Tuesday, January 27, 2009

EX2 Adventures Backyard Burn Series
Race #4
December 7, 2008
Prince William Forrest Park
Triangle, VA

Previous Best: N/A
Goal: Unable to move up in the overall standings, the goal is to beat Vega and Phil with an added bonus of possibly beating Jason and take 1st overall.

A dusting of snow and temps in the upper 20s increased the adventure factor of the Backyard Burn Finale held yesterday at gorgeous Prince William Forest Park. Hundreds of athletes took on the challenge and braved the elements, running a course of wide fire roads, streamside single-track, and almost no pavement. In an all out effort to make one last push in this years series Phil and I set the bar high, but would we be able to meet it? Two weeks after I blew up in the NCR Trail Marathon, my training has been light, but I've continued to do the speed/track work every Wednesday morning. Is it enough? Am I rested? Did I eat too much turkey at Thanksgiving?

Another cold morning, but luckily registration and packet pick-up were inside a little shack this time. Since I had to be at my cousin's house for a XMAS brunch, I drove seperately this time allowing myself a few moments of zen and peace before I warmed up in the bitter cold. Today's race would prove to be a challenge from a competitor stand point. All the usual suspects had shown up along with Lawrence Buckley and Sean Ward. After Race #3's results (5 of the top 6 times all came from our Age Group M30-39) adding these two gentlemen would prove difficult. I must say, running these races has been great. Every week, we know who our competition is. We may not train together or run together, but we certainly race together. I'll be sad when it's all over, but for now...it's on! Again, I can't move up in the standings but as of right now I'm 2 for 2 against Phil and 1 for 2 against Vega. I would like to put another win under the old belt, but time will only tell. Today's course is hilly with some difficult patches, but nowhere near the last two races. It will come down to an all out effort to win.

The start of the race was downhill and if you've run with me or followed my race reports, I'm not the fastest starter in the world...especially if we're going downhill. However, if I can just keep everyone in sight I'll be OK and with the long wide trails at the top of the race this didn't prove too difficult. Jason had taken off at a quick pace with a pack of 5 runners including Phil and Vega close behind. Then Lawrence passed me too. My mantra was repeating over and over in my mind..."Just keep them in sight, Just keep them in sight...just keep..." I'm not sure if it was the rest or the marathon, but before too long I was catching back up to the pack. Luckily, what goes down must come up on this race course, and though I may not be the fastest man up a mountain, I'm certainly one of the faster guys up a hill. Hurray for HILLS!!! Slowly and methodically I picked up the pace and pushed up every hill. These guys all had almost 4 inches on me in height so there was no way I could out pace them on the flats so I pick and choose my moments to surge. We near the road and I had already passed Lawrence, then another guy who was probably a 5 miler, then it was just us. 100yds. or so ahead stood Micheal and Phil along with the kid who kept placing 1st in the M20-29 group. He had beaten all 3 of us every race thus far, but what today a different day? Maybe.

We darted back into the woods and the kid made his move. Phil and Vega kept close together and I was now only 10-20yds behind them. Should I make the move to catch the kid or stay behind my competitors? I stayed, figuring if I blow up chasing him, these two could over take me. Smart move? Yet to be determined. Phil and I both let Vega take the lead and force him to dictate the pace -- my strategy was to strike at the first moment of weakness. Stride after stride we were a pack of banshees in the woods flying past the occasional weekend warrior out for a hike. And then it happened, Vega pulled up. Concerned, Phil and I both called out to make sure he was alright and after a confirmation that he was OK, we made our move. It wasn't a sprint, but it was enough to force the issue...Michael was either sick or cramping and we took advantage. Step after step Phil and I assured ourselves we were carving out a lead, but then something happened. Ahead in the distance, not directly ahead where the kid was running, but further away in the forest I spotted Jason. JASON! what was he doing in my sites? Surely, something was wrong? Never at any point during our races did we see Jason this late in the race. He was struggling. He was struggling!!! I knew then and there that beating Jason was a possibility. I quickened the pace and passed Phil, but first things first -- I had to catch the kid. Branch, twig, turn, jump, corner...branch, twig, turn, jump corner...I was in a Super Mario Bros. game! Yet stride after stride I was gaining ground. What was once a 500yd. lead was no down to only 150 yds. I looked ahead across the stream and up the next hill - he was out sight but only just turned the corner. If I only knew how far away the finish was I could gauge my kick. I'm climbed to the top of the hill: left, right, left, right, lefffffffftttttt!!!!!!!!! Thump! was the sound my body made as it hit the forrest floor. And my only reaction at first was "Uhhhhhuhhhhuhhhuhhh!" The wind was knocked out of me, there was dirt all over and if I didn't know any better, my kneecap was busted. GOD DAMN BRANCH!!! For a split second I took my eyes off the path and clipped a stupid branch. As quickly as I could, I got back up and hobbled along the path. It was then that Phil crested the top and yelled at me to keep going. I WAS! -- at least as best as I could. What was once a diminishing lead quickly became an insurmountable obstacle. It was all for naught, yet I was pissed. 100yds later my body's adrenaline surged thru my veins and I was off. FUCK!!! I had him, I HAD HIM! Time was running out and I had no idea how much further to the finish line. I peeled around the corner and there it was: 1 mile to go. ONE MILE! Crap! It was too much and he was no where in sight, yet with two large hills looming, there was a chance. Puff after labored puff, my body surged up the hills, saw the bend toward the finish line and raced home. It was too late. The kid had already finished and I came in in a lonely 3rd place overall position. I turned and congratulated Jason on a great race and series and then turned at the last moment to see Vega surge past Phil at the very end. Vega had Phil's number and Jason had all of ours. In the end, the kid beat me by :39 and Jason by 1:21. Phil lost to Michael by :08. Next year...next year.

