Outer Banks Marathon, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina – November 8, 2015
Anthem Richmond Marathon, Richmond, Virginia – November 14, 2015
For at least a few years prior to May of 2015, I had been getting up to use the bathroom multiple times each night. Gradually, this progressed to almost every hour. I was training for marathons, not sleeping and trying to be my best at work. It was a struggle to say the least. I grew tired of being tired all the time.
In September of 2014, I had spent 40 some hours in the hospital with a bladder infection. This was the last straw. I had to do SOMETHING. I researched my options while also considering my work commitments and marathon schedule. I found a window after a marathon in Utah and before a work trip to Washington, DC.
I arrived at the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor before lunch on Tuesday, May 26, 2015. Rather than going “under the knife”, I went under for green light laser T.U.R.P. surgery at one of the best hospitals in the country.
TURP stands for transurethral resection of the prostate. My frequent trips to the bathroom were being caused by an enlarged prostate. Dr. Wei in Ann Arbor used the laser to shave it down to a more normal size. Research had told me that recovery was quicker with the laser versus a more traditional mechanical method. I could be in and out of the hospital in a little over 24 hours.
There was no cancer as often comes to mind when discussing the prostate. While the surgery was routine, it was still considered a significant procedure based on the obviously delicate area of a man’s internal anatomy involved. Tubes went in where no man wants tubes to ever go in, let alone a laser!
The next day, the catheter came out at 7 a.m. Doctors said I could go home as soon as I was able to urinate on my own. Well, multiple blood clots made this an all day non-event. At 3 p.m., much to my dismay, I was re-catherized to flush out my bladder then sent on my way home.
Between the recovery room and our car, I used a restroom twice. It wasn’t going to be an easy 3 hour drive home. With Mary at the wheel, I got as comfortable as one can get lying on the back bench seat of a Chevrolet Suburban half undressed dealing with more clots, a portable urinal and a moving vehicle.
In a great test of our marriage, Mary and I “communicated” at varying levels of stress and volume. Lying on my side trying to get proper placement with the urinal, I begged for a smooth stretch of road while she navigated busy city and interstate traffic. We stopped a few times so I could stand while hiding behind an open car door with all modesty a thing of the past and push out an occasional blood clot that was blocking the passageway to sweet relief.
At home, I passed my last blood clot at 11 p.m. and the long road to recovery passed hurdle number one. I made it to work the following Monday with strict orders to lift nothing over 5 pounds and absolutely no running for 30 days. The way I felt “down there” made following doctors orders very easy.
I was told that complete healing from this type of surgery would take 6 months to a year. In less than 6 months, I was planning to run two marathons in one week during a November trip to North Carolina and Virginia. I had thoughts of just taking a full year off but they didn’t last long. With training, stretching, weight training and recovery, the 50 state goal was consuming my life and I was growing older. I rationalized that I simply could not afford any delays in my plan to finish my quest in May of 2020.
On June 23, 2015, I was less than 24 hours shy of my 30-day restriction but decided it was time to get back to training. Walking and jogging, it took me almost 27 minutes to go 2 miles on a treadmill. I had blood in my urine after and thought, “Dam, are you an idiot?”
Three days later, I managed a 3 mile run walk outside. Same result, blood was present in my urine. Doctors assured me that this was “normal” as long as it didn’t happen during the non-exercising periods of the day.
A few days later, I went for a 3 mile run with Collette. This was our first ever father daughter run together. She was preparing for her first 5K race and I was simply happy to average just under 11 minutes a mile on a beautiful 82 degree Michigan day. I was on my way back albeit cautiously and slowly.
When it was time to start my 16-week training schedule in mid-July, I decided that I would not hold up using the Hanson’s 6 days-per-week plan so I decided that a 4-day Hal Higdon beginner’s plan would have to suffice. The next 2 marathons would not be about personal records but instead, simply survival.
I ran and I walked throughout the training. I was still dealing with a nagging hip flexor issue but the main obstacle was bleeding and groin muscles that seemingly didn’t want to engage. Some days were good and yet others were miserable. I had no legs for hills and whatever speed I had before the surgery was a distant memory. I cut many of the long runs short when my legs simply wouldn’t move and others I skipped in hopes of letting the body heal.
As the months passed, I was beginning to sleep better. The time between bathroom breaks was sporadic but I could tell the spacing was improving. I knew my body was healing. I also knew my legs were not letting me get a good stride necessary for pushing the pace of my runs. Were the muscles in my groin and legs guarding and protecting the healing process by refusing to go where the brain was commanding? I began to think they were and only hoped that something would release in time to complete 2 marathons in 6 days.
