Saturday, October 24, 2015

My Story

Twenty-five years ago, I had a teacher who changed my life one day. Very simply, he introduced me to distance running in health class. He had no idea how one class period would impact every part of my being. You see, I became a runner that day.

Since then I have had many others who have had an impact on my running by motivating me to do something better, to test my limits, to attempt something extraordinary. These people have included coaches, teammates, friends, and complete strangers who have shaped my running with or without knowing it. I find inspiration in many things, but none more than others who are passionate about running.

Now it is my turn to give back. Like a dream come true, I am now teaching in that same school in the small community of Stewartville, MN. I grew up here and am proud to raise my family here. Like I said, it is my time to give back, to inspire others, and to share my love of running with anyone who will listen. One lesson that I try to teach my students includes my personal motto about running. Don’t set your limits…go out and find them.

As a teacher I hope to inspire my students to do the same. Two years ago, I came up with the idea for Mr. Parry’s Endurance Challenge. The challenge was, by design, intended to be simple; my students were to complete twenty-four hours of exercise over a ten week period. There were many in the community who also took part, some making big changes in their lives because of it. Some came to run with the local running club I started, the Stewie Striders. My end of the deal was that I would run for twenty-four continuous hours around town at conclusion of the challenge for my students and others to see. In 2009 I completed 96 miles and came back in 2010 with the goal of completing at least 100 miles.

These were my thoughts written several days later:

The 2010 Mr. Parry's Endurance Challenge was completed on April 30th with my 24 hour run around Stewartville. The challenge began 10 weeks earlier, encouraging the students and community of Stewartville to get out and be active. Participants were asked to log their exercise during that time in order to hold themselves accountable. 200 people signed up this year for the challenge! My end of the deal was a bit more difficult. From 8:30am on April 29th - 8:30am on April 30th I ran/walked a 4 mile loop around Stewartville, completing 100.68 miles. During last years run, I was only able to log 96 miles. I had 2 areas of focus about challenges for my students this year. What do you do when you try to accomplish something, but don't quite accomplish it? The other being, what do you do when things get tough...quit? Both lessons would be severely tested this year. There were 2 overall themes from this year that defined the run. The first was suffering. The second was leaning on your friends and letting them help you. In many ways, my run this year was much more difficult than last year. The 2 biggest obstacles were the weather and stomach issues. Without my friends and the support of others, including complete strangers, I would have never completed my part of the challenge this year. There was a 25-35 mph wind from the south for most of the 24 hours. That alone is bad enough, but after working against the headwind each lap, I then ran with it, making me realize how warm it really was. Temps got up to 80 or a little more during the day and it continued to be warm and muggy during the overnight hours. On top of that, several lines of thunderstorms threatened us beginning at 10pm, with a direct hit at 2am or so. With my feet completely soaked at that point, I could not avoid blistering. The entire front of both feet blistered, making forward movement difficult at best. The stomach issues began at mile 51, after several miles of heartburn and dizziness. I threw up the first time with an audience of about 40 students and others with me to help me along after school. No one said a one asked me if I was ok...everyone simply knew that I needed to get it over with. They understood before my run that there would be suffering and they were willing to let me deal with it as best as I could. During each of the subsequent laps I had bouts of an upset stomach, with the next big round of puking not happening until 12:30 am. This time the audience was much smaller, with a few adults and just 2 students present. The 2 young ladies still with me at the time eventually completed 12 miles, saying that they want to run 16 next year! They were amazing and looked strong the entire way! I am not really sure why I had stomach issues. I have never had problems with eating and running. In the week or so after my run, I realized that I may have been ill, as my family all dealt with fevers and vomiting for hours at a time. I realized within minutes of the start of the run that I was not feeling right. That's ok I kept telling will pass in a couple of hours. It didn't. 2 hours into the run, I was tired...really tired! That is not at all normal for me. So abnormal that I had to deal with it the only way I know how. I turn to myself and ignore everything around me, letting the time pass by. This worked for small chunks of time. But...I had promised to run by each of the schools in town and high-five the kids or run a few laps with them on their playgrounds. This really broke up my concentration and the time I felt that I needed alone with my thoughts. I really needed this time to myself to deal with the pain that I knew would come later in the evening. So by 5pm, I was spent and unable to take in any significant calories. By this time I was desperately waiting for my friend and former coach Mike Russell to show up. I knew that he would understand what I was going through. It was his plan to do all of the thinking and tell me what to do. He was going to get me to 100 miles. Sometime around 8pm, all of a sudden, he was just there at my side, asking how I was doing. Mike kept me moving much more quickly into the late evening hours than last year. Still, by midnight, I had enough. He still pushed. By 3am, I was ready to quit. He still pushed. He figured that we were going to be very close to getting in 100 miles. By 5am, I was unsure I could keep moving forward for another 4 mile loop, let alone 3 1/2 hours! He still pushed. At one point, we were behind pace by about 15 minutes. Still, he this point literally. A couple of teachers from my middle school took turns hooking me by the arm, pulling me along. Without the help of others, I would not have made it. I did feel better after having some toast a little before 6am, and the return of light helped a little. The unwillingness of others to let me quit is what kept me going. I know I looked horrible, but I knew I was physically ok. I just couldn't find the energy to deal with anyone or anything, from talking to climbing up or down from a curb. I am not sure when I realized that I would finish...probably not until the last 1 1/2 miles, at which point Gold Cross medics stopped me. I had to refuse treatment to continue on! I had to get in 100 miles! I promised! After walking most of the last 1 1/2 miles with an Olmsted Co Sheriff's car as an escort, I ran the last few hundred yards to finish in front of my school, with the entire student body out to cheer me on. What a thrill! 100 miles!!! Still, I was too tired to enjoy it. I needed to get home to bed. In case you are wondering, it took me 2 days before I was thinking about next year.