Next up: Colonial Williamsburg Half-Marathon: Feb. 22nd.

Kip Pierson
6:54 min/mile pace
3rd Overall
2nd in AG, M30-39

Overall Standings for the Series
1st - Jason Switzer 200pts.
2nd - Michael Vega 147pts.
3rd - Phil Schmidt 130pts.
4th - Kip Pierson 112pts. (not bad for only running 3 of 4 races)
5th - Jeffrey Furr 89pts.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Backyard Burn Series Race #3 Race Report

EX2 Adventures Backyard Burn Series Race #3
November 16, 2008
Fountainhead Park
Fairfax Station, VA

Previous Best: N/A
Goal: After taking 3rd Overall and 2nd in AG at the 1st race, I've done the math. I need a 1st or 2nd place in order to alter the overall standings when all is said and done.

It's been 2 weeks since I ran back to back marathons and I'm feeling OK, but I've done some speed work and might be rundown. We'll see at Fountainhead. After what Phil reported from Race #2, it looks like Michael Vega might cause us some problems. We'll have to work together in order to beat them.

Cold, cold, cold. That's how the warm-up was. Phil and I jumped in Travis' car and we promptly left Capitol Hill arriving at Fountainhead a little earlier than planned. Unfortunately, that meant more anxiety and more time to get cold. On the plus side, we had the Port-o-Johns all to ourselves. Ah, cold toilet paper in the morning...that's living.

Phil and I finally got up the nerve to check the course out running backwards thru the terrain checking out the finish area. If it was going to be close, we best be prepared -- and if the ending was any indication of what the rest of the course had for us, we were going to hurt...a lot.

Phil and I spotted Vega and Jason near the starting line along with the guy who's been beating us from the M20-29 age bracket -- we were all here, but how were we going to fare? The gun was promptly fired and we were off. Almost a 1 on the blacktop surface, a right turn into the woods and a dip into hell. The course was covered in leaves and with the recent rains from the previous two days, the highly technical terrain was only going to get harder. Up and down, the raced quickened to a pace I was unaccustomed to. Maybe at end or possibly in the middle, but the pace we were traveling at was too quick. I wasn't warmed up enough yet. Phil surged ahead of me, as did Vega, with Jason in the distance already gaining ground. 3 miles in I knew this course was going to prove difficult. At one point, I leapt across a stream Indiana Jones style barley making it as I clung onto the roots of some tree. This was madness. Mud, water and freezing temperatures were proving too much. If I didn't conserve now, I was done for. Mile 3 came upon us as we crossed the road and entered the 2nd half of the 1st loop. Nutrition had been provided, but with all my huffing and puffing I was barely able to swallow anything without choking. Hill after hill, stream after stream one's ability to sprint uphill and recover was put to the test. Without a strong core and an abundunce of speed/hill work, your day was done for. I was ready to punch the time card.

As we entered the part of the course Phil and I had just run on my mindset was "just keep them...him...someone...anyone in sight. Without a rabbit to chase, my desire was lacking. It was the first time in awhile I lacked the competitive edge that allows me to take on stronger competitors. As we ran up the final steep climb toward the end of the first loop, the course was taking it's toll. Phil, Mr. RAAM himself, pulled up and blew chunks! When I saw the course was tough, this is what I mean. Phil had run so hard and was pushed past his physical limit...and his body let him pay for it. As I passed him Phil spoke a few words of encouragement and returned to the ground. I was now in 3rd place behind Jason and Michael, but I couldn't even see them. The finish line came and went before I knew it and we were again on the open road. Vega was in sight, but Jason was nowhere to be seen. As I already predicted, I didn't take 1st or 2nd...or at the very least take 2nd while beating Vega, it was mathematically impossible to move up in the standings no matter how well I did in the final race. And here came Phil. A quick recovery and a few long strides later he was back in the race. But were we racing for 3rd and 4th or 1st and 2nd?

