Friday, July 21, 2017

The Kinetic Triathlon Festival

Before Ironman Texas, I decided that if I felt up to it, I would race again a few weeks later at the Kinetic Triathlon Festival at Lake Anna which is only about an hours drive from my house. After a couple weeks of recovery, I decided to pull the trigger and register for the Kinetic Half. 

Unfortunately, the race was full. I inquired with the race company and they said that if someone dropped out, an entry would be added. On the last day of registration, I kept checking the website on and off all day. No luck. When I got home, I decided I would try one more time. Bingo! One entry was added and I was able to register for the race. 

I had no real goals or expectations other than to run better than I did in Texas. I did have a specific power goal for the bike that my coach gave me. I thought he was asking a lot and the power seemed high to me. But then again, I had just completed the best power test of my life the week before. It turns out that doing an Ironman and then getting a little rest is a good way to boost performance. 

I had such a good time at the race. The swim was wetsuit legal which was great. It was relatively easy and there was nothing notable about the swim. On the bike, I hit my power numbers on the dot which surprised and delighted me. And then on the run, I was able to pace myself well. At Kinetic there is one long hill out of T1 that lasts for about a mile. And since the run course is three loops, you have to run it 3 times. Despite the hill, I had a great run and actually beat my half marathon PR by about a minute. I didn't even realize that until I sat down to write this report. 

Here are my age group results for the race. I left before the awards but was able to pay to have my trophy mailed to me. 

Here is a short video that the race company put together. I am not in the video but it shows some fit people swimming, biking and running.

Next year the race is on my birthday. Care to join me? 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Ironman Texas Race Report

My goal for this report is to make it as short as possible but to still capture everything worth remembering about the day. I won't go into too much detail about every little aspect of the race but will instead focus on the important stuff that affected my overall performance.

Leading up to the race, I had the misfortune of being hit by a car while riding my bike. Luckily it was a slow motion accident as a car rolled through a red light while I was crossing Laburnum Ave on the Capital Trail. When I got hit, I was so mad. The driver got out and was very apologetic and admitted he was at fault. I gathered myself off the pavement and out of the road. After a quick examination of myself and my bike, I determined I was mostly OK. So the driver went on his way and I decided to continue on my ride. I had a 4 hour ride planned and was only about 45 minutes into the ride. 

While riding up the hill, I noticed some throbbing on the outside of my lower leg. I stopped to inspect it and noticed some bruising and swelling. I decided I would continue my ride and reevaluate myself at Four Mile Creek Park which was about 10 minutes away. While riding to the park, I was in a pretty bad mood. I ended up pushing it pretty hard to let off some steam. When I arrived at the park, I stopped and used the bathroom and ate a squashed banana. I decided I would continue for a little longer. At some point, I realized I only had a few miles to the next milestone/bathroom. So I continued. In the end, I ended up with 72 miles on the bike. I decided I must be OK since I was able to do that.

However, my knee was a bit tweaked. But I was able to complete all my workouts without any pain including a long brick the following weekend. I felt like I was in pretty good shape for the race.

The night before the race, I could not sleep. I was tossing and turning, my mind racing all night. In the end I probably got about 2.5 to 3 hours of sleep. Not ideal at all.

On the day of the race, it was announced that the water temperature was 78.8 which meant the swim was wetsuit-optional. We could swim in a wetsuit if we wanted to but we would not be eligible for age group awards. I am not sure why I chose to wear my wetsuit. I knew wearing a wetsuit in a wetsuit-optional swim would mean I would be at the back of the line. That worked out well for me in Louisville. Until I crashed out anyways. Perhaps the lack of sleep clouded my judgment. I know I was extremely anxious and not feeling my best. I am much faster in my wetsuit for sure. But wearing the wetsuit in the warm water for the hour and 17 minutes it took me to complete the swim turned out to be a bad idea.

