When a runner dies…
I received a few queries about why there wasn’t a March 13th 2022 blog post, or a March 27th one either. The truth is I’ve been severely depressed and it’s hard for me to be enthusiastic , or even care about anything right now. I had two personal traumatic experiences in a six week period that have taken the proverbial wind out of my sails. I apologize for the personal tone of today’s blog. It’s very unprofessional, but no one’s paying me and InstantCoffeeWisdom.com only became a blog about running when running became the center point of my world three years ago. So let’s start at…
My father was NOT a runner. The man could barely walk unassisted. He smoked, he drank, he ate meat. Exercise was unknown to the man. He weighed over 300lbs, most of it fat. When I was about 4 years old, my father was just a few years older than I am now, and one night he died in his sleep. The reason given by the old-time family doctor was ‘natural causes’. After all death is natural. Everyone of us from the moment we draw our first breath is on a journey to meet the Grim Reaper at some unknown point in the future. There is not a person alive that will go to bed at night with the guarantee that they will wake up in the morning. It’s depressing, but it’s still a fact. This is why it’s imperative that we take care of our bodies. Your health is your wealth, and if you continue making poor choices about your health, you will reap disastrous or possibly even fatal outcomes. You have one body, and one life here on Earth. Make it count. Be an inspiration, not a cautionary tale. Live a great story!
I have spent nearly my entire life trying to be better and more successful than my father. I live ‘clean’– free from the addictions of tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs, plus I’ve been a vegetarian since collage. As far as the exercise component, nothing really grabbed me until I started running. My times began improving with each race and training session, i rapidly made new running friends with whom I was now spending most of my free time with. This was much to the dismay of my non-running, couch-bound friends who just didn’t understand the whole running thing, even to this day.
2020 was a great year for me, with one PR (Personal Record) after another. I felt amazing, and I had great new positive and highly supportive friends.
The trouble with being a Clydesdale is that your body is taking a beating due to the excess weight. Clydesdale is a term used to describe heavy-weight runners. Some women prefer the cutesy term Clydette or choose to be referred to Athenas. So because of our larger frame, we have a much slower pace and tend to be back-of-the packers, the turtle patrol, the sloth running team, etc. Whatever you call us, we’re the big horses in the race, and the only way we’re taking 1st place overall is if everyone else trips. So I found this second group of runners who had a similar pace to mine, and suddenly long races were being run side-by-side or within sight of other runners who you could match pace with. As we were running near the ventilatory threshold, it was still possible to hold conversations, and encourage one another. There is a difference between running in a race with someone, and running with someone in a race. And that’s how I met Suzan. I remember the first time she spoke to me, I had seen her at other two prior Third Thirsty Thursday 5Ks, but by the August 6th, 2020 TTTK5, I hit a new personal speed record and flew downhill from the turnabout point screaming a triumphant battle cry as I sped past a wide-eyed Suzan like a blur. After the race she was so impressed by my performance that she came up to me and said “My MAN! YOU ARE BADASS!” , then high-fived me and gave me her phone number.
From then on, we were texting each other often, looking for one another at races, running together for as long as we could match pace, and waiting for each other at the finish line. By October I could run a half-marathon every weekend, and in November I ran my first full marathon at the alternate Labor Pains 10-hour endurance race at French Creek. I fell, bruised my legs and injured my IT band, but I limped to the finish line.
Unfortunately the labor shortage at my job decided to derail my new-found happiness. Endless weeks of 20-25hrs of forced overtime quickly took their toll on my health. In 2021 personal bests gave way to personal worsts, and almost every race found me dead last. I spent the most of 2021 trying to fight my way back.
In 2021 Suzan and I we were ‘supposed’ to run seven half-marathons together. We actually ran 3 together. Gettysburg, The Dumb Dutchman, and BirdInHand.
