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The Starting Line

The prognosis for heart patients with viral myocarditis isn’t good. Survival isn’t guaranteed; and no one expects you to survive and run a marathon three years later.

When I left the hospital, my goal wasn’t to run a marathon. Marathon runner wasn’t on my bucket list. I was winded getting from my bed to the bathroom. I wasn’t a runner. I was overweight and unhealthy, and that’s why I ended up in ICU with congestive heart failure in the first place. But it’s hard to live along the Boston Marathon route without thinking about running a marathon at least once in your life or in my case, being annoyed at the inconvenience of road closures on a work day. 

I thought that the Boston Marathon was about running a marathon. That’s only part of it.

Until I participated as a spectator in the 2011 Boston Marathon, the spirit of the Boston Marathon was over my head. It’s one of those experiences that you have to encounter firsthand to understand. It’s much deeper and more profound than language can communicate.

What I expected was to be impressed by the elite front runners. And I was very impressed. They’re world-class competitors and should be celebrated. I mistakenly assumed that the world’s most famous marathon was an ode to their incredible athleticism.

The elites are not the spirit of the marathon. It was when the charity runners came through carrying flags for the fallen, and supporting so many other causes that I was actually moved to tears. I wrote about it in detail in my first book.

When I felt the emotion in my bones, that’s when my desire to run the Boston Marathon surged but I was certain that I had missed my opportunity. I had a failing heart and it took 55 minutes for me to walk under a mile to find a spot to watch the race. I had to rest for a bit on a park bench to catch my breath. I couldn’t walk a mile, let alone run 26.2 miles.

At first, my goal was much more simple. I didn’t want to die, so I made some lifestyle changes. A few of the changes were the obvious ones that most heart patients have to make. Fried foods? Gone. Processed foods? Gone. Cheeseburgers and fries? Gone.

I knew I had to be more active.

I’m not sure you can call what I did at first running. I looked more like a blob consuming space over a short distance. At least no one was ever in my way mainly because anyone could hear me wheezing a block away so they had plenty of time to move out of the path. If I was in a foot race with a sloth, the sloth would have beat me.

I kept doing it. I’m a stubborn guy. When I was younger, I ran track to be with a girl I liked. I was good at running, but not good at running and getting good grades. Like the character Danny Zuko in the film, Grease, I lasted part of one season. I didn’t get the girl anyway.

I continued to put one foot in front of another and eventually I started doing it in rapid motion. When you do something long enough, you become known for that thing. In other words, I continued running and along the way, I became a runner. A Pathetic Runner, for sure, but I was a runner.

The key to staying consistent with exercise is doing something you enjoy. Hockey is my #1 sport – to watch and play. I joined an adult hockey league at the local recreation center. Most amateur hockey leagues have a ‘no hit’ rule but after showing the guys that I was the “Bobby Orr” of the Framingham amateur hockey circuit (aka beer league), a much-younger defenseman cross-checked me in front of the net. I ended up with a broken rib, a broken finger and dislocated my right shoulder. After a rotator cuff repair surgery, I decided watching hockey might be a better pastime than playing it and started to focus exclusively on running.

From my new book.

False Alarm - An Excerpt

Three weeks before Boston, I ran a 20-miler with a couple of friends. I was really proud of my time: 3 hours and 12 minutes (9:37 per minute mile). After the run, I went with them to have coffee, lots of water, and a couple of eggs and bacon. Bacon is from God. A few hours later, when I was at home, my heart began racing. I felt dizzy and nauseated - like I did the day I had congestive heart failure.

Fighting back panic that I could feel rising, I turned to my wife and said, “My pulse is racing. It’s 90 beats per minute (bpm).”

“How the hell do you know that?” she fired back, not believing me.

“I’m a runner. There’s an app for that,” I replied. “I need to get to the ER.”

She drove me to the ER at Milford Hospital. If you’ve ever complained about how long it takes to see a doctor in the ER, tell them you’re experiencing chest pain after finishing a long run. I was checked in right away, which only increased my anxiety because then I knew that it was serious.

The triage nurse paged the doctor and personally escorted me to a bed for closer examination by another ER nurse. My pulse was closer to 100bpm by that time. They asked me about my earlier run and about what I had eaten. The nurse checked my troponin heart enzymes, which thankfully were normal. That meant it had to be something else.

The nurse inserted an IV and I was directed to X-ray for a look at my chest. It turns out that I was dehydrated. After receiving a half gallon of fluids, my heart rate receded back to 55bpm.

I went home and felt fine.

I felt a little silly for having caused so much drama, but it was another reminder how important it is to take care of my body, which includes hydrating a lot - before, during and after a run. Especially a 20-mile long distance run.

More from my new book.