When I got on the bike, I downed all my fluids in the first 10 minutes of the ride. I felt pretty good for about 45 minutes. After that, I felt pretty bad. In fact, I would say I felt horrible. I questioned why in the world I was doing this. I entertained the idea of quitting. But only momentarily. I knew I could finish the race even in the worst conditions. Also, when I am feeling one of these inevitable low spots during a long day of racing, I always think of my brother John and how he was such a trooper. That always helps get me through the rough patches.

At mile 60 I stopped to use the porta pottie. It was quite evident by the color of my urine that I was very dehydrated. I was pumping the fluids in as much as possible but the warm swim put me in a deficit that was proving hard to overcome. Right after the bathroom break, I stopped in special needs and drank two Red Bulls. They were still cool since I had frozen them the night before. The short break along with the rush of sugar and caffeine boosted me up a bit. I started to feel better and rode the next section feeling pretty good.

However, once I hit the final turnaround, the reality of the strong headwind was in my face. A cold front had rolled through and I was fighting to maintain 14 mph on the bike. I stayed aero as much as possible but my body was tired and I could not stay down for long periods of time. Everyone around me was struggling. The toll road for IMTX is mostly flat, mostly smooth, with no traffic and lots of room. Those are the pros. The cons? No break from the heat or the wind. And absolutely no scenery. Just miles and miles of concrete. Kinda boring really.

The bike course beat me down and was a bit demoralizing. The wind was relentless and the course mentally challenging. I had hoped to finish the course in about 5 hours and 45 minutes. When I turned off of the toll road, I realized I would be over 6 hours. Definitely not a terrible performance especially considering the wind and how awful I felt. But slightly off my initial private goal. My official bike split was 6 hours and 10 minutes. Later when I looked at the data from my Garmin, I found that I had 6 hours of ride time for the 110 miles (the course was slightly short) and 10 minutes all together of time not moving. The 10 minutes was the accumulation of bathroom breaks and special needs. Normally in an Ironman I would just pee on myself on the bike course. But I was not in the mood and in the end I think the bathroom breaks helped me hit he reset button.

When I finished the bike, I was greeted by my cheering fans. It is always so great to hear Melissa's encouraging screams. And Melissa's sister and husband were there too so I had extra encouragement. I always get a lift when I see Melissa out on the course. It was quite refreshing.

Once I hit the run course, I felt relieved that I felt fairly decent. Running is my thing and I usually am most comfortable hammering out a run. I was doing well until about mile 10. That's when things started to turn for the worse. My knee started bothering me. I could tell it was from when I got hit by the car a few weeks ago. The pain gradually got worse until I had to start taking walk breaks every few minutes. Unfortunately this meant that my 4 hour marathon goal was slowly slipping away. As I slogged my way through the rest of the race, I noticed that I did not seem to be sweating any longer. Also, I had to stop to use the porta pottie about every mile or 2. I have never had to go so much in my life. I am not sure of the science behind it but I am guessing I did not take in enough salt after my dehydrating swim. 

In the end, I ended up running the marathon in about 4:25. This was much slower than I was hoping for but in the end, my overall time was not terrible. It was quite slower than IMTN in 2014. But considering the pain I was experiencing due to the incident with the car, I can't really complain too much. After all, there was a man who died during the swim portion. I feel so bad for his family and when I think about it, I am just happy that I am healthy and was able to have a respectable finishing time. My overall finish time was about 12:20. Not my best performance but I think I learned some things for next time regarding nutrition and pacing. 

I have to thank Melissa for her support. And thanks to her family for putting us up in Texas. We had a very comfortable and relaxing time leading up to the race. Thanks also to my coach David Luscan who prepared me for the race. Dave has elevated my fitness much higher and faster than I could ever accomplish on my own. His science based, no nonsense approach to endurance training fits in well with my personality. 

Thanks for reading!

Friday, March 24, 2017

You Should Get a Job

Well, its been almost a year since I have written anything in my blog. It seems there are a lot of similar kinds of blogs out there where people recount their races and publish long race reports. I occasionally read amateur and pro race reports myself. I hate to say it but most of the time, they are pretty boring. As a person whose writing is somewhere in between "high school essay" and "college essay" quality with a wish it was more like classic Douglas Adams, I realized that my race reports were also likely boring and that realization killed my motivation to sit down and record my thoughts. However, I mostly do this for myself so, with effort, I am going to inject some life back into my blog. 