She missed The Slyfox Dutch Half because she had signed up for a 2020 half that got rescheduled for the same day, and she really wanted to run that one. She overslept and missed the Lebanon Root Beer Half. She signed up for the Half-wit half-marathon. This is the hardest half-marathon known to man, a trail run up Mt Penn. Because she signed up for it, I did too. I told her, “If you can do it, I can do it!” The morning of the race she backed out due to a pulled muscle. I ran 13.1 miles up that damn mountain without her, and it was the worst experience of my life. In July I pulled my hamstring, so long runs were OUT, and I had hoped I could heal up by Fall. I did not. In September I had a half that I refused to miss. I struggled through BirdinHand, and honestly I could not have made it without Suzan. I texted her at the 10th mile that I was about to give up, and she texted back “YOU GOT THIS!” She was waiting for me at the finish line, took a bunch of pictures, helped me get my post race food, etc.
That race was my last half of 2021. I backed out of the End-of-the-Line half. Suzan ran it without me.
I decided to stick to nothing longer than a 10K for the foreseeable future, but even that was too much.
On February 19th 2022 I ran the Ugly Mudder 10k Trail Run. Once again I was dead last. I barely made it back to the finish line and into The Liederkranz (a bar) minutes before a blinding snow squall hit. So I’m sitting in the bar and I closed my eyes for (I swear) just one second. The next thing I know, everyone is yelling my name in my face, and not in the happy good way. They called 911, an ambulance arrived. Evidently I passed out two more times on the EMTs, but I don’t remember any of this. All I wanted to do was go home. I was FINE, I DID NOT WANT TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL! Well the only way I went was under to the threat of being banned from racing forever. One of the EMTS also made the comment that since I lived alone, if I went home and just went to bed without being checked, I could die in my sleep. (Remember what I wrote earlier about my older-than-me-now father dying in his sleep?) So off to the hospital I went.
They checked me out, I was FINE, Combination of dehydration and exhaustion. After this I was pretty depressed. Then things got worse. I was texting Suzan thought this ordeal because I was burning a lot of sick-time. I had no desire to go to work. She texted me back that I needed to take care of myself. On March 2nd, I sent Suzan a text about probably going back to work tomorrow, and that I doubted they’d fire me. She texted back “nah, they need you too much”. I trudged away at my job working 10-12 hrs days, and sent a few unanswered texts. I texted that I was going for a run Sunday at Gring’s Mill with our mutual friend Denise, and she should join us. No answer. Called her. No answer. Ran with Denise, sent her a text with pictures and said she missed a fun run. No answer. Tested her that she was ‘awfully quiet, is everything OK?’ No answer. I figured she was mad at me for something . A couple of days after that I got a text at work from another mutual friend asking what happened to Suzan? She had just seen a post on Facebook shared by yet another friend that Suzan had died March 3rd. I fell to pieces. The next day I missed the March 13th Shiver by the River. The 1st time I ever intentionally blew off a race. I didn’t want to run, I didn’t even want to live anymore. I did go to the post-race banquet because I needed to be with my other running friends. Home alone was the worst place for me. Afterward I drove to her house, I was worried about her race medals possibly being tossed in the trash. And who was taking care of her dog? Her parents and an aunt were there going through her belongings. Her father assured me that they were taking her medals back home to Florida and would display them accordingly. Suzan ran the NYC Marathon, 75 half-marathons, and countless 5Ks. Her dog Sprout went to live with a friend’s daughter. They told me that Suzan had died from a pulmonary embolism caused by a blood clot in her lung. The ironic thing is that March is National Blood Clot Awareness Month. If you catch a severe blood clot early, you have a 90% chance of survival. If you ignore the warning signs, your odds are about 50-50. Suzan had been experiencing some breathing issues, but she assumed it was nothing. It was a fatal mistake and it cost her parents their only child. She was 42.
I’m still not in half-marathon shape physically, mentally, or emotionally, but Sunday April 10th, 2022 is the Gettysburg Half Marathon. This will be my 3rd time running in this race, only this time Suzan won’t be there running with me. I got permission from Gettysburg race director Lowell Ladd to place a memorial sign and some flowers at the race. Her father sent me a text wishing me success, and that Suzan will be cheering me on from Heaven. I’m going to cross that finish line Sunday if I have to die trying.
You can find me at the following upcoming local races:
April 9th April Foolish 10hr Endurance trail run. @ 7:00am French Creek State Park Elverson PA (only doing ONE lap)
April 10th Gettysburg Half Marathon @8am Gettysburg PA
Be sure to check back on April 17th, 2022 for another article.
As always, I wish you success and happiness!