Thursday, November 26, 2009

Nothing Is Impossible

From left, Nancy Cumbee, Richard Blalock, and Jennifer Blalock

The Charleston Turkey Day run was to be my "return to racing" event, but despite some minor setbacks that race was the Conway 8k on November 14. Still, this would be my first local race, and I became increasing anxious about it, as nearly as nervous as the start of my high school races where I most often only raced not to be last.

We were to meet our friend Nancy at the Knights of Columbus building, but as soon as we arrived I spied the port-a-potties and felt the runner's compunction to go stand in line. Shortly thereafter Jen met Nancy and joined me as ladies-in-waiting.

Although I am still very self-conscious of my appearance, I can't say I felt like I am being stared at by others and for this I am thankful. I'm sure the leg is noticed and I don't mind at all talking about it, at times that actually makes me less aware of it...these ironies seem part of many aspects of being an amputee. I am different but more the same than ever.

After our visit to the plastic potties, we head over to the starting line. Jen snaps a pic of me (my "Blackbird" outfit!) and I am rather proud to see the baby I was carrying around my belly is mostly gone. I've lost nearly 20 lbs of me from my couple of years of minimal exercise and slothdom. However, the main inspiration for weight loss was not for appearance or health or anything like that, it is in preparation for being in the proper weight category for my running prosthesis. Indeed, I must be worthy although my running times are not quite there yet.

We mosey to our rough time positions and wait about 20 minutes until the start among our fellow brightly colored flock - I now see us like that at races - and hear very little from the PA system. Nancy is a new home owner and is in the intense process of home improvement, something that is taking a lot of her energy and training time. Nancy is an outstanding cyclist; Jen ("Jencapie") and Nancy ("Nance") have done tris and bike rides together. I've only been riding for less than 2 years, and only a couple of times since my operation, but that will change once I get a riding prosthesis. More on that at a later date.

Although I am not a formal (?) religious person, I always look forward to the blessing of the runners, which is a religious experience for me. The Chaplain works down the middle of the runners and sprinkles us with Holy Water. I can't say this has ever made me run faster, but I do feel blessed to have received it evermore so today.

From the race website:

"The 2009 Turkey Day Run is dedicated to Father James Parker, Chaplain to the Knights of Columbus Council #704.

Father Parker
He is at the start line of every race to say the blessing and to sprinkle the participants with Holy Water. The Turkey Day Run Committee is grateful to Father Parker for his commitment to the run and walk and is proud to dedicate the 2009 race to him."

The race starts right on time, the way it should. We start running almost immediately, but then have to do a start/stop/start as we attempt to take off into the running sky. Although we have chips on our shoes, for some reason there will be not chip times as I would learn later, so I will receive no accurate run time as I do not stop my watch at the finish. But that is time to come right now. I punch my watch when I cross the starting line.

Jen, Nancy, and I are running together at this point, but it is understood we will run our own races. Not far from the starting line we are running with Jannette Finch, a longtime friend and triathlete. We chat a bit but soon I get caught up in the race and increase my pace. I feel good and love running among my I've missed you all!

At first I am passing a few runners, but even though I end up running a fairly steady pace, I feel I am being passed by ever more runners. My first mile on my watch is 10:04, HR (heart rate) 167. I should mention I made the mistake of not even thinking of turning off my Garmin's autolap feature, as I should manually record my mile splits (lap time) because the Garmin and course markers are rarely the same...close but not the same.

We make a left then right turns around White Point gardens, a place that I've visited throughout my life. I am starting to feel the strain of running now, not bad, but definitely getting my attention. A boy runs up alongside of me and starts a conversation:

He says: "At least that thing doesn't get tired!"

Me: "That's what they tell me but I'm not so sure about that."

I can't recall what else we said, but I ended with: "Have a good race man!" and off he went. I thought to myself, what a fine kid, one of the many you don't hear about because the good are often missed entirely in life. I am seeing them with more focus than ever...Thanksgiving Day, and I am thankful in every way for my new life.

At mile two I realize the bigger difference in my Garmin and the race mile markers. Since we are running between gigantic houses and the canopies of live oaks embracing us, I'm sure the signal is lost on occasion. The Garmin goes off perhaps 50m or less before the mile 2 marker, saying 9:42, HR 163. I am sure my mile time was a tad over 10 min, however much I wished it had been under 10.

I grab a cup of water to cleanse my dry mouth, but do not stop. We are heading up King Street and this last mile is, as always, the longest mile. Seems I am being passed by many more runners now, a little disheartening but I am working hard to keep my pace with the thought of picking it up soon...real soon.

Suddenly I am working much harder and am only picking up the pace a little. I hear a woman pushing her friend forward, faster, higher, stronger. 'You can do it...come on! We can still break 30 minutes!" I have serious reservations about this 30 minute goal, although it will be my next one. I am struggling, wheezing some, aware of other runners working through our common foe of fatigue and gravity.

