Once again I have chosen to undertake the arduous training process to run a marathon. Once again I have a guide so incredibly generous as to undergo the process with me that we may challenge the course together. My friend Rodney Andre has likely logged the most running miles with me and though many of them have been hard working miles, all of them have been enjoyable due to his fun loving, easy going and thoughtful approach to both running and life.
This is why I’m pleased to announce he will guide me as I return to the California International Marathon to enjoy the entire experience surrounding the United States Association of Blind Athletes National Marathon Championship. They provide a weekend of special events to celebrate athletes from around the nation, in fact the entire world, to highlight ability awareness and the sport of running.
This wonderful course provided me the B1 National Championship in 2014, but two subsequent attempts have been disappointing, including my trying to grit out the mileage on an ankle I’d badly dislocated in mid-November. It’s time to ready myself with a deliberate training program to ensure I can deliver a quality run for both Rodney and I to enjoy and succeed in our quest. As in all such races, I want to perform as well as I’m able and that requires putting in the time for 16 weeks, 112 days and hundreds of miles in all range of weather conditions. It’s almost a part time job to make the training work, but it is also a labor of love as most of those runs are gratifying during or at least shortly afterwards.
The training plan is underway, my guide is settled, and the rest will play out between now and Sunday, December 2. There are so many talented VI athletes running the course I cannot reasonably guess how I’ll stack up against them as I compete with the full range of ages in my B1 (total blindness) division. I can ensure that I’ll give my best and that with Rodney guiding me there will be many laughs, much determination and an expectation to savor the experience.
I choose to run a fair number of races and often I want to measure myself against the clock. So often we are tempted to compare our time against those we admire, our friends, or some other vastly arbitrary standard. I believe we should be comparing ourselves against our own prior performances and perhaps goals based on those results. Sometimes we might want to see if we are faster or slower than a previous run. Hopefully we are respectful of the many factors which impact the time of our run. As someone who often speaks about reaching for and achieving our peak potential, it might suggest seeking a PR (Personal Record) at every opportunity but this simply isn’t the case.
Not only does the course, the crowd, the temperature play an immediate role but so does our goal! Have we needed to prioritize other aspects of our lives over proper training for speed for that race? Did we simply want to run for enjoyment and relaxation at that particular time? Perhaps that is always our goal in a run? One of my favorite quotes comes from a friend and coach for many, Dave Salvas. He advised a friend conscientious of time and proud of running for the experience to answer those questioning others who might over focus on time: “I had the time of my life.” How succinctly he cut to the point of understanding what it is really about.
I find similar wisdom outside of races. We have a certain amount of time and choices in how we allocate this time. For me, if insufficiently attentive, I can find myself claiming to be short on time when in truth I am simply allocating too much of it to things which do not deserve it. Certainly I need and value moments of relaxed down time; understanding what is truly the most relaxing and ensuring it receives the higher priority over things that are simply time traps for me is the key. If there are projects that require a lot of my time and yet my efficiency at working with them is enhanced by staggering breaks, I simply set manual timers to break me from them at what I’ve learned is the right time to give me a rejuvenation break.
I try to ensure those breaks are of the right quality I would choose by being mindful and then return to the project. In this I rarely run out of time, though I am certainly guilty of over-scheduling my time…at times! I think in this, my 52nd year (as opposed to 50-second year), it has been suggested to me I appreciate a fairly active pace for my life. There is no right or wrong as long as I follow Dave’s wisdom and ensure that I am having the time of my life on the path!
The 2018 Boston Marathon featured the worst marathon weather I’ve ever experienced: cold temperatures, relentless rain, and generally unreasonable winds.
Battling hypothermia for several miles, I reached the crest of Heartbreak hill to face a cold blast of wind and an astounding deluge which was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back for me. Barely able to speak and shivering uncontrollably, Jose guided me to the medical tent for treatment and the end of our race. It was absolutely and unquestionably the right choice. Pushing perseverance any further raised the risks of serious medical consequences tremendously and an ambulance ride was the most likely result, not a heroic finish line. Making the right choice amidst the various pressures to continue is a clear success, yet failing to complete the goal is also a failure. How do I reconcile these realities?
While I can admittedly be harder on myself than is ideal, I’m always working to improve on this. I believe in sufficient accountability to understand what went awry and then as soon as possible to put all the energy into a focus forward mindset. The goal is to ensure the energy is applied to where it can have an actual positive change.