Before I get to race reports though, I have something to share about a special person who we recently lost. 

Richard LeFrancois was one of my neighbors growing up in Vienna, VA. Mr. LeFrancois as we called him was a really great man and a good friend to our family. He and my dad worked together on many projects and my brother John was really fond of him. John hung on his every word and Mr. L, as we sometimes called him, would invoke deep laughter from John.

Mr. LeFrancois was a very generous person. He gave one of the most precious things anyone could give. His time. He donated his time to help others. He volunteered, he drove near and far to rescue stranded friends and family. He was a hard worker and truly an inspiring person. He was also so cool. Not James Dean cool mind you. His coolness came from his warmth. He never seemed stressed and somehow he projected that warmth and grounded personality onto those around him. 

I have many stories of how Mr. LeFrancois helped my family and want to share a few them now. When John and I were young, we used to travel with my dad to Southwest Virginia to visit my grandmother. I am not sure how old we were at the time but we were in elementary school so we were pretty young. We were traveling back from Southwest VA in one of my dad's little compact Fiats. The car was one of those little economy cars that got great gas mileage but did not have many creature comforts. On this trip, the Fiat broke down near Harrisonburg, VA. Back then, we did not have cell phones or AAA but we had something better. We had Mr. LeFrancois as a friend. 

We holed up in the lobby of the Howard Johnson's Inn on Interstate 81, the hypotenuse of Virginia while my dad put in a call to Mr. L. Mr L dropped what he was doing and drove his red pickup truck the two hours to Harrisonburg to tow the car home. John and I sat in the cab of the truck while my dad sat in the Fiat. After all, the truck was not a tow truck. Mr. L had simply used some chains to tether the car to the back of the truck. My dad had to steer and brake as we made the trip home. It seemed like a very long trip as it was so late and we had to drive sort of slow. But we made it home late that night, all in one piece. It was at that time that I learned a phrase from Mr LeFrancois. He said, "you know what Fiat stands for right? Fix it again Tony." At my age, I didn't appreciate it but later in life, I learned the humor. More importantly, I can hear him saying that to me in my head. I will always have that memory to draw upon. Mr LeFrancois brought levity to situations of stress. At least that is the way I remember him. 

Fast forward several years. My brother Erik was on his way to Virginia Tech or on his way back when he broke down on the side of the Interstate. Erik called my Dad who in turn called Mr. LeFrancois. Again, Mr. L dropped what he was doing so he could help. Erik waited patiently for the rescue. Not sure what to expect, Erik was a little surprised when Mr LeFrancois drove up in a flat bed truck and my dad drove up in another car. The car was for Erik and his friends to continue their trip. Mr. L and my dad loaded the broken down car onto the flat bed and drove it back to Vienna. Again, Mr. L had saved the day.

Besides saving stranded motorists Mr L donated a great deal of time to Vienna Youth Soccer. If you played soccer in the 70s and 80s in Vienna, you were likely playing on a field that was built and maintained by Mr. LeFrancois. He and my dad would lay out the fields with walking wheels, rope, and good old engineering skills. Dick would cut the fields, deliver goal posts, nets, and chalk. He was very active in all of the behind the scenes work required to keep youth sports going. At my Dad's internment at Arlington National Cemetery, I was walking next to Mr. L when someone asked how he knew my Dad. He replied with pride that he and my dad were activists in youth sports. That word really struck me as a very accurate way to describe him. He was an activist in the true sense of the word. He really knew how to get things done. 

Mr. L also had a big impact on my brother John. It may have seemed like a very small thing but with two statements, Dick would set in motion something quite profound. My brother John was born with Spina Bifida. For those of you who have managed to make your way through my blog, you know a lot about his challenges. One day John told my dad that he really would like to ride a bike. John rode a Hotwheel and a trike when he was a child. My dad must have mentioned this in passing to Mr. LeFrancois. Dick said, "There is no reason he can't ride a bike. There are tricycles for adults that he could ride." And with that, my dad pursued an adult tricycle for John. 

