Our Peak Potential Table Sprint Challenge is Live!

By Randy Pierce

Randy invites you to help us reach out goal!
Randy invites you to help us reach out goal!

If you are already fully versed on the Peak Potential Table Sprint Challenge and just want to join the team – Get Started Here!

Running the Boston Marathon is both a challenge and an experience I savor personally. The most meaningful and valuable work in my life is what I pursue through the strides of the 2020 Vision Quest charity. This year I’m combining these experiences somewhat by inviting you to be part of them both.

As Boston is the signature marathon in the world, our Peak Potential Dinner and Auction is the signature event whereby our charity is able to continue the successful work each year.

While the event itself is on November 18, 2017, we begin our ticket sales on April 10 with a goal of selling 26 tables prior to my traversing the 26 miles to the finish of the race. This would effectively ensure a sell-out of our event and as you might guess will be motivating me mile by mile.

I honestly thought the goal was as difficult as all the training in New England winter, and yet the early responses from many friends suggest we may indeed have a chance to reach this incredible goal. To help encourage our success we are offering a table of 8 at our lowest discounted rate of $500 from the start of ticket sales until I cross the finish line. We’ll accept your commitment, registration, and promise of a check or online payments as well as welcome any motivational message or image you may wish to send along with your table reservation.

You see, we’ll be announcing mile by mile one table reservation at a time on our website blog and social media to appreciate and celebrate our community and to help motivate me as I’m working my way along the historic 26.2 mile route from Hopkinton to Boston.

So just to review: you’ll be signing up to enjoy a tremendous evening on November 18 at the Courtyard by Marriott in Nashua, NH. You will be helping to support the worthy mission of 2020 Vision Quest and our highly acclaimed educational programs to schools throughout New England. Finally you’ll be motivating me and inspiring me as I’m striving to run the 120th Boston Marathon on April 17, Patriots Day of course!

So once again: Let’s Get Started Here!


2020 Team with a Vision – Banking on Success

By Randy Pierce

Rebecca and Tom guiding Randy for a runToday, I’m proud to officially announce the team of which I’m a part in this journey to my third Boston Marathon Finish. The tricky part is there are so many teams coming together to make this all possible, so I’ll start with my guides.

As a totally blind runner my Marathon more than most involves teamwork. Foremost on that team are the guides who will accompany me on the day of the Marathon. Two friends who have become running guides as well over the last year were my choice for whom I wanted to share the miles from Hopkinton to Boston. Happily for me they both felt similarly about the challenge and choice to guide me for those historic miles.

Rebecca Dorr will join me in Wave 4 Corral 2 at roughly 11:15 a.m. for the start of the journey. Roughly half way through she’ll hand off the responsibility to Tom Cassetty, who gets the pleasure of the infamous Newton hills and the reward of the famous finish.

Along the way we’ll have the company of another runner, Jennifer Hagstrom, who qualified on her own but will run with us to lend support and savor the experience with us. A remarkable aspect of the choice of these guides is the sacrifice they choose to put extra focus on the terrain and necessary interactions to guide me, in addition to their own running needs and appreciation of the epic event around us. I would not be able to run as I do without such kind and capable friends who have well earned far more than my trust.

Thank you to all those who ever guide me and particularly those through the difficult winter training for Boston (Rick, Matt, Agnes, Carolina, Mark, Rob, Anthony, Rodney, Tom, Rebecca).

Thank you, Bank of New Hampshire!

The 2020 Vision Quest Team is often behind me providing support and encouragement. This year the Peak Potential team has joined forces with our Table Sprint Challenge which will officially start on Monday, April 10. We’ve made a partnership once again with the Bank of NH and I’m proud to wear their shirt for the Marathon this year. Their continued dedication to community and our mission within the community demonstrates to me the care which underlies their approach to all of their work. They are once again the Event Sponsor for our signature event on November 18.

Rebecca and Tom guiding Randy for a run, Marathon training in the early morning, view from the back I’m also excited to announce  we have just finished an incredible motivational poster for students and school as part of our dedication to building better foundations through education together!

I’m banking on success well beyond the Boston Marathon thanks to the partnership with Bank of NH. We hope many of you will be part of our team and join in on the Table Sprint Challenge starting next Monday, right here on our 2020 Vision Quest blog.

One final partner at the core of the Boston Marathon for me and for many like me is “Team with a Vision.” The Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired founded Team with a Vision to bring together Blind/VI athletes from all over the world. They form a team of runners, guides, and support which help demonstrate ability awareness while using inclusiveness and collaboration to achieve incredible results for many communities. The Boston Marathon’s dedication to inclusiveness helps support many charitable efforts through  bib access for donations.

As a qualified runner, I’m fortunate Team with a Vision chooses to continue including me and several others in their overall mission so that we help to share their great work as part of their team as well. We’ll begin our day surrounded by Team with a Vision in Hopkinton and end the day sharing their vision still of a world which celebrates the accomplishments of every person on that course, not for any disability they may possess, but rather for all the ability they demonstrate through hard work, problem solving, and perseverance–but most of all, for learning to come together and work as a team because people learning to work together ultimately leads to the best victories of all!

T.E.A.M. – Together Everyone Achieves More


Help us reach our goal for Peak Potential 2017!

