by Gill Hunter
I ran two half marathons in the last two weeks. The performances themselves are certainly nothing to write about; I finished way, waaaay back in the pack in both races. I could write about the uniqueness of the races or courses – both were first-time events, both were hilly, and both were definitely scenic. On November 2nd, I ran in the Shakertown Half Marathon, the first trail race I’ve run, and my slowest ever. I was faster, but by no means fast, on November 16th, when I ran the Renfro Rock ’n Run Half Marathon.
I can spin those details, right? More time to enjoy the view…. Made sure to get my money’s worth…. Started my recovery run halfway through the race….
The thing is, though, that each time I crossed the finish line, more than an hour after the top runners had finished, it felt like a victory. Because I couldn’t help but think about how far I’d come.
I went for a run on July 9th. I didn’t get a particularly early start; I had run Lexington’s annual Bluegrass 10k on July 4th and left for a short vacation with my family the next day. We got back late on the 8th so I slept in a little and moved slowly to start the day. By the time I set out it was nearly 10:00 and the temperature was already climbing. I had envisioned an 8 miler, but cut back those plans, heeding the weatherman’s heat advisory. I still wanted to be tough, though; after all I’m a runner, so I followed a familiar 6 mile route.
That route offers little shade, and the sun beat down. I ended up walking more than I usually do, and by mile 5 or so I didn’t feel very good at all. I decided my blood sugar was low, so I stopped at a hotel about a mile from home and asked for a Coke. Taking pity on me, they gave me one and I sat outside for 5 minutes or so, drinking and hoping things would improve.
Things didn’t improve, so I self-diagnosed some more: my body temperature had to be too high. I went back in to ask for a cold towel. I just needed to do enough to get back home. No one was up front, so I balanced myself at the counter and hollered my request toward the back.
I don’t know what happened next.
I heard a man’s loud voice, “Sir! Sir! We’ve called the paramedics!” I looked up, discovering I was lying flat on my back on the hotel’s hardwood floor. I tried to sit up, but couldn’t really do it. I asked the man to call my wife – I said something like that anyway – and tried to give him her number. He was nervous and I couldn’t talk clearly, but I knew enough to point to my shoe: my wife feared the Road ID tag she bought me would come in handy. On this day it helped save my life.
Two young ladies came around the corner. One brought the towel I had asked for, several of them actually, and the other was pushing a bucket and mop. It was then that I noticed the pain in the back of my head.
Again, I don’t know what happened next. Evidently I drifted in and out of consciousness, with the towel-bearer kneeling behind me, putting pressure on the gash in my head and holding me up as much as she could. She told my wife I was humming/mumbling/singing; I wish I knew the song. The bucket and mop-bearer cleaned up the pool of blood that had poured from my head and – a really good thing – got it cleaned up before my wife showed up. I was thrilled when my wife rushed through the door; it dawned on me that it was a miracle that I was seeing her again. I saw immediately the concern on her face. The paramedics, for whatever reason, didn’t share her concern: 19 minutes after the hotel’s manager called, they still hadn’t arrived. So my wife helped me to the car and we left.
She took me home, helped me get cleaned up a little bit and I sprawled, rather pathetically, on a towel on the floor trying to get the blood to stop flowing from my head. It wouldn’t quit, so I agreed to a trip to the emergency room.
It’s amazing how quickly a patient gets attention when his head is pouring blood. The nurse had never stapled a head closed before, but 5 staples later she considered herself an expert. Two bags of fluids got me to the point where I could at least comfortably sit up. The ER’s biggest concern, though, was my heart. Their thinking was simple, really: lots of people run in the heat, and lots get overheated, but I had passed out, and there had to be a reason.
Multiple blood pressure tests, an EKG, and an Echo test. A brief visit from the cardiologist, a follow-up appointment with another cardiologist, and a treadmill stress test. A baby aspirin every day, avoiding ibuprofen (did I mention the renal failure?), opting for the treadmill when the heat and humidity are high. Lots happened on July 9th, and lots has happened since then. I learned that day – and had to confess it to the cardiologist before he released me from the ER – that I have to be smarter than I am tough. My wife holds me to it, but she doesn’t have to. I now understand that taking care of myself the right way is literally a matter of life and death. I’ll exercise – doctor’s orders, after all – but I won’t be stupid.
And I’m going to race. Well, maybe not race like those at the front of the pack, but I’ll make strides. I’m still running, and I’m competing with myself – especially with what I would be if I weren’t running at all. And I’m steadily and purposefully and carefully, if slowly, running away from what could have been on that day in July.