Ominous realities loom large as Boston Marathon approaches

By Randy Pierce

Randy and Jose running and determined
Jose and Randy are determined!

“Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.”— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Most of us will face times in our lives which challenge us to our very core. Sometimes this is of our own making and sometimes it is part of the world in which we live. I am embroiled in one of my more difficult medical challenges and the impact upon me physically, mentally and emotionally has been tremendous.

I’ve been asked when I’ll cancel my Boston Marathon participation and I understand the question as well as the intent behind it. The real answer is not yet, and hopefully not at all, which I suspect may cause those who do not truly know me to take umbrage with that response. I think those who know me–which includes my supportive wife Tracy and my Boston Marathon guide Jose–will understand I do not make any of those decisions without thorough investigation, competent advice and reasonable evaluation.

Another blog here talks about my medical situation, and the reality is that it will not be resolved in the short term and I will not be entirely healthy while undertaking the Boston Marathon this year. I have had to choose to forego much of the final weeks of training to properly tend the medical concerns and that means I’m unwell and insufficiently prepared to accomplish the Marathon in a traditional approach.

My doctors are very clear that the running will not put me at any increased detriment for my condition, and in fact they suggested exactly the opposite–that the perseverance, drive, and determination which have been my hallmark will be part of how this helps me overcome the present challenges. That confidence and the caring support of so many around me are a significant part of my decision to continue with the plan to run the Marathon unless something significant suggests that would be wrong.

“It’s very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.” – George Sheehan

This Marathon won’t be about trying to match last year’s time of 3:50:37, but rather something more powerful. It will be in part a celebration with my cherished friend Jose Acevedo for all that we’ve accomplished together. It will be a celebration of the most iconic Marathon. It will celebrate friendship, community, perseverance, and determination which we’ve each needed in our lives.

It will be all the more epic for all the setbacks and challenges that could have easily let us choose to not line up together in Hopkinton. There were many times that choosing to not run seemed likely or appropriate and we kept a calm focus that this would be acceptable, supporting each other no matter what. We remain equally committed to giving each other support and encouragement to keep the hope and potential present, as often as possible and for as long as we can.

Now that will pay dividends as it seems likely we have the opportunity to overcome all the adversity and savor one of life’s most rewarding experiences: the opportunity to be involved in a meaningful experience together.

I hope you’ll find a way to help be part of our team on that day and beyond.

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Boston Marathon plans–and how you can help out!

By Randy Pierce

Randy and Jose running and determined
Jose and Randy run the California International Marathon in December 2014.

April 18, which is the 120th running of the Boston Marathon, is rapidly approaching! This is my second time and I’ve learned enough from the first to reach out and ask you for your help and support in any of several possible ways. I believe so much in TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More) and would love to add you to the team in all or some of the below ways. Whether you can join in or not, I’d appreciate your consideration to share this post and help us connect with more support for the opportunities ahead.

1) There are times along the course where just a little encouragement or friendly voice may help. Despite the thousands upon thousands along the route, I’m building an audio file which I can play when I need to hear the encouragement of a friendly voice along the way. If you email me a short audio file (less than 30 seconds please) which starts with “Hi Randy this is (You) and I just wanted to say…”, I’ll put them into one larger file and play them for that extra motivation. Please have all of these to me no later than April 10 so we can finish the file and have it ready for Marathon Monday!

2) If you aren’t running the Boston Marathon–or even if you are!–maybe you can join us for the NHAB 3K Walk for Sight on June 4! We have a team and would love to have you be part of our team as a walker or donor. It’s a very reasonably priced event with a chance to spend some quality time while helping support both 2020 Vision Quest and New Hampshire Association for the Blind. I’d always rather you walk with us, but if you can’t, perhaps you’d consider donating to one of the walkers on our team? While I don’t seek donations directly for Boston, I welcome the notion of a donation through this walk/fund raiser!

Join or donate to our team or me directly via our team page. This is our second largest fundraiser for 2020 Vision Quest and a family friendly event complete with a puppy kissing booth, barbecue lunch and so much more.

