You get out what you put in! Tough Mudder Los Angeles yields amazing outcome

By Randy Pierce

“Team Randy: Greg, Jose, Loren, Sky and Randy atop the Beached Whale challenge celebrating: You get out what you put in!
Team Randy: Greg, Jose, Loren, Sky and Randy atop the Beached Whale challenge celebrating.

Oberto Beef Jerky reached out to me through my friend Court Crandall with an invitation to take part in my second Tough Mudder on Saturday, March 28 in Los Angeles, California. “You get out what you put in” is a theme of theirs and I often feel my life exemplifies the rewards in this message.

With the help of my tremendous team, we gave all of our heart, strength, will, and tenacity, but the constant rewards of the day made it all such a small price to pay! Thank you to my team: Greg, Jose, Loren and Sky; to Court, Tough Mudder and to Oberto for a completely epic experience!

TM-LA 2015-Saturday-Team Randy (1)-LR
Triumphant team photo!

While our shirt suggests “I see no obstacles,” I actually do see plenty of obstacles despite my being totally blind. Obstacles are opportunities and the right mindset is so powerful in helping us choose the right response and thereby reap the rewards. In my vision they are simply the means to help us achieve incredible heights of teamwork and success.

Do I sometimes crash into the literal and metaphorical obstacles or falter at it initially? Of course, I think we all do. The bigger question is what do you do next, can you problem solve? Persevere? With a community of support, which we can build in our lives and which is incredibly evident at Tough Mudder events, even the most challenging obstacles can be overcome.

For example, in the midst of our OCR (Obstacle Course Race) we hit the “King of the Swingers.” Climb a 20-25 foot platform, leap out 8 or so feet to catch a suspended T-bar trapeze which you swing to its extent, release, and launch into the air to hopefully ring a bell suspended in mid-air – all before plunging into the water below. Now doing this all without any sight seemed rather daunting and some might have suggested impossible. I had my doubts as well and as a team we had been planning a strategy which we modified as the nature of the full challenge was revealed. The results are in the video below and highlight not only the process but the incredible support which Mudders so passionately share with each other throughout the course:

Watch the video of Randy’s incredible “leap of faith” and more!

Randy and his teammates get electric shocks as part of the course!
Randy and his teammates get electric shocks as part of the course!

The 10.5-mile course was loaded with an assortment of obstacles from the steep terrain of the death marches to the many feature obstacles like “Everest” and “King of the Swingers.” We switched my Guides often and shared the work throughout to be stronger as a team than any of us would be as individuals.

Whether it’s hoisting each other to the top, pulling each other along, or encouraging each other when times were tough, we used determination and teamwork to manage each obstacle. When I failed a key grab on the “Funky Monkey” and plunged into the water with the first “failure” on an obstacle, I could not put my head down for long because my team gave perspective and encouragement for us to move to the next challenge. When my height allowed me to boost each member to the top of our next challenge and then leap and be pulled along, we celebrated together without being “mired in the mud” of the prior fall.

Randy and his teammates cheer in elation.
Randy and his teammates succeed. Elation!

Rather than relate the multitude of moments overcoming challenge, I’d rather leave you with the key point of the experience. We all had so many moments to shine individually and as a team. We all emerged tired, bruised, and sore but with an elation and a connection which will bolster our lives. We can’t team up for Tough Mudders every day, but we can build our community and choose how much of ourselves we are willing to commit into any experience–knowing confidently that the rewards of that commitment and effort will be magnified by what we put into it!

Give your all, and whenever possible give it with the support of a team you deserve and which deserves you. The rewards will likely be how your life is defined. See obstacles or opportunity, stumbling blocks or stepping stones, but believe you can achieve and you’ll have a vision more powerful than sight!

Voices from the Team

Loren O’Neil:

I had only met Randy, Jose and Sky  the Friday evening before the race and immediately became fast friends and developed a bond that will last a lifetime.  Being a blind guide for the first time for Randy through the 11 miles of rough terrain, hills and obstacle course was not only a challenge but a life inspiring event for me.  As we each took turns guiding Randy and helping each other through the grueling 11 mile dusty course in 95 degree heat our team bond grew and more and more runners cheered us on. I couldn’t count how many cheers and comments from people we heard of how Randy was amazing and how seeing him completing the Tough Mudder was inspiring them.

