Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Shamrock

31.2 Miles of Inspiration

What inspires you? What follows is my account of the Shamrock Marathon weekend and all the inspiration and motivation that saw me through to the finish line. Twice.

First of all, you have to understand that I get a unique perspective of a race. I get to start a race up front before all the runners. The wheelchairs and handbikes usually start five minutes or so earlier that the runners. That gets them down the street and out of the massive congestion of the start. It also gives me a chance to see a cross section of the race as the field of faster runners passes by. So for me, as a participant, I’m experiencing the event also as a spectator as well. There are stories of inspiration throughout those events that make it a memory to savor forever.

Whales and Dolphins

The inspiration started last fall. I signed up for the Whale. The Whale is a dual entry in the marathon and the 8K events. My niece, T and I are both training for the 2008 Marine Corps Marathon. I claim it is the result of a challenge from her. She claims it is the result of too much whisky. Since that challenge we have completed several races together, including the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon and the City of Oaks Half Marathon. We mutually agreed that Shamrock would be a good time for another race. She signed up for the Dolphin which is the 8K and the half marathon.

Our plans turned into a “family” challenge. T’s boyfriend, B, had run with T the last 10K of the MCM 06 to motivate her at the end. During the City of Oaks, felt like she needed some company, so she asked him to run a short way at the start of the race. That short distance became the entire half marathon. B finished that entire event at her side with no training or preparation! We all agreed it was time for him to officially enter a half marathon and get recognized for his feat.

Meanwhile another niece, K took up the challenge and entered the 8K. My teammate signed on for the 8K, and T’s running partner, M signed up for the Dolphin. Nothing is more inspiring that to be surrounded by your most valuable team, your family and friends as you work toward any endeavor.

Charlie and Bulldog

More inspiration for the Shamrock evolved from the Norfolk Half Marathon on Ground Hog Day. Again I had the chance to “meet” inspiring runners such as fellow bloggers Charlie and Bulldog. “Meet” is somewhat of an overstatement of the act of witnessing a blur of a human figure streak past you while you shout out less in encouragement than in awe. We have since followed each others’ posts. I’ve found tremendous motivation in reading their descriptions of their workout regimes and grueling training. It makes me feel guilty for every minute I’m not exercising.

The 8K

The starting line of the 8K gave me a chance to meet my fellow wheelchair entrant, GF. GF hails from upstate NY. I thought I had a challenge training in the winter months. GF spends his training time in malls and parking decks during the winter. Folks, I’ve pushed a chair in parking lots. It’s a good way to get your heart rate up. Not from the exercise but the fear of death from the constant attack of cars that don’t see you.

I always race with the American flag attached to my handbike. It’s my way of reminding myself of the sacrifices of thousands of wounded warriors that preserve the liberties that we enjoy. The only exception has been the Crystal Coast Half Marathon when I was afraid the high crosswinds might cause the flag to sway and hit other runners. The race started with the ceremonial singing of the National Anthem. I often get teary-eyed during the National Anthem. As I looked around, I noticed all eyes were on my flag, excuse me, OUR flag. The pride this little bit of unexpected recognition added a little extra emotion to the ceremony and inspiration in my heart.

By now I was fully inspired. Readied with the knowledge that somewhere in the field behind me stood my teammate, T, M, and K; all as charged and excited as I. The crowds and cheering along the course were great. The weather was close to perfect, maybe a bit windy.

GF and I struggled along the first ten blocks or so against the stiff wind. However, once I turned south, it was thirty-five or so blocks of straight tailwind. This was my chance to fly. The run down Atlantic boulevard was a fun run past all the ice-cream stands, tee shirts stores, and hotels a beach town can offer. The turn onto the boardwalk put me into a headwind for what seemed like a slow crawl to the finish. I mentally said goodbye to the little group of runners I had hung with for the last ten minutes or so. The beautiful Virginia Beach oceanfront offered a grand view as I plowed through the wind back to the finish line.

I finished in 39:48 which was a PR 7 minute pace. I placed 268th out of about 4900 finishers. My teammate finished her first 8K. A year ago she had never run a step. K finished her first race also. M and T hung right in there with the rest of the team to the finish. All in all, a finish to inspire me for the next day’s marathon.

The Marathon

My half marathon teammates, T, M, and B had to start their race an hour ahead of mine. We wished each other a few brief “good lucks” as we grabbed a bite at the hotel breakfast bar. Unfortunately I tarried too long over breakfast and got to the starting line with only a few minutes to spare. The knowledge that my family and friends were already out there running had me psyched. There was more inspiration waiting for me at the starting line. Or despair; depending on how you look at it.

David Swaim

If you’re a wheelchair competitor, the sight of this man at the starting line will cause you despair. Or at the very least it will cause you to re-evaluate your strategy for a second place finish.

