22. “A Lotta Shit . . . ”

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
– Mark Twain

Like the marathon, life can have its challenges after you hit mile 20. That last stretch can hurt!

My 1970s vintage Infinity surfboard now requires a little extra resin and fiberglass between surf sessions. It still rides fine, but it does take a bit more nurturing to keep it afloat after all those years of surfing. My body and my running career has followed a similar path.

It’s naptime for the dog when the ding repair kit comes out.

With all of the miles I have pounded out over the years running marathons, ultra-marathons, and triathlons, I have to confess that my body began to show some wear and tear once I hit my fifties. These days, I know how to doctor things up with a bit of resin and fiberglass (aka DMSO) to keep going, but I’d be lying to say that those miles don’t hurt my body more than they used to. I’m a lot smarter about how to prepare, and I keep my focus on just getting to the starting line and letting the rest take care of itself. You know what they say . . . “If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

In 2007 I ran a half marathon that was somewhat prophetic in this respect. Here’s the story exactly as it unfolded.

­Big Sur Half Marathon on Monterey Bay

On a seasonably crisp October morning in Monterey, I was approaching mile 11 in the Big Sur Half Marathon when my view on life after fifty was jolted. Big Sur is a relatively fast half marathon for time (it does not have the hills, as its name might imply), and it is extremely well-organized for a race of its size (~5,000 runners).

I had run a hard first ten miles and was struggling to regain my focus for the final three, while ignoring the red flares my body was sending me to slow down. I had turned fifty earlier in the year and was intent on proving that I could still run a fast time. Ha!

Oblivious to the serene setting of sailboats moored in quiet coves as we ran along the bike trail in Pacific Grove, I pulled up to a tall and lanky runner who had been in my sights for a couple of miles. He was running hard, so I latched on to his side to keep pace and regain some composure for a strong finish. My time goal was in sight, and I figured this guy could help pull me in. We had covered a half mile or so side-by-side when he suddenly blurted out to me:

“How old are you?”

Wait, what? I’m struggling for oxygen, and this guy asks me my age?
This was not a time to be conversing. We were both breathing hard and near the end of our ropes. If I had the grit to initiate anything (and I didn’t), I might have babbled out a one-way, “good job” or “hang tough.”

But, “How old are you?” just hit me wrong.

As we bumped shoulders coming off the bike trail onto the street at Cannery Row for a long stretch of open pavement, I glanced at him. He appeared to be sizing me up, maybe thinking I was a threat in his age division? Finally, I found it in myself to respond, mostly out of the angst of having to say anything at this point of the race:

“Fifty! How old are YOU?”

Fifty-nine, was his immediate reply as we both continued to push the pace on the open street. I was glimpsing the finish line banner less than a mile ahead and decided to put on a final kick to get in. As he slowly faded behind me, I was hit with what seemed like a cannon shot from behind:

“A lotta shit between fifty and fifty-nine!”.

Say what?

He spoke the words with such purpose and conviction that it rattled me. I found myself in a dither as I crossed the finish line, suddenly oblivious of the time I had worked so hard for. Why the heck did he have to say that, and what on earth did he mean?

I stumbled through the finishing chute with the masses of sweaty bodies looking like a lost soldier who had just been hit by mortar fire. As I claimed my platter of free food, none of which looked appealing, I scanned around to ask him what that was all about. He had vanished, and I never saw him again.

I mentioned the exchange to my fellow warriors at the finish line party, and we all laughed as we guzzled down our hard-earned post-race rewards while listening to the rock band powered by people riding exercise bicycles. Big Sur always has a fantastic finish-line party, and we were, of course, oblivious to the road which lay ahead.

Not a clue [yet] what this guy meant.

Fast-forward nine years to age fifty-nine, I knew exactly what he meant!­

“A lotta shit . . .” pretty well sums it up. Mine started with knee pain, and progressed from there to my back going out on the day before I had signed up to run an ultra marathon. I recovered from that to encounter rotator cuff surgery, which I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. The list goes on.