For anyone who thinks doing the race blind is not a big deal, I challenge you to blindfold yourself for 1 hour and walk throughout your home. Afterward, think how much trust and courage Randy had with his team leading him with a cane or his hand on our shoulder through 11 miles of rough terrain, hills, mud and all the obstacles (which included going over walls, the funky monkey bars, electric shock and jumping off a 25 foot platform to grab a trapeze to swing across a pond and ring a bell).  As our team shirts said, we never saw these as obstacles but challenges to conquer.

“YOU CAN DO ANYTHING”!!

Jose Acevedo:

The way this team came together to support each other was in and of itself incredible to be a part of, but also entirely indicative of the Tough Mudder community at large. Feeling the support of thousands as we worked our way through the course was amazingly inspirational.

Sky Prendergast:

This is my friend and teammate Randy. In 36 hours we bonded in the ways I wish to bond with most people. He’s completely without vision but only because he is the one that needed to be to show all of us that…”to not see obstacles sets you free”. We completed the 10.5, dusty, bloody, fatigued miles in 95 degree heat together and along the way I gained his trust as his guide. I led him via his cane or hand on my shoulder. My favorite part was verbally painting what we were seeing in the moments. At moments, I almost forgot he wasn’t able to see, as his capabilities and grace matched our own.  At the King of the Swingers obstacle watching him reach and feel the T-bar with his cane, leap into oblivion, grab it, and ring that damn bell, I was humbled and suffered a minor heart explosion, with pride of course!! I want to thank my team for inviting me to be a part of this beautiful series of moments and a feeling I’ll recall every time I face my own adversity. Till the next time… TEAM RANDY!!!!

Greg Neault:

It wasn’t in morning, as we shivered in the pre-dawn breeze at the dimly lit Glen Helen raceway answering questions in front of a camera. It wasn’t at the start of the race when the Mudder Hype Man asked him to stand to be recognized as an example of the best that Tough Mudder stands for. It wasn’t any one of the several Randy chants that broke out throughout the day. It wasn’t that surreal moment when he tipped the bell on the King of Swingers and the crowd erupted in a cacophony of elation. It wasn’t the lengthy group hug that followed the agony of Electroshock Therapy and the relief of completion. It was at dinner that night, that it happened.  As a group of exhausted, weary, dirty, bloody, bruised Tough Mudders lingered around a dinner table long after the food was gone, the bill had been paid and the drinks had stop flowing, Randy stated a feeling that I think we were all having, but no one was expressing.  “I don’t want to leave here, because I know once I do, this is all over.” That was the moment that I realized that this day was different, and I knew he was right. We’d go back to the hotel, shower and crash, dead to the world until the early morning wake up to head back to reality. Loren first, off to the airport for an extra early flight. Next we leave Sky, who has only to drive back to Santa Monica, sleeping peacefully at the hotel. Randy, Jose and myself drive to the airport. We leave Jose on the shuttle bus, on another airline back to Dallas. Randy and I fly back to New Hampshire where I leave him in Nashua to tell Tracy of our West Coast adventures. Then me, alone in the car to reflect on the weekend heading back to the seacoast. The adventure was dying right there at the dinner table and nobody wanted to let it slip away. But it wasn’t 12 hours until I got the call to arms via text. “What are we doing next?”  The adventure LIVES!!!

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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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Days ahead and days of Auld Lang Syne

By Randy Pierce

Randy, Tracy, and Autumn wish you a happy year ahead from the Golden Gate Bridge.
Randy, Tracy, and Autumn wish you a happy year ahead from the Golden Gate Bridge.

AULD LANG SYNE (English Translation)

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot, and days of long ago?

CHORUS:
For days of long ago, my dear, for days of long ago,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for days of long ago.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup! and surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for days of long ago.

CHORUS

We two have run about the slopes, and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot, since days of long ago.

CHORUS

We two have paddled in the stream, from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared since days of long ago.

CHORUS

And there’s a hand my trusty friend! And give me a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught, for days of long ago.

CHORUS

For me, the heart of the New Year is not in the resolutions but in the reflections and looking ahead. My years are so very full of meaning and the pace often just a bit too unrelenting for the full measure of both of those things which surges to me around January’s arrival. I’ll take a short tour of the 2020 Vision Quest year past and thoughts of 2015 ahead.

Last January’s tragic loss of the Mighty Quinn resonates still for the loss and for the legacy he left behind. Our first published work is written from his perspective in Pet Tales and has been very well received. Our #Miles4Quinn has encouraged many thousands of healthy miles and both Randy and Tracy completed their first marathons in his honor.