3) Finally whether you send me a supportive audio file, join or donate for the NHAB Walk or not, you can help us by sharing the 2020 Vision Quest charity with friends and family. We are always trying to increase our outreach of our website, our social media, and mission. Please consider taking the time to share us with those who will help us build a stronger community of support for the valuable work we undertake and for the positive influence we hope we can have in their lives as well.I’d love to see our Facebook community reach the 5,000 benchmark this year, I’d love to see our walk team reach the 100 walkers who shared in 2012, but mostly I want to see the work we undertake continue to make a difference in the lives of the students to whom we present and the blind services we support at NHAB and Guiding Eyes!

Now back to training for Boston and advancing the 2020 vision!

Randy and Christine cross the finish line at the Boston Marathon 2015.
Randy and Christine cross the finish line at the Boston Marathon 2015.
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Boston Marathon Plans and Planning

By Randy Pierce

Randy and Jose running and determined
Jose and Randy run the California International Marathon in December 2014.

“We do not plan to fail, we fail to plan.” – Lorrie Ross

I was excited to announce that my good friend and fellow 2020 Vision Quest Board Member, Jose Acevedo, would be running as my guide for the Boston Marathon. But now it’s time for the discussion of some details. Just making the announcement won’t help either of us run the Superbowl of road races. It takes a plan and plenty of hard work in implementing the plan.

Most marathons require roughly 18 weeks of training in order to prepare for the endurance experience impact upon the body. Running it as a team requires being in synchronicity sufficiently to ensure the best chance of success. So Jose and I reached out to Greg Hallorman, a good friend and excellent run coach. We use a modified version of the Hal Higdon training program with a few lessons from our past marathon experiences.

Having very successfully run the California International Marathon together in 2014, we understand fairly well how to work together. There is an additional burden on my guide to be able to find their comfortable pace for not only running their marathon but having the reserves mentally and physically to be my guide. This includes the breathing room to call out warnings of obstacles we might not be able to simply steer around such as a pothole or manhole cover. It involves tracking not only the pathway they are running, but the wider path for me with an extra bit of attention to provide warning time for me when those obstacles cannot be avoided. The guide often has to alert other runners of our presence and the visual challenge to help us be good citizens to our fellow runners. On the very crowded Boston course this can be an especially significant challenge.

Given these factors, Jose set our goal race pace as 8:40 minutes/mile as our target. This was the basis for our plan. Added to this is the expectation that four days per week of running was the right and reasonable limit for the rest of our busy schedules.

This does not mean that we only train on four days, however. There are two additional days of cross training for roughly an hour each time. These days help develop a different range of muscle motion, enhance our cardiovascular conditioning as well as hopefully support our body clearing lactic acid build-up from the running. Jose often uses his Kilimanjaro favorite of stair climbing at his high-rise office building, I tend to visit my local YMCA and put the time on an indoor bicycle. Many alternatives can exist to help supplement the core run training with cross training.

While staging to ever longer runs as we near the April 18 Boston Marathon date, our typical week might look like this glance for the week of January 18:

Jose on a training run.
Jose on a training run.

Monday: 60 Minutes of Cross training

*Thanks to Rick Perreira who drives me to the YMCA Each Monday Morning, helps me with the touch screen cycles and takes me home!

Tuesday: 5 mile run with 4x hill repeats in the middle (alternates weeks with speed intervals)

*Thanks to Tracy for pushing me and helping with the timing on the key points of this hard workout!

Wednesday: 60 Minutes of Cross training

*Thanks to Alex Newbold who drives me to the YMCA each Wednesday morning, helps me with the touch screen cycles, and takes me home!

Thursday: 6 miles of “tempo run,” meaning 2 miles of warm-up at 9:00 minutes/mile, 3 miles of “lactic threshold”at 8:10 minutes/mile, and 1 mile cool-down at reduced/recovery speed like 9:30 minutes/mile.

* Thanks to Matt Shapiro who works hard to give me this very early morning speed push most Thursdays!

Friday: My one rest day to recover and prepare for the weekend push!

Saturday: 6 miles of race pace (8:40 minutes/mile)

Sunday: 11 mile “easy pace” run (8:45-9:15 typically)

* While we often switch Saturday and Sunday, Rob Webber has been steadfast on longer and faster runs with various guides or treadmill options for the other day as necessary!

