Sunday, July 26, 2009

Twilight Triathlon

Since a triathlon includes a running segment, this qualifies for "Running Geezer". A group of us headed west from Orlando to the gulf coast town of Crystal River, FL. It is approximately a two hour drive to the beautiful Gulf of Mexico. We were there to participate in the "Twilight Tri", held at 7:30pm, hence the name. I was joined by Sheri, Raymond, Keith and Nigel. We also had our own cheering section of Susan, Debbie, Darby, Cathy, Fred and Jamie. It is wonderful to have friends who will support our efforts, thank you!

It was a beautiful evening, temperatures around 90 degrees. There was an onshore breeze that helped cool the air. It also helped to add a little "chop" to the water surface. I commented to someone, "this isn't the Cady Way pool!" However, growing up in New York, Long Island, to be more precise, the water was as I remembered it as a kid.

Having never done an "open water" triathlon, and not being the most skilled swimmer, I was cautious entering the water as the starters horn sounded. I found a pocket of water clear of the other swimmers. As we approached the first buoy, the logjam began to develop. I was content to ease up and carefully make my way around. I did not want to get kicked or run over at this point in the race. I felt comfortable with my stroke as we headed to the second buoy. When I made the turn for the beach, I felt very confident and relaxed. By now the crowd had broken up and the swim was unencumbered. I had anticipated that the swim leg would be my most difficult. As the beach got closer and closer, I felt a great deal of pressure lifted from my shoulders. Standing up in the shallow water and running ashore was awesome. A quick check of my watch showed that I was ahead of my goal time. I swam the one-quarter mile in 9:40:08.

My transition was slow, but I wanted to make sure I had everything in order. Since it is an evening event, it was mandatory to have both a headlight and taillight. One final check of my gear and I was off on the road course. It was a 10 mile out and back ride along a two-lane roadway. It was an "open" course, so there was some vehicular traffic. The drivers were very cautious and considerate of the riders. My only "problem" along the way was that the salt water had left a bad taste in my mouth. I had water, but that did little to erase the taste. I was wishing I had a "Shot Blok" or "Gummy Bear", to get rid of the taste. I was riding at my scheduled pace and felt very comfortable as the mileage signs clicked by. Now it was time to dismount and get through my second transition. All went well and I was off and running. checking the time clock as I crossed the timing mat, I was 6 minutes ahead of my goal time.

This is what I had waited for.....the run! My favorite event, my strength. Well, the old legs were a bit wobbly as I began. It took at least one-half mile before the muscles loosened up to where I felt comfortable. I tired a bit as we made the turn around at 1.5 miles. I stopped at the water stop with one mile to go and drank a cup of water and poured two over my head. I ran in with a little kick left for the final 100 yards. I finished in 1:20:28. My goal time had been 1:30:00, so I was very pleased with my performance. I felt good after finishing and am ready to come back next year and do it all over again!

On a negative note, Raymond who was part of our group, got involved in a bike crash in the early stage of the ride. It seems another cyclist hit a parked car, was thrown from his bike. His bike went into the path of Raymond who was unable to avoid it. He went down hard and suffered a fractured elbow.

The photo is post race, with me, Keith, Sheri and Nigel. Sheri won her age group and was 4th overall female! Congratulations to all :-)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Opening My Eyes

We all, at some point in our lives, take some things for granted. I know I have and I'm sure you have too. I guess that falls under the category of "Human Nature".

As a runner I don't think twice about the route I choose to run. Oh, maybe I want to avoid a hill or a crowded street, but that's about it. I picture in my mind where I will be going because I've done it hundreds of times. When I plan the route I "see" where I am going. I run the course in my mind. I take that for granted.

On July 4th, the annual "Watermelon 5K" road race was held here. It is a semi-competitive run, but is organized for fun and to celebrate the holiday. The race attracts over 3,000 participants crowding into the residential streets of Winter Park, FL. Awaiting all finishers are slices of cold watermelon. As you read this, you hopefully can picture that slice of watermelon and maybe even taste the sweet flavor. As the saying goes, "been there, done that."

Here's where I change gears. What if you couldn't see the route you were running? What if you didn't know what a watermelon looked like. What if you couldn't see the red, white and blue so brightly displayed on the runners?

This year the "Watermelon 5K" welcomed over 40 runners and walkers who are in Orlando for the annual convention of the "American Council of the Blind". Can you imagine participating in a road race without the benefit of your sight?

Track Shack and Event Marketing and Management, coordinated the event and recruited volunteers to be "guides" for the blind participants. Our training group, MarathonFest, supplied many of the "guides".

I was matched up with Doug, a self-described "fast runner" from Virginia. I like most of the "guides" had never volunteered for such a role. Hundreds of questions were in our minds about how we would accomplish our task. The most prominent question was one of safety. How would we describe the course, turns, uneven footing, manhole covers, etc. All those things that we see and move around without much concern.

As we were awaiting the arrival of the bus bringing the ACB participants, I was told that Doug was currently in training for "Ironman Wisconsin". What had I gotten myself into! The already present pressure just went up several notches. I've been training for a "sprint" triathlon later this month and have "whined" about all the training. I guess I was feeling sorry for myself.

I watched as the participants stepped from the bus. I had no idea what Doug looked like, not even his age. All I had was his bib number #140. There he was, looking like a runner ready to get to the starting line. He wore a bright orange tech shirt that had the words "Blind - Visually Impaired Runner" printed on it. I walked over and introduced myself to him. It was not unlike any other race where you meet another runner. We talked about our strategy, our goal, our running experiences, etc. Doug had brought a "tether" with him. It is commonly used to keep the runner and guide together. On our way to the start we made the usual stop at the "Porta Potty" and grabbed a few cups of water. The morning was already heating up and the humidity was high.

At 7:30am, the horn sounded and we were off and running. The course is somewhat narrow so we were caught up in the pack. It was difficult negotiating the turns and participants who should have started back in the pack. We must have passed 100 people in the first half-mile. By mile one, the road widened and we were able to maintain a more normal stride. I was now becoming more relaxed with my "play by play" of the race. Friends pulled alongside and gave Doug and I encouragement. Mile two brought us a water stop, we had skipped the first due to the crowd. Two cups of water and we were on our way. The course finishes with a long straightaway to the entrance to Mead Gardens and the finish line. By now the road was clearing and we were able to increase our pace. We slowed at the turn into the park. I told Doug we were about 200 yards from the finish. The crowds were large inside the park and the cheers were appreciated. We crossed the finish line in 29:40. Both Doug and I had accomplished our goal! Now it was time for a bottle of water and a slice of that cold watermelon.

Like any runners Doug was a bit disappointed with his finish time. He had hoped to finish a bit sooner, but realized the crowd and the Florida heat and humidity had taken its toll. I was reminded of the John "The Penguin" Bingham quote, "your spirit doesn't know how to tell time".

Doug learned that he had finished in 1st place for the ACB runners. Every runner enjoys the reward of a great effort. He received a beautiful trophy for his achievement.

What did I receive? Something that filled my heart and mind with the knowledge that you can do whatever you set out to do despite a handicap. The realization just how fortunate I am to be healthy, to be able to see and enjoy what is in front of me. My already open eyes were just opened a whole lot more by this experience.

Congratulations to all of the ACB runners and walkers who participated in the race. I never heard a complaint, all I heard was the sound of laughter and people expressing their joy in what they had achieved.

We made the walk back to where the bus was parked. Everyone knew just how much this experience had touched us all. In a very short span of time our lives were changed forever.

Thank you Doug for helping me to "see".