August 11, 2013
In the 24 years since I have graduated high school, I have lost one classmate to electrocution (Tim C.) and one to cancer (Carrie Y.). Additionally, two more of my classmates have had and survived cancer. I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, as time passes, people suffer freak accidents, die of cancer, etc., and this will only increase as time goes on.
It seems more significant to me because of the close connection I had with many of my classmates in our years of school together. The size of my hometown, Piedmont, is only about 10,000, so there were 5 schools – 3 elementary, 1 middle and 1 high school. A majority of my graduating class went through school with me from 6th grade through 12th grade. Another third of them I have known 10-12 years, because we all attended the same elementary school. Additionally, some who I only went through 7 years with, I knew through a youth church group or children’s choir.
There were only 163 of us to begin with, so losing someone is a major blow, even when, as adults, we do not see each other as much as we did as kids.
Earlier this year in March, at the Piedmont Choirs Gala (a fundraiser for the choir my mom founded in 1982 that my entire family attends), I learned that one of my classmates who had previously beaten cancer, Brian Kelly, had cancer once again. He had had a persistent headache and a cold that would not go away (I think you would have to be a hypochondriac to go to the doctor with that condition!) and it turned out to be a brain tumor and lung cancer!
I was super-concerned because usually with people who have cancer, it gets worse the second (or third) time around. Brian was cautiously optimistic, having been through treatment before. Of course, there were some issues with how to treat the lung cancer while also dealing with the brain tumor. The chemotherapy (as always) was extremely debilitating, but Brian at least had Facebook as a virtual visit from all of his friends.
On August 1st, Brian’s wife posted on CaringBridge that Brian had been accepted into a study where he would receive a new medication that had had good results with certain kinds of patients (read: it might work really well… or not). He received his first dose and would find out within a few weeks if there was any progress.
However, only a few days later, she posted that the treatment had not had a chance to work and that his doctors had decided that the best course was for him to enter hospice (so many ups and downs within a few days!), and that he might only have weeks of life left.
A dozen years ago when classmate Tim Cutler was electrocuted the day before his wedding, I scanned his senior picture and pinned it to my back in a race, so I could run in his memory.
Now, this week, I thought, I shouldn’t wait until Brian is dead to run for him. Even though I didn’t know the extent of his decline (obviously, going to hospice is pretty dire), I felt that maybe from his home bed, if he read about that I was running for him, he might fight that little bit more. I thought a lot about the wording and thought my run would be an allegory for his struggle (ups and downs, slowing down at the end, but NEVER stopping).
I created my pace sheet for the race, and on the back was a picture of Brian and his wife (in better days). I would be thinking about him during the race, and I would have him with me to inspire me.
I left to drive up to Oakland at 4:45am, and I figured I would post to Facebook just as soon as I arrived.
But when I got to my folks’ place at 9:00am, my mom relayed a message from Brian’s sister, that he had passed away an hour or so before. I had not yet posted my message and he would never get to see it.
Once I knew that the news was “official” (we found out before a lot of other people so I didn’t want to be the first person posting R.I.P.),I posted that I had planned to run in his HONOR, but would be running in his MEMORY. I would enjoy my sojourn with nature and just think about the good and bad times we had.
At the start, I ran into a few old friends that I see at all of these races, but for the most part, I told people that I was running for my friend and showed them the picture. I used a pen to write in the dates of birth and death (he was 2 weeks shy of his 43rd birthday) and tucked my laminated pace sheet between my water bottle and the hand-grip.
As per my usual, I managed my expectations for the day by walking all the hills and running when I could. The first section, which circumscribes Lake Chabot is mostly flat, and the rush of the crowd pulls you along at a faster pace than you want to go. I did 11 minute miles (FAST!). For pace comparison, if I averaged TWELVE minute miles, I would do 6:18 (my PR on this course from 10 years ago is 6:05).
However, I figured that if the morning fog lifted halfway along the course, I would need some banked time to make up for the time lost to heat-induced high heart rate. Cardiology had wanted me to come in this past Friday to get fitted for my Holter monitor, but I am glad that I did not have to deal with it in this ultra.
I stayed under a 12 minute per mile pace through 9.5 miles, but then got to the long hill up to Skyline Gate and the turnaround at 14.2 miles (longer on the way back). The fog continued and kept the temperature cool.
Despite walking much of the hill, I kept my pace under 15 minute per mile. I was kinda hoping to see Shauna Revelli (friend of my sister Marisa and now me), but she didn’t come to cheer me on.
Once I passed the “halfway” point, it was mostly downhill, though the clouds were parting and it started to get warmer, evidenced by the fact that I averaged 16 minutes mile going downhill!
The sun truly was out and hot on the hardest section of the trail, which is a mile-long ascent with limited shade, followed by a gentle downhill but on a hard rock surface. At this point, I was essentially by myself and had some more time to think about how Brian impacted my life.
I don’t remember precisely when I met Brian, whether it was in church or in Piedmont Choirs. Brian was a bit of a troublemaker, and we were never “besties,” but we toured together to Canada for the Kathaumixw music festival (where I won the Under 16 Solo Competition). On this section of trail, I was singing some of our favorite choir songs to myself.
Once I cleared the hilly section (surprisingly at a faster pace than the downhill section – must have been the singing), there is the second-longest section – 5.3 miles – that in my estimation, goes on and on and on and on. It is hard for me to tell how close I am getting to the aid station because everything looks the same.
On this next section, I reminisced about high school. Brian and I sang in A Capella (the choir class) which did a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta each year and 3 big concerts a year (including the Messiah sophomore year). Our senior year, we acted together in The Music Man, and were both part of the Barbershop Quartet. Mark McDonald was the bass, Brian was the baritone, Phil Kim was the first tenor and I was the lead (because my voice still hadn’t changed). It was different because we had to blend with each other (not just blast out as the chorus) and we worked separately. Also, it was special for Brian because his dad sang in a barbershop quartet.
During this long section, I sang through the various Music Man songs we did – Rock Island (the train song – “Cash for the Merchandise, Cash for the Hogshead… Whaddya talk Whaddya talk Whaddaya talk!”), Lida Rose, and How Can There Be Any Sin in Sincere?
That last song was especially poignant because of the words: How can there be any sin in sincere? Where is the good in goodbye? I got a little emotional on this section because the words rang true. This was my goodbye to Brian. I would never see him again and never sing with him again.
When I got to the aid station, my time was already slower than my time from 2012, but I didn’t really care. I just wanted to get to the end, battle to the finish, and do it for Brian.
It was super hot at this point and most of the last 3 miles are exposed to the sun. The beginning of the section is a steep downhill on dirt. When I got to the bottom, a familiar runner came blasting by me – Kat – and took a tumble. I stopped and helped her up. She thanked me and continued on.
I was reduced to a walk at this point. Each time I tried to take a running step, the heat and my heart rate forced me to walk again. After the suspension bridge about 1.5 miles from the end, I got onto the paved and was able to shuffle to the end.
Although I was 50 minutes slower than last year, in a way, this year was equally as satisfying, though sadder.
I needed to get on the road to drive back to Long Beach by 6pm, so I could continue my Boeing 5K streak the next day, but I returned to my folks for an early dinner, to post my finishing time of 7:32:53, and to snap a photo commemorating my memorial run. Rest in Peace, Brian.
Post Skyline 50K with Brian in my hand.