Forty Eight Years



     1989 was my first full year of competition—I only did 15 races, and of those, only four were outside of Yokota Airbase in Japan. But my friend Art, ten years my senior, decided to do the Ironman at Lake Biwa, Japan, and qualified to race the big Ironman at Kona. Art was the best athlete I knew. I made three goals that year—win a race, run my first marathon, and because of Art, do a triathlon. I won six races that year, ran a marathon in 1991 (which was horrible and painful), then a half-Ironman (the Troika Triathlon in Medical Lake, Washington) in 1992. I never seriously considered a full Ironman. Art was an incredible athlete, I was married in 1990, and working full time it would've been hard to hold my marriage together, keep my job, and train.

     Forward to April 2010. Art and I found each other on facebook, as well as all my cycling buddies from 1988/89 who I started racing with, none of us having been in touch for 20 years. For the first time I saw pictures of Art's Kona race. My heart quickened, especially when I saw his mother greet him at the finish. I was so moved I had to write to Art and tell him how great it was to see those, that I always wanted to do one, and at 44, my body was too old. I'd only run three marathons in my life, two in 1991, and had just run one in 2010—it was awful. I could never do more.

     In 2012 I ran my fourth marathon and for the first time, I finished fresh. I felt a bit guilty that I stopped at 26.2 miles. I felt like running an additional 10K! I bicycled up Mt. Washington, New Hampshire that year, a new experience, and that made it much more rewarding. After doing the same competitions for four years, I needed a new endeavor to stop burnout.

     I could now consider doing a marathon, and then some. My health was good, my running had improved dramatically in 2012 (although still far behind my peak in the 1990's), and I'd stopped drinking in 2012. I paid off my rental property in Virginia, so I had a lot more cash coming in and could take a semester off from school and not go broke (I use the VA living allowance to supplement my income). This gave me time to train for something big. Louisville, Kentucky had an Ironman (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bicycle race, 26.2 mile run) in August, and that gave me seven months to prepare, or decide if my plan was stupid. I hadn't swum seriously in 19 years (and I was a horrible swimmer then), hadn't swum at all in seven years, and hadn't done a triathlon since 1997. But I had nothing better to do. Some people said--you're 47, you're too old, but I thought, I'm 47, how much longer do I have? Ironman legend Dave Scott's last Ironman Championship race was at age 47, and he could not finish.

Could I pull it off? My own personal Tiger Team:

     So in January I joined the YMCA and on the 10th I did my first swim workout since July 1994. I tried 2000 meters at the but my watch stopped working, my goggle strap broke (I was still using my 1993 pair), I tied the other strap but it leaked so badly I had to keep stopping to drain water. I was able to complete 1925 meters in 1 hour, 13 minutes, 13 minutes slower than my 1992 Troika when I was 291st of 293 competitors, and 29 minutes slower than my fastest. I was being passed by elderly women in one-piece, blue flowered bathing suits, using kick boards. I had a lot of work to do if I wanted to double that distance comfortably under 2:20 (time cutoff) with a marathon and 112 mile bicycle ride in me. I'd show those old ladies!

     I thought Mom knew what “Ironman” meant, but after a month she asked,”How far is that?” I told her about the swim and bicycle part—and then (this is the part that seemed to give her a stroke) run a marathon. She said,”What? You can't do that! Mike, that's too hard! Could you do a shorter Ironman?” I said,”Then it wouldn't be an IRONMAN!” I was a little upset that while I was struggling to stay motivated, the person I spoke to most thought it was impossible. She wanted to protect me. But she was thinking from emotion. I ran the numbers and it was possible. A conservative guess was a two hour swim, a slow seven hour bicycle race, leaving eight hours to complete a marathon before the 17 hour cutoff (my worst marathon was 3:53:23).

     By January 28, I was up to 3810 meters, uncharted territory. It was so chaotic I didn't time myself and couldn't sleep that night because I kept trying to swim in my sleep. But it was only January. On February 12, I swam the Ironman distance for the first time, 2.4 miles, in 2:18. The next few swims I got slower! This was bad. Then on March 20, reversed that and got down to an amazing 1:54, and for the first time since 1994, beat my 1992 Troika swim—I thought,”Now we have a horse race”. I also swam 4500 meters that day, my longest ever swim by 40%. My body was finally responding.

I ran the 2013 SIC Marathon two weeks later, seven minutes faster than my “fresh” 2012 marathon, 3:41:48, 23rd of 142 runners! The bad news was my legs cramped and pain shot up my legs during the last half of the race.