Nightmare in Chicago

On race day, I needed to get up before 4 am. An MFP member picked me up for an early dinner near the hotel. We talked about running, of course. We also talked about our mission trips. I had been to Brazil and she went to Haiti. Not running due to an injury, but like so many in the group, she was going to support the tribe.

I had packed my suitcase amongst the walls of packing tubs back home, as I simultaneously prepared for move-out day. I have a laminated checklist. It was the brainchild of another running member. As with most great ideas, it developed as a need to resolve a problem. Her problem was due to the fact that she’d forgotten a sports bra (an important part of women’s running ensemble) and had to make a quick trip to Walmart for a sports bra a few hours before the start of an out of town marathon.

I pinned my bib on a short sleeved, Hope For Young Adults wicking shirt in anticipation of the weather. I laid out my sunscreen, Roo for my GU gels, electrolytes, Body Glide, compression gear, shorts, socks, and Garmin with a heart rate monitor strap. The checklist made me feel confident. Finally, I reached in my suitcase, set aside my worn short run shoes and pulled out a pair of almost new trainers, and that’s when I discovered my worst fear.

I had two left shoes.

More on this in my new book, Unstoppable.

New is the New Old Thing

Today I am back in the hospital for round 2 of my cisternogram - then 2 more days to go. I haven't given up and I am allowed to run 72 hours from Monday morning at 9 am. So let's see - Tuesday, Wednesday - right Thursday at 9 am!

The lumbar puncture has made my headache go from brutal to near horrific. :(

I have medication for that, so we move forward and live life as best we can. I am still dreaming of a future with less pain. I am still dreaming about all the things left to do in life. I am going to visit all my kids between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I missed them last year. Covid ruined most of those plans this year - but I am going. I don't feel like traveling. I also don't feel like a lot of things. The benefit is I get to be with the people I love.

Living life!

I am learning that what I think matters a lot. The conversations I have with myself have always needed to change. This isn't completly new, it is just that I gave myself permission to speak to myself like some sort of jerk who just cut me off in traffic.

Add to that a disability and it can spiral down quickly.

Today I am back to turning things around. In weight loss, in running, and in life. I am taking care of my body as best as I can. I am taking care of my soul. I am taking care of my spirit. 

It all begins with what I think and the little actions I take.

I have a new running goal. I have a new life goal. They are not like anything I had before. The pit of indecision, that was the same.

- Think fitness, not weight loss.
- Think inches, not pounds.
- Think about what you are doing right.
- Think about adding new things, not subtracting them.
- What can I replace instead of what can I hold on to?
- What I can I schedule to make this work?
- What is a step I can take today?
- How can I reward my success instead of sabotaging my progress?
- Can I confess my failure without judgement?
- Who is a cheerleader that believes in you?
- Stay away from bad influences! (or shoot them!)
- Do it for yourself.
- Set goals. This is tough one. What is a good and achievable goal? What if you don't make it?
- Change your goals if you need to.
- Get enough friends so you enjoy your journey.
- Read success stories!
- Don't give up! Ever.

Am I Ever Going to Win?

I don't know about you, but even though I am not afraid of being mugged my a chocolate cake with vanilla icing (is this profiling), this effing food thing is tough. I does not care how fit you are, or what you do; when you consume more calories than you burn, you gain weight.

This should be easy - easy after 7 years. It's not.


Most of you know that since I first logged onto MFP I became a marathoner. I have run 10 of them. The real deal, the 26.2 mile kind! I have run about 90 other distances and did a 60 mile charity run across Massachusetts and a 30-miler across Rhode Island. I do love running, but it is not a weight loss program.

You cannot outrun a bad diet.

Marathons are a lot different than shorter distance races. You need to have lots of rest before and lots of recovery time after. With a 3 week taper leading up to the race and a week or two of recovery, you don't get a lot of exercise.

The problem is that it is hard to cut down on your food intake.

Well it is for me. I need to be in a highly controlled environment. That means nothing that I should consider an occasional treat can be in walking distance. I can't have left over birthday cake, chips, dips, and other types of snack foods close by.

I just can't do it!


I have to divide up portions meat, fish, chicken and turkey when I get home from the grocery store. It's SO easy to toss the second turkey burger in when I get home from work and I am hungry. If there is more than one in a package, I will eat them all. The good news is that when I run, I am a lot less hungry.

What I don't do is control portions.

One of the things I know about failing is that we give ourselves permission to do it. We make excuses. "It's only once", "it's vacation", "it's OK to start over tomorrow", "it's just a stressful time" and the hits keep on coming. In 4 years on MFP I have seen a lot of people come and go - a lot - thousands in fact!

Overeating is an enemy of mine

The fact still remains that 55% of those who lose weight will not keep it all off, 20% will return to their previous weight and 20% or so will gain even more weight then they lost. That leaves 5% to win the championship and make a true lifestyle change.

I want to be one of them.

Do You Have a Problem, Sir?