By Randy Pierce

With snowstorms hammering New England in the last week, our readers may have been a little distracted and missed last week’s important message. We wanted to re-share it this week with a plea to help us spread the news far and wide.

Randy and Autumn amidst the heavy snow banks pose with the traditional "we want your help" pointing gesture.
“We want YOU to help us with our goal!”

I am attempting to give you all a little notice as I ask you to consider helping me reach for a daunting goal.

On Monday, April 10, I’ll release a blog with some exciting news about the  event sponsor for our signature event, Peak Potential Dinner & Auction held every November. In celebration of that announcement and my week of preparation leading up to the Boston Marathon on April 17 (Patriots Day of course!), we will be kicking off the ticket sales for our November 18 event on that day as well.

It is the earliest we’ve begun sales for our event and the timing is key to my stretch goal. While we sell tickets individually, in pairs, and by tables of 8, the most common purchase and best value is the table sale.

What is my goal? To sell 1 table for each mile of the historic 26.2-mile course of the Boston Marathon which I’ll be running during that week… Read more.



We need your help to reach our stretch goal for Peak Potential 2017!

By Randy Pierce

Randy and Autumn amidst the heavy snow banks pose with the traditional "we want your help" pointing gesture.
“We want YOU to help us with our goal!”

I am attempting to give you all a little notice as I ask you to consider helping me reach for a daunting goal.

On Monday, April 10, I’ll release a blog with some exciting news about the  event sponsor for our signature event, Peak Potential Dinner & Auction held every November. In celebration of that announcement and my week of preparation leading up to the Boston Marathon on April 17 (Patriots Day of course!), we will be kicking off the ticket sales for our November 18 event on that day as well.

It is the earliest we’ve begun sales for our event and the timing is key to my stretch goal. While we sell tickets individually, in pairs, and by tables of 8, the most common purchase and best value is the table sale.

What is my goal? To sell 1 table for each mile of the historic 26.2-mile course of the Boston Marathon which I’ll be running during that week. Tracy and I always immediately purchase a table of our own so I’ve got the first mile covered and several family and friends have suggested a few more miles along the route are likely secured as well. Whether I know in advance of the race or catch the mile by update tributes and acknowledgements we’ll send out in appreciation, I will get some significant motivation from all the support which arrives from the various table and ticket purchases.

People having fun at tables at the Peak Potential 2016For that one week (April 10-17), we will offer the lowest table price, $500 for the table of 8 guests. As of April 18, the price will increase to $600/table until June 18. After June 18, the price will increase to $700/table.

Your choice to attend our event would benefit our worthy mission a great deal. Our venue holds 30 tables very comfortably and thus 26 tables at this point will effectively assure us a sell-out at the very start of our outreach. It would allow us to work on obtaining sponsorships and donations to help make the event the most successful yet.

Already in our 8th annual event our success has continued to strengthen and grow fantastically thanks to all of your support. This is why I feel so certain it is worth asking you all to consider joining into the stretch goal now and be preparing for that April 10 opportunity.

Jose and Randy with their hands up running the Marathon.Now, we’re calling this a stretch goal because I do absolutely understand how high I’m setting this goal. When I run a marathon, I take the lesson of my friend Greg Hallerman to set three goals for myself each time: the stretch goal which is hard to reach but incredibly rewarding, the secondary goal, and the comfort goal.

You already know my stretch goal; my secondary goal would be to have 26 distinct purchases even if they were not all tables because it’s still an overwhelming support at this early juncture. My comfort goal is that when April 10 arrives and we make the announcement officially launching this year’s Peak Potential website, many of you will help us share it and inform us you are coming even if you are unable to purchase tickets at that time.

So as I run Boston this year, I have a few goals in mind. I hope to run it under 4 hours once again and I hope to learn that our Peak Potential Celebration on November 18 is matching my efforts stride for stride and mile by mile – perhaps one table at a time as we close in on our goals together.


Inclusion at the heart of Nashua’s Gate City Marathon

By Randy Pierce

Gate City Marathon course in Nashua, NH
Courtesy of Joe Viger Photography.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

My friendships, like my running and my blindness, are a journey of small steps with ever increasing promise when I learn to take those steps with a little guidance. Admittedly the running career involves rather a lot of guidance and fortunately for me there’s been an abundance of kind opportunity.

Recently I sat down with Jennifer Jordan, Race Director for the Gate City Marathon, and Tom Cassetty, President of the Gate City Striders. Each of them has guided me for a run in the past. They each have become personal friends of mine and they were sharing some exciting and well timed news.

I had already decided to run the Gate City Marathon on Sunday morning May 21. I had already assembled a team of friends from the 2020 Vision Quest crew to run the relay for themselves while each guided me during their roughly five-mile loop. I had already determined the relay options created such a fun and festive celebration atmosphere in downtown Nashua that I hoped we’d encourage our community of friends to create other teams or just come join us for the block party atmosphere. This is all still true and I absolutely urge all of you to create any combination of teams for the relay, half or full marathon or simply come down and help us celebrate an epic event and experience. If I can help encourage that, please let me know because I’d love to support this event by having you join us in some capacity!

