Friday, November 1, 2013

Born to Run

I have had a lot of running on my mind lately. Here is a glimpse into that stream of consciousness.
Two weeks ago Eileen won the St. Louis Second Wind Women’s 5k - her second top-two finish since moving to St. Louis!
The St. Louis Rock n’ Roll Marathon was on Sunday and we enjoyed dining with and cheering on some friends from Cincinnati.
St. Xavier’s ever-supportive Cross Country team aims for its second consecutive and fifth Ohio State Championship this Saturday. (Exactly fifteen years since the St. Xavier Harriers’ first state title – my senior season).
Driving through Forest Park this afternoon, Eileen and I were admiring the very same resplendent sugar maples, sweet gums and gingkoes that used to carpet and cushion our SLU season-end stride-outs in crimsons, auburns and golds.

Last Sunday’s scriptures even came from the second letter to Timothy 4:7 “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”
As someone who ran and trained competitively for nearly a third of my life, running was part of my identity, my philosophy, my worldview, my faith. And in some ways it still is.
Running was one of the first ways this lung disease manifested itself, first in slower times, then diminished endurance, then a realization that something about my running was just not right or fun anymore. Losing my competitive edge, preferred stress reliever and even my identity as “a runner” was a cyclical unwinding that still isn’t fair.
But even as I can’t justify calling myself “a runner” there are aspects of that identity that I still maintain.
I have long found that my rate of perceived exertion or RPE (a subjective measure of one’s workload and breathlessness) is an unusually unreliable surrogate for objective measures of my oxygen saturation - a pattern I attribute to a long-trained “comfort” with and tolerance to shortness of breath.
After several weeks of pulmonary rehab I keep pushing the envelope as far as my heart and lungs will allow. So far my PR is 1.91 miles in 30 minutes on the treadmill. I hope to eclipse two miles soon, even though I’m quite the sight to see motoring through 15.5-minute miles with seven or eight liters of oxygen flooding my lungs and irritating my nasal passages every minute.

In some ways it feels like I just may have been training for this transplant all my life.
Last Fall, laying on a stretcher at our curb, fading out of consciousness, my last recollection is telling Eileen I loved her and hearing her tell me not to give up as the ambulance doors slammed shut. Like the cross-country runner who crosses the line not quite remembering the last quarter-mile of his race and whether it was his legs or his mind that willed him to the finish, I “came to” in an emergency room bay, gasping, cursing, and exhausted like I had never known, but relieved and satisfied that I had successfully finished that leg of this race for my life.
The Mount St. Joseph newspaper, Dateline, wrote a nice story about me a few weeks ago. The student author asked me about the role and strength of my faith through this transplant process. Paradoxically, the more one leans on their faith the harder it seems (to me) to answer such a question in a mere sound bite, quote, or even a single blog post.

While I didn’t think about it until after the article was published, I decided that the clothes bin under my bed could serve as a metaphor for my faith. That bin is stuffed full of my old running gear – racing jerseys, dry-fit shorts, racing flats, even some old track spikes. While I’ve thinned out other clothes for style, fit, or space, I haven’t been able to bring myself to get rid of that running gear. Something in the back of my mind tells me that I’m not quite done with it, I’ll want it, need it later.
Timothy Sweeney is a New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University double-lung recipient who ran the 2010 New York City Marathon with his transplant surgeon less than one year after his transplant. (The 43rd NYC Marathon takes place on Sunday after a year-long hiatus following Sandy).

Maybe I’ll run the 44th NYC, the 17th Flying Pig or next year’s St. Louis Rock n’ Roll marathon.

Maybe it is more accurate to say that this transplant process is just training for the rest of my life.


  1. Pete and Eileen,
    I've been thinking of you and wondering how it is going (and finally got myself signed in again to this blog:) Thank you for hanging in and actually pushing for more, and for sharing the experience with us. I have no idea how my/our thoughts, love, and prayers for you actually "work". I just know that you and the kids have mine, solidly.

  2. Thanks for the update and for sharing the MSJ article. Miss you and love you all so much! Aunt Joy

  3. Pete, you are an inspiration. Keep pushing!!