The reason this important and profound has to do with the perfect machine that is the bicycle. The bicycle allowed my brother to explore the neighborhood on his own power. He could go much farther than he could walking with his crutches. He got to see more neighbors and socialize with people. The bicycle gave John greater independence and really helped him grow. It was a simple thing but it was really a gift that Mr. LeFrancois gave to John. A simple idea with big ramifications. 

Mr. LeFrancois had a big impact on my life as well. He was similar to my dad. They both liked to work hard and both were role models for me. Mr. LeFrancois taught me how to drive a big tractor. I helped him cut grass as Andrews Chapel. I helped he and my dad deliver chalk to the soccer fields in middle of the night. Working with him and my dad made me feel good. I felt very useful and more grown up. 

Also, I have to share another story of how one simple sentence or two helped shape my life. After high school, I deferred my enrollment to Roanoke College. I was not ready to go to college and had some emotional growth that was needed before taking on the stresses of college. That summer after graduation, I was cutting grass with Mr. LeFrancois. We were on a break and he simply said, "So what do you have planned for the summer?" I told him I was not sure. He said, "You should get a job." I simply nodded my head. I had summer jobs all through high school but had nothing lined up for this summer. I told him I was not sure where I could find something. Well, don't you know it, he knew someone who might have a job opening. 

With a phone call, he got me a job interview at Woodies Department Store. It was a loading dock job. I worked there for a year, toting boxes and clothes, packing and unpacking trucks, meeting all kinds of people, and working 8 hours a day. I really grew emotionally during that time. I learned what it meant to work hard every day. When I got to college in the Fall of 1987, I discovered I was more mature than my fellow Freshmen. I avoided all the pitfalls that can distract a young person's mind from the reasons why one goes to college. The year of working hard at a manual labor type of job taught me to be consistent and persistent. I went on to graduate with honors. Mr. LeFrancois had helped me in a simple but profound way. Like he did with my brother, it started with a simple statement. "You should get a job." The way he said it was so matter of fact yet he said it as if he was a peer rather than as an authority figure.  I am grateful to him for pushing me in that direction. 

Finally, fast forward to 2013-14. My dear old dad and Mr. L used to go to breakfast once a week when Dick was in town. Dick would come over, pick up my dad and take them to a local breakfast place. In those later years, my Dad was suffering from dementia. After a while, my Dad found it impossible to find the words to speak. He mostly knew what was going on but could not express himself. He gradually deteriorated. But Mr. L kept coming to pick him up and take him to breakfast. One day, my Mom said to Dick, "How can you stand sitting there with him? He doesn't ever say anything." Again, it was one sentence or two that was profound. Mr L simply replied to my mom, "I don't mind. He's my friend." 

What a beautiful thing to say from a truly caring and giving man. We will all miss Mr. LeFrancois. He touched so many lives in his large extended family and all across the country. 

If there is a soccer field in heaven, I know you are gearing up for the mowing season. You were a truly loving person. May you rest in peace. 

For more about Mr L. see below.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

My First Ever DNS

In all my racing experience, I have had one DNF (did not finish). It was the Shenandoah Mountain 100 in 2010. At the end of 2009, I had surgery on both knees and had given up soccer. I decided I needed to do something else so I started riding my mountain bike a lot more. Back then, I did not really know what I was doing and my attempt on the SM100 resulted in my first DNF. If you are so inclined and want to read my account of the race, you can do so here:
Fast forward to the 2016 race season and my first DNS (did not start). I was registered for the White Lake Half triathlon (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) on April 23rd, 2016 and the White Lake Sprint on April 24th, 2016. I had a stellar winter of training leading up to the race and was looking forward to my first tri of the season.

