Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bolder Boulder 2010 - Memorial Day

Skydiver and Old Glory

Last week Jennifer, my mom, and I flew out to Colorado to visit with family, see a few sights, and run with fifty thousand of our peers in the Bolder Boulder 10k on Memorial Day. We stayed with Jen's brother Gary and his soon-to-have-a-spinal-fusion wife Nancy and their best friend Wrigley the pooch.

 Gary, Jennifer, Moi, Mom, and Nancy
Our house sits at exactly 14' above sea level and we arrived at over 1 mile in altitude. I was concerned that the thin air might cause my mom some breathing problems, but she didn't seem to be affected as much as us runners. I knew it would slow our running and scaled back any idea whatsoever of PRing, but thought if conditions were right I could do around 58:00 and certainly break 1 hour as a minimal goal.

I did not run all week before our trip because of the fibula swelling I talked about in this post. I missed my race tune-up/confidence building track session, which I find important from the mental aspect of racing. Knowing you have prepared and left little to chance means on race day you are ready to go, circumstance takes care of the rest.

The day after our arrival, Jen, Gary, and I went out for a short run for us to acclimate to the altitude. We went at a very easy pace, but with higher than normal temps it was more like our home than the coolness we were expecting. After my shower I found my right leg around the fibula head was very sore; upon closer inspection I saw swelling and at what is almost certainly a bursa about the size of my thumb. I found my walking prosthesis actually caused more pain so I hobbled around in my running prosthesis as its socket was more comfortable.

We did some sightseeing - Red Rocks and Estes Park - on Saturday. I had to wear my walking prosthesis but tried to minimize time on my feet and range of motion to avoid further irritation. More icing in the evening and a little cortisone cream that I thought might also help calm the owie. I was very concerned that I might not even make the starting line of the race. I texted my CP and we set up an appointment for me so see him the day we returned home.

On Sunday, my leg felt much better and the bursa was noticeably smaller. We did another short run and everything felt surprising good. I ran 2 miles at what I thought would be near race pace and found my time to be at least 30s slower than sea level. My new goal was to just be able to run the 10k without having to stop, or worse, have the bursa return and cause me to call for assistance to the finish line.

I had one other concern: the rolling course. Although I had run this race as an able-bodied athlete for fun with Jennifer some years before, I have not run at faster pace on hills as an amputee with Jato. I have found going uphill is relatively easy, but going downhill fast can be treacherous. We watched the race video of the course that Frank Shorter narrated, but film does not visually translate grade changes very well. Mentally I decided I would go as slow as needed to avoid another fall especially going downhill, and hoped nothing was too steep to slow me to a walk.

Race morning my leg looked and felt good. After some anxious moments as to whether or not I'd be on time for my wave start, we arrived with minutes to spare. I weaseled my way through the various waves before locating mine: ED. After a quick sock check and adding a one-ply, my wave approached the start. A fellow runner struck up a conversation with me by looking at my prosthesis and saying "I could sure use one of those springs." to which I replied: "Trade ya!" We chatted a bit and then were set for our start.

 A wave takes off

The very slight downhill at the beginning is not noticeable to me, but for the next 2 miles I can feel the tug of gravity as well as the altitude. Per Frank Shorter's advice, I back off my pace to something more comfortable. Redlining at altitude is not something you recovery from without grabbing the knees for a few minutes. This is unacceptable behavior to me. I get my breathing under control but see I am running slower as the nearly constant climbing drags an anchor behind me.

Somewhere in a residential section I smell BACON. What the...? I miss the source of the piggy perfume, but later heard someone was indeed cooking and handing out bacon strips to the passing runners. I am aware of the crowds and other runners, but have to concentrate on the road and my form, The Fall still being fresh in my memory and on my skin. I have a couple of runners give me some words of encouragement and thumb's up, and I gratefully acknowledge their support. 
Just after mile 4 there is a mile long downhill. I find a good rhythm but do not trust myself to open my stride. Even with gravity's reluctant help, I do not run under 9 minutes for this mile; a couple of times I have to slow myself as I feel out of control. I do feel some stress in the right hip adductor area that will be sore afterward.

