Heart Run

Submitted into Contest #235 in response to: Make a race an important element of your story.... view prompt


Contemporary Creative Nonfiction Inspirational

The story I’m about to tell you is absolutely true, nearly every word.  In 2002, I suffered my first myocardial Infarction or what most people refer to as a heart attack.  I was only 47 at the time.  Six months later, I entered the 5K Heart Run.  I know most of you might say it was nothing more than a fast jog, but for me I was running hard for my life…

It was late spring and runners from around the local area had gathered at the parking lot in front of the University of Alaska Anchorage Administration Building for the annual Heart Run sponsored by the Red Cross and Providence Hospital.  This will be the fifth time I have entered this 5K run/walk, but it will be my first time wearing the red hat.  Runners and walkers who have had heart problems will wear the red hat.   

Standing in the kitchen of our duplex, drinking my coffee as kids were eating breakfast when I felt a sharp pain in my chest.  I grabbed my chest and called for my wife Amy.  She ushered the kids next door where grandma and grandpa’s half of the duplex and then came back to where the pain had gotten worse.

“It’s only indigestion.” I told her.

“No, we need to go to the doctor.” She led me toward the car.

I did not argue, but I figured I would go and let the doctor tell me there was nothing to worry about. 

She entered the room where I sat waiting. Handing me a vial, she ordered, “Drink this.” 

I did.

“How are you feeling?” She asked.

“Still got chest pains.” I reported.

“The ambulance will be here shortly.” She pressed a red button.

I am not a runner.  I am slow.  My lack of speed kept me from being the first string on my high school football team.  My job was to run and block the linebacker on an end run so the half back with the ball could run.  I always got there A second too late and saw the linebacker demolish the halfback.  Coach would yell at me.  The halfback would yell at me.  We would lose because of me. 

One of the things the United States Air Force made us do was run A mile and A half to prove we were fit enough to serve our country.  We had to complete this run in fifteen minutes.  We would line up on A track with the sergeant holding A stopwatch and shout out, "On your mark, get set, GO!"

I would finish this run with just seconds to spare, long after my fellow airmen who were standing on the side of the track with their hands on their knees. Si nce airmen is not gender specific, when I refer to that term, females are included, A fact which would draw some unkind comments from my peers. No matter how much I would run to prepare, I did not improve my time, not even by one second, but it got me to jog almost every day.  By the time I was discharged in 1992, I continued running two miles with my Labrador Retriever, Jordan about four times a week in Armstrong Woods near Guerneville, CA. It was something I looked forward to, because we would run a two-mile loop through the redwoods.  

When we got done, I would take my inner tube and backpack to the shores of the Russian River.  I would get in the tube with my backpack in my lap, grab Jordan by her collar and let her take me across the river where I would sit on a beach and do my homework for my classes at Santa Rosa Junior College.  Surrounded by the redwoods along the riverbanks, the gentle flow of the river, and watching Jordan greet tourists who had rented canoes two miles downriver.  No one ever expected to be greeted as part of their canoe experience.

I put on my MP-3 player to some tunes I had loaded for this run.  The course started around Providence and winds around a hill up to Alaska Pacific University which would be the halfway point and the end of the uphill climb.  Seeing the small university had been a welcome sight in my previous 5K Heart Run experiences, but for this one, I was just hoping I could make it.  The hill was not tremendously steep, but when you are running, it can really wind you even if you have been running regularly. 

I put on my red hat and plugged in my earbuds.  My first track would be “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen.  Clarence Clemons cut with his famous saxophone solo as I got ready.  It was a cool spring day.  A week before the last of the snow had melted, but there were still a few places where the last vestige of the icy snow still clung stubbornly to some shady wooded areas.  It was a good day to run overall as long as the moose kept away.

Over the intercom, I heard a voice in the speakers around the starting line, “Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the 2003 Heart Run.  Please take your places at the starting line.”

About a thousand participants took their places along the starting line marked by a paper arch with balloons attached.  All participants had to pay a fee to enter the Heart Run with the money going to research for heart disease.  It was still hard for me to believe that I had a heart attack six months ago.