With Mary along, I boarded the plane for Richmond, Virginia on November 6. I had only one long run of 15 miles and a string of sporadic training. All the while, I had passed blood after all but a handful of the training runs. I knew I wasn’t in marathon shape but I also knew I had the mental capacity to somehow, someway get to the finish line.
The next day, we made the 2.5 hour drive to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. I picked up my race packet at the Dare County Youth Center in Kill Devil Hills. We also drove the course and made a spectator plan for Mary. Then, we settled into the Hilton Garden Inn with a great view of the Atlantic Ocean off our balcony.
In the evening, we attended the marathon pasta party at the Beachside Bistro inside the Sea Ranch Resort. They had a gourmet chef mixing up the noodles of your choice. I chose the pesto. We sat down with a couple from New York state and had the best tasting pre-marathon pasta dinner ever.
November 8th and the 10th running of the Outer Banks Marathon arrived bright and early. The course was a point-to-point route starting in Kitty Hawk. Mary hung out at the starting line with me prior to the 7:20 a.m. start. With temperatures in the high 50s and a 20 mph wind at my back, it could not have been a much better day to run.
After some neighborhood pavement and a few lonely miles in the woods, the course took runners past the Wright Brothers Memorial, First Flight Elementary and High School, Nags Head Woods Visitor Center, YMCA in Nags Head, Outer Banks Mall, Tanger Outlet Mall, Dare County Justice Center, Chesley Mall and College of the Albemarle. Communities traversed included Kitty Haw, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head and finally Manteo on Roanoke Island.
I did my best to conserve energy while maintaining a modest pace in the 10:30 range for the first 7 miles. I couldn’t hold it long however and the next two miles dropped to 10:45 and 10:53. While not surprised, my heart sank as my hips and groin simply locked up and refused to cooperate.
I was thankful for the strong wind and grateful there would be no more dirt trails as my times edged over 11 minutes, plummeted over the 12 minute mark then a disappointing 14:42 on a tough hilly final dirt section just before the half way point.
I continued to grind it out as I hit mile 14. Mentally, I was still in it despite mile times ranging from 12:21 to 14 minutes. I was able to see Mary a few times and near mile 20 she greeted me with fresh donuts. I walked beside her while I gorged on a fresh treat. It didn’t make me run faster but it was still a nice break in the monotony of my struggle.
I continued to slow down as I began running and walking. I hit 14 minutes, then 15 and even 16 minutes. On mile 24, I hit a daily low/high of 17:17 as I fought to get over a tough hill on the highway leading over to Roanoke Island. There were not a lot of hills on the day but they certainly saved the best for last!
I “coasted” into the Manteo, North Carolina finish line area with my head down but heart lifted. I did it! I had finished my 33rd marathon in my 33rd state. Time be damned. I had a finisher’s medal around my neck!
I found a restroom and easily passed 8-10 ounces of dark red fluid. How much was urine and how much was blood was anybody’s guess. Yeah, I was a little nervous but there was little I could do about it but rest, recover and rehydrate.
On the day, 869 people finished the marathon. I was 768th. There were 56 finishers in the male 50-54 group. I was number 52. My official time ended up at 5:43:33 giving me an overall pace of 13:07. These weren’t stats to brag about by any means but I rationalized that if there were a category for men who had prostate surgery and ran a marathon in less than 6 months I would be in 1st place!
All in all, it was a solid day. This marathon was very well organized. Volunteers were friendly, helpful and made you feel appreciated for participating in their event. More importantly, all net proceeds generated by the Outer Banks Sporting Events benefit the missions of the Outer Banks Relief Foundation, helping Dare County family’s in need, and the Dare Education Foundation, supporting excellence in education.
On November 9th, I had set up a trip to Roanoke Electric Cooperative to visit a friend and fellow director on the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association board, Curtis Wynn. When I woke up, I knew I wasn’t up to 4 hours in the car. So, with regret, I let Curtis know that I wouldn’t make it. He sent me back a picture of a sign in his office lobby that read, “Welcome Tony and Mary Anderson”. Yeah, I did feel bad but the body was hurting.
Instead of a long car ride, I stretched my legs by walking around the historic Kitty Hawk site with Mary. My left side limp did not go away but it felt good to get out and stretch the legs as we made the long climb to the top of the memorial. There was a great view of the surrounding area. Wilbur and Orville sure picked a beautiful spot.
