Friday, September 17, 2010

Francis Marion Dirt Dash 2010

 Putting our best foot forward: Kelly Luckett and me
The weather forecast never got any better: hot and humid for the inaugural Francis Marion Dirt Dash 5k and Half Marathon. In my previous post, I had outlined my thoughts for this race and they went down the uglier path. Although my time was much slower than I expected, the same held true for everyone. And I have to remember this: without my amputation I would not have even been there, so that's it for the whine.


Jennifer, Kelly Luckett, her friend Holly Mann and I had our pasta dinner at Souri's in Mt. Pleasant. We saw Bill Murray, now our best bud Bill, here not long after my amputation while I was still in a wheelchair. No sighting this evening so we couldn't invite him to a cookout. Soon though.

Kelly had just completed a marathon on Monday, yet here she was getting ready to run a half marathon 5 days later. This would not only be the inaugural Dirt Dash race, but also the first for Kelly's completely new running prosthesis with a Cheetah blade. Yes, this is the same blade Oscar Pistorius runs in! Kelly has a long residual limb, the result of a lawnmower accident at age 2, so she has clearance considerations only a sprint-type foot typically offers.

Jennifer and I arrived at the race about an hour earlier and parked near the starting line. The entire race is run on hard packed dirt roads with some crushed stone, something that did take a good bit of my attention to avoid skating or tripping on during the race.

I donned my running socket and immediately had trouble. As you can see from the pic, which I took afterward, it turns out I was being stabbed in the knee by my carbon fiber frame.

My residual limb is always larger in the morning and loses volume in the course of a day, so at my last adjustment this dagger point was not bothering me. But oh it was no fun this morning. I fiddled and fidgeted with my prosthetic socks until I finally got something I could tolerate as I warmed up for the start. 

Jennifer was doing the 5k as she is not quite back to half marathon shape yet; the rest of us were doing the half marathon. There were several other events going on in the area this weekend, including a 5k that siphoned off some runners. For an early half marathon still reeling from the heat of summer there were close to 200 athletes toeing the line at 8 a.m.

The race was delayed about 10 minutes; we spent the time chatting and getting a few pics. Jennifer took this one of Kelly's and my running feet; you can see the very different styles we use. My foot is a Freedom Innovations "Nitro" and I love it. Those who follow my blog know it is named "Jato."

Photo: Jen Blalock S&L Photography

The horn sounds and we're off in a literal cloud of dust. I find in the first couple of miles that I have to be very watchful of the person in front of me, and I have to be alert to rocks, depressions, and ruts that I cannot see because we are close together. As we thin out this becomes less and then no problem at all.

I am running slightly faster than I planned, but by mile 3 am on target. I am very conscious of the ill-fitting prosthesis as the morning heat starts to rise. One good thing, I had made two Drysol applications earlier in the week and had no problem with my sleeve sliding down my leg or my liner drowning in sweat. 

Just after mile 4 I am slowing because of the heat and lack of concentration due to the knife in the knee and begin to wonder if I will be able to run the whole way after all. By mile 5 I know I will be lucky to come close to what I felt would be my worst time of 2:15.

Photo: Dan Clapper
Soon people started walking, in fact, I don't know if I ever saw so many half marathoners reduced to survival mode so quickly. In the past my able-bodied half marathons always run in cooler temps so this seemed unusual to me.

In the pic at right was before just the wheels came off or the brakes came can see my hydration/supply waist pack with my gold colored towel and some spare prosthetic socks should I need them. About the time this pic was taken I was considering stopping to check my sock fit, but decided the wasted time would likely not result in any increased comfort.

On-On. There was a long stretch - feeling ever longer in the heat - where outbound runners would pass the faster inbound speedsters. By this time I was stopping to walk as I needed, usually no more than 10 - 30s if I could help it. Quite a few people gave me the thumbs up or words of encouragement. Clearly I was not going to have a good run and doubt started creeping in my mind with a sledge-hammer to make its case for longer walking with little if any running.

Photo: Flowertown in Focus Photography
Well now. Many of my friends have commented on my determination; sometimes that is indistinguishable from my genetic Scottish heritage of hardheadedness. At any rate I begin running one more mile. One more mile. One more mile. You can do this. One more mile.

Somewhere in the heat and the dust and the inner struggle it came to mind that not long ago what I was doing this very day was impossible or damn close to it. That no matter what the time, I was here and now and had the privilege of running when on this day not so long ago thousands lost their lives to men of evil. What would my countrymen give to walk and run in the heat of a national forest with their friends? Anything? Everything?

I soon meet Kelly and Holly who are battling the day's hot punches as well. High fives are exchanged and I am slogging my way home. My comrades and I strike up short conversations and quick friendships as we struggle forward. Run as much as you can, walk when you must or plan to, keep climbing.

