Thursday, November 4, 2010

My year of almosts: Another 2008 Miles of Hope

First of all, I usually save this stuff for the end.  It’s too important.  I handcycle for Team Hope For The Warriors.  I race, excuse me, participate, in marathons and half marathons whenever and wherever I can to raise money for and awareness of the needs of wounded warriors. ALL the money I raise goes to Hope For The Warriors.  They are an outstanding non-profit that looks out for our wounded heroes, particularly the seriously disabled.

I’m not a warrior.  I’m a grateful beneficiary of the freedom they protect.  Whether you find the antics of this crazy quadriplegic amusing, inspiring, or despicable, I ask only one thing.  Support my cause.  You can make donations one of two easy ways:

  1)  Visit my secure donation page:  2008 Miles of Hope donations
  2)  Download a donation form and mail it with a check (made payable to Hope For The Warriors) to the address on the form:  Donation form

Hope For The Warriors is a responsible charity

Hope For the Warriors is Designated “Best in America” by the Independent Charities of America
Hope For the Warriors is Accredited by the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance

Rocking and Rolling in Virginia Beach 9.5.2010

The summer of 2010 was blistering.  Every time there was a break in the heat it was always too brief and too small of a break to cool down enough to do any good. I shifted my work schedule to go in to work an hour later and started using the extra hour in the AM to do a 10K workout in the neighborhood.  That has been the majority of my training during the warmer months.

At work, a group of runners started doing some running on Saturday mornings.  Some of the runners are going to do the Marine Corps Marathon in October.  In April we ran the Run For The Warriors in Jacksonville, NC.  This year it was the 5th anniversary event and it did not disappoint.  It featured a half marathon for the first time and the whole event was hugely successful. 

In July, my teammate and I took part in the Beaufort Road Race.  While that race is guaranteed to be hot, it always seems that with a few pounds of ice hanging around my neck, I am able to crank out a respectable (for me) 10K.  In recent weeks we have been getting more frequent cool nights.  While the daytime highs have still been running up around 90 degrees, my AM 10Ks have become more productive (and bearable).  Temperatures at Atlantic Beach have been running a little cooler making some distance rides possible with an early (sunrise) start.

I felt pretty good going into the Rock ‘n’ Roll.  You can always use more training, but for the opportunities I’ve had, I think I’ve made the most of them.  This year, my teammate was running it for the second time.  T- was joining us for her 5th running of the RnR Half.  Other family members that normally join us were unable to be there as support crew this year, for various reasons.  It all went well nonetheless.

Saturday before the race we visited the Dismal Swamp Trail for a training run.  I did sixteen miles out and back.  My Teammate did a 3 mile run and hopped on her bike and rode out to join me.  I was nailing some 7-minute miles for about the first 5 or so then I ran out of shade.  The heat started building up in me and from about mile 8 back it was pretty slow.  So naturally the heat was the big thing that weighed on my mind for Sunday’s race.

Saturday evening we met up with T- and her training partner M- and had a great pasta dinner at Federico’s restaurant in Virginia Beach.  My teammate has made it clear on occasions that she’s not crazy about running.  I think we both do it for the pasta.  My problem is that a pasta dinner gives me a lot of energy—all night long.  I tend to be wide awake the night before a race.  At 0400, we got up, had a quick bite and headed downtown.  As an athlete with a disability, I had a pass to park at the convention center.  We were right at the starting line. 

We got me on my handbike and ready to go. I did a few laps in the parking lot and hare felt pretty good.  I had my normal energy regimen before the race—a Snickers bar and a Powerade with an Advocare Spark.  I was pumped and ready to roll.

This year I opted to start with the other handcycles and wheelchairs up front with a ten minute head start.  WHAT A DIFFERENCE that makes!  In previous years I seeded into the corrals with T- or my teammate to run with them.  This year, my teammate had progressed in her running to the point that I felt she was good to rock the beach on her own.  It was a great feeling to get down the street without being bogged down on the downhills.  I even made it to the top of the Rudee bridge before runners passed me.  That meant I could power down the bridge as fast as I could go.  Wow!

When the elite women passed in a tight little clump just south of the bridge, I moved over but soon I felt like I was holding back.  I was on a slight downhill so I added some umph and soon I was drafting their little group.  I still felt like I could go harder and soon I was passing the elite ladies.  I said to myself, “This is stupid.  You’re going to run out of gas and then you’ll be in their way.”  Without the benefit of a draft or downhill, I muscled ahead far enough to move over and let them pass by again to be out of their way and to be off their mind.

