By Randy Pierce
“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!