The knowledge of the 1st half of the course proved no more valuable the 2nd time around and my spirited waned. Why push myself harder than I needed? 3rd or 4th, I was relegated at best to 4th overall in the series. The race quickly became a fast training run. Phil was hurting and I was unmotivated and we were soon passed by another guy. Normally, I would chase, but he appeared too old to be in the M30-39 AG, so I let him go. Only later did we realize he was in our Age Group. CRAP!!! How could I let that happen? Two miles to go, we were working hard, but not too hard. Better to save a little for the last race than duel it out between us. It was then that Phil turned to me and said, "Hey, if no one passes us, let me win for the points. But if someone does get close to us, all bets are off." No problem. I agreed to the arrangement on one condition: He can't make me look bad at the end. My girlfriend was at the finish line, and though I would lose to Phil, he had to make it look good! 1.5 miles to go, 1 mile, 1/2 mile...we were nearing the finish and I said again, "You better make it look good." With a 1/4 mile to go Phil wasn't picking it up and with the finish line clearing only a few short strides ahead we had to go now. Phil failed to accelerate and with that I picked up the pace. If I was going to pull up at the end and let him win, he was going to have to work for it. Before Phil knew it he was no longer running, but reacting. 200 yds. to go and we were in a dead sprint. 100yds, 50yds, the bend in the finishing chute appeared. 25 yds! We were now visible to the entire crowd. As the crowd cheered and whistled at our last minute desperation attack I pulled up just enough and Phil made this faux breaking of the tape...only there was no tape. We laughed as did a few others as I turned to Phil and said, "I told you to make it look good!" Phil's response was priceless. "I didn't think you meant sprint!" It should be known, Phil was gracious enough to tell my girlfriend the whole story that I let him win. However, it didn't matter. Since there was no official finish line, the organizers gave us a TIE! We both came in 4th and were both awarded 4th place points! AWESOME!

Next up: BYB Series Race #4...the final course 12/6/08. I must beat Jason and Michael!

Kip Pierson
7:30min/mile pace (tough course!)
5th Overall
4th in AG, M30-39

Since we both took 4th this is how the podium looked...odd.
(Me, Phil, Vega, Jason, Other Guy)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Calling all Athletes, Calling all Athletes

Since I never know what to ask for when XMAS time comes around my folks are always pressed for ideas, so I thought maybe some books on cycling or running. Problem is, I don't know if the book is worth it or not. For example, I just finished A RACE LIKE NO OTHER by Liz Robbins about the 2007 NY Marathon which I just ran which was great. Another good one for new and old Boston Marathon runners is called 26.2 MILES TO BOSTON by Michael Connelly. I have FIRST TRIATHLONS by Gail Waesche Kislevitz which is always great and a pleasant and interesting read to me was BOWERMAN and THE MEN OF OREGON by Kenny Moore (a biography about the legendary coach). I'm not looking for "TRAINING" books, but books about individuals and the sport of Triathlon, Cycling and Running.

I think there's a book about the quest to break the 4:00 mile barrier, but not sure if it's worth it. And I'm sure there are some nice books about the Tour de France which are great reads.


What are YOUR recommendations???? Leave a comment.
(I'll be sure to let you know what my picks are.)

Monday, November 3, 2008

NY Marathon 2008 Race Report

As always, I'm a sucker for a race, a bigger sucker for a marathon and the biggest sucker of them all for a race that is in NY as a guide for the Achilles Track Club of NY. And after the light week of training following the Marine Corps Marathon and the unusual spike of energy I felt on Monday morning, I was excited by the prospect of going at a faster pace in this year's NY Marathon. At the very least we would start with everyone else in the first wave (NY just started using waves this year: 9:40, 10:00 and 10:20 expecting everyone to cross the start line no later than 6 minutes after the gun goes off) and it would be a completely different experience than last year's 2-hour headstart. I was in for a fight, but a fight worth partaking in. Problem was, I've never guided a blind runner. I don't know any blind runners, let alone blind people. And I've only met two blind people in my life. So how was I going to run a 3:10 at someone else's pace not to mention holding a towel or string or something of that sort to connect us throughout the entire race? These were questions to which I had no answer.