In this instance my accountability is simple: I’d trained as fully as my post-injury time allowed and was reasonably ready for a normal marathon experience. As weather reports indicated concern, we adjusted our gear dramatically to allow for better warmth and water protection beyond the limits of any prior marathon or long run experience. Usually the concern is that such choices create a risk of overheating, so there is a fine line. In hindsight, I had room to purchase a new thicker and warmer outer shell of wind and water protection, although realistically predicting this need and ensuring I would not have been in danger of overheating was unreasonable.
In short, my accountability is reasonably low unless it was a matter of mental toughness. My guide, the medical team, the ambulance-riding runner next to me in the medical tent, and my own mind knows this wasn’t the issue and any push for perseverance would have been a greater type of failure. When faced with a choice of types of failure, success is making the best possible choice in those moments.
Now the trick is to convince myself this is just a setback and to begin the planning necessary to bring a greater success from it. There are two stages for me in this process.
The first is the process of facing my shortcomings with the same confident sharing that I celebrate my successful achievements. They are all part of the growth for me personally and perhaps for those who might also choose to draw some insight from the experiences.
Secondly, I use the hunger for a more full success to fuel my training on the next event of a similar style. In this case my eyes are now on the prize of the May 20 Gate City Marathon in Nashua, NH. This race will be an opportunity to put out a stronger marathon performance as well as achieve a Boston Marathon qualifier.
That will be my opportunity to work towards crossing a finish line which eluded me this year and it will be doubly sweet for the proper perseverance and resiliency required to achieve it.
“Youth fades; love droops; the leaves of friendship fall; A mother’s secret hope outlives them all.” -Oliver Wendell Holmes
“To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power. Or the climbing, falling colors of a rainbow.” -Maya Angelou
My mother did not keep her hope or love for me secret as Oliver Holmes suggests, but its enduring power always encourages and motivates me. She was the force of nature Maya Angelou suggests, and I might rightly be described as the diffused form of her willpower and determination. She did much in her guidance and likely genetics to inspire my approach to my life and it has led to so many of the most rewarding results for me. In my first three Boston Marathons — from the first very successful 2015, to the medically compromised endurance event of 2016 and even the plans going awry challenges of 2017 — Mom was proud and spent the day hoping for any/every update.
In this, my first Boston Marathon since her death, I will be dedicating my every effort to my mom. There won’t be a phone call before or after for encouragement or celebration, but every mile will still be graced with her love and support. I will touch my hand to my heart and lift my arm in celebration throughout to honor her and draw strength from all the gifts of love, courage and determination she gave to me.
Bib #: 23600
Wave 3, Corral 8
Approximate start time: 11:14 a.m.
Estimated pace: 8:45 minutes/mile
Jose Acevedo will once again be my guide. We’ve shared so many experiences together it will be right to have him for this (hopefully!) healthy Boston Marathon together. We’ve won a National Marathon Championship together in 2014 (pictured at left), endured through Boston 2016 despite knowing the neurology challenges would be excessive, and most recently we made a bid at running California for the National Marathon Championship despite knowing my dislocated ankle was going to make it unlikely.
This time we hope for just savoring the celebration of a Boston Experience healthy, happy, and prepared. As with any such event, all the planning and preparation is vital but the teamwork, friendship and ultimately execution on Marathon Monday is what will define the day.
There is such a community aspect which sets this particular experience apart. It will be on display throughout from Team with a Vision, Mass Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired celebrates 25 years of supporting VI athletes as well as a community of those who benefit from their services all year round. It has been on display from the many training miles supported by guides and friends who make running possible for someone like myself where just stepping out and running on my own isn’t a viable option.
Thank you especially to Rodney Andre for logging so many miles together, sharing his insights on life, running and the humor in every moment to keep life fun. Thank you to Greg Hallerman who continues to provide coaching and strategy despite being deprived of the joy of running for too many months himself. The Gate City Striders are the running club of Nashua and the are also my supportive, patient and encouraging friends as well who constantly find ways to help me create or meet new running goals.
Thank you to the 2020 Vision Quest team who understand the various events of my life are a part of our awareness mission but yet takes a toll on the teamwork at times. Most of all, thank you to both Tracy and Autumn who often have to put up with a little extra for my training and running goals. Autumn takes it begrudgingly as long as I supplement it with extra walks and play for her. Tracy goes out of her way to give the encouragement, support and even at times restraint when I’m over reaching for my schedule or medical best interest.
