It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves. –Edmund Hillary
Two opportunities are looming ahead: one for me and one for many of you! June 17 has the Mt. Washington Road Race as an iconic measure of my running ability against the majestic backdrop of an old friend. We launched our 2020 Vision Quest charity back in 2010 with a July 4 hike up New England’s “tall and stormy” summit despite a surprising six inches of snow the day prior. Now with the guide work of Tom Cassetty, I’m going to run up the auto road where 7.6 miles and 4,500 feet of elevation will have hearts pounding as often as we’ll allow. Tracy and Autumn will be at the summit with warm clothes, refreshments, and a surplus of celebration for our hopeful success. As Edmund Hillary said so eloquently, we will be measuring ourselves in terms of conditioning, preparation, determination and some fortunate ability as well.
We’ve used this date as the time to encourage many of those who would join us for our 8th Annual Peak Potential Dinner and Auction on November 18 to purchase a table before we raise our prices. During our Boston Marathon Table Sprint Challenge, we had a total of 18 tables claimed leaving an even dozen remaining. The cost for a table of 8 friends to join us for the evening is still only $600 ($75 per person). Shortly after I reach the summit of Washington we’ll be raising our table prices to $700.
We always want to provide the best value for our guests and still ensure the best event possible. I hope you’ll take this opportunity to join us and while we will continue to sell tickets singly, by couples, and as tables until a sell-out, this is the best value and helps us tremendously. I hope you’ll come share an evening for a powerful cause and help our mission continue to reach far more people than peaks!
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
My original goal was simply to share time together at the Gate City Relay and Marathon during which friends running the relay would also help guide me for the Marathon in my home town.
Things began to get interesting when the Gate City Striders, who host the event, chose to add a VI (Visually Impaired) Division on their journey towards ever more inclusion in this great community experience. It became more complicated still when challenges during my Boston Marathon allowed me to finish but not get my Boston qualifier for next year’s Marathon (which I truly hope to run every year if possible). This is only more complicated if we decided to elevate the original goal and take on those additional possibilities.
While I love striving for goals, I love far more the friends and opportunities to savor experiences with them. I shared all of this with them and was only surprised by the fervor of the response from each member who wanted to make this a team goal and strive together for it! This meant people had to challenge themselves and choose some sacrifices, which they did, and the result… all the magic that friends coming together provides, including an incredible catharsis of emotions throughout the day. I loved support from so many friends all over the course and from our extended relay teams and my incredible wife, who made much of this happen in particularly special fashion once again. This blog just gives a little extra sharing of the experience with my guides.
Erin was up first in the chilly 7:00 sleepiness. There was enough race excitement to wake us and set us on the course for success. She had never guided me in an actual race, yet had to manage the crowds at their thickets and did so without complaint. I already knew she was great at staying within her running needs and my role was to not overtax her in need to talk beyond the guide needs, nor to ask more of her than the pace she had for me to warm up the race. My real goal was to get warmed up and ensure she knew how much I appreciated the work and pushing she’d done to be ready, but for me that pushing was never more clear than the final stretch when I could hear how hard she was working and yet she wasn’t backing off her pace. I could tell she had nothing to give and no words left to speak but I could also tell she nailed it, which was confirmed when I later saw her first Facebook post proudly sharing what we both knew she’d achieved.
Erin shared the following with me regarding her experience:
“Going into it, I didn’t even consider not finishing as an option. I’d only ever run 5.5 miles once before, and it was with music and without guiding. But while guiding Randy, I honestly didn’t notice the lack of music. He greeted fellow runners, cheered on everyone, and kept my mind off the work of running. It was far from easy, but I loved the experience and I am really proud of the effort and results.”
Greg had the second loop and he was my first pace jump–and it was quite a jump, as he was full of enthusiasm and adrenaline. His training had shown a slight penchant for starting a little hot and I think he didn’t disappoint though nobody captured our splits to know for sure. We ran strong and well, passing many runners, but at a price. Greg, who has been battling sickness for a week or so, hit a wall. But though it slowed us a little, he wouldn’t let it stop him. The determination and perseverance was impressive as highlighted when he warned me he might get sick with a mile left to run. He did manage to pass me to the next guide before his prediction came true but to run himself that hard and through that struggle was both hard and touching. His own quote from the day’s experience:
“So often people tell me that the things I do with 2020 Vision Quest are “once in a lifetime” type experiences. Since I joined this family I’ve been averaging one or two “once in a lifetime” activities a year. Either people need to start increasing their lifetime standards or we are just plain killing it. I’ll let you decide.”
Jenn was the third loop and had a repeat of Erin’s loop so I had some knowledge for her. This was her first return to running after the birth of her and Greg’s incredibly charming daughter Stella who joined us (team shirt!) as support staff for the day. Jenn had not only been sick but had been hospitalized the prior week but was mostly recovered. That showed as she crushed her expected pace and did her most solid guide work in our limited time. I can’t ever forget that her first experience was being handed the guide stick mid-race two years back, mind you, but this time it was with a plan and I could not be more proud and appreciative of how that plan, like our path to friendship, turned into something solid and successful! Her own words on the day’s experience.
