Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre village of Vernazza ... Italy's Fiat-free riviera. Our home base was in the village of Monterosso, seen along the coast in the distance.

Monday, October 1, 2012

"My kind of town, Chicago kind of town, Chicago is."

Frank Sinatra totally wraps up what "Chicago is" in his song.

For a variety of reasons, that's why I am totally pumped for another trip to one of America's great cities. Returning to run its marathon on October 7, 2012, will have special meaning, different from when I first ran in it in 2005.  Back then I had a blast being with close marathoning friends from Florida when I would say, I was in my best marathoning physical and mental condition. The 40,000+ runners were supported along the entire way by thousands of spectators screaming encouragement. Hundreds of bands and other forms of entertainment along the route essentially turned the marathon into a 26 mile block party!   Spare time before and after the marathon was spent gorging ourselves on wonderful delicacies and  touring many cultural features the city offers... check out the 2005 slide show I posted ... lots of good memories!

Since then I've run a dozen or more domestic and international marathons, and had a great time doing so with friends. Some marathons were in support of certain causes/individuals and others were for just the fun of it. However, after running the 2010 Hump's Marathon in my hometown Anchorage, AK, I decided to call it quits for running marathons...I was tired of the training (aka burnt out); I had other athletic things I wanted to do; plus, I was wasn't motivated like I was when in earlier that year I trained and ran my three European marathons after my 2009 retirement and corrective heart surgery.  Don't get me wrong, running is still very important...that's why I decided to dial back and still run half-marathons as time and motivation allows.

OK, fast forward seven years to 2012. Two things happened to "temporarily" cause me to come out of marathoning retirement.  A dear friend Casey Randell, who is an active Alaskan outdoors women and "jockett", is battling cancer - Hodgkin's lymphoma. Casey and her family just returned to (a snowy) Alaska (HOORAY!!) from Texas after successfully undergoing a stem cell transplant, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. It was to support Casey's treatment and recovery that I primarily decided to run one more marathon.  She is an amazing person...a person of strong faith and "Be Alive" optimism.  She lights up the room with her smile and uplifting personality.  She totally inspired me to train hard and she'll be running along side me all the way in Chicago.

My second reason to run "one last" marathon is that I turned 60 years old this year, and I wanted to mark it in the similar way I marked my 50th birthday when I ran the Athens (Greece) Marathon.  It was at that marathon where I made lifelong friends who for 10+ years tempted me (often successfully) to travel around the world and the USA to run marathons and tour the surrounding countryside.

I fully intend to take it all in while in Chicago...the museums, the  food, the marathon expo, the food, the huge tall buildings, the food, Lake Michigan, the food, the 40,000+ runners, the pasta feed, and being with my buddies, especially Bob Bowker, who at 70+ years old, introduced me to marathoning in 1985 and has been along side me (actually in front of me because he is so much faster than I) most of the way.  Marathoning one last time together while in Chicago will be a blast! 

In closing, it's hard to sum up what marathoning has done for me, but I do know it has done-good.  I think Dick Beardsley (a Boston Marathon legend) expressed it best when interviewed for the movie "Spirit of the Marathon" (which was filmed to highlight runners training for the 2005 Chicago Marathon), "When you cross that finish line no matter how slow or how fast, it will change your life forever."  I'm living testimony that it has.  Remember train far!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A lot has happened and will happen...

Jimmy didn't make it...a few months after my February 2011 post, Jimmy took his last swing at life.  Since then, I haven't been motivated to keep up my blog or share any news about what's been going on since then...but it's time.  I remember getting the call from Jimmy's wife Shari, telling me that Jimmy wasn't doing well, Hospice was about to arrive, and I ought to come right away...which I did.  When I arrived, Jimmy's breathing was strained but he was comfortably sitting in his favorite chair with his basset hound doggies Gunter and Orville by his side.  Jimmy recognized me, we hugged hello, but he was too weak to verbally greet was then that I realized the seriousness of the situation.  Annie from Hospice arrived soon thereafter, monitored Jimmy's vitals and then suggested we move Jimmy to his bed, which we did.  Prior to my arrival, the Fuhrer's best friends Jasper and Louise arrived to support Shari and her sister who had arrived days before.  Within hours, Jimmy passed.  His final breaths were labored and shallow.  I recall encouraging Jimmy to take deeper breaths and hang on, but his breaths over time became more and more shallow. He, even while being unconscious, fought on; however, ultimately all of us encouraged Jimmy to let go and find peace, which he finally did.  It's his fighting spirit that, when I'm feeling unmotivated, spurs me on.
Later in the summer, I put together a memorial golf outing in his honor at his favorite golf course (Eagleglen), which was heavily attended by all his golf buddies.  It was a lot of fun having his buddies share stories, especially about Jimmy's TERRIBLE sand trap play.  The gathering ended when we all golf carted to the #16 Hole where Jimmy had requested that his ashes be dispersed in the wood lot next to the tee was there that we all took turns spreading his ashes in the woods as well as all around the #15 and #16 greens (on both holes he scored an eagle), their sand traps and cups. 