The race came upon me sooner than expected and before I knew it I was standing at the Javits Convention Center in NY getting my bib number and spending more money than I thought was possible on merchandise - and for those who know how much I spent on IM Arizona gear, you know I have a problem. But what the heck, I like to enjoy the event and why shouldn't my creditors as well? (You're welcome VISA. I hope you enjoyed the NY Marathon as much as I did.) And great news!!! Russell, who is an employee of ACHILLES, a fellow actor, in charge of the guides for NY and one heck of a sweet woman, landed the jackpot for me. As I was about to leave and rest up for the night she informed me she landed a 2nd guide for my athlete Mario (Mariusz Golabek) and I. His name was Simon and he was the ACHILLES coach from Kenya. Unfortunately, the club from Kenya didn't get their VISAs and paperwork in on time, but Simon made the trip nonetheless. Oh, and he can do a 2:50 marathon (OK, now who didn't see that coming from a mile away...he's from Kenya, duh.) SWEET! My fears lessened with the ability to switch the tether between the two of us, I head to Brooklyn for an evening of relaxation. The only other issue tomorrow could be a language barrier, and with a Pole, a Kenyan and an American that shouldn't be too much of problem, right?...right?...hello?

With the added boon of daylight savings, I marched out the door towards the subway, removed the gook from my eyes, clung to my styrofoam container of oatmeal and waited for the "L" train. The 5am bus towards Staten Island and the sea of nearly 39,000 awaited me. It's amazing to me to see so many people out and about at that time in the morning, and even though this is NY, the site continued to impress. Luckily, ACHILLES has their own buses for all AWD athletes (Athletes With Disabilities) so the early morning hubbub was lessened greatly and we all enjoyed the ride. That would be the end of the joy. When we arrived, Staten Island greeted us with a wind chill that was unexpected, a temperature that froze your toes and a tent for ACHILLES that's protected from everything but the wind (someone had the bright idea to have the "open" side facing the wind...smart, real smart). We were 0 for 3 with over 3 hours to go before the start of the race. If things were going to get worse, I was clueless as to what it could be. But their was light at the end of our tunnel. Simon sat next to Mario on the bus and during the ride he discovered Mario was shooting for, at best, a 3:30 marathon, but realistically around a 4-hour run. Now I won't lie to you, mentally, I did the happy dance. And even better news, Mario isn't blind, he's visually impaired. He's a "close talker" -- out of necessity of course, which means no tether required. Woo-hoo!

Our long search for hot water, hot chocolate, hot coffee...anything hot ate up most of our time and before we knew it, we were stripping down to our racing shorts only to wait for another 30 minutes 'til the gun went off. Now, the amazing part of this year's race was, for me, that we were in the main pack. 3 waves, ours being the 1st, 3 corrals, ours being Orange and 3 runners: Mario, Simon and myself. As announcements were made clothes flew left and right from every runner, athletes relieved themselves at will and music was playing. We were jazzed. The mountainous climb of the Verrazano Bridge lay before us and we didn't care. We cared about the wind the might we across it, but the steep incline was welcomed - anything to get the heart rate up. The National Anthem, Mayor Bloomberg's well-wishs, the Gun and then...............Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York." It was incredible. We were all singing, dancing to the music, enjoying the moment and then we were off. The 3 minutes and 20 seconds it took us to get to the start wasn't too bad and a minute later the jubilation of the race was gone, the music was faint and we were racing. An 8:14 minute mile to start off. Not bad considering the uphill climb and with a 3:30 projection at best, we were looking to do 7:30's the whole way. Mile 2: 7:00. No big deal. With the massive downhill a fast mile would be expected and life was great, for all runners. It was a massive sea of paparazzi runners. Every 100 feet another would climb onto the bridge divider and snap a few shots: one forward, one backward, power off, place in fanny pack and go. Unfortunately, a forgot my camera back in DC, but with an originally predicted 3:10 pace, I couldn't afford such a luxury. Mile 3: 7:14. A perfect pace and with Mario removing his protective layering, we were now ready for a smooth sailing day...or so I thought. I'm not sure what went through Mario's mind, maybe he was excited, maybe he felt he was losing too much time by taking off his warm-ups or maybe he just can't read his watch, in any case, Mario took off like a bat out of hell. More specifically, a cat that effortlessly weaves and dodges its way through a crowd. So "effortlessly" that Mile 4 was a 6:45 mile! What in the world is going on? I was struggling. I wasn't warmed up enough to start doing 6:45 miles--my feet were still frozen from waiting on Staten Island for almost 3 hours. Besides, if you're gonna predict a 3:30 marathon at best, let's try to stick to the plan---6:45's are nearing the 2:55 mark. This is ridiculous. My only hope was to keep Mario in sight, thanks in large part to his yellow hat and once I was warmed-up, join him at his side. Yeah...that didn't happen so much. Before I knew it, Mile 4 had gone and so had Mario. Worst yet, the corrals were about to converge up ahead and my chances of find Mario in a crowd of 13,000 were much less than our starting corral of only 4,500. I wasn't expecting to do that kind of running nor was I warmed up to do it. At the very least we should pace ourselves so we can finish strong, right? No chance. Around mile 5 or 6 I was warm enough to start dropping some 6:45's myself guessing I would see him soon. I scanned the crowd dilligently for any yellow hats, but to no avail. At one point the course made a right hand turn which allowed me to see nearly a 1/2 mile ahead of us...no Mario. This adventure called "guiding" was turning out to be a failure. But lo and behold I caught back up to Mario a little before Mile 13. This was absurd. I had already wasted so much energy catching back up that I was unsure if my body could handle the overdrive that I was putting it in. In general, I'm a steady runner who will usually have negative splits and a strong kick at the finish, but with this morning's antics, I wasn't sure I would have ANYTHING left at the end. For those who aren't runners, I can only liken it to starting your car up on the coldest winter day and going from 0 to 60 in a few seconds expecting the car to perform in top condition---it doesn't happen. Your car needs to warm-up and so does my body. I truly thought that if there was going to be a 2nd Achilles guide at the halfway point as expected, I might just call it a day. No such luck - we couldn't find the 2nd guy. Oh well.

