Thursday, February 5, 2009

Fall Races and Jacksonville Marathon

Followers of my blog have probably wondered why the lack of recent posts. I have to start out with my apology for not keeping my many supporters better informed on my progress. October through December has been the cap to one of the most exciting and inspirational years of my life. The period has also been one of the most hectic times of my life. Or so I thought.

Then the New Year brought my mother a debilitating infection that almost took her from us. She’s in a rehab facility now, fighting to come back and regain her independence. Unfortunately my blogging and my training have suffered as a result. To bring readers up to date, here’s a report on some of my recent events.

Neuse River Bridge Run

In September, I was logging over 360 miles in training including two half centuries in one weekend. Needless to say, I felt in pretty good shape for the Army Ten-Miler. At that point the weather started turning bad, the daylight started becoming shorter, and various activities just started taking more time away from my training. The Beirut Memorial run was the second weekend in October. The day of the race it was pouring cats and dogs. Since one stretch of the course goes off road and across a ditch, we didn’t even get out of bed when the alarm went off at 4 AM. The last thing I wanted was to get stuck in the mud. DNS

The next weekend was the Neuse River Run. For the locals, this is a pretty big event. For one of my coworkers, JC, this was to be her comeback run after being sidelined last year after having a baby. It’s a scenic point-to-point that starts in Bridgeton, crosses the Neuse and Trent River Bridges, loops around Tryon Palace, the colonial capital of NC, and finishes in downtown New Bern. The view from the bridges is unique and scenic. There’s a 5K also that loops through the historic downtown district.

This year it was wet. And cold. And windy.

It seemed like I had a headwind every way I turned. I was the only chair again (everyone with sense was home in bed). I got a five minute (I think) head start. I forgot to start the timer on my GPS so I didn’t record my splits. I also didn’t get an accurate timing because the starter never communicated my start time to the timer. The posted time for me was 55:10. I think my time was actually about 1 hour. I think because the starter didn’t inform the timer that I got an advance start, so the timer didn’t break out the chair time, hence no medal. The good news was that my teammate came in 3rd in her division in the 5K!

Heidi Tucker won the women’s 5K and JC finished first in her division in the 5K. My MCM teammate, SL, finished 2nd in his division in the 5K.

We stood around in the cold and the rain waiting for the awards and I managed to develop a bit of hypothermia. All in all not a particularly fun day. A good wake-up call prior to the MCM and I was able to get in some good workouts the following week.

The MCM was indescribable. I did my best to try with the blog post on that race. I still get emotional thinking back on the race. You should read DCTriGuy’s account of teammate Zach and AJ’s race. Zach and AJ are two WWs that Hope For The Warriors sponsored into the MCM.

City of Oaks

Oaks was the weekend after the MCM. I thought by now I’d be ready for hills. Too many travel days and too few workouts proved otherwise. I did this half marathon with T- last year. It was a brutal course. This year it was worse. For a wheeler, the ideal course is flat. This race is anything but. The next best scenario for a wheeler is a downhill first part with an uphill second, like the Boston. That gives the wheeler a chance to get some speed early and stay in front of the runners on the downhills. Then when you are in the thick of the runners you’re at a slower speed on the uphills. Well this course doesn’t fit that profile either. In fact they changed the start/finish location this year and made the course (much) worse. On top of that I was only able to get in one substantive workout after the MCM.

The City of Oaks folks didn’t seem to care for wheelers too much. In fact, that seemed to be a persistent theme in my fall races with the exception of the MCM. The race started out with a slight uphill grade that turned steep after bout one block.

The head start for this race was one minute if I recall correctly.

By the time I had cranked my way to the top of the first hill, nearly the entire field of runners had passed.

Any time I made up on the downhills was made trying to get shout my way around the iPod zombies. Fortunately my teammate was able to ride her bike and guide for me. That was a big help in getting through some congested areas. It is a scenic course through several of Raleigh’s nicer neighborhoods and the downtown district. The full marathoners do an off-road excursion through Umstead Park. Overall it was a tough course. A lot of steep hills.

