Saturday, April 28, 2012

Release the Humidity

Life in South Florida means coping with humidity.  You get three to four months of relief from December to the end of March.  Sometimes you don't even make it through March.  But this Spring has been exceptional.  We've enjoyed incredibly dry conditions.  The weather has been down right delightful.

That is until today.  Today started out warm, almost hot.  Slowly but surely this week the temperatures have been rising but the lack of humidity has been shocking.  But then this afternoon the clouds began to build and by 4 p.m. the sound of thunder could be heard rumbling in the distance.

I was inside when I heard the deluge hit.  The poor Czarina was outside finishing up her yard work.  She escaped only semi-soaked.  It rained real hard as it always seems to do when it does rain here, but it only last for about 15 minutes.

By the time I decided to head out the door for a run the rain was down to a mere drizzle and boy was it humid at 5 p.m.  I went for a 6 mile run while the Czarina settled for 5.  About 2 miles in or so the sun decided to make an appearance making it a double whammy of heat and humidity.

The run provided a reminder of what outdoor exercise will bring over the next six months.  It's going to be hot, nasty and humid.  Running won't be much fun.  By about July I'll be looking forward to a nice tropical storm to bring down the temperatures.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Return of the Czarina

The prime road racing season is nearly at an end in Southwest Florida.  For much of it, the Czarina has been laying low.  She did give it a go at a 10K last December but that's been it.

Her complaints have been numerous.  The Czarina can't breathe, she's too fat, her legs are too tired, you get the idea.  I didn't push her.  I could tell she was struggling getting into what she deemed reasonable shape.  Her post-marathon foot problems from 2010 had left her short on training.  But about a month ago I could see that was beginning to come around.

So when I went to register on Friday for Saturday's 5K I signed her up.  The Czarina couldn't figure out why there were two race bibs in the goody bag when she got home from work and then it quickly dawned on her the evil that I had wrought.  The Czarina complained good-naturedly but I could tell deep down inside she wanted to give it a go.

Normally by mid-April the humidity has set in but we were greeted by 70 degree weather and just a hint of humidity when we arrived at a church where the race was to start.  I was hoping to crack 22 minutes and I think the Czarina was just hoping to run 9 minute miles.

The gun went off and I tried to hold myself back.  I had raced out too quickly at the last 5K but much to my surprise I hit the mile in 7:03.  I felt good but I could tell I was going into a slow fade.  I didn't feel fresh and had no snap in my stride.

I saw the Czarina about 100 yards past the turnaround and she yelled encouragement to me which told me she wasn't hurting too bad.  I yelled back and worked to try and reel a trio of runners about 20 yards ahead of me.  My legs were dead with a half mile to go and when I saw the clock from about a half block away I knew I wasn't anywhere close to the time I wanted and eased my way to the finish in 22:22.

Once across the line and went back to look for the Czarina.  When she's in good shape she's only 3 minutes behind me.  Today she was less than 5 minutes behind me running under 9 minute miles and when all was said and done she had won her age group in 26:56.  I had finished 2nd in mine.  The Czarina was pretty pleased with herself and when all is said and done I think this will inspire her to do more racing next winter.  She quickly pointed out when we got home that her sex/age graded time was better than mine.  I inadvertently showed what I thought of that in this picture.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Strangers Stopping Strangers

It was a day and night filled with emotion.  One of my favorite singer/musicians Levon Helm passed away after a long battle with cancer.  Helm was the backbone of one of the seminal bands of the late 1960's, "The Band."  If there was a group out there that I always wanted to see but never got to it was "The Band."

Helm voiced his bitterness over the group's disintegration, forced mainly but its lead guitar player and leading songwriter Robbie Robertson.  Levon went on to try his hand at acting and then took part in a reconstituted version of "The Band" minus Robertson.  It too slowly fell apart, first when pianist Richard Manuel committed suicide, and then with the drug-induced death of Rick Danko.

Go watch Martin Scorcese's "The Last Waltz."  It chronicles "The Band's" last performance and is simply the best concert movie ever made.  The group cranks out one gem after another and the interviews with the various members of the group are telling.  I can still remember going to see the movie on a hot August night in 1978 in a now non-existent movie theater in Kansas City.

