I almost died at the Spring Lake 5, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt

For the past couple of years I had written “preview” columns for the Spring Lake 5, a popular Memorial Day Weekend 5-mile road race in Spring Lake, NJ. All these columns really consisted of was me doling out “advice” on how to best to run the race, what to wear, and when to go to the bathroom. Ya’ know, stupid stuff…the usual. Before the race last weekend, my wife asked me why I hadn’t written a column for this year’s race. I told her that there really wasn’t anything left to say. Well, I ran the race this year, and as it turns out – there’s a lot left to say.

I did not finish the Spring Lake 5 this year because I freakin’ collapsed near the finish line. Fantastic. Allow me to explain.

As usual, my entire family was running in the race this year – parents, wife, sister, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws…everybody. And as usual, we all met at my aunt and uncle’s house (they live in Spring Lake Heights) beforehand. There were donuts, muffins, coffee…all kinds of stuff that I prefer not to inhale minutes before running a race. Twenty minutes till race time! Wait – is that chocolate frosted?! Not for me. A bottle of water was all I had that morning. This was no different than any year I had run the race, because I really don’t like to eat before running, and I’m not very hungry in the morning anyway. Most important meal of the day? Pffff. Well, you can probably sense the foreshadowing here already – I immediately regret that decision.

The last recorded picture of me standing...notice the empty stomach
(I'm the one in the middle...with mom and sister)

We were running a little late this year as well. Trying to pry 20 family members away from donuts so we can walk a mile to run five miles is pretty difficult, and this year proved darn near impossible. So my dad and I walked ahead of everybody, and barely made it in time for the start of the race. I very unpatriotically tried to weasel my way towards the front of the pack during the National Anthem, because I didn’t want to cross the starting line at the five-minute mark. Normally, we get to the race at least twenty minutes before it starts, giving us all time to stretch and mentally prepare (and by “mentally prepare” I mean stretch). Not this year. Two minutes after I got there, I was running. I hope you are still sensing the foreshadowing.

Bye Mike! See you at the banana stand! Or hospital! Whatever!

Now, last year for the Spring Lake 5, it was hot. I’m a fairly decent runner, I guess – I run a couple times a week, two miles here, three or four miles there. But I struggled last year. I don’t really set lofty goals for myself when it comes to running, but I always try to beat my time from the previous year’s race. Well, this year is was hot. Really hot. Last year I finished in 38:something, and this year I wanted to break 38 minutes. And at the risk of ruining the surprise, I didn’t. In fact, the clock is still running.

I was through the first mile marker at seven minutes, and feeling okay. I was still on pace at the second mile marker, just under 14 minutes, but feeling a little less okay. I still maintained my pace at three miles, 21 minutes. It was at this point however, that I was saying to myself, “Holy expletive, expletive. This is going to be the hardest thing I have ever done.”

I didn’t know what was going on. The previous Monday, in the hot and humid afternoon, I had run four miles outside no problem. I was totally ready for this race. Now, I had no legs underneath me, I was sucking wind, and people were passing me left and right. To make matters worse, keeping constant pace with me was a 60-something year-old dude, who was wheezing and gasping with every step and every breath. I didn’t think this guy was going to make it past the first mile, and now he was still there, making me feel like I couldn’t breath. I even said to the runner next to me, “Man, this guy is killing me!” No response. Just ran right ahead of me. Jerk.

Four miles at 29:30. I was losing it, but still on pace to beat my time. I’m barely moving at this point. People are blowing by me. I feel like Vince Carter in the fourth quarter of a playoff game, except I am actually trying.

Now, there’s a very defined homestretch of the Spring Lake 5. During the fifth mile, you turn a corner onto Ocean Avenue, and you can see the finish line ahead. Good times! This year? Bad times. The problem is, that finish line – although it appears right within reach – is still just under a half mile away. You still have to pace yourself. Regardless, this is the part of the race that I exert myself the most. Usually, I have something to exert.

I can see the clock ahead. It’s approaching 37 minutes. I still have about a quarter mile left. I’m running as hard as I can, but I feel like I’m dragging Rosie O’Donnell behind me. I start to notice that I’m running completely upright, like freakin’ Forrest Gump, and my body is starting to stiffen up. Now I’m veering off uncontrollably to the right side of the road. Still veering. Then, all of sudden, like the 2007 Yankees, I collapse.

I can’t imagine how this looked to anyone who was watching. It must have appeared as though a sniper got me from across the street. 10,000 people run this race every year, so the odds that not one of them saw me lose all coordination and end up on my butt were already stacked against me. Then, I find out the next day that my brother-in-law was caddying for a guy who had run in the race. After my brother-in-law described what had happened to me, the guy said, “Wait – tall guy? Lean? Wearing blue? Yeah, I saw him! I saw him go down!” Awesome. Hopefully, youtube was there too.

Also, I didn’t really collapse. I just couldn’t stand up anymore, and plopped to the ground. (Okay, fine…I collapsed.) A paramedic sees me and rushes over. I’m trying to get up, but I can’t. I’m two seconds away from passing out, and fighting it. I’m watching the runners pass, hoping that nobody I know – hey, only my entire family was behind me! – sees me like this. I’m pleading with the paramedic to let me finish, but meanwhile, I can’t even move. The paramedic picks me up, and we have to go to the freakin’ ambulance. To the left of me, I spot a woman whose entire face is covered in blood. Apparently, she didn’t eat her muffins either. At this point, the theme from “Platoon” is playing in my mind as I’m trying to cross a street of runners to get to the ambulance. What the hell is going on here?

Of course, I can joke about this now, but I kid you not – by the time I reached the ambulance, I thought I was going to die. I cannot stress this fact enough. Whereas my initial emotion upon this occurrence was pure embarrassment, the heightening of the situation was very dramatic. I literally thought I was dying. Not good times. I was a hairsbreadth away from losing consciousness, and I thought that if I did, I was a goner. I was screaming out prayers. I was scared as heck. My whole body was completely numb.

Now I’m inside the ambulance, on a stretcher, with an oxygen mask on (!). I’m still watching runners pass by, only now it’s out of the two small windows of the back of an ambulance. I still can’t feel my body. My mind is racing, but I’m slowly starting to realize that I’m not going to die, which was nice. I can hear the paramedic on his walkie-talkie describing me as “aggressive,” mostly because I arrived at the ambulance kicking and screaming, demanding that they “hook me up to something!” Now I’m more subdued, but still delirious. I can remember saying a few things, one being, “I’m either going to die, or this is going to be the best story ever.” Then, I noticed a “No Smoking” sign inside of the ambulance, and told the paramedic that I was “going to try not to light up,” at which point he laughed, and then told me to stop talking. Then I contemplated the ridiculousness of a “No Smoking” sign inside of an ambulance until I slowly started to feel my extremities again.

I felt like I was inside the ambulance for hours (it was actually about an hour and a half). Two paramedics hovered over me - talking to each other about their plans for the evening while occasionally taking my pulse and blood pressure - while I stared into oblivion. They also asked me repeatedly if I wanted to go to the hospital, to which I nodded no. They suggested I should definitely eat something as soon as possible, which struck me as odd, since we were parked about twenty yards from the finish line, where there were about 25 free banana stands. I’m wondering why one of them can’t get out and walk two minutes to get me a freakin’ banana, but I don’t have the strength to actually say it.

We need 20 CCs of water and two bananas! Stat!

Heat exhaustion and dehydration were the reasons given for what happened to me. Actually, according to the paramedics, people were dropping like flies at this year’s race, which made me feel a little better. But not really. It took me about twenty minutes to summon the strength to stand up. I managed to remember my uncle’s cell phone number (which was good, since he was the only one who would have had it on him), but I couldn’t even dial – the paramedic had to do it. Hi, is this, ummm…Uncle Dave? Yeah, this is the paramedics. We have your nephew. Over.

So my uncle came and picked me up. The rest of my family, after a two-hour long search party for me that only ended with the false hope that I was already back at my uncle’s, was still walking back to the house as we passed them in the car. Beep! Beep! Mike’s alive! So don’t worry - the barbeque is still on!

Of course, everyone was very concerned, especially my wife, who was among the handful of people that actually thought to eventually contact the first aid booth (to no avail) when they couldn’t find me. Actually, among the reasons given for my whereabouts before approaching the first-aid booth were: a) I went to a bar, and they were gonna kill me! (there are no bars in Spring Lake, by the way), b) I got tired of waiting for everyone and went back to the house (apparently, I’m Carl Lewis), and c) I had to take a humongous dump (the most feasible explanation, courtesy of my cousin John).

You can sense the concern as the search for Mike vehemently begins
(cousin Cara, sister Jill, cousin Kate)

So, not only did I not beat my time from last year, but I hung a big “DNF” atop my 2007 Spring Lake 5 overall performance. I came to find out later that, among the participants that officially beat me this year were a) everybody, b) my lovely wife, who runs as often as the Spring Lake Five rolls around, c) Larry the Lighthouse and Wendy the Windmill, a “couple” that ran inside of a giant lighthouse and windmill costume, respectively, d) my mom, who was once, during a 5-K race, handily beaten by a guy on crutches, e) several pregnant women, and f) the wheezing old man that I hold personally responsible for this entire turn of events. Geez, that guy really did almost kill me.

Honestly, as I’m writing this, I still haven’t fully recovered. I have no idea what happened out there, but I’m very thankful that I’m still alive. Apparently, as it turns out, I am not the one to give advice on how to run the Spring Lake 5, unless, of course, you are suicidal, in which case, I would reiterate my original point that breakfast is for losers.

And speaking of breakfast, my wife later informed me that after he finished the race, Larry the Lighthouse was eating a banana through the mouth hole of his giant lighthouse.

My banana.

Un. Freakin'. Believable.


CMB said…
That was freakin' great! Not that you collapsed, the post itself ;) It was a very interesting day to say the least. I felt so bad when I find out what happened to you. Knowing what good shape you are in and how healthy you are, my mind never even wne there. I thought for sure you were on the deck with Steve cracking open your first brewsky. Glad you are feeling better. Hope you come to NJ for this next year!
JMU86er said…

Look on the bright side, next year you just have to finish to improve on this year.

Hope you're fully recovered. The post is great, and I'm glad to know smoking is not allowed in ambulances.

I'm also jealous of your 7-minute miles. I'm happy with anything under 10.
Anonymous said…
See if you can follow me here....If you try to beat your time every year...in 37 more years you'll be finished in one minute...right?
mkenny59 said…
that is, obviously, the plan.