“I went into this race with some concern that my pace would need to be much slower than I’m used to in order to guide Randy through the course. Thankfully guiding always makes me run stronger since my focus is off myself and my running. Even though I was only running a fifth of the distance Randy was, he, like always, provided much appreciated encouragement and support. This was certainly not the fastest race I’ve run, but I was proud to come close to the goal I set for myself. The best part of the race was being part of a team that was there cheering everyone on, no matter how fast or slow.”
Loop 4 was my biggest fear going into this race. Frankly it’s the 18-mile point where I struggle most in a Marathon and this time it would include running a significant section on trails in the beautiful Mine Falls Park. It was the longest loop at 5.6 miles and Rob Webber was charged with keeping me at or under a 9:00 minute pace if at all possible. Rob is my longest term friend in this crew (note I did not say oldest!) He’s a strong runner, experienced and excellent guide and we had run the loop in the past to practice. A couple surprise friends (thanks Greg and Heather) joined us for a stretch run but it was Rob who kept me on target, encouraged, motivated and on pace. I arrived at the centrally rally point with perfect guiding except for one humorous point as he chose to share in his recollection of the day after I asked what had collided with my chest like a forearm shiver:
“Whoa, what was that?! Well, that was a really tight spot and there was a guy with his arm across the entire opening, trying to high five everyone. I tried to wave him off and thought I got him but based on your response…”
Yeah Rob… he got me!
Robbie had the final loop and I was coming in sore and tired with 4.3 miles remaining and shifting down a little from the previous pace pushing loop. I had hoped to help give her support as this was only her second official race ever, yet as we began I realized I had some adjusting and recovery to manage. I told her I needed her to be strong for me and whether she knows it or not I experienced the shift in her approach as she took care of me until I could get my legs back for the finish. Best of all she did it with the understanding and kind encouragement that is the hallmark of our friendship. It’s why I was especially proud when she shared her note on the experience with me:
“My favorite moment from today, besides the stories and fun after the race, was the finish line. I could see it coming and knew that I had to bring you in strong. You’d given me the opportunity to rest and I just wanted to push all the more in order to finish, looking and feeling the best we could. As your fans started chanting, “Randy, Randy, Randy,” you joined in loud and proud with “Robbie, Robbie” and I could feel the adrenaline surge through me like a lightening bolt. Our team is the best part of the race we did today. Each of us was supportive and proud of the others’ accomplishments. You were amazing and each member that stood together was an inspiration for the next. May we always feel that strength and love supporting us throughout our lives. Thanks to you and the team for an amazing day!”
We crossed the finish line together, we celebrated together, we supported our other relay team’s finish and our final Marathoner together (great work, Sarah Toney) before the final dinner. We were tired, proud, and full of smiles. It wasn’t reaching our goals successfully, though that certainly helped; it wasn’t even the choice to reach for those goals; it was the choice to be the people who support each other, believe in each other, encourage each other, and in the process make life something brighter and better. This was one shining day on the streets of Nashua’s showcase running event but it’s a way of life which will help us appreciate each other and this world so much more!
If you are already fully versed on the Peak Potential Table Sprint Challenge and just want to join the team – Get Started Here!
Running the Boston Marathon is both a challenge and an experience I savor personally. The most meaningful and valuable work in my life is what I pursue through the strides of the 2020 Vision Quest charity. This year I’m combining these experiences somewhat by inviting you to be part of them both.
As Boston is the signature marathon in the world, our Peak Potential Dinner and Auction is the signature event whereby our charity is able to continue the successful work each year.
While the event itself is on November 18, 2017, we begin our ticket sales on April 10 with a goal of selling 26 tables prior to my traversing the 26 miles to the finish of the race. This would effectively ensure a sell-out of our event and as you might guess will be motivating me mile by mile.
I honestly thought the goal was as difficult as all the training in New England winter, and yet the early responses from many friends suggest we may indeed have a chance to reach this incredible goal. To help encourage our success we are offering a table of 8 at our lowest discounted rate of $500 from the start of ticket sales until I cross the finish line. We’ll accept your commitment, registration, and promise of a check or online payments as well as welcome any motivational message or image you may wish to send along with your table reservation.
You see, we’ll be announcing mile by mile one table reservation at a time on our website blog and social media to appreciate and celebrate our community and to help motivate me as I’m working my way along the historic 26.2 mile route from Hopkinton to Boston.
So just to review: you’ll be signing up to enjoy a tremendous evening on November 18 at the Courtyard by Marriott in Nashua, NH. You will be helping to support the worthy mission of 2020 Vision Quest and our highly acclaimed educational programs to schools throughout New England. Finally you’ll be motivating me and inspiring me as I’m striving to run the 120th Boston Marathon on April 17, Patriots Day of course!
Today, I’m proud to officially announce the team of which I’m a part in this journey to my third Boston Marathon Finish. The tricky part is there are so many teams coming together to make this all possible, so I’ll start with my guides.
As a totally blind runner my Marathon more than most involves teamwork. Foremost on that team are the guides who will accompany me on the day of the Marathon. Two friends who have become running guides as well over the last year were my choice for whom I wanted to share the miles from Hopkinton to Boston. Happily for me they both felt similarly about the challenge and choice to guide me for those historic miles.