“You are young and fortunate.” The heart specialist told me when he entered my room. “Your heart has no permanent damage.  As a matter of fact, other than the increase of enzymes, we had trouble detecting you even had a heart attack.  You were lucky this time.” 

Was I?  Both of my young children look at me as if I was an alien in a flying saucer.  

“You have to sit in a wheelchair.” Amy pointed.

“I can walk fine.” I was a bit short since I was used to being strong and able.

“Daaad.” My youngest daughter insisted.  So I sat and let Amy push my wheelchair. 

“You have physical therapy.” Amy reminded me.

So three times a week, I drove to the hospital for an hour of physical therapy.

“Please sir, slow down, not so fast.” One of the nurses scolded me.  I was the youngest patient in the class of over a dozen men recovering from heart disease.

“I can go faster.  I exercised almost every day before my heart at---” I could not say it.  I stood there as tears rolled down my cheek. “I will slow down.” 

“Ladies and gentlemen, on your mark, get set…GO!” 

One thousand people of all ages moved in a wave as the Heart Run began.  I was positioned in the back so my slower pace would not get in the way of the younger runners who would be finished before I got over the hill at Alaska Pacific University. 

If you have never been to this part of the world, there is far more wilderness than people and there is only one highway.  If you wish to find a place off the highway, you will need to fly into the village. 

As I moved comfortably with the folks in the back, I saw the buds on the deciduous trees begin to sprout leaves while the knotty Alligator Pine intermixed in the woods just off the road appeared like gnarled gnomes guarding woods.  After preceding past the main part of the University of Alaska Anchorage campus, the hill appeared.  Some contestants were already finding the imposing grade a bit of a struggle. I drew in my breath as U2 sang about a place where the roads have no names. My sides began to ache for lack of oxygen, but I pressed on.  Looking around, I noticed that those wearing red hats were beginning to thin out.  

What if I finished first as a red hat?  I had never dreamed about finishing first.  That was something someone else did. The hill grew steeper.  It was getting harder drawing a breath.  I kept up my steady pace, but I wondered how long I’d be able to continue.

“C’mon son, I can walk faster than you are running!” The drill instructor yelled in my ear as I lagged behind the rest of my company.  

As I struggled to catch up to them, now one hundred yards behind.  The gap kept widening.

“C’mon son, what is wrong with you?” He screamed in my ear.  His beratement made it even more difficult to breathe. “I know I can walk faster than you are running!”

“So can I, sir.” I managed to squeeze out, coughing as I spoke. 

I looked to see what he was going to say next, but he was gone.  I had no idea that he had doubled over laughing at my response. 

As I craned my neck, I still could not see the university at the top of the hill that was not only the halfway point, but the last of the hill that was nearly choking me.  I had decided that no matter the outcome, I would be proud to finish the run just six months after my myocardial infarction as it had been called in my medical records. 

With each labored step, I passed more and more people who had given up and started walking.  I had promised myself I would run every step of the three plus mile run and mark the date with the word “completed” right next to my name.


I can just about see the university parking lot halfway.


Some people were already on the other side of the road on their way back.


I wondered what would happen if I ran across the road and joined them.


There were judges all along the route who would be watching for someone cheating like that.


“It’s my third heart attack.” One of the patients at physical therapy confessed during a break.  His name was Bruce and he had a daughter who was my daughter’s age. “You?” 

“My first.” I answered.

“I remember my first.” He chuckled, “Do you smoke?” 

“No, I quit a few years ago.” I nodded.

“Good for you.” Bruce smiled, “When I get done here, I get in my car and light up.  Guess number four isn’t far behind.” 

When I registered for the Heart Run, I heard Bruce passed away from number four.  

“This is for you, Bruce.” I managed to say as the parking lot at the top of the hill opened before me.  I was still moving on foot in front of the other.  For Bruce and for all those like me who had encountered heart problems at a young age.

