One Step Back, Two Steps Forward

( A change from the regular business-related post, but a lesson was learned.  Originally written for a local publication)

Mid Ohio:  The Longest Lap

Like many of us, I’ve been a car guy since I was old enough to stand on a milk box and look over a fender.  By high school, the focus was sports cars and racing.  By college, I committed to racing sports cars wheel to wheel.

Dad fueled the fire by bringing home a ratty MGB. The MGB gave way to more reliable transport, but I scraped together enough for a new Fiat X-1/9, which introduced me to autocross, “time trials” at speed on a parking lot through a course outlined by pylons.

My wife to-be, Kathy liked the car and joined me in autocross. She turned out to be – and remains – the natural in the family. She’s humbled many a male ego – including mine – with her skills. The best part is she “gets” cars, so it’s easy to spend foolish sums for the latest go-fast part!

In 1987, I reached my goal of racing wheel to wheel (courtesy of AJ Toth and Bob Bednarczuk), and Kathy joined shortly thereafter. In the 1990’s, we raced all over, at Mid Ohio, Road Atlanta, Watkins Glen, and others.  The journey, of course, is most of the fun and we cherish those days.

We set it aside, raised a family, built careers, and paid for houses. The kids grew up and we got the itch again. We returned to autocrossing, and now travel to obscure places like Peru, IN, Blytheville, AR, and Lincoln, NE all to spend a few hours with friends driving around pylons.

Still, the desire to race wheel to wheel burns in us.  We’ve been thinking about getting back on track to “turn a wheel in anger” at Mid Ohio and other venues.  Besides, I want to better my best lap of 1:48.2 at Mid Ohio.

Of course, at age 52, I was not the same svelte form I was at age 28 as the result of too much food and too little exercise.  Blood pressure, cholesterol, overweight, fatigue.  Qualities that do not favor a racer.

A friend introduced me to a local gym, The Spot Athletics, in 2012.  “This will be great. I can get in shape and go racing again!”  It has been life changing.  A year later, I was off all the meds, and stronger, faster.  By 2014, brother Jim and I started doing “mud runs” or “obstacle races” as they called. We dubbed ourselves “The Old Chub Club”, and after a few short races, set a goal to do the 11 mile “Tough Mudder” at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, my old sports car stomping grounds.

(For folks that  have never done an obstacle race, think about running over poor terrain, with occasional obstacles like wallowing through muddy waters or crawling through mud under barbed wire.  Sort of like basic training for the military, except you pay for the privilege and think it’s fun!)

The “Tough Mudder” is not a casual affair. A 20-something might make it through, but in your 50’s, you had better prep for it.  Strength, flexibility, and stamina are required.  All the things the recede with your hairline. “The Old Chub Club” had work to do over the winter.

As the saying goes, “Man plans, God Laughs”.

During last fall’s physical, my doctor found a heart murmur. Fast forward, and on December 18, 2014, the team at OhioHealth McConnell Heart Health Center put me under, cracked me open, fixed a valve, and buttoned me up.  The doctors, nurses, and especially the aides were great, and things could not have gone better.  When I woke up, I told Kathy and the doctors the goal for recovery was to be ready for Tough Mudder in May.

They probably thought it was the anesthesia.

Cardiac rehab started mid January, and in mid-February I went back to The Spot Athletics.  My first attempt at a push-up resulted in a face-plant on the floor. Routines that I flew through before were beyond reach. But, slowly, strength returned.

In early April with Tough Mudder six weeks out, I made my first run.  Winded within a quarter mile and heart rate way above it should be.  More runs showed little progress, and late April, the chances were slim that I would be ready on May 9.

“Disappointment” would be a kind word.  Recovery from surgery, the longest race to date, and at my favorite racetrack.  A major milestone and goal on several levels.  Friday evening, May 8, the night before Mudder, I was sipping mint juleps, playing guitar, and hanging with friends.  There are more Tough Mudders, right?  But deep down, I hated the feeling inside.

Kathy had to work the next morning.  I woke up thinking about it. Never leave a man aTM Finish 2lone when he has something on his mind. “This is a nice day. Mudder’s already paid for. I’ll just go and do a couple miles. Run for a couple minutes, walk for a minute”.

Start was 10:45a on the pit straight. We headed towards Turn 1 under the bridge.  Turns 2 through the Keyhole, I walked.  Down the back straight, I ran. Walk. Run. Repeat. Through the first few obstacles.  Slogged through mud. Swung and fell into cold muddy water. Crawled through something called “The Birth Canal”.

Got to Mile 3, and thought, “I feel OK. I’ll keep going”.  Miles 4, 5, and 6, went by with no issue.  Just run / walk, and everything will be good. Climbed the “Berlin Wall”.  Lifted logs.  Carried another Mudder 100 yards or so.  Mile 7 came along, and I thought, “Well, I’m all in now!”

Miles 8, 9, and 10.  More run / walk.  Obstacles included “The Arctic Enema”, “The Beached Whale”, and “The Ladder to Hell”.  The Arctic Enema was about as pleasant as it sounds; use your imagination.

The last mile was the toughest yet most exhilarating. It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t pretty, but it was the realization I could do it.  Across the finish, got my finisher headband and photo, and looked up at the clock on the infield scoreboard.  “2:28 pm”

3 hours and 43 minutes?

Pretty slow for a lap at Mid Ohio.

(The lesson for me? Never give up on your goals.  You can find always find a way.)

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