I also got a great 60 minute massage from a local provider. It hurt so good. I met another marathon runner going out as I was going in. He looked to be about my age. The old guys know the importance of taking care of the body!
Towards evening, we did a little shopping in Manteo but there just wasn’t much open. It was clearly the end of the season. I was also struggling to get up and down the stairs as some light rain caused the temperatures to decline a bit.
The next day, we hit the road to catch some of the region’s sites. We made a short stop in Virginia Beach. Here, the tourist season was completely at an end. We had the entire beach and boardwalk to ourselves on a windy, overcast day.
From there, we headed across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on our way into Virginia. The bridge was some 20 miles long. At times, it even goes under the water. This is a weird feeling in a car. One minute you are looking out at the expanse of the bay and ocean, the next you are in a tunnel under the water. We guessed that this was the only way to get tankers in and out of the bay.
We finished our day at an Air BnB near Wallup Island, Virginia. We had a private apartment in one end of a house belonging to John and Teresa Gardner. Technically, their address was a dot in the road called Greenbackville. The surroundings looked to be somewhat economically depressed and we wondered what we were in for.
To our surprise, the Gardner home was in a subdivision occupied by many engineers and NASA employees who work at the rocket base on Wallup Island. (I didn’t know that the US launches a majority of its rockets from Wallup Island either!).
John and Teresa were a pleasant retired couple. They had spent their working careers in Alaska where John worked for the state highway department. They were also members of A&N Electric Cooperative. So, they were practically family!
We settled in and began binge watching Orange Is The New Black on NetFlix in our cozy little room. We also took some time to wash clothes and reorganize the suitcases.
After Teresa cooked us breakfast on November 11, we headed over to the Assateague Island National Seashore. This is a small island just off the coastline that is inhabited by wild horses. I had one mission: see the wild horses of Assateague with my own eyes.
Growing up, I had watched a Disney movie called Misty of Chincoteague. It was a fictional tale surrounding a real life annual event. To cull the herd of wild horses and raise money for the Chincoteague Virginia volunteer fire department, the community holds an annual roundup that continues to this day. Local cowboys swim the horses across the inlet and into the fairgrounds of Chincoteague where they are separated then sold at auction.
The Disney story follows a brother and sister who are orphaned and being raised by grandparents on a farm near Chincoteague. They tame a wild horse only to eventually set it free. Naturally, I related to the kids with no parents as a small child. I watched that show every time it was on in the 1960s and into the 1970s.
As an adult, it would be a bucket list moment if I could actually see wild horses on the island. It was Veterans Day so we got onto the island without paying admission. We found a secluded beach but nothing besides some good seashells.
Finally, we spotted some horses in the distance. We wound our way over on the park roads and were soon virtually within reach of several wild horses. They were long-haired and small like the Shetland ponies I rode at a friend’s farm near Timber Lake, South Dakota while growing up. I scratched the wild horses of Assateague off my bucket list.
Later in the day, we walked the streets of the small seashore village of Chincoteague. In a small shop, I purchased a DVD of the “special to me” Disney movie. One day, I would sit down with my grandkids and introduce them to some magic from the wonderful world of the mouse.
After one more evening of binging Netflix and one more home cooked breakfast, we hit the road to Richmond, Virginia and the next marathon. We stopped at the 2nd largest antique mall in Virginia. It was unimpressive and after arriving too late to take in historic Jamestown we regretted the wasted time.
Our room at the Richmond Omni Hotel on 12th Street was just a couple blocks from the state capitol. We strolled on over and the capitol receptionist gave us a long history of the many building renovations over the years. She was very proud and passionate about her work. I learned more than I cared to but she never took a breath to give us an opportunity to slowly back away from her desk!
After the traditional marathon expo at the Arthur Ashe Center, we took our bus driver’s recommendation and went to the Tobacco Company for dinner. It was in the heart of Richmond’s main entertainment district and a short walk from our hotel. It was a great sit down, soak in the “vibe” and eat a wonderful meal kind of place. On full bellies, we binged more of our now favorite prison show on an IPad in our hotel room.
The next day, we took a 2 hour trolley tour of Richmond. It took us to all the key sights of Richmond like Libby Hill and Monument Drive. We found Richmond to be a very pleasant city with lots of history. It definitely made our “we would come here again” list. We finished the day with room service and more Netflix.