As we head uphill toward the finish we approach a steeper grade and I hear a woman's voice: "If you can hear me you are on pace to run under an hour! Keep going!" I think it is the same person who sidles alongside of me, gives me a high five and more supporting comments. I stab my blade into the grade and up we go, then I hear something that brings goose bumps to my residual: a bagpipe brigade playing "Scotland the Brave." Oh my.

Coming into CU stadium, I have to slow to descend the steep grade...then onto the aluminum decking which I have to run a few slower steps on to see how Jato responded to it. No slipping, time to pick it up for the sprint to the finish. Opening the stride, dig, dig, dig, and I'm done, noticing I have run under the hour mark. My race splits are here.

I find my way to our appointed Section 105 meeting area where mom and Nancy have staked out a row of seats. Soon Gary finishes and has run much better than he expected, having a nagging injury that has put a hitch in his giddy-up. We trade our race stories and Jennifer is unhappy with some bozo who hit her in the back with a football. 

The elite runners start last in this race, so we get to seem them finish in the stadium. In an amazing show of strength, speed, and friendship, the Ethiopian men's team finish together with hands joined over their heads. The crowd erupted in a spontaneously roar of appreciation. The women's elite race was dominated by the Ethiopian runners, finishing one-two.

We then enjoy the Memorial Day tribute to our service people, with skydivers landing in the infield from each branch of service and an American flag capping the jumps.
Two WWII veterans are honored, members of a generation that saved the world from dictators and tyranny, a diminishing breed that many in the current generations cannot, I fear, truly understand. Even my generation, barely removed from this historical madness, can barely comprehend it without experiencing the thing that is unimaginable. 

Runners are given additional tags to pin to their shirts to run in honor of the military on this day; Jennifer and Gary ran for their dad Bill Starrett, and I ran for my dad and his last living shipmate, Jim Westcott, on the LSM 447, which participated in the landing on Okinawa. My dad went by the name "Tal" but during WW II apparently he had to go by the nickname "Bill" and his shipmates knew him by this name.

Honoring the Greatest

The following day my residual felt fine, and I delayed my trip to Floyd Brace until they finished the carbon fiber socket for Jato. More on this later, but finally Jato is in his proper garb that has been a long, long time in coming to me.


Gary's wife Nancy, our SIL, will be having significant spinal surgery soon to help stabilize her scoliosis. This is much more complicated and longer than my amputation and takes two days to complete with a short period in between the procedures. Nancy is currently in a great deal of discomfort, but I don't think I ever heard her complain. We talked at some length about the similar aspect of our journeys, which it getting the quality of one's life back. 

Nancy has the attitude she needs to make this operation a success on her part, her surgeon has the other key. She is already planning her next marathon, which tells you she does not accept limits either. She has a long recovery and much therapy ahead of her; I know she will do everything expected by her, including crossing the finish line after 26.2 miles carrying titanium rods and screws along in her spine.

That, my friends, is the way to celebrate life.


  1. Thanks for this post Richard. Some excellent progress and the racing feel is coming back to you. Brilliant performance. Pass on my best to Nancy, too. You are both extremely courageous people.

  2. Thanks Ian, we had a lot of fun and it's a fantastic race experience.

    I wished we lived closer to Gary and Nancy's to be able to help out, she is very brave indeed.

    Hope to see you at a race one day. I am going to shoot for Boston in 2012 if the rest of me holds together.

  3. After living in Boston and experiencing the big day itself I can see me trying to make 2012, too. See you there, if not before!

  4. Sorry I'm a bit behind, but this is a great write up! Glad your fibula is under control, sometimes I wish mine was removed altogether! Congratulations all the way around.

  5. Hey Earl,

    Yeah, the problem areas on the leg are a bit of a moving target, still need to get a long run in with the new socket to see if it fixes the fit problems but so far so good. CP scared me a little in thinking the fib head was moving outward which I don't think it was doing, just a poorly fitting socket.

    Looking forward to hearing about your training and tris!

    - Richard