Autumn arrived to ease some of the pain and bring her own joy and talents into our world. Her boundless joy continues to uplift our spirits every day as our bond and teamwork continues to grow.

We continued to experience mountain climbing although running goals were a primary feature. From our pioneer work on a Tuff Mudder to a B1 National Marathon Championship, there were many accomplishments. The NH Magazine “It List”, a TEDx Talk, and the strengthening of our board and staff all highlight a year of many positive strides. I think, as always, that the 34,000 students we’ve reached with our presentations remains one of the strongest aspects of our year and mission.

The promise we seek in 2015 is to bring out our best efforts and hopefully encourage and inspire others to do similarly. Winter training is leading towards readiness for the Boston Marathon. Summer’s training is towards the trip to Tanzania and our goal to reach our highest peak at the top of the world’s tallest stand alone mountain: Kilimanjaro!

Along the way we hope to bring our total students to well above 50,000 and continue our corporate presentations which may enable us to support Guiding Eyes and the NH Association for the Blind in the best fashion they both deserve from us.

At the heart of everything we do is our hopeful intent to tend the people of our community. These wonderful friends old and new are the foundation of hope and happiness for all that will come in the future and the not so secret means to saver every present moment.

Happy New Year to you all!

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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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California, here we come!

By Randy Pierce

A view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin Headlands in January 2007. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
A view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin Headlands in January 2007. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

We are going to Sacramento, California to run the California International Marathon on December 7. For Tracy Pierce, this will be her first marathon and for me a chance at completing my second. This opportunity comes about primarily because of Richard Hunter and the USABA (United States Association of Blind Athletes) as detailed in a blog earlier this fall.

We will have the chance to be surrounded by a community of incredibly inspirational athletes, many of whom happen to also be blind. While undertaking an incredible opportunity in our own right we realized the escape from snowy New England to a vacation retreat would afford us many wonderful treasures. While the marathon is the primary goal for both of us and my chance to atone for a failure at mile 23.5 of the Bay State Marathon in October, I’m particularly proud to be running with my good friend and fellow 2020 Vision Quest Board Member Jose Acevedo as my guide.

Tracy and friends just finishing the New England half marathon. Photo courtesy of Tracy Pierce.
Tracy and friends just finishing the New England half marathon. Photo courtesy of Tracy Pierce.

So starting at 7:00 am Pacific Standard Time you can follow along our progress via the California International Marathon website or via various social media connections for 2020 Vision Quest.

Once the race is behind us, the vacation begins. Reuniting with friends (Jose, Kristen, Chris and Kat) to watch our beloved Patriots play the night game in San Diego will start that journey, though we won’t be attending live as California is simply too large a state for that part of the trip to be possible. Wobbly legs will slowly recover with a winery tour in Napa courtesy of our friend Amy Dixon, the Blind Sommelier.

We’ll catch the migration of the Bull Seals at Point Reyes and a couple of days in San Francisco for Alcatraz, eat Godiva’s Chocolate Earthquake Ice Cream Challenge in honor of my running coach Greg Hallerman, and take in other delights of the city. Later we’ll make the journey to Sequoia National Forest where the largest living tree in the world, General Sherman, will highlight a tour of some parks and majestic trees.

We are finding the balance of not overloading our schedule with plans to blend rest and relaxation with this incredible opportunity to visit a rare part of our world. Making the most of opportunities is such a gift to ourselves. Be grateful I didn’t write this blog to the tune of the “Beverly Hillbillies” as my mind first wandered. For my part, I’ll be grateful to the opportunities presented by delving into the experiences of life with a supporting wife and caring community. California, Here we come! – please have no snow!

Randy and Christine running in the snow.
Randy and Christine running in the snow. Photo courtesy of Tracy Pierce.
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California International Marathon: Coast to Coast, the Blind/VI Runners Share a Common Vision

By Randy Pierce

“I find it hugely inspiring to meet and run alongside other people who are on their vision loss journey. Together, we can help educate and change public perception of what people who are visually impaired are capable of.”

– Richard Hunter

While it’s a little anti-climactic to come off my Bay State Marathon “failure” at mile 23+ (when my missing bag of nutrition, which had fallen out at mile one, finally caught up with me), this only serves to highlight some of the additional challenges faced as a blind athlete. I’m all the more proud and dedicated to the next six weeks to prepare for another marathon on the opposite coast, and this time it will be with a host of incredible blind and visually impaired athletes joining together at the California International Marathon on December 7.