Gate City Marathon Runners
Courtesy of Joe Viger Photography.

Randy: Jumping first to the big news, why have you decided to open a VI (Visually Impaired) Division?

Jennifer: Our race and our club has a mission of inclusion. We want runners of all abilities to feel included and participate. Randy Pierce is a very important club member and friend so what better way to celebrate that friendship than to add this division to our race!

Note from Randy: One of the things I appreciate about my club is the approach that every member is a valuable and important club member as evidenced by this response.

Randy: This is the third year of the Gate City Marathon. What was the inspiration for its origin?

Jennifer: This started as a replacement for the long-standing AppleFest Half Marathon, formerly the club’s signature event. This race was losing popularity and registrations so the club decided it needed a new signature event. A group of members, led by the club president, Tom Cassetty, discussed some options.  Tom wanted a marathon course in a clover-leaf formation that would cross over Main St in Nashua as its center-point, allowing for the relay option in addition to the marathon distance.

Randy: My own experience downtown for your first event and the reports I’ve heard from others suggest you really captured that goal well. The downtown central location showcases Nashua’s downtown in a festive and fun block party atmosphere which I appreciated as a spectator and look forward to as a runner. My wife Tracy and her relay team certainly appreciated the central gathering point for excitement. Many people celebrate it as the best relay marathon because of the central loops from downtown Nashua.  What do you think are the best features of your event?

Jennifer: We agree that one of the best features is the loop or clover-leaf formation.  This allows a marathon runner to be re-charged after every 5-ish miles, making it a great spectator marathon.  Additionally, it allows for runners who may not be ready for the 26.2 distance to also participate by putting a team of friends together. It’s also a celebration of downtown Nashua! In addition to these items, we have a unique high quality swag bag full of goodies from our sponsors, a great tech race shirt, custom finisher medals and a great after-party! We are also very excited to report that our half marathon has been selected as an event in the NH Grand Prix series and will be a certified half marathon distance. Of note, our Marathon is a USATF certified Boston Marathon Qualifier as well.

Randy: While I’ve a little bit of a bias as a proud member of your run club, I thought you might share with our community a little bit about who are these “Gate City Striders” who are putting on this event?

Jennifer: Who are the Gate City Striders?

We are the largest and longest established, non-profit running club in NH, with over 700 members that includes individuals and families. With a strong focus on running, competitively and recreationally, we also focus heavily on community outreach. We provide a free summer youth fitness program: Fitness University; and several events to benefit local charity organizations: NovemberFest race benefits the Nashua Children’s Home, Harvard Pilgrim 5k benefits the Nashua PAL XC program, we partner with and provide financial help to the Nashua YMCA, High Hopes of NH, Nashua Police Athletic League and many others.

 Randy: How did you come to be the Race Director?

Jennifer: In short, I volunteered. A group of us was working on the concept for the race/event and I (with some trepidation) decided I really wanted to do it. I thought my professional experience as a Program Manager would really help me manage this large project. I think I have developed the skills to be able to lead a team and we had and have an exceptional team of folks on the committee. Like most things, a task such as this cannot be done well without a strong, knowledgeable team!

Randy: I might add caring and passionate team to that description and you certainly have all those qualifications. I was already enthusiastic about the race before we sat down to talk and now I’m even more thrilled and hopeful to help bring even more people to join us. The event is on May 21st at 7:00 am. How can people sign up or get information?


Here are links to our website:  

 Randy: I feel like we’ve covered a lot of ground, though not quite a marathon. Is there anything  else you would like to share with our community.

Jennifer: It should be noted that the Gate City Striders and the committee and volunteers who manage and support the Gate City Marathon, Half Marathon, and Relay are made up 100% of volunteers. An event this size requires hundreds of volunteers to make is a fun and safe event for all. Each year we are challenged to provide enough volunteer support. This year will be not different so we can always use more volunteers! But it cannot go without saying how much we appreciate the volunteers we do get and how much we appreciate how supportive the City of Nashua, the residents and businesses and houses of worship have been over these years. We hope to continue to build on those relationships!


Goals for 2017

By Randy Pierce

My “vision” for 2017 as it pertains to both the 2020 Vision Quest and myself is admittedly fraught with a little more doubt than usual. I’m generally a confident planner with a fair bit of will and determination, yet that was not enough for me to deliver 2016 in quite all of the ways I hoped.

I still count it as a successful year despite the many setbacks and it is for those setbacks I have a little trepidation in setting my sights on the peaks ahead for this year. I still would rather reach for the highest summits and learn to celebrate the higher altitudes even when I’m not reaching every peak with perfection. I think if I reached every goal set forth at the start of the year, perhaps I wouldn’t have challenged myself quite enough.

So with this in mind, some of these goals are reaches but most are reasonable stretches given the supportive team striving for these goals together.

Student posing with Randy and Autumn at schoolSchool Outreach

As the heart of our mission, I’d like to see us elevate from the 54,000 students we’ve reached in schools at this point to more than 60,000 by this time next year! We continue to receive tremendously positive testimonials from students, teachers and administrators as well as parents, so perhaps you might want to volunteer or refer a school to our “For Educators” page that they may schedule a visit from Autumn and and me.