Rebecca Dorr will join me in Wave 4 Corral 2 at roughly 11:15 a.m. for the start of the journey. Roughly half way through she’ll hand off the responsibility to Tom Cassetty, who gets the pleasure of the infamous Newton hills and the reward of the famous finish.
Along the way we’ll have the company of another runner, Jennifer Hagstrom, who qualified on her own but will run with us to lend support and savor the experience with us. A remarkable aspect of the choice of these guides is the sacrifice they choose to put extra focus on the terrain and necessary interactions to guide me, in addition to their own running needs and appreciation of the epic event around us. I would not be able to run as I do without such kind and capable friends who have well earned far more than my trust.
Thank you to all those who ever guide me and particularly those through the difficult winter training for Boston (Rick, Matt, Agnes, Carolina, Mark, Rob, Anthony, Rodney, Tom, Rebecca).
Thank you, Bank of New Hampshire!
The 2020 Vision Quest Team is often behind me providing support and encouragement. This year the Peak Potential team has joined forces with our Table Sprint Challenge which will officially start on Monday, April 10. We’ve made a partnership once again with the Bank of NH and I’m proud to wear their shirt for the Marathon this year. Their continued dedication to community and our mission within the community demonstrates to me the care which underlies their approach to all of their work. They are once again the Event Sponsor for our signature event on November 18.
I’m also excited to announce we have just finished an incredible motivational poster for students and school as part of our dedication to building better foundations through education together!
I’m banking on success well beyond the Boston Marathon thanks to the partnership with Bank of NH. We hope many of you will be part of our team and join in on the Table Sprint Challenge starting next Monday, right here on our 2020 Vision Quest blog.
One final partner at the core of the Boston Marathon for me and for many like me is “Team with a Vision.” The Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired founded Team with a Vision to bring together Blind/VI athletes from all over the world. They form a team of runners, guides, and support which help demonstrate ability awareness while using inclusiveness and collaboration to achieve incredible results for many communities. The Boston Marathon’s dedication to inclusiveness helps support many charitable efforts through bib access for donations.
As a qualified runner, I’m fortunate Team with a Vision chooses to continue including me and several others in their overall mission so that we help to share their great work as part of their team as well. We’ll begin our day surrounded by Team with a Vision in Hopkinton and end the day sharing their vision still of a world which celebrates the accomplishments of every person on that course, not for any disability they may possess, but rather for all the ability they demonstrate through hard work, problem solving, and perseverance–but most of all, for learning to come together and work as a team because people learning to work together ultimately leads to the best victories of all!
With snowstorms hammering New England in the last week, our readers may have been a little distracted and missed last week’s important message. We wanted to re-share it this week with a plea to help us spread the news far and wide.
I am attempting to give you all a little notice as I ask you to consider helping me reach for a daunting goal.
On Monday, April 10, I’ll release a blog with some exciting news about the event sponsor for our signature event, Peak Potential Dinner & Auction held every November. In celebration of that announcement and my week of preparation leading up to the Boston Marathon on April 17 (Patriots Day of course!), we will be kicking off the ticket sales for our November 18 event on that day as well.
It is the earliest we’ve begun sales for our event and the timing is key to my stretch goal. While we sell tickets individually, in pairs, and by tables of 8, the most common purchase and best value is the table sale.
What is my goal? To sell 1 table for each mile of the historic 26.2-mile course of the Boston Marathon which I’ll be running during that week… Read more.
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
My friendships, like my running and my blindness, are a journey of small steps with ever increasing promise when I learn to take those steps with a little guidance. Admittedly the running career involves rather a lot of guidance and fortunately for me there’s been an abundance of kind opportunity.
Recently I sat down with Jennifer Jordan, Race Director for the Gate City Marathon, and Tom Cassetty, President of the Gate City Striders. Each of them has guided me for a run in the past. They each have become personal friends of mine and they were sharing some exciting and well timed news.
I had already decided to run the Gate City Marathon on Sunday morning May 21. I had already assembled a team of friends from the 2020 Vision Quest crew to run the relay for themselves while each guided me during their roughly five-mile loop. I had already determined the relay options created such a fun and festive celebration atmosphere in downtown Nashua that I hoped we’d encourage our community of friends to create other teams or just come join us for the block party atmosphere. This is all still true and I absolutely urge all of you to create any combination of teams for the relay, half or full marathon or simply come down and help us celebrate an epic event and experience. If I can help encourage that, please let me know because I’d love to support this event by having you join us in some capacity!
Randy: Jumping first to the big news, why have you decided to open a VI (Visually Impaired) Division?
Jennifer: Our race and our club has a mission of inclusion. We want runners of all abilities to feel included and participate. Randy Pierce is a very important club member and friend so what better way to celebrate that friendship than to add this division to our race!
Note from Randy: One of the things I appreciate about my club is the approach that every member is a valuable and important club member as evidenced by this response.
Randy: This is the third year of the Gate City Marathon. What was the inspiration for its origin?
Jennifer: This started as a replacement for the long-standing AppleFest Half Marathon, formerly the club’s signature event. This race was losing popularity and registrations so the club decided it needed a new signature event. A group of members, led by the club president, Tom Cassetty, discussed some options. Tom wanted a marathon course in a clover-leaf formation that would cross over Main St in Nashua as its center-point, allowing for the relay option in addition to the marathon distance.
