It was a long day of driving on Friday the 13th, first to take Baxter to grandma's house, then up to motel at Conway, over to the race packet pickup, back to motel, over to Myrtle Beach for dinner, than back to motel. My coughing is minimal during the day and bad at night but should not prevent me from running the 8k in the morning. I am tired, though, and have had my prosthesis on all day.
It could have been any race in any small town.
On Saturday, November 14, 2009, after two major surgeries and no running for over two years, I completed an 8k race. Exactly seven months prior, on April 14, 2009, I was in the OR having my right foot amputated. It’s hard to describe other than a sense of shock at what I’ve done. I have done something immense with my life, and I cannot grasp all of it. If I try, it overwhelms me. It’s as if I’m deaf from an explosion, and sound is slowing coming back to me.
The race start at the Conway Marina had plenty of parking; we arrived about half an hour before the race and still parked about a quarter mile from the starting line. We eventually sorted out our last minute clothing and equipment choices and walked over to stand in the port-a-potty line. I felt they could have used some more units but few races seem to have really enough.
Afterward Jennifer and I did a short warm-up run. I stopped and made a last minute check of my socket fit, yes, nice and tight, and then we lined up where we thought we should be at the starting line. It was not a very aggressive crowd, lots of room in the group with many behind us. I was a little worried about being in the way, but it turned out to be okay.
The day was cool and overcast, little breeze, very nice. Because of some last minute course checks the start was delayed about 5 minutes, always better late than early, that's for sure. I chat with Jen and another runner and then the national anthem is sung and off we go.
I really wanted to make sure I don't start too fast, fast definitely being a relative term for me. Having run just a handful of miles since getting sick the week before I was concerned it might be a struggle to finish. The first half mile is slightly uphill; perhaps a 20' gain in elevation from the river up to the town. Thereafter it rolls a bit before flattening out.
I was running slightly faster than Jen, who was racing nearly 3 times as far. My prosthetic leg felt a little hard like my distal end was pressing on the socket, but this later went away until the end of the race. I felt very comfortable and hit the first mile in 11:04. The course was very scenic with many trees and old southern homes and charm. Mile two was 10:38, a little faster than I expected but I was not struggling at all.
We make our out and back turn in front of a church and head back to the marina. I see Jen approaching and she is looking good - as always dahlink! I am trying to hold pace and hit mile 3 in 10:29. Cool. Ahead I see an older guy who gives me a target to reach. Later in a race even if you feel you are running faster, you are also overcoming fatigue so sometimes what feels like more effort is just the effort to overcome increasing gravity.
As I catch him, he asks me how I'm feeling. It's an old runner's trick to see how your competition is doing, if the response is labored -and truthful - it let's you know the state of the runner's being. We pass mile 4 and he asks what it was: 10:39. I make the mistake of offering too much information, that I am saving something for the end. Although he said he was going to "try keep up" with me to the finish, shortly thereafter he picks up the pace and I find I am beginning to fatigue. I give a nod to his smart running.
The course starts to roll again as we head home. In my mind, I feel my old stride lengthening as I start to pick off slowing runners. In today's reality I do pick up the pace a little but there will be no blowing by anyone. I hear encouragement from the crowd; I reach down and find a little more speed, cross the finish line and I'm done.
I have finished my first race as an amputee. The thought comes to mind of the surgery 7 months ago and now today, of all the milestones these two stand alone. I'm quite spent and walk a bit to recover. Over by the port-a-potties I break down a little with my back to the crowd.
I have done it. It seems impossible but here I am. I have done it.
I go to the SUV and change into my old Chicago marathon sweatshirt, a race I ran in 1997 in 3:32:10. My residual is not too wet, but I am surprised how much sweat ran between the outer and inner plastic pieces of my socket. There is perhaps a tablespoon of perspiration around the air valve. I dry everything out, text Larry that I finished the race, and head back to the finish line to wait for Jen.
While I wait I notice they are posting the 8k results. When I can get close enough to check my name I see:
Place Div No. Name Age S ChiptmYes, that is second place in my AG (age group). There were four races in the area this weekend, so I was lucky to rank so high. I can only think the running gods smiled on me - they certainly have had some fun at my expense in the past - because of my peculiar situation and recent illness.
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76 2 807 Richard Blalock 56 M 52:18
Jen comes in looking strong and I run a few steps with her. We go back to the car so she can get out of most of her wet clothes and we trade stories about our races. I tell her I was second in my AG so we must stay for the awards...and when we return to the starting area we find she got first place in her AG. Wow and double wow.
I am very happy to get my medal and Jen snaps a pic on her Blackberry. Another woman from Mt. Pleasant gets her award and touches my jacket and says something I can't quite make out in my fluid-filled right ear canal. Jennifer is always sensitive about getting her hardware and asks that I not yell for her when she receives it. I know she has worked hard, probably as hard or harder than more genetically gifted runners. I am very proud of her and can't suppress her desire that I don't whoo-hoo her ceremony.
I have a huge volume of work ahead of me to get close to my old running self. But I am on my way now, where all of my running is new again. I am indeed lucky to be given this second life, although I never took the first for granted and never thought I could love it more. From this high road, I see ever higher peaks all around that demand climbing.
Up I go.
Up I go.
It is a good day to run.
A very good day indeed.