Friday, November 11, 2011

Savannah on Six Feet

From left, Me, Jennifer, Kelly, and Brian

We had a nice three hour drive to Charleston's sister city last weekend to run the Savannah Rock'nRoll half marathon. We stayed with our friends Kelly and Brian Luckett who would both be running the full 26.2. Savannah is one of America's jewels and I was happy we got to spend some time there, seeing it from the unique runner's perspective.

My summer had been tuned to shorter speed work, and having to cut back on intensity and days with my recent skin infection, I knew a PR was unlikely. In reviewing my running log from the previous year, I was certain my endurance was not where it was at that time. Still, I felt I should be able to run under 2 hours, although I knew if I had a bad day 2:10 should be the upper limit.

We hit the expo just before what appeared to be the peak, and then headed to the Luckett's temporary accommodations on Skidaway Island. Kelly and Brian very much want to move into the city, and in the meantime have this rental to tide them over. Kelly is a Syme's amputee, and therefor has a long residual limb, so long that she has to use a Cheetah running blade, the same one that Oscar Pistorius employs.


Kelly and Brian had arranged to get us a close parking spot for the morning of the race. It was quite chilly, but I knew I would warm up quickly and decided to forgo gloves and ear protection. I did put warmer clothes in my gear check bag, only wish I had had the good sense to put those gloves in the bag for after the race.

We all walked to the starting area and split up to go to our corral areas. Jennifer took my gear check bag since her corral was nearby, and I went off shivering to stand in line where all runners go...and go...and go. I did find two ADA (handicap) units. These are not reserved for the handicapped, at least not at this event.

I had about 40 minutes to wait, and found some shelter in a stairway. I closed my eyes and try to relax and meditate some...for some reason I kept seeing the mental picture of myself on the 7th floor of Roper Hospital. This is where I stayed immediately after my surgery, the first days of the journey that lead me to this new life. Back then I remember trying to imagine what it would be like to run again. Now I know.


I was in the 4th corral and we got started very quickly. As always, my main concern was not to start too quickly. Usually my first mile is a little fast if I don't reel myself in, but today I was not running quite so easily. After 3 miles I was certain this was going to be harder than I expected, and I hoped I would not crash and burn given all of the training I had done.

There was tremendous crowd support on the course, very much welcomed to hear even if we cannot always respond to it. Many, many people talked to me, definitely a mixed bag of loving the support and feeling a lack of focus for the need to acknowledge it. I simply can't ignore it and must give some response, in my mind I have to think the support goes into the heart and will be needed some day.

There were many kind words. One of the most memorable was hearing a guy behind me say something like:  

'Man, looks at that guy with the prosthetic...with all the aches and pains I complain about I'm not saying another word.'

I wanted to say I was not in that kind of pain today, but it did take me back to what I had been through to get to this day, to be able to run again. My vision blurred and I could not speak these words to him.

Photo by Dan Clapper
Throughout the race my left hamstring felt like someone was plucking it like a string, just enough to let me know something was not quite right. I did not stop to stretch, only tried to massage it as best I could and trying not to stress it more. Luckily it never did cramp, but given this sign I know I need to attend to it before I step up my training for Boston,

Dan Clapper and Peggy Klimecki, both Charleston area athletes, passed me during the race, Dan taking pictures and Peggy offering encouragement. Another woman, wearing a Boston Marathon top, ran by and asked if I was Richard Blalock, and then ran on, I have no idea who she was but seeing that Boston shirt sure brought the goal race to mind.


Photo by Dan Clapper
For me, the best moment of the race was our run along Liberty Street. We were headed into the sunrise, the spectators were incredibly loud and excited, and we runners were moving together in a tunnel of live oaks to the brilliance of a new day. 'Run toward the light!' I thought. For a short period I felt no runner's distress, just the lightness of running with these magnificent people. How could I have missed this...forever? 

How beautiful. With wings.

Usually I like to have a little something left for the last 3 miles, but now I was struggling and not terribly happy about it. Even knowing the why if it, it is still hard for me to accept a slower time than I had hoped for. As we reached the final stretch to the finish line, I did try to pick up the pace one last time. My hamstring complained a little too loudly and I stumbled, looking like a wounded Big Bird as I regained my balance. 

S & L Photography
Crossing the finish line, a volunteer helped me, making sure I was okay after my stumble and there wasn't anything seriously wrong. I thanked him, received my finisher's medal, and headed off to pick up my gear as I was quickly getting chilled.

We had planned to meet at the letter "L" in the reunion area after the race, only I didn't see then letter on any of the pylons. Turned out they were on the other side of a walk/tree line, but Brian and Jennifer hunted me down and we soon all waited for Kelly after some coffee and food at a nearby cafe. Brian had a solid PR and would have gone faster save a nasty headwind that beat up the marathoners in the final miles.

Jennifer did quite well with her half and I was okay with my 2:04:42 finish. Kelly had an enjoyable race, no doubt even better that they have made the move from Atlanta to the Savannah area and this would be her home race for the future.

This was the first race in my new prosthesis from ProCare. the first couple of miles thought I might have some pressure on the distal end, but that abated and the leg performed flawlessly for the rest of the race. I have run in it a couple of times after the race and it feels incredible. I am looking forward to pushing my training with this, my state-of-the-art partner. More on it later!

We spent the rest of the day recovering and reliving the race while catching up on all things running and even not running. After dinner we caught up on our caloric expenditure at Leopold's Ice Cream, amazing how quiet we became over our pumpkin pie sundaes. Okay, so this is the real reason we burn 1500 - 2500 calories at a race, still too much stigma attached to this secret fact.


It is fair to say I was somewhat disappointed in my race time, but afterward the feeling I had was similar to other races where I did not run to my expectations. That feeling is the knowledge that with some changes in training I will run better, much better. I know it is in me to do so because I have done so already. I do believe this:

"Now I will turn the miracle into routine. The amazing will be seen every day."

- Pi, from "The Life of Pi" (Yann Martel)

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