So with this in my heart I went to see "The Grateful Dead" in a special one night off cinematic showing of a 1989 concert they performed at Alpine Valley.  I was lucky enough to see the Dead play five shows there in 1986 and 1987.  I took the Czarina with me so she could experience what I had come to love so much.  It was an awesome concert from the opening song "Touch of Grey" to the closing number, a cover of Bob Dylan's "The Mighty Quinn."

The Czarina and I could swear we could smell the hint of marijuana during the concerts incredible second set.  The Dead opened with "Sugar Magnolia" rifting into "Scarlet Begonias."  The second set ended with a great "Throwing Stones" which slammed into a surprising "Sunshine Daydream" making for a perfect wrap from the opener.  Even though it was just a movie it was one of the best performances I had ever seen (out of 16 live shows) by the band.

The movie brought back a flood of memories and sadness knowing that Jerry Garcia and Brent Mydland are both gone much too soon.  But I fondly thought back to the 1987 shows when we stayed in the same hotel as the band in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.  I remember Dead stage manager Steve Parrish rolling into my friend Joe Gauthier's room holding Jerry's beautiful tiger guitar.  Steve kept a close watch on me as I examined the gorgeous instrument.

It was on this trip when a classic concert memory occurred.  Joe had brought two Dead neophytes to the show from his home in Iowa Falls.  The two idiots dropped acid right before the start of the first show and when Jerry hit his first power chord the bozos freaked out racing off, out of the venue into the deep woods which surrounded it.  Poor Joe and his wife Bev spent half the night looking for them.  A deputy found them at dawn walking down a country road half-naked.  Needless to say the goofballs were sent packing.

It's not surprising that both "The Grateful Dead" and "The Band" shared enduring relationships with the great Bob Dylan.  "The Band" served as Dylan's backup band off and on for a decade.  Dylan played with the Dead in the 1980's and Jerry and the boys always covered a Dylan tune throughout their last two decades of performing.  The world of music is a much poorer place this week with Levon's passing and that of Dick Clark.  It's all part of the long strange trip that is life.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Working 4 You

1998 represented something of a personal roller coaster.  Work was great.  I was professionally at the top of my game and the station was one of the most successful FOX affiliates in the country.  We were successful despite a change in station leadership.

Stan Knott had come on board as our GM.  The first thing he did was piss off the reporters and photographers which resulted in the photographers unionizing and the reporters just falling short in their efforts to follow suit.  I think it stands as the only time that a FOX owned and operated station had a group form a union.  Stan also got rid of the best reporters to ever grace the Kansas City television market.  He refused to renew Dave Helling's contract.  It was a move to save money and I don't fault Stan for doing what he thought was in the best interest in the station financially.

But also rained on my parade.  Part of my deal with the station was that I could work 4 days a week while going to grad school.  I took a cut in pay to do that and it was a verbal agreement when I came back to work in 1995.  When Stan arrived he put a halt to that making school and work an almost impossible combination.

But it was on the home front that life got difficult.  First my Uncle Bob had surgery to remove part of a cancerous lung in June.  Shortly after that my mother who had lost a leg to cancer in the mid-1980's was told she had lung cancer.  Frances was a lifelong smoker.  The prognosis wasn't good.

This was all happening along with the release of my documentary about Kansas miler Jim Ryun.  It was well received in the running community and praised by Track and Field News.  I should have been on top of the world but my mother was dying from cancer.

Over the course of five long months my mother slowly deteriorated.  I was lucky that she was just a 40 minute drive away and treasured our times together.  Early Sunday November 22nd my little sister, a registered nurse, who was caring for mom called in full frantic.  I thought it was the end but Mary exclaimed that she simply needed a break because mom was making her crazy.  I raced to Lawrence to offer some relief.

When I walked in the house on Emerald Drive I saw my Aunt Ann with a look on her face that told me everything.  Next came Mary walking in from mom's bedroom and I knew.  It was a long day.  Frances was hanging in there but her color was terrible and her breathing was labored.  My brother-in-law Bob and oldest sister Dianne arrived.  My other sister Karen and her husband Keith were in Tennessee.  They had said their goodbyes a few weeks before and we're waiting in Clarksville for the inevitable.

At one point sometime just after noon mom stopped breathing and turned blue.  But slowly she came back.  It was agonizing.  She was in complete misery and I said a prayer asking God to ease her pain and take her to a better place.  I felt guilty for that prayer but I didn't know what else to do.

