April 16, 2016 by scratchtype1
I didn’t leap up in a giant celebration when I heard the Garmin beep and indicate that I had completed one mile of running late Tuesday afternoon. Mayebe I smiled a little, maybe not, but the legs felt good and I wanted to run more than that. And it was time to relax some, because the pressure that had built over the last two months about the running streak dissipated in that moment of crossing the threshold.
The streak which began on April 13, 2015 never started out like many other streakers start out, with some pledge to themselves that they’ll run every day for some period of time. Some start out with a goal of a year and others with a shorter goal. But they start with a goal. Me? Not so much. I ran that first day because the weather was nice and I felt good enough to run. For the prior few weeks I had struggled greatly with fatigue and that was finally lifting. So I ran that day after not running the day before.
Then I ran the next. And the next. And the next. And so on.
I had done a running streak the spring and summer before. It had reached 97 days before I ended it in July because of pain in the front of the left hip. And perhaps that streak helped to keep the new streak alive when after feeling miserable and running miserably a few days I went to the doctor because of a bright red blotch on my left butt cheek and he diagnosed Lyme disease. That diagnosis would be supported and confirmed later by a blood test some weeks later when I was still feeling rundown, and then of course another course of 3 weeks of antibiotics.
Confronted with a diagnosis of Lyme, it could have been easy to have settled into an easy running schedule of maybe 3 to 5 days a week. Instead, because it came in late May, when I was already over 40 days along, I felt a resolve to at least beat the streak of the prior year. So I kept running, even when it meant that some days it felt like I wanted to fall asleep after a half-mile. But there were also some good feeling runs too. Maybe not brilliantly alive and snappy in the legs, but there was pleasure in slowly building more endurance by repeated running, without fail, every day.
So it went on. Through the worst of summer, then the welcome arrival of cooler weather in the fall. The biggest hiccup in the fall came on November 11th, when a pickup truck gave me no extra room and clipped the tip of my right thumb, breaking it. Because nothing had fallen off and the driver didn’t stop and nothing was bleeding ominously, I ran another 4 or so miles before going home, calling the doctor and then going to get x-rays.
As far as physical damage, that might be about the best anyone can do when getting clipped by a car. Just a break at the very tip of the thumb, not down near the knuckle, a simple fracture which heal easily enough on its own. Psychologically, there are still some lingering effects. I’m much more fearful and paranoid when running roads now and there were a few times in the weeks following the incident that I’m almost felt myself beginning to have panic attacks because of a sense of cars not yielding any or cars coming up behind me.
Even in the past month I had an incident that nearly brought me to a halt, heart pounding from fear and anxiety.
But the days passed and the runs continued. I ran a PR in the half-marathon on November 22nd.
I worried some about the winter to come. It was the most likely time that I would not run because of weather conditions and lack of daylight. But with the accumulation of days and the sense that year was not so far away, I began plotting how to get runs in. In late January, they began predicting a serious noreaster blizzard for the Mid-Atlantic region. On the Friday before it was to begin, looking at the forecast, it was obvious what I needed to do. I stayed up and a little after the clock ticked past midnight, I went out the door into the first couple of inches of snow and the first stirrings of the winds to come. I bundled up as best I could and wore an old pair of running shoes, which felt like giant marshmallow monstrosities upon the feet.
I ran over and over a stretch consisting of driveways and a small length of roads. A little over 2 miles in a swirl of wind, snow, darkness and house lights. I ran in the subdued whiteness of snow on roads in the dark, I ran amongst the shadows, I felt the clouds pressing down in on me with their heavy bellies of frozen water. Then I went inside, warmed up, went to bed, slept and watched it snow all of Saturday. Then Sunday morning I got up early and begin digging out. It took over 8 hours of digging to make a path to the road. Then I went out and ran although the muscles ached and what I wanted most was a hot meal and a chance to sit down. But that could wait until I had run 1.4 miles as it turned out.
On Valentine’s day, I would run more miles than what the temp was when I started. 7 degrees at the start of the run, I went 7.5 miles. I was cold when done, I had sweated too much on a stretch with the wind at my back, then when I got turned into the wind, it ripped the heat right out of my body.
Perhaps the most defining run came on the 25th. It was in no way planned. It just happened because of what happened. Around 9 in the evening on the 24th, one day after my birthday, I received word that my mother had called 911 and had been taken by ambulance to a hospital. I drove from bowling league through a mess of roads that were half-flooded in places and debris strewn over them because of what had been washed onto them by the heavy rains of that evening.
When I got to the hospital and escorted to the ER where my mom was, the horribleness of the situation was put in front of me, alone, no other family members there. She was still alive, but only because of the measures that had been taken to see if her heart could start beating on its own again. A few of the things that I remember learning: she had passed out and dropped communication during the 911 call. It was believed she had stopped breathing then and it took 5 minutes before the paramedics arrived. She had had multiple shots of epinephrine but whenever they stopped the machine that pushed up and down upon her chest, her heart would not maintain a beat or rhythm. The prognosis was not good.