One good aspect of going up hills was that the rest to visit with family spectators was welcome. The other runners and spectators were great. I got a little inspirational boost toward the end when Heidi passed me toward the finish. While it was good to see another home-town runner, it was a little disheartening to remember that she was finishing the full marathon.

My time was 3:07. Not a good one for me but given the hills and my lack of training it was to be expected. No awards for chairs again this year. At least they had a nice finisher medal and hot pizza. My finish was not as heartbreaking as the Kenyans, though, who missed the turn-around for the half. One of them went on to finish the marathon with the best time, but because he was registered for the half, he wasn’t eligible for the prize.

From Oaks to Coast

The OBX half was the following weekend. It’s a flat course and the event website advertises that a 35 foot high bridge is the only hill on the course. I was anxious to clock a fast time after the hills ate my lunch at MCM and Oaks. I was also determined to put in a few workouts before the race this time. I always seem to do my best on the third day after two hard workouts. I have a saying about “come-back” workouts. I say, “First day you cry, second day you die, and third day you fly.”

The race was on Sunday and we caught the Cedar Island Ferry and drove up the Outer Banks on Friday. On Ocracoke Island I got my teammate to get me on my bike and I rode the 14-mile length of the island. This is undoubtedly my favorite ride. The cool air and ocean breeze felt great.

Event Director Robyn Keenan

Friday PM we went to the expo and got settled in our motel. Saturday we drove the course and discovered that 35-foot bridge was more like a 90-foot bridge.

Later that morning I got on my bike again and rode the course. The half marathon course winds its way through several residential neighborhoods in Kill Devil Hills and past Jockey’s Ridge. It goes over the main bridge to Manteo, the home of the Lost Colony.

Sunday was to be my “fly” day. I got on my crank chair at the motel and started off toward the starting line. My teammate stayed behind to get packed up so we could load up the van and get a late checkout after the race. I arrived at the starting line and met one of the race officials. He was looking for me to let me know I was going to start 20 minutes early. Holy cow! I wasn’t ready. I called my teammate on my cell phone and asked her to expedite.

I made my way to the start and met my bicycle escorts. I was the only chair (again) although one other has registered but didn’t show. Someone helped me out of my jacket I had worn from the motel and I drank an energy drink I had brought with me. About that time my teammate arrived, just a few minutes before my start.

The weather was perfect, sunny and a bit chilly. There was some discussion back and forth between the race officials regarding who was the timing official and who was the starting official. It only served to confuse me because I then heard the announce get the crowd to shout a ready, set, go. I hate to disappoint anyone but not knowing if that was the start or not, I waited until the timer said to go ahead.

I launched with my usual slow roll and a yee-ha!

Only a handful of spectators were out that time of the morning so my bike escorts and I pretty much owned the road.

With a twenty-minute lead, it was fairly far along before the Kenyans passed me. I was almost at the bridge before the lead female passed.

I was having a pretty good day. Not a PR, but considering my recent (lack of) training schedule, not bad. On the way up the bridge I made a strategy with my bike escorts. I stayed on the left side of the runner’s lane. As I neared the top, one escort would go on to the top and begin warning the runners to stay right going down the bridge, (particularly the iPodders). As I started down, he would go ahead and the other would lead by about thirty meters to warn anyone that had forgotten to stay right.

It worked without a hitch. Partly because the field of runners was still fairly thin and partly because of the help from the escorts, I was able to make up a good bit of time lost ascending the bridge. I’ll remember that strategy. I made to the community of Manteo and crossed the finish with a time of 1:54:38.

There were 1330 marathoners and 2770 half marathoners. Anne Wheatly, a girl from my hometown, won the marathon, and KD, a high school classmate of mine, also finished the half so yeah for the home team! All in all not my best time but a great day and I was starting too feel a little better after my slow times in the hills of Oaks and MCM.

Dash for Cash

On December 7, I did the Dash for Cash 10-Miler in Greenville. The race is a memorial run named after Army Captain Chris Cash who was KIA in Iraq. Cash was an avid supporter of learning in the community and the race funds a scholarship in his memory.