Ann, Mary and Dianne were in my mother's bedroom when I walked in about mid-afternoon and she had suddenly stopped breathing again.  Slowly she turned blue and this time there would be no going back.  We waited 5, 10, 15 minutes.  Dianne broke the tension asking a great question, "I wonder who she'll choose?"  She meant would Frances choose her first husband Russell Rinkenbaugh, our father, or Mary's father, Leland Longhofer, when they met in heaven.  We also snickered.  I'm betting on Leland.  I never knew my father, but I knew Leland, who had died the year before.  He was a smooth customer.

The experience was surreal but in the end it made me value more than I ever did in my self-centered adult wife.  It brought me closer to my sisters and especially to Mary, who had shown unbelievable strength and courage in handling my mother's illness on a daily basis for nearly 3 months.  It brought me closer to my brother-in-law Bob, who showed me a gentle side that he had kept well hidden for 25 years.

I remember the next day we went and selected a casket and I headed up to Rim Rock and the NCAA cross country championship.  I saw my friends like John Broholm and Steve Riley who both mean the world to me.  I saw Adam Goucher of Colorado earn a deserved national title on a brilliant fall afternoon in the beautiful hills north of Lawrence.  Bob Timmons had built a cathedral to cross country that deserves to host another national meet someday.

I'll never forget the funeral and most importantly the people who came.  Friends came that I never expected to see like Alice Edwards and her mother.  I remember playing guitar with my cousin Mike back at my mom's house after the ceremony.  For me it was like getting to play catch with Sandy Koufax.

But my mom was a great woman.  She lived by the golden rule.  Frances Longhofer loved unconditionally.  She had a big heart and loved her life and friends.  She didn't take any crap from anyone.  She was a feminist while hating everything that word stood for.  I wish I could be like her and I miss her everyday because she challenged me to be more than I ever thought I could be and put up with an endless amount of heartache from her children that no mother should ever have to endure.

It was a horrid end to 1998.  Just three weeks later my mother's older sister, Virginia, died from cancer.  Her death came as a complete shock.  Aunt Virginia had gone to have a hysterectomy.  When the surgeon opened her, he found she was full of cancer.  She died the next day.  It was heartbreaking.

1998 was saved to some extend by my best friend Mike Bloemker and his wonderful parents Gerald and Jan.  We all went to Las Vegas together in the last week of December.  Mike and I had a five day adventure fest.  Gerald and Jan treated me like a prince.  But the roller coaster rider was far from over.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Back to the Circle 4 Ranch

So after the disaster in Omaha I reached for a lifeline and one of my all-time favorite people John Broholm handed one to me.  Professor JB got me into KU's grad school pronto and I was back home in Lawrence, living with my wonderful mother, getting plenty of much needed TLC and grabbing onto college life with both hands. 

Besides school I quickly landed a job at KLWN radio.  In fact it was almost identical to the job I had held during my senior year in college where I worked the Sunday morning shift.  Right off the bat during one of those early Sunday shifts we had a severe weather outbreak and I diligently delivered the information in a professional matter.  It prompted long-time operations manager Bob Newton to pay me a compliment which was one I will always carry with me.  I had come a long way in the 17 years since graduating.  In fact during the next big storm they called me in to man the board and help lead the coverage which was strong praise from this radio station which loves chasing tornadoes.

But it seems television wasn't finished with me.  My mentor and old boss at WDAF, Mike McDonald, reached out to me in early April asking if I wanted to help out on weekends part-time.  Weekend EP Michelle Heslop was taking maternity leave and I was asked to fill in.  I reluctantly said yes because after my confidence killing stint in Nebraska, my heart wasn't in it.

I think it was during my second weekend, Dave Helling, one of the great journalists to ever grace Kansas City, looked at me quizzically and asked me what was wrong.  I looked at him and said, "Because they got rid of me in Omaha for doing what I'm doing now."  Dave laughed and pointed out to me I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing and to forget about Omaha.  It was exactly what I needed to hear.

I served my three month stint as the fill in and actually ended up producing a few newscasts along the way.  Just as school was set to resume in late summer Assistant News Director Henry Chu asked me if I wanted a full time job producing the 9 p.m. news.  I jumped at it and not long after I had earned the position of Executive Producer.  I was back working with people I love like Phil Witt, Frank Boal, Al Wallace, John Holt, Mike Lewis, J.W. Edwards, Tommie Sifuentes and Fritz Kramer.  Plus I made a ton of new friends who had joined the staff in the four years that I had been away from FOX 4.

