Bay State and Beyond – My Blind Marathon Journey

By Randy Pierce

“I’ve learned that finishing a marathon isn’t just an athletic achievement. It’s a state of mind; a state of mind that says anything is possible.”

— John Hanc, running writer

They say fewer than 1% of all runners will ever run a marathon. I wonder how many fewer will ever run one totally blind? I know of a few and ran my own back on May 4, 2014 though admittedly with very poor preparation as retold in “Qualifying for Quinn.”

Randy and Thor crossing the finish line at the Cox Providence Marathon, May 2014
Randy and Thor crossing the finish line at the Cox Providence Marathon, May 2014

“If you feel bad at 10 miles, you’re in trouble. If you feel bad at 20 miles, you’re normal. If you don’t feel bad at 26 miles, you’re abnormal.”

— Rob de Castella, winner 1983 World Marathon Championships

At 8 a.m. on October 19, I will begin to run the Bay State marathon in Lowell, MA. This time with considerable attention to proper training and preparation thanks in large part to the knowledge, wisdom, experience, coaching, guiding, and friendship of Greg Hallerman. As hard as it was to run the last marathon, it was much more difficult to consistently attend to the many details necessary for successful training, particularly as a blind runner.

The vast majority of my run training needed to be outside and for that I needed enough people willing to sacrifice their time and effort to meet and run with me despite my transportation limitations. I was incredibly fortunate in so many runners undertaking this over the course of the past months. Thank you to: Greg H., Thor, Matt, Mary, Ron D., Andre, Kris, Christine, Robin, Laura, Greg N., Rob W., Meredith, Pete, Ron A., Nick, Scott, Chris, Austin, Rob C. and even Autumn for a little rail trail work.

This doesn’t include the hours of support on many fronts by my incredible wife Tracy who is in the midst of her own extensive training. Both Nashua’s Gate City Striders and the Greater Lowell Road Runners are running clubs who also lent support to the cause along with dozens of friends sharing information and helping ensure I could have enough guide opportunities.

I ran four days each week and as my training progress pace and distance became more tuned to my training and more difficult for finding guides. A guide needs to be strong enough to manage all the same work I’m trying to undertake while keeping enough mental concentration for us to be safe and of course there are often learning curves which bump and bruise the body along the way. I ran in snow, rain, heat, cold, darkness (hey, the guides do need to see!), hills, rural roads, traffic laden streets, rural areas, parks, rail trails, and virtually anything and everything possible. I occasionally defaulted to the “dreadmill” but very rarely due to the kindness and generosity of so many excellent people. I did interval work, hard pace runs, and race pace runs as speed and conditioning grew steadily. I practiced on the course I’ll run and I pushed myself to meet every challenge my coach and mentor suggested. Better still I pursued every opportunity he suggested to me as well.

Randy finishes the Hollis Fast 5k.
Randy finishes the Hollis Fast 5k.

I wore out a pair of running shoes and have three more pairs rotating for better longevity. I practiced with many types of equipment from fuel belts and camel backs through body glides and nutritional sources. Testing them on short runs first and again on long runs. I supplemented run training with a healthier weight goal, better dietary considerations overall, losing nearly 20 pounds. I strengthened my core with “Iso Abs” and even hot yoga classes!

A lot of time and effort went into this on my part and my life was changed significantly as a result of the commitment required–commitment I firmly believe will pay dividends in the Bay State marathon and beyond.

“The difference between the mile and the marathon is the difference between burning your fingers with a match and being slowly roasted over hot coals.”

–Hal Higdon, running writer and coach

We used a modified version of Hal Higdon’s marathon training program. October 19, I’ll run my first marathon with proper preparation but I’ll follow it with a trip to Sacramento, California on December 7 to run the California International Marathon. I’ll continue to enhance my training over the long New England winter to be ready for the crown jewel of my marathon goals, the 2015 Boston Marathon.

It will be my fourth marathon within a year and the work will become the foundation for many future running goals. I doubt many years will ever see as many marathons for me again but I do hope to continue with running as a significant part of my world. I’m competitive and driven in many ways and yet the key for me is to experience the rich depth of opportunities within our world. I hope to continually relish the experiences personally and perhaps to some extent demonstrate for all of us that the goals which are important to us are worth the grit and perseverance necessary to reach.

Randy and Quinn at the Boston Athletic Association 5k, April 2014.
Randy and Quinn at the Boston Athletic Association 5k, April 2014.