Randy: My own experience downtown for your first event and the reports I’ve heard from others suggest you really captured that goal well. The downtown central location showcases Nashua’s downtown in a festive and fun block party atmosphere which I appreciated as a spectator and look forward to as a runner. My wife Tracy and her relay team certainly appreciated the central gathering point for excitement. Many people celebrate it as the best relay marathon because of the central loops from downtown Nashua. What do you think are the best features of your event?
Jennifer: We agree that one of the best features is the loop or clover-leaf formation. This allows a marathon runner to be re-charged after every 5-ish miles, making it a great spectator marathon. Additionally, it allows for runners who may not be ready for the 26.2 distance to also participate by putting a team of friends together. It’s also a celebration of downtown Nashua! In addition to these items, we have a unique high quality swag bag full of goodies from our sponsors, a great tech race shirt, custom finisher medals and a great after-party! We are also very excited to report that our half marathon has been selected as an event in the NH Grand Prix series and will be a certified half marathon distance. Of note, our Marathon is a USATF certified Boston Marathon Qualifier as well.
Randy: While I’ve a little bit of a bias as a proud member of your run club, I thought you might share with our community a little bit about who are these “Gate City Striders” who are putting on this event?
Jennifer: Who are the Gate City Striders?
We are the largest and longest established, non-profit running club in NH, with over 700 members that includes individuals and families. With a strong focus on running, competitively and recreationally, we also focus heavily on community outreach. We provide a free summer youth fitness program: Fitness University; and several events to benefit local charity organizations: NovemberFest race benefits the Nashua Children’s Home, Harvard Pilgrim 5k benefits the Nashua PAL XC program, we partner with and provide financial help to the Nashua YMCA, High Hopes of NH, Nashua Police Athletic League and many others.
Randy: How did you come to be the Race Director?
Jennifer: In short, I volunteered. A group of us was working on the concept for the race/event and I (with some trepidation) decided I really wanted to do it. I thought my professional experience as a Program Manager would really help me manage this large project. I think I have developed the skills to be able to lead a team and we had and have an exceptional team of folks on the committee. Like most things, a task such as this cannot be done well without a strong, knowledgeable team!
Randy: I might add caring and passionate team to that description and you certainly have all those qualifications. I was already enthusiastic about the race before we sat down to talk and now I’m even more thrilled and hopeful to help bring even more people to join us. The event is on May 21st at 7:00 am. How can people sign up or get information?
Randy: I feel like we’ve covered a lot of ground, though not quite a marathon. Is there anything else you would like to share with our community.
Jennifer: It should be noted that the Gate City Striders and the committee and volunteers who manage and support the Gate City Marathon, Half Marathon, and Relay are made up 100% of volunteers. An event this size requires hundreds of volunteers to make is a fun and safe event for all. Each year we are challenged to provide enough volunteer support. This year will be not different so we can always use more volunteers! But it cannot go without saying how much we appreciate the volunteers we do get and how much we appreciate how supportive the City of Nashua, the residents and businesses and houses of worship have been over these years. We hope to continue to build on those relationships!
On October 16 Rob Webber will run his very first marathon… while also choosing to guide me for that Bay State Marathon. While perhaps a surprising choice to some, it is not for me as Rob has spent many moments over the last 31 years providing me with many styles of valuable guidance. Our friendship began at the University of New Hampshire in the spring of 1985 and his friendship has been one of the greatest strengths in my life.
I could doubtless embarrass him with many tales of why his calm, steadfast, intelligent, caring, practical, and wise approach to the world has been so essential to my managing many challenges in my life. I could regale us all with humorous anecdotes of our mischievous and mirthful adventures and for those who share a fireside pint we may indeed do that a time or two ahead. I also happen to know there are plenty of recent photographic and video demonstrations of the amazing world adventures we’ve shared, and yet those who know Rob already are aware of these things and fortunately I’m fairly certain I’ve already made Rob well aware of how much I treasure our friendship. Why, then, this post?
I believe it is always appropriate to ensure the people we value in our lives are aware of how much they mean to us. I rarely have enough to give back to the many people like Rob who make so many choices to help me and this is just one moment to do such a thing. So absolutely thank you, Rob, for the friendship most of all, the moments of support at times when life was overwhelming, the moments of laughter when life needed celebrating, and in a simpler but well appreciated fashion, for the many miles ahead on the course of the Bay State Marathon.
There are so many people who have guided me in races and each may have their own reasons for the choice. I’ve had so many guides it would fill the pages to list them and someday that’s exactly what I should do. For now, it is just an appreciation for those who take the time to step out of their own running goals, put focus on the notion they can add more challenges to their experience, and allow another person the opportunity to take part as we might not otherwise manage. Yes, I do believe there are rewards to the guide and yet that choice is still a remarkable decision which creates a tremendous opportunity and experience. I’ve run a few marathons now and spending hours of hours running with probably close to 50 different guides. In each situation, I would not have had the chance if they did not make that choice.
