Please don’t tell him, but after being told not to run at my last orthopedic appointment, I just couldn’t follow the advice. I held out for a while, but when we went on vacation for a week, I just couldn’t not run. I left Cincinnati on a grey, dreary, snowy morning and landed in the brilliant sunshine of The Bahamas. How can I not run in that? I did keep them short, and I also kept them very, very slow. I know I may have to face the possibility of stopping altogether, but until that is the final word on my running future, I know I am a better me when I do get to run, and I didn’t want to be a bad me while on vacation. I head to the spine surgeon on Wednesday to get more insight as to what’s next. Until, then, a few runs from Paradise (Island).
“No more running.” – Orthopedic Doctor
“For how long?” – Me
“No. More. Running.” – Orthopedic Doctor
Silence. Shock. After that he went on the give me the medical term for what you see below at my L5/S1 disk. I have no recollection what he said, because I couldn’t get past those three words.
If you’ve read this blog recently, you know that I had been struggling with some hip/glute pain since last fall. It all came to a head in the Houston Marathon in January. So after I got back from Houston, I decided to get the hip healed up before I set off on my next training cycle. But I didn’t know exactly what the problem was, so I decided to head to the sports medicine doctor and find out. After an X-ray that didn’t show any particular issue, he decided it was very likely ITB syndrome and sent me home with anti-inflammatories and told me to take it easy on running. The pain subsided after about two weeks, so I started to run again, but as soon as I got to any decent pace, the pain returned. I decided to get some chiropractic attention too, and with that got a different diagnosis: gluteus minimus. With the pain continuing, I decided to stop running altogether and get my aerobic fix by cycling until I could run again. After a few weeks of this and no difference in the pain, I decided to head back to the orthopedic guy and push for an MRI. I know I’m not the most patient guy around, but I also hate not knowing what the real cause is.
After fighting to get them to prescribe the MRI (they wanted to do an ultrasound), I finally got it scheduled on March 9. Three days later I was back to the doctor to see what they found.
“I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that your hip looks great! No problem there at all. However, in this MRI we see a small bit of your lower spine and that L5/S1 disk doesn’t look right. It should be white like this other one, but it’s all dark. Because we weren’t aiming specifically at your spine, we need to get you back in to get a lumbar spine MRI. The nerves from that area of your spine head right down into the hip area, so it’s not surprising at all that you’d feel the pain there. If that disk is damaged it could be impinging the nerve.”
OK, no real worry yet, but I don’t like the sounds of this. I was lucky to get the spine MRI scheduled for the next day, March 13, so there I was, trying to lie still once again. It’s a good thing I’m not claustrophobic.
On March 18th, I saw the doctor again. If you look at the picture above, you can follow along.
“If you look at L3, you can see what the spine and disk should look like. Smooth lines all around, everything lining up with one another, consistent coloration.
If you look at L4, you can see the beginnings of deterioration. Not too bad yet, but heading in the wrong direction.
If you look at L5/S1, you can see where the problem is. The padding in between is almost completely gone, and in a few places you’re already bone on bone. Even where there is still cartilage, it’s pretty damaged. Also, you can notice that the spine bones on top and bottom are no longer in alignment. The one on the bottom (S1) is actually impinging on the column upward. That area is no longer stable because it’s out of alignment and the cartilage in not holding it in place. That instability is a real issue.”
I need to see a spine surgeon to what can be done. He said they may suggest getting the bones fused to help stabilize the area, but it’s not certain. But then he repeated that I should be prepared to hear no more running. Ever.
I still haven’t come to terms with this news. Honestly, I’ve been struggling with it since that day. I’ve gotten to a point where running is not just something I do, but it’s part of who I am. And I like that. I want that. I’m not ready to give it up, so I’m going to push and push until someone gives me an answer that doesn’t include stopping completely.
The story is not over yet by a long shot. But after brooding about it for a couple weeks, I had to get it out. It is as much a part of the running journey as any race result is, so it deserves a post.
Last night, I laughed at a funny note a friend of mine sent me and my wife said, “That’s the first time I’ve seen you smile in weeks.”
Worrying in silence doesn’t help anyone, including me. It’s time to move on.
