Eric here. The following is an essay written by my dad Frank Schranz. As you’ll read below, my dad’s been running for 30+ years and has been fortunate to have run all over the world with my mom Kelley–many of those trips with a shared goal of visiting local breweries. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree, did it?
My dad’s in phenomenal shape–especially for someone in his 70s–and that is directly attributable to his fitness, his clean diet, and his positive outlook on life that he’s shared with my mom since they began dating in 8th grade. (Also note that my mom is a highly competitive AG runner and, to the best of my knowledge, has never been beat by my dad.)
The following is his story in his words.
As runners, we sometimes consider ourselves invincible. Because of our physical conditioning we are able to accomplish feats that most people consider impossible — or at least crazy. Oh, sure, we must confront and conquer the usual runner obstacles (IT-bands, sore knees, marathon blisters, etc.), but that’s just part of the deal as we incorporate running into our lives — our physical lives and our social/family lives.
My journey started when I turned 40 — that’s 33 years ago for me. I’d never been a runner at all. But then we discovered that our oldest son — then just about 14 — had a real interest and talent in the sport. We had a typical father/teenager relationship (i.e., contentious), and I figured that maybe I could build a bond with him by running. Everyone has a reason for starting. That’s mine.
I got hooked immediately, drawn in by the very rapid improvement that comes when you start any new sport. Race times dropped quickly, I joined the SCR, and life was good. My times were never the greatest, but I continued to set PRs throughout my fifties. Age group awards were common, upholding the maxim: You don’t need to get faster, you just need to get older.
My goals were simple: The “A Goal” was 100 miles per month. The “B Goal” was 1,000 miles per year (this gave allowance for the inevitable time lost to injuries and travel. I ran 32,000 miles in my first 32 years of running — Mission Accomplished.
But then things started to change quickly. My pace was falling. Of course it was falling — I was getting older! But then the runs became more difficult, not just slower. Sometimes, I’d find myself having to stop in the middle of a run; I just couldn’t go on without a stop-and-reset. By the beginning of 2022, this was becoming the norm, not the outlier. Still, because I knew I was invincible because I am a runner, I continued the sport I love. That is, until April 27, while on Molokai, when I blacked out after a toad-slow quarter mile run. It got that far for me.
Fortunately, Kelley was just a few steps behind me when I crashed onto the dirt trail. She said my eyes were wide open and blank. She thought I was dead. “But my heart rate, cholesterol, and blood pressure are all perfect,” I said. She didn’t buy it and it didn’t take long to convince me it was time to go home and see the doctor.
Fast forward to today, September 10. I’m being discharged from the hospital today after undergoing open heart surgery four days ago. It turns out that my “having to stop” during my shorter and shorter runs was caused by something called severe aortic stenosis. It means my aortic valve (look it up — it’s important to staying alive) had become calcified. The valve wouldn’t open freely to let oxygen-rich blood flow through my arteries — and to my brain. It’s not rare, but it generally hits older folks. (Hello, 73.) But younger people get it, too.
I am lucky. My disease was identified while I am alive. I am also lucky that my open heart surgery was done at Kaiser’s Los Angeles Medical Center — the flagship site of Kaiser and the biggest heart center in the West. I’ll be forever grateful to LAMC. All went well. The surgeon replaced my calcified aortic valve with a cow-tissue valve. It’s a fix. My ailing, calcified valve is gone. Now with my new valve, I’ll be as good as new (well, maybe as good as a few years ago). But I won’t die from this.
So, are runners invincible? In a word, No. The doctors and nurses and other support staff continue to marvel at my quick recovery from the surgery. They all attribute this my being in good shape. But if I hadn’t been coerced (thanks, Kelley) into seeing a cardiologist, you would have learned of my disease from an autopsy — not from an article that I gladly write for the SCRambler. Please, please, please: If you experience the symptoms I’ve described here today, see your cardiologist. Get yourself checked out. We’re not invincible. And there’s no time for heroes.
After I got home from the hospital, I reviewed my daily running log for 2022. The number of entries (21) with the terms “gassed” and “had to stop” was disturbing. Clearly, I ignored the signals. Probably because I’m invincible.