So to Rob and all my other guides as well as all those who guide other blind/visually impaired runners, I wish I had much more than a “thank you” to clearly offer you. The closest I may come to expressing that appreciation at present is in sharing how I feel when I am running. Whether in training or a race, whether exhausted or invigorated, whether hot or frozen, snow-encrusted, rain-drenched or sun-baked; each time I’m on a run, I recall the gift it is to feel my legs move, my lungs respond, and the freedom which is being gifted me. I’ve never yet failed to give a moment of reflection to my first run guide Quinn. Those who guide me honor his legacy and for me that is the highest honor I can bestow upon any guide. Whether the full meaning of that is something you understand, I assure it is of deep value and meaning to me.
So again, thank you to Quinn, Rob and all of my guides.
Two very different and yet very similar teams are coming together on Friday, September 17th to undertake something dramatic, certain to challenge each of them beyond their expectations. Each have chosen the “Ultra Version” of Ragnar/Reach the Beach. One of those teams is comprised entirely of runners who are either blind or visually impaired and thus our six member team needs to borrow drivers and run-guides from the other team. This is where my friend Pete Houde’s Coastal Athletic Association Team made their impactful choice. This collaboration between 2020 Vision Quest, Massachusettes Association for the Blind and the Coastal Athletic Association brought the power of partnerships to new heights yet again as this press release highlights!
As mentioned, each team has just six members who will each run six legs of the 200 mile relay in roughly 29 hours. We’ll traverse the hilly terrain from deep in the White Mountains to the sandy shores of Hampton beach, getting food and rest as we can from time in our shared vans. This puts even more pressure upon our guides since two of their team is running and two are driving at all times! Somehow they have to get enough sleep/rest to be sharp eough to run their own miles while providing enough sight support for our running the tricky terrain successfully. There is plenty of challenge to be shared, plenty of human spirit to celebrate and hopefully an increadible accomplishment ahead as we reach for something far more significant than just the beach quest of which I’ve often joked. We reach to see how much can be accomplished by working together, believing in and supporting each other in this one of a kind epic endurance experience. While you can’t join our team of 12 directly, perhaps you’ll choose to be a part of the larger team as we are always striving to reach for and achieve our peak potential together!
I ask myself “what’s next?” often in part because despite my lack of sight, I do like to spend more time looking forward than back. I try not to get caught in a trap of devising grandiose depths of challenge to compare to prior challenges. Rather, I think about what inspires me for the present moment of my life. Let’s face it, Kilimanjaro was quite the experience last September and from Tough Mudder to TEDx talk I have plenty of experiences to savor already.
The year has been somewhat laden with medical challenges which we are still exploring and attempting to properly address. I’m excited to have achieved the freedom to return to so many of my training activities in very reasonable condition for them. So as August 2016 arrives, I’ve put three endurance goals into my autumn sights. Training has begun for all three and that’s quest enough for the short-term accompaniment to the work of 2020 Vision Quest, Lions, and life.
First up is a collaboration I hope to announce in more detail next week, but we’ve assembled an all visually impaired team to undertake an ultimate running relay called “Ragnar” or “Reach the Beach” in which with the help of our guide team, we will run from Cannon Mountain to Hampton Beach as a massive relay effort. I’ll be logging nearly 40 miles for my part in that. Pete Houde is my guide and inspiration for the undertaking.
A second quest reunites me with Brent Bell as we return for another century “tandem” bicycle ride, although rumors abound about whether we may turn the NH Seacoast Century ride into a triplet and celebrate in style.
My final quest takes me into October and allows me the opportunity to complete the Bay State Marathon which I departed at roughly mile 23 just two years ago. I hope to use this to earn my Boston Marathon qualifier as well. With better health ahead, I hope to continue my Boston Marathon streak in the future with the more solid ability I had my my first year instead of the determination and perseverance (but more health-related obstacles) highlighted by Jose and my efforts last April.
Training has already been silently underway. August training will ramp up and September and October will become interesting opportunities to return to some of the adventures which are so often a part of this 2020 Vision Quest. I hope you’ll be a partner in some way in our adventures ahead!
As we close out the 2016 Boston Marathon experience, a couple of particularly well received social media posts by Jose and Randy were very well received. We thought it appropriate to share these reflections fully with this week’s blog. We’ll begin with Randy’s “morning after” reflections and wrap up with Jose’s stirring account of the entire experience. Thank you to all those who support us in so many ways including this year’s Marathon which was an entirely different and exceedingly difficult excursion. There is so much to take away and well worth our capturing here.