Like my dad, George, Sr. who at forty-seven succumbed to congenital heart failure. None of my two children would ever meet their grandfather.  I left with only my imagination on what a great grandpa he would be to both of them.  

“And for you dad.” I could feel my eyes burn with tears as I ran through the university parking lot. 

One of the volunteers kept saying, “Halfway through.  You’re halfway through.” as I passed her feeling suddenly very stout hearted as I continued through and out of the parking lot.  

A light rain began to fall as I started my descent down the hill behind the others. 

I had made it up the hill.  The rest would be easier. I could feel the wind against my skin.  I made it. The rest would be easy.

But it wasn’t.  While the exertion of scaling a hill was no longer part of the run, the fact that I was still running was enough stress on my healing body.  My legs began to ache with each step, but the pain of nitric acid splashing against my leg muscles was a small price to pay when I considered how things could have turned out. 

Young children went flying by me and I began to feel somewhat distressed about this. Cars honked as they passed us.  People leaned out the window shouting words of encouragement.  News cameras were posted along different parts of the course.  They would be reporting this event for their television stations, and I had to look good in case I wound up on the evening news.

Still my legs and chest ached with each step I took.  I was over halfway finished; I could not stop now. I could hear the loudspeaker at the finish line. I closed my eyes.  Could I dare think that I was closing in on the end of the run? 

“Do you need to test?” One of the nurses at Physical Therapy asked holding out a strip and pin.

“No, I’m not diabetic.” I shook my head.

“Are you sure?” She gave me a dubious nod. 

I watched the others jab themselves with the stick to draw a drop of blood to put on the test strip sticking into a meter.

“I do this every morning.” Bruce explained as he read his meter. “Crap, high again.  My doc is gonna kill me.” 

“Mine too.” One of the older patients hooted.  

“Maybe we even ride the same train to hell.” Bruce laughed as he removed the test strip and tossed it into the trash container. 

“How are you doing?” One of the volunteers asked as I passed her station.

“Fine.” I smiled.

“Water?” She held out a cup.

“No thank you.” I shook my head.  I learned one time that drinking water can end up making me vomit when I run.  

A few minutes later, I am on the last leg of the run.  I see people standing in the parking lot of University of Alaska Anchorage with their hands on their knees gasping for air.  I would watch the evening news to find out a runner on a college cross country team had finished the run in first place.  

As I approached the last part of the run, I noticed that I was the only runner I could see with a red hat on.

My wife was at home with the kids.  There was no one waiting for me.  It was alright; however, I had run the Heart Run for victory over heart disease.  This time. 

“Congratulations, you’ve finished.” A volunteer at the finish line announced as she handed me a button stating it as fact.

I finished.  My legs ached, my chest stung and the rest of me felt as if I had been hit by a truck. As I stood there, I felt a surge of pride holding the small token I had been give.

“Did you have fun?” A mother asked her young son nearby who was wearing a runner’s bib.

“Itsokay.” I managed to say as she took a hold of his hand and they walked away.

“Don’t lie, kid.” I thought to myself, “Tell you mom, ‘it was a total pain in the ass.’”

In the crowd, I saw Bruce wave at me.  I stood there stunned for a moment before I blinked at the setting sun.  Just like that, he vanished. I let my head loll a bit before removing my hat.  I picked up a Sharpie from one of the tables and marked, “4/22/2003, Completed.” 

Recently, I went through some of my stuff and found that old hat.  It had faded from red to pink and then finally to bleached white.  I looked at what I had written with a Sharpie over twenty years ago, before tossing it into a garbage bag. Some memories live in your heart long after the souvenir is gone.  Such would be the case of my Heart Run hat.  


January 28, 2024 00:07

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Crystal Farmer
01:18 Feb 08, 2024

The flashbacks are a great way to tell the story.


18:09 Feb 15, 2024

It's all flashback now, Crystal. Thank you for your comments.


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Mary Bendickson
14:28 Jan 28, 2024

👏Well done!


21:06 Feb 02, 2024

Thank you, again, Mary


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