Unfortunately, about a 8 days before the race, I fell ill. I had not been sick in many years and I usually don't get sick. Boy did I get sick. I had a high fever, body aches, terrible congestion, a deep cough, no appetite, and no energy. Each day I got worse and worse. It was awful. I could not do anything. No swimming, biking, or running for sure. I couldn't hardly sleep either because my cough was so bad. I ended up seeing three different doctors including a trip the ER at VCU Health Systems where I had a thorough examination including x-rays and lots of blood work. In the end, the doctor told me I must have gotten some sort of unspecified virus and there was nothing they could really do for me.

Since I didn't have the Zika virus and wasn't dying, Melissa decided to go ahead and head down to White Lake, NC and race her triathlon. I stayed home and continued trying to heal up. I turned the corner that Thursday in the emergency room actually. Melissa had brought me some hot soup from one of my favorite places for lunch, Citizen. It really hit the spot and I started feeling a little better.

By Sunday, my appetite came back so I went to Anohka and got some carry out Indian food. I ate it all in one sitting which I usually don't do. I was able to return to work on Monday but I was still hoarse and still not ready to exercise. When all was said and done, I had a 20 day break from workouts. When I did start back in, breathing was hard and swimming hurt my chest. I think I blew out a rib or cartilage or pulled a muscle or something during one of my coughing fits. I know what broken ribs feel like and the pain I was feeling was pretty intense when I coughed or sneezed. To this day it is still bothering me a little. Hopefully it will continue to heal up and I will be ready to race at the beginning of June when I will race the Naylors Beach Olympic Triathlon on the 5th.

Sometimes things don't go as planned. I certainly did not think I would miss my first two triathlons of the year due to illness. But in the great scheme of things, it is really no big deal. I am healthy again and am into my second solid week of training since having the unplanned break. My cough is almost completely gone although I am still a little hoarse at times. Especially when trying to hit the high notes when I sing along to the radio.

I have to thank Melissa for taking care of me while I was sick. Also thanks to Greg at Citizen for making such great, fresh food. And thanks to David Luscan for working with me on a day-to-day basis as I recovered. It is nice to have the extra attention and working closely with Dave, we were able to make smart choices in my training plan. It seems odd to say it in the first week of May but I am looking forward to my first triathlon of the year. I have no expectations at this point but as the race approaches, I will work with Dave to come up with a reasonable race plan.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Monument Avenue 10K - Race Report

Spring has sprung and race season is in full swing. My first race of the season was the highly popular Monument Avenue 10K, a Sports Backers event whose participants include newbies to the elite and everything in between. The race is quite the spectacle with bands all along the course, costumed runners, cheer team competition, and lots of spectators shouting, some from root tops, shouting silly names. And along with the first race of the season comes the first race report of the season which I will try to keep brief.

This race would be the first big test of my fitness. And while I swim 4 times a week, bike 3 times a week, and run 4 or 5 times a week for triathlon training which is my primary focus, I was prepared to PR at this road race. I had put in a lot of quality workouts on the track building speed and fitness. My coach had done an excellent job preparing me and on race day I knew I could easily achieve a personal record (PR). 

Rather than being content with beating my previous personal record, my coach thought I should shoot for 40 minutes. I had run a 19:12 5K on the track which is a controlled environment where pacing is pretty easy. And I had run a 20 minute road 5k at the hilly Gobble Wobble 5K. But running a 40 minute 10K would mean maintaining 6:26 minute miles for 40 minutes which would be a challenge and would likely put me in the pain cave. I thought I could do it based on a 2 mile time trial I had done a few weeks before the 10K but my pacing would have to be spot on. 

On race day, I ran the 2.3 miles from my house to the start. It was a good warm up although in hindsight, I think I could have got my engine a little more revved up to match what I typically do on the track on Saturday mornings. It is always hard for me to get totally warmed up at these races. I get a little nervous and there is some slight performance anxiety that occasionally holds me back a bit. But running down to the start was pretty nice. Thankfully, Melissa would be driving down and I gave her my back to check at the bag check with dry clothes and my phone, keys, etc. It was quite nice of her to allow me this luxury. Thank you Melissa. 