From Randy Pierce:
The morning after – no regrets, proud, weary, appreciative and sharing some candid perspectives. I did not run the Boston Marathon yesterday, I ran it last year with a 3:50:37 time. Yesterday I did something considerably harder in large part to the matched support, determination, care and communication with my most excellent friend and guide, Jose Acevedo. We crossed the finish which I truly didn’t expect was likely and we did it needing somewhere around 6 hours and 18 minutes. The medical challenges of the last two months have changed my overall health significantly and they caused me to do absolutely no training for he final five weeks before the Marathon. With my body thus very much unprepared and with the additional challenges, why in the world would I still choose to run? I had three full episodes of passing out along the route though we knew that was a possibility and had a plan for how to handle each of them. The Doctors were on board as I wrote in the blog last week and we knew it would be very unlikely to cause me additional long term detriment. What is necessary though is this needs to be my last “endurance” event until we can either resolve some of the medical realities or creatively find appropriate ways to manage them. Just as in my nearly two years in the wheelchair, just as in the early days of my total blindness; there is a need to address the situation as best possible. Yesterday was brutal, maybe moreso than any other challenge given all the factors but it was a prize with tremendous meaning for me and seemingly for many who expressed such kindness and support. I’m not going away anytime soon nor will I cease to work towards many meaningful and worthy goals personally, with 2020Vision Quest, NHAB, Lions and well beyond. I will ensure I do so with the forward thinking approach necessary for the serious nature of all aspects of my present life. thank you for more support than I could ever imagine possible – especially to Jose and Tracy who were both essential in this even being a potential never mind the reality which we made it by working together.
From Jose Acevedo:
Closing thoughts on the 2016 Boston Marathon…
Like many, I didn’t realize what I had signed up for. This isn’t about the physical challenge though – it’s about choosing how I want to live.
As most of you know, I guided my friend Randy Pierce in this marathon. I don’t line up to do these things for no reason. Randy and I first discussed this possibility shortly after we ran him to the 2014 national championship for fully blind athletes in December of 2014. At the time I said, “Man, I will *never* run another marathon … … … unless you want me to guide you in Boston. That would be worth the grueling training and a really really really hard day.”
We revisited that topic in September of 2015 while preparing to travel to Tanzania and then solidified our intent on the slopes of Africa’s tallest mountain, Kilimanjaro. As a tribute to our friendship and a sign of his gratitude for all I had done to support him and his goals, Randy asked me to guide him in Boston 2016.
Randy is better than me at running long distances. I will take him in short sprints all day, especially if I don’t tell him what direction to run, but his gazelle strides easily eat up the long stuff while I struggle mightily to train for something as epic as a marathon. For Randy to set aside the possibility of a much faster time to let me guide him was a sacrifice that I appreciated deeply. He would say that our relationship and the benefits of doing this together outweigh any sort of time-based goals, but I can’t let this notion slide by without being thankful. Together with our coach, Greg, taking into account our previous times and fitness levels at the beginning of training 16 weeks ago, we agreed that breaking 4 hours would be our target finish time. This would be harder for me than Randy if history were any indicator, but I was ready to put in the work to make this happen.
Fast forward 10 weeks, to 6 weeks ago. Within the span of a week or so, I started having calf issues that impacted my ability to train as hard or as much as I wanted, and Randy began to run into serious health issues that impacted his daily life, let alone his training. We had been in contact for the first 10 weeks at least once a week on the phone, but most of our chats were via Facebook where I would post my runs, trying to make sure he and Greg saw me putting in the effort and could coach me to success. From the point of my injury and the beginning of his most recent health battles, Randy and I began to speak on the phone almost daily.
Sometimes we would talk about my calf and what I could or should do to try some other approach towards wellness and marathon level fitness. Other times we would talk about his latest symptoms or hospital visit, discussing impacts on his routine and the lives of those around him, while exploring strategies for dealing with his potential ‘new normal’ to come. One of the challenges to a progressive condition like his is that whatever it takes physically, it never gives back. Whatever independence, strength, and quality of life eventually return to Randy’s life after new symptoms arise are only ever as a result of determination, hard work, problem solving, and at the root of all things, choices. The daily choices to continue engaging, living, loving, and pushing forward. This is one of the many reasons I love Randy. He makes admirable choices pretty darned consistently and like any of the greats, he makes those around him better. He makes me better.
As these last 6 weeks wore on, I eventually learned how to manage my calf issues and finally achieved a state of relative readiness. I wasn’t as far along as I wanted to be, but the 4 hour mark we set was still within sight. My chances weren’t super solid of hitting it, but I could do it with a little luck and a lot of help. Meanwhile, until he and I hit the road this past Saturday for a 2 mile shakeout, Randy hadn’t run in 5-6 weeks. He had a great foundation before then but to put it bluntly, he was falling very much out of marathon shape. His fitness level didn’t matter in Dallas where I was training since my job as a guide and friend was to be ready for any possibility. I did have to accept the very real possibility however, that we wouldn’t ever get to the starting line.
Believe me when I say that made it extra difficult to push through injuries and a recently *insane* work schedule to get my training back on track. There were many evenings that I would be driving home from the office at 10:30 at night, dreading a required 7 mile run in the windy dark, but I had to go all-in or stand no chance of meeting my commitments to our team. As the weeks progressed, we stayed in very close contact and our planning became day to day. Each day there was a chance this particular dream would be over before it started, or we could get through another 24 hours hoping and preparing in our separate ways – just to do it all over again the next day. I was limping, resting, and finally running again, while Randy was just trying to get and/or stay out of the hospital. This wasn’t an easy time for either of us but as it always has, adversity provided an opportunity for us to grow together even closer and we chose that route.
Last Thursday, I finally got on a plane to Boston and met him in Nashua, NH. The days that followed, like every day for the past month and a half, were a mixture of ups and downs. Where betting odds on us starting the marathon had shifted daily for a while, it was nearly by the hour these past few days. A good morning would be followed by a rough patch in the afternoon, and then get slightly better in the evening. Our commitment to our new plan was unwavering and absolute, as long as health risks stayed in check, represented by the following goals:
Start the marathon.