Those weekend-long runs will rise to 20 miles and as the snows fall, roads become icy and temperatures can drop; training for Boston is simply a challenge. Meanwhile my counterpart in Jose will contend with Texas temperatures and we check in with each other regularly to see if our progress remains encouragingly comfortable. All this work for an incredible celebration together as we share the legendary experience which has become the Boston Marathon. Hopefully some of you will be helping us out with encouragement throughout the training and especially on our big day.

Boston Strong!

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Join us at the Walk for Sight on June 6!

By Randy Pierce

Randy and Christine powering through the second half of the Marathon.

On Saturday, June 6 at 10 a.m. our team will begin to gather for the 12th annual “Walk for Sight.” I’ve walked the short 3k route  every time and yet still no sight…*but*… I have a host of memories of people, pups and experiences while we’ve raised funds for both NHAB and 2020 Vision Quest at the same time.

It’s an inexpensive way to spend part of the day and I very much hope to spend it with you. Just one month left to join the team and fund raise means we are behind as Tough Mudders, marathons, and mayhem have kept me over-busy. I do hope, you’ll help pick me up anyhow and join our team or support me directly or perhaps support one of the other walkers on our team.

I’m not asking you to run a marathon or run at all! I’m not at risk to lose my tail this year and happily neither is Autumn *but* we are at risk of not achieving the success which is so essential to us without your help. So please don’t delay: join us for a low-cost family friendly event.

Whether you raise money as a walker, sponsor a walker, or simply join in the experience, every little bit helps. Thank you for the 11 years of past support in various ways and I hope to see you June 6!

Randy, Greg, and Christine after a successful finish!

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The power of purpose as Boston Strong goes Quinn Strong

By Randy Pierce

Randy and Pete have a strong start to the Boston Marathon.
Randy and Pete have a strong start to the Boston Marathon.

The 2015 Boston Marathon was a week ago and a lifetime ago by the feel of it for me at this point. While I’m still basking in an exuberant glow from the race itself as well as the thousands of congratulations, I wasn’t certain our community would want to hear more. There is, however, a potent enough message for me that I thought it worth sharing here.

But before I share it, I want to yet again commend the incredible work by my Guides who make it possible for me to undertake such an epic experience. Peter and Christine Houde split the course as my official Guides with Greg Hallerman assisting throughout as has been discussed in my pre-race posts. I did not give fair estimate to the enormous work of managing so many fellow racers on a difficult course and with fairly challenging weather conditions throughout. My friends and Guides were simply stellar and we were, I think, an incredible team.

As most know, one other Guide was my motivation for this race. I ran Boston to honor the Mighty Quinn for his years of loving loyalty in guiding me to walking, hiking, running and each day of our too short lives together.

With the training behind me and my intent clear, I lined up in Hopkinton for the start of the race. The rain picked up and a chill wind made me eager for the heat of the run to come. We started moving with me tight behind Pete and my legs eager to find a stride. For the first 2-3 miles that stride was in check tight behind Pete as we simply were in a wall of people moving fairly swiftly down the hills into Ashland. Greg’s voice projected to help us ease a space to move through and ensure other runners understood a little space was safer for us.

Randy and Christine powering through the second half of the Marathon.
Randy and Christine powering through the second half of the Marathon.

It was a constant effort to keep our pace a little slower as the energy was incredible. Thousands of spectators stood along the route despite the far less than ideal conditions, and continued to encourage all the runners. Finally in Ashland I was able to emerge and run beside Pete with Greg weaving back and forth to support us in pacing and spacing. With my arms marked with “Quinn” and my shirt in his honor as well, many shouts for Quinn buoyed my spirits along the way. Each time I heard a “Randy” it told me it was someone who knew me rather than reading my shirt… and there were oh so many of those times all along the route because of the incredible friends I have in my life. The mental burden on my Guides and Pete as primary was intense and before the 12-mile mark we reached the transition point for Christine to join the race and Pete to depart as the rules dictate. I was sad for his loss but strong in my focus–we never even paused for the transition as they switched in mid run with practiced ease.

