Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Going the distance on Broad

A year ago, Inquirer Sports Editor John Quinn, overweight and feeling it, would never have dreamed he would be competing in the Broad Street Run on May 6. Yet, here he is, and the race is looming. In this third blog entry, he talks about scaling mountains.

Going the distance on Broad


A year ago, Inquirer Sports Editor John Quinn, overweight and feeling it, would never have dreamed he would be competing in the Broad Street Run on May 6. Yet, here he is, and the race is looming. In this third blog entry, he talks about scaling mountains.

I have convinced myself that I can run 10 miles on May 6.

In the beginning of this dream, I was still in that nether world that plagued me in the past.

My inner voice would say: OK, that’s far enough, you can stop now.

It might have been one mile on the road, or 10 minutes on the treadmill, or two laps in the swimming pool.

It stemmed, in part, from my first high school track coach, Moses Davis, at Stuyvesant in New York City. I was a freshman and had never experienced hard core training. Coach Davis would go easy on the plebes. Stop if you’re too tired. Eventually, you would do the work and it increased with every week you stayed on the team. I never realized I would last the two full seasons at Stuyvesant before the family moved to Staten Island.

That’s when things changed. Coach Mike Marotta at Tottenville High School stepped on the accelerator. I reached my peak sprinting. Even ran in the Penn Relays as a senior.

It was quite exhilarating to see how fast I could go. My personal best was 22.6 seconds in the 220 (yards). But ask me to go two miles, fuhgetaboutit (and we did tawk that way because we were still fresh outta Canarsie).

One time, while running on Hylan Boulevard, we hitched a ride on a bread truck. It wasn’t about quitting as much as trying to be a wise guy (and I don’t mean Henry Hill).

However that voice was always there. Stop, you’re good, that’s enough. Like a broken record.

Then one August summer day in college, at Stony Brook on Long Island, came a great notion.

Let’s climb Mount Washington.  

OK, good. Road trip.  

Where’s Mount Washington?

New Hampshire.

OK, good. Where’s New Hampshire?

I don’t know, north of New York City.

OK, good enough for me.

Our ring leader, Ted Edwards, was a grad student, man of the world. Hiked the Himalayas in Nepal as an undergrad. We camped out in a national park, and then one bright Sunday morning at 8 a.m., about 90 in the shade, the intrepid foursome, including Butch and Jared, headed for the highest point on the East Coast.

I was bedecked in a t-shirt, shorts and high-white Cons. No grub or water. Ted had a jacket right out of a Cabela’s catalogue,  backpack, canteen, a bag of granola that could choke a cow, and boots that cost more than my tuition (state school). And a cowboy hat. Huh?

When we got past tree line, the temp hit about 60. Then came the boulder field that some ancient glacier had deposited millenniums ago. It felt like 50 degrees and the rocks started getting bigger and bigger and the temperature kept dropping with every slab and cairn. Maybe 40 now, and damn it’s getting windy. And where did that cloud come from? It certainly wasn’t on the other side of the face of the mountain two seconds ago.

We had long lost Ted, who was booking up the cliffs. Jared had fallen behind and we hoped there were no coyotes.

It was just Butch and me. We thought we were goners because every time you thought you reached a peak, you looked up and there was another one.  This was no longer purgatory, it was getting cold as hell, and damn where did that raindrop come from? And where are the other guys?

By dumb luck, we found an abandoned jeep and huddled for a few minutes inside. Butch had discovered some secret stash of trail mix. Gimme some of that. It was like that episode of the Sopranos where Paulie and Christopher get lost in the Pinelands and they’re freezing to death. They venture out into the snow because they panic and think they’re going to die of frostbite. Well, they got that script from my brain in Jung’s Collective Unconscious because we had it first.

Butch and I could take it no more and exited our temporary asylum. We barely took 10 steps when, some 50 feet away, through the thicket of a dense cloud, was nirvana, a small building at the peak of the mountain, part gift shop, part coffee shop, part alien transfer station.

The sign inside stated: If you think everyone in here seems weird, you’re right, they are. The Outer Limits theme song was on a loop and we could not change the vertical or the horizontal.

Jared eventually showed up, ragged and jagged but alive. Ted pointed to a sign about Hypothermia. You see that, he said. What do you think it means?  I said it means you shouldn’t have let us try and climb this mountain in shorts and t-shirts. I also said that we had no idea what we were getting into. The tallest peak on the East coast. Ninety degrees at the bottom, 20 degrees at the top. And at least six hours of non-stop exertion.

But we made it. We got the distance.

After we climbed Mount Washington, I would see bumper stickers that said: This car climbed Mount Washington. I would throw the closest thing I could at it, usually a snowball.

After that, we revisited Mount Washington, same foursome, a few years later, like a reunion tour.

In our 30s, we scaled Mount Katahdin, last stop on the Appalachian trail (did not take the Knife’s Edge).

No Ted, but Butch brought his son Alex. We tempted fate, took the easiest route up, yet almost got killed by lightning at the summit. Then, after literally running for our lives down the boulder trail in a car wash of a storm that lasted all of three minutes, we saw criss-crossing rainbows, about 20 of them, as our gift from God, at the bottom of a ravine.  But we made it that time, too, and going from top to bottom took about 10 hours non-stop.

Broad Street is no mountain, downhill all the way, they say. That’s OK by me. But 10 miles is still 10 miles.

My mind is ready. My body is willing. Two weeks to go and my inner voice has changed the channel.

See you at the finish line.

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Check Up covers regional health news and a wide array of healthcare topics from pharmaceutical happenings to patient safety. Read about some of our bloggers here.

Portions of this blog may also be found in the Inquirer's Sunday Health Section.

Michael R. Cohen, R.Ph. President, Institute for Safe Medication Practices
Daniel R. Hoffman, Ph.D. President, Pharmaceutical Business Research Associates
Hooman Noorchashm, M.D., Ph.D. Cardiothoracic surgeon in the Philadelphia area
Amy J. Reed, M.D., Ph.D. Anesthesiologist and Surgical Intensivist in the Philadelphia Area
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