Friday, October 10, 2008

Hope, Inspiration, and Renewed Promise

Ask not what America can do for you, but see what her bravest have sacrificed, and ask, “How do I say thank you?”
- Alysia Rieg, 2008 Marine Corps Marathon Team Hope For The Warriors

This past weekend was the Army Ten-Miler. I added it into my schedule in August thanks to the Army’s new registration transfer policy. I had hoped it would be a nice warm up for the Marine Corps Marathon.

From ATM

Crossing the starting line alongside some of the Nation’s bravest warriors turned out to be one of the most inspirational experiences of my life.

From ATM

Twenty-six thousand runners took part. To put it in perspective, in eastern NC, where I live, that’s more than the entire population of many counties. Every runner had their own story of inspiration that was driving them. Eighteen thousand made it to the finish line. With the help of a dedicated and loving teammate, this quadriplegic on a handbike, driven by hope, inspiration, and a promise, is proud to be one of those finishers. My niece, T- was also one of those finishers. She and I made a pact to make this an annual must-do.

The trip

My teammate and I arrived in DC Friday evening. In addition to the ATM, I wanted to use the opportunity to prepare for the Marine Corps Marathon. I had four objectives for the weekend. I wanted to:

1. Reconnoiter the MCM course; particularly this year’s changes
2. Ride up Lee Highway, the longest uphill climb on the MCM course
3. Reconnoiter the ATM course
4. Race the ATM.

In a nutshell, the weekend, as measured by my objectives was good news, bad news, more good news, and even more good news.

Good news

If you follow my blog, you’ll understand that my big personal goal is the MCM. The good news has to do with the new MCM course. The area at Canal Road and Reservoir Road is run in the opposite direction this year. I was concerned about some steep uphill grades. We had previously checked the grades but I wasn’t concerned about the downhill grades. Since the course is run in the opposite direction, those are now uphill. The good news is that there is only one killer climb, the beginning of Reservoir Road. It won’t be fun, but it’s doable. The new direction has actually made the steepest grades downhill.

The bad news

The bad news was Saturday’s recon ride for the MCM along Lee Highway. There is a lot of ascent along this road. Although it’s not relatively steep, it’s steep enough to bog me down. Based on this experience, I think it will take me about an hour to get to mile 2 at Spout Run Parkway during the MCM. I won’t be able to make up that time on the downhill, either, since by that time the runners will be too thick to pass very fast.

More good news

The ATM recon drive filled me with Hope for Sunday’s race. It was better than flat. It seemed like it was mostly downhill. “Is that possible or is it just an illusion,” I kept asking myself. My only worry was going too fast to make turns at some spots.

Even more good news

So the ATM itself was the best news of the whole trip. I was psyched up and I was excited. The course was great. This was going to be a great race. Saturday night we decided to carb load with sushi. We had great dinner at Café Asia. T- and I had a chance to strategize on our upcoming MCM. We normally carb up on Italian before a race and it probably wasn’t wise to try anything new but the food at Café Asia was sure good.

Out in the dark

Everything was going perfectly this weekend. No problems at the Expo. I tried to bolster our sagging economy with purchases at the Expo. I even got to bed early Saturday and then slept hard. That is rare for me before a race. We were up at 0500 and had eaten and were out the door around 0600. I wanted to be on my bike and situated at the start by 0700.

The Pentagon parking lot is a bit of a maze in a wheelchair on a good day. It seems like no matter where you need to go, there is a curb in the way. Chairs are always an afterthought at these races, or at least with the crowd control planners. It seems like I was constantly having to get soldiers to remove barricades to get to the starting line.

From ATM

At the starting line I met my good friend and mentor from the National Defense University, Dr. C-. He had come equipped with his camera. Since my teammate usually takes all the pics, so it was good that she could pose for a pic with me for a change.

From ATM

In a few minutes a couple of other handcyclists arrived. One, an amputee, and the other a cancer survivor. Note the girl next to me in pink.

From ATM
She used to run the ATM until cancer robbed her of the use of her legs. Sunday she did it again for the first time on a handbike. She kicked my butt. Her name is Hope. Fitting, wouldn't you say?


The wounded warriors, or as the Army calls them, the Missing Parts-In-Action Team began to arrive. It was to be an honor to run beside these men and women. Several were fitted with running prostheses. Some only used everyday prostheses. Two used handbikes.