Christine was strong and eager as we shot through Wellesley and into the infamous Newton Hills. Even effort suggests a slight slowing of pace for the uphills and slight increase on the downhills and our overall pace stayed strong as four successive up and downs brought us close to the crest of Heartbreak Hill at mile 21. Many runners suggest a marathon begins at mile 20. It’s where the hardest effort begins, but in Boston that starts with Heartbreak Hill and often drives the point home.

Randy, Greg, and Christine conquer Heartbreak Hill.
Randy, Greg, and Christine conquer Heartbreak Hill.

We had a pack of friends together and I was buoyed by the group effort. I knew that if I reached the summit of Heartbreak Hill still strong that my marathon had just 5 mostly downhill miles remaining. Still, I knew those would be the miles that break many runners. As I crested the hill, my purpose was surging within me and I gave two significant efforts. I tossed my head back and shouted to the skies “You did not break my heart!” because the hill had not broken my will nor my heart. Quinn’s death had wounded my heart but his gift of love and loyalty had made it strong enough to survive. My own gift of love and loyalty had helped me heal and my purpose was a demonstation for me and somehow to him that this was so.

With 21 miles of the Marathon having stripped away so much of the decoration which surrounds our essential being, I was finding in myself the raw and real passion of my purpose to honor him. I threw my head back once more and shouted “I love you, Quinn Boy!” with all of the fervor and strength I had. The potency of that shout was cathartic and I was energized in a way I’d have never thought possible deep into such an epic race.

Randy, Greg, and Christine after a successful finish!
Randy, Greg, and Christine after a successful finish!

I knew then without doubt I would finish the race as strong as I’d run already. There was no thought of quitting or slowing, but instead a calm steady confident determination that I would stride out the rest and he would be with me as he was in the moment of shout. I didn’t waver the rest of the route; there were hard miles left for certain but I realized then with crystal clarity that the power of a purpose can ignite a fervent drive.

My Marathon has so many moments worthy of sharing but the message for me was this: Find a purpose in your life, find a purpose to drive your small and your grand goals. If that purpose is truly your inspired choice, you very well may find as I did that it can take you to incredible heights. I crossed the finish line in 3 hours, 50 minutes, and 37 seconds. I crossed with so much support from so many places but I crossed strong enough to run further and faster if needed. I had more to give, not just in that moment, but in the many moments ahead because I know how to infuse purpose into my goals.

Quinn, my beloved boy, will not be the only purpose in my future endeavours. He’ll always be a beloved part of my life and may at many points be an inspiration. The purpose in each goal will vary, but I always know that finding the right reason, the right motivation for me and for that next moment is how I can fuel myself to be strong, to be Boston Strong on this year’s race… to be Quinn Strong as my boy was so many times… as any of us can be… with purpose.

Quinn on Mt. Flume. We love you, boy!
We love you, Quinn Boy!
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Celebrating the 2015 Boston Marathon!

By Randy Pierce

As always, I welcome all forms of support including donations to 2020 Vision Quest Donate

Often my blogs receive careful consideration on both my intent and content. They receive polish from friend and volunteer Beth Foote before you ever get to read them. I’m frequently candid and yet a distance between my thoughts and emotions filters much of what becomes the words and phrasing I choose.

Randy and Guide Thor crossing the Finish line of Cox Providence on 5/4/2014 to qualify for Boston as detailed in “Qualifying for Quinn.”
Randy and Guide Thor crossing the Finish line of Cox Providence on 5/4/2014 to qualify for Boston as detailed in “Qualifying for Quinn.”

Endurance events often strip away our filters and expose us to ourselves. Those along for the journey and the powerful legacy of Boston elevates this beyond measure. So I hope to give you my candid thoughts at several points now and in comments below as we lead into and through my first Boston Marathon experience. I hope you’ll all feel welcome to share any thoughts, questions or observations along the way of this semi-permanent record of our journey.

Thor and I qualified together in a well chronicled experience that absolutely bared much of my inner turmoil through the challenge. I was still so tangled in the absence of Quinn and my drive to honor him. I knew I was not properly prepared and was ready to accept the painful consequences of forcing through the experience to lay the foundation of training and growth ahead. When the shoreline winds began to buffet us at mile 19 or so, I wasn’t sure I could do this. Beyond my blindness the balance challenges were rocking my world in all the wrong ways. Thor’s many marathons, problem solving, calm and encouraging words were likely the difference that day. I was strong in my determination but definitely met my match against the marathon.