The Book

Delayed by my health challenges, the book writing project halted near the halfway point and that is a setback I consider unacceptable. Its return is a high priority and several other pursuits are getting relegated behind the priority this writing deserves. The plan is to have it finished by the arrival of my birthday in June!

Running Old and New

First up in the running goals is our return to the Boston Marathon with the ability to train properly and appreciate a fully healthy run. We’ll announce the guiding details in the near future but the training program is already underway and going well.

It will be my first of three marathons this year, as I intend to run the Nashua “Gate City Marathon” in May. A special feature of that marathon is the relay option in which five-mile loops will enable many to be part of the celebration as partial participants or spectators from the downtown central location of my hometown!

Lastly, it is my plan to return to the California International Marathon in December and once again attempt to compete for the B1 National Marathon Championship which I was fortunate to win back in 2014.

One other novelty run mixed into the many enjoyable local runs in which I’m often eager to participate is a 7.6-mile run highly touted for having only a single hill. It’s a hill I know rather well since the race occurs along the Mt. Washington Auto Road. Getting into this race is a little tricky but I’ll be doing my best to gain entrance so that in June I can find yet another way to the top of the rock pile infamous for the worst weather in the world.

2020 Vision Quest team on the top of KilimanjaroWorld Traveling

Our Kilimanjaro team has not finalized the late summer plans but it looks very much like a trip to Peru and the Inca trail may be in order. We may visit the ancient city of Machu Picchu or the incredible Rainbow Mountain or even some other as yet undetermined treasure of the Andes. We simply miss the team and experience and so are seeking yet another opportunity.

Certainly there are many more goals great and small which are in my thoughts and which may develop. I want to help the Peak Potential team improve on what many felt was our best ever Peak Potential event last November. I want to always ensure I’m learning, growing and helping others around me do similarly. I hope you’ll help hold me to some of these goals and perhaps join me in the achievements and celebrations!


Thank you, Rob Webber!

By Randy Pierce

Randy and Rob running in a race.On October 16 Rob Webber will run his very first marathon… while also choosing to guide me for that Bay State Marathon. While perhaps a surprising choice to some, it is not for me as Rob has spent many moments over the last 31 years providing me with many styles of valuable guidance. Our friendship began at the University of New Hampshire in the spring of 1985 and his friendship has been one of the greatest strengths in my life.

I could doubtless embarrass him with many tales of why his calm, steadfast, intelligent, caring, practical, and wise approach to the world has been so essential to my managing many challenges in my life. I could regale us all with humorous anecdotes of our mischievous and mirthful adventures and for those who share a fireside pint we may indeed do that a time or two ahead. I also happen to know there are plenty of recent photographic and video demonstrations of the amazing world adventures we’ve shared, and yet those who know Rob already are aware of these things and fortunately I’m fairly certain I’ve already made Rob well aware of how much I treasure our friendship. Why, then, this post?

I believe it is always appropriate to ensure the people we value in our lives are aware of how much they mean to us. I rarely have enough to give back to the many people like Rob who make so many choices to help me and this is just one moment to do such a thing. So absolutely thank you, Rob, for the friendship most of all, the moments of support at times when life was overwhelming, the moments of laughter when life needed celebrating, and in a simpler but well appreciated fashion, for the many miles ahead on the course of the Bay State Marathon.

Rob on the summit of Kilimanjaro.There are so many people who have guided me in races and each may have their own reasons for the choice. I’ve had so many guides it would fill the pages to list them and someday that’s exactly what I should do. For now, it is just an appreciation for those who take the time to step out of their own running goals, put focus on the notion they can add more challenges to their experience, and allow another person the opportunity to take part as we might not otherwise manage. Yes, I do believe there are rewards to the guide and yet that choice is still a remarkable decision which creates a tremendous opportunity and experience. I’ve run a few marathons now and spending hours of hours running with probably close to 50 different guides. In each situation, I would not have had the chance if they did not make that choice.

So to Rob and all my other guides as well as all those who guide other blind/visually impaired runners, I wish I had much more than a “thank you” to clearly offer you. The closest I may come to expressing that appreciation at present is in sharing how I feel when I am running. Whether in training or a race, whether exhausted or invigorated, whether hot or frozen, snow-encrusted, rain-drenched or sun-baked; each time I’m on a run, I recall the gift it is to feel my legs move, my lungs respond, and the freedom which is being gifted me. I’ve never yet failed to give a moment of reflection to my first run guide Quinn. Those who guide me honor his legacy and for me that is the highest honor I can bestow upon any guide. Whether the full meaning of that is something you understand, I assure it is of deep value and meaning to me.

So again, thank you to Quinn, Rob and all of my guides.

Randy and Rob at a Pats game.



“What’s Next?” — Everyone

By Randy Pierce

Randy sitting on the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro at sunrise, thinking about what's next.
Randy sitting on the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro at sunrise, thinking about what’s next.

I ask myself “what’s next?” often in part because despite my lack of sight, I do like to spend more time looking forward than back. I try not to get caught in a trap of devising grandiose depths of challenge to compare to prior challenges. Rather, I think about what inspires me for the present moment of my life. Let’s face it, Kilimanjaro was quite the experience last September and from Tough Mudder to TEDx talk I have plenty of experiences to savor already.