So there I was, running this erratic race/pace and I a feeling it's only going to get worse. Once I catch up to him and stick with him we proceed to do crazy miles: 6:45, 7:15, 7:00, 6:50, 7:22. $#$%%@!!!!! Let's just be consistent. It's like flooring the gas and then braking all in one motion. But I'm here to guide, right? I lose him again. Who's guiding who here? This time he had to relieve himself, which is OK, but tell me! I slow up and wait to successfully find him again only to lose him once more on the bridge. Is he ahead of me? Behind me? I'm not sure. He's the type of runner with bursts of speed weaving in and out of others and 5 minutes later getting paced by those same runners, to do it all over again a few moments later.

Finally, I assumed he was ahead of me and I took off to find him. No such luck and before I knew it, I had reached mile 22. It was at this point I thought to myself, "Hey I could set a PR for myself, but I thought better of it and decided to hold up and do some 8:00 miles hoping that if he WAS behind me I would find him. Nope. By the time I reached the 24th mile, I said "Screw it!" And took off for the finish. Dropped a couple nice miles and finished strong, honestly shocked to do a 3:10 with the lack of training an erratic energy wasting pace that happened all day. Later at the AWD tent a woman from Poland would come up to Janet and Genna while I was right there complaining that Mario didn't have a guide. I was a little upset, but explained to her the issues when you set a goal and do NOTHING to reach that goal. NO communication, NO pacing...nothing! Mario ended up doing a 3:19. A 1:32 1st half followed by a 1:47 2nd half. Clearly, his lack of pacing made him blow up at the end. He's a good runner, but you'd think he would understand pacing a little better. I guess the language barrier WAS and issue...not because I couldn't understand him, but because I was never close enough to talk to him. :) Oh well. Despite working harder than expected and a little frustrated, I still had a great time.

OH, and Simon, the other guide from Kenya - he was dropped even before I was around Mile 3. I guess genetics don't help you much when you get older. But still, a 2:20 marathon...that's crazy.

Overall, it was a wonderful day with great weather and a unbelievable crowd. Truly a marathon everyone should do...especially if you're from NY. (and yes Mr. McClure, that comment was geared towards you.)

Friday, October 31, 2008

Marine Corps Marathon 2008 Race Report

So another year of training has gone by and my first full (well, that is debatable) triathlon season has come to an end. But before I could even think about what my fall racing series was going to be a received a phone call. ENTER Janet Patton and Genna Griffith: co-workers and colleagues in the acting world and more importantly all-stars for the ACHILLES TRACK CLUB of NY. You may remember last year when Janet (who was working on Nobody's Perfect over at the Kennedy Center with me) asked if I was interested in running the NY Marathon as a guide to a disabled runner through her organization up in NY. "So you want me to run the NY Marathon? One of the most prestigious racing events in the world, on your dollar and help guide someone through the race? Where do I sign up?" Forget the fact that I had just raced the Marine Corps Marathon the week before, getting to run in the NY Marathon would be unbelievable no matter how you participated. That experience was probably in my Top 5 of all-time experiences---so, why not do it again...this time twice. Run the Marine Corps Marathon and the NY Marathon, both as guides. If I could race one and then guide another last year, certainly guiding two races would be much easier...right?...right?...?

