My name is Christopher Merken. I'm seventeen years old and started running in November of 2012. I weighed 230 pounds and was pretty unhappy with my life. I was sluggish and slow, really out of it. One day I just decided to go running. I had no running experience, I had no running clothes, I had no running shoes. But I wanted to change my life. I decided to run a 5k in April of 2013. I thought that would be plenty of time to train for a run 3.1 miles.
I got bored though. It was the middle of January and snowing and cold but I wanted to race. I found a race in the middle of Pennsylvania scheduled for January 26th. Nervous, I signed up. The day of the race it was four degrees at race time. It had snowed the night before and there was snow and ice all over the course. But the forty runners who made it out were enthusiastic and encouraging. I finished the race and actually placed in my age group.
Since then I've run twenty races this year. I entered the lottery for the Philadelphia Broad Street Run and was accepted as one of the nearly 40,000 runners. It was a ten mile race, and when I finished it I knew I wanted to do my first half marathon. In June I ran the ODDyssey half marathon in Philadelphia. This fall I'll be running the BAA half marathon and the Philadelphia half marathon. I hope to run the Marine Corps Marathon in 2014.
Running has provided me with the discipline and goals I've lacked in my life. I've lost fifty pounds and six inches on my waist since November of 2012. I've become happier in life, and I will continue my running with new goals and new challenges in college at the University of Delaware this fall.
A while back I was having heart palpation and other tightness in my chest. After a week long heart study, I was told that I needed to be active again. When I was in high school I ran cross country and distance events in track and I loved to run, but in my senior year I hurt both my knees running in the state meet of cross country. I tried to run in college, but it never worked out. So when the doctor told me I needed to be active, my desire was to run but the injury from high school was in the back of my mind. In the middle of trying to get active again, I started to get migraine headaches; They determined that they were caused by a hole in my heart, and if I wasn't careful I could have a blood clot, it could pass through the hole in the heart I could have a stroke. The cardiologist said that I had to do more than just be active, I had to really up my cardo and loose some weight. So I thought I would try running again and see how the knees would hold out. At 43, overweight, heart palpations, hole in my heart, and bad knees: I started a Couch to 5k and the first time running the knees felt great, as the millage increased, the knees felt awesome and I fell in love with running again. Still the migraines persisted and all the doctors said I needed to repair the hole in my heart. I was scared of getting blood clots and knew the more cardo I did the blood clots would decrease, so I upped my weekly millage and started to train for the Detroit marathon. Still the migraines persisted to the point that surgery was not an option. so I had the surgery. 3 weeks later I was on the road again. I did the Detroit marathon last year, only 4 months after they closed the hold in my heart. I finished in 4:13:13. I was so excited. The day after I was determined to try to qualify for Boston 2013, and run Boston in 2014. My first marathon of 2013 and shot at qualifying was April 12 of this year. On January 3, while on a 13 mile training run, I slipped on some ice and really hurt my knee. After a 2 week break, I went to see the orthopedic doctor and sent me for physical therapy. 6 weeks later the pain was as bad as when I started so they sent me for an MRI and found that I had a ruptured ACL. They said that my legs were so fit from running so much that the other muscles were protecting the knee and was not presenting as a typical ACL injury. I had my ACL repaired on April 15, as I was recovering in the hospital I saw what happened at this year's Boston Marathon and was resolved to run it in 2015.
After 3 months of recovery of nothing more than stationary bike, and not running since my injury on January 3, I was cleared to run again just last week (June 26). When at physical therapy on the day I was cleared to run again, I was on the treadmill at a very slow jog when the trainer told me to stop, I said, "can I just finish this mile" and she replied "you are like addicted to running, you are a run junkee arn't you?" we both laughed when I told her about this page. Pages like Runjunkees, have been very instrumental in getting me back on the road again.
I was staring down at my running shoes when they turned blurry; the tears I had been fighting back falling quickly and quietly. My legs were shaking and my heart began to pound wildly as I stared at the treadmill. I can’t do it. I don’t want to do it. What am I even doing here? Why did I think this would be a good idea? I glanced at my husband and saw a familiar subdued panic in his eyes – a reflection of my own. Every unreasonable bone in my body screamed at me to go, get out of here, get my son, get in the car, and drive as far south as I could get. I could feel the fear rising in my chest and I suddenly felt like I was about to be sick right then and there. It was now or never. I said a prayer and hit the big green start button.
It is June 20, 2012 just another Wednesday for most people. But I am not most people. I am 3 hours away from home, on a treadmill in a tiny windowless room on the 10th floor of a children’s hospital. There is no amount of training, nothing I could have ever done that would have prepared me for this day. My 15 month old son is with a team of surgeons a few floors below me. He is undergoing a 7 to 8 hour cranial vault reconstruction, which means a team of highly skilled surgeons are cutting open my baby’s head from ear to ear, removing his entire skull, breaking the bones apart, reshaping them, and putting it all back together correctly with plates and screws in order to give his brain enough room to grow.