It was an exciting time as FOX was growing it's news brand.  Along the way FOX actually bought the station which helped immensely.  It was an exciting time to be back in Kansas City as the Chiefs were playing great football, the political battles in the city involved major stakes such as saving Union Station but most importantly I was back with friends and family.

But things were going to get tough and by the end of 1998 a lot of changes were coming to my life both personally and professionally.  I was going to have to make some difficult decisions about where I wanted to take my life.  And unfortunately, I think I made a poor choice which haunts me to this day.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Hat Trick

I've joined a select group of television journalists in the Fort Myers news market.  I started work at the local FOX station as its new assignment editor.  This means that I've worked in every television newsroom in the market.  A rare feat according to my old WINK workmate Tony Schaal.  Ironically our other assignment editor Barry Miller can make the same claim.

I wasn't sure I wanted to work in television again after my last gig.  Television is a really messed up business right now.  But when I sat down and talked with news director Eric Maze I was impressed with his calm demeanor and his respect for my experience.  I also sensed that he wasn't running a madhouse and that he had a firm grasp on the direction he wants to take the newsroom.  Plus we share a connection to Kansas City and I'm looking forward to growing our relationship beyond the professional part in the newsroom.

It's early in the game but so far my instincts have been right.  I never thought I would ever work as an assignment editor.  It is the worst, most thankless job in any newsroom.  I look at people like Roy Kennedy at News10 in Sacramento.  Roy and another great AE in Kansas City, Steve Kaut, leave me awestruck with their ability to juggle a million pressing issues and yet keep a cool head and focus.  My brain isn't wired that way.  Any time I've worked the desk I've struggled.

But I'm enjoying the challenge of flexing a new set of newsroom muscles.  I have never liked calling people and bugging them for information.  I've always liked having the information gathered for me and assembling the pieces.  This job is going to require me to get over my shyness in this regards and become a more personable, engaging human being when it comes to dealing with the public. 

Thanks to the clear agenda that Eric has the newsroom focused on, I think this is going to be a most excellent learning experience.  The anchors are amazing and helpful.  The producers are patient and appreciative.  The reporters have the tools and I believe I can help them grow in their abilities to ferret out and find good stories to tell.

I've got to work on getting more organized, getting a solid routine, becoming a first rate web contributor and turn into a solid asset that Eric and the rest of the staff can rely on.  I really, really would like this to be a long term proposition.  I've wished this for my last 2 jobs but it was not meant to be.  Hopefully FOX 4 will be in my corner as I hit the home stretch to retirement!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Jacuzzi Time!!!

My calves are killing me.  2 days of hard running more than 20 plus miles last weekend took its tool.  All week long my calves have been barking.  I've gotten my runs in but it hasn't been easy.  And it didn't stop me from racing this weekend.

One of my favorite 5K's went off early this morning.  It's a simple out and back course.  As I prepared to pull out of my driveway my running neighbor Chris King rolled by and asked me where I was going at this ungodly hour.  Running of course, I answered.  So was Chris so I knew I would have my hands full.

I was out of sorts.  My calves hurt.  The Czarina is out of town.  The drive to the race was marred by a road closure due to a nasty fatal crash.  I got to Gateway feeling rushed and not in a racing frame of mind.  I knew that despite the soreness and distractions I was ready to run faster than I had last month at the Edison 5K.

The weather was about as good as it gets in April.  63 degrees and no humidity.  My mind was in a fog as the gun went off and I felt hemmed in by a bevy of high school runners who couldn't decide what pace to run.  I just gunned it and before I knew it I could hear Chris behind me saying we had hit the half in 3:19.  That was news I didn't need to hear.  I throttled back and Chris eased by me and by the mile had about 15 yards on me.  I heard 6:59 and just hung on for dear life. 

By 1.5 miles Chris was 30 yards clear of me and I tried to work with another masters running to keep him from getting away.  I worked as hard as I could and kept the invisible string intact until we hit 2 miles and I could see him accelerate.  I quickened my tempo but he steadily pulled away.  All the while I was catching and passing other runners.  Mr. King ran a hell of a last mile.