Get a good look at his blue racing gear before the shot of the starter’s pistol. Afterward he will be only a distant spec down the street before you. And that’s only briefly. He has won the wheelchair division in the Marine Corps Marathon previously and many others, including recently, the Myrtle Beach Marathon. To see this man streak along at his five-minute pace is like watching a human powered rocket fly along the street.

The Start

At the starting line I hear my name called out, not once, but twice. I looked up and there was Bulldog! The Welshman had made his way to the front to wish me luck. THEN, I looked to my left and there was my mentor, GM.

This retired Marine Sergeant Major has been a constant source of inspiration and motivation and has competed in nearly every event I have entered. He, too, had made his way through the throng to wish me well. Since I began my 2008 Miles of Hope campaign, he has been there with me, offering advice and experience to help me along the way. He is also a donor to my 2008 Miles of Hope fundraising campaign. I look forward to many more races with this great individual. This picture is actually from the Myrtle Beach Marathon but it shows how he took time away from his last-minute race preparations to find me at the front and bid me good luck.

Physically, I was as ready as I could be. The rain was gone (everyone hoped). My teammates were headed toward Fort Story as they made their way along the half marathon. Mentally, as a result of the inspiration given me by my family, my friends and supporters, and thousands of cheering spectators, I was stoked! I had one goal: to arrive at the finish line completely depleted of physical energy. However, there was to be no shortage of inspiration today.


The starting horn sounded and we were off. A blue streak rocketed off to my left. That was the last I’d see of David Swaim this weekend. The wind was at my back. The first 10K of this race was going to be fun. The run down Atlantic Boulevard was much like the 8K only faster. The wind was a steady 25 MPH. I cruised along, sometimes reaching a six-minute mile pace. The bridge was going to be a bit of a speed bump.

As I started up the bridge, I was slowing and turning and gearing down, all the while being passed by the leaders in this field of 2300 participants. Once on the incline of the bridge I was geared down and grinding along slowly. I heard a familiar voice again shout out my name. “Run Bulldog, Run!” I shouted in reply. Charlie also passed me, also shouting my encouragement. Between the tailwind and the uplifting thoughts pushing me along my climb up this bridge was to be brief.

See Amy Run

Somewhere off to my left I heard a woman’s voice, “Bless you.” By the time I could react this tall amputee had passed me by and was bounding across the bridge like a running machine. At the top of my lungs I shouted back, “Go, lady, go!” In a blink, she was gone.

Amy Palmiero-Winters lost her leg in a motorcycle crash. A runner all her life, she was told she would never run again. What does a runner who has lost her leg do with her life? For Amy, the choice was clear. Run. And she has never looked back. What I just had the privilege of witnessing was a 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics hopeful. Not the Paralympics. This young lady plans to compete alongside able-bodied athletes in the marathon. Today I think she took two minutes off my time. I cranked even harder to get over the bridge, hoping to catch her on the down side of the bridge. I wanted to find where she hid her wings.

Camp Pendleton

The course proceeded down General Booth Boulevard where I again got a chance to yell at my fellow blogsters Bulldog and Charlie as they returned from the turn around. David Swaim? Forget it! By now he was so far gone that the light reflecting off his jersey won’t reach this universe for a few more years. As we wound our way through the Camp, a group of soldiers assembled outside one of the barracks and shouted cadence for the runners. Again, this little act of inspiration gave a tremendous motivational boost to me and all the runners around me. And just in time. After turning three more corners we started North, into the 25 MPH blast that would dog us for the next thirteen miles or so.


As the course proceeded North back over the bridge, along the boardwalk, up Atlantic Boulevard, and Shore Drive it was all headwind. There was nowhere to hide from it; it was like a half marathon of brutal wind resistance in the middle of this course.

Every runner out there fed off each other for inspiration. We were all in the same predicament. I received more than my share of encouragement from my fellow marathoners and tried to return the same. The volunteers and spectators along the course were excellent. As we passed little clumps of spectators, water tables, and even the road monitors, they all had words of encouragement that took our minds off the wind.

At about mile 14 I met my teammate who was out on the course photographing runners, including my friends and family on the return leg of the Half Marathon. She was waiting for me with some inspiration in a can, Red Bull. I pulled into the median and stopped, where I wolfed down a Snickers and drank the Red Bull. For those of you who haven’t tried it, Snickers and Red Bull make a great mid-course refueling. If you can’t stand the taste of shots and goos, you can’t beat Snickers.

Rested and recharged, I got out on the road again. I managed to catch a glimpse of Bulldog on his return leg as he picked his way through the stragglers of the Half. I was amazed at his speed that far into his run. “Run, Bulldog, run!” I shouted. Little conversations were beginning to pick up amongst runners as the number of spectators waned. Along Shore Drive runners with compatible paces settled into little clumps and began to chat to maintaining their enthusiasm. Most of the banter was support for each other. A marathon virgin asked me about 2008 Miles of Hope, reading the logo on my shirt. I congratulated her on her first marathon and remarked that this was only my second. A DJ had speakers set up and music blasting about halfway up Shore Drive. In a conversation with another runner, she admitted she missed the motivation imparted by the spectators along Atlantic Boulevard. For me, the inspiration was all around me; it flowed alongside in the form of the energy from the thousands of runners.

