Sunday, March 23, 2008

Cool Runners I Know: Interval on Bill Harkins

I didn't get to enjoy the benefits of running with a buddy myself until I was reasonably serious about running for a little over a year. By serious, I mean, sustained running for at least three times per week and I'd met the magical four mile mark without stopping more than a few times. My first venture out was with the Little Blue Indians, where I met Bill Harkins, Dave Bright, Gary Walker and Verna Troutman for the first time, and Dena White, who introduced me to the group. It was a cool day in late winter, and the first time I went an amazing eight miles.

I learned a lot of things on that day, but the most beneficial thing was how much easier it was to run when you have others with whom to chat. And Gary, with whom I've now shared too many runs to count, was encouraging me that I didn't really look like I was going to fall over and that I actually might have looked like a little like a real runner. I lacked any confidence whatsoever, and the camaraderie with the entire group turned me instantly into a distance runner on the spot.

The benefits of running with a group extend beyond clicking the miles by faster and easier; having a runner partner is more likely to get you out the door if you might lack the discipline to do it yourself. A buddy will almost always teach you something about running; even someone who is less experienced than you will likely help you uncover something unexpected. A partner can provide safety "in numbers," and assistance in the event you become sick or injured. I, for one, am voted most likely to slip and fall and land on my derriere while running. Gary might need a ride back to the starting point (just kidding; that only happened once and Gary can usually outrun me :-)).

A running partner who is well-matched provides more than all of this. This is someone special. Someone who is your speed, compatible temperment, similar goals in training. This is someone who provides comfort just by running at your side. Someone who doesn't really bat an eyelash at any of the gross things runners experience while out on the long run (if you have to ask, your long runs are too easy). But the funny thing is, the relationship is exclusively about running. It isn't about more than that. If you touch base during the week, you talk about one topic, and one topic only. Running. Running shoes, too sick to run, where to run, training issues, injuries, races, etc.

So, when I received a note from Debra Zook, former running partner of Bill Harkins (see "Cool Runners I Know: Episode 2" an entry devoted to Bill), I thought I should share some of her thoughts on Bill, and the general takeaway of how great a running partner can be. Thanks Debra! I personally really enjoyed reflecting on what you wrote, and thought about how much thanks I owe to all of the different people who have run at least a few steps with me. So, if you've ever run with me, here's my tribute to you, my runner friend, for going part of my journey with me.

I leave today's entry here, and Debra is taking over.

"This is more about me than Bill and that is really what Bill is about.

Pragmatic and humorous. You do not want to run with me if I can hear thunder no matter how far off in the distance it originates. I push the pace. The closer the sound comes to my locale the faster I run. Soon I will be out front about two house lengths ahead. On one such run, Bill caught up with me and said, “Deb we cannot keep up with you. Think about it. You are shorter than everyone else. You are safer in the middle of the pack.”

Once when I was getting back into running and trying to lose weight, Bill ran a 5K with me which originated at what is now Galyans at 119th and Nall. I have a picture of Bill and I running the last two tenths of the race just after he had said “Don’t give up on yourself now. You’ve come too far." I had been ready to quit, wanted to quit. But Bill knew more about what I had left and wouldn’t give me permission to walk.

One of my favorite Bill quotes is “I am not going to take the same territory twice.” I wish I did a better job of following his advice.

Competitive. No matter how good of shape I am in, I would never ever race Bill. He will find a way to beat you.

Bill is my best “guy” friend. No matter how long it has been since I have run with Bill or where I am in my “getting back into running” mode, it feels totally natural to run along side Bill. I automatically relax and I feel like I am running with him step for step like a perfectly matched team of horses. (Although Bill will tell you that I take two or three steps to his one.)

Chicago 1995 was Bill’s first marathon. It was a cold WINDY morning. Bill and I were perfectly matched for pace. For me the race was about putting on and taking off my jacket whilst the wind was about delivering a frontal assault on us every time we turned a corner no matter which direction we turned. Late in Bill’s training for the marathon he experienced a phenomenon in his legs and calves which he described to me as “locking up.” It was something that was in the back of his mind as we waited for the start in Chicago. I soon forgot about that worry as we enjoyed running through the various neighborhoods of Chicago. I do not think Bill was able to forget it. Bill was already familiar with some of the neighborhoods as he had lived and worked in the Chicago area earlier in his career. As we turned the corner in Chinatown (mile 17) Bill felt a twinge in one of his calves. As a precaution we slowed to a walk and then stopped briefly while Bill stretched his calves. When we started running again Bill did not run with the same confident stride as he did earlier. We ran through mile 18, 19 and 20 slowing, sometimes slowing to a walk and stopping to walk once or twice trying to stave off this phenomenon. Suddenly Bill locked up. He could not walk and the pain was horrific. I grabbed one of his legs (without asking permission) and tried to massage the knots out while he tried to stand and massage the other leg. While we stood in the middle of the roadway runners passed by us always asking if we were okay. The massaging did no good. Each time a new wave of cramping hit, Bill stiffened, held his breath, gritted his teeth and waited for the wave to pass. Bill finally allowed himself to sit then lie on the pavement. Soon other runners stopped to give aid. One of them was a physical therapist who also tried to massage the knots out of Bill’s legs while I sat on the pavement with Bill’s head in my lap. After about 30 minutes it was clear that Bill was not going to finish on his feet. An ambulance stopped to give aid. Bill sent me on my way as they loaded him up to take him to the medical tent at the finish. I ran on to the finish worried about Bill’s wife Eileen who would be worried when she saw that Bill was not with me. There were many runners still on the course. I caught up with and tried to talk to a woman who seemed to be going my pace. She was not of the same ilk as the Big Miles Running group and sent me on my way. It was lonely out there. Finishing without Bill really didn’t seem like finishing."

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