I must have questioned my choices nearly a hundred times in the second half of the run and names of people who encouraged me or made a positive impact on my life were how I dealt with those miles and in some points just in each step. Each decision to run when my body had demanded a walk. To lift a leg quivering with muscle spasms and telling me I wanted to quit. People who haven’t been in these experiences with me often perceive an indomitable strength–I’ve been told that many times. Not so by any means, as Thor, Jose, Greg, Meredith, Justin, Tracy and many others know all too well. Determined and willful for certain but one who wrestles with that will as often as most of us I suspect.

Randy and Jose with determination and focus as they close in on the finish which would earn them the B1 National Championship in Sacramento, California on 12/7/2014
Randy and Jose with determination and focus as they close in on the finish which would earn them the B1 National Championship in Sacramento, California on 12/7/2014.

Quinn was my inspiration to returning to running and the reason for this Boston Marathon goal as I detail in our #Miles4Quinn program. It began with our hiking and in the conditioning and training he soon had me running. Most don’t know that Sarah Toney’s support for her sister got her into running and her infectious determination helped push Quinn and me further. Bob Hayes brought us into the road race world and I’ll forever appreciate his contributions to my running and hiking adventures. Jennifer Liang took over for Bob and all along the way my wife Tracy’s encouragement, knowledge, and support helped expand the inclination and opportunity. When my outreach for guides began, many answered the call and began this year of dedicated training. Christine Houde as one of the earliest human guides and half of the husband and wife team who will be my official guides in Boston. She joined me for a snowy first run which set the tone for this winter.

Few, however, answered the call as well as my well cherished friend and “Coach” Greg Hallerman. He believes running has given so much to his life that anyone who wants to run ought to get a little help to achieve. He has overachieved in logging more miles with me than anyone else despite some heroic diligence by Matt Shapiro. Ultimately Greg has taught me as much about life and friendship as he has about running and yet that running has brought me through failures like my Did Not Finish (DNF) at mile 23.5 of the Bay State Marathon (Sorry Meredith!). It brought me through the triumph of a B1 National Championship at the California International marathon (Congratulations to us Jose!) and it brings me to this epic goal of the 2015 Boston Marathon where he will be a part of our team.

Randy and his Boston Guide team of friend/coach Greg Hallerman and Guide team of Christine and Peter Houde from their last training long run together.
Randy and his Boston Guide team of friend/coach Greg Hallerman and Guide team of Christine and Peter Houde from their last training long run together.

#WeRunTogether is the hashtag for the Boston Marathon for many and yet I think it is never more true than for a blind runner. I’m actually part of Team with a Vision who coordinate blind athletes from around the world. They are a tremendous group in many ways such that I hope you’ll learn all of their amazing stories along the way this year. Most of all, though, I’m part of my team of Greg, Christine, and Pete. I always have the gift of sharing the team sport of running. I have someone to lift me up when I struggle mentally or physically. I have someone to whom my support can sometimes fill my own spirit with such strength as I think an individual might never fully realize on a race course. It’s this sharing of experience which is the essence of team and the acronym I well appreciate: T.E.A.M.; Together everyone Achieves More. The preparation for Boston is mostly behind and so much experience awaits. Every day I’m reading a tip I’ve probably heard many times. Every spare moment I’m visualizing my journey through the 9 towns/cities along the route. Yet there are still more days until the experience and so much more beyond that all I can say is I feel ready, excited, nervous, anxious, hopeful, motivated, honored and perhaps most of all grateful. It isn’t every day we get to be part of something epic but at this time I feel very connected to a community and an experience unique in the world. I cannot wait to see how it helps me learn, grow and celebrate for myself and for my most amazing Mighty Quinn. Let’s go Boston!