And as I am pushing up the mountain, thinking how it would feel to walk only a few steps. I feel my bandage slipping off my knee wound, and in lightning the thought comes into my mind and softly out my mouth: 

Nothing is impossible. 

It is a half mile to go and I bear down. Nothing is impossible. Not as many runners are passing me now, home is a finish line not far from here.

Mile 3 arrives at 10:00 even, HR 162.

I hear someone say my name from the crowd, I am too focused to look to see if I recognize the person, but it serves to lengthen my stride, pass one more runner, and transform myself from runner to knee-holding finisher.
I walk into the crowd and realize I haven't stopped my watch. It now reads 3.17 miles and with my extra walking it shows a total run time of 31:19, 9:52 mile average, yikes! My estimate is probably a time of 31:09, still far better than what I estimated on my race application some weeks ago of a reasonable 36 minutes. My official race results are: 

 Place      Div/Tot        Sex/Tot               Name                 Age   Time       Pace
===== ======== ======== ================ === ======= ==== 
 2054       72/157    1253/2027   RICHARD BLALOCK 56     32:17     10:24 
There were 4186 finishers listed here. I'm right in the middle of the pack and damned proud to be here! It took over a minute to cross the starting line.

As we walk off King Street and into Marion Square, someone asks how the leg did. It might have been my friend Mike Nice, looked like him but I wasn't sure. To my right I see our friend Cal Sinkler, who I make my way to for a celebratory hug. Happiness is unbound.

I now notice a little more soreness in my knee and walk between some vehicles, hold onto my knees, close my eyes, and remember what I've done.


Jen is already at our meeting place, having made a Chicago-style shortcut through the race barriers and soon Nance joins us. We exchange slices of our race stories then head back to our SUV. Jen and Nancy return to the expo while I check out my knee. Not nearly as bad as I was expecting, the wetness turned out not to be blood but my friend excess perspiration. I dry everything off, fix a new bandage over my owie, and spend some time on my Blackberry tweeting and catching up on correspondence.

Rick Ball had emailed me in the wee hours before the race about using Spenco Second Skin for my injury, something he likes very much. I have used this in the past and checked my old able-bodied supplies. Yes, the box was there but the kit had been replaced with miscellaneous odd sized bandages. I did go by CVS to get some for the future, but made a mistake and got burn pads, ah jeese. I did pick up an assortment of other bandages and will heed Rick's advice and get the Spenco blister kit when I order more Drysol.

Rick has been an indispensable source of help and inspiration to me as I've transitioned back into running as an amputee. Thanks Rick, when you guys are needing a winter break we've got some SC sunshine and dinner waiting for you! Rick is waiting to be named to Canada's Paralympic team, something I feel confident will happen for him given his records and spirit. Again, I would have never known Rick as my old able-bodied self, now I know someone headed up that Olympic mountain.

Life, I am ever amazed.


Jennifer comes back to the Honda with some future race fashions from the expo and we head for home and a later Thanksgiving feast at my brother Mark and sis-in-law Debbie "Martha Stewart Should Come to my School" Blalock's house. Mark, my mom, and Jen all give thanks for my successful surgery and return to running, as I do, but also for the love of all present. When people come together, things like politics fall away. We are individuals and connected; if we depend on ourselves we can solve most problems and find nothing is impossible. The things that divide us are artificial and fleeting.


I am giving my knee a day off to toughen up, I will try a short run on the treadmill tomorrow and see if there any problems that irritate it further. It looks like it will heal much faster than the old blister problem on my incision line, which looks to be A-OK now, another little victory here.

My concerned CP Larry Wiley calls me later, which I miss while having breakfast. I text him that my knee is no worse for the wear, so the socket adjustment kept the pressure off my owie. My leg is still changing shape and will do so for the rest of my life, until you have to wear a restrictive covering over your limb you probably don't realize these small changes that happen every day. I am thinking eventually for my daily prosthesis that the elevated vacuum suspension system will be best to help with these volume fluctuations, but I might forgo them with a racing prosthesis. Time will tell.

My average mile times for this 5k was around 10 min/mi. whereas my pace at the longer 8k was 10:32 min/mi. I would guess the real improvement was around 20s / mile, maybe a little better but not the 40s / mile I previously thought. I will not be running the local Reindeer Run next weekend as I want to give my knee time to heal and to be able to get my mileage up.

Our next race will be the Resolution Run 5k on January 2 and then the Riverfront Race Festival on Jan. 16, 2010. At the latter Jen will run the half marathon and I will do the 5k. More to follow, including my beloved Flowertown races in March. There is also a local 15k I want to do, but I'm not committing until we get closer to the race date to see how my training and residual are holding up to increased mileage.

Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving, mine was perfect this year.

My right leg having a well-deserved rest after the Turkey Day 5k.

No comments:

Post a Comment