Savor every moment possible.
Finish the marathon.
Goals 1 and 2 were critical, 3 was nice if we could get it but frankly, far less likely. When all was said and done, we were able to put ourselves into a position Sunday evening that meant we were waking up at 5am on Monday and boarding the bus to Hopkinton.While we were both tired for a variety of reasons, confidence was high on Monday morning. We both felt as good as we had in weeks and hey, we were there. Goal #1 was practically a guarantee at this point. We even flirted with a 4th goal. Maybe, just maybe, we would be able to finish in less than 5 hours and qualify Randy for Boston 2017. We strategized as much for that as for the possibility that Randy would suffer episodes of unconsciousness along the course. What would our communication look like in the moments before unconsciousness? How would I get him to a safe place and help him coordinate a quick but controlled transition to a lying position? What exactly would I tell emergency responders who would no doubt want to pull us from the course? I don’t think we left a single stone unturned and while there is comfort in planning, it’s also freaking exhausting. Luckily, we wouldn’t have anything else on our minds during, you know, a marathon.
As the run began, our confidence only grew. We were in the last corral of wave 3 (of 4) and decided to start at the very back of the corral, therefore the wave. We were going out intentionally slow and thought it would do us some good to avoid the early crunch of bodies by effectively placing ourselves in between the final two waves. This worked like a charm and we had a ton of space for the opening third of the course. Let me make this clear if you’ve never participated in a road race before – this is unheard of, especially for a race like Boston. The weather was a little on the warm side but otherwise perfect and we both began to consider the best potential outcomes. Not necessarily under 4 hours, but certainly well under 5 hours.
The wheels didn’t come off at 7.9 miles, but they definitely began to wobble. Despite our measured start, Randy’s weeks of missed training caught up with us and though we had planned to begin walking one minute of every five at the 13 mile mark (above and beyond walking through all our water and nutrition walks), he needed a walk just to rest … 5 miles early. This came on fairly quickly, as a result of numerous unwelcome setbacks in his condition. What began as numbness in his extremities a few miles earlier progressed up his neck and to the top of his head, ultimately kicking off a headache that would be a main point of trouble for much of the day. This earlier-than-planned walking meant a longer day than recently anticipated, but everything was still imminently doable. We did the math and confirmed we still felt good about finishing under 5 hours, while I began to track us by the minute. Unfortunately, the need for walks began to rise, as did Randy’s headache level, further raising my concerns that things were going to get tougher before they got easier. While we managed to enjoy the world famous Scream Tunnel of Wellesley College at mile 13, I would be lying by omission if I didn’t admit I was growing deeply worried about our ability to even finish at the rate our problems were mounting.
It was shortly after Wellesley, around 14.1 miles into the race, that Randy first lost consciousness. Over the past 6 weeks, we had accepted this potential reality and planned for it. While Randy was feeling more confident it would not happen based on a week and a half on a new and seemingly helpful prescription, I had approached the day as if this was guaranteed to occur. Call me a pessimist, but as the only member of our team who would be conscious during a potential episode, I thought it prudent to be as ready as possible. Having said that and even though I had watched his symptoms steadily increase over the miles, it still came as somewhat of a shock when Randy communicated he was likely to faint.
As I sit here typing on the plane ride home with tears welling in my eyes, I realize that nothing can fully prepare you for the moment you see a close friend and personal hero about to go down on your watch. I’ve seen Randy stumble and fall before. I’ve even had him faint once, very quickly, on the infamous trek down Kilimanjaro. For whatever reason, none of those moments were quite as scary as this one – perhaps because we were never alone so I wasn’t 100% responsible for all that came next. Fortunately for everyone involved, for that same reason, I had zero time to panic. Not only was I the only person immediately available to help keep Randy safe in that moment, but I also had to do so in such a confident and assuring way that it remained our choice as to whether we would exit the race or continue onwards towards Boylston Street and the finish line. I considered the chances fairly high that medical professionals or other race officials would make that decision for us given the chance. So in summary, I had to keep my shit together. I’m clearly not done processing this whole experience, but writing it out is helping.
We were in the middle of a water station on the right side of the road with a mob of runners back, left, and front, and tables stacked with water on the right. Of all the places to go down this seemed to offer the least options, as we appeared to have no direct access off the course and runners would be darting in and out of traffic to grab water and re-enter the migrating herd. Luckily, there was a spot about 4 feet wide in-between two water tables just ahead and with a semi-conscious Randy wrapped in my arms, thank goodness still with the use of his legs, we staggered into this small sanctuary and I quickly helped him lay down. From him saying, “I’m going to faint,” to him being down on a bed of discarded water cups on the ground was probably about 10 seconds – all the time we thought we might get in this scenario – and we had withstood our first crisis of the day.