That story has become legendary among my running friends as we kid each other about the various ailments we experience while pushing our bodies to untold extremes in various sporting escapades. The running joke (pun intended) when one of us is injured is to say:

“Well, you know, ‘A lotta shit!’”

3 thoughts on “22. “A Lotta Shit . . . ”

  1. More shit happens in your Golden Years

    Mike, I started riding with a patient of mine and several of his friends in my late fifties. Every Saturday we rode forty to fifty miles together. The forty mile rides were really tough because it included lots of hills! Every year we did the Solvang Century (I have fond memories of us riding it together in my early forties), so our training miles ramped up each week-50, 55, 60, 65, 70, 75, 80. Then we did a short ride the week before the Solvang. The last one we did, I had been diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation. I was riding well until about the 65 mile mark when I found myself unable to ride more than 10 miles an hour. It was windy and I had been drafting behind one of my buddies, and I told him to go ahead without me. Thinking I had bonked, I stopped at a rest stop at about mile 70 and got some nourishment. I put on my helmet and headed onward. as I approached mile 82 and the big hills, I had realized that there was no way I would be able to climb them! I was looking for a sag wagon when I found a guy in a van who was picking up some riders from a church group, many of whom had nor trained for the ride. He gave me a ride to Solvang and I rode the last quarter mile to our car.
    So, Mike, two cardiac ablations later I no longer have had AFIB for 8-9 years. I went through the Covid experience of having to shut down my dental practice for three months, (never got Covid myself). At this point I’d been thinking about retiring. I found a great young dentist to buy my practice. She was pregnant, and I worked for her until she was ready to come back to work. I retired on July 1st, 2021, and looked forward to traveling with Ann! I had just turned 74 the week before on June 25th. Our first trip that we planned was the following week. We went up to our niece Laure’s destination wedding in Graeagle, California, west of Reno. We stopped in Mammoth Wednesday, July 7th for a night with our daughter, Marie, and her husband, Victor. We had dinner at the brewery there, and I thought, “Wow, this is great! Retirement is going to be wonderful!” After the wedding we would be heading to Sea Ranch to spend a week with good friends at their place there. But first the wedding of Lauren and Brad!
    There was a huge smoke plume visible as we were driving up Highway 395 towards Reno, but the fire was just north of Highway 70 as we headed west towards Graeagle. We arrived at the lodge Thursday, July 8th and settled in The temperature was over 100 degrees. People were arriving, most of whom we knew. We had a party that night which was a lot of fun!
    The next morning we had planned to take an early hike before it got too hot, around a lake which was about 15 minutes away. I took my shower and was shaving when I began to have one of my migraine prodromes. These begin with a blank spot in the center of my field of vision, then expand outwardly to my peripheral vision. I have an aura, with shimmering zigzags, waving and glimmering which goes away in about 20 minutes. We had breakfast and drove up to the lake. My prodrome was not behaving in the usual way. There was none of the aura, just a blank area in the lower right quadrant of my vision in both eyes. We got out of the car and I said to Ann, “Anneke, we need to find out where there’s a hospital with a C.T. Scan”. We drove back to our lodge. They found an E.R. in Portola, which was close to where the lake we had been to. My vitals were stable A C.T. Scan was done. It revealed a bleed in my right visual cortex which is in the occipital lobe of the brain. I had had a stroke! I was Medivacked by helicopter to Renowned Medical Center in Reno. MRI’s and MRA’s with and without contrast were taken. I was in the ICU over night. The next day I was moved to their Neuro floor. This is a great hospital! The care I received was phenomenal! I was in the right place because our Lord was in control. I was released Sunday, July 11th. Our family-my brother Jack, his wife Erica; my son, Sebastian and his fiance, Caitlin; my daughter, Marie and her husband, Victor; and Ann and I, caravanned home to south Orange County, arriving late Sunday evening. We cancelled our Sea Ranch reservation.

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