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Why an Ironman, part I (a tribute to Paul)

December 20, 2011

After starting grad school in fall 2006, my training became less focused. I still worked out four or five days a week, but I had lost the focus and intensity provided by an undergrad crew team. And that was fine at that point in my life. But by late 2007, it was time for a change. In October that year, I stood on the sidelines of the Chicago marathon and cheered on my friend Paul Djuricich and tens of thousands of other runners. It was still a while before I committed to a marathon, but I knew it was time to challenge myself again. I joined Lakeview Athletic Club, an upscale big box gym near my house, and got back into a more regular training routine. I worked out with Paul on occasion, when our schedules permitted.

Some time in spring of 2008, Paul convinced me to run the Chicago marathon. I still did not consider myself a runner. I thought of running as “cross training,” but I was able to run 8 or 9 miles. That summer, I followed a classic marathon training plan. When our schedules lined up, Paul and I did long training runs together. Fortunately, we ran close enough to the same pace to make that work. I wasn’t back on a competitive team, but I was getting back to feeling like an athlete again.

Before the marathon, in late summer of 2008, one of Paul’s friends had to drop out of the Chicago Triathlon. And even though I had only taken swim lessons as a child, Paul convinced me to take his friend’s spot with only weeks to go. Fortunately Paul was a collegiate swimmer, and spent two days a week in the pool with me, helping me at least learn enough to fake my way through the triathlon. That combined with a wetsuit got me through my first triathlon. And I loved it! And somehow, I noticed, my six mile run on the triathlon was faster than most of my training runs.

And then in October that year, I ran the marathon with Paul, through the brutal heat (85 degrees maybe?). We hit halfway at 2 hours 17 minutes, just shy of our target 4:30 pace. But it went downhill from there as the heat took its toll. By mile 16 I began to walk. Paul kept running, but his pace slowed too. For the next two miles, I would walk some and lose Paul, then run some and catch back up, and repeat. Eventually Paul finished the marathon about five minutes ahead of me. As we lie there in the grass of grant park, asking what compelled us to run that distance in that weather, I knew I was hooked. I began to dare to dream about what I could do next.

I convinced Paul to join me for the race up the Sears tower. I had done stadiums countless times with Brandeis Crew, but Paul had no idea what he was getting into. But he still readily agreed. We trained together in the stairwell of Jeremy’s apartment. We must have been a sight as we got on the elevator at the top floor, soaked in sweat, and took the elevator down to go back up the stairs.

And then sometime in 2009 (I think?), Paul began having problems with inflammation and pain in his foot (along with other symptoms, irrelevant here). He couldn’t join me on long runs anymore. He could barely make it to the gym anymore. And at that point, I realized how much Paul had inspired me to get back to being an athlete. Paul had that attitude of “okay, let’s go,” no matter what the athletic challenge was. He was ready to jump in. He was the kind of training partner that made me want to push myself. No matter how much he hurt, how hard the training was, what the next challenge was, he greeted it with a smile.

I had toyed with the idea of an Ironman before. But seeing Paul out of commission really got me thinking about it more. Paul had always been willing to look for the next challenge with me. It was always a question of “what’s next?”

It was still a long road from thinking about an Ironman to being ready to register for Ironman Arizona 2012. More stories to tell. But my decision to do an Ironman is partially a tribute to Paul. A response to that implicit “what’s next?” And who knows, if Paul recovers enough, maybe some year in the future we’ll do an Ironman together.

334 days till Ironman Arizona.

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