November 14, 2015 would be the 38th running of the Richmond marathon. The start was very organized and volunteers were checking race numbers to make sure everyone was in their proper wave. I had been placed in wave 4 which had a 4:30 estimated start. It had seemed like a good idea at the time I registered months ago.
Prior to the start, I took a picture with a guy dressed in the superhero costume of The Flash. It was a beautiful morning so I tossed my sweatshirt off before reaching the start line. It was another good day to be alive!
Once again, my strategy was to go out slow and steady in the 10:30 per mile range. My hip and groin once again said, “What in the hell are you doing?”. Like a governor on a truck engine, they would not let the legs go where the heart desired.
I got the first 3 miles in under an 11 minute pace each but they would be my fastest of the day. I had a small consolation when I came up behind the Flash with his mask off near mile 3. He was walking at mile 4 and I went on by. I never saw him again after that.
Quickly, I realized how well organized this marathon really was. Rather than sending runners down side streets and back roads, Richmond shut down the best parts of the city. Runners got a great tour of the best a nice southern city had to offer.
The hills were small but tough to run. I just didn’t have the legs from the start. I was also still dealing with some post surgery issues in the groin region. Miles 4 through 6 were all between 11 and 12 minutes each. I passed by Mary with a smile and a wave.
After a 12:01 on mile 7, I spotted an open porta john and decided to err on the side of caution and empty my bladder. It was straight red blood. I thought, “Damn. Son of a bitch. This is not good.”
Miles 8 and 9 were a somewhat respectable considering my condition barely under 12 minute miles. Then, it progressively got worse as my left hip tightened up. I labored between 13 and 14 minutes per mile for the next 4 miles.
Mile 14 through 15 saw times of 14:06, 13:57 and and very disappointing 15:33. I had 11 miles of pure “suck” to go! I found Mary just after mile 16. We decided that she would join me in a run/walk/shuffle the rest of the way. I tried to shuffle/jog for 3/4 of a mile then walk a quarter but it gradually evolved into the other way around.
The next 4 miles fell into a range from a “fast” of 14:18 to a slow 16:29. I was in misery as Mary tried to encourage me to catch the next person ahead of us. I tried but the legs were having nothing to do with it.
The wheels really came off on miles 21 through 24 when the watch ticked off a series of 16:22, 17:33, 16:49 and 18:11 as I walked more and more. I was not last but in my mind I could feel the sweep cart bearing down on what must have looked like a pathetic effort.
For the first time ever in any marathon, I went over 20 minutes on a mile during mile 25. I picked it up on mile 26 to post an 18:05. This made me sad but I took consolation in the fact it was a full 2 minutes faster than my worst mile ever.
Mary wasn’t allowed to follow me down the last quarter mile to the finish. Some young guy saw my struggles and noted my name on my race bib. As I fought my way to the end, he began very enthusiastically shouting, “Go Tony GO!” He even whipped some of the remaining crowd into the effort. It was a totally awesome feeling to have such great support from strangers. On one of my worst marathon days, Richmond had given me my best finish ever. For this, Richmond will always hold a special place in my heart.
I crossed the finish line at 6:11:30 for a 14:04 average. As I stopped, I got yet another gift from Richmond in the form of Bart Yasso. Mr. Yasso is the unofficial “mayor of running” and an employee of Runners World Magazine. As an avid reader of the magazine, I took the opportunity to get a quick picture. (It wasn’t like I had a lot of competition at that point in the day!) I walked away with renewed respect for the magazine and Mr. Yasso. He was walking his talk by giving honor and respect to every finisher.
As ugly as my effort had been, the scenery was beautiful. The volunteers were plentiful and the traffic control was top notch. THEN, there was the finish line swag. I walked away from the finish into Mary’s arms with a nice hat and a finisher’s fleece blanket.
Away from the finish line activities, I sat on a bench overlooking the James River and visited with a 12 time finisher of the marathon who lives in Richmond. It was a quiet chat that only aging runners who have battled a marathon finish can have.
Back at the hotel, I had pure blood for urine once again. It convinced me that the bleeding was likely a bigger cause of my awful day than the muscle issue in my left hip. All the nutrients I attempted to take in probably went into my bladder rather than the inner reaches of my muscles where they were sorely needed.
Whatever I had going on internally, I had survived. State 33 and 34 were done. Every battle is not pretty. Every battle is not decisive. Some days the battle simply needs to be survived. It was once again time to rest, recover and prepare for another fight.