Nearing the finish line

Toward the end my good leg starts cramping whenever I try to pick up my lowly pace, strong twitches but never a full blown knotted muscle. As I round the bend to home I have to stop a couple of times to massage the leg...I desperately want to quicken my pace for a fast finish but can only do so much. Cheers. I hear cheers. I know some are for me but it seems unreal. In my mind I am the same guy I always was; I know I am different but the same.

My throat clinches in involuntary spasms. Cheers. I hear my sweet wife's voice: "Go Richard!"

I am done.


As I recover the most amazing thing happens to me. A WWII Navy veteran comes up to shake my hand. Jennifer and I tell him our dads were both in the Navy in WWII so we have this common bond. Here this man, a hero in every sense of the word, who helped save this planet from the violence of tyranny, told me how inspiring I was to him.

Oh no, sir, thank you but no. You are the hero here and we owe our freedom to you. There are not enough thank yous for your sacrifice.

I tell you, I would not have traded winning the race for this moment. And one I never would have known except for my loss. What loss?


Jennifer has an equally poor time due to the heat and helps me recover from my efforts. I sit for a long time on the tailgate of the Pilot, just letting the day go by. She is so good to me, helping with the little details that my mind prefers not to think about. Drink. Eat. Towel. Cushion.

Thank you Sweetness and Light.


After I recover we go back and wait for Kelly and Holly. The heat has taken a toll on them too, but they cross the line to cheers of the firefighters and Team Blalock in fine fashion. I am struck by their friendship and support for each other; they stuck together and brought it home!

Friends to the Finish!
We also meet a number of other people, given my somewhat unique appearance it is an easy conversation starter. I met people who worked with my brother and his wife; one lady had had back surgery and was now out participating in the very inspiring. And in an exceedingly wonderful chance meeting, one of my nurses introduced herself and it turns out we live in the same neighborhood. I received such excellent care at Roper St. Francis as I've written here.

We head down to the awards/food location, but unfortunately all of the freebies had disappeared. Awards were given in 10 years increments, so there was no hardware to be had either. Kelly and Holly will be coming back to run the Kiawah Island Marathon and Half Marathon in December with us.


Although I was initially unhappy with my performance, I am certain I will run much better at our next half in October and I learned more lessons from this experience. I learned no matter how ugly the race can get there is no quit short of more serious health considerations. I know this to be true from many past races, but the disappointment sometimes clouds this truth.

However many runners are at a race, there are an equal number of stories about each person. Mine is slightly more obvious than most, but there are many epic tales of my fellow athletes overcoming adversities in many colors. The cancer survivor. Back surgery. Pursuing a healthy lifestyle after neglecting the temple of the body. Yes, it is cliché to say "we are all winners" when most times it is not. But not today.


I am going in for a socket adjustment and I am desperately hoping we can get this fit/comfort problem resolved today. Last night I fell short of running my planned 10 miles for no reason other than I was fighting the socket and afraid trying to push through the warnings that I would injure myself. This morning my ITB was sore where the ill-fitting socket rubs over it outside the kneecap so it is a good thing I stopped short.

On Sunday I am scheduled to run the 10k at the Kiawah Triathlon on a relay team. After that I must focus on marathon training, which I cannot tolerate on this current socket.

We should find the answer soon, because I will run the Charleston Marathon on January 15, 2011. There can be no excuses that day which is why I am aggressively after a good fit now. You don't run a marathon on wishes and wants; it takes discipline, commitment, and determination.

And for me, two good legs. I must have both and soon.

Jato in repose


  1. Way to slog it out RB! Sounds like a tough day, hope you get your socket fit issues resolved.

  2. Thanks jaydee, we made some changes on Friday which will likely lead to a new socket soon. Talked to my CP at length today and he is focused on getting it right.

  3. first: thanks for stopping by my blog! i found you through ian and reading your interview with him was awe inspiring. as was your comment on mine :)

    second: ummmm awe inspiring recap here! way to stay tough and finish. i second joan in saying that i hope the socket issues get resolved soon!

  4. Hi Karyn...Ian and I became friends through Twitter, the world is much smaller these days.

    I ran a 10k leg of a tri relay on Sunday after an adjustment on Friday. There were no problems whatsoever with the socket which really surprised me. We'll see how it holds up on a long run this weekend.

    Thanks for the kind words. I truly doubt that sub-20 is your final destination. A 90s PR indicates to me that there is much more talent to be developed. Aim high.

    - Richard

  5. Richard if you run like you write you will set world records. Thanks for making my day. Don't slow down buddy!

  6. Thanks Myron, I enjoyed your blogpost about barefoot running. Group think does not appear to be our thing. :-)

    - Richard

  7. Haha, so true; I don't think we would be easy to market to. ;-)