      I assumed it was my new shoes, which I immediately replaced. Over the next month I had leg/foot pain and my big toe on my right foot swelled and burned when I squatted, causing me to scream like a woman, a beautiful woman with a sexy voice. Then I whacked it on the bottom of the pool during a swim, further injuring it. It swelled during long bicycle rides in the heat too. I hadn't even put my training into high gear and I had to almost stop. The doctor thought I'd fractured the ball of my foot (I got a lot of mileage out of telling people I'd fractured my ball), but a week later, a proper foot doctor told me a birth defect caused my foot to strike the ground at the wrong angle, and something about degerative arthritis, and after 47 years, the damage had caught up with me.      I'd been running wrong my whole life, and when Mom watched my 2013 marathon video, even she noticed,”You run funny, Michael”. I retaliated with an insult about her hair. With all the old people talk I was expecting him to open a closet and put out one of those giant purple pills I see so often on television adds.     

But good news was--no fracture. After two months of no running, the doctor tried a temporary wrap and told me to run. I was faster than my last April run. He considered an orthotic but insurance wouldn't pay. By then, the Ironman was two months away, and I'd lost my motivation.

      After alternatives were discussed, I asked a silly question,”What if I just concentrate on running with my legs closer together?” He smiled and said,”Sure!” So hundreds of dollars and two doctors later, the answer came from the guy with no degree or medical experience—keep legs together. And it worked! Although, after I impressed myself by coming up with a fix independent of advice from a medical professional, the only practical way I could think of to force my legs together was a mini-skirt. I opted to rely on concentration and decided I'd rather be injured than win a race looking like a dancer from "Laugh-In". I was afraid the next step was high heels to correct my heel strike. Still, one good run doesn't mean I'm an Ironman.

      July 6, was one of those days I felt perhaps God was telling me to give up. I was very depressed (fifth anniversary of my failed engagement to Amy), and on Gabba and Niacin to help me snap out of it, so I was a bit spacey. My lawn mower was malfunctioning--it would not shut off unless I pulled a spark plug, which was dangerous, but I decided to mow anyway. Then a yellow jacket stung me in the ankle. I screamed in pain, quickly pushed the mower down my hill and as I tried to push it off so I could grab my swollen ankle and roll on the ground, I pushed it into my hummingbird feeder, which exploded sugar water all over me and the mower. Then I struck my head on a crossbeam over my gate, which knocked me back to the ground. I laid on the ground for a while, with my lawn mower sitting off in the distance, refusing to turn off. I had a limp and a headache for a week, stuck to everything, and still depressed. The hummingbirds were angry that they had to lap their syrup off the grass like a dog. Was God trying to tell me to stop?

      I was curious, so I swam for the first time in two months, in a different pool, and was able to do 1:56. This was the Lloyd Pool, the same pool I took lessons in with my 5th grade class in 1976 when I was embarrassed in front of them. We had to swam the entire pool, 50 meters, non-stop. At 40 meters I stopped and put my feet down. The instructor yelled,”Why did you stop? There's the finish! You're almost there!” I was so embarrassed. The girls didn't even stop. Now I could redeem myself.

     I bicycled 112 miles on July 16 and managed 6:18 in 98 degree heat, with cramps and a flatting back tire, but came off with a cough that lasted a month. The Louisville Ironman was rated third hardest in the world because of heat and humidity, which I don't do well in, I feared the bicycle course because my bicycle handling was so poor, and the swim, my worst sport, rated the hardest of all Ironman's. It wasn't prudent. At my weekly counseling, I was depressed—my summer had been boring. My counselor, Soozi, went over methods to help and nothing worked. Then I realized I'd been in a mood since I decided cancel the Ironman. It was $625 to enter, my training was totally off, the course was one of the worst I could pick, and I was lazy. So she asked me the question of the year,”Would you rather try and fail, or not try at all?” The painful answer was obvious.

For the exciting conclusion to my Louisville Ironman experience, go to
It's Not A Verb
Click on thumbnail for full-size photo, dude

Dec 21, 2012
Mark's 54th birthday

Jan 20
Gizmo discovers heroine
Mar 16
First 2013 race*

Apr 6
SIC Marathon

May 10
New Bicycle

May 24

Jul 17
Gizmo turns 11

Jul 24

Jul 24

Aug 10

Aug 25
Louisville Ironman

Sep 7

Sep 9
Gizmo get his license back
Sep 14
Race and Anniversary

Sep 29

Oct 5
Evansville Half Marathon*
Oct 19
Indianapolis Marathon

Oct 25
Micky Dolenz

Oct 25
Herman's Hermits Staring Peter Noone
Dec 12
48th birthday in Louisville

*Photos by Rhonda Kay of Evansville, Indiana

     Other than the big race, this year was dull. I put everything on the line to make sure I could finish the Ironman, financially and emotionally. A long trip to Colorado was tough mentally, depressing to be alone that long without housework to do, and another trip up Mt. Washington, New Hampshire would hit me too hard in the pocketbook, besides being only a week before the Ironman, a week in which I also had to start my fall semester at school. I already did a juggling act by going to school and leaving from the classroom to go do the Ironman in Louisville. Thank God for cooperative teachers! I stuck to regional runs in 2013. My results were so unpredictable, I never knew how I'd do from race to race.