About all I remember about this race was the cold. I remember undressing that night and creating a three-foot pile of the many layers I was wearing. I have to layer my legs heavily in cold weather because they lose heat. I have to be careful to keep from layering up too much on my upper body where I generate a lot of body heat.

It was a cold and windy day. It seemed no matter which way you turned, you were fighting a headwind. The course does a stretch through downtown Greenville then past East Carolina University and back to the Town Commons area where the 5Kers split off and finish. The 10-milers head on out into the countryside for an out-and-back to make up the distance.

I added this race to my schedule at the last minute. I emailed the director and got a response back, “We thought you were going to come.” I guess the word is getting around.

I was privileged to be able roll across the starting line with my MCM teammate Ed, who was using his pushrim chair for the very first time.

My teammate did the 5K. She, too, was out of practice. She didn’t sprint at the end since she hadn’t been training much. At the end she said there was another lady about her age just in front of her. Turns out she missed placing by about 10 seconds.

The finisher “medals” were dogtags with the name of the race stamped on them. Since Ed did the 5K, I got the wheelchair prize for the 10-miler. My time was 1:47:27.

Jacksonville Bank Marathon

Too much Thanksgiving eating, office parties, and sweet food, coupled with an insatiable appetite was wreaking havoc on my weight. I tried to maintain my workout schedule but it seemed something was always getting in the way.

On Friday before the race we drove to Jacksonville, drove the course, and had a nice dinner at a Japanese steakhouse. The weather was perfect-just a tiny bit cool. On Saturday we picked up my race number. A local runner’s store organizes the race so they are the expo.

I was looking forward to this race because I was going to participate along with another Hope For The Warriors fundraiser, Army Capt. Jason Lynn. Capt. Lynn was also running with some of his West Point classmates. The two of us has been collaborating in preparation for this race for about a month. Between the two of us we had raised over $27,000 in contributions for Hope For The Warriors at that time. Though we had never met in person, we were “virtual” teammates working toward the same goal.

Saturday, I had the opportunity to get my tires on the course. My teammate and I drove the course, this time in the daylight, and returned to about mile six. I got on my handbike there and rode about 15 miles of the course. I was able to ride on the only “hill” on the course, a stretch of residential neighborhood where the street drops down to the waterfront along the St. John River. It is a very flat course but it doesn’t take much of a hill to kick my butt, so it was good to try that stretch before the race. I learned which gears to use where and when to shift.

The Marathon and the Half both started at 7 AM, which was still dark. I’m sure the idea was to beat the Florida mid-day heat. We got to the start and found a place to park although navigating to the starting line in a chair took a bit of resourcefulness. This was again proving to be somewhat of a chair-unfriendly race management crew. I had emailed the race director a few weeks prior and only got a ‘we don’t have a wheelchair division’ response. The director said chairs didn’t like the finish because there was about a quarter mile stretch across a soccer field before entering the stadium at the finish. Several people met me at the start and ask if I was so-and-so. Apparently no one knew how many chairs were registered. Not surprising since there was no place on the registration to enter as a chair, much less a hand crank.

It turned out that one other push rimmer showed up. He was a local guy and this was to be his first race. I never saw him after the start but he was expecting to finish in about 3 hours.

I met Jason, his fellow runners and his family at the start. It was neat to meet them after several months of emailing and collaborating on publicity for our fundraising. One of his teammates, AL, was apparently critically wounded by an IED and lost an eye. We all got some pics and shook hands, exchanged hugs and got lined up at the start. It was getting close to 7 and usually there is some advance start for chairs. Finally some guy walked by and spoke to myself and the other wheelchair and simply said, “I’m going to start you guys in a few minutes.” About five minutes later he appeared again and walked over and said, “you guys can go now.”

