When I was a small boy, Sunday morning meant heading to St. Colman’s church in Ardmore, PA with my mother. I would see my boyhood friends there, John Egan, Steve Boschi, Bob Winterle, Bill Cavanaugh and many others.
Some of us were altar boys, some of us were not, but it is a part of my early childhood I will never forget.
As I got older Sunday mornings meant Football. Watching the not so mighty then Philadelphia Eagles.
When I was about 12 we finally had a decent team and we even made it to the Superbowl. We lost of course to Jim Plunkett and the Oakland Raiders, but it was pretty amazing to see our men in green playing on football’s biggest stage. Damn you Kenny King.
In the spring and summer it was Phillies games, watching the away games in the afternoon with my Dad. Listening to the home games on the “Hi-Fi” – some of you youngins’ out there don’t have any idea what I’m talking about – but some of you do. The voices of my childhood were Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn calling the Phillies games over the TV and radio. Like Dom, they are both gone now too.
Dawn and I love Sunday breakfast, one of our favorite things to do. Whether it was going to the Coventry Café when we lived in Pennsylvania or 1431 Café in Austin, that is something we will soon be able to share with our daughter Landry. (I promise to take her outside if she fusses too much Austin)
But for me now, really for the last five years or so when the marathoner in me was discovered, early Sunday mornings are dedicated to my weekly “long-runs”. If I’m training for a marathon that may mean a run of between 14 and 20 miles most weeks.
If I am “between races” as I am right now, as training for the Austin marathon will not begin until October 18th, it means a run of somewhere between 8 and 12 miles.
Runs long enough to keep my endurance, stamina and mental toughness right there below the “race-ready” stage – but short enough to make sure I stay healthy and can enter marathon training injury free.
The constant over the years is that Sundays are special. It is a time now where I spend 1 or 2 hours alone, sometimes a little more than that, just running.
Running and thinking. Thinking and running.
Sometimes I’m even thinking about running. Kind of crazy.
But on those Sunday runs I’ve seen many amazing sunrises and beautiful wildlife. More than I truly could count.
In the fall I can run and run and run as cool Texas temperatures make it a joy to be out there.
In the winter I am bundled up, sometimes with two pairs of gloves and a ski hat to keep me warm. When I get home there are icicles on top of my head from sweat that has turned to ice.
This time of year I leave the house with four bottles of water and Gatorade in my hydrabelt just to make it through the run, still losing close to four pounds when I get back on the bathroom scale.
Sometimes I encounter babies in jogging strollers, walkers, cyclists and other runners – many of whom I see week after week as we nod to each other or share a good morning as we pass.
But for the most part I’m alone.
A year ago I started taking a companion with me on all of my long runs. Dom.
When a hill would rise ahead of me I would think about Dom and all that he was going through.
When a song came on that made me smile or a gentle downhill section would present itself to me, I would think about Dom.
I would think about how proud I was of him, his fearless attitude and his tremendous sense of humor.
How is he doing today? Will the next news we hear about treatment options or progress be good news or bad? What is the next step and are we winning or losing this fight?
Never once did I think about what running on a Sunday morning would be like “without him” – until today.
As I was leaving the house for the first time in a long time, I was a little nervous about my run. Would I find the rhythm for my run quickly and easily or would I struggle to find my groove in the TX heat.
Should I go 10 miles or 12 today? Would stretching my run out to 14 miles be more appropriate? What are my body and my heart telling me that I need to do?
As I took off up the first hill that leads away from our home I thought about something that the Priest said to the congregation on Thursday morning during Dom’s funeral service.
There was a story Val had shared with many of us that at the very end Dom had become a bit disoriented. He hopped out of bed last weekend and started to get in the shower – as if he was getting ready to go to work.
The priest relayed this story to the church and remarked that in fact Dom was getting ready to go to work. He was preparing for his job in heaven, looking after all of his loved ones, especially Val, Sierra and Nico. They may have lost a husband and a father, but they gained a Saint.
The words that Val and the priest chose when describing Dom in that story struck a chord with me.
When I have reached the 20 mile mark in every marathon I have ever run, I have mumbled to myself, “time to go to work”.
To me that 20-mile mark is where a marathon truly begins. Everything else was just a warm-up to that point. 20 miles is the farthest distance most marathoners will run as part of their marathon training.
They do this to avoid the chance of a training injury, but to also avoid exhausting their glycogen stores which take quite awhile to rebuild once depleted.
You are more or less “saving” those stores for race day.
For most of us the 20 mile mark is that moment where your body begins to fail you and you have to press on for the final 10 kilometers or 6.2 miles.
Your precious Glycogen can only fuel your body for the distance it takes to burn 2,000 calories. At 100+/- calories burned per mile, this fuel only lasts long enough to propel you to the threshold of that magic 20-mile mark.
As your body switches over to its fat stores for fuel – runners describe this transition over to the much less efficient fuel as “hitting the wall”. A well-trained marathoner is left with just 6.2 miles to go. Piece of cake right?
That is the reason that I run that 6.2 mile distance on the majority of my mid-week training runs. I want my body and mind to know exactly how long that distance is. How many strides it takes to get there and especially just how many times we have done it before. That final 10 Kilometers is about inner strength and confidence as your physical strength has been decreasing over the last 2-3 hours.
So, “Time to go to work” I said to myself – and as I calibrated my body and mind for Sunday’s long run – Seemed like a great day to ratchet things up a bit and knock out a solid 14 miles. It would be the farthest I had run since coming through the finisher’s chute at the Pittsburgh Marathon in May, completing the Run for Dom double.
The best part of the run was realizing that I wasn’t alone at all.
I still had my running companion with me when the sun rose over Brushy Creek Park. He was with me when we scattered the deer coming around the bend on the lower loop near our house. Dom was with me for the hills, both up and down – and he was especially there on the final stretch coming out of the green belt heading back into our neighborhood.
I felt so foolish during my cool-down. Where else would Dom have been? After all, it was time to go to work.