     I raced a half marathon (13.1 miles) in February--my slowest ever, a 17 minute drop in just four months! I expected to be much faster. However, my Southern Indiana Classic Marathon (26.2 miles) was nearly seven minutes faster than 2012, even with foot pain and cramps. By the time I reached the two Evansville Half Marathon warm-up races in August, I expected to be slow. There was a 10K warm-up oAugust 10, a week that started with a punishing 21 mile solo run and then a full Ironman training week with no tapering off to be fresh for the race. I used the race to test my tri-suit for the first time in an actual race and do my first speed training since March. Even in an Ironman, fast legs can't hurt. I was surprised to do 42:14, not great, but five minutes better than the same race in 2012, and with a bad foot, an extra ten pounds, and beat-up legs. After the Ironman I was almost sedentary for two weeks. Some "experts" suggest taking an entire month off after a full Ironman. The 15K warmup race on September 7th was only 48 seconds better than 2012, but still faster. I felt I'd fully recovered from the Ironman. I started running at lunch again and this turned things around. I ran two 5K races on September 14th, earned a second place and a win, almost a minute faster than my best 2012. So if I was a minute faster for 5K, how come I was only 48 seconds faster on three times the distance. It made no sense, but I had the answer all along. September 14th was also 11 years since I adopted my hairy little angel, and it was a race combined with a dog party, so I brought Gizmo along, had someone at the race babysit him, and then after I came back with the victory, I received a victory lick. I think that's the first time I ever had a loved one present when I won a competition, even if he was inside a fence crying to me. He wanted to be held.

     I was nervous about the Evansville Half Marathon again. My runs had been so much faster than in 2012, the pressure was on to do really well. One Sunday morning, about 3am, I opened the back door to let Gizmo fertilize the grass, turned on the light, and an inch from my face was a huge spider that had built a web across my doorway. "AHHH!!!" is what I was thinking. I wanted to take it down, but I'd been having trouble with mosquitoes, and this heinous monster seemed to do a good job deterring them, so I left him up for about a week. And just to be safe, I wrote a warning across my back door so I wouldn't stagger into the dark half awake, and have eight legs suck the juice out of my eyeball. It worked and when the time came, I destroyed the web, but spared the grotesque horror film star and took him to a remote part of the back yard to start a new life. Then I posted a "No Mosquito Zone" sign. The spiders stopped coming around. Back to race stories...

     I came to the October 5th Evansville Half Marathon expecting to be six seconds a mile faster than 2012. It started hot and muggy but I was 12 seconds faster at two miles, and three miles into it, it started to rain. At five miles I'd lost my advantage and was 21 seconds slow, and lost another four minutes over the next eight miles. A lot of fast runners blew by me in the opening miles but were walking near the finish, where I blew back at them. I think the opening miles sapped the electrolytes and then when it rained, the desire to keep drinking was gone. I made myself drink, and I think that's why I didn't slow as much as some of the other runner, but my legs were stiff and after five miles, I was just surviving. My time was 1:32:42, but I placed 28th of 2014 runners, 20 places better than 2012, my best ever! I beat a lot of guys who should've decimated me. So should I be happy or sad?

     I assessed that my problem with the Evansville race was I hadn't done any long runs. I was either recovering from the Ironman or too close to a race to beat up my legs on a long run, or just lazy, and wouldn't you know it, I started to really slow at five miles, the exact distance of the many training runs I'd done! If the half marathon went reasonably well, I wanted to race the Indianapolis Marathon on the 19th. Indianapolis was nasty—rain, 43 degrees, overcast. Rain was annoying in 70 degree weather for 93 minutes, but now I had to be prepared to slog through a dramatically colder race for more than twice that, and the two weeks I had left me no time to correct my running endurance problem. As I sat in my car, in the dark, waiting for the call to approach the start line, rain chattering all around me, I lamented that I hadn't brung Vaseline to sooth the chill on my exposed legs that were sure to be stiff. I noticed a CVS pharmacy across the road, so I darted over there, found the coveted Vaseline, slathered myself and even greased the vents on my running shoes to keep water out. Then I used my CVS bag as a scarf and headed for the start (see October 19 photos). One