The year has been somewhat laden with medical challenges which we are still exploring and attempting to properly address. I’m excited to have achieved the freedom to return to so many of my training activities in very reasonable condition for them. So as August 2016 arrives, I’ve put three endurance goals into my autumn sights. Training has begun for all three and that’s quest enough for the short-term accompaniment to the work of 2020 Vision Quest, Lions, and life.

First up is a collaboration I hope to announce in more detail next week, but we’ve assembled an all visually impaired team to undertake an ultimate running relay called “Ragnar” or “Reach the Beach” in which with the help of our guide team, we will run from Cannon Mountain to Hampton Beach as a massive relay effort. I’ll be logging nearly 40 miles for my part in that. Pete Houde is my guide and inspiration for the undertaking.

A second quest reunites me with Brent Bell as we return for another century “tandem” bicycle ride, although rumors abound about whether we may turn the NH Seacoast Century ride into a triplet and celebrate in style.

My final quest takes me into October and allows me the opportunity to complete the Bay State Marathon which I departed at roughly mile 23 just two years ago. I hope to use this to earn my Boston Marathon qualifier as well. With better health ahead, I hope to continue my Boston Marathon streak in the future with the more solid ability I had my my first year instead of the determination and perseverance (but more health-related obstacles) highlighted by Jose and my efforts last April.

Training has already been silently underway. August training will ramp up and September and October will become interesting opportunities to return to some of the adventures which are so often a part of this 2020 Vision Quest. I hope you’ll be a partner in some way in our adventures ahead!


Boston Marathon 2016: Reflections from Randy and Jose

As we close out the 2016 Boston Marathon experience, a couple of particularly well received social media posts by Jose and Randy were very well received. We thought it appropriate to share these reflections fully with this week’s blog. We’ll begin with Randy’s “morning after” reflections and wrap up with Jose’s stirring account of the entire experience. Thank you to all those who support us in so many ways including this year’s Marathon which was an entirely different and exceedingly difficult excursion. There is so much to take away and well worth our capturing here.

From Randy Pierce:

Jose and Randy with their hands up running the Marathon.
Jose and Randy throw their hands up in victory.

The morning after – no regrets, proud, weary, appreciative and sharing some candid perspectives. I did not run the Boston Marathon yesterday, I ran it last year with a 3:50:37 time. Yesterday I did something considerably harder in large part to the matched support, determination, care and communication with my most excellent friend and guide, Jose Acevedo. We crossed the finish which I truly didn’t expect was likely and we did it needing somewhere around 6 hours and 18 minutes. The medical challenges of the last two months have changed my overall health significantly and they caused me to do absolutely no training for he final five weeks before the Marathon. With my body thus very much unprepared and with the additional challenges, why in the world would I still choose to run? I had three full episodes of passing out along the route though we knew that was a possibility and had a plan for how to handle each of them. The Doctors were on board as I wrote in the blog last week and we knew it would be very unlikely to cause me additional long term detriment. What is necessary though is this needs to be my last “endurance” event until we can either resolve some of the medical realities or creatively find appropriate ways to manage them. Just as in my nearly two years in the wheelchair, just as in the early days of my total blindness; there is a need to address the situation as best possible. Yesterday was brutal, maybe moreso than any other challenge given all the factors but it was a prize with tremendous meaning for me and seemingly for many who expressed such kindness and support. I’m not going away anytime soon nor will I cease to work towards many meaningful and worthy goals personally, with 2020Vision Quest, NHAB, Lions and well beyond. I will ensure I do so with the forward thinking approach necessary for the serious nature of all aspects of my present life. thank you for more support than I could ever imagine possible – especially to Jose and Tracy who were both essential in this even being a potential never mind the reality which we made it by working together.

From Jose Acevedo:

Closing thoughts on the 2016 Boston Marathon…

Like many, I didn’t realize what I had signed up for. This isn’t about the physical challenge though – it’s about choosing how I want to live.

As most of you know, I guided my friend Randy Pierce in this marathon. I don’t line up to do these things for no reason. Randy and I first discussed this possibility shortly after we ran him to the 2014 national championship for fully blind athletes in December of 2014. At the time I said, “Man, I will *never* run another marathon … … … unless you want me to guide you in Boston. That would be worth the grueling training and a really really really hard day.”

We revisited that topic in September of 2015 while preparing to travel to Tanzania and then solidified our intent on the slopes of Africa’s tallest mountain, Kilimanjaro. As a tribute to our friendship and a sign of his gratitude for all I had done to support him and his goals, Randy asked me to guide him in Boston 2016.

Randy is better than me at running long distances. I will take him in short sprints all day, especially if I don’t tell him what direction to run, but his gazelle strides easily eat up the long stuff while I struggle mightily to train for something as epic as a marathon. For Randy to set aside the possibility of a much faster time to let me guide him was a sacrifice that I appreciated deeply. He would say that our relationship and the benefits of doing this together outweigh any sort of time-based goals, but I can’t let this notion slide by without being thankful. Together with our coach, Greg, taking into account our previous times and fitness levels at the beginning of training 16 weeks ago, we agreed that breaking 4 hours would be our target finish time. This would be harder for me than Randy if history were any indicator, but I was ready to put in the work to make this happen.