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You’re invited to my Boston Marathon – Be a part of this vision

By Randy Pierce

Hopkinton Welcome Sign“Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.”
— George Sheeh

Monday, April 20, 2015:
119th Annual Boston Marathon
Randy Pierce, Bib: 25485

For me, Boston’s legend is due to a pair of powerful points worthy of the iconic label. Firstly, it brings together an unrivaled community of support well beyond the throngs gathering along the entirety of the 26.2 mile route. Secondly, it draws and encourages the most inspirational meanings well beyond the running accomplishments as the motivation for so many of the runners. Spend a little time exploring any Boston Marathon and you will likely come away overwhelmed by the compassion and determination of the human spirit.

Randy and Quinn run the BAA 5k in 2013My own Boston Marathon journey began in awe of the incredible positive community aspects highlighted for me in 2013 as well as the spirit of an incredible canine, my Mighty Quinn. If you’ve never read Qualifying for Quinn, I strongly encourage you to visit my motivation and the story of how I came to qualify for Boston.

There are two ways to run the Boston Marathon:

1) Fairly rigorous time qualification
2) Run for a sanctioned charity as a fundraiser

I am fortunate in having a more lenient time requirement due to my blindness, and yet I’m running with and for a cause incredibly dear to my heart. I’m running to honor the legacy of the Mighty Quinn. He touched the lives of so many in his incredible life and our #Miles4Quinn welcomes any and all support. If you are unable to enjoy some healthy miles in his honor, perhaps you’ll consider supporting my effort with a donation to the charity to which I’ve dedicated so much of my efforts:

Click here to donate to 2020 Vision Quest in honor of Quinn and Randy’s Boston Marathon efforts!  

Whether you log #Miles4Quinn or donate to 2020 Vision Quest, you could always support us along the route and be part of an incredible experience. The more people who learn about us, the better we can reach our goals and the stronger I will be for Marathon Monday.

Do you want to experience the race course virtually with a little history and fun worked into the mix? The Boston Athletic Association has prepared an excellent video tour!

I’ve joined “Team with a Vision” which brings together an incredible community of blind athletes from all over the world. While I fund raise primarily for 2020 Vision Quest, I embrace their mission and offer my fundraising page for them as an alternative for those who so choose:

Donate to Randy’s “Team with a Vision” page

Randy and his friend and coach, GregOn Monday, April 20 at 6:00  a.m., I’ll climb onto the Gate City Striders bus with Greg Hallerman, my good friend, running coach, and most frequent run guide, as well as 10-time Boston Marathon participant. Since my qualifying for Boston, his friendship and tutelage have brought me to win the B1 (Total blindness) National Marathon Championship as well as build a foundation of knowledge and appreciation for running. He’ll be with me throughout the race, choosing to give of his own race approach to share the experience together and help make the experience all the more fantastic.

Once at the Marathon start I’ll connect with the husband and wife team of Pete and Christine Houde. They will be my guides. While I only have one active guide at any time on the course, we are still finalizing the strategy for how we will approach this race. Christine was my first run guide after Quinn’s death and we trained during a snowstorm on our first run. (Rather strong foreshadowing of the season ahead.)

Randy and Christine running in the snowBoth fellow Lions, we met through mutual friends and quickly came to appreciate the friendship. Last year Christine ran her first Boston Marathon for a charity cause and at her fundraiser we announced the plan to run together for Boston. The mental work involved in guiding for a Marathon is tremendous and as our training time has been limited by a difficult winter and their long-distance commute, we opted to add Pete to the team and share the teamwork of guides. Both completed the Chicago Marathon earlier this year and each will have a vital role in my Boston Marathon experience. Any blind runner will tell you that the sacrifice of a guide is tremendous. They must run strong enough at my pace to give me all the necessary information to keep both of us safe on a crowded course.

Pete, Christine, Randy, and TracyIf I’m being true to the full measure of that team, I have to include my wonderful wife Tracy. Whether helping to drive me to training rendezvous points, joining me at a treadmill, or the many other aspects of support, she has helped enable this goal to become reality. She has given of herself in so many ways that I will always be foremost grateful to her in this entire process. After all, it’s that feeling of community which I said was part of setting Boston apart.

So now you’ve met my primary team of Greg, Pete, Christine, and Tracy!

