Forty Nine Years



        When I write these, I look back over the previous year and think of a color, or a picture. 2014 was a gray year, a movie without a song, a song sung flat. I had big plans to get out of town on my 49th birthday, visit the Gulf Coast of Florida and soak up some sun for a few days, then drive home, peel off that sun burnt skin and hang it over the window as a reminder of what it was like to look out onto Florida. But I didn't have that option this year. An hour outside of Nashville, Tennessee, Gizmo started vomiting, and he didn't stop for a few hours when he was spewing blood out from under his little nubby tail. I desperately phoned my veterinarian from Decatur, Alabama to schedule him for the next morning back in Indiana, canceled my reservations in Florida, and headed home as quickly as possible. My darling little puppy lay on my lap trembling, panting heavily, crying. I was crying too.

        2014 began when Gizmo injured his leg so badly he needed a painful (and expensive) operation. I was so crushed over his heart disease that I tried to spend more quality time with him. Part of that quality was spent at a pet food store which had a cat who played with Gizmo. Gizmo usually didn't play back. We'd drop by while running Mom around and get the cat wound up. So in the middle of play, when Gizmo was very excited, I accidentally dropped him. He yelped in pain, and started hopping on three legs. I rushed him to the doctor where they diagnosed a ruptured ligament on his back left leg. I could've left him like that for the rest of his life or paid a lot of money for a 90% fix. I chose the latter. The operation was very painful for him, and the worst was when I took him to Mom's that night after the operation. Sitting in a room full of delicious food, all he did was remain in his cage and stare. I coaxed him out on his stitched, shaved leg, and when I tried to urge him back into the cage, he could not clear the two inch step up into his kingdom. He struggled and struggled and could not push himself up high enough. It took him six weeks to be out of danger and almost good as new. That was good enough for me, so long as he was happy. I was tired of carrying him on his daily walks, and I knew he was too. But when I did, he'd give me an occasional lick on the nose to thank me. I loved that part.

        In February I lost my favorite living uncle, Horace “Copper” Rainey. He was the one who would always wait on his porch and wave to me when I raced the Southern Indiana Classic Marathon, even though he was barely able to walk. The marathon was canceled in 2014—how interesting. Besides my uncle, I also lost a coworker, Madeline, after a long fight with cancer, dealt with the ups and downs of Diane's terminal illness (but as I write this she is still kicking and screaming and I'm hopeful), and my friend Cindy's cat, Rosey, who was also Gizmo's friend, passed away. My cousin Rita had a serious stroke, and my friend Cathy lost her father. It was as if God was showing me the future wasn't guaranteed for any of us, but it did end with some new life.

        I try to think the best of people in my life, but in the case of my lost fiance' Amy and Westwood Church, I realize I should've made an exception. What really stands out in this whole journey with those people is when I allowed myself to think horrible things about those people, then put the love of Jesus on and reached out in a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation, they turned their backs on me time and again. My horrible thoughts turned out to be the accurate ones. I thought too well of them. That's where I made the mistake. But I finally got closure on March 28 with an uncomfortable meeting with Amy and her mother--yes, she actually brought her mother! This closed a horrible nine year chapter with Amy, Mary Lou, Steven, Jerry and Westwood Church who, in the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald are "careless people" because they are insensitive and thoughtless. Sometimes I think the world's problems aren't created by evil people, just people who don't know what love is. Now I just wish they'd all get into the Partridge Family bus and drive 3000 miles west. They were my family and I loved them, but they spit in my face. God commands me to love--I turn them over to Him.

       Now I needed to understand how a normal 48 year old male was to feel and act, because I was so numb I didn't know anymore. I made vague attempts to meet members of the opposite sex for friendship and found I was still capable, but not that excited or interested. Spring found me overweight, not having raced in eight months, and working out infrequently. I had breathing problems in the early spring which went away after a month. I never found what caused them. With no Ironman this year, I felt like the greyhound who caught the mechanical rabbit—I was done—bucket list empty. No more grand plans, no more lions to slay, no more,”Hey, watch this!” Another Ironman? Couldn't afford it and I couldn't afford the taxing of my nervous system in tackling another monster alone. Something harder, faster? I didn't have it in me, and I wanted more from life than waking to the sound of air sucking through the return vent over my bed, oiling my creaking joints and limping around the block with a spritely but aged Yorkie. On April 3, at about 6:30am, I accidentally set my kitchen on fire. I'll just leave you hanging on that one, but it did wake me up. It was exciting to practice my Hindenburg live commentary as I frantically looked for my fire extinguisher. Oh, the humanity.