The USABA National Marathon Championships, sponsored by VSP Vision Care, runs in conjunction with the California International Marathon on December 7, 2014.  Since the CIM adopted the Visually Impaired Division in 2007, participation of visually impaired and blind runners has steadily grown from 2 to more than 30 participants. Runners travel from across the United States and from other nations. Participants include blinded veterans, paralympic athletes, world champions, and many novice runners just beginning their athletic careers. Each athlete has a compelling and unique story of their own, and together are able to inspire, educate, and change the public’s perception of vision loss.

I invite you to explore the list of athletes and their incredible stories hosted on the United States Association of Blind Athletes site.

I’m often described as competitive and certainly believe there’s much truth to those words. I hope my drive and perseverance are tempered with the ability to appreciate many aspects of any experience. My goal for Bay State had been a sub-4-hour marathon and I was still solidly on track when the incident took place. My goal for C.I.M. is different despite the many athletes sharing similar challenges to my own.

Due in part to the proximity of my last marathon and to the desire to share this epic marathon experience with my good friend, Jose Acevedo, my goal is for we novice marathoners to stay comfortably within ourselves and finish with a better time than both of our first marathons. He set his goal and long training process specifically to be my Guide for this race and I’m honored, touched, and enthused to share the experience with him. Any marathon will challenge a person to dig deeply within themselves and as we run this as a team, it will provide times when we both have to encourage and support the other.

Success has to be earned for every possible goal in such races and I intend to grow my foundation of ability and preparation continually, perhaps someday ready to challenge more competitively at such an event. For now I hope to celebrate our success, our friendship, the event, and a host of incredible athletes sighted and less so who will make this experience part of what life is about!

Randy and Jose on Mount Carrigain. Photo courtesy of Jose Acevedo.
Randy and Jose on Mount Carrigain. Photo courtesy of Jose Acevedo.
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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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“I can only imagine” – Team Hoyt Inspiration and beyond!

By Randy Pierce

Dick Hoyt pushing his son, Rick, in their first Boston Marathon (1981). Photo courtesy of www.teamhoyt.com.
Dick Hoyt pushing his son, Rick, in their first Boston Marathon (1981). Photo courtesy of www.teamhoyt.com.

On April 21, the Boston Marathon’s 118th running will highlight more than its usual share of incredibly inspiring stories. “One Year Stronger” will showcase the positive choices and progress from the horrific events of last year’s bombs. It is all too common to be caught with our focus on the worst of the news and yet so many of the most incredible examples in our world show the merit of doing just the opposite. Seek the inspiration and the motivation and ensure your vision includes reaching for those things which will bring you true reward.

This is allegedly the final running of the Boston marathon by Team Hoyt. The story of Dick and Rick Hoyt is for me one of the most inspiring larger than life stories as their youtube video suggests, I too, “Can Only Imagine.”

Watch the Inspiring Video of this Team

The Team Hoyt Story began with the birth of Rick in 1962. Due to oxygen deprivation at that time, he was “diagnosed as a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy.” It was suggested by the medical community at the time that there was no hope for an ordinary life–and perhaps that was fortunate, because it led instead to an extraordinary life for father, son, and a world full of inspired people who understand that we must learn to believe if we wish to truly achieve.

Quinn and Randy run the BAA 5k in April 2013.
Quinn and Randy run the BAA 5k in April 2013.

Dick and Judy Hoyt first had to choose to look beyond the obvious challenges and discover the intellect behind Rick’s eyes. They had to teach him despite suggestions it wasn’t possible and they proved how much was hidden by the physical impacts of his condition. Rick would prove even more by his perseverance and determination and his college degree and career certainly highlight. The athletic achievements of the team gained recognition as a sign of the bond of love and determination of a father and son, but the true message for me is found in the value and possibility of any human spirit to rise and showcase more than the world might imagine. Think about that when you answer the question in their video “Can You Imagine?” Think more on what can you imagine and how can you achieve it.

For my part, the Mighty Quinn inspired me to run once again and I will honor him with my training and running the Boston marathon on Monday April 20, 2015. Throughout this preparation, I encourage everyone to consider undertaking some healthy miles for their own benefit and to perhaps consider joining our “Miles 4 Quinn” community. Whether you walk, swim, paddle, peddle, roll, run or some other means to challenge yourself to imagine and realize more than you might have thought before. It has worked for Team Hoyt and it can work for all of us.