The early start meant that people were constantly passing me instead of the other way around.  I’ve always said that it’s easier for runners to pass wheelers than for us to pass runners.  The other thing that is nice about wheeling the front of the runners is that those folks don’t use ipods!  What a joy to run with folks who can hear!  The elite men passed just before I went into Camp Pendleton. The heat wasn’t yet vexing me and I was getting the water table volunteers to throw a cup into my face at each table.  So far that kept me cool.  The only trick was figuring out who has water and who had energy drinks.  I didn’t want a Gatorade shower!

Just as I reached the bridge on my return leg, I met my teammate on her outbound leg.  She was looking great!  I was elated to know that she was going to nail a second half marathon.  She won’t let me say her age, but she makes a clear example that it’s never too late to start running unless you wait until you can’t.  Going down the bridge wasn’t the speed blast the outbound trip had been.  There were too many people on the course with me by now and I don’t want to be the cause of spoiling the experience for any of them.  My rule:  Wheels yield to heels.

The trip to the finish line was the fun part of the course where the crowds line the streets and the boardwalk.  I upheld my “penguin” finish legacy with a fist in the air. 

My finish was 1:50; my teammates was 2:44, almost 15 minutes better than her previous; and T- knocked out hers in 2:50, a little off from last year.  All in all a great day, no bike problems and we got ‘er done before the heat steam-rolled me.

The Marine Corps Half Marathon 9.25.2010

The Marine Corps Half Marathon has to be my favorite half marathon course.  Many people confuse the name with the Marine Corps Historic Half in Fredricksburg VA, in May.  This one is held at Camp Lejeune, NC.  It’s part of the Marine Corps Grand Prix series of events.  It’s not frilly.  It’s not a big race in terms of attendance.  But it’s like Goldilocks said, “This one fits me just right.”  The base is scenic and the course winds through some of the best parts, including a long stretch with beautiful sweeping views of the New River and stretches that run long and straight through the golf course and through beautiful Carolina pine forests.

For me it is always one of my faster races. It’s reasonably flat.  Many of the Marines who take part have recently returned home from deployments and have been training in places where people shoot at them.  Many spouses take part and many military and civilians alike run in memory of friends who didn’t make it home alive.  For me and others, as well, it just seems you run faster when there are Marines chasing you.

For my part, I had been in touch with RA, a wounded warrior who had recently started handcycling.  His TBI induced a bit of vertigo that made it difficult to stand upright and run.  The handbike was a great solution for him. I gave him a few race strategy tips about drafting and chasing and although it was his first race, he did quite well until a mis-adjusted derailleur caused him to throw a chain.  Nonetheless, he had a great time and now he’s hooked too.

My mentor, David Swaim was there, too.  No doubt who won the wheelers division.  BN was also there.  I have done several races with him since the CC half in Feb.  Combat Correspondent Cpl. Jo Jones took some great pictures and even published a nice piece about us.

Neuse River Bridge Run 10.16.2010

I’ve called this my year of almosts.  I’ve almost reached each goal I’ve set.  Finally, I think I found what’s been holding me back.  Several days prior to the NRBR, Hare broke on me in a most noticeable manner.  The coaster brake began to drag.  When I think back, I think this is not new.  I think it has been an off and on problem for months.  The prior weekend when my teammate ran the Twin Bridges 8K, I opted to ride down Bogue Banks for a distance training ride.  During several stretches, it seemed like Hare was holding me back painfully.  Ironically, during my weekday morning 10Ks with Tortoise, it seems like my speeds were closing in on Hare’s with a 50 pound heavier bike.  I took Hare to my local bike shop guy, at Bike Depot, and he heroically got the bike running again in time for the NRBR race.  He did caveat his work by saying that he was only able to get things back together without it dragging.  It wasn’t fixed; the brake needed to be replaced.  I had been making all kinds of contingency plans, like using Tortoise in the race.  Now I could go ahead and go with Hare.  Yee ha!

This year the Neuse River Bridge Run featured a half marathon.  It featured the new Alfred Cunningham Bridge.  Since the race starts and ends downtown New Bern, this year it crosses three bridges.  This year also, four other members of Team Hope For The Warriors rolled across the starting line with me.  My teammate was also out to run her third half.

In the upcoming NYC Marathon I will be accompanied by guides provided by the Achilles Track Club.  At the NRBR, I got a taste of guiding first-hand.  As usual, I was the last place handbike finisher.  But it was an amazing ride.  Just past the start I came up on Matt Bradford and his guide.  Matt is a blind double amputee that has handbiked the MCM last year and the New York Tunnel to Tower race.  He was having a little difficulty coordinating with his guide so I volunteered to help out (if I could).