My biggest goal besides running as fast as possible for 6.2 miles was to not go out too fast in the first mile. It was going to be hard and require concentration and discipline. But if I could reign things in on that first mile, I thought I would have a good chance of meeting my time goal. 

When the race started, I took off relaxed as possible and let some of the speed demons pull away from me. I did my first Monument Ave 10K 10 years ago. I have run it about 7 or 8 times since then. After all those races, this was the first time I actually did not go out too fast. I managed to run the first mile in about 6:36. I was off the pace but I did not cook myself in the first 200 meters like I usually do. I was happy with that. 

As the race progressed, I knew I would easily beat my previous best of 42:18. But I was not sure about the 40 minute goal. As I continued to run, I ticked off the miles relatively easily. I was slightly off the pace but I felt relaxed and in control. It was a really good feeling. I was enjoying my pace and while there were a few times when I tried to pick it up, I never got the motivation to drive myself into the pain cave. In hindsight, I should have tried to run with one of my teammates who I saw later at the finish. I think we would have both run a great deal faster if we had run together like we had done on the track during training. But I never saw him and did not think about it until after the race. 

In some ways the race was uneventful. I ran a 40:37 which is a 6:33 per mile pace. Don't get me wrong,  I was very happy with this new PR and not upset about not meeting the 40 minute goal. But after the race, I was not wrecked like usual. I had stayed comfortable but it was my new comfortable. For whatever reason, I did not seem motivated to put myself in overdrive. I was not compelled. But I learned I can run a sub 41 minute 10k fairly easily with the right training. At 47 years old, I am pretty happy with that. And I am so happy with my coaching. David Luscan has the right formula for me and I continue to improve and maybe more importantly, I continue to learn about my body, how to tune in to it, and I continue to learn about the sport of road racing and triathlon. It brings be great joy to be able work so effortlessly with someone to achieve my fitness goals and I feel like Dave understands my drive and understands how training and racing has become a passion for me. And as a bonus, he really knows what he is doing. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Embracing Grief

As we approach the anniversary of that terrible day in the hospital last year, I wanted to talk about grief, happiness, and the ups and downs of loss. Many of you have lost loved ones and know that the grief really never goes away. It will always linger, sometimes prominently, sometimes in the background. And although grief is present in my life, it does not mean that I can't be happy sometimes. I smile. I joke. I enjoy myself, my family, and my friends. I make people laugh and they make me laugh. I do things that I like to do and try to engineer my life in such a way that I set myself up for success in both work and play. I also feel sad, sometimes overwhelmingly so. But I like to try to put on a happy face. That's the way I was raised. My parents both always smiled, nodded politely to strangers, and gave off a positive vibe whenever possible. 

However, it was not always easy and there were times of worry, pain, and sadness. By now, those of you who have followed my blog and seen my pictures on Facebook know that I like to be as positive as possible. I don't see why anyone wouldn't be. To me, social media is not the place for constant doom and gloom. But sometimes the happy pictures mask some of the darker times. The picture above is one of the few that I have showing discomfort and pain in both John and my Mom. You can imagine John's discomfort while stuck in his body cast after major invasive surgery. One of many surgeries. 

Discomfort, pain, and unhappiness are part of life. We can accept it, let it wash over us, and know that happiness will return or we can dwell on it and let it erode us. It can be a roller coaster. Smiles one minute, uncontrollable tears the next. But I think the key is knowing that it is OK to be sad and to embrace it fully and talk about it, don't hide it. 

That's what I want to do today. Talk about it. Lately, I have felt especially sad as I miss my brother John. I can't help thinking about those last days in the hospital. In hindsight, I feel like I could have done more. I could have demanded better care from the doctors. I could have known more about my brother's birth defect and how it affects adults. I feel like I could have done so much more to fight for John. Could we have prevented his death? Maybe. I truly think he would have had a much better chance with better care and if I had been more assertive. 