I could see the clock with a 10th of a mile to go.  I cursed myself.  I knew I was going to come oh so close to breaking 22 minutes, something I haven't done since 2006.  I hit the line in 22:07, my fastest 5K by 21 seconds in 2 years.  Chris had broken 22 minutes for the first time ever finishing 32 seconds in front of me.

I am happy for Chris.  If he ever decides to run more than 3 times a week he could be a really great masters runner.  I'm happy for myself.  I had run fairly fast even though I was a mental mess.  If I can stay healthy for another year I know I can run faster even as I grow older.

I have resisted the urge to do speed training.  But since our racing season is almost at an end I'm going to try a speed session a week to see how my legs respond.  If my hamstrings survive then it will all be gravy.

But back to those calves.  I finally broke down tonight and treated myself to the jacuzzi at our club house.  I don't know why I don't use it more often when I'm sore.  After a session with the foam roller I headed over to the jacuzzi and relaxed.  The calves feel better and I'm ready for a few more races before the heat takes hold.

Friday, April 6, 2012


I went in search of chords for a song that soared into the top 10 of the music charts 46 years ago and stumbled across some music history that is so typical of groups from that period.  Everyone thinks that many of those great bands that dominated the AM airwaves endured for years together.  The sad awful truth is that many of those bands fell apart in the space of a handful of years.  Bands like The Byrds and The Buffalo Springfield didn't stay together very long, at least in their original lineups, when you think about it.

One of those bands flame outs was a band that came out of New York City called The Left Banke.  I was looking to learn out to play the bands biggest hit, "Walk Away Renee."  They had another hit with "Pretty Ballerina" but listen to their first album and you hear a lot of amazingly good music.  It was dubbed baroque rock because the band used strings and a harpsichord.

It didn't last.  The band's songwriter Mike Brown was a power freak but he couldn't sing a lick.  The Left Banke would break up, reform and then break up again. 

As I went looking for the chords I made a quick trip to You Tube and was surprised to see that the group, minus Brown, had performed together for the first time in 40 years last fall.  They sounded great as witnessed by this live performance of "Walk Away Renee" at a New York City pub.  I also came across a wonderful sit down interview where members of the band discussed their trouble history and their plans for the future.     

Take a listen and do some exploring on your own.  It's hard to beat the great popular music of the 60's.  Whether it's The Beatles or The Rolling Stones or a little known group like The Left Banke, the music is still amazing. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sunrise 2 Sunset: Into the Light

The sun came up at a snail's pace on the eastern edge of Lake Okeechobee on March 31st.  As the clock edged past 7 a.m. we waited at the edge of a massive overpass under construction that stretched across a canal next to the lake.  As Maria rounded the bend and handed off to Jamie we watched in amazement.  She was surprisingly full of run and reeled in one of the men in front of her.

Suddenly it was Mike's turn again.  He had enjoyed scant rest with just three legs coming before his next run.  The lack of sleep and his early morning romp took its toll as about halfway through his 6 mile leg he simply ran out of gas.  He was visibly angry as one relay team pulled up to him and slowly rolled away from him.

As Mike's meltdown unfolded we enjoyed a moment of levity.  We were parked near a big field with three or four other team vans.  Just as our other vehicle pulled in we watched a man, probably in his 30's, give the girls the Full Monty.  Howls and hoots immediately erupted.  The guy didn't care and the conversation that ensued will not be disclosed to protect the guilty.

The going got tough as the morning sun climbed and with it, the temperatures.  About 25 miles from the finish we found our mini-van parked outside the world famous Payson Horse Farm.  Much to my relief nature came calling and I summoned my courage to walk up to the front office to ask if I could use their facilities.  To my amazement the elderly gentleman welcomed me in and I enjoyed one of the great bowel movements of my life.

Once that mission was accomplished it was a long waiting game as I was slotted to run 6 miles that featured 2 major overpasses.  It was grueling work for the girls.  Maria and Mike were in and out of the vehicles to run and walk with them to encourage them on.  Mike was sipping on small bottles of white wine between his quick jaunts.  During one of his time outs he spotted a comely young lass doing jumping jacks in a jog bra before her relay leg.  I think he wanted to follow her in the mini-van and Jen dubbed the girl Treasure Chest.

As our road weary women ran their final legs we watched in frustration as several teams cheated, cutting legs short with early exchanges or substituting runners illegally.  It was frustrating but given the blistering heat it was not hard to understand.  We were doing everything we could to run this relay by the book.