As you may expect, the incredibly helpful water volunteers nearby were a bit concerned. Single-minded of purpose in their role as Hydration Engineers (a thankless task that I sincerely appreciate), I got a lot of offers for water at that moment. I promptly answered that we were all set and calmly informed them that our challenge was courtesy of a known medical condition that would clear up on its own. When asked repeatedly if we needed help from emergency personnel, after confirming Randy was breathing regularly and all symptoms were ‘normal’ as compared to prior episodes in the last 6 weeks, I assured them we just needed a little time and we would be on our merry way. I couldn’t be certain this was the case until Randy came to, but I knew the chance of us being allowed to choose to continue would get a lot tougher if I didn’t make this all seem very normal and that was our agreed upon plan. Luckily, though I had never witness one of these episodes before, Randy and I had prepared well so I knew all the details and was able to describe to those who asked exactly how long we would take to rest on the ground and then standing, before continuing on. This level of detail and my brimming confidence assuaged their fears and they went about their business of hydrating runners, though I was temporarily trapped under Randy.
As I had guided him down to the ground, I had cradled the back of his head and my hand was still down there, while I sat immediately beside him. A couple of seconds after laying down, with his feet flat on the ground and his knees up, when Randy had actually gone unconscious, his long legs had rolled over on top of me. So there I was, working hard not to freak out, brimming with feigned confidence, communicating our hoped-for exit strategy, trapped under my passed-out friend. Perfect; just like you draw it up. We had just run most of a half marathon in warm conditions so yeah, I started to cramp up pretty quickly. Luckily, Randy was only out for about 25-30 seconds and shortly thereafter, ‘with it’ enough for me to negotiate my way out and onto my feet for some stretching while we began his recovery countdown.
Doctor’s orders for the run, and they were fully supportive of this endeavor to be absolutely clear, were that he stay down for a full 4 minutes and then stand still for 1, before easing his way back into walking. We couldn’t rush him back into action. I used this time to stretch out my cramps and talk through the episode with Randy, so we could strategize on next steps. To say he was frustrated and upset is an understatement. I cannot begin to describe what it must be like for him at this transition phase in his life, losing independence and control as the vast unknowns of his condition reassert themselves over current in-flight strategies. I’ll let him speak to that in his own time and space. What I will share with his permission is that the impacts are profound and emotional, and we would fight through them together for the next 4 hours or so.
Which I suppose is really what this whole story is about. All the words above are simply a backdrop and introduction – necessary context to the story I’m not yet ready to type out in detail. It’s the story of my friendship with Randy, and how much he and our relationship mean to me. Over the course of the next 45,000 or so steps, Randy and I went through a lot together, walking most of the second half of the marathon. We talked about the work and how we felt, and adjusted plans by the mile. We negotiated different approaches to needs and obstacles along the way, with varying degrees of clarity, frustration, emotion, and success. We grew a little impatient with each other over the difference between guilt and gratitude, leading to a pretty cool point of learning for both of us that I know Randy will be expounding on soon. Randy went down two more times – once around 19 miles and again around 22.5, and we both got better at handling it. The officers and emergency personnel along the route were amazingly accommodating and helpful in every instance. Randy’s physical pain fluctuated but certainly grew more than shrank as his untrained muscles responded to the shock of the day. The key, as with every adventure we’ve taken on over the course of more than 20 years of friendship, is that we did it selflessly and for each other. Both of us, in our own ways and to our own ability in the moment, did our best to give more than take. Despite our vastly different physical condition yesterday, we both tried our damnedest to put the other first. For this I am so very grateful.
We would eventually see the Citgo sign and John Hancock tower in the distance, signaling our approach to Boston. More than 6 hours after we began, we would hobble over to Randy’s wife Tracy at the corner of Hereford and Boylston, where they would embrace and kiss in love and support. From there, Randy and I would agree to try running to the finish, not fully realizing it was a solid third of a mile away. We would run that last stretch to the echoing cheers of the most supportive fans in the sport, and hear the race announcer call out Randy’s name just yards away from the achievement of our third and final goal. We would cross the most famous finish line in the world with our arms raised triumphantly, together, the way we always have.
None of us know yet exactly what comes next for Randy. There will be more doctors’ appointments and tests, but his first three decades dealing with his nameless condition haven’t exactly been full of helpful findings so I think we’re all prepared to just keep rolling with the unknown as best we can. I do know that I’m not the only one that’s scared and upset. It was impossible not to be punched in the stomach repeatedly by that harsh reality during yesterday’s trial.
What had begun as an adventure so long ago had transformed into an ordeal, testing different kinds of limits in ways we had not imagined. That is the true take-away for me from this whole experience – reinforcement of an important lesson I try to be thankful for and build on every day. I think we could have chalked up just starting yesterday as a win, given the frame of Randy’s current reality. Persevering to the finish was, to me, a statement that together and by choice, we can achieve incredible outcomes. If we dare to create a vision, apply ourselves in planning for success, and put intentional plans into motion together, we can inspire ourselves and others beyond what seems possible.
I suspect my Boston Marathon experience was different to many in the details, but perhaps not as much on the opportunity to learn. I will say this … if you have an adventure you have been putting off for any reason, find a way to do it. Time is precious and every chance matters. If you are already an adventurer, consider finding someone to help along in their journey – perhaps as a guide. It is a completely different, and in my experience significantly more intense and fulfilling undertaking.
I will forever be grateful to everyone who helped make this experience a reality. Thank you.
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