Unceremoniously, it began. We started south down San Jose Blvd in the dark If there was any wind it was a scant breath from the north. My fellow chair competitor was off in the darkness ahead. I could follow his progress by the police lights from the lead vehicle. I felt good and was glad for the training ride the day before. I cranked hard and enjoyed the solitude for the moment. A few minutes later I heard the starting gun fire some distance behind me and knew the race was officially underway.

I realized I hadn’t started my GPS at the start so I didn’t accurately record my splits. I started it about four minutes into the race and tried to sych the lap button at mile one. I can only guess that we got about a two minute start, but don’t know for certain because they never published the chair times accurately adjusted for the lead start. By mile one I knew my time was pretty good; not a DSS pace, but I was happy.

The race proceeds shout along the east shore of the St. John River. It winds along though some nice neighborhoods with some magnificent homes. The old live oak trees provide a tremendous canopy of shade, a welcome feature during any month in Florida. The lead runners passed and we exchanged mutual shouts of encouragement; mine, my signature “Yee-ha!”

We turned off Scott Mill Rd. onto Mandarin Rd., again enjoying the welcome shade. As we approached the turn into Mandarin Park the shade was less and the sun was getting enough elevation to start getting a bit hot. I caught a glimpse of a coworker who is from Jax and who was in the area visiting her family.

A little later, at the turn around in Mandarin Park, I met my teammate who had a welcome Snickers bar and an energy drink.

As I headed back I met Jason and his Army buddies. They were still smiling and looking good.

I was settling into a group of the same runners now and we were striking up some conversations. The trip back up Brady Rd. offered plenty of shade. The sun was getting warm although the air was still cool. By the time I got back to the I-295 overpass on Scott Mill Rd. I asked one of the volunteers at the water station to dump a cup of water on me. It was nice and cold.

It was a routine crank and grind back to the finish area. There I got a rude surprise. To get to the soccer field you had to first cross a dirt parking lot. The previous day there was some construction taking place in the lot and the dirt was loose and soft. I got into my low gears and had enough momentum to get across the dirt to the grass. At that point the course didn’t go as it had been described to me.

Instead of turning right and going straight into the stadium, we looped around to the left behind one softball field and back across another. The areas behind the fields were covered with soft dry sand about the consistency of a beach sand dune. When I got off the grass, my wheels literally sunk. And I stopped.

I had to get help across the sand in two different spots. I later emailed the race director. I suggested he could easily modify the course in the future and could get rid of the sandy spots if the course went straight from the soccer field into the stadium and the turnarounds were extended a bit. He wasn’t interested.

Once in the stadium there was a timing mat which I avoided. I thought that it was there for the 13 mile split for the half marathoners. Turns out it read your chip so the announcer could call out your name. So I finished in anonymity.

My time, I think, was 3:41. The clock read 3:39, but I never got an accurate posting of the time including the wheelchair advance start. I had hoped for a few minutes faster. I had been able to do 3:30 in training last summer. But after my times in the hills of Arlington and Raleigh, I was happy. And it was a PR.

Jason finishes strong


Because we can!

What’s next?

See my 09 races on the sidebar. Next week is the Myrtle Beach Marathon. Last year it was my first marathon. I was stronger then than I am now. I hope to do as well as last year. In March, join us at the Shamrock.

In October I’ll be at the MCM again, the Lord willing. In November, I plan to do the ING NYC. Last year I did four marathons, six halves, and two 10-milers. The good folks at Camp Lejeune recognized me again this year in their Grand Prix awards.

This year I plan to do five marathons.


I do it to show my respect for the brave men and women wounded in the Global War On Terror. For seven years, their selfless sacrifices have kept the wolf away from our door. I enjoy the freedom to do the things I do because of them.

Do not let their sacrifices be forgotten…nor their needs go unmet. Help out with whatever amount you can donate.

In the words of Hope For The Warriors President, Robin Kelleher, “While the country seems to think we've got this covered, we really don't.” She said the organization received $10,000 worth of requests in 2007 to aid injured soldiers. In 2008, the need has exceeded $200,000, she said. –Virginian-Pilot

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 country 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

You can help—they gave for you.

No comments: