Monday, January 24, 2011

Fall races and 2010 recap

ALMOST the year of “almosts”

Chasing the elusive sub-4:00 marathon
This year it seems like I ‘almost’ did every thing I wanted in regard to my 2008 Miles of Hope goals. It seemed like my races were turning into a lackluster legacy of “almost” meeting my goals.  The big ‘almost’ was my elusive goal of beating the 4-hour mark for a marathon.  Two other times, I ‘almost’ made it to the starting line.  And I can’t count the times when I almost PR’ed in a race.  The only positive thing that I can say I did was getting together a group of running friends at work to train for the Marine Corps Marathon.

Now, I’m not fast. In fact, my legacy of finishing in last place amongst the handcyclists was unbroken.  Not so intolerable if you’re the only participant, but I wanted to do better. 

I don’t mean to sensationalize my accomplishments.  My very first marathon was less than 4 hours.  I wanted so dearly to do that again.  In March, at the Shamrock, I missed my goal by less than a minute.  It seemed like for the rest of the year, or at least my training season, I was getting slower. I felt like something was going wrong.  As it turned out, it was.  Read on for a recap of my fall races, as Paul Harvey said, “for the rest of the story.”  It would take a trip to New York City to turn my luck.

The Marine Corps Half Marathon 9.25.2010
Most people think of the of the Marine Corps Historic Half, in Fredericksburg, VA, when they hear of this race.  In fact, Mike Marion, the MCCS race director at Camp Lejeune, has been putting on this race at Camp Lejeune, NC, as part of his Grand Prix Series for as long as I remember.

My theory:  You tend to run faster when chased by Marines...

It is my favorite half.  It winds around through some of the most scenic parts of the base, particularly through the tall Carolina pine forests and the views along the New River.

I was able to race with 4 other handcyclists at the MC Half.  David Swain, One-Leg Dan, and BN were there.  I had raced with all three in the past.  I had been in communication with RA, a wounded warrior stationed at Lejeune.  He had been training on his new handbike but had never raced. I think I got him pumped up and excited.  He was ready to roll.  A combat reporter on the base did a very nice article on us.  Handcyclists make a difference

My time was great, but not a PR. For a half.  While I could sense some improvement since the summer, it was still just ‘almost’ what I had I hoped for.  Read my full report in a previous blog.  Another 2008 miles

Distance workout 10.2.2010
This time my teammate ran a race on her own.  She was running the Twin Bridges 8K.  I was still trying to get in some distance workouts prior to the MCM. I got started on my workout and she drove on to the finish of her race where participants were bussed to the start.  Since all the participants were driving past my workout route, a number of friends in the area passed and honked or waved as I started out on my workout as they were heading to the race.  MC was running in the race also.  My teammate joined up with her and ran much of the race.  MC was training for the MCM also.  She planned to finish her race and then extend on down toward Indian Beach make her distance workout.

My plan was to ride to Fort Macon then toward Indian Beach.  That day, because of the race preparing to start, the Atlantic Beach Bridge had a lane coned off for runners.  Since the race hadn’t started I had a whole lane to myself. Yee-ha!  I was blasting down the Atlantic Beach causeway as fast as I could crank, having a very large time, when I noticed the cones on my left had a rope attached to them.

All the sudden, I looked up and there was a rope crossing my lane straight in front of me.  I was in the finish chute set up for the race and was about to be clotheslined!  Several friends that were standing around the race finish area waved and yelled to greet me.  I didn’t mean to be rude, but all I could say was something like, “YIKES,” as I ducked to avoid the rope.

After riding to Fort Macon, and starting back west at Atlantic Beach, I thought I saw MC in the distance.  I started cranking a little faster caught up with her.  We ran together for a ways while my teammate caught up with her bicycle after her race.  By the time she did, I was starting to bonk badly.  I had gone longer than I planned without refueling before she caught up with me.  In my haste to get started so my teammate could be on time for her race, I forgot to bring anything to eat.  She brought some food with her that got me going, but I just gutted it for a while before I had to stop and rest.  At Salter Path there is a parking lot for a public beach access.  I parked under a shade tree and my teammate rode across the street to a seafood restaurant and brought back a couple of take out containers of clam chowder and some hushpuppies.  Now that was a treat!  And it got me going.  The ride home was against a stiff headwind and just plain tough.  I knew I had to pay more attention to refueling.  But something else was wrong.  More than just the headwind was bogging me down.  I was worried about the MCM now.

One evening the following week I was working out on a steep hill at Atlantic Beach.  All the sudden my handbike was impossible to crank.  I could barely make it up the hill.   My teammate was out for her run.  I quit early about the time she returned.  Totally exhausted, I was wondering, “What’s wrong with me? This hill never kicked my butt before.  And Saturday, I had been struggling to keep up with MC.”

When I got off the bike, I noticed it didn’t roll downhill like it usually did.  I didn’t remember setting the parking brake. We spun the wheel, or tried to. It was nearly stuck in place! The coaster brake was jammed. The next day I took it to my bike shop guy.  This was Thursday. I was registered for the Neuse River Bridge Run half marathon on Saturday.  So was my teammate and many of my MCM teammates at work.  My worry factor was climbing.

Neuse River Bridge Run 10.16.2010
My bike shop guy, and there is none better, was swamped with new inventory just delivered for Christmas and every one needing assembly.  Added to that it was the peak of the fall riding season and everyone had gotten their clunkers out of the garage and found they needed repair.  He promised me he would do the best he could.

Friday, we went to the packet pick-up and I asked the event coordinator about switching races. I explained about my uncertainty of my handbike’s availability.  I was considering pushrimming my day chair or maybe even using Tortoise for the 10K.  Meanwhile my cell phone was ringing.  I was oblivious in the din of the registration crowd.  My bikeshop guy had good news for me.

When we left for home, my phone beeped with a new message reminder.  I called the bike shop guy and found out he had Hare ready for me.  He said it wasn’t repaired but he had it rolling freely.  He couldn’t get a part in time to replace the defective brake drum. Nonetheless, if I was going to be on the road Saturday, I was happy.

Saturday’s race was awful.  I wasn’t concerned about my time.  It was just hard. It started out OK, but about 4 miles into the run, the brake started dragging again.  This persisted about 4 miles then it released and I was OK.  Then the brake was off and on for the rest of the race.  It took me over two and a half hours to finish.

Again, I wasn’t worried about my time.  I had fallen back at the start to try to guide for Matt Bradford across the bridges.  That’s a story of its own.  Another 2008 miles  The brake drag problem was now high on my worry list for the MCM. 

Several wounded warriors from Camp Lejeune were there on handbikes.  Some I knew from other races. As it turned out, with some of my coworkers, MC, and some of the WWs, we had a small contingent of the2010 MCM Team Hope For The Warriors.  Pretty cool! Rolling to the Finish for Wounded Warriors

I did a training ride the following day and learned the brake would engage at the slightest provocation.  I also learned a trick to disengage it when it did.  My only problem was that sometimes I just couldn’t stop cranking to disengage the brake for various reasons.  I started putting the puzzle together now.  Two things had been plaguing me all summer.  Lack of energy and lack of strength.  I decided that the strength issue was really not lack of strength but too much resistance from the brake.  The energy thing was probably lack of fuel.

Back to back half centuries 10.23-24.2010
I could not find the part needed to repair the brake.  I was desperate with the MCM a week and a half away.  I couldn’t even wait to order a new hub because I still needed training, I felt.  I made the decision to cannibalize the hub from Tortoise and have the whole wheel rebuilt for Hare with the hub from Tortoise.  I ordered a new 8 speed hub for Tortoise (which I like very much). The following weekend I set out for my longest training rides of the year. My plan was to keep fueled up with gus, energy drinks, and of course, Snickers.

On Saturday, I put in 50 miles, fueling about every hour.  At one point, I was a little hot and my teammate met me with a cup of ice cream from the General Store.  I think I could live with this fueling strategy.  The new hub was great.  With no brake dragging, I felt like I had lost my anchor.  With the new fueling strategy, I felt like I had more energy the last 10 miles than I did the first 10!  Sunday I did another long ride.  This one was at Bogue Banks.  It included the Atlantic Beach Bridge, AND a steep hill I use to gage my readiness for the MCM.  Since the grade is the same as the unforgiving hill at the end of the MCM.  I saved that climb for the end of the ride.  When I did it without a hitch, and still had energy to spare, I KNEW I was ready for the MCM, the NYC Marathon and the OBX Half—my triple crown from last year, Two and a half Marathons in 15 Days.

As I finished my ride by crossing the AB Bridge I was ready.  Two half centuries back-to- back and I still had plenty of energy. I was about two miles short that Sunday and running out of daylight but I didn’t need the two miles to prove anything further.  The next weekend would be the MCM.  I had been entertaining the idea of one more marathon this year.  I signed up for the Space Coast Marathon in Cocoa, FL.  I was hoping to finish the year with a relatively flat race and, you guessed it, beat that 4 hour mark.

Maine Corps Marathon 10.31.2010
Since it was the MARINE Corps Marathon, I will summarize in one word.  OOHRAH!

If you’re not familiar with the term, run the race. I’ll skip the part about how the weather was perfect, the trees were beautiful, the spectators were awesome, and the runners were incredibly supportive.


The weekend before the race, I’m feeling great. I did my two most strenuous workouts this training season.  I know it was too close to race day but I had to prove it to myself.  I had many setbacks this training season:  bonking, weather, overheating, schedule problems, and finally, last minute equipment problems.  Honestly I think my brake problems have plagued me off and on all summer; I just nailed it down recently.  The previous Saturday I fueled regularly every hour and amazingly had as much strength at the end of both workouts as I did at the beginning of the first.  Both were half centuries because I wanted to be out there cranking for a time period longer than I knew would be in either upcoming marathon. You end the Marine Corps up a 14% grade (you read that right).  The previous Sunday I finished my workout with a climb up another 14% hill and then an 85 foot high bridge (a.k.a. an eastern NC hill).

Mentally and physically I was ready. This was going to be my third MCM and my 11th marathon.  I wanted to do two short strength workouts to maintain my peak but it didn’t happen.  I picked up some kind of respiratory bug that messed me up for a couple of days.  Fortunately it wasn’t severe and a little Tylenol to keep fever down was all it took.  The night before the race, I got a good dinner and a good night’s sleep.

We were up at 4 AM and though I had lost all advantage from my physical conditioning the weekend before I was psyched with the knowledge of a successful fueling strategy, knowledge the hills would at least not kick my six, and some significant mental positives.
My 2008 Miles of Hope fundraising goal of $1000 for every mile in a marathon was not only met—it was smashed!  We wrote a check for a personal donation of about $127 to bring it up to a nice round number: $30,000.  I was pretty proud of that.  Finally, we enjoyed some good relaxing camaraderie over dinner with our Hope For The Warriors teammates including several wounded warriors.

I had hoped to finish quicker this year but overall I was about the same as last year, about 6:18. The first two miles of MCM are up a significant hill then you lose all that elevation by mile four.  Miles 6-8 are uphill again then you lose it all in about ½ mile, actually most of it in about 1/10 of a mile.  We got a fifteen minute head start but with all the elevation in the first eight miles, I was trying to make up my time the rest of the race.  The only other hills are the 14th St. Bridge (actually 3 bridges) and the last 2/10s up the hill with the14% grade.

By the time I was at the top of the mile 8 peak, 20,000 runners were in front of me including the “iPlodders.”  I met my teammate at 4 spots on the course met T- at two places.
Though I maintained my energy level by frequent refueling, I couldn’t plow my way past the mp3 headsets.  The other runners gave me great support and many guided for me during various stretches, including Carlos, who was an Achilles guide, guiding another handbiker.  I rode with Carlos’ handbiker for a mile or so and Carlos ran with me separately for another mile or so.  Many others guided for me spontaneously during other short stretches, but for much of the race, I was wasting my inertia by braking to avoid running into someone who couldn’t hear me yell.  At least the brakes were working now, or should I say, not working when they weren’t supposed to.

T- joined me at the Pentagon and jogged the last couple of miles with me.  The 14% hill took me about 15 ugly minutes to climb. T-, walked behind me to keep others from pushing.  As I rocked the bike back and forth to inch my way up the steep slope, the crowd yelled, almost in tears.  T- dialed up my 82-year-old mother on her cell phone to let her listen to the crowd.
The finish line announcer’s name is Ken Berger.  He is called The Voice of the Marine Corps Marathon. His is the most beautiful sound you ever want to hear; “Welcome to the finish line!”  He knows me through 3 previous Run For The Warriors and two previous MCMs, as well as my fundraising for Hope For The Warriors.   Ken gave me a real VIP announcement at the finish and had the crowds yelling at the top of their lungs.  Marine 2nd Lieutenants. all along the finish were yelling OOHRAH! 

  It was a great finish to a  GREAT day.

At the finish area I met up with many of the folks I had trained with all summer.  We ALL had a great time and a great race. I was already looking forward to my next MCM.  But more importantly, I was thinking about NYC and how I would do.

Maryland and New Jersey 11.1-4.2010
Last year I remember feeling incredibly stressed after the MCM.  We returned home on Monday.  I went to work on Tuesday through Thursday.  Then we drove to NY on Friday.  In that whole time I managed one 2-mile workout.

This year we did some sightseeing in DC on Monday then drove to College Park, MD that evening.

On Tuesday we got on some great bike trails along the Anacostia River and put in about 17 miles.  The one thing that College Park lacks is good restaurants.  Applebee’s filled our hungry tummies, however.

Wednesday we drove to New Jersey to be close enough to NY to visit and do things in the City but far enough away to afford a room.  We hurriedly unpacked and drove to Central Park for a workout.  This year, like last, I would be supported throughout the race by guide runners provided by the New York Road Runners and the Achilles Track Club.  Achilles is the organization that handles the planning, registration, logistics, and other coordination for the AWDs--athletes with disabilities from all over the world for the New York City Marathon.

My team
This year, I was assigned three highly capable guides.  We had been emailing constantly for weeks. We were strategizing tactics for getting me through the crowds, the streets the hills, five bridges and five Burroughs that made up the NY City Marathon.  G- was one of my guides last year.  We had been corresponding throughout the year about getting last year’s team together again.  In May she wrote with some bad news.  Her participation was now in doubt. 

In her training for this year’s NYC Marathon she entered the Brooklyn Half Marathon, with a goal of under 1 hour and 50 minutes.  At mile 12.5 she was well on he way to a 1:47 finish when another runner in front of her unexpectedly stopped. 

“I shifted to get out of the way, lost my footing on the boardwalk and had an extremely nasty spill, G- described. “ My chin took the brunt of it all.  I stood up and blood was gushing out (its amazing how much your chin bleeds!) - a volunteer pulled me aside and asked if I was ok.  I could hardly breathe and could not process what had happened and all these spectators were gawking at I sat down on a bench facing the ocean to regroup.  The volunteer got on his phone, ‘I've got a runner down 600 meters from the finish’ 600 meters?!  I got up, told the volunteer that I was fine, that I could finish...He looked at me in shock ...then I was off, and as I was crossing the finish line, the spectators were cheering and then had a look of horror as I passed them!  I finished in 1 hr and 52 min, a little before 9am.  I was pretty bummed about (missing her goal).” 

A veteran of 5 previous NYC Marathons and a NYC native, she as the backbone of last year’s team. Not having her on the team was going to be a big disappointment.  As the summer progressed, I waited to hear if there was an improvement in her condition. 

About September, I got word from G- that she was ready for a marathon!  I contacted Achilles and they assigned me two additional guides, CD and PH.  The wires were abuzz with our email traffic.  CD was a pretty big guy who had played football at Notre Dome.  He was also an IronMan and had completed NYC before.  As he put it, “I can be as aggressive as u need getting people out of the way.”

As it turned out, PH had to drop out at the last minute with a foot injury.  While the team had started to bond and PH’s loss was sad to us, CD suggested that his girlfriend, KVD, join us as a replacement.  KVD had been training for the NYC anyway. This would be her 4th. She had also completed the Boston. Several months back, her interest in training for the marathon began to wane.  She was losing interest in the long runs and was ready to defer. On CD’s suggestion, she applied to Achilles to run as a guide.  She was accepted by Achilles to guide for another AWD.  She asked if she could guide for me instead, Achilles approved it, and now we had our little team firmed up. 

KVD brought her unique enthusiasm to the group.  As she put it, “I am SO excited and FIRED UP to team up with you all to run those city streets on November 7.  Everything happens for a reason, so let's get it done together!  I'm ready to kindly, yet aggressively, remove all human bodies in your path…to assist you from Staten Island to the west side of CP…”  I was starting to envision Moses parting the sea and in my mind, crowds were separating as my Achilles guides opened up a path in the sea of runners before me and my handbike.

Wheels turn in the Big Apple
Wednesday prior to the race, after unpacking at the hotel in NJ, we started toward Central Park for our first meeting with my guides.  We planned a little loop around the park.  My teammate and I got there first and we planned to meet CD and KVD around 5 PM.  G- was tied up at the office and planned to meet us a little later.  Right off the bat we hit it off.  After introductions and hugs we started out heading counter-clockwise around the park.  I wanted CD and KVD to learn how much difference there was between my speed going uphill and coming downhill.  G- already knew what to expect.

KVD described it like this, “It was there in Central Park that I realized that running this race would be most challenging, physically. We needed to clear out the runners in front of him so he can gain speed on the downhill and not run over any of the other participants.  I was about to cross-train for 26.2 miles come Sunday.  Oh my gosh!  My LEAST favorite form of running (until Marathon Sunday, that is)…I watched with eyes wide open how he crawled up Cat Hill and Harlem Hill, but flew down the opposite sides of the upgrades.”

We met up with G- on the west side of the Park.  I was excited.  We had a great team that was going to work together well.  I tried to caution the guides that during the race their excitement would tempt them to sprint when I started downhill. Instead, I told them they should only run their natural sustainable pace and that they could space themselves in font to clear a path for me by running ahead when I was just cresting the hill and staggering their lead.  In my heart I knew that with the combined enthusiasm we all felt, restraint would be the farthest thing from our minds.  All in all I felt great physically and I knew this little team was going to get me throughout the five bridges and five Burroughs of the NYC marathon.

On Friday we checked into our hotel in Manhattan.  Saturday AM we all got together at the expo.  The NY expo is not my favorite.  To me it seems it is dominated by the big sneaker manufacturers and none of the little mom-and-pop businesses that make the expo fun to explore. Saturday PM we got together for dinner at Salute.  We all stoked up on some excellent pasta for the big race.  We were also stoked up with some excellent training and some excellent camaraderie and THAT was destined to make this a great race!

Why is this man so happy?  Because he's looking at the most beautiful woman in NY--behind the camera!

NYC Marathon 11.7.2010
I learned a valuable lesson last year.  We had to be at the bus pick-up spot at about 5:30 AM.  I ate a quick breakfast about 4 AM.   By the time the race started for me at 8:55, my breakfast was gone.  By mile fifteen I had bonked.  This year, I ate a couple of bites in the hotel room and put the rest of my breakfast in my pockets.  Also, last year we waited forever at the pick-up spot to get loaded on the bus.  This year we got there early.  I think it was around 4:30.

It was a chilly morning, probably around 40 or maybe slightly cooler.  I met my guides at the bus pick-up spot for AWDs on 5th Ave.  We got onto a bus and on the road without waiting too terribly long. It was not clear whether that was going to be a good thing or not.  I was afraid that waiting at Staten Island would be colder than waiting on the street in Manhattan.  It was quite breezy.  The wind was about 15-20 out of the NW.  Waiting outdoors for a couple of hours would not be fun.

On the island
Again, we were lucky. We were able to wait in a tent at the assembly area and out of the wind.  What at treat that was.  Besides being out of the wind, they had food and drinks.  It also gave me an opportunity to meet some of the other AWDs, particularly other quads.  I don’t see too many other quadriplegics using crank chairs.  When I do, and I’m afraid this was my first encounter, I am very curious about their bike and its setup.

Inspiration is a strange thing.  You never know where you will find it.  It has been my observation than one has only to open one’s eyes to be inspired. There’s an inspiration in every mile.  And on this day, we were not yet at mile 0.

Next to me in the tent was a young lady from New Zealand on her own “incredible journey.” Catriona Wiliams is the founder of the Cat-Walk Trust, a foundation that raises money to further research for a cure to spinal injury.  She was an Olympic equestrian hopeful and broke her 6th and 7th cervical vertebrae in a riding accident.  After two years of training, she led her team to the NY City Marathon, raising $300,000 to fund spinal injury research. 

I was excited to meet other athletes with disabilities similar to my own and especially to have the opportunity to check out their crank chairs and the adaptations they had made.  I overlooked the fact that my guides may not have been around seriously disabled individuals enough to feel entirely comfortable. 

“I walked into a tent surrounded by disabled athletes,” confessed KVD.  “Without a thought, I stared. Some athletes with 1 leg, no legs, no arm strength, and some mentally disabled.  I was taken aback.  I thought, ‘You want to participate in a 26 mile race?’” 

I think KVD reflected deeply on how valuable her opportunity to run the marathon really was. She wrote afterward, “How selfish of me to think about throwing away my gift to run 2 months ago, and I have a full functioning body with well equipped joints!  It was then in that tent, that I understood and decided.  I'm going to run my heart out!  And it was a breath of fresh air to run marathon #5 with heart, desire, and guts…”

Soon we were called to the starting line.  Sitting there, staring a mile to the crest of that tall bridge, my mind went through a flurry of emotions including excitement, fear, and pride.  Mary Whittenberg shouts, “All of you, this moment is all of yours!  New York City awaits you!”  And it seemed that before we knew it, we were rolling across the starting line.

The first two miles
I think our slow start up the bridge was a strange feeling for CD and KVD.  G- had done this before.  Soon all the others were gone.  I was slowly cranking my way up the bridge.  My teammates were walking, feeling strange that they were not running at the start of the race.  The chilly wind blew hard across the bridge but despite our discomfort we were already having a blast.  The view from atop the Verrazano Narrows Bridge was spectacular. The Statue of Liberty was beautiful.  You could never enjoy this particular view at any other time.  We were all alone at the top of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge with unabated view of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the New York harbor,  And we were just getting started!
Soon the elite ladies were passing us in the lanes on our right.  I wasn’t able to see them well this year.  As we neared the top of the bridge, the race started for us. My guides started running down the bridge as I neared the top.  Near the bottom of the bridge I passed them cranking as hard as I could; probably about 20 mph.  As we entered Brooklyn, the crowds were there with their legendary welcome.

Celebrities and other ordinary people
While most folks’ attention is drawn to the celebrities in the race, this year did not disappoint. Al Roker (I beat Al...) and Meridith Vieira from the Today Show both finished the race as did the Chilean miner, Edison Pena, and Subway’s Jared Fogle.  Besides my teammates, I found inspiration in some more ‘ordinary’ people.’
As I made my way up 4th Avenue I passed a few other AWDs that had gone ahead of me as I cranked up the bridge.  One of whom was 78-year-old Sister Mary Gladys.  She was on her way to completing her 27th NY Marathon!  Throughout Brooklyn the guides were having a large time, getting the crowds on the street excited and yelling.  During the previous week, we had driven through this part of town.  We had stopped at a drug store to buy a few things we forgot to bring on the trip.  I think I had been wearing a Hope For The Warriors shirt.  The clerk at the checkout counter asked if I was going to be in the marathon on Sunday and I told her I was.  Now as we came up 4th Ave near the store, I heard a voice, “Is that you, Mr. K-?”  It was the clerk, who remembered my name from my credit card.

Later in the race someone ran up beside me and patted me on the shoulder, yelling my name and shouting, “Go, K-!”  I didn’t think much of it because I had my name on the front of my helmet.  It wasn’t until a month later that I found out that the individual was my friend Mike, from Camp Lejeune, the race director for the Grand Prix Series races.  He was timing the race from miles 9-15.  Small world.

As we left Brooklyn, the runners were getting pretty thick but my teammates were doing a fantastic job of clearing out a path in front as I started down hills.  It made all the difference in the world.  I was keeping up a pretty good pace.  I was also keeping myself fueled up on Gus and Snickers.  So far everything was going well.  CD was usually leading the charge down the hills.  When an iPlodder couldn’t hear us shouting, CD would, rather assertively, put a hand on each shoulder of the self-deafened individual and physically “suggest” they move to the right.

This year we all went over the Queensborough Bridge together.  Yeah!  Unfortunately it was a long climb against a chilly head wind.  Even last year when I bonked at this spot, I don’t remember it being this long.  On the downhill side I held back instead of powering down the hill. I could see bales of hay on the side of the street where the course switched back.  I decided not to use the bales for their intended purpose.

Manhattan-like no other
All the length of 1st Avenue we made good time.  Crowds were unbelievably loud.  The guides were having a great time and were absolutely fantastic. As we started approaching the Bronx I noticed G- wasn’t pushing ahead on the downhills like she had in earlier miles.  The energy and enthusiasm that we all felt was taking its toll.  This was a brutal way for a runner to take on a race.  She was just coming back from a nasty injury in the spring too.  It is an incredibly motivating experience to work closely together on any type of team.  When you work closely together with a common goal, a common purpose, and for a cause you can identify with, no obstacle can stand in your way. This was probably G-‘s most difficult marathon of her life.
As she put it, “I tried my best to sprint with “y'all” (my southern influence has started to diminish her good English) but my legs were cramping and on a few occasions, when I didn't see that American flag wavering or two bright yellow shirts ahead, I thought I didn't have it in me to catch up.  But I just thought of you, thought of all of us crossing that finish line together and what that would feel like once again, and I pushed through the pain and fatigue because you inspire me to push through everything. Finishing the marathon with you last year has motivated me to get through any rough patches this past year, be it physical or emotional.  Finishing it with you two years in a row is hard to put into words...this experience has grounded me and will continue to inspire me for the rest of my life.”

It all came together
Likewise for me the event had its motivating effects.  When others are working so desperately for your success, you feel motivated to push harder and to settle for nothing less than your best.  I think that this race was a turning point for me. I think that out there on those streets of New York, I no longer was willing to accept any more “almosts.” I had my fueling/energy problems solved.  I was trained and in peak condition.  I had an excellent team in front of me pouring their hearts and souls into every step of the race just to make my endeavor successful.  I had literally millions of New York spectators screaming at the top of their lungs.

Last year, I had nothing going for me as we returned up 5th Ave.  I was totally depleted and cranking pitifully slow in my lowest gears. This year, I had everything going for me.  The last few miles through Manhattan were not only exhilarating, but I had more energy than I could contain.  I couldn’t believe my pace.

As we entered Central Park, although the trees were still greener than I expected, the beauty of the fall colors was resplendent.  You could have easily talked me into stopping just to enjoy the colors.  The spectators were thicker and they were closer.  My teammate met us and snapped a few pics.  As we turned west onto 59th St., I suddenly had a sinking feeling.  This friendship we had developed over the past few days had brought us intensely close together for this very event.  Now in the final mile, the realization set in.  This great event which had brought together was now largely behind us.  Again, I wanted to slow down, not from fatigue but from a yearning to make the experience last.

What pushed me
I indulged in a few high-fives with spectators but for the most part pushed on.  I knew my time was going to be better than last year and that knowledge pushed me too.  But again the big motivation for me was the sight before my very eyes; the sight of this team of guides that were putting everything they had into making this a successful race for me.
KVD later recalled the experience like this, “Looking back over the race, I was delighted when K- was flying down hills.  This is where he would make up his time.  I was confident for 26.2 miles because I know we all felt the support and drive from our team as we worked together.  G- was an awesome supporter."
 "She ran Brooklyn screaming at the crowd to wake up and cheer!  Never will I forget watching CD sprint down Cat Hill at mile 25, at sub 7-min/mile pace, with DP on his tail, clearing the way and making running look so effortless.  I was so proud of everyone! The experience was special:  Volunteering to help K- was like no other volunteer effort in my life. I gave that race to him because I wanted to.  He will never understand how rewarding it was for me, but if words could dance, mine would do cartwheels!”

At 40K, CD and KVD in front make a wide opining for me
Believe me, KVD, I understand.  I witnessed your feat. I felt G-‘s pain.  And I could never forget the great time we ALL felt that day.  Hopefully this blog post will convey to others some small sense of the teamwork, camaraderie, and purpose that we all felt out there that day.

It can’t last
As we passed Columbia Circle and entered the Park for the last quarter mile of the race, we all felt like the eyes of the world were upon us.  There is no place better to finish a race than this race and this place, “where the world comes to run.”  It seemed like only a blink of an eye since our team first met the previous Wednesday evening and made our practice run in the Park.

At the finish line Mary Bryant from Achilles met us with a little dance.  We collected our medals and posed for a few pictures that will be treasured for years.  Through the hard work of these incredible teammates, my official time was 5:44.  They did an amazing job.  It was awesome to have so much energy at the end AND to have been able to take about a half hour off my time.  I wouldn’t have happened without them out in front as pathfinders.

The END of “almosts”
Since this was my second NYC Marathon, it was now a NYC PR!  Sadly, however, my legacy of an unbroken string of last place handbike finishes came to an end.  Without the guides, that record would not only be intact, but I would have been beaten by 78-year-old Sister Mary Gladys.  It’s harder to say which loss would be harder to endure.  Thanks, Achilles!  And thank you, my amazing guide teammates!

OBX Half Marathon 11.15.2010
Next our journey brought us back to our home state of NC for the OBX Half Marathon.  For folks that aren’t aware, NC is the most military-friendly state in the country.  These three races have a symbolic significance to me, the MCM, the NYC, and the OBX.  Since my races are motivated by helping the wounded heroes of the Global War on Terror, it is fitting that I honor them with my participation in events in the cities that sacrificed so heavily on 9.11.2001, and then to return to my home state where I enjoy the blessings of our liberty because of the protection and sacrifices of so many brave service men and women.

NC Outer Banks (OBX)

Our efforts benefit a non-profit called Hope For The Warriors.  This organization looks out for the needs of the wounded and their families.  They have renovated homes for the needs of the disabled troops, they have provided service and companion animals for those needing the assistance of a critter companion, and they have provided scholarships for spouses and caregivers who often pick up the burden becoming the family breadwinner.  Take the time to learn about all their great programs by visiting their website, Hope For The Warriors.

At the OBX, my teammate and I were the only Team Hope For The Warriors participants.  I took part in the half marathon and my teammate ran the 8K.  Hope For The Warriors allows individuals to take part in events to raise money for their cause. Some large events such as the MCM and the NYC include H4W as an ‘official charity partner.’ Team Hope For The Warriors;  Large or small, we’re proud to participate in any race in which I can benefit Hope For The Warriors.

I don’t get all the fun!
The OBX event features a full marathon, a half, an 8K, a 5K, and a kids’ fun run.  All the road races except the half are routed down a dirt trail for part of the course.  I hope they fix this access problem in future races.  2010 was my third year participating in this event. I have gotten to know some of the event management and they are becoming quite accommodating to the idea of wheelers in their race.  I hope more wheelers will participate in the event in the future. 

On Saturday my teammate ran the 8K.  I got out on the course and yelled and shouted to the runners.  At about the ¼ mile point some of the runners cracked up laughing at my good-humored encouragement, “You can do it! You can do it!  Only five miles to go!”  I had a lot of fun and I think I was one of the very few spectators out there on the course. The runners seemed to appreciate it, except for the deafened iPlodders.

After her race I got on my bike and rode from Kitty Hawk to a little community at the end of North Carolina called Stumpy Point.  It’s worth looking at Stumpy Point in Google Earth because it is a small fishing village that is nearly below sea level.  It was about a thirty mile ride but it was essentially all down wind.  I love riding in rural areas devoid of traffic so I had a good time.

Who’da thunk?
I did have a close call, or maybe I should say, a wake-up call.  Highway 264 in this part of Dare County has access to basically 5 features.  There is a land fill, an Air Force bombing range, a Navy bombing range, the community of Stumpy Point, and hundreds of miles of forest; mostly pocosin.  The road is long and straight; traffic travels fast.  As I approached one curve, I could see a car in front and one in back.  I knew they didn’t see each other.  I knew they would meet at the curve.  And I knew they wouldn’t be slowing down.  That meant that the car behind me would probably be in the other’s lane when they met.

I wanted no part of such an event so I made my way over to the edge of the road and squeezed onto the grass shoulder between the pavement and the guard rail.  The cars met as I predicted with plenty of room and without incident.  However, my troubles were just beginning.

As I got back onto the road, gravity got the best of me.  Anyone who has ridden a Top End XLT knows the front wheel, i.e., steering, is prone to a condition called “wheel flop.”  The best description I can offer is to picture a caster such as on a grocery cart.  Now picture the angle of the caster being changed such that the bottom of the wheel is angled forward.  The resulting geometry would make the wheel trail normally when the wheel is rolling, but would cause the wheel to tend to flop to the side as the wheel slowed.  In the trailing position, the caster actually holds the weight up higher and when the wheel flops, the weight of the cart will cause the caster to fall to the side.

Another proclivity of the XLT and most handbikes is a susceptibility to road crown or cross grade.  This curve had enough bank for cars travelling 70 mph or so.  When I pulled out onto the pavement with almost no forward speed, the front wheel flopped to the left and I rolled down the steep bank and into the ditch. All I can say is thank god it was the left ditch.  The right ditch is more appropriately called a canal and is big enough to swallow a semi.  A group of bikers came by after a few minutes and rolled me back and out of the ditch and got me back onto the road.  Fortunately the rest of the ride went without incident.

A “must-do” race
Starting with the Marine Corps Marathon, I had started changing my fueling strategy.  I started consuming more calories sooner during the race.  A friend recommended a endurance drink mix called Perpetuem.  I finally got my hands on some and decided to give it a try for the OBX.  I was optimistic for this race.  Even if everything went wrong for me; the course is wonderful and scenic.

Wright Brothers memorial
BS, my co-worker, is ready for his first half marathon
Karen, an OBX staff member, gets to run the half this year

We were staying at a motel near the start and I was rolling down the street to the starting line before sunrise.  The half marathon course winds past Jockeys  Ridge and through several sound-front communities before turning west and crossing the Washington-Baum Bridge and finishing in the historic town of Manteo, thought to be the site of Sir Walter  Raleigh’s ‘Lost Colony.”
The weather was perfect, probably about 45 degrees and almost no wind.  I started about two minutes ahead of the runners which was not enough.  One year they started me about 15 minutes ahead.  That lead allowed me  to get across the bridge before the runners got too thick.  By the time I got to the bridge this year, I was pretty well surrounded.
One nice accommodation the OBX has always availed me in the past is bicycle guides.  The guides are invaluable when I am descending the big bridge, but only if they move runners over in time.  I hate to say it but this year’s guide let me down there.  On the downhill side of the bridge, one young lady wearing earphones would not move out of my path. Though the bicycle guide moved in front of me as I crested the bridge, he never made her aware of her impending peril from behind.  He ended up being more in my way than she was.  As I got up speed coming down the bridge, I ran over a traffic cone as I squeezed past my bicycle guide and brushed his left pedal with my right shoulder as I passed him. It was a close call for all three of us.
The rest of the way to the finish was relatively flat.  I ran beside a young lady the remaining way in.  It turned out she placed in her age bracket.  I had lots of energy for the whole race.  Maybe the Perpetuem did the trick.  I finished with a PR for the OBX of 1:45. Maybe those ‘almosts’ were gone for good!  Back-to-back race PRs!

Next year’s star
The OBX folks gave me a nice framed picture as the division winner.  I met a young man I had emailed in the past.  I met Joe’s wife last year when she finished the half marathon.  She was curious about my chair and told me her husband was a quad.  I told her to tell him I said to get out there and take part in next year’s race.  We exchanged emails a few times and this year, he was waiting for his wife in the finish area.  Again, I encouraged him to race next year.  I handed him the trophy picture and told him to get used to the feel of it.  “I expect you to kick my butt next year,” I told Joe.

Gettysburg, PA, High School track team members run their first endurance event--and WIN!
Two race PRs in a row!  The end of 'almosts'???

Space Coast Marathon 11.28.2010
As if 2-1/2 marathons in fifteen days was not enough, late in the season I added one last marathon to my schedule. Space Coast Marathon, in Cocoa, FL, is billed as Florida’s oldest marathon.  My teammate and I drove down the Friday following Thanksgiving.  The day evening we arrived, we took the time to drive the course.  I had been in pursuit of that elusive sub-4 hour time all year long.  I hoped that this course would be flat and straight—just what I needed to do a sub-4.

It was dark when we reconned the course.  I was terribly disappointed.  In my mind, I could envision the streets on race day.  I could foresee a row of cones down the middle of the street with outbound runners on one side and returning runners on the other.  The streets were narrow.  They were old and steeply crowned.  And although the course was flat overall, the streets ran along the river bank and took every little dip and rise along the way. I could see myself getting bogged down in the runners as they filled the narrow lanes and I got bogged down in the uphills; unable to pass on the downhills.

After my teammate and I finished reconning the course, we started walking around the village of Cocoa, looking for a place to eat.  We finally settled on a pizza place and started working our way through the Friday night crowd looking for a table.  Over in the corner I saw a raised arm and two faces looking our way with big smiles.  BN, who lives near me, was also taking part in the Space Coast.  As coincidence would have it, we stumbled upon BN and his wife AN. That made it easier to choose a table.

Saturday we went to the expo at the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex.  We drove around Cocoa Beach looking for a good place to ride bikes.  Later, we decided on a spot near the main highway near where we stayed.  That after noon I rode about six miles with BN.  While it wasn’t a particularly challenging ride for him, I felt like I was WAY out of shape.  “No big deal,” I thought.  With the difficulties, I predicted I would have with the course, this warmup was probably going to be the best ride of my weekend.

A dark start
For the rest of the day, my teammate got the bike ready for the race and we had dinner with BN and AN.  We got back to our hotel and turned in early to get up early in the AM.  Our race was supposed to start around 6:10 AM.  We would be starting out in the dark.  I had bright lights on my bike so I wasn’t bothered by the darkness for safety reasons.  In the hot summer months I have to train at night because I don’t sweat.  Night time is my only escape from the extreme heat.  I was used to training in the dark.  We had reconned the course in the dark.  The dark wasn’t going to bother me.  I just hoped that the road marshals kept the course secured. Cars DO bother me.  I kept my lights turned on.

BN Leads the way through the dark.
The course basically consists of a north out-and-back then a south out-and-back.  The start and finish are both near the middle of the course.  The half marathoners and the full marathoners start at the same time.  The half marathoners do only the south part of the course. Based on our viewing of the course Friday night, My teammate and I planned to meet so she could pass me drinks and food when I returned from the first half.  Then she would drive to a spot we had picked out to meet me near the south turn-around.

The first pleasant surprise was that there were no cones down the middle of the streets. Maybe I just don’t like being fenced in.   I like an OPEN road.  On a handbike, you can use the road crown to your advantage if you can move left and right freely. You can set up your compensator for a particular amount of cross grade.  Since most roads have a dome-shaped surface, you can move to a spot on the street where that amount of cross grade is available.  You can also use the right side of the crown to turn right and the left side to turn left.  The big advantage of having an open road as opposed to separate lanes for outbound and returning runners is that you have more room to pass particularly on downhill stretches.

At 10K I was about 55 minutes.  That was not all that good for me.  I was not having any problems passing runners when I needed to.  In fact, most runners moved aside willingly AND offered a lot of encouragement.  Only when I got behind a pace group did I have any problem passing.  But even then, they were very cooperative when they heard me coming.  And they usually yelled back in support.  It was a great crowd to run with.

At the half I returned downtown and met my teammate for a fueling stop.  By now the sun was up and I didn’t need the battery for my lights.  I unloaded that brick and tanked up with more perpetuem and another Snickers.  My split was 1:50.  I can normally do a flat half in 1:40.  Again, I wasn’t excited about my time, but if I could maintain my pace, I might actually beat 4 hours.  I was pushing myself pretty hard however.  So with the road in my favor and a belly full of Perpetuem (and a Snickers), I was moving along pretty well.  At least at this point in time, I was passing runners mostly, instead of them passing me.

I felt the south leg of the course was going to be more difficult.  I was going to be heading into the returning half-marathoners.  Surprisingly I seemed to have a little more energy.  The Perpetuem must be working.  The little uphills along the course didn’t seem to be so bad as I thought they would be two night previous.  I wasn’t really watching my GPS.  At about mile 19.6 I crossed a timing mat with a clock.  I looked at the time on my GPS and asked the timer what mile he was timing.  He said it would be mile 20 on the return. 

Unexpected strength
I looked at my GPS and it said my time was something like 2:30.  I should have been elated.  However, I surmised that I had accidentally turned the GPS off at some point by hitting it with my chin.  It happens pretty commonly.  Just before the south turn-around I passed my teammate. She was waiting for me as we had planned.  As I passed she snapped a few pics then I told her what energy goodies I wanted.  I went on down to the turn-around and found the road to be too narrow to turn around my handbike.   I extended down the course a tenth of a mile or so and turned at the point where the single lane rejoined the other lane.  I had had the same problem at the northern turnaround, too.

I stopped for refueling and drank a Spark mixed in a Powerade and sucked down two Gus. My teammate didn’t say anything about my time so I didn’t think it was anything but average.  I started heading back for slightly more than 10K left to the finish line.
About that time, however, I started feeling a slight sensation of a condition that is common to quadriplegics called autonomic dysreflexia.  To the non-medical reader, Wikipedia describes AD “as a potentially life threatening condition which can be considered a medical emergency requiring immediate attention. AD occurs most often in spinal cord-injured individuals with spinal lesions above the (T6) spinal cord level. Acute AD is a reaction of the autonomic (involuntary) nervous system to overstimulation. It is characterized by severe paroxysmal hypertension (episodic high blood pressure) associated with throbbing headaches…”

Well, at least for that point in time, that episode of AD was not anywhere near the “acute” stage. I take medicine which suppresses the effects of AD.  It also suppresses my blood pressure.  It is one of the things that makes vigorous activity so difficult for me. My blood pressure normally runs about 90 over 50.

When I was heading back, I could see the race clock at the 20 mile timing mat.  I looked at my GPS to compare the times.  I could subtract the times and figure out how long my GPS had been stopped.  I could keep up with my time for rest of the race by adding the difference to my GPS time.

I was shocked! Both times were 2:42!  I knew I could finish in an hour.  I only had to maintain a ten-minute pace. That shouldn’t be a problem. For the rest of the race, I poured it on.  I had more energy than at any point in the race.  It felt good.  The whole way back I could think of nothing but that elusive goal of beating 4 hours.  It was looking like I was finally going to make that goal.  Where I had called this year, “my year of almosts,” as I look back, it was really the year of fulfilling many goals.
I call my main three goals Hope, Inspiration, and A Promise.  This year, as last, I completed my goal of ‘Hope’ by completing the Marine Corps Marathon, the New York City Marathon, and the OBX Half Marathon, completing the two and a half marathons in fifteen days.  I had reached my goal I call ‘Inspiration’ by handbiking 2008 miles early in the fall during a training ride.  I was able to organize a small group of runners at work that crossed the finish line of the MCM having raised over $2800 for Hope For The Warriors.  I was able to accomplish my personal goal of back-to-back half centuries one weekend in October.  The goal that brought me greatest happiness was the fulfillment of my goal I call ‘A Promise.’  Our ‘promise’ was to raise $26,200 in donations, or $1,000 for every mile in a marathon.  With the steadfast help of my teammate, we have raised over $30,000 for the cause.  In short, it was looking like I would have many reasons to celebrate this day.

All smiles
If you were to have seen me in the first ¾ of the race you would have seen someone with a big scowl on his face.  I had no idea I would beat 4 hours until now.  During the final leg of the race, you would have seen a guy beaming with a smile almost too big for his face.  I glance at my speed several times on the return and could see that I was easily bettering a 10-minute pace.  I really didn’t know how well, there were just too many endorphins running around in my brain to do the math.

Although the AD was getting a little worse, it was still under control.  In fact, I was probably enjoying a ‘normal’ blood pressure level and benefiting from a better energy level as a result.  As I cruised into the finish area, I forgot to check the clock but I did remember to stop my GPS.  I collected my medal and heard my teammate shout at me. It wasn’t until I cleared the finish area that I looked at the GPS and saw my time.  I was amazed.  When I met up with my teammate I asked her if she had seen my time.  When they finally posted the official results, it confirmed I had a marathon PR.  I had not only beat my 4-hour goal, I had blown it away by nearly a half hour!  My official time was 3:31:08!

We stayed around the finish area until the awards and hung out with BN and AN.  BN received a nice framed picture as an award for his winning crank chair time.  I was on cloud nine with my time so I was just happy hanging around with other folks.   Overall, it was a great race.  It was probably the most scenic of any marathon I have ever participated in. For BN and me it was a great time—he with his first pace finish and I with my PR.

Strength in my weakness
So I always say, “Life with a disability is not a life filled with despair, it is a life filled with hope.”  It was a year filled with great accomplishments.  The falling short of my goal made me train harder.  But ironically, every goal I achieved, I did so because of my disability, not in spite of it.  In the end, when the episode of AD elevated my blood pressure to what was probably normal for most folks, I had more energy than I do most times. That which made me weak, on that day, was the source of my strength.

In a world that measures us by what we cannot do, i.e., dis-abled, my greatest accomplishment was to use that disability to do what others cannot.  Though many say I inspire them, I am the one who is continuously inspired by others.  But to them I would say, to find your strength, look to that which makes you weak.

As I look forward to a new year of events, I must pause to remember the sacrifices of the wounded and fallen.  The world in which we live and the freedoms we enjoy would be vastly different without the dedication and sacrifice of our nation’s service men and women.  We owe them so much.  Freedom is not free.

Please help with a donation to my fundraising campaign. All the money we raise goes to Hope For The Warriors.  Learn about the great things they do.

Please make a secure online donation at my donation page: 2008 Miles of Hope donations