Fast forward 10 weeks, to 6 weeks ago. Within the span of a week or so, I started having calf issues that impacted my ability to train as hard or as much as I wanted, and Randy began to run into serious health issues that impacted his daily life, let alone his training. We had been in contact for the first 10 weeks at least once a week on the phone, but most of our chats were via Facebook where I would post my runs, trying to make sure he and Greg saw me putting in the effort and could coach me to success. From the point of my injury and the beginning of his most recent health battles, Randy and I began to speak on the phone almost daily.

Sometimes we would talk about my calf and what I could or should do to try some other approach towards wellness and marathon level fitness. Other times we would talk about his latest symptoms or hospital visit, discussing impacts on his routine and the lives of those around him, while exploring strategies for dealing with his potential ‘new normal’ to come. One of the challenges to a progressive condition like his is that whatever it takes physically, it never gives back. Whatever independence, strength, and quality of life eventually return to Randy’s life after new symptoms arise are only ever as a result of determination, hard work, problem solving, and at the root of all things, choices. The daily choices to continue engaging, living, loving, and pushing forward. This is one of the many reasons I love Randy. He makes admirable choices pretty darned consistently and like any of the greats, he makes those around him better. He makes me better.

As these last 6 weeks wore on, I eventually learned how to manage my calf issues and finally achieved a state of relative readiness. I wasn’t as far along as I wanted to be, but the 4 hour mark we set was still within sight. My chances weren’t super solid of hitting it, but I could do it with a little luck and a lot of help. Meanwhile, until he and I hit the road this past Saturday for a 2 mile shakeout, Randy hadn’t run in 5-6 weeks. He had a great foundation before then but to put it bluntly, he was falling very much out of marathon shape. His fitness level didn’t matter in Dallas where I was training since my job as a guide and friend was to be ready for any possibility. I did have to accept the very real possibility however, that we wouldn’t ever get to the starting line.

Believe me when I say that made it extra difficult to push through injuries and a recently *insane* work schedule to get my training back on track. There were many evenings that I would be driving home from the office at 10:30 at night, dreading a required 7 mile run in the windy dark, but I had to go all-in or stand no chance of meeting my commitments to our team. As the weeks progressed, we stayed in very close contact and our planning became day to day. Each day there was a chance this particular dream would be over before it started, or we could get through another 24 hours hoping and preparing in our separate ways – just to do it all over again the next day. I was limping, resting, and finally running again, while Randy was just trying to get and/or stay out of the hospital. This wasn’t an easy time for either of us but as it always has, adversity provided an opportunity for us to grow together even closer and we chose that route.

Randy and Jose, determined to succeed!
Randy and Jose, determined to succeed!

Last Thursday, I finally got on a plane to Boston and met him in Nashua, NH. The days that followed, like every day for the past month and a half, were a mixture of ups and downs. Where betting odds on us starting the marathon had shifted daily for a while, it was nearly by the hour these past few days. A good morning would be followed by a rough patch in the afternoon, and then get slightly better in the evening. Our commitment to our new plan was unwavering and absolute, as long as health risks stayed in check, represented by the following goals:

  1. Start the marathon.
  2. Savor every moment possible.
  3. Finish the marathon.

Goals 1 and 2 were critical, 3 was nice if we could get it but frankly, far less likely. When all was said and done, we were able to put ourselves into a position Sunday evening that meant we were waking up at 5am on Monday and boarding the bus to Hopkinton.While we were both tired for a variety of reasons, confidence was high on Monday morning. We both felt as good as we had in weeks and hey, we were there. Goal #1 was practically a guarantee at this point. We even flirted with a 4th goal. Maybe, just maybe, we would be able to finish in less than 5 hours and qualify Randy for Boston 2017. We strategized as much for that as for the possibility that Randy would suffer episodes of unconsciousness along the course. What would our communication look like in the moments before unconsciousness? How would I get him to a safe place and help him coordinate a quick but controlled transition to a lying position? What exactly would I tell emergency responders who would no doubt want to pull us from the course? I don’t think we left a single stone unturned and while there is comfort in planning, it’s also freaking exhausting. Luckily, we wouldn’t have anything else on our minds during, you know, a marathon.

As the run began, our confidence only grew. We were in the last corral of wave 3 (of 4) and decided to start at the very back of the corral, therefore the wave. We were going out intentionally slow and thought it would do us some good to avoid the early crunch of bodies by effectively placing ourselves in between the final two waves. This worked like a charm and we had a ton of space for the opening third of the course. Let me make this clear if you’ve never participated in a road race before – this is unheard of, especially for a race like Boston. The weather was a little on the warm side but otherwise perfect and we both began to consider the best potential outcomes. Not necessarily under 4 hours, but certainly well under 5 hours.