        On June 14, I forced a 5K race, picking this particular one because they guaranteed fitness shirts for late entries. I needed fitness shirts. My friend, Diane, had been asking me when I was going to race again. I'd spent a few days with her in May, seeing what it was like to be in the company of a lady who wasn't an aunt or my mother, someone I could talk to, someone who got me and I hoped, I got. She was a former competitive swimmer, full of fire, and very ill. After a few questions about racing, I decided good or bad, I needed to race for me, and her.

        It started with a kamikaze first mile which turned out to be my fastest split in 16 years (slightly downhill). With no ideas, no tactics, the funnest thing was to run like I had a pit bull on my heels and go out with a bang rather than starting slow and fading. I led for a few hundred feet and pulled out a 4th place. I gave my medal to Diane. She earned it.

        I raced four more 5K races, two 10K's, two half marathons, an 8K, a 5 miler, and a 15K, each one just a little faster than last year. Feeling I was capable of it, I tried for a repeat win at the Fido Run in September, but due to an absent race volunteer at the first intersection, me and the second place runner Jerrod went 1 1/2 miles off course and ended up finishing in almost over 12 minutes behind the winner. I tried to retaliate by pouring a bottle of water over the organizer, Karen, but she deflected it. I still won my age group! Karen made me take the medal. Medals and trophies have become somewhat of a joke to me. I have a pile of them in a back closet, looking like some web-supported inspiration for Mad Max's Thunderdome. I like to disassemble them and make mutant trophies. I won a trophy this last summer that was one solid piece of steel, something that might come in handy for a superhero to take out his or her arch enemy.

        I poured myself into some minor redecorating of my house in July and August, which I made up as I went along. I stooped to the level of selling plasma to make a few extra bucks, and found the people there were very friendly. It turned out to be an enjoyable experience. Had I started giving out addresses, Facebook page names and email addresses, I'd have a room full of people with holes in their arms and smiles on their faces, singing songs of the motherland with me! I know many will look down on someone who donates plasma for money, but one thing I've learned in life is that I need to stoop now and then or I'll be knocked down. And how else am I going to appreciate when the Lord lifts me up? Besides that, screw you.

Click on thumbnail for full-size photo

Dec 17, 2013
Saved by the bell

Dec 21, 2013
Mark's Birthday!

Dec 25, 2013
Family Christmas

Jan 6, 2014
Hide and seek

Jan 10
Gizmo injured

Jan 14
Gizmo post-operation

Feb 11
Goodbye Uncle Copper
Mar 28

Apr 3

Jun 10
Haircut for Gizmo

Jun 28
Mom turns 85

Jul 17
Chasing Gizmo

Jul 17
Gizmo turns 12!

Jul 18
New helmet!

Jul 21
Home Decorating part 1
Aug 1
Home Decorating part 2
Aug 15
Home Decorating part 3
Sep 6
30th High School Reunion

*Photos by Rhonda Kay of Evansville, Indiana

        The 11th annual Evansville Half Marathon--1975 runners, new course this year which started and ended at the riverfront instead of starting atop Reitz Hill and descending into the city. After all the effort I made to make a new start in 2014, it really just came down to this--could I be fast again? I was sporting my new Brooks T7's, very lightly cushioned, sockless, assuming all Brooks shoes were designed to race without socks. It was COLD, not so much from the 43 degrees, but the unusual morning winds and shading from the downtown skyline. It didn't help that the lady who sang the National Anthem wanted to display her vocal abilities while the people in shorts and tanks shook like a gigantic bowl full of jelly. I tried to blink her a message,”HOME OF THE BRAVE ALREADY!!!” She got a rousing applause because beating hands together generates heat. The Mayor was handed the mike two minutes after the scheduled start time, so he didn't have the privilege of accidentally starting the race three minutes early and nearly causing a pile up (“It's a great privilege to start this prestigious event, GO!!!”) like he did last year.

        I could not feel my legs for the first mile, and my split was my fastest non-downhill mile in 16 years, 5:57. I felt like my legs were on rails and for the first time, me and another guy who wore a funny hat that made him look like Shaggy, pulled off the front of this prestigious event, and after a few more feet, my friend Jerrod joined us. This was the first race where I didn't look back, so I don't know how far off the front we were, but we were out there about a minute or more (we didn't earn groupies). I thought of Jens Voigt, setting the hour record on a bicycle—he said when he started he felt so fast he couldn't feel his legs, so he had to mentally slow himself down. Either I was on a good run this morning, or I was about to look over my shoulder and see parts start detaching from me and fly into other runners.