After a very up and down training cycle, I ran a 3:32:46 in Houston on Sunday, and I’m pretty happy about it. It was not the time I was hoping for (a 3:25:00 in order to qualify for the Boston Marathon), but it felt like everything I could give on that day, and that’s all I can ask for at any race: my best effort.
By the time I toed the line for the race on Sunday, I was already a bit nicked up. My left hip had been been bothering me for about 7 weeks, and while I had never been in enough pain to stop on any individual training run, I did feel it every time I laced up. After a while I started to have some hamstring pain too, but I’m pretty certain that was just caused by stride change die to the pain in my hip. It often felt like it was just on the verge of locking up, but I’d throttle it back so that I didn’t end up on the side of the road clutching my leg. Even with the hip pain, I was still hitting my paces on tempo and speed/strength intervals, so I wasn’t sure what to expect on raceday. In the end, I settled on a plan that had me “going for it” and to see what happens. My plan was to run the first half at a 7:48 min/mile pace, then drop it down to 7:40 or so for the second half.
The weather on Sunday just didn’t cooperate like all of us hoped it would. The course is a pretty flat and fast, so many people went in hoping for a PR, a BQ, or for some of the elites, a world record. Unfortunately, temps in the low 40s with periods of rain and sleet coupled with strong winds, mostly from the north, made it a tough go at times. While we were standing in the corrals waiting for the race the start, the rain started coming down in sheets, just soaking everyone.
Eventually, the gun (cannon) did go off and the race got underway. Just after we got underway, we ran up an overpass that had absolutely nothing to block the wind and rain and boy, did we ever get it with both. The rain really started to come down hard just as strong gusts threatened to push everyone sideways. Thankfully, once that downpour stopped, there were only a few periods of light rain for the rest of the race. I wish the same had been true for the wind, but no such luck.
Somewhere between miles 5 and 7, I got to see my family for the first time, which was a great pick me up. I ran over to the side to get high fives from Michelle, Sam and Matthew and then kept plugging along. The half marathons turn around happened at mile 9, so between 7 and 9 I got to watch the elite half runners go flying by me. It always amazes me to see just how fast those men and ladies can go (and sustain). The other fun thing was watching an 8 year old girl go running by me with a full marathon bib on. She was so tiny it was like her feet never touched the ground. She really had the crowds going crazy cheering for her.
As I neared the halfway point, I was realized I was right on track: 1:41:47 or a 7:46 average pace. And so far, I didn’t feel like I was laboring to hold that. So far, so good, but I also knew the miles between the halfway point and 18 were mostly heading north and that would be into the wind. Time to get to work.
I can’t say that I remember much about those next 5 miles. I remember starting to feel the work get harder after dropping the pace a bit and heading into the wind, but as I glanced at my Garmin every now and again, my confidence was building that I could reach my goal. I remained on pace by getting to the 30K mark (18.6 miles) at 2:24:47, still at a 7:46 pace. Just after that point I saw Michelle and my boys again. I actually teared up a bit as I gave her the thumbs up, meaning I was still feeling strong. A huge difference compared to the tears I shed in Las Vegas when I had to give her a thumbs down and tell her I couldn’t go on.
As I passed the 20 mile mark, I tried to hold back the excitement of thinking I was going to do it, I was going to BQ. I knew there was still a lot of work left to do, so I’d better not start celebrating yet. As I glanced down at my watch when it beeped at 20.5, I saw that I’d run an 4:01 half mile split, and that is exactly what I didn’t want. Lack of focus will slow me down. I used this to get myself back in the right frame of mind and back to the pace I needed.
And then, the wheels came off. Somewhere between miles 22 and 23 my left leg, the one that had been bugging me for a while, just seized up tight. As it happened I tried to fight off the shock of going from “I’m going to do it!” to “Uh oh, I hope I finish.” I was able to get going again, but each time I tried to will myself to get back to pace, my left leg would lock up again. And as I’d get back moving, I’d have to settle for an even slower pace before it would stop me. By the time I made it to the last mile, I was barely shuffling along at an 11:00 pace. I knew my BQ was not to be. I crossed the line in 3:32:46.
While I expected to be pretty down about my result, in the end I just couldn’t be. A three and half hour marathon is not exactly lighting the world on fire, but it’s also not that pokey either. It’s a solid marathon time. After training for CIM in December, switching to Las Vegas the the day before, getting sick in the middle of that race, then re-starting training to get to Houston, all with a wonky hip, I just knew I wasn’t there with my best stuff. The day after the marathon I read that only about 16,500 runners finished out of 30,000 had started due to the poor weather. I can’t blame the weather for my result; I just didn’t have it that day.