Matt may not have sight, but there is nothing wrong with his arms.  I had trouble keeping up with Matt.  That created a problem for Matt because when he got ahead of me, he didn't know I wasn't there.  Everything was going OK until he got to the top of the bridge (actually I mostly chased Matt; his guide did most of the work).  If you've ever ridden a bike on a busy highway, you know how noisy traffic can be.  Now picture this.  You're riding on that busy highway, with your eyes closed.  The deafening roar of traffic zooming by you is unnerving.  Your only guidance comes from your assistants yelling, "right, left, etc."  You don't know how close those cars are.

By the time the three of us got to Pembroke Road and got off the highway, about mile three, Matt's nerves were shot.  He was ready to abort.  I told him he could go left and continue on the half marathon or right and return on the 10K course.  Either way I'd hang with him.  If he wanted to abort and get a ride back, I was going on to finish the half.  The rest of the course was mixed in residential traffic.  The only coned-off area was a narrow area on the side of the street.  We could not have guided him that accurately.  The course was just not good for Matt and he eventually made the choice at about mile 3 that he would DNF.  Though he couldn't see he had more vision than the rest.  The course was just not right for him.

Matt moved on over to a safe spot and waited for a pick-up.  I went on.  I hope he never felt like he failed.  One of our toughest endeavors in life is to know your own limitations and then to find a way to excel within that envelope.  Matt completed more in three miles than anyone else in the entire 13.1.

About mile 4 through 8 I had an immense amount of difficulty cranking.  The coaster brake acted up again and it began dragging.  It was really bogging me down for a while and then it would go away, only to act up later.  Most of the runners were gone by now.  I was one of the last stragglers.

My teammate was having a great run, on the other hand.  She ended up with 2:26 finish, a PR, almost twenty minutes off her previous best, and a win in her age bracket.  Way to go, teammate!  A TV reporter did a very nice piece on Team Hope For The Warriors.  Watch it here.

Tortoise takes one for the team: Back to Back Half Centuries 10.23-24.2010

By now I’m sweating the upcoming MCM.  My bike shop guy was looking for the brake part I needed.  Apparently Shimano doesn’t make it anymore.  The only option left was to tear down Tortoise and take its hub and use it to rebuild the wheel on Hare.  By Friday, 10.22.2010, another bike shop guy that I was new to had rebuilt Hare’s drive wheel using Tortoise’s hub.  I also ordered a new 8 speed hub for Tortoise.  It would be in Monday.

Saturday, 10.22.2010, I set out to ride hard and long.  My objective was to ride 50 miles or so to prove to myself I was ready for two hilly Marathons on back-to-back weekends.  I set forth a fueling strategy of around 100 calories per hour to keep away the bonking problems I had suffered so frequently during the summer.

All I can say is it felt great.  I had as much energy the last ten miles as I did the first ten.  The hub transplant from Tortoise made Hare a new machine.  I felt great.  Now, can I repeat it?

The following Sunday I set up a tougher course profile for myself.  Although we got a late start, I got in 48 miles before it began getting too dark.  I crossed the Atlantic Beach Bridge on the outbound leg.  I traveled to Fort Macon and then to Emerald Isle and back.  While we were riding at EI, One Leg Dan passed us and stopped to greet us.  He got out his stand-up bike, clipped his prosthesis into this pedal and he rode with us for five miles or so.  That was an inspiration!  We rode on back to Atlantic Beach and there, I cranked Hare up my test hill.  I call it Mt. Suribachi because it is the same grade as the final hill in the MCM: 14%.  There was not a problem with me nor Hare.  We rode back across the AB Bridge and though I was two miles short of my goal of 50, it was dark.  There was no doubt in my mind I could go another twenty.  So, am I ready?

Another 2008 Miles of Hope

This year my goals in support of Hope For The Warriors are again three:

1)  Hope:  The Marine Corps Marathon, The New York City Marathon, and the OBX Marathon; two and a half marathons in fifteen days again this year.  Watch for my MCM 2010 race report to be posted soon.

2)  Inspiration:  Handbiking over 2008 miles in racing, training, and fundraising events to raise money for and awareness of the needs of wounded warriors and their families.

3)  A Promise:  Complete my fundraising goal of $26,200 in donations benefiting Hope For The Warriors.

And yes, I'm ready!

-Be careful who you inspire; inspiration is contagious!