From ATM

One blind soldier ran with a guide. You had to be inspired by the fact that they were out there.

The Secretary of the Army, the Honorable Pete Geren spent a great deal of time mingling with the wounded troops and engaging them in one-on-one conversation with them. It was good to see him pay such close attention to them and to personally honor their sacrifices.

From ATM

He even honored us civilians with a commemorative coin.

Even though I often participate in races alongside other athletes with disabilities, I am always inspired by the determination and resolve of the wounded warriors as they run for their own honor and that of their comrades. Read the inspiring race report from one of the amputees.

From ATM

The Golden Knights dropped in right in front of us.

Four Blackhawks flew directly over the runners in a diamond formation. They could not have flown lower for the street lamps.

From ATM
One of the MPIA handbikers was working feverishly right up to the last minute to adjust his bike. Someone had brought the wrong bike for him. To give you an idea, it took about a month for my teammate and I to get my bike adjusted to me properly.

From ATM
We rolled up to the starting line. Announcer Ken Berger had us all pumped up. The starting gun went off and we were off. This was going to be fun!
From ATM
Mile 1 6:40 Arlington

From ATM
I did my typical slow roll across the starting line. The other handbikes were gone in a flash. We left the Pentagon area and headed out toward the traffic circle at Arlington Cemetery. I caught up with the handbiker that had the wrong chair. He seemed to be coping and he got going and left me behind. One of the amputees was really fast. He and I passed each other several times. The weather was perfect and I had plenty of energy.

Mile 2 7:22 Constitution

There was just enough grade up the Memorial Bridge to slow me down a bit. The grade down the DC side was just enough to get up some good speed. There was no one around except that fast amputee up ahead, so I yanked on the cranks with all my strength. Yee-ha! This was fun! I caught up to the amputee just before 19th Street and yelled in support.

Mile 3 10:09 Virginia Avenue—Passing the pace car

Mile three was my slowest and my fastest. The constant climb up the first half of the stretch slowed me down until the pace car and motorcycles passed and the lead runners approached. At the top of the hill, the pace car was about a block ahead. I thought to myself, “I think I can pass that lizard!” I poured it on again and approached it from the right rear corner. I managed to pass at a pretty good clip and squeeze in behind the motorcycles before having to slow to make the sharp turn onto rock Creek Parkway.

Mile 4 5:58 Rock Creek Parkway

Needless to say, as you can judge by my time, this mile was fun. Runners who were out for their Sunday jog along the Potomac saw the race picking up momentum. They abandoned their exercise and ran up to the street to yell to the runners. The pace car with the Geico lizard passed again and a few minutes later the photographers’ truck. That could only mean the lead runners were not far behind.

In a few minutes I could hear the footsteps of the Brazilian runners. I yelled to the leaders as they passed. You have to appreciate my unique vantage point in the race. By getting to start early, I not only get to enjoy the motivation of seeing the other disabled participants but also seeing some of the fastest runners in the world.

Mile 5 7:44 Independence

If you are a runner, there can be no better place on the earth to run than Independence Avenue. Along the Tidal Basin, the crowds of spectators were starting to thicken but were still “intimate.” Everyone was cheering individual runners, not just yelling to a crowd. The Washington Monument was to my left. The Jefferson Memorial, my favorite DC landmark, lay ahead, to my right as I continued my “pursuit of happiness.” The National Mall lay out ahead. The street slopes upward as it approaches 14th Street. I ended up coasting to a stop as I had to take my hand off the cranks to shift to the lower gears. Crowds were yelling, “You can do it!”

Mile 6 8:12 The sprint downtown

After a few minutes of grinding along in my lower gears, I got to the “flat” part of Independence. Actually, it’s not perfectly flat, it’s slightly downhill all the way to Capitol Hill. Perfect. The spectators were highly motivating, packed two and three deep in some spots. Although I could have gone a lot faster, I enjoyed this stretch.

I veered over into the opposite side of the street to high-five some of the returning handbikers. As I approached 7th Street I slowed to check the crowds. This is where I had hoped to see my teammate and Dr. C-. They were nowhere in sight. I picked up my pace and started passing the throng again, which was getting thicker by now.

