Saturday, January 10, 2015

Bib of the Week -- Indianapolis Life 500 Festival Mini Marathon, May 8, 2004

This trip in the wayback machine takes us to 2004 and the Indy Mini Marathon. Overall, that year was a pretty tumultuous one for me as I went through more than a few low points, especially when my dad passed away on Aug. 31, and when my sister Karen had open heart surgery just days before the Mini (more on that later).

Still, I had been running well all year and was feeling pretty well leading up to the race, but the week before my family went through a bit of adversity that really affected how I ran, in both a good and bad way.

That year was the fourth Mini I had run in a row, a string that had started when Karen suggested in 2000 that I come down and run the Mini the next May. I signed up and brought my friend Noah with me (he's one of many friends joining me this year), and that 2001 race was a good one for both of us, as we set our half PRs, including a time of 1:48:50 for me.

Two years later, I experienced really bad back pain during the race and finished in a very humbling 2:20:12. It was the same problem I'd had at the Los Angeles Marathon two months before, and eventually I spent the summer in physical therapy to fix it.

So by the time 2004 rolled around, I wanted to do better. While I wasn't putting in large volumes of miles, I felt really comfortable on my long runs -- especially because I was pain-free -- and was looking forward to a much improved experience.

Karen was planning on running as well. By that time, we'd developed a little bit of a ritual, I would make the drive downtown and meet her for the expo, then we would get lunch and stop at a running shoe store in the Broad Ripple neighborhood -- I would by Gu and Karen would usually buy some socks.

We never ran the race together, but every so often we would go out for training runs, and that was fun. Karen was always so concerned because she was running so slowly compared to my training paces, and I kept reassuring her that it was absolutely no problem. Since I trained alone all the time, it was just nice to have some company.

I really admired Karen's spirit and her determination, too. At the time, she was training for the marathon while raising (and homeschooling) five kids, who at the time ranged in age from 18 to five. Bill, my-brother-in law, worked for Congressman Mike Pence -- who is now the Governor of Indiana -- so they were going back and forth to Washington several times a year for Bill's job commitments.

Karen would just grind along, and would usually finish the race in three hours or so, which is a great effort concerning all she had going on in her life and the fact that, by her own admission, she isn't the most athletic person in our family. Nothing wrong with that, because despite my own athletic accomplishments I'm not even the best, that would go to my late sister Joni, who was a great sprinter and softball player.

Karen's talent lies in music and the theater, as she knows how to play several instruments, especially the piano, and is still involved in plays and musicals. She also has a beautiful singing voice, so she certainly has something on the rest of us!

While I was having a good 2004 early on, Karen wasn't. As the months went on she was having problems with fatigue and just rarely felt well. Despite many visits to doctors, and several rounds of tests, no one could figure out what was wrong. Near the end of March, she called and told me she wouldn't be able to run the race.

Until early May, where we got some jolting news -- her problem was that an infection had settled into one of the valves of her heart, and the only way to fix it is to have the valve replaced. So just a few days before the race, she went through an open heart surgery that lasted more that six hours. Needless to say, it was a very difficult day, I ended up going for about a 10-mile run during lunch just to deal with the stress.

Thankfully, all went well and I was able to see Karen in the hospital the day before the race. Driving home from the hospital I felt really determined to run hard and run for her as well. The next morning, I was up at 4:30 for the race and I could tell that it was already warm and very humid.

Eventually the temperature topped out at 84 that day, so with the heat I tried to run even splits. I ran 44:54 (8:59 pace) for the first five miles and hit the 10-mile mark in 1:31:01 (9:06 pace). As always, the 2 1/2 miles around the track were tough. As much as I love running around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it's also one of the toughest parts of the course.

Obviously, it's wide-open, and the aluminum bleachers and black racing surface just suck in the heat. Thankfully it's a pretty big adrenaline boost to run on the track, and they always have at least two water stops, so the trick is to keep a decent pace into the track and then start picking up the pace back up when you leave the track for the four-mile run back downtown.

I ended up running the last 5K in 27:47 (8:56 pace) and ran as hard as I could to the finish, crossing the line in 1:58:49. That was the best race I had in me that day, and when I finished I remembered feeling this rush of something come over me, the best was I can describe it is that it was a combination of fatigue, emotion and adrenaline. It was this numb-type feeling that hit me, and my legs felt a little wobbly. I kept walking and a few steps later felt a lot better.

I headed back to the hospital to see Karen, and through the haze of pain and medication seemed really happy for me and the day I had. I was just glad that I could honor her through my running.

Karen eventually recovered and the next summer she and my mom walked the Bix 7, and in 2006 came back to walk the Mini, which I consider an amazing accomplishment. I nominated her for a Celebrating Life award, which the sponsor, Indianapolis Life, gave to three people who had overcome monumental roadblocks in their life to return to the race. Though she didn't win we were invited to a nice dinner and her name was announced by emcee Bob Jenkins. It was a great night.

I chose this post because Karen is going through some health challenges now, and I wanted to remind her of what she has gone through before and the courage and heart she showed to push through it and came out even better on the other side. She celebrated her 53rd birthday back on Dec. 19, which is way too young to have retired from running. I hope that someday Karen finds a way to get back on the road, and I'm telling her right now that whenever, wherever that happens, I'll be there to run with you. I'll even pay the entry fee and buy you some socks.

Maybe the 2016 Mini? Just a suggestion.

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