The story begins with the ride to the airport after finishng the 2014 Chicago Marathon.

I booked a flight home the day after the marathon. Worst. Planning. Ever. 
Science research shows that human beings are getting taller and fatter with every generation.

Especially me - I mean the fatter part.

It seems that every airline has used that information and interpreted that to mean they should decrease the space between the seat rows and compact the chairs. Instead of making clusters of two and three seats per row, every row crams three seats on each side of the aisle. What that means is, I was sitting in my seat with my chin propped up with my knees. There was no room stretch out, or even move.

You can imagine what my muscles thought about that after running a marathon.

Whatever you’re imagining, it was worse. Every runner has experienced muscle cramps, and the way to get rid of a cramp is to stand on it to apply pressure. As a runner, I have experienced some horrific Charlie Horses!

Eff Charlie. Eff the horse. Just saying.

It’s only a two hour flight; the flight attendants are trying to do their job and offer passengers the Dixie cup of Coke that is included in the ticket price. During food service (this sounds elegant for a 5-cent pack of stale pretzels)

I was asked to return to my seat.

I couldn’t walk it out, and I couldn’t stretch, and when it hit, it caused extreme pain - the kind that makes you let out a yelp like a dog who got its tail caught in the car door. Apparently, that noise sounds a lot like a terrorist attack. It was just my luck that it happened to be an Air Marshal one seat ahead and across the aisle.

As he turned around I could see the pistol hanging from inside his jacket, which incidentally was not an official Chicago Marathon Finisher’s jacket.

One eye making direct contact with mine as I was trying to stand up with a seatbelt on, and asked in a baritone voice, “You got a problem, sir?” As he talked, his left eyebrow lifted upward and he looked at me in such a way that I knew better than to tell him my problem. Trying my best not to look like a nervous infidel with a body bomb, I simply shook my head. “No, I’m good.”

Eventually, the plane touched down in Boston.

Identifying Pathetic Runners and Raceholes

Every sport has @$$holes and variations thereof, but running seems to have a unique flavor of @$$hole that I refer to as raceholes. The fact that raceholes run-shame other runners is nothing new. This however, does not mean that you may act anyway that you like. Based on my made-up scientific research, I have found that raceholes can be subdivided even further into three classes:
1. Asshats are runners who do stupid things and may not be aware of the reason why. Even pathetic runners can be asshats. They’re recognized by these actions:
· Splashing water on the volunteers
· Sudden stop for any reason
· Run races with dogs on a leash

2. Twatwaffles are runners who are just rude.
· Not pulling over to the side with a hand signal before a walk break
· Using speakers instead of headphones during a race

3. Douche Canoes do things to specifically aggravate other runners

And that's from my new book so you will be educated. :)

The Great Goat Hill

From the new book due out in December.

After I moved to a more rural section of Massachusetts in June of 2013, not far from Connecticut and Rhode Island, I joined a local running club. They held a Monday night trail/road run around a pond. It was shaded and made for cooler running in the summer. I really enjoyed that!

There, I met my best friend Tim.

I liked trail running so much that I decided to try it on my own one gorgeous fall day. The crisp New England air, the scent of sweet chrysanthemum, and the artist's palate of the Lord God himself, surrounded me in vibrant fall colors. From the greenest green, to red, yellow, and orange. All this beauty under a brilliant blue sky with a few wispy white clouds. I don’t care if I ever see a street or sidewalk again, I thought.

I checked in on Facebook and hit the trail.
 
As the canal path narrowed along the Blackstone River, I stopped to make a cellphone video of this incredible scene to share with the mere mortals (non-trail runners) in my life. It was just so amazing, just perfect.

Breathtaking.

As a kid, I summered on small islands in the middle of Indian Lake, which is located in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. My siblings and I played a serious game of hide and seek. One which used the entire island. The topography included granite rock cliffs and sandy beaches, as well as a small deciduous forest with a stand of mighty pine trees. Once you were spotted by the most recent loser, it was a race to homebase.

Streaking along wooded paths, bouncing from rock to rock, and making the final cliff jump to the sandy beach below, we raced to home. 

That is what I was thinking about as I was virtually dancing from one flat stone to the next, my ever-changing cadence up to avoid a tree root, a fallen limb or a loose rock. I was so connected with nature that I felt almost weightless. 

BAM!

I hit the pine covered section of trail like a burlap bag full of turnips from the local farm being dropped off an old pickup truck. It took a moment to account for all my appendages. Fortunately, this part of the trail was nothing like the dry and rocky gullywash I had transversed moments earlier.

The alarms began going off. Skinned knee, check; scraped elbow, check; pine needles in my shorts, check; head trauma, none.

Whew! I started to get up. CRAP! I cried out to no one just a mere three miles from civilization. This scream would have been more dramatic had there been a canyon echo. There was none. I swore on getting evermore creative in my cussing.

