Kopacs at NY Marathon finish line
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Kopac's Corner

My Running Boom: Finishing Kick

by Bob Kopac

"Kicks just keep getting harder to find."....Paul Revere and the Raiders

I did not get my kicks from the running boom until I was in my thirties. As a youth, I had terrible knees. If I ran a mile, my knees would cause me more pain than a Paulie Shore movie or, more relevant to that time period, a Beach Blanket movie. Because of the pain, I had no interest in running. I was not a masochist. Later I would learn that pain and running often are synonymous.

Could I have been a short-distance sprinter? No. Sprinters must accumulate many frequent-runner training miles before cashing in the miles for the short distance run in competition. In addition, I was not born with fast-twitch muscles or even slow-twitch muscles; I was born with slow-motion-twitch muscles. I could have been the stand-in for Lee Majors' slow-motion runs in the SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN television series, except I did not look like Lee Majors.

I biked and played sports such as baseball and bowling, if bowling can be considered a sport. Since I could not run, televised running events did not interest me. Time passed; I passed my college courses and started working in the Corporate World.

One fateful day I was working late as usual. A friend had forgotten to lock his desk before going to a Tae Kwon Do class; the dreaded company Security Police were about to issue him a security violation. (This sort of thing happens in the Corporate World.) Being a Nice Guy, I persuaded the Security Polizei to not write up a violation if I went over to the gym and obtained my friend's key to lock his desk. I told my friend he owed me a free Tae Kwon Do lesson. That is how I started to get my kicks from Tae Kwon Do. What has that to do with my personal running boom? The answer is, everything.

During warm-ups and cool-downs, we would run around the gym barefoot--shades of Abebe Bikila--to toughen the bottoms of our feet. It also was great exercise for the legs. After two years of training, one day my class at the local school was canceled due to one of the ubiquitous New York State school holidays. I decided to try a short run before practicing my karate forms. To my surprise, I was able to run with no pain! The karate kicks had strengthened my knees and ligaments, or else I was inured to pain.

I started to run on a consistent basis to improve my Tae Kwon Do, and I discovered I actually enjoyed running! My instructor asked if I was a runner or a fighter; I said both. I ran seven days a week and attended Tae Kwon Do classes three times a week. I was becoming masochistic. On Wednesdays I would run for an hour, then go to the killer class. There I would spar with upper-degree black belts, sometimes being the one of a two-on-one. I think the idea was to teach humility; it was effective. Perhaps running before such a class was not a very bright idea; Tae Kwon Do may have strengthened my knees, but running made me dumb.

Perhaps I was just naturally dumb. One time I was fighting two brown belts. I kept circling one of them so that I lined up the two brown belts like ducks in a row; effectively I was fighting only one of them. Halfway through the sparring, I stopped and told them how to prevent me from outflanking them. I then said "Begin" and immediately learned I should always be ready before I say "Begin." A kick caught me square on the nose. There was more blood--my blood!--than in a Rambo movie. Fortunately, the only thing broken was my pride.

Was running any safer? I ran the Joe McDonald 10K on a brutally hot day (dumb). At the 6-mile mark, I was feeling lightheaded, probably because I had lost my common sense on the course (dumber). Since I was near the finish, I thought I could tough out the rest of the race (dumbest). I regained consciousness inside an ambulance; I had suffered a heatstroke. Later, as I lay on a table in the emergency room with electrodes stuck all over me, the nurse told me to try to relax. I followed orders. Suddenly alarms sounded; in rushed several doctors and nurses, just like a Marx Brothers movie scene. My resting heart rate was 54 beats per minute, below the minimum level of the electrode monitors. I was in great shape, but dumb.

In spite of these setbacks, I was able to juggle the two sports fairly well. Sometimes soreness from a karate workout would slow me down in a weekend race, and sometimes tightness of my hamstrings from a 10K would limit how high I could kick the next week. I often wondered if I could combine both sports by sprinting forward rapidly at the start of a race, then turning around and kicking the front runners and disabling them. This would bring a new meaning to the running term "finishing kick." Then I could walk the rest of the race and finish first. That would be a great biathlon.

I decided to train for my first marathon after watching Channel 11's excellent New York City Marathon coverage. I read Joe Henderson's JOG, RUN, RACE book and followed his regimen to increase my mileage each week. I was on my last long-distance training run when a car approached. I drifted towards the side of the road to give the motorist more room since I was a Nice Guy. My left foot caught the edge of the road and I went down hard, damaging tendons. This catastrophe brought an abrupt stop to my running and Tae Kwon Do--talk about a finishing kick! At least I had the answer as to which sport was more dangerous.

After I recovered, I dropped Tae Kwon Do and focused my energies on running a marathon. I relentlessly increased my mileage each week until I reached 70 miles per week. As the comedian Richard Jeni would say, that is a real number and not a science experiment. Then, one day after an 18-mile run, I awoke to intense pain (quoth my body "Nevermore!"). My mileage went from 70 to 0 MPW. After many misdiagnoses, I learned that I have acetabular dysplasia and eventually will need hip replacements.

It is strange. People always ask me if running caused the condition, but they never ask if karate was the reason. The answer is neither; it was a defect with the original equipment, and the warranty has long since expired.

I did get many kicks from Tae Kwon Do and running. Now I enjoy getting my finishing kicks from writing about running. Do I have any regrets? Well, I never did run that marathon or that biathlon...