        Jerrod, Shaggy and I were overtaken, but not as fast as usual, which made me wonder just how fast we were going. Two guys hung next to me, just outside peripheral vision, and there were a lot of slow passes, which I did not like, because we hit corners side by side and all three want the quickest path through that corner.

        What I found strange in my three best Evansville Half Marathons (2009/2012/2014) is how close my splits were. There was never more than five seconds between my 5K, 10K, and 15K splits, over those three years, and my 15K split this year was only two seconds faster than 2012, which was tied with my 2009 split—despite being on different courses, a 13 pound weight fluctuation and a five-year age range. I just felt fast, so fast I missed my time

to take my electrolyte pills, and ended up taking them too late to be effective, as well as half a No Doz to make me irritable and nervous before the finish. I fumbled to get them out of the baby Zip Lock and eventually just shredded it in my mouth and spit out the bag.

        I saw it was possible to beat my 1:28:18 from 2012, hoping to look at my watch and say,”Ahhh, I'm well ahead of my PR,” but every time I looked down I'd think,”I'm right on it—if I slip up at all, if I belch wrong, if one of the volunteers holds on to that cup a millisecond too long, I'll miss it by one second!” I tried not to think about it or I would've been throwing those nice volunteers to the ground. If I matched the early pace from 2012 on this course with the slower start, then I could finish faster.

        After flying through 15K two seconds ahead of my target, at mile 11 I stiffened and slowed by 11 seconds. I concentrated on cadence, trying not to think about the inside of my shoe rubbing my foot into a bloody Taco Bell dollar menu item. If I thought about the pain, I'd tilt my foot to avoid the abrasion and cause bigger problems. So instead, I had to concentrate on making sure that foot was shredding itself on that shoe or I was screwed.

        The organizers are cruel—the last 3/4 mile is straight, and the finish never seems to get any closer. I just didn't look—I thought to myself,”Arm swing, up on your toes, smile, your feet enjoy pain, you're an angel, you're an angel.” Within a half mile of the finish I got a side stitch and fighting that was harder than ignoring my bloody feet. I didn't look at the time until I was about 50 feet from the finish, 1:27:39! I was 39 seconds faster than 2012, pulling back 48 seconds in the last 2.1 miles! My final split of 6:35 may have been my fastest half marathon final mile ever, and it took more out of me than the entire race. I had trouble breathing, walking, talking, and standing. I didn't feel faster, I just felt like I tried harder. I placed 35th, very blessed that shoe issues didn't drop me on my face with 1940 runners trampling me to death. I walked almost a mile back to my car through the middle of the city. Wobbling along like an orphan in a Norman Rockwell painting, barefoot, shivering from the cold, holding blood-soaked shoes I'd peeled off my feet, barely able to walk, wearing nothing more than some ultra thin material, I thought to myself—-I hope I don't get mugged.

Oct 4
Evansville Half Marathon*
Nov 7
Self Portrait

Nov 13
Cold Run

Nov 21
Gizmo in car

Nov 22
Turkey Race

Nov 23

Nov 23
Mom and cousin Victoria Pohl
Dec 12
49th birthday

        The 2014 Indianapolis Marathon had problems from the start. My legs, sore from the Half Marathon, hadn't healed. I caught a cold the weekend prior and hadn't trained seriously in two weeks. Due to traffic and poor planning, I was not able to get a decent meal the night before the race. I'd made many stupid mistakes in the past week—cutting pieces off new shoes and then wanting to return them but unable to because I'd damaged them, missing the prepaid pre-race dinner, running sockless in new shoes and damaging my feet, and now a new one--partially opening my Gu (a syrupy, energy food used in runs) to make it easier to open during the marathon. That stuff is extremely sticky--I got some on my gloves during the Mt. Evans Hill Climb in 2012 and they were so sticky it compromised my bicycle. Now it was all over my lower back. I tossed the guilty packet, saved the other but ate it before the race. I only had a blueberry muffin and 28 ounces of Heed sports drink, and a bottle of protein drink that morning. I ate more than that before the Half Marathon. So--Gu gone, but to remove the annoying stickiness, I put my red jersey on top of my sticky black one. It looked goofy, but it put a layer of fabric between sticky and my lower back.