The most meaningful of all my experiences have always required the most determination and effort to achieve. There are rarely shortcuts around the hard work required but the essential steps are easy as ABC or perhaps by my backward ABC for any accomplishment important enough to any of us:

C – Conceive
B – Believe
A – Achieve

My initial goal was to run the Boston marathon in honor of the Mighty Quinn. There’s so much more to that story and some has already been expressed. Quinn helped me to walk, taught me to run, and showed me the way to reach some incredible heights. Bay State is just one step of many on the path of my pursuit of dreams and goals. Still it’s a powerful one and whether you are part of logging miles for the Mighty Quinn or simply a fellow believer in possibility, I hope you’ll spare a thought for my wonderful boy and for me as I put my trust in the tether and follow Ron and Meredith through the course and to a celebration of Ability Awareness for myself and for many others involved in making this reality.


3 thoughts on “Bay State and Beyond – My Blind Marathon Journey

  1. By now most are aware that I did not finish (DNF) the Bay State Marathon. Here, in a bit more detail is what went awry and how I feel about it after a few days of consideration.

    Things began well with my feeling great and delighting in the cool temperatures ideal for a long run. As Ron and I set out the pace was comfortable immediately and spirits all around were very upbeat. Just before the end o mile 1 I bumped something slightly heavy and soft with my right foot and thought I’d perhaps collided with a person. No reaction had taken place but when asked folks around reported a brown bag which my Guide, Ron, was surprised to hear as he had seen nothing him. We playfully gave him a little grief but would ultimately learn he had no way to see it. As mile 2 began I reached into my pouch for the Date and Almond combinations which serve as my nutrition during long runs…only to found an empty pouch. The zip lock full of all my race nutrition is what had fallen from my fuel belt and struck my leg on the way down. This meant 1275 calories of support were now absent from my plan. I had my water and six shock blocks (electrolyte replacement) and a healthy breakfast two hours prior but knew that would likely not be enough for the Marathon.

    Races often supply water stops some of which will have Gatorade and even “goo” which is a 140 calorie frosting like substance which I’ve used for cycling successfully but which always hits my stomach like a rock when I’m running. We had planned to avoid the many challenges of a water stop but at Ron’s suggestion and with Chantal’s help grabbed a pair of goo packets to take should my body show any signs of nutrition deficit. This was an emergency only plan as they disagree with me enough to try and avoid them. The challenge is detecting signs of weariness in the muscles early so the nutrition has time to get there. I don’t tend to feel hungry while running because of the exertion involved.

    Our pace never wavered from the 8:56 minutes/mile which was our target range to achieve the sub 4 hour Marathon goal I’d set. We hit the Guide transfer to Meredith at the Half-way point and all was well. We reached 18.5 still feeling great and running strong. The outside of my right knee had a sharp pain like an icepick as Jose has described it to me aptly. This is likely the ITB connection and Meredith had me shake it, stretch the hamstring and in seconds we were running without any pain there. The downhill and reverse camber of the road likely irritated it but the solution was easy. As that built up I stretched it out twice more. Still the pace was steady on our goal and I felt well. Which is why a short bit after mile 23 I was surprised to find myself disoriented and on my back in the road with Meredith using her two hands to ensure my head did not strike the ground. I had blacked out, only momentarily apparently, but enough to fall to the ground ‘gracefully?’ and without any injury. The brain doesn’t do it’s best thinking in the midst of such exertions but I’d had no warning signs of light headedness before the incident. I might have been daydreaming a bit as I worked to keep attention enough in my legs and surroundings to run safe and strong. Most folks who have run over 20 miles will tell you it gets pretty hard in the last stretch – it should as it is an epic event. Perhaps that was my warning but I could second guess myself for a long time. In hindsight there were many solutions available and there will be several steps to ensure this problem won’t happen again. I know this and take some solace in that. I take a lot of comfort in noting how well the training had showed in my generally strong run for over 23 miles. I tried twice to see if I could run onward afterwards but I was light headed and wobbly. The risk to myself for another perhaps more damaging fall as well as the risk to my fellow runners was in my mind too great. I was disappointed and frustrated to an understandable level. As we put ninutrition back into me and I return to whatever normalcy one can have after that long a run, that passing out episode and the frustration of missing a goal after so much hard work.

    I am proud of the preparation and the obvious results it showed on the Bay State course. I’m proud of my excellent guides during the race and especially for Meredith catching my head! It wasn’t the result I sought but while I failed in that goal I certainly know the many pieces of success involved for so much of the goal. I’ll take the lessons, continue the work and do this right. I have 6.5 weeks until the California International Marathon and my goals there are a little different for reasons I’d established before Bay State. I will finish that strong and continue to grow my running potential towards more challenging goals in the right steady development training suggests. I will also not repeat the mistakes of this race.

    Thank you to the great group of volunteers and supporters for the Bay State marathon. They were incredibly efficient and helpful in all aspects all day long. It is the closest Marathon to my home and I will run it again successfully but for now I will actually be very happy for so much of the experience. Thanks also to the many who flooded me with supportive messages before, during and after the Marathon!

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