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Miles4Quinn is about to begin!

By Randy Pierce

Quinn and Randy run the BAA 5k in April 2013.
Quinn and Randy run the BAA 5k in April 2013.

In 2006, I was so proud to step out of my wheelchair for the final time and walk, albeit slowly, with a support (hiking!) stick. Quinn came along a bit later and soon had me walking better and better each and every day. He then helped guide me back to running and amidst our many achievements together we ran roughly 30 road races together. It was a precious gift and we were pioneers of the Guide Dog running potential here in New England. We loved running together as the marvelous photo from the BAA 5k shows while highlighting the potent image of the flags display at the Boston marathon finish in 2013. I knew then I would do everything possible to run the full Boston marathon.

When Quinn became afflicted with bone cancer in the Fall of 2013 and tragically bid us a final farewell in January of 2014, I made the right and reasonable choice to delay my running. Starting April 6 with my first half marathon until I qualify for and then run the Boston Marathon 2015, I am going to dedicate and log all of my many miles in Quinn’s Honor (#miles4Quinn). I am hoping and encouraging any and all of you to consider joining me in your favorite format to honor Quinn and simultaneously support our 2020 Vision Quest charity. Whether you walk, bicycle, hike, swim, ski or do other healthy ways of travelling, please consider this as a means to increase your health and join our cause! We will track all the many miles we all travel on our journey to healthy fun and the most marvelous Mighty Quinn! As our community grows we may attract a sponsor or two as well. Like most charities we strive to earn funds to support our mission.

It’s as easy as this three-step approach and we’ll be leading the way early and often:

  1. Choose to travel how ever many miles is right for you by the means right for you as well!
  2. Log your #miles4Quinn miles at our website: http://2020visionquest.org/miles-for-quinn.html
  3. Share your accomplishment and our goals as often as possible!

I’m running the Great Bay Half Marathon in Newmarket, NH on April 6, the Boston Athletic Association 5k on April 19 and my first marathon on May 3 at which I hope to qualify for Boston 2015. The California International Marathon and of course Boston are major races in our plans, along with many local races and the near constant training. We’d love to run, walk, bike, and hike with our entire community as often as possible and hope to promote all of our health and happiness. I’m running with human guidance for these races while Autumn comes up to speed on our Guide work together.

On June 7, I hope she’ll lead our best team yet on the NHAB 3k Walk for Sight in Concord NH I won’t know how well we’ll succeed on any of our various goals but I know how hard I’m prepared to work. I hope you’ll all consider celebrating with me each and every mile we can dedicate to my inspiration, motivation and so very loved Mighty Quinn. Along the way I hope we help encourage each other and continue to support the organization built largely upon the wagging tail of Guiding Eyes Quinn!

#miles4Quinn

Rob and Randy running at the Great Bay Half

Tracy, Randy and Sarah pose pre-race

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Join our Presentation: Never Run Out of Inspiration

By Randy Pierce

On March 1, I’ll briefly present at a fundraiser for my friend Christine Houde and her team who are running the Boston Marathon this year. She is running for Mass Eye and Ear’s charitable efforts which is a cause near and dear to me.

Randy and Christine run in the snow.
Randy and Christine run in the snow.

Christine and I met through hiking and  mutual friends. We soon found much common ground and then quickly began covering the ground as she joined me to act as a human guide for my first longer run off of the “dreadmill” and outside in the fresh, cold and…very snowy air!

My topic for the evening will be “Never Running out of Inspiration.” While it will only be 5-10 minutes or so, there will be a great evening of socializing, celebrating, and supporting this worthy cause, as well as support of her choice to undertake this epic race.

There are two methods of entry into the Boston Marathon: 1) to meet their qualifying time requirements, or 2) run for one of their approved charities and raise sufficient funds for that charity. I had intended to qualify for this year’s race, but Quinn’s declining health persuaded me to hold off that process and devote my time and attention to him. With my commitment of fundraising for 2020 Vision Quest, I could not in good conscience undertake the fundraising commitments for another charity, so I am dedicating this year to running in Quinn’s honor and earning my way into the 2015 Boston marathon. This will involve the dedication and kindness of many human guides throughout the process, but Christine was the first to lend her efforts to this latest quest. Even the surprise snowstorm didn’t stop us from our inaugural workout together.

This fundraising event is about her dedication to running and  particularly the reasons for running Boston. As such I took the time to ask her a few questions I think you may appreciate hearing. I think many be particularly touched to hear her choice to honor the Mighty Quinn this year.