Unbeknownst to us, our son Emmett was born with a birth defect of the skull called Craniosynostosis. The sutures in his skull were closed at birth, inhibiting his skull growth. For the first 12 months of his life, he was a happy, seemingly healthy baby boy. Just a few days after his first birthday, we found him unconscious and seizing wildly in his crib. This one day, this one event would alter the course of our lives forever. Not only would this lead us into a major, invasive surgery to fix his skull but routine pre-op testing would bring us completely unrelated, more bad news about his brain. As they laid diagnosis upon diagnosis on our baby boy – it was like an anchor around my neck growing heavier and heavier. We gathered a team of 16 specialists, we started forcing numerous medications down his throat each day, we went to multiple weekly therapies, and spent an insane amount of hours each week watching him undergo extensive testing and fading into the halls of the hospital.
The anchor was paralyzing at first, so heavy I could hardly bare it. In the midst of the worst turmoil I have ever known watching my little boy suffer so greatly, I did the only thing that still made sense, the only thing I could control. I went for a run. Having been a dedicated distance runner for about 8 years at that point, I knew the healing qualities in running. I ran and I cried. I ran and I prayed. I ran and I screamed. Sometimes the pain and anguish that came pouring out during a run scared me, but I kept running. I ran until my legs ached and my lungs burned. I ran until I could feel the anger, shock, fear, and helplessness slowly leaving my body. I continued to run in an exhaustive zombie-like state in between hospital stays and testing. Each time I returned from my run, that anchor felt just a little bit lighter. It was during one of our 3 hour back and forth drives to the hospital that an idea formed. I am not a woman of inaction; I can’t just sit in a waiting room like a normal person. I knew exactly what I had to do. I had to run. I decided to run for the entirety of my son’s surgery; the greatest show of solidarity I could muster, the only thing that still made sense. If he must endure this surgery, I can endure my own special brand of pain in his honor and so I started training for the longest run of my life. I was no stranger to the marathon, but this would be far above and beyond what I had ever done. Emmett’s (virtual) Endurance Event was officially born. I made a Facebook event, a race bib with his picture, and encouraged family and friends to do something active on that day with me. It was a show of support for Emmett, even though he was too young to understand it, letting him know he wasn’t alone in this and raising awareness for Craniosynostosis in the process.
Back in the tiny windowless room, the monotony of my footsteps begins to threaten my sanity. It’s no longer soothing. It’s a quiet room with only my pit crew - my running expert husband and marathon running pastor. My footsteps echo loudly in my ears, to the point where I consider plugging my ears to drown out the noise. In my head, I am a thousand miles away: far away from this treadmill, this hospital, and this new life. In my head, I ran away from all of this. But in reality, I am here. Running and waiting in this agonizing state of the unknown.
To pass the time, my husband reads to me and shows me pictures from Facebook. Somewhere in the middle of our crisis, the most amazing thing happened. The running community and strangers from all over the world united with us for Emmett’s Endurance Event. I saw endless pictures of people running, biking, walking, golfing, jumping on the trampoline, gardening, swimming, Zumba, Crossfit, lifting weights, band practices, meetings, and more. All of these people dedicated their workouts/daily activities to Emmett, holding up a picture of him. Hundreds of messages, prayers, and emails flooded in completely overwhelming us. We were rendered speechless by the response. I wasn’t alone in this tiny windowless room at all, over a thousand people were right there with me.
Hour 6 was the hour that almost broke me. I was physically more exhausted than I can ever remember being, I was running on empty and desperate to stop. Everything hurt - my legs, my feet, my head, and my heart. I was scared. I was tired. I wanted to see my son. I was choking back tears. But I don’t give up; it’s just not who I am, stubborn as an ox if you ask my husband. Failure was never an option for me. My son has no choice in his surgery and if he can’t stop, then I can’t stop either. There comes a point in every race when your heart must carry you because your legs can’t do it anymore. It’s sheer will power. It’s what you tell yourself you have to do, what you tell yourself you MUST do and right now my legs were taking orders from my heart.
Hour 6 is something that will forever live on in my mind. I will never be fast enough to be considered an elite athlete. In reality, I am far from elite. I am slightly overweight and although I run a heavy load of miles each week, I am still a comfortably middle of the pack runner. I am quite average and I have no qualms about that. All these facts aside, hour 6 made me feel like an elite athlete at the top of their game. I was all heart, all soul, all passion, gritting my teeth and bearing what I thought was once unbearable. Never in my life had I felt so very weak, but yet so full of power. I certainly didn’t look powerful but I was doing it. The simple fact that I was still moving was about as powerful a statement as I could make.
