48. Keith’s World

48. Keith’s World

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

Keith’s World

There is no time to think about how much I hurt; there is only time to run.
~Ben Logsdon

My brother runs. Not for office. Not for a cab. Not because he is late for an appointment, but for fun. He took up marathon running in his early thirties. He claims that a co-worker needed a training partner and so he tagged along as a favor. I didn’t think too much of it until he casually mentioned during a Sunday afternoon phone call that he had entered a half marathon. After that Keith was hooked. One race turned into another and it wasn’t long before he signed on for the entire 26-mile deal, the 2007 Columbus Marathon.

While admiring Keith’s commitment to the sport, I admit that I know little about it, and lately I’ve begun to question his sanity. How do you explain a man who is almost completely devoid of body hair? He shaves his head completely bald on a regular basis. I assume it’s for some aerodynamic purpose like a bicycle rider’s helmet, but what about the waxed shoulders? Keith’s shoulders are unusually smooth. He wouldn’t confirm it but his wife did. I’d bet money his legs are next. I never knew you could gain on the competition with less hair. Painful? Probably. Time consuming? Definitely. But my brother runs for fun.

Water intake is incredibly important on race day. Too little water and the body cramps. Too much water and it sloshes around in the stomach, possibly causing nausea. Keith miscalculated his hydration needs during the 2009 Chicago Marathon. He drank too much water; not enough to make him sick, but enough that he had to detour every few miles off the course for a pit stop. Kind of like a race car I guess. I wish I had been there to see the look on his wife’s face as she cheered him on only to watch him run for the bathroom, disappear for 30 seconds, then jump back onto the course as though nothing had happened. As I’ve learned through numerous conversations with him, water intake is a fluctuating science in the runner’s world. My brother runs for fun.

According to Keith, there exists a love-hate relationship with carbohydrate ratios which is partly scientific and partly Las Vegas luck. He burns about 3,000 calories on race days — thinking about it makes me want to faint. Keith must carefully choose the kinds of carbs he’ll consume and accurately calculate a consumption of 500 to 700 grams per day on training and race days. Can someone convert that to ounces? Even more confusing is the idea that not all carbs are created equal. Simple carbs and complex carbs are very different. Only those that the body can convert to glycogen are useful to runners. Does that mean chocolate is out? I could never live without my chocolate. I’ve heard that sports gels, or energy gels as they are commonly called, are quite helpful if your stomach can tolerate them. Keith’s stomach prefers to yak them back out, as I think mine would do if I were eating souped-up energy and nothing else. He is still experimenting to discover the best balance for his body. Fortunately, he only runs for fun.

Speaking of queasy stomachs, Keith admitted that many runners routinely yet involuntarily lose the contents of their stomach. He himself has thrown up in more than half of his races. In one particular half marathon, Keith threw up four miles into the race. With nine miles to go he pressed on determined to finish. Runners he had passed near the beginning were now passing him as he struggled with his stomach. A mile from the finish line he finally caught up to a group of three and passed them for the last time. With a quarter mile to go and another competitor bearing down, he felt his stomach turn. He dug in for a final burst of energy, stayed ahead of the other runner, crossed the finish line and promptly threw up in front of several hundred people. I can’t decide if his strategy was dedication or pure insanity, but from my perspective it was certainly gutsy. Good thing he just runs for fun.

Aside from the science of hydration and carbohydrates, I’m really blown away by the amount of training that goes into preparing for marathons. Keith once told me that he runs 300 to 400 miles to prepare for each race. I honestly don’t think I’ve run 300 miles in my entire life. That’s a lot of miles. Then there’s the constant speed battle to improve one’s own personal time. My brother runs a 9-minute mile for true marathons and a 7.5-minute mile for half marathons. That seems fast to me. As I recall, the last time I ran a mile for any reason was when I thought a bear was sharing the trail with me at Glacier National Park. It was 1992. I ran straight down the mountain to the parking lot and into the safety of a friend’s car. I had been hiking for fun but the bear changed my mind.

I’m puzzled by mounting evidence of Keith’s love affair with the medical community. There’s the orthopedic doctor with whom he’s on a first-name basis, and his physical therapist who he too addresses by first name. He spends $400 on custom-made orthotics for his Asics which are also made by an orthotics specialist. For that kind of money he had better be on a first-name basis. He schedules regular visits with his doctors and specialists more often than I book spa appointments. After running 26 miles, maybe he books a spa appointment too. For a man who waxes to streamline airflow, it’s entirely possible. Keith did say recently that he sweats so much while running that the salt crystals on his face dry into a fine white powder, which I can only imagine must provide additional seasoning for his carbohydrate-rich sports gel. Hmmm. I wonder if that too is part of the fun.

Although I did not grow up in a runner’s world, I have grown to appreciate all he has endured to develop into a competitive weekend athlete. I may not always understand the science behind the sport or his enjoyment in running for hours at a time, but I love the Sunday afternoon stories he shares that bring us together across the miles. Thank goodness Keith runs for fun.

~Jenny R. George

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