The question that was raised over and over was whether or not I should turn my runs into fundraising opportunities, but it never was about that. My intention was always to simply get my students out to run. On the other hand, I knew that events like this could be used to help out others. My solution was to have a running event that would benefit a cause that I have a personal connection to.

Here are my thoughts from that run:

On August 3, I ran on a treadmill in the lobby of the Rochester, MN Area Family Y for 17 hours to raise funds for the Strong Kids Campaign. My family was able to take part in Y programs when I was a child because of this scholarship program. We would never have been able to afford those opportunities without the generosity of others. This run was called Mr. Parry’s Endurance Challenge for the YMCA and is one way I feel I can give back. My run at the Y was an extension of another run I have done the last 2 years in my hometown of Stewartville, MN. I am a 6th grade teacher there and Mr. Parry’s Endurance Challenge has been an effective way for me to motivate and inspire my students, the school staff, and others in the area to get out and be active. The end of this challenge culminates in me running for 24 consecutive hours, doing a 4 mile loop repeatedly around Stewartville. Last year I completed 96 miles. This year I was able to make it 100.68 miles. Even though my run at the Y was only 17 hours, it proved to be at least as difficult as 24 for several reasons. Boredom, body temperature control, needing to be able to visit for the entire time, and the repetitive nature of running on a treadmill all took their toll on me. The plan was to have 2 treadmills set up in the lobby of the Y – 1 for me and the other for anyone else who wanted to show up, contribute to the Strong Kids Campaign, and run or walk for a while. The Y had put up and advertized a schedule to get people to sign up for running/walking on the other treadmill and by the day before the run, every last one of the 15 minute time slots was full! Local businesses and individuals contributed prizes for an hourly drawing. The goal of raising $1000 was set and I was off. I was not concerned with the pain that might come later in the day. I just didn’t want this fundraising effort to “flop”. I began my run at 5am and had a phone interview that played on several area radio stations a couple of hours later while the miles comfortably passed by. Soon afterward the phones at the front desk started ringing with people wanting to come in and run with me. One call after another I heard the staff say that they were sorry, the other treadmill was booked for the day, but the caller could come in to contribute and see what was going on. People were stopping by to see if they could run or walk with me too. The decision was quickly made at that point to pull out a third treadmill from the fitness center to allow more to participate in the event. I passed the marathon point in 5:30 – not fast, but I had been expending too much effort and concentration on keeping my body temp down. I would run until feeling way too warm and, at times, nauseous. I would then walk for several minutes until things calmed down again. I had no breaks planned, but did allow myself to use the bathroom from time to time. I ate while walking or running in order to get in as many miles as possible. Both complete strangers and friends came and went, telling me their stories, contributing money, and thanking me for what I was trying to do. Some had very inspirational stories about how running had changed their lives; others were running to deal with the grief of losing a loved one or as a way to cope with other hardships . I always love hearing stories like that! While some of the camp counselors at the Y ran with me for a few minutes, the kids in their groups cheered us on. Local TV stations and newspapers came by for the story. They would later call for updates on how I was doing. All was going well at that point, with not a whole lot of pain in my feet or legs .By early evening, I was told that the $1000 goal had been met. Good. That pressure was off. I hadn’t wasted their time! By 8pm I suspected that I would be ready to be done at 10pm. By 9pm I was certain! The last hour was difficult, but my wife was there to reassure me that things would be ok. The problem was that I could see more concern in her face than reassurance.10pm – done! 67.5 miles. Not the greatest performance, but I will take it, considering all that happened that day. We raised $1550, which will be used to provide scholarships for needy kids to attend Y camps and programs.

So where does this leave me? Still looking for bigger and better! Mr. Parry’s Endurance Challenge 2011 has taken on a new twist - for my students and others to complete 26.2 miles of running/walking during the month of May. I have included several options for this, allowing both the beginner and advanced runner to set a goal and accomplish it. To conclude this challenge I will be doing 7 marathon length runs in 7 days, finishing up with the Med City Marathon in Rochester, MN on May 29th. After that, who knows? I am teaming up with a non-profit organization which promotes physical exercise for families. I will also be pacing some races this year with the MN PACERS, aiding other runners accomplish their time goals in races ranging from the ½ marathon to marathon.

I have plenty of things I still want to do with my running. The funny thing is, twenty-five years ago I knew I would still be running today, and that I would still have that same drive to seek out the extraordinary. Thank you Mr. R.!

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