned to be rolling around out in the Bermuda Triangle for five months, the USCG picked him up 3 days after he started.  I hope that Reza picks a new goal but maybe he believes the third time is the charm.  Time will tell.

One of the other people I wrote about in October 2014 was William Trubridge, a New Zealander who free dives (diving unaided).  Free diving is one of the most dangerous sports I have come across.  Deaths are not uncommon.  I had watched a documentary about his attempt to break his own world record free diving to a depth of 300 feet.  For his dive, William went to Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas, the deepest blue hole in the world at over 660 feet deep.  William can hold his breath an astonishing 7 1/2 minutes.  I still cringe when I watch him prepare for a dive.  William contorts his body in ways that seem totally unnatural.

William is another person who isn’t ready to quit.  He recently broke his own world record with a free dive to 122 meters (over 400 feet).  Two days later he decided to have another go at it.  He broke his own world record again by diving 124 meters (almost 407 feet).  He admitted later he struggled a bit coming back up on the second dive.  He was having trouble focusing on his ascent and was worried whether he would blackout when he came to the surface.  I wonder if the water pressure from being down so deep is doing something to his brain.  It can’t be good.

If you look at marathon runners next to people like Reza and William, what we do looks pretty tame.  Running around some city’s streets for a few hours?  Mere child’s play.  When I am done running the 50 States and the 6 Major Marathons, I will want a new adventure.  I can guarantee you it won’t be running around the ocean in a ball or free diving.  There is plenty of adventure to be had other ways.

Interested in learning more about Reza Baluchi?  Check out his website (runwithreza.org) to learn more about him.  According to his website, he has completed several marathons and a few ultra marathons.  In 2007, Reza ran around the perimeter of the United States, a distance of over 11,700 miles in 202 consecutive days. 

Here is a YouTube video of William Trubridge’s 122 meter dive.  You can also visit his web site for more fascinating videos.  http://williamtrubridge.com

Miracle at Mile 4 – An Epilogue

I was working on this week’s post when I saw a follow-up post on social media from Lance, the runner who collapsed during the Zion Half Marathon.  After reading his post, I knew that I needed to share the rest of his story.  Like me, many of you were probably wondering how he is doing.

In his post, Lance first thanked the runners who cared enough about his life to stop their race and start a new one – a race to save his life.  Their actions immediately after he collapsed prevented him from having brain damage, becoming severely disabled, or, worse yet, dying.   Unbelievable as it may seem, Lance is getting ready to return to work.

Giving chest compressions is hard work and these “angel runners” did it for 16 minutes, according to Lance.  They kept going even though conventional wisdom said it was a lost cause.  They pushed so hard on his chest that his sternum broke.  If you are doing Hands-Only CPR, it is not unusual for the sternum and even the ribs to break.  According to the American Heart Association, “the chance of surviving an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is near zero for a victim who does not immediately receive high-quality chest compressions with minimal interruptions followed by additional therapy within minutes (a defibrillating shock and/or more advanced care from EMS personnel).”  A broken sternum is nothing compared to what could have happened.

Lance is in a unique position.  What do you do when you come so close to death but have a group of caring strangers yank you back?  How do you express your gratitude to the people who saved your life?  I doubt Hallmark makes a card for that one.  I think for Lance it will be expressed in a life well lived, a life helping others through his professional work in the area of antibiotics, a life enriched by the loving relationships with his family and friends, the very relationships that helped sustain him during his recovery.

Lance closed his post with a public service announcement for Hands-Only CPR and a link to the American Heart Association’s website.   I went to their website and learned some interesting statistics:

  • 70 percent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests happen in homes and residential settings.
  • Unfortunately, only about 46 percent of people who experience an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest get the immediate help that they need before professional help arrives.
  • Hands-Only CPR has been shown to be as effective as conventional CPR for cardiac arrest at home, at work or in public. It can double or even triple a victim’s chance of survival.

Doing Hands-Only CPR can save the life of someone’s loved one, even your own loved one.  It’s easy and it works.  Just ask Lance.

There are only two steps to Hands-Only CPR.  Take a minute to learn them by reviewing the Hands-Only CPR information at the American Heart Association’s website.