As my recovery time from IM Wisconsin stretched from 2 weeks to 3 weeks, which meant I only ran once and biked once during that time, I became a little worried about the marathons--not to mention I had committed to the Backyard Burn Series this fall. As you know, the BYB Series began on the 19th of Oct. with their first race so if all goes well, I would be racing every weekend except one until Thanksgiving. Overachieving? Not really...not if everyone does around a 4-hour marathon. Emphasis on EVERYONE. That luxury was quickly dispelled when I found out the gentleman I would be guiding in NY wanted to run a 3:10 marathon. Now I'm capable of running a 3:10 marathon---I might not walk the next day, but I could pull it out of my ass. But that would mean training needed to start ASAP with no hiccups. My goal: Get some long runs in of about 90-120 minutes long, continue my speed work at the track on Wednesday mornings, race the first BYB 10 miler and use Marine Corps Marathon as a training run for NY. Sound good? Great. Will it go according to plan? No -- Not when you find out that the gentleman you're guiding in MCM wants to do a 3:30 marathon. That's an 8-min/mile pace which isn't incredibly difficult, but it will allow very little time to recover for NY and run a 3:10 there. Panic sets in, but what can you do?

I met Neil the night before at the pasta party thrown by the Arlington's Station 5 Fire Department and was excited to hear he had also competed in IM Wisconsin last month. I was even more excited to hear he hadn't been running too much since the race and was hoping to only do around a 4-hour marathon (9-min/mile). With the weight of the off my back, I settled into to some late night discussions with a few of the athletes, pleasantly relieved I was going to have to run all out tomorrow. The race would indeed become the training run I had hoped it would be for NY the following week.

Race morning came sooner than expected and with the alarm buzzing and my clothes pack I dressed myself in my 2XU compression shorts and calf tights, threw on my hat, searched 30 minutes to find my gloves and headed out the door. Metro in DC opens at 5AM on the morning of the race and with our plan to meet at the Rosslyn Marriot Hotel, the morning would go smooth as silk.

Neil and I, along with Sarah - his girlfriend, walked down to the start line a little early to watch the handcrank athletes take off and then settled in for what should have been an easy day. With a little nip in the air, an extra T-shirt or jacket to stay warm at the start and an extra dose of the "Crazies" this year's marathon promised to be picture perfect. The weather forecast was probably the best I've seen for any marathon I've run and with the new course changes (running around Hains Point earlier in the race than usual) the race now provided the perfect PR opportunity for any seasoned marathoner. But I wasn't racing, just helping out Neil.


I'm often forgetful of why I race. My usual answer is because there's no hatred on race day. Everyone is out there wishing everyone well. There's a sense of community that only comes with understanding the sacrifice everyone has made to get there. But more importantly, it's a wonder to be a part of something grander and bigger than you could ever imagine. 30, 000 people congregating on to one tiny speck of the planet. An infinitely small space when looking at the big picture, but to my eyes the magnitude of the event itself is overwhelming enough to make your heart stop and wonder at the miracle that is life. You're reminded of all that you're thankful for and before you're done, the gun goes off and the race has begun. I'm not even "competing" but
this sense of gratitude is unshakeable for the first few miles. It's hard to run up those early hills without laughing and crying at one another. One athlete dives across the street to kiss his wife and say goodbye to his son ensuring him they'll see each other again in a few short hours...hopefully even sooner. Another drops his gloves, he's misjudged the temperature. And several athletes misjudge their bladders. It won't be the last time you'll see a sea of runners relieving themselves in the woods, but two dozen at the edge of a parking lot - that doesn't happen too often. It's a day full of unabated shame and humility in which one could careless at how they look, rather how they finish. Today vanity takes a back seat to glory and in a world of Cosmo and Vanity Fair, it's a breath of fresh air. Today finishing is more important than winning, yet for some showing up is the most important of all. And today, allowing yourself to be pushed harder and farther than you could ever imagine is the name of the game. So what makes this race different than all the others I've run? I'm not caring. I'm not pushing myself. I'm not doing the calculations in my head, not carrying the one, not dividing by 2, no longer reconsidering my strategy - I'm taking it all in and loving it. Last year's NY Marathon was different, we had a 2-hour head start on the field which provided it's own beauty, but I had never been in the middle of the pack looking ahead at sea of runners knowing there were that many behind me too. I never had the chance to witness the trials of another runner, I was too worried about my own. But not today. Today I take it all in.

As we passed the spot where I made my choice last year to attempt a 3-hour marathon (and fail) I noticed we had been almost running for an hour. I had no idea. Neil and I chatted along the way, discussing everything from sports, to school to IM Wisconsin and when time allotted, we told some jokes. Most importantly, we had fun, and the first sign of the fun to come was the Key Bridge. What a sight! The cold morning air, combined with the rising sun and temperature had left the Potomac river a virtual river of fog. As we approached the bridge ahead and looked left, the belly of the beast had begun to engulf the bridge. Runner after runner made the turn and slowly disappeared, being swallowed whole by mother nature. For most is was an awesome sight and for others the zero visibility and lack of Georgetown up ahead loomed large in their minds. What lay ahead in the darkness and blindly fog was unknown - they were in uncharted territory. A perfect metaphor for the rest of their day.

