Friday, November 28, 2008

A New Thanksgiving Tradition

Another Thanksgiving and another Thanksgiving Day Race. I don't know how many times I have run this race, but it has definitely become a tradition in our family.

Every year I would head out early to run the race. I would come home and the family would be in their PJ's. The kids would ask me how I did and I would tell them that I came in 4th again; that is why I had no medal. Even when they were small they did not believe me.

Then seven years ago the whole family ran the race. The kids were eight years old. We trained all fall and slowly worked our way up the 6.2 miles. We would run a mile and then walk 30 seconds, and everyone took their turn running in the lead and setting the pace. It was a great time and a lot of fun, but we did not do it again as a family.

Last year my daughter Stacy ran the race with me. Stacy runs cross country and track and even though she had not run in about three weeks, she decided to run. She had started swim practice with the school so her fitness was fine, but she was a little unsure about the distance. We went slow, but that was fine. We enjoyed the race, the course and each other's company.

This year I ran the 99th Thanksgiving Day Race with both Hillary and Stacy. It was Hillary's turn this year to be worried about the distance. Since Hillary's tennis season ended, she has been running up to 3 miles, three times a week. She was concerned about running 6.2 miles since she had not run that far in training.

I was concerned on how my knee would hold up. I thought it very possible that I would have to DNF, and we discussed what to do if that did in fact happen. We decided that Hillary and Stacy would go ahead and finish the race if I could not.

The weather was perfect with race time temperature about 40 degrees, sunny and no wind. It was another record crowd of over 11,400 and it took us well over 15 minutes to get to the start line. When we crossed the start line, Hillary, Stacy and I ran together. Stacy soon took off on her own as Hillary and I settled in to a very relaxed pace. Every step I was thinking about my knee and Hillary was thinking about the distance. We did not talk too much the first couple of miles.

Just past mile two, the course crosses a bridge over the Ohio into Kentucky. Fot me, this was a point of no return. The course is a loop, beginning and ending at Paul Brown Stadium in downtown Cincinnati. Once we crossed the bridge, there was no real way for me to get back other than to complete the race (or get a lift from an ambulance).

At three miles I started to get concerned about my knee. It started to feel odd, not really pain, just not right. After a while the feeling past and the knee felt better. I started to feel more concern about my quads. I think I still had some loss of muscle strength from the operation. The knee itself had very little pain.

It was also at this point that Hillary started to feel more comfortable about finishing the race. With our new found confidence we started talking more about everything and anything.

Hillary is begging me to let her run more, but is not overly concerned about time. I have not let her run more than three times a week until she gets her form more like the Chi Running form. I don't want her to heel strike too much and risk injury. Mom told her recently "You have got your Father's running bug".

We crossed over another bridge back into Ohio and headed for the last mile. I remember running this race fast and hard in the past. My best time for this race was "42:37" The last mile was brutal then and I agonized about finishing in a certain time. This time I enjoyed the scenery, the company and the race experience. I even snapped a few pictures with Hillary's cell phone.

As we approached the finish line, I instructed Hillary to get some good space between us and other runners so she could get a good finishers photo. As we approached the finish I told Hillary "Well, now you are a runner". We crossed the line together in what was one of my slowest times, but, without a doubt, one of my best times.

Stacy and Hillary are looking forward to next years 100th running of the Thanksgiving Day race. For me, this may have been my last Thanksgiving Day Race. If it is, I can't think of a better way to end my tradition and to start a new tradition with a new generation of runners.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Life Is All About Choices

The news from the surgery was not too good. On the way home, sitting in the back seat of the car with my leg up I asked my wife what the doctor had said about my return to running.

“Well I was wondering how long it would take you to ask,” Holly said, “it was not too good.”

“Really? I knew it would not be great, but how bad?” I asked.

“When he told me, my jaw dropped. I told him that he would have to tell you the full story when you see him Monday. I can’t.”

I could not let it go at that, so I pressed her, “OK, but in general what did he find?”

“He said the inside of the knee was pristine, but he found more arthritis on the outside than he had thought.”

So all through the weekend I wondered how bad it really was. I knew that my marathon running would be coming to an end, but how much would I be able to do? After all, I had just ran seven miles the day before without pain. How bad could it be?

Monday morning, Holly drove me into the doctor’s office at 9am for my follow-up appointment. My doctor is a very tall, big, athletic man, who could be very imposing if he wished to be. Fortunately he is very humble and always takes the time to explain what is going on and answer all my questions. He is use to treating athletes, including some pro teams, which is the reason I choose to start seeing him. He knows what it means to me to run and be active, so the news he had to deliver must not have been easy for him, but he handled it with his usual skill and frankness.

He explained that he had found more damage to the meniscus and, even more troubling, he found more arthritis than he had expected from the MRI.

“So what does this all mean” I said “I have a race in April you know.”

“Well, if you keep running you will need a knee replacement in 5 years; if you don’t run you may have 15 to 20 years. You can still cycle, swim use an elliptical machine, but I would not recommend running.”

Given that I said that I would still like to run Boston in April, and then I would be good with giving up running and I could start to cycle and swim.

“I’m not sure you will be able to even run this April” he told me.

So there you have it. Talk about a choice. Keep running and use up my knee and maybe have to be much less active in 5 years, or give it up and move on to more low impact activities. Do you continue to do what you love for as long as you can, or do you conserve your body and take a measured approach?

It is a week after the surgery and I have full range of motion in my knee, though it can get sore and stiff if I am on my feet too much. The swelling is almost all gone and I have been doing my therapy of stretching and strengthening every day.

In three to four weeks I will start back to running with the hope of being able to train enough to at least finish Boston. I will use the FIRST method and incorporate cycling into my workout regime. I will use up some of my knee to realize the dream of running Boston. If I was a younger man, or if I had run Boston before it might be different, but at 47 this will be my last chance. One more race, one more marathon and after that, I hit the bike path with no regrets.