Shortly before noon I took the relay wrap which fit neatly around my wrist for my final leg and headed out under partly cloudy skies.  Mike had given me 2 Hammer Race Caps and boy did it help.  Much to my surprise my legs were fresh.  I went out gently at just under 9 minutes easing my way over a bridge.  Suddenly I was reeling off miles at 8:30 pace.  But by mile 4 I was tiring and another bridge loomed.  As I began the climb I was hit by a cool quartering wind at my back and the clouds hid the beating sun.

As I started my last mile in the distance I spied a red shirt.  It was the first time in the entire relay that I had seen a competing team and my pace quickened.  Slowly but surely I cut what was probably a 800 yard deficit down to about 300 yards in that single mile.  I climbed into the back of the mini-van and began to sweat profusely.  I couldn't believe how drenched I was but knew that in another 3 hours it would all be over.

There were 3 more legs for the girls to run and 3 more big bridges to traverse but we finally landed on Jensen Beach.  Jen was recovered enough from her Friday blow-up to attempt the last leg.  Jami decided to make the trip with her for moral support.  That last 4.24 miles seemed unending but at last Jen, Jami with Andrea helping out, came into sight and the team gathered for the final run into the finish together.
I found myself almost giddy at the finish line.  I hadn't slept in more than 32 hours but I felt blessed to have witnessed something amazing.  A group of experienced runners had learned some memorable lessons from a group of novice runners.  I learned that if you take on the tough challenges with a smile and a sense of humor the improbable can become possible.

I watched proud women do things they probably thought impossible a few years ago.  They ran and biked dozens of miles while keeping the atmosphere as festive as a rock concert.  The 180 journey was a most excellent adventure full of fun, life lessons and fabulous new friends.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Sunrise 2 Sunset Relay: Into the Heart of Darkness

Lake Okeechobee in the middle of the night out in the middle of nowhere is a heart stopping place.  You can see the myriad of stars splashed across the sky away from the city lights.  You can listen to the loud grumbles of alligators lurking in the nearby water.  A very long night lay ahead for 1 driver and 9 weary runners.  Some of us had cleaned up at Uncle Joe's fishing camp before setting out for 27 miles of running atop the massive levee that surrounds the lake.

The runner's would only have the company of the bicyclist and no access to support from their teammates.  Water stops and food had been readily accessible on the earlier legs.  Running the dike required the biker and runner to carry what was needed.  We weaved our way through the back country roads to Clewiston.  While much of the time earlier in the race had been spent taking fluids, eating massive amounts of junk food, sandwiches and talk, now people were getting quiet and trying to relax and if possible sleep.

It was during the drive I experienced a personal meltdown.  I couldn't find my Garmin watch.  I had taken it off during my shower and grabbed it as I exited the room.  I had set it down on the mini-van seat as I arraigned my belongings.  Somewhere in the madness the watch had gone missing.  All I could think about was the butt chewing I would get from the Czarina for losing it.  I made a frantic search which was fruitless in the darkness of the night.  It made for a lot of unwanted anxiety and I reluctantly dug through my bag grabbing my old Garmin which I had as a back up in case my newer one lost power.

Andrea finished her leg and Maria tended to her nasty blisters.  She had it down to a science.  John and Maria had a foot kit that contained all sorts of goodies.  I realized that I hadn't brought enough supplies.  I had brought toilet paper which proved quite popular.  But I should have brought more food and a couple of extra shirts.  The amount of food, water, and Gatorade was amazing.  All manor of lights, vests, and running supplements were also at hand.
I took the 21st leg from Dana at 12:30 in the morning.  It was really dark and the asphalt trial had plenty of cracks to trip on.  Dana immediately climbed onto the bike and joined me for a nice 3.75 mile conversation.  We talked about Caleb and his unimaginable battle against cancer.  The scars and the hurt from it seem very, very fresh but I could sense the admiration Dana had for her brave nephew and for her sister who turned her son's fight for life into a good cause.

I didn't push the pace running along at 8:45 per mile, trying hard to keep track of any danger spots on the trail.  The biggest fear was coming across a gator because you could certainly hear their guttural croaks coming from the lake.  As I listened to the strange noises coming from the nearby waters Dana shared with me her love of running, her love of her family and it helped ease my tiredness from a run that seemed to stretch on forever.  Finally we came upon the exchange spot somewhere between Clewiston and South Bay and Jill took over the lonely duties of running.