With only the tip of Georgetown's tower looming overhead, the scenic race continued through the tree tunneled roads of the Macarthur Blvd. Beautiful to say the least. And as the sun began to
blind us as we made the turn back to the Mall, the waves of steam escaping off the heads of those in front of us, it was just another reminder that body temperatures were rising and the 10 mile mark loomed ahead. It was around here that my job began. Not for Neil, but for a couple of handcrank athletes. They weren't from ACHILLES, but it mattered nonetheless. They were athletes needing assistance, and that's what I was there to do. So with a burst of speed and some fresh legs that I was unaware existed, I surged forward preempting the catastrophe ahead that was called...a downhill. For those of you who are familiar with Georgetown and the hill connecting M street to Macarthur Blvd. are certainly aware of the steep grade it possesses when heading out of town, but few know the harrowing quick descent it owns when you're in a handcrank wheelchair barreling downhill at 20-30mph while dodging a few THOUSAND RUNNERS! Needless to say, I say what could have been a disaster, sprinted past the "chairs" (that's what everyone calls them on the course) and shouted "Make a hole in the middle! Hole in the middle! Make a hole!" Easy enough right? Not when everyone is wearing a pair of headphones. I said it last year and I'll say it again. For the safety of everyone involved, you should not wear headphones in a race. But if you must, still be cognizant of your surroundings. WIth a nasal voice and a determined outlook, a path was made, the chairs were safe and I was out of breath. Thank God for water stops. Refueled with a little bit of Powerade and water, said goodbye to the two guys,spotted Neil and we were off again. We had hit a bit of an incline getting on to M Street so the chairs were slowing as we continued to maintain our pace of 9-min/mile. All was well...except my lungs. :)

A slight turn onto Rock Creek Parkway, running past the Kennedy Center and on towards the Lincoln Memorial we evaluated our level fitness and comfort. "If we continue to do this and feel
good at the end, we can probably haul ass to the finish line over the last 6 miles," Neil said. "Sounds good to me." I reassured him, HE was going to set the pace, not me. I was just their for support. He nodded at this without making a sound and trotted along, found Sarah in the crowd, kissed her hello and caught back up. We were comfortable, we were getting confident, we were nearing the halfway point and we were happy to be getting through Hains Point without any problems. That might explain why we started doing an 8:45 mile pace. Now, 15 seconds is not a lot, but it was enough of a sign that both of us felt good. Great in fact--much better than expected. This run was actually shaping up to be a pretty decent training run. And then it happened. Mile 16.

I'm not sure how it happened, maybe it was just my need to help out, but my instincts took over again for the 3rd time that day. I began to clear the way for two more chairs. Now I'm not 100%
sure, but I'm pretty confident that it was the same two guys from earlier in the day, but this time there was no hill, only the flat road surrounding the Mall. Ergo, they were traveling at speeds faster than everyone else and no one was getting out of the way. Time for another surge, only this time it wasn't just a surge. Neil came along with me - Neil had now become the guide instead of the guided. (Which makes sense since he finished IM Wisconsin at only the age of 22. CRAZY!) The dynamic guiding duo of Neil and Kip cleared the roads. "Move to your right! Make a hole! Chairs Coming!" Whatever we needed to say we said, however fast we needed to run - we did. And wouldn't you know it - the chairs got faster!!! (Sidenote - I think the reason I love guiding wheelchairs so much is that it's never boring. Slow on the uphills, fast on the downhills. It's a never ending roller coaster of speed work.) Mile 16, Mile 17, Mile 18. You concentrate so much on making people get out of the way that you're oblivious to the mile markers. We've done 3 miles already? That's insane. And before I knew it we were approaching Mile 19...a disastrous Mile 19. Why disastrous? Disastrous because I was an idiot. I was an idiot because I assumed I would only have to clear the road of runners impeding our way, not spectators too! I was an idiot to think that spectators who not attempt to cross the road in the middle of a race! I was an idiot to assume people would look both ways when crossing the road! I, apparently, was an idiot. (Have you picked up on the sarcasm yet?) And this wasn't just any woman, she was clearly over 200lbs. and she had fallen straight onto the midsection and then legs of this athlete. Legless and metal plates and screws in his right arm, the woman had just committed this guy to a death sentence. Chair #512 was in pain, but miraculously nothing broke. Not his arm, not his prosthetic, not his chair. It was miraculous. And had the woman not been in such deep remorse for being...you guessed it...an idiot, I would have gone off on her. But this was not the time nor the place, #512 was OK for the most part and the race was passing us by. We the moved the wreckage off the road, I stole a swig of her Vitamin Energy drink and we took off. (Hey, it was the least she could do.)