It takes a community before we ever line up and then somehow a community shows up and helps us get through the hardest of the miles along the way and celebrations at the end. It is no wonder that a marathon is often a metaphor for life. It’s an endurance event some of us can do alone but how much better an experience when we work together for all aspects so that at the end we are celebrating the wonderful human accomplishment of challenging ourselves to give our best. I will certainly strive to give my best and in doing so hopefully honor my dearly loved mother who I know always gave her best for me. In the marathon of her 88 years on this earth she stumbled and struggled at times as do we all. When she crossed the finish I know without question she holds a well earned first place in my heart.
It is so easy to celebrate every single day with such a joyous, loving lady as Autumn! She is far and away the most affectionate pup I’ve had the fortune to have in my life and I’m told it is to my benefit that I cannot see the “look” with which she would otherwise put me at her bidding!
March 16 will denote four years of our being matched as a team, which includes not only the wonderful relationship as a great dog but also some pretty solid guide work.
Most dogs love the opportunity to step out for a walk and Autumn is no exception. What makes her and all of our Guide Dogs particularly exceptional, however, is that for them each walk is a true labor of love as well. All the wonderful distractions of the world are mitigated by her training to ensure she tends the responsibilities of keeping me safe.
Thus when a winter Nor’easter named after her predecessor, Quinn, has deposited more than a foot of snow on our roads, things get a little more interesting. As such, I thought this week I would take you on a short half mile audio/video walking tour of Autumn’s work with me. I hope you enjoy as much as I certainly enjoy having this wonderful girl in my life.
“If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” —Thomas Jefferson
“Nothing will work unless you do.” —Maya Angelou
I loved the feeling of running a healthy and happy Boston Marathon in 2015 and have had several excellent marathons, mountains, and moments. I’ve also had some setbacks recently including the November 10th dislocation of my right ankle which has me a little behind the ideal training for April 16th and my fourth consecutive Boston Marathon. I want the successful and enjoyable experience I know is out there and I am willing to work for it in all the right ways, but I need a little guidance to help ensure it happens.
Turn your wish into a plan if you want to turn it into reality. I’ve had quality run coaching from many sources such as the Gate City Striders and my personal friend and coach Greg Hallerman. While run training was required to be on hold by my doctor for full healing of the ankle, I turned to a highly recommended local physical trainer to help me strengthen my core without risking my ankle. Chris Brown of “Endurafit | Online & In Home Personal Training” worked to customize all the workouts to my goals, around my injury and with respectful consideration of my sight, balance, and neuropathy challenges. I put a fair bit of extra consideration and his work and my results have shone.
While I obviously highly recommend the work he provides, the primary point I’m raising is how valuable it is to find the right guide for the right occasion. This is true in all facets of our lives. It is true for my finding someone with an excellent understanding of exercise physiology and a high drive to customize appropriately for my goals.
Each weekly session begins with a review of any concerns, problems, or updates to my immediate past, present, or future plans. This has become especially important as I have returned to running and began to increase the intensity of my runs. In fact, even the simple process of my recovery icing strategy was tremendously improved by Chris’s knowledge. His ice-water bucket and revised stretching program made the most notable improvement to my recovery of any part of the healing process. It is the flexibility of planning interlaced with the deep understanding of physiology which I simply do not have at his level that I can see bringing me towards my goal.
As Maya Angelou suggests, there is plenty of work involved to make things happen. As Thomas Jefferson suggested, though, ensuring we are working in the right way to get our goals is important. If you are struggling to achieve a dream, consider not just how hard you are willing to work but whether you might find a little guidance to better target the goal.
Einstein suggests it is the very definition of insanity to keep doing the same thing and expect different results.I think it’s a deeper concern to not reach out with a different plan to achieve the results we really want, whether they are fitness related, personal, career or even purely social. It is so easy to want to depend upon ourselves and certainly there is plenty for us to do in any approach. I just choose to work smarter as well as harder on the path to success and fortunately I’ve found some great guides along the way!
“Running is 90% Mental and 10% physical” – runner’s adage
Certainly there is much more than 10% physical involved in the running of a marathon, but the point is to convey how much mental toughness is likely to be involved in both the preparatory training and actual marathon.
On the physical side there is work to avoid injury and to have a training plan that allows for best chance to prepare while avoiding injury. Unfortunately, this plan doesn’t account for the random accident which happened to me in my own home on Friday, November 10. A blind misstep resulted in a mild dislocation of my ankle and fall down a flight of stairs and put my December 3 Marathon into some question. I was fortunate to have emerged with as little injury as happened. Good medical attention working in partnership with the goal of attempting to compete in the National Marathon Championship has had me resting the ankle as much as possible and will highlight the mental toughness necessary to manage the reduction of training in the final three weeks as well as the lingering aspects of the injury during the actual race. It increases my appreciation for undertaking the race with Jose Acevedo, a good friend and an experienced guide who has done this journey with me before. The doctors are on board and suggest only I’ll likely need to give extra healing and rest time after the California International Marathon is complete.