At roughly 11:15, we’ll join Wave 4, Corral 2 in the surge down the hill in Hopkinton, Mass. As I run, I’ll carry recollections of every encouraging word and the people providing them. I’ll have to dig deep for inspiration and motivation many times, but my team of friends and community of support has already exceeded what I ever would have imagined when this all began. Boston’s historic course will have more than enough challenge to ensure I need all of that and a great deal of personal determination as well.

When I cross the finish line, hands held triumphantly high with my guides, I’ll likely have tears of joy, exhaustion, jubilation, and just a bit more. I’ll know that my year of tribute to Quinn will be a very hard earned and very rewarding message of dedication. I’ll be part of something truly epic and proud to have connected with such an intense community experience. I’ll be grateful to so many–some from here, some I have yet to even meet. It will only be one experience on a list of many past, present and future. Like the year of work leading up to it, it will forever be a part of who I am. Experiences change our lives and this one is tremendously so.

So this year on Patriots Day, maybe you’ll come visit the course and cheer on me, my guides, or the thousands of incredible stories passing along the course. Maybe you’ll make a donation to support 2020 Vision Quest, maybe you’ll log some #Miles4Quinn, share our story or just follow on line… or perhaps create your own unique adventure. As a sign I had read to me by my guide Meredith on the Bay State Marathon course suggests: “It isn’t everyday you get to do something epic!” Be a part of this experience with us or make your own but put a little epic in your life and be happier for it.

Boston strong!

Boston Marathon 2015 logo

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National Marathon Championship?!

By Randy Pierce

Jose and Randy epitomize determination as they begin the final strides to the finish line.
Jose and Randy epitomize determination as they begin the final strides to the finish line.

When Ryan Ortiz, Assistant Executive Director for the USABA called us to the podium during the award ceremony, I was both surprised and delighted to think I’d somehow managed to place third in this National Marathon Championship. My excellent friend, Jose Acevedo, had guided me for the entirety of our 26.2 mile race.

It was just the second successful marathon for both of us and his first with the very significant additional work of Guiding. We had set a fairly modest goal for many reasons including my three-week battle with pneumonia which had grossly impacted my final weeks of training. I was proud of us and marveling in the teamwork which led to this momentous occasion, one which proved all the more powerful as we learned we had actually earned first place in the B1 division which is “total blindness to effectively no usable vision.” How did this happen?

For me, it started with my inspiration and decision to run the Boston Marathon as I detailed in one of my favorite blogs ever: “Qualifying for Quinn.” My very first marathon was a “success” on many levels though it was not indicative of the better approach I hoped to take for full marathon success.

I understood so little about long distance running but I was determined to listen and learn from the many resources available online and in the experienced runners such as my friend and coach Greg Hallerman. It was overwhelming how many people shared their knowledge, experience and perhaps most importantly running time as Guides to enable me to run train. Thus, it was all the more disappointing to me when my next attempt at a marathon–which had such better preparation and results, right up until my dropping out at mile 23.5 as detailed in my comment to the blog: “Bay State and Beyond.”

The California Marathon opportunity was made possible because the tireless drive of Richard Hunter and support of USABA, CIM and many others enables the large gathering of blind athletes to do so much more than just compete in this event. I didn’t expect or necessarily intend to personally compete as I explain in my pre-race blog for the event “CIM: Coast to Coast Blind Runners Share a Common Vision”

Tracy, Jose, and Randy pose before the race.
Tracy, Jose, and Randy pose before the race.

Tracy, Jose, and I paused and posed in Folsom, CA before sunrise on the morning of the race. We were excited, apprehensive, and slowly building towards the mental focus and physical readiness for the endurance experience ahead. Jose had mostly trained in Seattle for the sole purpose of guiding me at this event and I had joined him via phone for a few of his training runs but we’d only had two shorter runs together to practice the guide work and never in crowded race conditions. We felt confident that at a gentler 9:30-minute mile pace, we would support and sustain through the entire journey. While official time was “gun time” we didn’t press to the front as we knew our bibs would capture chip time and that was good enough for our goals. Thus thousands of runners were across ahead of us as we began.