It was a horrible sight to me, my mother on the ER stretcher and the team of doctors and nursing staff. Plus there was the growing realization that before my eyes and my eyes alone, my mother was walking the edge of death. Some time passed, too much time passed, too little time passed, I talked a few times to my brother on the cellphone. Then finally the decision was made.
Remove the machine performing chest compressions. She would have to walk that edge without the aid of that machine. If she could, then she would live. If she couldn’t, then she would die. But it was done with near certainty that she would not live. So I took her hand and looked at her eyes, open but unseeing. I held that hand which had certainly held mine for the first time just 46 years and 1 day before. I held it desperately, thinking irrationally that maybe if I held it, she would stay and the monitor that displayed her heartrate would continue to show and up and down line. I wished that whatever strength I had gained during the days of running could somehow trickle in through the tips of my fingers and into her palms, into her veins, into her aged and weakened heart.
That did not happen. Some long minutes after the machine had been removed, all the lines went flat and stayed flat. She was dead, some 10 minutes before my brother and sister were finally able to arrive.
Some long time after and little sleep and a call to work to inform them that I would not be in, I went out the door and ran. It was horrible and terrible and had to be done. I settled on the idea of doing at least 8 miles, each mile to represent 10 years of my mother’s life. So I ran. I didn’t run super fast. I was tired. But I ran, angry and sad and tired and confused and hurting. I would lie if I told you that everything came out on that run. It’s not that easy for me. Still almost 2 months later I get hit hard by a thought that she is gone forever. I am cursed with a memory that clings hard to those memories. When I did finish, I knew one thing. I would run every day until at least April 12th and completing a year of streaking.
And so it went. I struggled some with a bit of paranoia, that something would happen to deter me that I couldn’t control. That a car would really hit me and wreck me. Some bizarre incident would incapacitate me. Something. It always flirted in the back of my head.
But suddenly, Tuesday afternoon, the Garmin beeped and it was achieved. Somehow I couldn’t help smiling a little after it all, after 366 days, 2050 miles, a couple of PRs and the death of a loved one.
As a bit of an add-on, I’m also going to include what I wrote in my Facebook post to the Streak Runners International group. It was written shortly after I had finished Tuesday’s run for day 366.
Streak day 366, 7.11 miles, barefoot. I decided to run these miles today with what made a streak possible for me. It was back in 2013 that I made a decision to start going around barefoot more and that led me back to running, something which I had gone away from for almost 3 years. It was in August 2013 that I completed my first barefoot run of more than a mile and began logging miles again into the runningahead log.
I wasn’t really thinking of starting a streak last year on April 13. The weather was good and I was feeling better some after a stretch of some vague illness. So i ran a little over 3 miles that day and ran the next and the next and the next…
The streak had gotten long enough that after having to go to the doctor and getting diagnosed with Lyme disease, I kept plugging on. It ended up taking 6 weeks of antibiotics and it wasn’t till maybe early October that I felt that most of the fatigue from Lyme had gone away, although to this day it seems like I need more sleep than before.
Before winter began, I wasn’t sure if I would keep it going. But when that big blizzard whacked southeastern PA in late January, I did what I had to do. I ran a couple of miles shortly after the clock turned midnight, then dug my way out to run a couple of miles late Sunday afternoon the next day. Streak on.
The toughest run emotionally was day 319 the one the morning after the night my mother died suddenly and unexpectedly. I ran over 8 miles that morning on barely an hour of sleep, each mile representing 10 years of her life. And that was the one where I realized that nothing was going to stop me from completing a year of running every day.
So today it was with some disbelief when I heard the Garmin beep that 1 mile was complete although I’ve heard that beep in that area of the road many times now. Still I didn’t smile then, I still wanted to run more and read the road with bare feet and all those amazing nerve endings that are packed into the soles of the human foot. Nerves that I believe can help teach us how to run and how our bodies should feel while running. Would you believe if I told you how sometimes when running barefoot it’s like the body becomes alive with electricity after a few miles? Let me close this too long of confession with a snippet from a blog post I made last year after a particularly beautiful run without shoes:
This is a run to savor and remember. I get them more frequently than I ever did in shoes. To run barefoot is to connect with the ground, to read it, to have it tell stories to you. Here is my story today: I run like electricity through the wind, up and over and down the hills. These feet are hands turning the pages of the book. I am an imperfect vessel that slices through cold winds. Those who drive by see a crazy man in a blue shirt and without shoes, his face tucked into concentration on the sensation of flying and the sensation of all the muscles in the body going through the rhythms of relaxation and contraction. I can almost imagine wings growing from my heels now, I can almost imagine that I could outrun Death on his pale horse, chasing after me, the pale man with pale hair and green eyes streaked with blue. Perhaps he and I could race each other one day. Would Death wear shoes?