2007 was an AWESOME year! It started with one goal (Marine Corps Marathon) and ended with a mission (2008 Miles of Hope). After my niece, T, competed the MCM in 2006, she challenged me to do the same in 2007.
Getting in shape became my goal. However, the memory of all those charity runners running for a cause made me want to do more. My initial goal left me with a nagging desire to turn that accomplishment into something to benefit others. Hence, it eventually turned into my mission and here’s the story.
The mission has three goals (and here’s how we’re doing):
• Handbiking 2008 miles (over 900 miles completed since July)
• Marine Corps Marathon 2008 (three half marathons and five 10Ks completed)
• Raising $26.2 thousand to benefit Hope For The Warriors (Over $3400 raised)
Read on for the story.
In January and February my inseparable teammate (she makes it all happen) and I biked Ocracoke Island on my Quickie Cyclone (dubbed “Tortoise”). Those rides instilled the certainty in me that a marathon was going to be a reality for me. It took us seven hours on my first attempt to complete 28-mile trek.
In March I biked the Dismal Swamp Trail with Tortoise. Later that month I got a new handbike, a Top End XLT (dubbed “Hare”). It was back to Ocracoke for a bit of a disappointing shakedown ride. I thought I would fly down the island and back. Twenty mile per hour winds made that dream true only on the return leg.
On March 31 I took part in my first-ever 10K race, the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society Run-The-Runways benefit at Cherry Point. Not a big race, but fun. Here’s a link to a pic: Windsock photo. I’m the little spec behind the runner with the green long-sleeved shirt and blue shorts.
It felt great to benefit such a worthy cause. I was definitely hooked on these races so went searching for another event. I learned about the Run For The Warriors and Hope For The Warriors. I immediately emailed my wife, “Here’s our cause!” An idea for my mission was beginning to take shape.
Hills and Woes
In the meantime, I began to worry about the Marine Corps Marathon. I was beginning to recognize that hills gave me a big problem. I didn’t take much grade to stall me out. There are some steep hills on the Marine Marathon course. I assumed it would just be a matter of changing the sprockets to get lower gears. In April, we traveled to DC and I got a chance to try out some of the hills first-hand.
A big dose of reality set in. What seems to be the steepest grade on the MCM course is a 13.5% climb up the entrance to the Marine Corps Iwo Jima Memorial, the very end of the race. I couldn’t ascend a hill anything close to that steep! And there was no way to gear my handbike down low enough for me to crank up that hill. An equipment change wouldn’t get me there. The only way I was going to get up that hill was to become a LOT stronger. I had been working quite hard and knew there would be no way I could become that much stronger before the race date in October. It was time to re-strategize.
Learning and Innovating
In April, We rode Ocracoke Island again, which I think is one of my favorite rides. Later in the month, I think I was the first ever handbiker in the Lookout Rotary Spring Road race in Morehead City. That was a fun neighborhood run, but I sure got a lot of strange stares.
With warmer weather setting in, overheating was becoming a problem. I don’t sweat and the upper body exertion causes me to generate a lot of body heat, particularly on long rides and sunny days. We fitted my helmet with tubes that would allow me to dispense water onto the top of my head. That gadget did a lot for my endurance but for hot days, I needed even more cooling.
A neighbor, BG, suggested towels soaked in icewater wrapped around my neck. That inspired an idea of supplex tubes that we filled with ice cubes and tied around my neck. That seemed to do the trick on even fairly warm days. One Saturday in May we set off on a rather long ride on the back roads of Camp Lejeune. Since we were going to be away from civilization for quite a while, we packed several ice-filled tubes in a couple of coolers and added some dry ice to keep them frozen. The idea worked well enough to keep me cool most of the day
On that trip I learned that the hazards with handbiking aren’t always what you would expect. My first lesson came when I zipped past a copperhead as I’m sitting 10 inches off the ground. My second lesson came later in the day when some rain clouds moved in. I could see a rain shower moving from left to right a mile or so in front of us. So we stopped to let it pass before we went further. We pulled off the road and waited at the edge of a grove of small trees. After the rain passed by we got back on the road and finished our ride. We decided that where we stopped was not a good idea because of the danger of lightening—not because of the trees, but because we had stopped right in front of an explosives storage facility.
Yes, This Will Be My Cause!
Later in May I had the privilege of taking part in the Run For The Warriors, a race to benefit wounded warriors, conducted by Hope For The Warriors. I can truly say I’ve never had so much fun doing anything I felt so good about. Hundreds of Marines ran in formation. But for me, it was just an honor to take part in the 10K alongside wounded warriors on handbikes. Read the article in the Globe (page 1) (page 2).
May also afforded us an opportunity to do the Dismal Swamp Trail again, this time on Hare. I still had to make a decision about the Marine Corps Marathon. Would I be ready for that hill by October? I do not want to complete 26 miles of that race only to be overcome by an insurmountable hill two tenths of a mile from the finish line. Registration for the race was closed. I could still register as part of Hope For The Warriors’ charity team if I raised money for them. That was exactly what I wanted to do, but my experience in April told me I wouldn’t be able to complete the race. Sadly, I made a decision that I would wait until 2008 to take part in the MCM and I would find another way to support Hope For The Warriors.