Whether that is true or not we will never know but that is how I feel about it. I accept that John is gone although sometimes it is hard to believe. But I will always remember that night in the hospital and the morning after. And I will always wish I had acted differently. And that is OK. I don't think it is unhealthy to think that way. In time, the sadness will not be as deep, the regret not as strong. I know that. In the meantime, I will cry, I will fear the night. I will grieve and I will remember John's pleas to go home, his requests for water, his fear, his struggle to breathe. I will remember him crashing and spewing dark liquid and the shock in his eyes. John knew things were bad, real bad. He knew more than anyone in the hospital I think. 

I miss you John.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Good Friday - 2015: John is Admitted to the Hospital

It was one year ago today when my mother received a call from John at work. He was not feeling well. He had a terrible headache and blurred vision. In fact, later he would report that he could not see at all briefly. My mom drove to NFCU and picked him up and they went to see his doctor. John's doctor was out but another doctor saw him. John's blood pressure and pulse were extremely elevated, enough so that the doctor called the ambulance to take John immediately to the hospital.

When the ambulance came, the EMTs asked John and my mom which hospital he wanted to go to. When they said Fairfax, the ambulance drive said, "Are you sure?" In hindsight, we now know why the ambulance driver questioned us. Apparently Fairfax hospital is home to horror stories about poor care and substandard treatment. It used to be considered a great hospital and there are still certain wings of the hospital that are well known for their care. However, John's condition did not fall into the category that would provide him with award winning care. In fact, it was just the opposite.

John was admitted to the hospital and my mother called to tell me.  I decided to knock out my bike workout and then drive up to see John in the hospital. I was concerned about his health but based on past experience, I thought he would bounce back as usual. In fact, less than a year earlier, John had been sick and was admitted to the hospital. He was throwing up and had some other symptoms. The doctors ran a multitude of tests but never did figure out why he was so sick. John eventually just got better. But one of the tests revealed that John had a tumor on his kidney. One of the doctors commented that it was good he got sick because it allowed the doctors to make this discovery. Shortly after John had recovered from his sickness, he had a follow up with a specialist and in the summer of 2014, he had surgery to remove the tumor from his kidney. A few weeks after renal cancer surgery, John was back at work. He always seemed to recover well and go on being John. He just had one more story to add to his list of health care encounters. Now he was a cancer survivor.

After driving up to NOVA in the I95 traffic, I arrived at the hospital and got the full page of directions from the lobby information desk on how to get to the hospital room. John was on the seventh floor of tower 1 in the neuroscience intensive care unit.  The directions included several stair cases as well as multiple elevators and corridors. I finally made it up to John's room. John was very happy to see me although he was in a great deal of pain. His headache was relentless. He was constantly asking us to move the pillow around to try to relieve the pain in his head. The best words that describe how John felt are "absolutely miserable." John has put up with lots of painful surgeries throughout his life as well as broken bones from falling. But this was probably the worst he had felt as an adult in a long time.

I stayed with John and some of my other family members for a while. We visited and tried to make John as comfortable as possible. The nursing staff came in and out occasionally to take John's vitals and to tend to him. At this point, John did not really have a diagnosis. The hospital staff said that he "might" have meningitis. But no one was really sure. I took a dinner break and then after a while, I went back to my Mom's house to go to bed. My plan was to knock out my run the next morning and then go back to the hospital. I had trouble sleeping. I was a bundle of nerves. But the next morning, I got up and ran 19 miles before refueling and going back to the hospital. John was the same. Still miserable. Still no definitive diagnosis from the doctors. I stayed through the afternoon while my mom went home to take a nap.

After spending the rest of the evening at the hospital, I again went back to my mom's house and went to bed. I again did not sleep well. But in the morning, I did my bike ride. I did 5 hours on the bike trail before returning to the hospital. In hindsight, if I had known that we would be losing my brother, I would not have bothered with my workouts. But I thought John would be OK. He always got better. That was just what he did.

After spending the afternoon and early evening at the hospital with no changes in John's condition or diagnosis, I went back to home to RVA so I could return to work the next day. It was a tiring weekend but I knew that in a day or two, John would improve and start getting back to his normal self. That's what I thought of course. As we all know, I was very wrong.