gentleman politely opened a door for me and called me Ma’am, until he got a look at my razor stubble, and followed with,”Or, whatever you are.” I was an ugly woman! Still, this race was refreshing. It was new and I got a chance to leave Evansville, and it was my last race of the year, so if I died I didn't have to worry about missing any upcoming races. It was also partially off road, and that meant mud and fun! I just kept a steady pace and tried to think of how great it would be to climb into a warm car, not how miserable I felt. I finished in 3:36:39, 76th of 615 runners, beating my April time by over five minutes, and my 2012 marathon time by 12 minutes, my second best marathon ever! I have to divide my runs into "then" and "modern times", because there was a 19 year gap between my first and second competitive marathons. So I just ran my fastest marathon of modern times, despite the rain and mud and big old rain jacket. Like I wrote before—a pretty boring year except racing was fun. Ten races--two half marathons, three full marathons, two 112 mile bicycle rides, and the 12 longest swims of my life.

     As far as non-sports thing, I have no intimate human love, and that's what I crave from the bottom of my soul. I have to stay active or I'll lose my mind. On July 24, my friend Cindy and I went to see the Monkees in Nashville, Tennessee, minus the late Davy Jones, who would've really smelled up the stage and creeped out the fans had they wheeled him onstage and told everyone he wasn't dead but in the middle of a daydream, and we were believers. The concert was smashing! First time I'd ever seen Michael Nesmith, my favorite Monkee! I laughed, I cried, I sang, I waved my arms during "Daydream Believer" like you're supposed to. I tried to stand still but my ears flapped to the beat. Then on October 25, Cindy and her brother Mark and I went to see Mickey Dolenz (lead singer of the Monkees--again!) and Herman's Hermits staring Peter Noone at the Riverpark Center in Owensboro, Kentucky. Mickey was good, but Peter Noone blew me away. The 65 year-old Noone was so funny, so energetic, so ridiculous, like that grandpa who sits you down to tell you the story about his first colonoscopy, and uses props and special effects, then brings out the colonoscope used in the process and wants you to have it. You don't want to laugh but you can't help it. Peter brought out his daughter, Natalie, who surprised us more than Peter (but she didn't make us laugh as hard as Dad did). She may be a better musician than Papa. So now I have a man crush on Peter and am trying to find all the music I can from Peter and Natalie Noone. Best concert eva! If you ever get a chance, go see Herman's Hermits staring Peter Noone--you won't regret it!

     My 47th year ends on a sad note. This is difficult for me to talk about, but Gizmo's stomach had been getting larger and he gained two pounds in a little over a week, so I took him to the doctor. They told me he is experiencing heart failure. It's something that comes with age. He's as perky and annoying as ever, but I'm a wreck, stumbling around the house trying to imagine my little friend may not be with me much longer. He's more than a friend, he's a part of me. For 11 1/2 years it's just been me and Gizmo, and all the fakers who phonied their way into my life, ripped bits and pieces off me while I tried to love them, and hid behind their "niceness" or their church, but this loud, un-civilized animal has shown them all up. He knows what love is.

     He's on two medications for the rest of his life, however long that is. He's shown no slow-down in his activity. Seems I'm the only one who is suffering. Gizmo is happy as could be. And that makes it hard for me to look at him. He doesn't look the slightest bit sick. I gave him my coveted Polartec Mt. Washington blanket for his cage and he won't come out--it's so comfortable. I just see two big green eyes staring back at me as if to say,"You come in here--I'm not letting you have this thing back".

     It's a slow process and all we can do is prolong his very, very special little life. The doctor told me Gizmo has an enlarged heart. I've always known that. At this moment he's running around, being silly, wanting to play, wanting to cuddle, wanting to be that one light that hasn't blown out. I pray the Lord gives us many, many good years together.

      I tried to love, to forgive, to forget hurt, but what I want to do, I don't do, and what I don't want to do, I do. I give it to God. He holds little Gizmo's heart in his hand, and Gizmo holds my heart in his beautiful opal eyes. If I could love this little imperfect creature as much as I do with my imperfect love, then why can't I trust the all powerful God who gave Himself as a sacrifice for me, who loves me with a perfect love, to take care of me? I'm praying for a miracle, a miracle that will reconcile me with those I love and once loved, my church, place me in a church home, and find me a reason to live. Surprise me! Many thanks to my friends Cindy, Mark, and Soozi for their constant support, without whom this past year would've been pretty uneventful. But all glory be to God--I couldn't have made it through the year without Him.