Getting Serious With Hills
I began training in Atlantic Beach every chance I got because the streets there are essentially paved over sand dunes, hence it is one of the hilliest spots in the county. I found a hill on East Atlantic Boulevard that made a great spot to work on my strength training. We also found another hill that had the same grade as the hill at the Iwo Jima memorial on the MCM course. That would be my test hill. I nicknamed it Mount Suribachi. After a few weeks of working out on the hills, I tackled the Atlantic Beach Bridge at the end of June. As result of subsequent workouts on the bridge, repetitions up the hills at the Beach, and long rides close to home, I noticed I was becoming considerably stronger.
My cause had pretty much come together in my mind by July. On July 13, I took it to the Internet. I stood up this blog and set up a fundraising campaign to benefit Hope For The Warriors. I called the campaign and the blog, “2008 Miles of Hope.” The goal became a mission. The idea was threefold:
1. To handbike 2008 miles in training, races, and fundraising events to raise money for and awareness of our nation’s wounded warriors.
2. To raise $26.2 thousand for Hope For The Warriors to benefit wounded warriors through their programs. Why that number? One thousand dollars for every mile of the third goal.
3. To complete the Marine Corps Marathon in October 2008.
That ought to keep us busy! The only problem was that now it was becoming the hottest time of the year. Strenuous workouts and long rides were becoming difficult. Labor Day weekend and the Virginia Beach Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon were rapidly approaching.
Amazingly the weather turned perfect the night before the race. My niece and I completed the race together. Other runners shouted, “You rock!” I’d call back, “No, you rock! I roll!” My first half marathon was a blast. Enjoy the video: Rock n Roll Half Marathon video
My next event was the Marine Corps Half Marathon in Camp Lejeune in September. The training on hills and the long rides were beginning to pay off. I finished the 13.1 miles in just under two hours, a time that I was quite proud of.
In October, I finished two 10K races. The first was the Beirut Memorial 10K. I had a tough time with that one. Equipment problems slowed me down and made it my toughest race. The second October event was the Neuse River Bridge Run. Another great event. That race is a great way to enjoy spectacular views of the Neuse River. Read the Sun Journal article.
The Hill Workouts Pay Off
One day, late in October, I was working out on my practice hill at Atlantic Beach on East Atlantic Boulevard. I started rocking back and forth on a steep section by pulling on the cranks a short stroke to roll forward and rolling back the stopping the reverse motion by yanking on the cranks again. I noticed that on each stroke I was ratcheting forward a few inches. By using this technique, I was able to climb through the steep part of the hill with relatively little effort. Not very fast, mind you, but successfully. I got my teammate and we rode over to Mount Suribachi, my test hill that has the same grade as the steepest hill of the Marine Corps Marathon. It was not very pretty, but I inched my way all the way up that hill.
Now, that was a bittersweet moment. That was the breakthrough I needed all along to complete my dream, the Marine Corps Marathon. But by now, with the race a few days away, it was too late since I wasn’t registered. But now I know that nothing will stop me.
Team Wounded Warrior
The great folks at Hope For The Warriors asked my teammate and I to go to the Marine Corps Marathon with them. They fielded a team of over a hundred runners called Team Wounded Warrior, which included five members of the Marine Wounded Warrior Battalion East. The team collectively raised close to $150,000 in donations. H4TW needed help manning their booth at the expo and they need folks who knew how to navigate the DC Metro to get out on the course to cheer the team. It was an honor to help out.
The day of the race we went out to a stretch of East Potomac Park called Hayes Point. It seems to be universally agreed by runners to be the loneliest stretch of the course. Along with my niece T, we yelled ourselves hoarse and handed out Snickers. All in all it was a great experience, but not as great as October 2008, when T and I will be out there on the course.
Kicking Off the Fundraising
We really had not conducted any serious fundraising efforts yet. All of our contributions so far had pretty much fallen into our laps. This cause is amazing in that folks are overwhelming in their compassion and willingness to support once they learn of it. In November we went to Fayetteville for a Beta Sigma Phi area luncheon. Beta Sigma Phi is an international women’s service organization in which my teammate is a member. There we shared a table with the Pi Master Chapter from Havelock. With the help of those amazing women we raised $473 in one morning.
The Only Handbike in Town (Again)
The next day I took part in the City of Oaks Half Marathon in Raleigh. That was one bugger of a course. I don’t remember a flat spot on the course. On a handbike, you’d like to go as fast downhill as possible in order to carry that energy as far up the next hill as you can go. Nothing doing on this course. Runners were too dense to go very fast downhill so I had to work for every uphill. Pics from WRAL (Slide 15) and News and Observer (Slide 5).
My grandson thought my handbike was pretty cool:
In December, Camp Lejeune’s Marine Corps Community Services’ Semper Fit Division awarded me their first place in the handbike division for their 2007 Grand Prix series of races. That was a very nice way to cap off a year of handbiking adventures. Thanks, Mike Marion!
With cooler weather setting in, we turned our activities to fundraising. So far, we’ve received over $3400 in donations. Everyone’s support and compassion is simply inspiring.
2008 Promises to be Even Better
Check back soon for our plans for 2008. Help get the word out. Help us help heroes. All the money we raise goes to Hope For The Warriors. We pay all our travel and registration fees out-of-pocket. It’s an honor for us to support our nation’s wounded warriors with our efforts. And it has enriched our lives immeasurably.
Learn more about Hope For The Warriors and their great programs to help our nation's wounded warrriors and their families.
Check out our donations page. It’s easy to make a secure online donation using your credit card: 2008 Miles of Hope.