Sunday, April 27, 2008

Special Running Partner

Yesterday's run was meant to be.

Before my body would race Saturday, my mind decided to go on its own run - I didn't sleep a lick the night before. I "woke up" at 5, stuffed down a banana and a few Clif bars, applied Body Glide, and woke the kids (Dori was already up). When my crew dropped me off at Centennial Park at 6:30, a heavy rain came to an abrupt stop. The temp was a comfortable 57 with high humidity.

Before the race, I saw Carey Clifton, Dori's nurse practitioner at the longterm care clinic at Vanderbilt. She was having an issue tying her timing chip to her shoe, so I jury-rigged it for her. Dori loves Carey, and for good reason. She has a lot of spunk and spirit. We shared our corral numbers (12 and 14), wished each other luck and headed for pre-race bathroom visits. I saw my sister Anne and Mom at the start. Anne took some photos, posted above, of the start and at 4.5 miles where the family situated.

I ran the first mile in 8:50, which was too fast, so I backed it down a notch. Actually, the Country Music Half Marathon is so crowded, even with the wave starts, you have no choice in many spots but to back down. Miles 1.5 through 7 are very tight quarters. You're always aware of the Rambos who sprint through the crowd. One girl pushed me aside to break through a logjam, almost clipping my feet. One dude playfully brushed a friend, almost knocking over another.

At mile 2, heading up Music Row, I thought of the blood cancer patients fighting their battles on 11 North at Vanderbilt, to the right of us about a half mile away. Whenever I pass the hospital, I say a short prayer of hope and strength for everyone on that floor. As the pack cruised up Music Row, one young mom in Team in Training garb passed me. Her shirt struck me, as she had pictures of her with her young son who is fighting blood cancer, along with some inscriptions that included "11 North." That gets to you and inspires you.

At mile 4, I clocked a 36:20, a 9:05/mile pace. I began to recognize this race wasn't the day to shoot for a 2:00:00 finish. The humidity precipitated a very heavy sweat. I knew there were reasons to chill out and enjoy this race. This week, I recognized I was in between things - I'm still drained a touch from the Tom King Half Marathon and not 100% trained for this one. Yesterday's goals were to never stop and to punch through my last two nemesis miles on this course in 2006 and 2007.

As I'm heading down the hill on Belmont Blvd., getting ready to see Dori and my family at Christ the King Church, I thought about all of this. I saw a few friends of ours - Avery, Merrill, Laura and the Doyles - who yelled, "Go Jim!" Very encouraging. My dominant thought was how I really wished I were running with a friend. One hundred yards before I saw Dori, I saw Carey again. We looked at each other, shocked that we were reuniting among 30,000 entrants. I asked if she wanted a partner, and she said absolutely but she didn't want to slow me down. She was running 10:00/mile, so we compromised ... I dropped my pace and she upped hers to about 9:40/mile.

Then we saw Dori and the kids, along with my sister, Mom and our friend Linda. Dori beamed when she saw Carey and me running together. She had made a sign for me, Carey and two college friends, Dana and Jen, along with a thanks to everyone doing Team in Training. The kids held up their "Go Daddy!" sign. In a flash, Carey and I were on our way.

At Mile 5, I asked Carey how long she'd been working in the clinic. Seven years. I asked her what she thought of her job. "Bittersweet," she said with no explanation needed. Thirty seconds later, she said everyone in the clinic is very encouraged with Dori's progress. I mentioned Dori's cut on her foot had almost completely healed. I noticed the mile 6 marker, where my time was 55:15. Miles 7-9 went well, with light chatter between us. I asked Carey to tell me every song and artist that played on her iPod ... Queen, The Police mixed with some new stuff. Time was passing nicely, and we were enjoying the crowds, feeding off their energy.

Before Mile 10, I noticed Carey was beginning to drop some off my shoulder, so I slowed my pace a smidge. This was her first half marathon, and I was not going to let her slip back, if I could help it. I clocked at 1:34:18 at mile 10. We were on a 2:04:00 pace for me, 2:08:00 for her; Carey's goal was to go sub 2:10:00. As we headed through the Gulch, Carey started feeling it. I told her often how great she was doing. Right before Mile 11, I started feeling it. Minutes before, I saw the best sign of the race - "Click your heels," with a drawing of a pair of red shoes. In front of the Farmer's Market, Carey said, "I want to walk so bad." "Me, too, but we're gonna keep going," I said. "We're almost home."

I thought, "15 minutes left ... that's how long it takes to get the kids to school."

As we turned up James Robertson Parkway to begin a slow gradual hill into downtown, extreme pain visited. Carey dropped off my shoulder again, and I started getting more focused on me. At mile 12, I lost her as the hill began to steepen. I thought, as my legs burned and lungs went into overdrive, "This finish is for Dori," recalling visions of her hanging over the toilet repeatedly last October. I also thought of Robin and everyone I mentioned a few days ago. No giving in, only getting it done.

When I saw Titans Stadium at about 12.5, my adrenaline rushed. I picked up my pace, running harder until .15 miles before the finish line. I felt a bonk coming on, and instinctively popped my last energy gel. Things started to blur, as my body faded and mind clouded. This wasn't how I felt finishing the Tom King six weeks ago. I crossed in 2:06:10, besting my 2006 course record by 25 seconds. Instead of celebrating, I focused on staying upright. I almost keeled over a few times and thought a blackout was possible. I'm glad the wind didn't blow hard.

I grabbed some bananas, bagel and fluids, again feeling totally spent. I knew I'd run a good race because I'd left everything on the course. I wanted to lie down, but knew better. I couldn't chew my bagel because I was too tired, so I parked it in my mouth until I had the energy to munch again. It would be 45 minutes before I reunited with Dori and the kids; I actually experienced a little separation anxiety. When I finally found them, I bear-hugged my sweet wife. Will asked me if I was still going to run in San Francisco this fall. "Yes, Will, I am. That's our fundraiser this year." Dori said to remember how I feel before I ever take the full marathon plunge. Good point, as I watched the marathoners finish.

Carey finished in 2:12:26, an excellent run for her first half. I am very impressed by the grit she showed. My place was 3738 among 7921 men and 6341 overall among 21938. In my age group, I was 426 out of 935.

Congratulations to all of you who ran yesterday! What a great day for so many.


Cynthia Manley said...

Jim -- this is so cool to read. We (my walking parnters and I) saw the "Go Daddy" sing and remarked on it. Now to know the story behind is awesome. I work at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center -- not a hero (nurse or doctor) but do marketing/PR, communications, web, etc. I was walking yesterday with Gilda's Gang for Gilda's Club Nashville. I hope you and your family know it. Great resource for those living with cancer and those who love them, especially children. Best wishes to you, Dori and your family.

Jim said...


Thanks for the note. We are supporters of VICC ... Thanks for all you do. I think Dori is signed up to do some yoga classes through Gilda's Club. Great cause and thanks for the support. And you are a hero. Jim

ChuckEastNashville said...

Jim, congratulations on your CMM story and finish. I am glad you got your 2-hour goal earlier this year. Now you are helping other half-marathoners.

Thrilled to hear Dori's health improves with each posting.

Please join us running on the road soon.