I was alone and steadied myself on my knees.

I probably should have prayed; however, first I needed to find my glasses, which without, I can see nothing in focus. I searched around the brightly colored leaves and brown pine needles. It was like sifting through a swimming pool-sized-vat of mustard and ketchup.

My first concern was, what if they are broken like Piggy’s were in Lord of the Flies?

What would I do then? My next thought was, what if I can’t find my way back home? Could I realy on my uncorrected vision, or would it be blind faith? I had read about the poor Italian runner who got lost in New York City after the 2015 marathon. I often ask my wife this rhetorical question such as this. “Do you know why I have a GPS, honey? Because I need one.” The good news is that I had my phone. My next thought was, I hate trail running. Eff the damn tree and roots and rocks and creepy creatures and - shoot, this sucks I sputered. And damit, there is no cayon echo. A bullfrog belched.

I fired off another string of expletives.

I continued to search for my glasses in an ever widening circle in the middle of hell itself. After what seemed like a month, I found them in perfect condition. The problem was that they were next to a snake!

Shoot, I screamed with my inner-wimp. Actually it was a stick which happend to look like a sixteen foot anaconda.

I made my way back to the car where I took some water and old Dunkin’ Donuts napkins and cleaned up my wounds. I watched the video I had shot a few times, and headed home. Son of a gun, I hurt. Trail running is stupid. Trees are stupid, gravity is useless…

I pulled in the driveway and limped up the stairs.

My phone rang. It was my good friend Tim. Hey David, I saw that you were running the Blackstone Canal trail on Facebook. You know that there is a trail race down near there. We should do it. I hung up the phone. I dislike telemarketers. A. Lot.

He called back, “Hey David”

“NO!”

Stupid F$%cking Marathons

From my new book due out in December.

At his office I sat there in a chair and listened to every ugly detail of my cancer diagnosis. Really, all I heard was surgery and radiation. I didn’t know what to ask.

I took the names of two doctors.

My first appointment was with a surgeon who does six to eight prostatectomy surgeries a week. There were no happy people in that waiting room. Scared men, nervous wives, and some frail men there for follow ups. I looked at my phone and kept to myself. Soon I got checked in and brought to an exam room.

It was strange looking down over Boston' Back Bay.

Like a prison, this cancer was. Then Joel Olsteen’s German twin entered the room. The surgeon introduced himself and chattered away about the wonderful life I would have after surgery. For Pete’s sake, it was like buying a used car. The hard sell was on. I really didn’t listen. I didn’t have any questions. I scheduled surgery for after the Boston Marathon of 2014.

Two Days after.

Not long after I saw a radiation oncologist. He was in Framingham (MA), and his office was one floor under the Framingham Heart Center. I thought about those days in ICU just across the jetway. It was surreal. Two of the most tragic health events in my life in one building.

I just sat there defeated.

I finally got called into the office. The doctor was super bright. After the pleasantries of greeting each other, he asked me. “Where is your wife? Wives usually want to know how this will affect them.”

I looked down - sort of ashamed. “She had to work.” It was all I had. How could I begin to explain living through all the uncertainty of congestive heart failure was all she could handle. She was angry and felt insecure with me out on disability.

Then risking my life to run a stupid fucking marathon?

Then cancer. She had almost completely shut down when we had to move. It was worse on the way home from the doctors appointment where we discussed my results. In fact it was ice cold. I was alone. It was too much for her.

Damn it, it was too much for me!

Running that marathon - yeah, I sort of hoped I would die that way instead of shriveling up and dying of cancer.

Hope in Berlin

Another little excerpt from my book.

I kept counting the kilometer markers on the marathon course.

God there were so many! I closed my eyes and breathed a sigh of gratitude. I had beat heart disease. I had beaten four types of cancer - so far. I could still run with my prostate tumor. That makes 8 full marathons with this damn disease. There is something in all this that made me very emotional.

I'm OK, I said to myself.

I checked my phone and had a Facebook message from Ruth. It was my only connection. I felt a little better. Mile 22 was a blur and so was mile 23. I just put one foot in front of the other. I ran by Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church where the terrorist attack was in 2016.

As I came in Potsdamer Platz, Ruth was in front of me taking a few photos and waiting to hug me.

There it was. 40 kilometers! I stopped for a quick drink and took a selfie. There was a guy walking and he was in pain. I grabbed his arm. "Comrade, let's go get a medal."

He laughed but couldn't get going. 

I started running again. I didn't care if I locked up, but I was going to finish. I picked up my pace and raced on past the Lowenbrau building. I rounded the corner and there was Brandenburg Gate. I poured it on. I just wanted to be done. To drink. To relax.

They hung a medal on my neck.

I thanked God for allowing me to finish. Finish with cancer. Again. There were still 2 marathons on my bucket list; London and Tokyo. I am almost there.
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