Friday, November 29, 2013

Let It Go

Frank Clark said that "If a fellow isn't thankful for what he's got, he isn't likely to be thankful for what he's going to get." Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday for many many reasons. Different people have different traditions but for most of us it’s a holiday where the main purpose is a great meal with friends and family; at many of them you state what you’re thankful and are fortunate enough to have some of it right in front of you. I am a guy who likes the basics of life so that’s as good as it gets. It tells you something that that’s the one holiday I’ve never missed with Kiana with some apt negotiation. That may not always continue but I am glad it has for seven years.

It was the first holiday after I got out of the hospital and I’d say at the meal that it was the best year of my life. The original biopsy which was supposed to take 2 days to tell me whether or not I had cancer had taken over two weeks and it came two days before Thanksgiving. (That was the same day that a friend introduced me to Livestrong. The band went on that day and it’s still the exact same one.) But I said thank you because it was the best year of my life because it was the year I had traveled the most having been to India,  Canada, Mexico and a couple of places across the US (unsurprisingly most of them for sporting events). It was also the best because the people who had called, come in to the hospital, all made the prospect of life ending a little easier to imagine because well at that point I was still being guided along by whatever the emergency room had directed me to and hadn’t been directed at that I had some say in the matter.

Thanksgiving would also be the first time I would do a race after getting out of the hospital. Austin has an annual 5 mile race that day, the Thundercloud Turkey Trot. I’d done it before mostly because scientist have proved if you run a race in the morning it cancels out all subsequent calories for the day. But it was also the place where running helped life start to have somewhere I could feel normal again, with those first couple of weeks on steroids and drugs and my head swimming had started to fade but somehow felt completely gone for 4.5 miles (the course was accidentally cut short).

Fast forward one year later to 2011, it was the first race I would run with a stroller in. I’d been running with a stroller for a while but I had no clue and no inkling that races allowed strollers. The Turkey Trot had a stroller division. I tried to turn it on but it’s a race with thousands and thousands of people so I learned the hard way, you can’t burst at the beginning and navigating around people with a stroller is not possible. I would take second. Last year, I would take first in the stroller division outsprinting the guy in first to win by the smallest margin and the only time I’ve ever sprinted head to head with a stroller. That was a blast. Each of those times was faster than the one before but never anywhere near my personal best time at the distance. Each of those times we did the kid’s k before with Kiana being in the 5 and under group and so running ahead of a good chunk of the crowd.

The day before with it being a non school day we tried to make it both a fun and productive day. We were raking leaves which Kiana eventually decide were more fun to throw up in the air. I originally was goign to reprimand her but decided it was better to take pictures. However, before going to bed, Kiana said to me to try to win the turkey trot (I said the wins don't matter, it's getting exercise in that counts ... not sure which one of was more skeptical to hear me say that ). She’d never said that before about any race but upon asking a little more I learned why it was her favorite prize ever. She’s never cared about the trophies we get but she remembered that winning the stroller division comes with gift certificates to Thundercloud Subs, a local sandwhich place. Last year after we won it, we stretched them out as best as we could to a few outings there. I’d like to think she wanted to win it because it meant a good walk with dad to a restaurant or a special meal since we rarely go out to eat (it may well be that finally I get some chips, soda or cookies since those aren’t allowed at the house but are accepted on special outings).

It was cold. The heater had been broken in my house so Kiana had been sleeping in my bed with a space heater until we got it fixed. But it was going to be cold. Luckily, both Kiana and I got to warm up with her doing the kids K with me next to her. Like every race we’ve done so far, Kiana looked like she was both having fun and trying to moderate the distance. I don’t know if it’s genetic or human tendency that it’s easier to work with the end in site, once the finish line was in view, she sprinted it in.

Last year, at the turkey trot, it was the only time I’ve ever taken someone out during a race with a stroller. It was a turn and their leg kicked back into the stroller. I helped her get up and we got back on course (I would win the stroller division, she would win her age group; we hugged it out at the trophy ceremony). However, I felt ridiculously bad doing that so this year I immediately went to the farthest outside opposite of where the first turn is (usually the side serious runners avoid) for the first mile or so. The honest truth is I just wanted to win the stroller division and win Kiana some of the outings for food and so I just kept an eye out on the strollers and by the end of mile 1 was ahead of all of them clocking it in at 6:08. So I just said okay, I’ll take it easy from here to the finish line unless any strollers get close, clocking in the second mile at 6:18.

However, the day before the race, we’d gone to see Frozen. And Kiana for some reason loved this song, “Let it go.” I’m certainly no movie critic but the part that was interesting was that someone had gotten “poisoned” with magical ice. And the wise strolls said that it wasn’t that big of a deal the first time when it hit her head, stating that’s not of much use anyway. The second time, years later, it struck her heart and that was lethal. Whatever has poised or frozen any parts of my head, I am reminded each race, each meal, each day that it’s still more than a marathon away from my heart. Ignore any plot lines associated with the song but since Kiana kept singing it, I literally downloaded the song right before the race. It was by far both the closest to a race I’ve ever changed the playlist and the least I’ve ever known a song that was supposed to amp me and Kiana up (go talk to my neuropsychologist about how I have increased impulsivity). Still, it came on about mid course with perfect lyrics:

It's funny how some distance makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me can't get to me at all
Up here in the cold thin air I finally can breathe
I know I left a life behind but I'm too relieved to grieve
Let it go, let it go
Can't hold it back anymore

It might have helped the course got flatter right around then and that the weather was perfect. Between hearing that on its own and hearing Kiana belting it out, I turned it on and let it go. Mile three was a 5:50, mile 4 5:41 and mile 5, 5:40. I would finish the race in 29:33, my fastest 5 miler ever, passing New York by about 3 seconds per mile, repeating the stroller division wins. It was cool to do so on the home terf that had been my first post hospital race, my first stroller race and Kiana’s first race.

I don’t recommend a good chunk of my life but I’ll tell you I am thankful for what I have and whatever will come, there will be something within in it I’ll try to be thankful for. Some people came after the race to shake mine and Kiana’s hand and said they’d seen the piece on NBC (including one of my doctor’s from Duke’s interns). I’ve got medical appointments Monday and Tuesday and the potential of what could happen in those has been messing with me. Friends try to ask how I’m feeling and there are things that you don’t feel. I had done a hill workout and was socializing at a party the day before the first time I woke up in an ambulance. I was literally at the front of a run the second time I woke up in once. And usually, I’m feeling pretty well not too well before the vomiting or focal seizures take place so this is one place where I think how I feel matters very little. Trying to do with as much conviction as she'd thrown leaves up in the air with,  I gotta say for those last three miles, I was just a guy with his kid, singing, running and letting it go.  And that was something to be thankful for. 

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