1) Have you always been a runner?
In high school I played volleyball and in college I did intramural sports but I rarely just went out for a run. I can say my running/ racing career truly started when I MOVED TO NH in 2010..i was talked into running the St. Paddy’s five miler and my time was not very impressive. In February of 2011- on a whim I decided to sign up for a half marathon to have a goal to look forward to- being my first winter in NH. I trained for that in the cold and did another half in 2011. I really kicked it into gear, doing every race I could get my hands on in 2012 and 2013. I was lucky enough to win the female division of the Seacoast Road Race Series this past October. I feel truly blessed to have discovered the joys and sometimes pains of running.

2) Why do you run in general and why marathons?
I run as a challenge to myself. I love the race scenes and the spirit of the sport and interacting with other runners. After I completed 3 half’s, I said I wanted to try and tackle the challenge of a full marathon. I registered for the Manchester Marathon in 2012. It was a lofty goal and an amazing experience. I did not run one last year and always knew I was going to do another one. The marathon is a mental and physical sport that pushes me towards something I never would have thought I could accomplish.

3) The Boston marathon has many reasons for being a noteworthy event but I wonder if given the events of last year, does running in this year’s event carry any special significance to you?
I knew 12 runners that were near the scene last year. Some had just finished. Some were diverted at mile 22. The tragic events really hit me. These events were way to close to home and no one could stop the spirit of runners. I wanted to show that I was Boston Strong and cowards can’t hold us down as American’s.

4) Why are you running for Mass Eye and Ear?
As a Lion, I am a huge advocate for vision and hearing research and treatment. Mass Eye and Ear treated 75 of the victims from last year and had helped thousands upon thousands of people gain sight and recover from diseases of the throat, nose, and ears. Vision and hearing are two incredible senses that are worth fighting and raising money for. My grandmother suffers from macular degeneration and I have experienced her downward progression over the years. If I can help someone else’s mom fight diseases like that, I will have felt accomplished.

5) Our community is still reeling from the loss of Quinn and I approached you about trying to help you sell out your event by asking if you’d consider wearing a “Quinn strong” symbol contingent on selling out the March 1 Fund Raiser. It’s quite a choice to wear any symbol during the race and you declined telling me you will wear that regardless of the sell-out. That’s a lot of kind support for a dog you met only once and yet you didn’t hesitate a moment in that response. What were your thoughts when you heard my inquiry about wearing such a symbol?
My thoughts were a mix of this- I know how much dogs mean to people. I am so in love with Salem and he brings so much to my life. I cannot even begin to imagine the support Quinn brought to your life because he helped you “see”. He climbed 48 mountains with you; he allowed you to run outside again. He literally was your eyes when you could not see. He was the sweetest boy when he was in pain the last time I saw him. He gave you unconditional love and a void is in your heart. I want to run for him and for you to show you that even in the darkest of times, someone can help you regain a sense you never  thought you could have. I find it incredible you climbed all these mountains with him by your side and your story touched me. I am so sad over Quinn’s loss and I know your pain is on another level. He is family and will never be forgotten. I want to run for him with all my heart. I hope this is ok with you.

6) You know I’m training for my qualifying marathon to ensure I can run Boston 2015 and you are among a select group of folks who have been my sighted guide for running. What were your impressions of your part in that process?
I am honored and thrilled to be able to see you through a marathon and I know you will qualify. Not a doubt in my mind. The experience for me was amazing and I cannot wait to do it again. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of it.

7) Any final thoughts you’d like to share with our community?
Keep up the great work and keep inspiring people.

Fundraising Event Info

When: Saturday, March 1, 2014 Time: 5PM – 10PM
Where: Somersworth VFW-post 4486: 43 High Street Somersworth, NH 03878
What: A fun filled evening complete with food, live music, a guest speaker, raffles, and cash bar.

Dress: Business Casual

Price: $40 per person in advance, $50 per person at the door. $65 per couple in advance, $75 per couple at the door

All proceeds go directly to Mass Eye and Ear Infirmary Inc. to find cures for blindness, deafness and diseases of the head and neck.

Checks should be payable to “Foundation of Mass Eye and Ear, Inc.”, with “Christine Houde” written in the “memo” section of each check.

To purchase tickets or for more information please contact Christine Houde at:

(954) 675-8544 or Christinehoude11@gmail.com

Donate online here

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