Saturday, January 16, 2010

With Wings

It has now been about nine months since I had my amputation, and today I gave birth to a lovely PR!

With my Achilles not onboard with the No Whine rule, I have been giving it plenty of squeaky wheel grease in hopes it would not degenerate further. This morning I got up, took a hot shower and then gently stretched it. No pain, not even a "are you sure you want to do this" shout of foreshadowing. Okay, I wasn't listening as intently as I do to Jennifer's every word, but I was silently happy that all systems were a go.

Speaking of all things lovely, Jennifer is still recovering from her ankle sprain and would be unable to run at all. She had signed up for the half marathon as she was trying to do one a month, but her plans have been recalibrated for now. I know how it is to go to a race and not participate, and it is particularly gruesome when your fitness level is high and your paw is sore.

The race was well organized, and with three events going on nearly simultaneously, the race director, Charles Fox, along with race management RMS did a fantastic job. There was a short delay at the start but fortunately for us the forecasted rain held off and we had great running conditions, perhaps 50o F with overcast skies.

We arrived with about an hour to spare. There was plenty of parking and we found a spot very close to the start. A quick trip to the "facilities" then I did a long warm-up and stretched the Achilles some more before heading back to the SUV to make take off the warmups and join the flock at the start.

The mayor of North Charleston, Keith Summey, made some remarks and gave an invocation, and the National Anthem was sung by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra Spiritual Ensemble. Very beautiful and moving. We then had a delay while the final course checks were made and I thought of Ashley Kurpiel, my friend to whom I had dedicated this race. Thanks for the wings, Ashley!

We were finally off and running! My stride fell into a quick rhythm and I felt very good. The 5k course has a long straightaway, then right and left to the first mile marker, which my Garmin 301 read as 9:24 min./1.05 mi. Not far from here there was a 180o turnaround, probably my only complaint of the course as these sharp turns are time killers. We were basically doing a loop, then headed back to the main straightaway before making a left into the officer's housing.

This was among the most scenic areas but I really couldn't enjoy the sights as I had the task at hand of playing the runnin' fool. About the time we entered Waterfront Park we hit the second mile, 8:52 min/0.98 mi on my watch. If accurate this would also be the fastest mile I have yet run as an amputee and I was still feeling strong. There was a cool drum ensemble in the park that I was able to listen through my distress some, a nice touch by the race director.

Around 2.5 mi my effort became more I approached 3 Army soldiers at a sharp turn I give them a thumbs up and one guy tried to give me a high five but I just missed his hand. Headed out of the park I noticed a man about my age - hard to tell sometime though - who had been pulling steadily away from me earlier. Shortly he began to walk and I passed him about the time we turned down the homestretch. I never fail to have the unfortunate realization that the last quarter mile or so of a 5k seems to go on forever, that times slows as the mountain slope steepens. I hit mile three, 1.03 on the Garmin, at 9:00 flat.

My breathing was very labored as I tried to keep my form together while picking up the pace with...wings. I pass three spectators who cheered for me. Higher. I looked for my sweet wife but could not focus on any faces. I hear my name announced, cross the line, and look down from this summit. I am home. The time on my watch is 28:10, chip time was 28:07, gun time of 28:13.

My chip is removed from my shoe and Danny White of RMS gives me some words of encouragement. Jennifer finds me and yeah, this day just keep glowing brighter. One of the post-race goodies is shrimp and grits, and they were very good on a mostly empty stomach. We stand around a bit to see if preliminary results are posted but it appears that is not going to happen today. We head back to the Pilot so I can do some socket housecleaning and put on some warmer clothes. After another coffee infusion we had back for the awards ceremony. At most 5ks I know my time would be far out of the hardware store, but given 3 races my chances improved slightly.

I believe it was about this time one of those little miracles happened. A young woman came up to us and said she just had to tell me how much she admired what I was doing and wanted to give me a hug. I was hoping I was going to hold it together and I did...such kindness is overwhelming to me. I did have a number of people shake my hand or speak to me as well. This genuine outpouring of support goes to a place inside - the heart - and lives there now.

A bit later as Jen and I are chatting, David Quick, a top local runner and reporter for the Charleston Post and Courier, comes up to me a little wide-eyed. 'What happened to you?' he asks and then we proceed to an impromptu interview. He asked me if I would agree to talk to him in the future and I gave him my contact numbers. David takes a couple of pictures and also asks Jennifer some questions about my decision to have this procedure which she handles easily. We finish up and head to the award tent and it starts to rain for the first time, not heavy, just a little drizzle.

In my AG the third place time is slower than mine so I know I've placed!

N. Charleston,S.C. Jan 16,2010
Results compiled by Race Management Systems(RMS),
Pl  Div No. Name            Age S City        St Chiptim Time      
=== === === =============== === = =========== == ===== ======
55  2  1511 Richard Blalock 56 M Mt. Pleasant SC  28:07 28:13

I win a nice glass with the race logo and my place. Jennifer and I walk back to the car with the treasure and we head to the IHOP for breakfast. Yes, it was a good day to run, a very good day. The feeling is hard to explain, but happiness certainly encompasses this ring of those near and far, and yes, I am flying even now.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly.
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.

- Sir Paul McCartney

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