The wheels didn’t come off at 7.9 miles, but they definitely began to wobble. Despite our measured start, Randy’s weeks of missed training caught up with us and though we had planned to begin walking one minute of every five at the 13 mile mark (above and beyond walking through all our water and nutrition walks), he needed a walk just to rest … 5 miles early. This came on fairly quickly, as a result of numerous unwelcome setbacks in his condition. What began as numbness in his extremities a few miles earlier progressed up his neck and to the top of his head, ultimately kicking off a headache that would be a main point of trouble for much of the day. This earlier-than-planned walking meant a longer day than recently anticipated, but everything was still imminently doable. We did the math and confirmed we still felt good about finishing under 5 hours, while I began to track us by the minute. Unfortunately, the need for walks began to rise, as did Randy’s headache level, further raising my concerns that things were going to get tougher before they got easier. While we managed to enjoy the world famous Scream Tunnel of Wellesley College at mile 13, I would be lying by omission if I didn’t admit I was growing deeply worried about our ability to even finish at the rate our problems were mounting.

It was shortly after Wellesley, around 14.1 miles into the race, that Randy first lost consciousness. Over the past 6 weeks, we had accepted this potential reality and planned for it. While Randy was feeling more confident it would not happen based on a week and a half on a new and seemingly helpful prescription, I had approached the day as if this was guaranteed to occur. Call me a pessimist, but as the only member of our team who would be conscious during a potential episode, I thought it prudent to be as ready as possible. Having said that and even though I had watched his symptoms steadily increase over the miles, it still came as somewhat of a shock when Randy communicated he was likely to faint.

As I sit here typing on the plane ride home with tears welling in my eyes, I realize that nothing can fully prepare you for the moment you see a close friend and personal hero about to go down on your watch. I’ve seen Randy stumble and fall before. I’ve even had him faint once, very quickly, on the infamous trek down Kilimanjaro. For whatever reason, none of those moments were quite as scary as this one – perhaps because we were never alone so I wasn’t 100% responsible for all that came next. Fortunately for everyone involved, for that same reason, I had zero time to panic. Not only was I the only person immediately available to help keep Randy safe in that moment, but I also had to do so in such a confident and assuring way that it remained our choice as to whether we would exit the race or continue onwards towards Boylston Street and the finish line. I considered the chances fairly high that medical professionals or other race officials would make that decision for us given the chance. So in summary, I had to keep my shit together. I’m clearly not done processing this whole experience, but writing it out is helping.

We were in the middle of a water station on the right side of the road with a mob of runners back, left, and front, and tables stacked with water on the right. Of all the places to go down this seemed to offer the least options, as we appeared to have no direct access off the course and runners would be darting in and out of traffic to grab water and re-enter the migrating herd. Luckily, there was a spot about 4 feet wide in-between two water tables just ahead and with a semi-conscious Randy wrapped in my arms, thank goodness still with the use of his legs, we staggered into this small sanctuary and I quickly helped him lay down. From him saying, “I’m going to faint,” to him being down on a bed of discarded water cups on the ground was probably about 10 seconds – all the time we thought we might get in this scenario – and we had withstood our first crisis of the day.

As you may expect, the incredibly helpful water volunteers nearby were a bit concerned. Single-minded of purpose in their role as Hydration Engineers (a thankless task that I sincerely appreciate), I got a lot of offers for water at that moment. I promptly answered that we were all set and calmly informed them that our challenge was courtesy of a known medical condition that would clear up on its own. When asked repeatedly if we needed help from emergency personnel, after confirming Randy was breathing regularly and all symptoms were ‘normal’ as compared to prior episodes in the last 6 weeks, I assured them we just needed a little time and we would be on our merry way. I couldn’t be certain this was the case until Randy came to, but I knew the chance of us being allowed to choose to continue would get a lot tougher if I didn’t make this all seem very normal and that was our agreed upon plan. Luckily, though I had never witness one of these episodes before, Randy and I had prepared well so I knew all the details and was able to describe to those who asked exactly how long we would take to rest on the ground and then standing, before continuing on. This level of detail and my brimming confidence assuaged their fears and they went about their business of hydrating runners, though I was temporarily trapped under Randy.

As I had guided him down to the ground, I had cradled the back of his head and my hand was still down there, while I sat immediately beside him. A couple of seconds after laying down, with his feet flat on the ground and his knees up, when Randy had actually gone unconscious, his long legs had rolled over on top of me. So there I was, working hard not to freak out, brimming with feigned confidence, communicating our hoped-for exit strategy, trapped under my passed-out friend. Perfect; just like you draw it up. We had just run most of a half marathon in warm conditions so yeah, I started to cramp up pretty quickly. Luckily, Randy was only out for about 25-30 seconds and shortly thereafter, ‘with it’ enough for me to negotiate my way out and onto my feet for some stretching while we began his recovery countdown.

Doctor’s orders for the run, and they were fully supportive of this endeavor to be absolutely clear, were that he stay down for a full 4 minutes and then stand still for 1, before easing his way back into walking. We couldn’t rush him back into action. I used this time to stretch out my cramps and talk through the episode with Randy, so we could strategize on next steps. To say he was frustrated and upset is an understatement. I cannot begin to describe what it must be like for him at this transition phase in his life, losing independence and control as the vast unknowns of his condition reassert themselves over current in-flight strategies. I’ll let him speak to that in his own time and space. What I will share with his permission is that the impacts are profound and emotional, and we would fight through them together for the next 4 hours or so.