Susan Constance, Discovery, Godspeed, and Admiral De Grasse

The sight of the Fort Story gate gave me a tremendous motivational boost. I knew in my mind that the headwinds were soon over. I joked with a fellow runner, “I hope they’re not checking IDs today,” recalling the snarled traffic at the gates military bases during periods of heightened security. As we trudged eastward, we passed openings in the sand dunes that gave the wind an opening to funnel through as it blasted off of the Chesapeake Sound. One blast blew me sideways a foot or so. The more we turned southward, the more of a tailwind component the breeze imparted and the faster I went.

As we passed the Cape Henry Lighthouse I recalled our stop at this spot last summer when my teammate and I had reconned this course. This spot is hallowed ground in the history of our country. It was here in 1607 that the Jamestown settlers first set foot on what is now the USA when they landed their three ships, the Susan Constance, the Discovery, and the Godspeed. And it was off this shore in 1781 that the French Admiral De Grasse cut off the British Navy from reinforcing General Cornwallis at Yorktown. That action enabled George Washington to defeat Cornwallis, the turning point of the War for American Independence. OK, I guess only a history enthusiast such as myself can find inspiration in a patch of beach.

Downwind to the Finish

I was snapped out of my reverie by the sound of my name again. My mentor, GM, was yelling in encouragement as I passed. “Yee-ha,” I yelled! In a blink, I was past. I had the full force of the wind at my back now. It seemed like only minutes before I was back at the Boardwalk. With the Atlantic nor’easter at my back, I clipped along at a snappy pace the last few blocks to the finish. There was Gerry, another wheelchair racer who had just finished minutes ahead of me. Gerry had traveled all the way from Cork, Ireland to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at the Shamrock.

At the finish, my little team of family and friends was there to greet me. T, B, and M were all proudly sporting their half-marathon medals, and I my marathon finisher medal. We all glowed in our accomplishments. We all exchanged congratulations and well wishes until the cold March air started to induce the post-race chill. We said our farewells with visions of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon beginning to form in our minds when we will all race together again.

My time for the marathon was 2:14:52 which put me somewhere around 1072 out of about 2300 participants. And I finished 18th of 58 whale participants. Yee ha! Not great, but better than my friends who spent the weekend in front of a TV.


I was especially proud this weekend. Not only did I get to take home two finisher medals but my teammate had one as well for finishing the 8K. Normally I get to enjoy the anticipation at the start and the thrill of the finish. But I don’t even get on the handbike without my teammate. None of my training and none of my races would be possible without her. She is always there at the finish line for me and right by my side, either afoot or on her bike, for many of these 2008 Miles of Hope. The greatest teammate in the world!

It is my fervent desire that, as a result of these 2008 Miles of Hope, that our Nation’s wounded warriors will know that they have you, the reader of this blog, as their loyal teammate. Their stories of sacrifice and recovery are nothing short of inspirational. Be there for them in their most difficult battle, their fight for recovery and rehabilitation. Your generous tax-deductible contribution to Hope For The Warriors will help them know that they do not stand alone, they stand beside grateful and compassionate Americans such as you.

My participation in events such as this are dedicated to the honor and memory of service men and women wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families. I raise money with my campaign, 2008 Miles of Hope, through donations to Hope For The Warriors. I’m not a wounded warrior, I’m a grateful beneficiary of their sacrifices. Learn more about Hope For The Warriors.

Please donate to my fundraising campaign to support wounded warriors, 2008 Miles of Hope. All the money I raise goes to Hope For The Warriors. This phenomenal organization provides Warrior Wishes, Direct Needs Grants, and Spouses’ Scholarships. Now they have embarked on the creation of a Hope and Care Center, a rehabilitation and wellness facility for wounded warriors.

You can easily make a donation to Hope For The Warriors by using my secure credit card donation site:

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Charlie said...

Congratulations on an outstanding Shamrock weekend Paul! 8K PR and Marathon PR...A Whale of a Great job! Great report!

See you at Rock 'n' Roll!

LetsRoll said...

Thanks, Charlie! Your encouragement always pushes me a little further. See you at the DSS!


cymrusteve said...

Tremendous report Paul! The least I can do when I'm out on the course is cheer for you, and I always get a boost myself when I see you giving 110%

Fantastic weekend for you - congratulations!

Good luck at DSS. Wish I was racing it again this year, but I'll be out of town that weekend.

On a slightly different note, I've just tagged you over at Run Bulldog Run:

Have fun if you decide to play along and keep up the inspirational work!