I looked for water for both the guys and had no luck, the next aid station was only a jelly belly stop and my guys were dehydrating. Even the little incline near the Smithsonian castle was proving too much for #512 and I already knew before they did that their race was a metaphoric
uphill battle from here on in. And yet this whole time Neil was right there with me. Each time we hit the downhills he would eventually catch us on the uphills, it gave us a sense of purpose - To make sure these guys were taken care of. But soon our chivalrous acts were becoming less and less. #512 was having a hard time and with the 14th Street bridge looming ahead, I knew it was going to be rough. But what should I do? Stick with Neil and stay behind and make sure these guys made it in safely? I didn't make a choice. I didn't need to. Neil made the choice for me. He told me he was going to go up ahead and continue on. He knew these guys needed my help more and sacrificed himself for them. I asked him if he was sure, and he said, "Absolutely." I told him that once we finished the 14th St. Bridge we would catch back up to him...but it was never meant to be. I never saw Neil again during the race. I kept looking for him at all the turnarounds hoping to gauge how far ahead of me he was, but it never happened. I even entertained the idea that if the chairs were "OK" after the bridge, I would jump the race and join up with Neil making sure we finished together. I wanted to finish together, even if it meant I wouldn't have actually completed the whole race. I was OK with that, but it wasn't in the cards. I learned later Neil finished a respectable 4:10. Nice work considering he hadn't run over 10 miles since IMWI almost 7 weeks prior. I couldn't say that about my two new athletes. It was #512's first marathon and he had hit the proverbial wall. The 14th St. Bridge was killing him. I had flashbacks of Laura in NY last year when I had to help her up the hills at the end, but I didn't want to do that this time. I knew by looking in #512 eyes, he wanted to do this himself. No pushes, no pulls - just himself. It was awhile before we finished that section of the course, but it was over now and as we headed to the off-ramp I told him there was only one more hill to go...the end...Iwo Jima.

There's a beauty and a power knowing the course when you're racing, but it's something different when you're guiding someone else through it's pitfalls. "Just up ahead we'll do a turnaround. Only 1/2 a mile until we get water. Sharp right up ahead!" I looked for anything I could use to break up the race into smaller chunks for them. Mileage markers, turns, hills...they all became tools to motivate them to go faster. And now the biggest motivating factor came into play...they could smell the barn. After a quick bathroom break for the two of them we made the turnaround in Crystal City and headed back towards the Pentagon and eventually home. The finish line was only a few short miles away and these guys had been troopers, but #511 wasn't about to let #512 finish alone. He made have been stronger, he may have been faster, he may
have even weighed less, but he was a friend and there was no way he was going to finish this race without his buddy. 23, 24, 25...the crowds were growing, 25.5. Only .7 miles to go, 26.......................And something happened that many did not see coming. #512 couldn't make the hill. His arms were too tired. What had become a victory on the 14th St. Bridge had now become the underlining cause of his defeat. He was trashed, tired and tried. To come all this way and come up short is heartbreaking. But somewhere, somehow #512 reached deep within himself and made his way up. Not up the hill, No. Up and out of his seat. With his left hand grabbed the front of his chair and with mine holding the opposite side, we both stood there looking up at what was in all practical terms, to him, the Mt. Everest of hills. But today there was no snow, no ice picks, no glorious mountain-top view of the world. There was only a medal and a Finish line...and I was his sherpa. I took one look at him and asked him, "Are you ready?" And with that he began what I consider the most inspiring .2 miles I have ever seen - that certainly anyone who was at that finish line has ever seen - and, in what I could only describe, as the most deafening feat anyone could witness. Deafening because there were only two sounds I heard. The first was each and every step that #512 took on his two prosthetic legs up that grueling climb and the other was the sound of jaws hitting the ground once they realized what they were witnessing. The crowd was stunned to silence. As each individual grasped the concept that this man was now out of his chair for the last few feet of this race after having been through sheer pain in the latter half was mind numbing to them. Literallly. As we shuffled up the hill you could hear the crowd get quieter with every step. I caught the eyes of one woman as her brain processed what was happening. And I raised my arm. Raised my arm so violently I thought it was going to come out of my socket. Raised it as to say, "Come on damn it! Start cheering!" And so they did, louder and louder as we neared the finish line. A lot of Marine Corps sayings were being thrown around every which way, none of which I understood except in sentiment. They were proud, they were happy, they were respectful, they were grateful this man had served his country and they were in awe. And then...nothing. It was over. He did it. #512 had done it. Congratulations were spread around and as I shook #512's hand I said,

"I'm Kip."

"I'm Zach."

"Nice to meet you Zach. Congratulations!"

And with a hug I continued up the ramp, grabbed my food bag and headed for the hotel.

Andrew Tong #511
Yelm, WA M30-34

Zachary Briseno
Fort Worth, TX M20-24

Neil Schalk
Richland, WI M20-24