Why push it for this race? Even my doctors agree that our opportunity to compete in this epic an event is limited enough we should choose to make some extra sacrifices in the attempt. This is a race which the United States Association of Blind Athletes uses as the National Marathon Championship. It is not only an excellent opportunity to compete at a higher level for me but a chance to interact with some incredibly inspirational people who also happen to share some parts of a similar journey with me in sight loss. I want to emphasize a part of that statement again as I feel it’s so valuable to credit these athletes appropriately. They are inspirational people and athletes first and foremost. They also happen to be blind/visually impaired. I encourage you to visit the website introducing the athletes and their accomplishments:
I have another excellent reason to be out in California running from Folsom Prison to Sacramento center!
My good friend Greg Neault will be running his very first marathon. I’ve been fortunate enough to share his training progress as well as be a part of his running world in some fashion as we launched on our adventures from hiking here in NH to becoming world travelers, Tough Mudder Legionnaires to team members on the 2020 Vision Quest mission. I strongly believe in finding the experiences in life which resonate for you and doing what it takes to make the wish a plan and then reality. I also believe in supporting your team in their approach to these things and I am eager to share and celebrate the experience with a good friend.
So while Thanksgiving may be behind us now, I’m thankful for the incredible friendships in my life all year long and eager to test all of our physical and mental toughness on the grand stage provided by the 2017 California International Marathon! Good luck Greg and Jose and thank you for being part of this incredible journey!
“The real purpose of running isn’t to win a race. It’s to test the limits of the human heart.”
—Bill Bowerman, track and field coach and co-founder of Nike, Inc.
The real measure of a heart is not in the athletic accomplishments it may power, but rather the lives impacted by its capacity for caring. As a blind runner, I am simply dependent upon guides to enable so much of the possibility in my experiences. I am truly and wonderfully blessed with an incredible number of most excellent character friends. Jose Acevedo has a heart with strength to rival any in compassion for our world and our friendship, and it is with tremendous pride I am sharing we’ll be undertaking yet another pair of adventures together.
In 2014 he guided me to a first place finish in the B1 National Marathon Championship and was overheard to share that it was his last marathon. He amended that statement in moments with a caveat that allowed for the possibility of running the Boston Marathon with me someday. We made that wish a plan in 2016 but unfortunately that was a year laden with neurological challenges for me. We did complete the Boston Marathon together in 2016 with a story worthy of sharing as often as possible: Jose & Randy’s 2016 Boston Marathon Saga.
Now we will combine them with back-to-back marathons reuniting us at the scene of both events for an epic reunion. December 3, 2017 will bring the California International Marathon and another chance to compete in the United States Association of Blind Athletes National Marathon Championship. Sacramento California holds great memories for us and we’ve both travelled a long way since then, including the rooftop of Africa on Kilimanjaro and more recently in the Peruvian Andes of South America. More aptly we’ve both learned a tremendous amount about long distance running and hope to improve on our experience.
We’ll strive to run well, finish strong, ring the Boston Qualifier bell, savor a celebratory beverage, particularly cheer for our good friend Greg Neault’s first marathon out there with us, and then immediately return the focus to training for the second part of our mission.
April 16, 2018 is Marathon Monday, Patriots Day, and for us the rematch to fully savor and deliver the performance our many thousands of miles in training have suggested we are likely to deserve. Bringing our marathon from California to Boston is a symbolic coast to coast as we aren’t running across the country (yet!). It will still be ambitious work to train steadily for two high-performance goals at the marathon distance and moreso as we are geographically separated with his home in Texas and mine in New Hampshire.
Since we are on symbolic messaging though, I love the unity suggested in the guided running foundation. For us it is a team sport and we do learn to work together despite our many differences. Connecting our marathons across country is a unifying notion I continue to hope becomes more than symbolic for our country moving forward. Divisiveness and finding difference is an easy task and easier still to choose aggressive stances even though the results are unproductive at best and destructive more commonly. We all can have so much in common when we put our focus on the unifying approaches and use those as a foundation to find the means to work around and with the differences. It is what Jose and I do during our runs when I assure you we will hit stressful times for each of us from the course, from our weariness and soreness; we keep our thoughts towards our common goal and the many reasons and ways to work together and I have absolutely no doubt that we will be stronger together for our approach and successful in both races. Of course I have the advantage of knowing that Jose brings a tremendous heart to the team as an athlete and as a person of quality. Thank you for being my guide and my friend; let’s put our training and teamwork to the test!