Dana got off the bike and I joined her with Andrea in the Jeep.  I've never seen anyone so full of energy.  Andrea was ready to sleep and Dana chatted away.  I was exhausted and wished for the reserves that Dana was showing.  We made our way to the next exchange point and waited for what seemed an eternity.  I couldn't sleep and got out of the Jeep to wander outside in the cool night air.  John, who was driving the mini-van was waiting up on the levee with Jamie.  He was such a trooper, continually offering aid and sharing bits and pieces of his life and experiences with me.

The stretch along the dike seemed endless.  A number of teams had overtaken us in our journey on the levee trail.  We were all exhausted.  Mike kept asking where the hotel was.  He was getting a little punchy from all the running and a stint on the bicycle.  I don't know how the others were managing it but they all seemed positively determined to see it through.  I just knew that I had to be ready to do another 5 mile leg sometime around 4 in the morning through Pahokee, Florida.  It's a shit hole of a town along the east side of Lake Okeechobee, known for producing great football players and sugar cane.

The exhaustion finally showed itself as Jamie handed off to Mike shortly after 3 a.m.  Mike took off like a mad dog.  It seemed like the sweat was flying off of him as he sprinted away and I was genuinely concerned that at that pace he would keel over from the effort.  Then he did something peculiar.  As he came off the levee and onto the main highway into Pahokee, he slide across the road to run with traffic.

The rules stated that we were supposed to run facing the traffic.  Fortunately at that time of night there were almost no vehicles on the road.  Each of our vehicles pulled up to Mike, pleading with him to cross back over to the other side of the road.  He steadfastly refused as the churned the way at a manic pace.  After a mile or so of this we pulled up and reminded Mike that we could be disqualified if he ran on the wrong side of the road.  He finally relented and eased his way back across the highway.

At this point I realized this journey was just like flying to Europe.  I can never sleep on those long trips that generally last 20 hours.  You're trapped on a plane and it's impossible to get comfortable.  I end up feeling like a zombie.  The only difference on this trip was breaking it up with runs.  I was also quite hungry but worried that any food might lead to nausea and vomiting because I was so exhausted.

At 3:48 a.m. I took off on my jaunt through Pahokee.  After a mile I realized I was in danger of going into full bonk mode.  A bonk for a runner is when you feel like you've lost all of your energy reserves.  Weakness sets in throughout your body and running turns into a slow slog.  Mike handed me some Chomps at 2 miles and as the big, chewy morsel melted in my mouth the feeling started to subside.  I was clipping along at 8:40 pace and realized I would survive the run without a disaster.  I happily handed off to Maria who faced a daunting 8.75 run along a narrow stretch of highway in the pre-dawn hours.

Big trucks and buses were beginning to move up and down the road creating a real danger for the runner.  Mike jumped back on the back to lead Maria through the darkness but quickly froze in his sweat soaked shirt in the chilly night air.  I replaced him after a mile or so and I had my hand at dodging the semis along the roadway.  It was one of the scariest things I have ever experienced.

Finally a little more than a mile into the ride our driver and Maria's boyfriend John asked to take over biking duties.  It didn't last long as Maria found it too distracting as she feared for his safety.  Suddenly Jamie and I found ourselves with driving duties in the mini-van with Jen stretched out on the back bench trying to sleep and Mike doing the same.  John had fled to the Jeep packed with women.  The hours of driving had taken its toll on him.

The long miles Maria was putting in took its tool.  Two teams caught her near the end of the run just as the sun was coming up.  We were leaving Lake Okeechobee and heading east toward Jensen Beach.  As I stood out of sight to relieve myself behind an abandoned building I worried about the carnage the coming daylight would bring.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sunrise 2 Sunset: Into the Fire

Running is one of my passions.  I've done it for 42 years.  One of my running bucket list items included participating in a relay race.  This weekend I got my chance to check that one off.  I took part in the Sunrise 2 Sunset Relay.  9 of us, 2 guys, 7 gals, with 1 very patient driver, would traverse 180 miles from Fort Myers, Florida to Jensen Beach, Florida.
The race would send teams off in sets of 3 every hour beginning at 8 a.m.  More than 30 teams would participate.  We were set to leave Lakes Park at 9 a.m.  I had no idea what to expect, except that I probably wouldn't get any sleep.  I barely knew any of my teammates except for Mike Pemberton, who coaches and owns a local running shop.