Whenever we now play Eagleglen, we hoist at cheer on the #15 and #16 greens in Jimmy's honor...he'd like that!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

I don't know...I just don't know.

I’m so angry about all this money being spent on cancer research, scientists getting rich off the funds they receive, and the drug industry just makes me sicker than I am.  When the hell are cures to cancer ever going to be found!?!

My golfing buddy Jimmy expressed this emotional plea while I was driving him to his 9th of 14 radiation treatments at Alaska Regional Hospital.  This is Jimmy’s second battle with lung cancer, a battle much bigger this time around because it has spread from what remains of his right lung to a rib and lymph nodes.  This isn’t his first experience with cancer…he has successfully beat prostate cancer and he won his first lung cancer battle with a “simple” surgery to remove the upper lob of his right lung. His emotional outburst surprised me because he has always been upbeat since he first informed me about the cancer’s reemergence many weeks before while he and I and fellow golfing buddy Richard shared a brew at O’Brady’s.  However, the foreshadowing effects of his radiation and chemotherapy treatments began to surface while I watched the opening quarter of the Super Bowl with him and others at his home: Jimmy was low key and appeared uncomfortable.

Why would I want to make an entry of this type in my blog, which is suppose to be designed to be more upbeat?  First of all, the direction of my blog took a strange twist when I had to unexpectedly abandon planning my 2009 European marathon adventure to medically address pressing cardiac issues, and my wife faithfully used the blog to keep my friends and family updated about my surgery and recuperation.  She did a loving and wonderful job of doing so and I am forever grateful. Since then I’ve used my blog to cover lots of diverse topics, including what it was intend to do – document my planning and travels for the now successfully completed 2010 Trampathon Abroad with my running buddy Bob (The Silver Fox) Bowker. I still have lots to do (understatement) to complete documenting and illustrating my travel-adventures in my blog; however, periodically light bulbs go off in my brain to address more pressing issues on my mind…thus this entry on my thoughts about the effects of cancer on my friends and family.

Back in 2007, in conjunction with running that year’s Boston Marathon, I raised funds for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute ( ) in Boston, MA.  I was moved to do this in honor of a dear family friend who was battling ovarian cancer at the time...she has since been cancer-free and lives a more energetic life than mine!  My simple intentions transformed into something bigger than I had imagined, as many friends, family members and strangers made contributions in memory of loved ones lost to cancer and in honor of those struggling through radiation and/or chemotherapy treatments.  I ran to honor all those and many more. The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute continues to send me reports about their research findings and I am continued to be amazed of what is actually being discovered. 

Since 2007, many individuals I ran in honor of never recovered from their battle with cancer.  Also since then, other friends from high school, college and here in Alaska have announced their “declaration of war” against their infliction…some have succeeded in their battle, some have not, and others continue to battle.  I am one of the lucky ones, as I have been cancer-free for almost 40 years now.   But then I, like Jimmy, have the same frustrations…when the hell are cures to cancer going to be found!?!  I learned that this statement hits those currently diagnosed with cancer the hardest. 

So what does modern medical science tell Jimmy and others who are frustrated with the lack of cures for cancer? Yes millions upon millions of dollars have been spent on cancer research and on developing cancer-curing drugs, and yes, folks have gotten rich doing so. However, cures have been found and other cures will also … over time.  But, no one with cancer wants to hear “over time” … time is something many don’t have – my buddy Jimmy doesn’t have that kind of time.  When I was 19 and was informed that I had cancer (Hodgkin’s disease), I didn’t thing about “time” because at that age, I thought I was going to live forever, even having been diagnosed with cancer.  Being young and dumb, I just knew the doctors were going to cure me.   Forty years later, I sure as heck don’t think that way anymore and many of my diagnosed friends don’t think that way either.

So what do I tell Jimmy when I see him tomorrow when I take him to his next radiation treatment?  I wish I can tell him that a cure will be found by the end of the week and all will be good in time to tee off at our local golf course come this May.  I do know that research is making progress, as referenced by the DFCI many accomplishments ( ).  I don’t think he’ll care about that right now.  What will I tell him…what can I tell him other than he has the loving support of many buddies here in Anchorage and that he’s not alone with his battle.  Other than that, I still don’t know…I don’t know.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A little bit of this and a little bit of that ....

 A little bit of this ...

Predictably, now that snow has fallen pretty heavily here at the house, I'm finding more time to do indoor  "stuff" that I've put off because of an active summer here in Alaska.  But then, other distracting and tempting outdoor opportunities present themselves, like Alpine and Nordic skiing.

A recent highlight this year was my trip back to New Jersey to visit family and attend my Wayne Valley High School Class of 1970 40th Reunion.  The reunion weekend included attending a WV football game with fellow classmates, hoisting a brew or two with them at local hangouts, attending a very nice formal dinner, and visiting over good coffee and breakfasts.  I visited with some high school friends I haven't seen in 35+ years. Especially enjoyable was driving around my home town (Wayne, NJ) with friends and touring where we all lived and noticing how things had changed and in some cases, not changed.

My home in Wayne, NJ where I grew up.

