The metaphorical road to the River Bank run was a long one; The literal road of the River Bank felt even longer. I signed up 11/2/16 at 5:33 AM, so I got the number 301. The first 300 must be reserved for elite runners because I do not know how anybody could have signed up before me. Todd Chassee, my original River Bank partner, wore number 302 (and broke the 1:50 this year). I was quietly hoping that if my race crashed and burned, he would just give me a head nod and run right by. No sympathy needed for this brain cancer patient.

I can’t say I ‘enjoyed’ the run. Far from it. It felt terrible, but a good terrible. There was no runners high at any point. I was running injury free for the last 3 months, mostly on a treadmill. I went through House of Cards season 4 with an average heart rate of 160 bpm. As the race approach, I eased up for about 10 days and felt ready for a good taper. The theory is that you stress your muscles and cardiovascular system repeatedly for a few months and let them rebound with higher performance. Taper too much, and you will slide from peak fitness. Taper too little, and you will just be tired at the race.

This training went way beyond what would be considered helpful for cardiovascular risk reduction. I was going slightly faster than previous years, but I may have already maxed out on my personal capabilities (my times were all within 20 seconds from 2013 – 2015 at 1:33). I do not really follow the published River Bank training guide since I believe the weekly miles are too much. I max out at 25 miles a week or so with interval training. I complement this with swimming at EGR Masters, Fzique spin, and light lifting.

Figure: Left, pre-race picture with Todd Chassee.  Middle, a taper run with Mia and Miley. Right, Uncle Pat found me at the start of the race.

After 10 days of putting the brakes on, I was ready. That was until I opened the fridge Friday morning and fell to my hands and knees with a back spasm. That’s what did it: opening the fridge. Once you near 40, apparently you need to be really careful opening a fridge.

After all this, almost derailed by normal middle aged low back pain. So I told as many people as I could on Friday that my back hurt, even a few patients.

“Your prior heart attack reminds me of my back pain this morning…”

I needed to set up a pre-race excuse. I mean, I was featured on Wood TV8 as a River Bank runner despite cancer therapy. There were soccer families that got their kids up for the 7AM 5K (Vances, Vanden Bergs). Janelle Coffey, an old friend from Grand Haven swimming, even got her running shoes on. Several colleagues and staff were present from the hospital. Relatives from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Friends and a mentor from Ann Arbor. I needed to be well enough to finish or have a convincing injury story.

I grabbed two ibuprofen and went to the pool Friday morning, my version of Yoga, but I could barely kick. Instead, I hopped out and hit the showers with burning hot water on my back. I also stopped at home to grab another 400 mg of ibuprofen prior to work.
“You don’t understand, this back pain is worse than delivering a baby,” I informed Staci later on Friday. Although I only got a “P” for Pass on ObGyn as an M3, I had seen way more baby deliveries than my wife and her mere 4. I am a doctor afterall. “And I can’t get an epidural.”

“Yes, dear,” she said, understanding my suffering once again eclipsed hers.

Allison, quoting my oldest sister Amy, just said “suck it up, Dad” after she heard me repeat my story to the Waves coaches on Friday night.

“Valium,” my PCP suggested, “It’s a good muscle relaxant.” Who gets calls from their PCPs on the Friday night with offers to write benzodiazepine scripts? I’ve never had a benzo (well, probably during surgery), so trying one right before a 25K may have been too much for this lightweight. They are not exactly performance enhancing, but more of a lubricant for procedures and life. And running fast includes running in a straight line from point to point. I’m not sure that could be accomplished on Valium.

“Decadron,” my local oncology consultant suggested. I have been fortunate not to need this steroid since November, so I have a leftovers in the medicine drawer for a rainy day (which also includes bottles of Zofran, Norco, Keppra, Trileptal, Namenda, and Temodar, but nothing to enhance performance). But then we remembered I was also taking immunotherapy, and this seemed like one too many drugs working on my immune system. Anyway, Decadron would have helped my first mile time, but I would have stopped at each station for several snacks, probably gaining 10 lb over the 25K.

So, another Motrin 800 mg on Friday at 2PM, 9PM, and 6AM with Tylenol and application of BenGay. I even filled out paperwork to see a chiropractor at the River Bank expo, but I had too many packets to pick up to wait around for a free massage and assessment (mainly counting on the free massage). There is just nothing you can do for acute back pain except analgesics and light activity (compared to the 50K David Chandler ran the same day, a 25K is ‘light activity’). After my personal cocktail of Motrin / Tylenol / BenGay, I felt okay Saturday morning at the start of the River Bank. I briefly considered the hole in my left frontal lobe, combined with Motrin’s effects on platelet inhibition and blood pressure, but my back felt okay. That was more important.