Mile 7 6:40 The Capitol

I could still maneuver through the runners fairly easily, but I tried not to cut anyone off. I was still maintaining a fairly good pace. A couple a little dips in the roads caused me to have to yell to runners as I passed them at a pretty good clip.

Mile 8 9:47 West on Independence

As I started westward on Independence I began paying for the downhill advantage I had enjoyed going eastward. Now the runners were providing the support. There was a constant cacophony of Hooahs from the outbound soldiers. The throng of runners outbound was a full fledged crowd by now.

I checked for my teammate and Dr. C- again at 7th Street. Still not here. It turns out they got separated at the starting line and were later than planned catching the metro over to the District.

Mile 9 8:24 Highway 395 bridge

At 14th Street we descended downhill as we approached the 14th Street Bridge. I have to give it to these runners. In most races, the iPods have the runners deafened. In this race most seemed to adhere to the no-iPod policy. Hence, when I had the opportunity to pass on a downhill stretch, I could yell to warn runners and they could actually hear me.

Mile 10 9:52 The Bridge

I had thought that the 14th Street Bridge would be one of the most fun parts of the course. I had envisioned sweeping views of the Potomac. Instead, there was just a lot of concrete that needed sweeping. It was hot. On Friday I wondered how the course could seem predominately downhill. On Sunday I learned. That elevation was made up on the 14th Street Bridge. A couple of times I coasted to a stop when I took my hand off the crank to shift to the lower gears. As I plodded along the last little rise I could hear the sound of Ken Berger’s voice as he announced the finishers crossing the finish line. There is no sweeter sound to a runner’s ear.

Mile 10.12 0:36 Finish

My actual distance is a bit longer than the course distance because I obviously didn’t follow the exact path of certification to the inch. At the end my time was 1:21:21. Not my best, but one I’m quite happy with.

From ATM
T- finished in 1:56. She was quite proud of her time after her struggle at the VA Beach RnR Half. Her 10 mile split then was 24 minutes slower. My teammate and Dr. C- got to Independence Avenue after I had already passed. It was a while before we all got reunited. Dr. C- was never able to get past a bunch of stern E-4s so I never saw him after the race.

Sally happened to spot my good luck friends, S- and D-. I always seem to do well when they are in the race, hence they are always a welcome sight. T- attributes our success to our dinner. “Must be the sushi,” she later emailed me.

Blessing count

All in all, it was a great weekend. One made possible by some of the greatest warriors in the world.

I finished last among the handbikes. This is no concern to me because I had fun. In fact,

I got to have a front row seat in the largest ten-miler in the nation.
I had a front row seat to all the pre-race ceremonies.
I got to watch world class athletes from a unique vantage point that no one else in the race got to enjoy.
I got to meet the Secretary of the Army, shake his hand, and have my picture taken with him.
He personally honored me with a coin for participating.
I had the honor of racing beside some of the greatest service members in the world.
I went across the starting line with those men and women who have sacrificed personally and greatly for our freedom.
I finished the largest ten-miler in the nation.
I finished in a pretty good time.
I passed the pace car.
Thousands and thousands of spectators and athletes cheered for me.
I got to spend some QUALITY time with one of the most inspirational people I know, Dr. C-.
My teammate had fun (when Mama's happy,...).
I got to do another race with my niece, T-
T- finished in a pretty good time.
My XX-year old mother gained a few more bragging rights amongst her quilting circles.

Hope For The Warriors

I race to benefit this outstanding foundation. They look out for wounded warriors and their families in their time of need. It is my promise to raise $26,200 in donations to support their programs.

This is America. We can go out and run around the Nation’s Capitol if we want to. Or stay indoors and watch TV. Only because we have brave men and women who are willing to go stand in harm's way to protect our liberty. And for that I am grateful.

Join me in my campaign, 2008 Miles of Hope, to help America's heroes, our wounded warriors and their families. Donate today. You can easily make a donation to Hope For The Warriors by using our secure credit card donation site:

2008 Miles of Hope

Or donate by check. Download our donation form, fill it out, and send it to us with your donation to our address on the form:

Donation form.pdf

And learn about where the money goes:

Hope For The Warriors

It's only a minor inconvenience for those who have sacrificed so much.

Watch the ATM video