However, what made me feel real old was when my track and cross-country buddies David, Paul, Guy and I had to bushwhack our way through a now heavily forested area behind our school to find the long-abandoned and now overgrown uphill trail that was part of our home cross country course.

Myself with Guy, Paul and David on our formerly used cross country trail

Funny thing, when I first arrived at the reunion weekend I saw everyone as 57/58-year olds and the faces were unfamiliar.  But over time I saw the ages peel off of people and reveal the 18-year old faces and smiles I was really freaky to see the transformation.
Fellow smiling classmates at Wayne Diner for breakfast.
I think it was a relief and refreshing for us all to revert back to the way we were and for at least a few days, cast off the responsibilities of our adult lives.  

2010 Trampathon Abroad Update

...nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people.  - Letter from Mark Twain to San Francisco Alta California, dated May 18th, 1867; published June 23, 1867

The Mark Twain quote I posted exemplifies many of my thought processes these days and certainly reinforces some of the reasons I decided to put together my 2010 Trampathon Abroad in Europe.  Earlier posts go into other details of my trip planning and purposes so I won't describe them here; however, my traveling companion Bob Bowker and I can attest that we had contact with many kinds of people, which was one of our many trip goals.  Mark Twain's A Tramp Abroad (1880) was his sequel to his The Innocents Aboard (1869).  Both books focused attention on European travel at a defining moment in post-Civil War America.  My intent is to reference some of his observations when I write in my blog about my own.  This will kind of be exciting because Twain was very verbal and critical of what he saw and experienced in many of the places Bob and I visited, e.g. Paris, Rome, Pompeii, Vesuvius, Paestrum, and Florence. In Venice when Twain first saw gondolas, he thought them, "inky, rusty old canoes manned by mangy, barefoot guttersnipes" ... that sure as hell wasn't my first impression.  Yes it's a different era but I'm finding that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Walking and talking brought Twain's Abroad books into being...walking and talking brought my trip to life. It is said that Twain's European adventures sparked his my case the trip sparked a greater desire to continue to tour the great cities of Europe and beyond. 

...and a little bit of that.

Since my decision last August to back off of distant running, I have been tempted numerous times to change my mind.  My tempting is related to my buddies many recent accomplishments and/or planned accomplishments.  Here in Anchorage, my friends Neal and Jon recently finished the Zombie Half Marathon and my family friend Mary Rita is finishing her training for the upcoming California International Marathon in Sacramento, CA.  I also just learned that my friend, and Boston Marathon qualifier, Mark and his wife have begun to train for a Half Ironman.  My Florida tempters John and Bill respectively completed the Florida Ironman and Miami Half Ironman.  Another friend here in Anchorage, Casey, finished the Hawaii Half Marathon last June.  I was also moved watching this year's New York City Marathon and seeing the many ordinary folks struggling to finish, especially the Chilean runner who survived the collapsed mine incident.  As excited as I am for all my friends accomplishments, I can't help but think that I'm missing out because of my August decision.

A previous blog entry explains my decision to back off distance running, which I really don't regret. - - or at least I keep telling myself that.   In place of distance training, I'm substituting a more balanced fitness program of swimming, running and strength training.  I'm reminded that I promised my 12 year old daughter Hannah that I'd be ready to participate with her in next year's Eagle River Triathlon.  The jammer swim suit and goggles are bought and I've scoped out local pools and swimming lessons to teach me how to swim laps without drowning.  I'm also hoping the tendinitis I have in my forearms won't cripple my chances to swim effectively. There is, however, one other development that may hinder my plans.

I'll be covering this in more detail when I post entries about my European adventure, but the short story is that since having my corrective heart surgery in January 2009, I continue to have periodic episodes of shortness of breath which cause me to either abruptly slow down when I run or have to stop entirely to catch my breath.  Funny thing, it only occurs when I run...never skiing, hiking, or doing heavy chores.  It's hard to predict when it happens when I run but it happened once when I was running the Rome Marathon, a few times near the end of the Paris Marathon, and surprisingly not at all when I ran the Madrid Marathon.  Things came to a head when I ran the local Humpy's Marathon last August - I was lucky to finish.  Since January 2009 my marathon times have slowed down from about 4:15 to over 6 hours...not good.  Last week I had a trans-esophageal echocardiogram to determine if my replaced aortic valve is functioning correctly, as my cardiologist Dr. Linda Ireland suggested I have it performed to rule out any cardiac causes for my breathing problems and slower marathon times.  Results indicated some anomalies which Dr. Ireland wanted the Mayo and/or Cleveland clinics to evaluate because she wasn't sure of the results or its repercussions.  We should get their report in about a week or so.  My general physician Dr. John Mues mentioned once before that medical follow up studies have shown that cancer survivors who received radiation treatments to the chest, like myself when at 19 I was treated for Hodgkin s Disease, are increasingly developing asthma.  I hoping that asthma is the culprit, and not the aortic valve. If the cardiac test is "normal", then I'll likely see a pulmonary specialist for further assistance. In the mean time, I'll continue to hop along with my new fitness plans....stay tuned!