The other fun thing from the weekend was getting to run with my whole family. On Saturday, Michelle, Sam, Matthew and I all ran the ABB 5K. Going into the race, neither Matthew nor Sam trained at all. Not a lick. Nada. Nothing. And, unlike the weather on Sunday’s marathon, it was in the mid 70s and 100% humidity on Saturday. However, Matthew decided that he wanted to run a 30 minute 5K, so I said I’d run with him. Sam just wanted to finish without having to walk at all, so my wife ran with him. At the end of the first mile, I told Matthew that he’d run a 12:00 mile, so the 30 min goal was out of reach, and he should come up with a new goal, so he decided to try to run the rest of the race without walking. About half way through mile two, Matthew started to get a side stitch and ended up having to walk a bit. So I told him to come up with a new goal and he found one: beat his older brother at all costs. Sam and Michelle plugged along with a walk break now and again (Sam-induced, not Michelle). Matthew ended up taking multiple walk breaks too. But, as we turned the final corner and could see the finish line about 1/10 of a mile ahead, I told Matthew to spend whatever he had left in the tank and he took off like a shot! I couldn’t catch up to him. He had people in the finishing chute cheering for him.
Pretty cool. Final times:
A quick post to say that I’ve decided to run the Houston Marathon on January 13, 2013. The one positive thing that came out of the big fail in Las Vegas is that I was sick early enough in the race that I couldn’t put in a full marathon effort. In fact, I put in more marathon pace miles in a typical training tempo run than I did in the desert air!
So, I’m taking the fitness I built up for CIM/LVRnR and putting it to use in Houston. My wife and boys are coming with me, and that alone makes me very happy. I adore having them as a cheering section. And, to make the weekend extra special, it looks like Michelle and the boys are going to run the 5K on Saturday while we’re there! I can’t wait.
I’ve already started back into the training plan and will be able to get in a solid 5 weeks of effort to sharpen my fitness again. As an added bonus, I’ll get to see a few Dailymile and Ragnar friends who are also running. Should be a fantastic weekend.
So last week did not go as planned. Nope. There isn’t a single bit that matched the pictures in my head about how it would go. Let’s review what script said:
- Head to Sacramento, get CIM bib.
- Lineup Sunday morning ready to run the best race of my life.
- Cross the finish line in less than 3 hours, 25 minutes.
- Bask in the glory of having qualified for Boston on my first attempt.
You have to admit, it was a hell of a script. Unfortunately, none of it came true.
By midweek last week, the weather forecast for Sacramento began to deteriorate day by day. By the time Thursday rolled around, the forecast for race day was a 100% chance of rain, flooding and high winds (30-40 MPH). I happened to be in Washington, D.C. that day on a business trip, but I did manage to get a email out to my coach to ask for advice about what to do. Not surprisingly, he said that trying to run CIM for a specific time was going to be tough in conditions like that, so I made the decision to look elsewhere. After my flight home was delayed by 5 hours that day, I finally got home just before midnight to talk to my wife about everything. We had a bunch of travel plans that were to begin Friday morning, so we had to make a decision quickly. After looking at possibilities for marathons that same weekend and the next two after that, I settled on trying to get into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon that very weekend.
Friday morning came early and there was a lot of work to do. The first order of business was to see if it would even be possible to gain entry into the marathon. The online registration had closed a week ago, and the website said registration would be possible at the Expo, if available. That would be fine if I were local to Las Vegas, but I certainly didn’t want to fly out to Vegas only to find it was closed. I exchanged emails with the race director who told me that registration would, indeed, still be open, so that started the rest of the planning in motion. My wife started to make the calls to cancel all of the Sacramento and San Francisco travel plans. Flights, hotels, rental cars, the works. Meanwhile, I started making calls to set up the travel plans for Las Vegas. After a couple of hours of phone calls, everything new was in place and all of the old plans were cancelled. We hustled up to Columbus to catch our long flight to Vegas, my third flight in just over 24 hours.