The team was called Caleb's Crusader, in honor of a very brave 4-year-old, who lost an impossibly tough battle against a very rare form of cancer, 5 years ago.  His mother Monique was a team member and his aunt Dana was responsible for putting the team together, our captain if you will.  Caleb's Crusade is a real-life charity that raises money for childhood cancer research.

The race went off and we traveled in a mini-van and a Jeep to begin what would become something of a great adventure.  I won't name, names but the level of ability broke down this way.  Four of us (myself included) were pretty good runners.  The other 5 had plenty of heart and ranged from 10 to 11 minute pace types to 14 to 15 minute per mile runners.

After the first leg we were dead last.  The weather wasn't going to cooperate.  It was getting plenty hot but fortunately we weren't getting a full dose of Southwest Florida humidity.  On the third leg Maria, a tough ultra-runner, starting catching teams in front of us and as the heat came on full blast Mike ran a stellar 6 miles and reeling in more runners.  Jami, a nurse, a mother of twin boys and ultra-runner, continued to pound out miles in very difficult conditions and I thought... hmmm... we're not doing too bad.

But in the full heat of the afternoon our other runners faced difficult conditions and walk breaks were the only way for them to survive their 5 and 6 mile stints.  I ran the 8th leg of the race taking the tag just outside of Alva, Florida 10 minutes at 2:14 p.m.  It was plenty hot and next to no shade.  There were no other teams in sight and I sailed out to a 7:30 first mile and did a very slow fade over the next 2.5 miles.  I averaged 7:45 over my 3.5 mile leg and knew we were in for a long afternoon.

Dana endured more of the spring sizzle before handing off to Maria for her second leg.  Maria and Mike had jogged part of the earlier legs with some of the other girls to help encourage them through the heat.  Maria was feeling it as she approached LaBelle so I jumped out to join her just after 5 p.m. running with her over the last mile of her leg.  I blocked the blast furnace of a wind as we made it to the exchange point.  Maria handed off to Jen but kept running to keep her company and to get in some extra miles.  Maria was using the race in preparation for an upcoming 100 mile ultra-run this May, so she wanted to get in a lot of miles.

It was at that exchange that I noticed some other teams beginning to catch us.  Jen was having a rough time.  It was her second leg in the heat and her first 3.5 mile run about 5 hours before had left her fried.  She was trashed when she finished the 4 miles and some teams had passed her.  She was wiped out, possibly on the verge of heat stroke, vomiting and in a world of hurt.

The sun was setting and the girls were slugging out the miles.  The heat had taken its toll and while Jamie had caught at least 1 of the teams that had passed us, it was setting up to be a very long night.  I had a long wait before setting out on the 18th leg of the relay.  Mike would hand off to me just outside of the Moore Haven, Florida, which sits along massive Lake Okeechobee.  It was pitch black when I took off on 9:46 p.m.

We had started using a bicycle to accompany the runners in the dark as a recommended safety measure.  Dana rode along with me on the bike as I cranked out a 7:45 mile.  My right hamstring was yapping at me.  I was really worried that it would give out before I finished.  I faced a big climb, at about 1.5 miles, a bridge spanning a canal that allows boats to pass from Florida's east and west coasts.  I attacked the bridge and Dana was peddling for all she was worth to stay up with me.  The night air felt great but coming down off the bridge I felt the blast of wind.  I managed to average 7:50 per mile as I finished up another 3.5 mile leg and handed off to Maria as she set off on yet another leg.

I knew as I climbed back into the mini-van that Jen wouldn't be able to run her leg, #21 which was coming up in a couple of hours.  I decided I could run it and still have enough time to rest up for my next leg, which would come in the early morning hours.  I had done a good job on my leg because Maria was now reeling in other teams that I had closed the gap on during my run.

We hit an old fishing village just before midnight where Maria handed off to Andrea, who was developing some nasty blisters.  Our two vehicles stopped at the old village to take a collective breather.  I took advantage of a shower and washed off as a green frog watched from the shower stall wall.  I changed into some clean clothes when Jamie approached me saying she would run Jen's leg.  I waved her off and told her I had it.  Jami is one tough cookie.  It was setting up to be a long, sleepless night.