Which I suppose is really what this whole story is about. All the words above are simply a backdrop and introduction – necessary context to the story I’m not yet ready to type out in detail. It’s the story of my friendship with Randy, and how much he and our relationship mean to me. Over the course of the next 45,000 or so steps, Randy and I went through a lot together, walking most of the second half of the marathon. We talked about the work and how we felt, and adjusted plans by the mile. We negotiated different approaches to needs and obstacles along the way, with varying degrees of clarity, frustration, emotion, and success. We grew a little impatient with each other over the difference between guilt and gratitude, leading to a pretty cool point of learning for both of us that I know Randy will be expounding on soon. Randy went down two more times – once around 19 miles and again around 22.5, and we both got better at handling it. The officers and emergency personnel along the route were amazingly accommodating and helpful in every instance. Randy’s physical pain fluctuated but certainly grew more than shrank as his untrained muscles responded to the shock of the day. The key, as with every adventure we’ve taken on over the course of more than 20 years of friendship, is that we did it selflessly and for each other. Both of us, in our own ways and to our own ability in the moment, did our best to give more than take. Despite our vastly different physical condition yesterday, we both tried our damnedest to put the other first. For this I am so very grateful.

We would eventually see the Citgo sign and John Hancock tower in the distance, signaling our approach to Boston. More than 6 hours after we began, we would hobble over to Randy’s wife Tracy at the corner of Hereford and Boylston, where they would embrace and kiss in love and support. From there, Randy and I would agree to try running to the finish, not fully realizing it was a solid third of a mile away. We would run that last stretch to the echoing cheers of the most supportive fans in the sport, and hear the race announcer call out Randy’s name just yards away from the achievement of our third and final goal. We would cross the most famous finish line in the world with our arms raised triumphantly, together, the way we always have.

Jose and Randy at the finish line with Tracy. Photo credit Kathy Dunn.
Jose and Randy at the finish line with Tracy. Photo credit Kathy Dunn.

None of us know yet exactly what comes next for Randy. There will be more doctors’ appointments and tests, but his first three decades dealing with his nameless condition haven’t exactly been full of helpful findings so I think we’re all prepared to just keep rolling with the unknown as best we can. I do know that I’m not the only one that’s scared and upset. It was impossible not to be punched in the stomach repeatedly by that harsh reality during yesterday’s trial.

What had begun as an adventure so long ago had transformed into an ordeal, testing different kinds of limits in ways we had not imagined. That is the true take-away for me from this whole experience – reinforcement of an important lesson I try to be thankful for and build on every day. I think we could have chalked up just starting yesterday as a win, given the frame of Randy’s current reality. Persevering to the finish was, to me, a statement that together and by choice, we can achieve incredible outcomes. If we dare to create a vision, apply ourselves in planning for success, and put intentional plans into motion together, we can inspire ourselves and others beyond what seems possible.

I suspect my Boston Marathon experience was different to many in the details, but perhaps not as much on the opportunity to learn. I will say this … if you have an adventure you have been putting off for any reason, find a way to do it. Time is precious and every chance matters. If you are already an adventurer, consider finding someone to help along in their journey – perhaps as a guide. It is a completely different, and in my experience significantly more intense and fulfilling undertaking.

I will forever be grateful to everyone who helped make this experience a reality. Thank you.


Attitude to gratitude as a solution for guilt

By Randy Pierce

Randy running the Boston Marathon 2016, eyes closed, with Jose.As most hopefully are aware, Jose Acevedo and I just completed a particularly difficult battle of determination against my medical challenges and the Boston Marathon course. Although we fully understood my very present and worsening medical condition was going to make this experience exceedingly difficult, my reality is that I feel badly for that impact upon his experience. In response to that feeling, I wanted to apologize every moment I felt my situation affect our experience. I was so frustrated at not being able to prevent these effects that I ultimately wanted to take action in some way and this led to the many “I’m sorry”s, which were well meaning. Unfortunately it isn’t necessarily helpful to hear these apologies again and again, especially as Jose fully understood this was a likely part of the challenge and he too was unable to do anything to make it better for either of us. It wasn’t that I had less sincerity in each apology, or that he doubted that sincerity. It simply wasn’t helpful and didn’t do much to make either of us feel better.

Jose and Randy running together in the Boston Marathon 2016Somewhere in the Newton Hills as we talked our way through this aspect of our communication, we reached an epiphany. I had expressed my thankfulness for his understanding and acceptance of the challenge. I expressed this with the notion of the benefit I was trying to achieve for myself in taking some action. I mentioned that in truth I felt guilty about believing I was “causing” a negative aspect for him. I understood only a bit that my repeated apology was just another slight negative. Jose brought it to clarity for us both by welcoming my gratitude as a positive. How simple a notion!

It is obviously good and right to apologize when we have done something to cause detriment to someone, whether by intent or inadvertently. It is equally positive and proper to realize the expression of thankfulness for someone’s choices in managing the challenges we create for them. That approach puts the emphasis on something so much more beneficial for each of us that it will certainly get my consideration as I stride forward in life. There were many lessons shared on the path of the Marathon which will continue far beyond the route from Hopkinton to Boston. I hope this one may enhance some perspectives for some of you, as I know it will for Jose and me going forward!


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