The arrival of August heralded the start of my training for the California International Marathon (CIM) for December 3. This is where the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) hosts the National Marathon Championship I was very proud to win in 2014 (B1 Division). As I ramped up my own training, it gave me pause to consider the overall fitness and endurance I’ve been fortunate to maintain through my various other health challenges. I believe my general health and approach to preserving this health has been a benefit to my mental and emotional well-being along the way.
The study cites research and knowledge from a physician at the Mayo clinic and I strongly encourage reading the full article. Two salient points I wanted to emphasize involve:
The notion of doing something active every day
Being engaged in something you find meaningful
Both of these are significant factors in living longer and healthier. Whatever fitness we have is the base from which we should appropriately engage in these two approaches whenever reasonable. I have not always been training for marathons or climbing mountains but I’ve usually been choosing to find something active and almost always engaged in something meaningful for me. In various ways, these are rooted into messages I share in my presentations as well. Life, like a marathon, is an endurance sport and with the right training plan we can cruise along and enjoy the experience better than if we face it without training or a plan. In both cases the real value and meaning is in enjoying the training and the entirety of the race, not just the moment of the finish line–no matter how epic it may seem.
“…by bringing myself over the edge and back, I discovered a passion to live my days fully, a conviction that will sustain me like sweet water on the periodically barren plain of our short lives.” (Jonathan Waterman)
I’ve climbed Mt Washington’s 6,288 feet many times through the years by way of the majestic and challenging hiking trails. The notion of a foot race up the auto road sounded daunting and when I mentioned my interest during a run with friends, Tom Cassetty asked if I had a guide and then immediately volunteered. His self professed and somewhat tongue in cheek motto: “That’s a terrible idea, when are we doing it?” certainly helped lead us both to this adventure. I celebrate goals as the means to drive my spirit to learn about myself and challenge myself to always be learning, growing and celebrating life. I knew from his prior run and the wisdom of others that it would be difficult. The weather forecast all week and the morning of our race foretold of thunderstorms and cloud cover, we were surprised to discover an entirely different experience. The weather was beautiful. I did not say it was ideal. It was humid almost to the 99% humidity level and the sun burned down upon us the entire time. It made the journey challenging for certain. I’m appreciative of my training and the many mountain climbing miles which helped my lungs and legs to celebrate the journey and share experiences in these glorious mountain ranges while we continued our steady plod up through the miles. Climbing 4650 feet of elevation over 7.6 miles is simply a lot of work for anyone and while we were not out to make great time I could not appreciate the work we were doing nor the work of so many around us any more. My spirits were soaring throughout the journey and I was well reminded why I love the attitude adjustment of my altitude adjustment and I think spirits around us all were higher for the beauty and majesty unfurled around us.
As we neared the final stretch and could hear the summit sounds we did stop to get a commemorative picture of Tom and I with our mountain back-drop. I then asked if he wanted to dig in deep for a strong finish run. I could hear the weariness in his voice but he found the mental and physical resolve to deliver and run we did! I could hear friends calling out support and encouragement. I felt the grade steepen even to the 22% final pitch where your legs must lift high and strong and pull your body up forcibly despite all the many steps before. Tom guided me through the gentle turn of that final stretch and over the finish to cheers. We, like many, had walked more than we might have intended before the race began. We had given what we had and dug a little deeper to finish in a way which for me capped the perfection of the day. I always strive to give my best and include in that accepting realistic limitations we all face along the journey. When you know you’ve done all you can and reached your goal with the flair and celebration to appreciate it fully it truly is the peak potential I find makes the moment resonate so much longer. I’ll remember the 7.6 miles of journey very well and they hold the most meaning for Tom and I. I’ll still treasure our strength as a team in that finish and the reception we shared. I can only hope that if a picture paints a thousand words you might get a bit more from the video Tracy took of our final push together!
One final bonus is that a journey or experience rarely ends at the summit. It’s a great vantage point to view all the many other possibilities ahead. Better still it’s a time to reflect, review and revise your many goals for yourself and your world. In my instance it included a wonderful grounding as a pair of special ladies awaited us at the top. Tracy took this and many other photos but both Autumn and Tracy are my guides and my true encouragement through all the challenges of life well beyond what a mountain road race may offer. Every summit is sweeter when you can celebrate with those you love. I’m blessed with an abundance of friends I love and a couple of particularly special ladies, thank you Autumn and Tracy!
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