I spent a good deal of that flight trying to change the picture I had in my head for this race. For more than six months, that attempt was personified by CIM. It’s all I thought about and planned for. My iTunes running playlist for training was called “CIM2012.” When I had to order a new iPod Shuffle when the old one died, I had them engrave CIM2012 onto the new one. Every email reminder about the race for six months was from the Sacramento Running Association, the organizers of CIM. My wife and I had planned out points along the CIM course where I’d see her, complete with printed maps. When I visualized crossing the finish line, I pictured that line in Sacramento. It was a lot to let go of, and honestly, I don’t do well with last minute change.
Waking up Saturday morning in Las Vegas helped to solidify the fact that I was not going to be running CIM. Craps tables, slot machines, and scale replicas of various major cities will do that for you. I went for a shakeout run and my legs felt great. Well rested and ready to go. With that out of the way, my wife and I went over to the Expo to get registered. The whole process went very smoothly. Five minutes after entering the Expo, I had a bib.
After grabbing some much needed lunch, Michelle went out to do some Christmas shopping while I went back to the hotel room to
obsess relax. Not much more to report for Saturday. A spaghetti dinner for carb loading and then to sleep for the night.
One interesting nuance to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon is that it’s run in the evening rather than first thing in the morning like most races. Their Twitter hashtag was #stripatnight, since the race begins and ends on the Las Vegas strip and because it doesn’t start until 3:30 PM, the second half of the race is in darkness. The usual Sunday morning of a race day would be spent quickly getting dressed and to the start corrals, but this one was going to be different. Even moreso than I suspected.
I woke up Sunday morning not feeling particularly well. Not horrible, but not great. It was my stomach that was upset, so I spent the first part of Sunday making frequent trips to the bathroom. How can I put this delicately? Everything just kept flowing right through me. At first I thought that I was just more nervous than usual, but after half a dozen potty trips, I knew it wasn’t nerves. I tried to keep as positive as possible but I had begun to think this whole trip was just not meant to be. Every time that thought crept into my head, I’d fight it off and just tell myself to simply get to the start line and everything else would take care of itself. I had trained for this opportunity for six months.
I got to the corrals plenty early and got all stretched out and even had time for a brief jog to warmup. This is when I knew I was in trouble. After just a brief warmup run, I had cramps in my abdomen. Again, trying to remain positive, I figured a marathon’s a long way, so who knows, I may end up feeling better later in the day. I’ve felt terrible at the beginning of training runs plenty of times only to feel fine once I got going, so I found the 3:25 pace group and waited for the gun to go off. My plan was to run with the 3:25 pace group up until the halfway point, then pick my pace up just a bit for the second half of the race.
Not even a mile into the race, I could have told you there was no way this would end well. After months of hard work and training to get to the place where a 7:48 pace felt comfortable, on this day it felt like a 10K pace. But I’m pretty stubborn, so I kept telling myself to hang in there and maybe, just maybe I’d feel better later. I did manage to stick with the pace group through about 8 miles, but then everything came crashing down. I was hit with a wave of nausea and quickly stopped by the side of the road to vomit. This repeated itself two more times over the next 4+ miles. After each time I vomited, my body would start to cramp more and more. Fighting dehydration in the windy desert air is tough enough, but after throwing up multiple times it was impossible to avoid. The cramping started in my abdomen and shoulders then made its way to my legs. After a while, the cramping brought me to a complete stop. I had made it to about the halfway point and I had planned to see my wife at mile 16, so I just kept going, hoping to make it to her. I ended up seeing her a bit early, just after the 14 mile mark and told her through bitter tears that I couldn’t go on.
She got me to a nearby medical tent while my body continued to cramp in different muscle groups in waves. I tried to keep some salted Gatorade in me but not much stayed down initially. Along with 3 other runners (and my wife), they sent us to the main medical tent back at the start/finish in an ambulance. The EMT tried to get an IV in my arm three different times along the way but only succeeded in poking fun holes in my arms and never found a vein. With the heat on in the vehicle, the EMT jabbing me repeatedly, and the stops and starts of the driver, a brand new wave of nausea hit me. Once finally back at the medical tent, the doc gave me some Zofran for the nausea. After that settled me down, I was able to get some Gatorade to stay down and that helped stop the cramping.
Friends o’ mine.I started the day wanting a two letter result: BQ.I ended the day with three: DNF.Bitter disappointment.More soon.
