Saturday, January 29, 2011

Back to the Start - Charleston Marathon Part IV

January 15, 2011 - Start of the Inaugural Charleston Marathon


Old friend

You have been with me every other step of the way
From first light we stumbled into everyday

As you depart know when time has done his worst
we will laugh and run along the high road
high above the sorrow
high above the pines

and we are flying
with wings

                                                       (April 14, 2009)


The first mile of the marathon is the usual congestion, but it does not take very long to clear enough to run one's own pace. The roads in downtown Charleston, even the better ones, often have a lot of dips and depressions owing to the cheese-like fill much of it is built upon. I have to keep an eye on the pavement, made a little tougher because the road is still thick with runners. As we approach White Point Gardens, a.k.a. The Battery, some runners take to the higher seawall and run above us on the left.

I allow myself to think about a day long, long ago, when my dad was taking home movies at this very spot. My mom is holding the newborn brother Mark, so I think this movie was filmed in late November or earlier December 1960. This would make me 6 years old, almost 7.  This is the earliest film of yours truly running, and if you were to watch our old home movies. you'd know exactly why I came to run today.

I looked to my right to the memorial where my sister and I played. And there I remembered the little boy, running around this monument so many years ago. And here I am today, fifty years later, still running. With one foot. I do not quit. Ever. This day is sealed.


We head up King Street and I latch onto the 2:30 half marathon pace group. My pace feels like I am holding back, I am running within myself, so I feel good about the day's prospects. Crowd support is better than I expected for a relatively small marathon, and I can tell you the words of encouragement are never lost on me now. Somewhere I realize I have hit the stop/start button on my watch instead of the lap button, and restart it, losing about half a mile in the process. I am not kind to myself in my self-admonitions. Doofus.

My body is already heating up when I notice it seems my prosthesis fit is a little wobbly. I pull over to the side of the road, press a button on the pump, and it turns on. Okay, maybe I managed to turn it off before the race start. It pumps for a while but soon the prosthesis still feels loose, and I can feel sweat building in the liner. I retrieve the fob from my shorts. I turn it on and see the pump is off. I turn it on. It runs and turns off. What the...?

Just run.

I keep monkeying with the fob while I try to decide I should do. I notice a woman wearing a shirt for her mother who had Alzheimer's; I touch her shoulder and said a few words of encouragement. Many of us were running for someone else today.


Now I am completely unfocused from my race. What am I going to do with my pump turned off? My guess is some suction will remain, but I will have to make several stops to remove my prosthesis to dump the sweat that will accumulate in it. I awkwardly remove the IFOPA singlet and the outermost shirt over my head while running, thinking afterward how I could have fallen when I couldn't see the road for a couple of seconds and how that would have looked to others. Doofus.

Things start to deteriorate. My pump will not stay on and I feel my liner and sleeve slipping down. I yank the sleeve back up, but it short order it slids back down. I start pulling over to the side of the road to adjust the sleeve and liner but I am new to elevated vac and don't know what is causing this unusual behavior. Many runners ask if I need help or if I'm in trouble...thanks, but no, I am having an equipment problem.

One of the people who asks if I need help is a nurse. From my operation to my first mile to my first marathon, nurses have always been there. I wish I could have told her this, but I thanked her and said I was okay, and she ran on.

I take a chance and try to unzip the a pocket to retrieve my phone, managing to partially rip off a fingernail; I look dumbly at it, see it bleeding, and tear if off completely. Ouch. BIG OUCH. I manage to call Stephen, my prosthetist, without further bloodshed. He answers and I tell him as best I can what is going on. Over the next couple of miles while I am running we discuss what might be happening; Stephen is leaning toward a leak somewhere, but I have been unable to find a hole when I stop to adjust the slipping sleeve.


The star marks the moment of truth
Jennifer catches me and asks what is wrong. I tell her my prosthesis feels loose and the vacuum keeps shutting off. Gratefully, she take some of the clothes I have removed as I do not want to lose them. I run ahead for a while and then just before mile 8 I have to stop again. So many runners have passed me by and I am thinking I am getting very close to last place.

I decide to remove my prosthesis, dry everything, and then just run without the vacuum pump operating. I sit on the curb and start to remove my leg, but I cannot find the lotion I need to allow the liner to unroll over itself in order to pull it off. (After the race I find the lotion stuffed in the towel compartment. Arrrgh!) The liner is made from polyurethane; it requires a lotion lubricant to don and doff (put on / take off). Jennifer catches up to me once again and asks if she can help.

At this point I am starting to think there are just too many things working against me today. Jennifer helps me with keeping my prosthesis upright while I root around in my waist pack for the lotion...oh no, it is not there. I am thinking it fell out while I was getting my phone out of the zippered pouch where I thought I placed it. Oh my.

And then adversity pulls out his nasty trump card: the SAG bus passes us by, and we hear someone tell the volunteers they can pack up and leave. I cannot believe what I am hearing.

Jennifer then sees what I could not. There it is, about two inches from the top, a small rip in my liner. This hole is the cause of the leaking and why the vacuum pump cannot hold suction. I roll the top of the liner over the top of itself, start the pump, and it holds. I put it well below the level I should have because the battery is at least half discharged and I don't want it running out of juice since we still have a long way to go.

The SAG bus is about a quarter mile away; Jennifer reminds me that if I cannot finish no one will think the worse of me, that today has gone badly and I can just pull out if I need to.

What comes out of my mouth shocked me with its voracity: "HELL  NO! Sorry hon, I am not yelling at you, but I have come too far to stop now. I feel okay except for these leg problems...I am going to go as far as I go, I just can't give up. I just can't."

It occurs to me how my foot came to injured all those years ago as it was crushed by the school bus rear tires. I give chase to the SAG wagon, determined to catch it and leave it behind. I outran the damn pace truck at Parris Island many years ago, surely I can track down the vehicle going at at course closing speed, which is over 17 minutes a mile.

Surely, unless the bus driver has a lead foot, which he did.

As he pulled away, the support tables were being dismantled, and I had no idea how I was going to be able to run 18 more miles with one bottle of Gatorade. Now I became concerned that I would lose my way on the course if the volunteers left...what more was expected of me this day?

I watched the runners ahead of me for turns, eyed the cursed speeding SAG wagon that I could not make ground on despite running much faster than course closing pace, and kept moving forward. My mind was clear of all other distractions, there was no thoughts other than to stay on the course and keep running after the bus.

keep. moving.   forward.

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