The first stretch involved my needing to be tight behind him as we managed larger groups of people and brought our communication comfort up to speed. These early miles were crowd-restricted to a slower pace. Just over a mile, I was able to stride to the opposite side of the cane from him and allow my legs to stretch a little more. We picked up the pace comfortably and steadily began the work of passing individuals and groups. The first  pace  pack of 4:40 (four hours and forty minutes) took some time to manage with patience and talking to our fellow runners in order to find the space to work through together. By mile 9 we had passed the pace group for 4:25 and 4:10 and were running well together at above our intended pace. Shortly afterwards the first bathroom pit stop seemed sufficiently uncrowded to give Jose his opportunity, but the line was slow moving and at least six minutes were lost to the needed stop.

Back on the course, we had to navigate once again through a pace group cluster but felt strong as we approached the alleged significant uphill of the course. Reaching the halfway mark without noting a significant hill, we understood we were running strong and ready for the course which would roll and be flat for the duration of our trek. Race supporters played music, held humorous and inspirational signs, or simply cheered encouragingly throughout the many miles.

Water stops and nutrition moments were in great supply by the race and we availed ourselves of them appropriately. This required a return to tight behind and a slow to a walk. This cost us a little time but gave a little rest and kept us well hydrated and supplied with the energy we needed. Thus at mile 20 when we ran with a friend and peer, Kyle Robidoux, there was still good strength in both of us.

Our pace did slow for miles 20-24 where my first battle with a little leg pain arrived. My right leg, lower quad was cramping and spasming a little. I gave it two stretch breaks over the final 2.2 miles and used it as a little bit of a mental excuse to take an additional water stop I might otherwise have avoided. These final two miles were not my strongest and it is where I had to dig deeper for the mental and physical resolve. This made Jose stronger as he rose fantastically to the occasion of offering more support.

Crowds of supporters made communication more challenging and narrowed the course so tight behind was common as we found space to continue passing people on the stretch run. Our final turn was captured in the above photo and showed the determination and focus both of us needed to reach the finish as strong as we did. At his call, I slid up the cane and we clasped hands over our heads in celebration as we strode across the finish line. It was jubilant and emotional in ways endurance events bring forth. The post-race celebratory feelings and race support buoyed our proud recollections as we slowly eased our bodies towards the well deserved rest.

Randy, Jose, and Tracy triumphantly sport Santa hats at the finish line.
Randy, Jose, and Tracy triumphantly sport Santa hats at the finish line.

The atmosphere was electric and we waited in the USABA tent for Tracy to finish her first marathon as well. Celebrating our own success is a great feeling and yet the sharing of it is so much more powerful to me. Not just the sharing of pride in Jose and our teamwork, but the sharing of accomplishment and joy with all the runners as they crossed the finish line. Kristen, Jose, and I cheered as Tracy crossed with a huge smile overpowering the also well earned exhaustion. That moment carried as much powerful emotion as our own success.

The work on race day is certainly tremendous as is the reward. The hardest work lies in all the preparation. I ran more than 1200 miles of training which creates wear and tear on the body and considerable amounts of time. The dedication and consequences of the commitment are significant. I have the required challenge and benefit of running as a team most of the time. This certainly enhances the motivation and the enjoyment significantly.

My initial goal of the Boston Marathon is still ahead and my determination is beyond unwavering as it’s grown steadily. I understand reasonably well the sacrifice and efforts involved and even now have begun forming the plan for training ahead. The entirely unexpected and surreal additional reward is that now I hold a title beyond my expectations. I am the B1 National Champion of the marathon!

The reality is there are many fantastic runners, sighted and blind, of all levels, who may better my time. I hope to be one of those as I strive to improve and grow my own running ability. What I know is that in reaching for goals, in working towards our dreams and perhaps just in the conceiving of such, we are already winners. That is what makes it so easy for me to celebrate all of the glorious moments from our entire California trip even as I begin using my sightless eyes to look forward with confidence I will indeed Achieve a Vision Beyond my Sight. I always love the last experience and hope to always use those prior moments as a springboard to begin the next opportunities.

Better than all of those experiences, however,  are the many people with whom I hope to share the experience. Thank you to so many folks for letting me share their experience and for choosing to share in some of mine as well – this time particularly to Jose Acevedo my friend and teammate in this national championship! Congratulations on all the hard work and well earned rewards!

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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.

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