— Sean Brown (@seanbrown) December 3, 2012
The disappointment was nearly overwhelming at first. My poor wife had to deal with me not wanting to talk about it at all at first, and after that, I began to question everything. Why hadn’t I just punted on racing that weekend altogether? Why did I refuse to pay attention to my physical symptoms and line up to run anyway? Was it too much for my ego to handle, or was it competitiveness? Was I too worried about how it would look, or was I trying to finish what I started?
I have to be honest and say that I don’t have good answers to these questions. What I do know is that it’s now in the past and there’s nothing I can do to change it. I hope that I’ve learned from the experience and can make better decisions in the future. I also hope I’ll get better at dealing with change. One positive thing that came of it is that I didn’t run a full marathon on Sunday, which means I may be able to run another sometime soon and give that BQ another shot. I know for sure I am not going to give up on my goal. That’s the one part of the script that still lives in my head, and will one day make it into real life.
With only six days left before the California International Marathon, the taper is in full swing. Reduced mileage, fewer intense runs all in an effort to get to the CIM start line with fresh legs and a confident head.
This training cycle has been a great one, and it has me going into the race with confidence that I can reach my goal: 3:25:00 or better. Based on the plan I have for the race, I think I’ll end up right in between 3:20:00 and 3:25:00. If the stars completely align for me, I believe I’m capable of a 3:20:00 finish. Having had a great race at the Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon a few weeks ago and the results of a bunch of of difficult training runs give me the data my left-brained personality needs to feel this confidence. I’ve made the mistake of going into a race simply “feeling” like I could achieve one time or another and it’s never ended well. When I’ve had numbers to backup a goal time expectation, I’ve hit those marks very consistently.
In the middle of this past summer, I made a tough decision to take a bit of time off from training. It took me a full month to even make that decision, so you can imagine how I agonized over it. Was I being too soft? Unwilling to work hard? Or was I being smart and listening when my body was telling me, ‘enough’? At the time, I had no idea, but I knew something had to change, and “pushing through” wasn’t working. As I sit here today with less than a week to go before my “A” race this year, I am so glad I took that time away to get fresh and get my head back into training. It’s hard for me to believe that this training cycle would have been this good without feeling ready for it from the beginning.
And so, I’m off to make my first bid at Boston Marathon qualification. I feel confident, prepared, and yes, more than a little nervous. But, knowing my wife will be there cheering me on as I try to BQ will help keep things positive. She’s been there for me on this whole 18 month journey, giving me time to train, “crewing” for me on the long runs, making me great food so I was fueling rather than just eating, and generally just being the supportive, loving woman she is. I wouldn’t have made it to the start line without her. While my two boys won’t be in Sacramento, I know they’ll be rooting for me from Ohio and I plan to keep them in my heart for the whole race. I can already hear the post-marathon conversation in my head, just like after every run:
“Hi, Dad! How was your run?”
“It was great, buddy. Really, really great.”
As I had written previously, this race was not one I planned to “race” all out, but to use as a dress rehearsal for CIM in December. Having said that, I did want to make this an honest effort and do my best.
Since Indianapolis is only a two hour drive from Cincinnati, I can’t even call this a race weekend, because when it came down to it, I wasn’t even there for a full 24 hours. But the time I was there was lots of fun. I met up with running friends Jenny J and Luke S (both running the full marathon) the night before the race just before dinner. Since they had arrived in Indy from St. Louis earlier in the day, they picked up my race bib and goodie bag from Expo by the time I arrived, so we immediately went to grab a bite to eat before settling in for night. For Jenny, “settling in for the night” meant deciding, changing and redeciding on the proper race-day outfit.
Race morning came bright and early (as it always does). A frosty 35F to start, but the weather was to warm up just a bit as the morning went on. We found our places in the correct corrals, then soon enough, the gun went off. One of these days, I’m going to actually remember that my Garmin lies for the first half mile or so, but race-day was not that day. Sure enough, I went out a bit too fast and clocked my first mile at 7:21 or about 25 seconds faster that I should have. My plan was to run the first ten at marathon pace (7:48) as a rehearsal, then go hard with whatever was left in the tank for the final three. As I said before the race, my mantra was “Run smooth, no PR.” But, now I have to fess up. The night before the race, my “settling in” was spent laying there wide awake so I starting doing time math in my head to see just how fast those last three would need to be if I were to PR.