        I started slow, but this just made me feel more uncomfortable. My friend Angela, running a half marathon on the same course, passed me 1 1/2 miles into the race, but last year she passed me at mile four. I was more tired at nine miles than at the finish of the Evansville Half Marathon two weeks prior. I was sinking fast. My half-marathon split tied my worst ever. Mile 18 and 19, took 20:24! I wanted to walk, but I'd lose too much momentum. I didn't know if I could finish. People passed and I watched, upset, noticing things about them. A tall, handsome guy got a hand-off of mystery pills from his wife and disappeared (jealous), another wore German festive clothing, a woman behind me told her friends she was doing an 8:09 mile (my target pace), then passed me, making me feel worse. A chubby girl passed me and there was no way that girl could outrun me in a marathon! Then two guys with "Staff" on their shirts, a guy who looked like Charlie Brown, a shirtless oriental guy who must've been freezing. A large cast of characters, including the 3:40 pace group passed me.

        The temps were in the high 40's with no sun, winds up to 20 miles an hour, and an occasional mist that cut through clothing and created a depressing gloom. I added an extra layer of clothing because the forecast was for wind, or I would've been a lot colder. Every marathon I've ever done, I've reached a point where I thought,"What have I gotten myself into?" I tried to smile but felt so bad, everything bothered me. I mumbled,"I'm retiring from running--this is my last run."

        I was probably low on sugar because the legs grew tight. I passed a water station, and as they yelled,"Water! Gatorade!" a tiny voice said,"Gu." Gu? Gu was energy! I need GU! YOU NEED GU! WE ALL NEED GU! I did a U for Gu, almost knocked down another runner (sorry dude) and yelled,"GU!" The lady ran to me and I grabbed that nasty crap and shoved it down. At 19 miles, while a lady was passing me, I quickly jumped into her draft to get around another slower runner. I didn't think I had it in me but when I did, it was like I found another gear. She found herself quickly passed back, and I was gone, so dramatically, I didn't know what was happening.

       It reminded me of the Wrath of Khan, when the Enterprise was damaged, trying to escape the Genesis Device, and suddenly warp drive returned, and Kirk shouted,"Go!" I thought,"I feel fast--go!" The stiffness disappeared and I began hunting down runners. I only had 10K left. Mile 20, dropped to 8:05 from the previous 10 minute mile. I was holding low 8's all the way to the finish, a drastic improvement from almost quitting. I passed that water station I'd passed earlier and yelled,"GU! I WANT GU!" The lady remembered me and replied,"GU! GUUUU!!!" Apparently I'd tapped into her mating call. She crossed in front of another runner and handed me Gu. That stuff is dangerous.

        I was too far off my target pace to make it up, but caught every one of those "cast of characters" except the 3:40 pace group—Charlie Brown, Miss 8:09, chubby, tall/handsome, Mr. Laufenfest, Topless, and more! Although I sucked up to mile 20, I liked this finish, the fastest last five miles of any marathon—ever, including 1991. I was 2:17 faster than last year on that last section and passed 20 runners, taking back as much as 22 minutes on some. In the last 1/2 mile, way in the distance was a lone runner. I knew if I gave everything, I could nip him on the line. So that's what I did, but there was an elderly couple who decided to run the last part race side-by-side, holding hands (they were finishing the half marathon which had the same finish as the full marathon), so I had to take the long way around the last turn to avoid the cuteness. I just dug even deeper, and passed my target five feet from the finish. I haven't had a finish like that in 16 years, but for a marathon, it was epic.

        My time was 3:42:01, about mid pack for me, but I pulled a respectable time and a spectacular finish out of a disastrous weekend. All in all, I had four top-5 finishes, nine top-20 finishes. I capped the year off by winning a turkey which I donated to my family for Thanksgiving.

        In light of the deaths and impending deaths of 2014, God did give me a reason to anticipate new life. I was baptized at a new church, having destroyed all the photos from my 2006 baptism at Westwood. Baby steps...throw out everything that reminds me of my painful past in an unhealthy way and replace with foundations for my future. Some, many bad memories are good because they let me know who to avoid in my future. I'd just stabbed myself the day before, so there was a lot of,"DON'T GRAB THAT HAND!" going back and forth as they kept asking me if I'd accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. I didn't want the water to go red and scare the kiddies there were sharks in the tank. Not yet. The time had not yet come.

        I'd like to thank those who made this year more interesting and for the Lord having shown me that I had in fact thrown my pearls before swine, and giving me more pearls to toss away when the time is right. My challenge now is to find a vision for the future, a future that will likely be without Gizmo and Mom, because neither is likely to last more than a few years. When I graduate college with my degree, I pray that I can see life the way I saw life 30 years ago, when I sat at that bus station in Evansville and knew I was grabbing the wheel on my life.