We did not ring in hour 7 with a picture and Facebook update as we had every single hour before. If you ask my husband Tony, he will swear my eyes were glowing red and I growled at him when he brought the camera over, but I’m pretty sure I just said “no picture.” One of my closest friends (and fellow runner/training partner) made a podcast for me to listen to and gave me explicit directions to listen to it when I was at my wit’s end. This was it. Hour 7 - there were no wits left. I cried and laughed in a barely comprehendible fashion. No doubt at this point, my pit crew was sure I had lost my mind. I listened to it over and over until the call finally came. My son was out of surgery. 7 hours and 26 minutes after I first stepped on to that treadmill, a different woman stepped off of it. One that knew there were no such things as boundaries and limits. I had run exactly 36.2 miles with an average 12:19min/mile pace. It wasn’t about the pace at all, but secretly I was hoping to keep it in the 11’s. I told myself that is next year’s goal.
Even though I was exhausted and my legs were like jell-o, after a quick shower, I was rapidly walking down that hallway. I wanted to kick open those double doors, push everyone aside, and run as fast as I could to that recovery room. Just as I willed myself to keep running at the end, I now had to will myself to calm down and not start running. Emmett recovered from surgery well and went home within a week. He had 2 different shorter, surgeries since then as well but I did not run for those. He continues to face challenges with his health but is resilient and strong.
Ask me to talk about Emmett’s Endurance Event and I will start crying, every single time. People think they can’t make a difference in this world and that they are only one. But to people like us going through that, every single one of these people made a difference just by taking a picture, sending an email, and sharing in the difficult time in our lives. When all was said and done, over 1,000 people in 45 states and 13 countries took part in Emmett's Endurance Event. These people, even though we may not know all of their names, made a difference in our lives forever. They are a part of our family now.
On June 20, 2013 exactly one year after Emmett’s surgery – I took to my treadmill once again in an effort to continue raising awareness for Craniosynostosis. I collected names and dedicated each portion of my run to others to give back some of the support and encouragement we had been given. When I hit 7 hours and 26 minutes this year, I was just over 38 miles and so I pushed on dedicating my final two miles to my son Emmett. 7 hours and 52 minutes later, I had covered 40 miles with an average 11:48 min/mile pace. It wasn’t about the pace at all, but secretly, I was quite pleased. Next year though, I want those 40 miles in the 7 hour and 26 minute mark….
My name is Jim. I'm 36 year old father of 4 (2 daughters and twin boys (1 is an angel). I've been running for the past 4 years now. I was a police officer for 7 years when I was struck by a car on a traffic stop. I tore my ACL, MCL, PCL, LCL, meniscus and my hamstring was torn away from the bone. Two surgeries later and the doctors decided I wouldn't be able to return to work as an officer and they weren't sure if I'd even be able to run again. After 1 year of PT my last day the therapists decided to let me get onto a treadmill and try to jog. I jogged for 1 minute, albeit with a great deal of pain. Before my accident I hated running, but the prospect of losing that ability pushed me to w whole new level of respect for it. I love running now.
Two years ago my sons Grady and Cullen were born, however, we lost Cullen after he battled to be with us for 5 hours. We almost lost Grady too. They had TTTS (Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome) and the doctors were not aware of this. I have again turned to running as a form of therapy. I have Cullen's footprint tattooed on my left ankle so that he can be with me physically as well as mentally during my runs. I don't know where I would be today if it wasn't for running. I am 100 lbs less in weight and it has become a spiritual thing for me. Running has enabled me to overcome many obstacles. I love the Run Junkees group as you are all so supportive in my efforts and I can turn to you for advice. Thank you for being here for me and allowing me to partake in your knowledge sharing.
I am working on a 10 mile race now then a half soon afterwards. I even got my 8 year old daughter into running 5k's with me. I would definitely say running is my drug of choice. I've become addicted.
Journey of a Year… July 10, 2013
A little over a year ago my mom was diagnosed with colon cancer and my dad, almost exactly a month later was hospitalized for a very large abdominal aorta aneurism. They were both treated and have now recovered from their battles but this scared the hell out of me and was my wake up call. I was 45 years old at the time and had been a smoker for most of my life, that combined with high cholesterol and my weight put me in the high risk category for a heart attack by the VA. I decided after my parent’s encounters that I couldn't keep going the direction I have been going and decided changes were in order.
I quit smoking cold turkey exactly one year ago today. I knew I was gonna have to do something to help fend off the urge to smoke so I chose running as my crutch and medication. I started running on September 8, 2012. As of today I have not picked up a smoke, fully changed my diet, lost around 20 pounds, have run two 5k’s, two 10k's, a Marathon and have logged over 760 miles over the last 12 months. I have also signed up for four more 5k's, an 8 mile trail race and a Half Marathon to close out 2013. I hope to break through my goal of 1,000 miles for the year of 2013 and am currently just over 600 miles into this goal. I also plan on running a 50k Ultra Marathon in the spring of 2014.
As an added note, I recently learned that a cousin of mine has been following my Journey very closely. Through complications with an infection, he had to have one of his legs amputated below the knee and is now being fit for prosthetics. He has told me of his desire to run again and how much I inspire him so I have promised to run a race with him when he is ready and able. It amazes me that he looks to me for inspiration when he is actually the one who inspires and motivates me now!
I have learned over the last year that it is never too late to make changes and that your changes may not be just be for you but may also be the inspiration or motivation someone else needed to do the same.
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