I tried to go out at my usual pace on that appropriately gray and cool day, trying to catch some taper magic. At mile 1, I thought I may still find a grove, but was breathing pretty hard. Miles 2 – 4 were just 5 – 10 seconds off my goal pace, but it did not feel right. I was holding on to a pace, but not comfortably, and nothing that would last for another hour. In previous years, I would need to restrain myself from pushing miles 2 – 4 too fast. Now, I was thinking this would be a nice place to stop. Despite dropping my pace for miles 10 – 15 for self preservation, I still managed to hold the last few miles under 7s. It was a good thing I did not stop until crossing the finish line, because I am not sure I could’ve started again. My leg and back muscles tensed up once not continuously in motion, and I limped past the finish. Done.

Until I stopped, the 25K did not feel like a big accomplishment. It certainly did not feel ‘epic’ running it. I was just acutely aware of every muscle for the last 7-8 miles, counting each mile off as I passed each marker. As I crossed through the finish, I had a bunch of family waiting and a few friends. This was a bit different from previous, since I would usually run through the finish and straight to my car and get to a swim meet or soccer game. This year, I went to my own after party.

After the finish, Todd reminded me early registration for next year starts in 6 months. We have had a tendency to form grand plans in the immediate afterglow of River Bank: New York Marathon, qualify for Boston, an Oregon race to the coast, etc, but that usually fades back to just running the River Bank. But, I’ll be at my computer in early November at 5:30 AM again. If I sign up, I’ll just have to do it. Too much Dutch influence around here to pay for a race and not show up. I wish I could also sign up for 2018, 2019 and beyond.


The imwithcraig after party and fundraiser

The after party started in the exit shoot on Ottawa Ave The 5K community walkers mostly beat me to the line, and so I met my family, the Deckers, Mike McNamara (not to be confused with the more senior Rick McNamara who ran the 10K).

“I got a runner’s high just watching you,” little McNamara said.

“I am glad somebody did,” with a fist bump through the fence.

There were also a few wearing Team Craig / imwithcraig gear that I did not recognize in the delirium post race, but happy to give out hugs. Funny thing, the people I did not know often gave me the strongest emotional reaction. I have bottled up my emotions for a few months, not really needing them, but sometimes they were let loose at random times.

I get a lot of credit for things nowadays, sometimes not even partially deserved. For example, I recently received from the Spectrum ER with “Consultant of the Second Quarter” even though I did not do a single ER Consult in the Second Quarter. The same can be said about the fundraiser.

Figure: left, my undeserved ER consultant award.  Right, my sisters doing things for which I get the credit.

“Should we make the after party a fundraiser?” one of my sisters asked months ago.

“Sure,” I said.

And there you have it.

The fundraiser required a lot of time, effort, and money, mostly behind the scenes.  I just needed to run enough on the treadmill in preparation.  We had a great event planner who was considerate enough to not deliver Lily Carrigan Sisk until Monday (Krissy).  Courtney Kerry supplied graphic design, social media support, and photography.  My sisters did a little bit of everything. Lifestyle Kitchen offered a location, others had to order (and pay for) food, buy and serve drinks.  Many people purchased T-shirts over the last 6 months, all which contributed. A few people even rounded up auction items by just walking into stores and asking (Mary Springer and Lucia Steinlage).  The team is in place if you need to plan an event.

Race day, I just limped from my car to Lifestyle Kitchen Studio to find an awesome set up by some of the best friends, relatives and babysitters (the Hansons!) around. If I had to pay everybody minimum wage and buy the items at cost, we would have lost money.

“Northwestern? We had a fundraiser, and we lost $2,000, so here’s your bill.”

We were able to raise over $7,000 for the Northwestern Brain Tumor Institute. There were multiple generous individuals and businesses in West Michigan that contributed. Here is a poster that is certainly incomplete, but captures a bulk of them.


Figure: our sponsors, surely to be updated when we remember somebody else…


Figure: upper left, Nurse Jane and me.  Upper right, Connor and me.  Middle left, med school friends.  Middle right and bottom, scenes from imwithcraig.

Figure: left, Nurses Dee, Jodi and me.  Upper right, Ann Arbor docs with Peter Hagan and Sara Saberi.  Bottom right: My high school girlfriend and me.

With that, I promise not to mention the River Bank for a while…