Although I went out too fast in that first mile, I did a decent job of getting back on plan for the rest of the first ten: 7:39, 7:37, 7:47, 7:43, 7:42, 7:38, 7:42, 7:35, and 7:34. The weather really remained colder than I expected. In fact, it felt to me like it was actually getting colder as the race went on. I was fine, but I thought of Jenny and Luke doing the full marathon and hoped the weather wouldn’t make a turn for the worse. When I got to the end of the tenth mile, I started to push. When I got to a place that felt difficult but sustainable, I just kept trying to hold that pace. I glanced at my watch, saw that I was hovering somewhere near 7:00 miles, so I just kept it going as long as I could. I made the last turn before the finish, kicked as much as I could and crossed the line in 1:38:29, a new half marathon PR by about a minute and a half.
I’m very happy with this result, not so much because of the PR but because it points to good fitness for CIM in less than a month.
After I finished, I made a quick trip back to the hotel for a hot shower, then I went back to the course to cheer runners, especially my friends. Just as I walked out the door of the hotel, it began to sprinkle. After a while, that sprinkle turn into a solid rain, then later it turned to sleet. I felt bad for the runners out on the full course having to deal with some nastiness. I did get to see Luke and Jenny finish their races too.
With my ‘A’ race marathon just over one month away, I’m getting down to final few weeks a hard effort in preparation. And, as I have done for the past few marathon training cycles, I’ve got a half marathon scheduled about month before the marathon and I’m using it as a fitness check/tune-up race/dress rehearsal.
This weekend I’ll be running the Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon as that tune-up for CIM. I know of at least three friends who will be there running the full marathon, too, so I’ll get to race then scream my lungs out encouraging them through their last miles of the 26.2. Should be a fun day and, so far, the weather looks like it will be ideal for racing.
My plan is to truly run this race as a dress rehearsal for the marathon, which means I know going in that I won’t set a new PR for the half marathon distance. With the help of my coach, I’ve got a specific plan: run the first ten miles right at marathon pace (7:48 min/mile), then ‘race’ the last 5K with whatever I’ve got in the tank. The real goal here is to feel comfortable running at marathon pace through 10. If I do that, the day will be a success. If I absolutely blaze through the final 5K and PR, that would just be icing, but I need to stay focused on the bigger picture. To help with that, I’ve decided to use a mantra for this race.
I don’t always use mantras, but when I do, I choose, “Run smooth, no PR.”
Well, the California International Marathon is a little over two months away, and my training has been going well. The quality workouts have increased in length and intensity and I can finally feel the improvement in my running. Moving my marathon pace down to 7:48 min/mile was a struggle at first, but after about three weeks of tempo runs (and some threshold runs at even faster pace), it finally feels more comfortable. I’m looking forward to feeling like I could run all day at marathon pace, and I know if I keep working hard, I’ll get there.
This is my third marathon using the Hanson Brooks training methodology (guided by coach Luke Humphrey), and I’ve seen the improvements come from the hard work each time. At the Marine Corps Marathon last fall (my first using Hanson Brooks), I was able to take almost 20 minutes off my previous best time, and then at the Glass City Marathon this spring, I was able to take another 12 minutes from my MCM time. If I can keep going on this plan, I feel confident that I can take the 5 minutes I need to qualify for Boston.
I’m looking forward to the fitness test half marathon I’ve got on my calendar in early November. I hope to do a better job of using it as a dress rehearsal for the marathon rather than trying to score another PR.
After a nice little respite from hard running, I’m back at it. Training for the California International Marathon started in earnest at the beginning of this week, and I’m feeling great. The rest helped get me recharged both physically and mentally for the workouts that will stretch out ahead of me in preparation for CIM on December 2.
During my break I got to do a few fun things too. A small sample.
My younger son and I went to Boston to catch a Red Sox game at Fenway. We also took a duck boat tour of Boston and visited Harvard. I managed to get in an early morning, relaxing run along the Charles River too. What a fun weekend.
The reason my older son wasn’t with us is in Boston is because he got an extraordinary opportunity to spend three weeks in Europe! He got to see Greece, Italy and France while he was there, and loved every minute of it. Here’s a picture of him at the airport minutes after he got home. Somewhere nearby, my wife was probably crying tears of joy!