It was Sunday Dec 2, 2012 and I was in the great Folsom, California, home to one of the United States great wonders, The Folsom Prison. Although the prison had nothing to do with the big event for the day, from the pictures and chaos one may think that there was criminal activity going on. In reality, it was the day of the 30th Annual California International Marathon.
I myself left the rainy city of Seattle with the intention of enjoying some California sun. Little did I would be going into Hurricane Sandy's little sister Sussie!!! The CIM has seen an explosion in popularity over the past few years due to its fast times and typically good weather. It is of particular importance for those of the blind community including myself as it is the USABA National Marathon Championships.
This year over 30 blind athletes came out to take part including the likes of international athletes from Hong Kong, New Zealand and Canada. There were some good runners in this event including Americans Adrian Broca and Matthew Rodjum, as well as kiwi Rob Mathews. I know if I did my job and what I was capable of, I would defend my title from 2011.
Sunday morning I woke up at 4:30am to a sound that would become all to familiar for most of the day. The sound of rain hitting everything in sight and wind howling like a whistling teapot. I dressed myself up in as much CDifferentwithAaron (CDWA) attire as possible before spooning my oatmeal with PB down my through and headed out to meet the rest of the blind athletes, including my favorite one ot make fun of from the South Rachel Weeks. She also has been called a "twinkie" for her need to dress like me.
I would have two guides for this event, one of which (Rich Viola) is a well respected business owner of Every Man Jack (EMJ) Men's grooming products and the second, well, I found him at the local truck stop. We will just call him Trucker Dan. I figured with handle bars like he had, he should probably be a spokesman for guide 1's EMJ Grooming products.
As we rode the bus from the hotel to the race start, Rich (guide 1) thought it would be a good idea that I listen to his kids ipod to get pumped up. I agreed and for the next hour leading up the race I listened to today's greatest teeny boppers. As we departed from the warm dry school bus into the rain that seemed to come from all directions all I could think about was, "where can I go to get out of this?" My first thought was a genius idea, the Porta Potty. There were nearly 10,000 people that would be seeking out a place to stay dry and I was sure that no one would think of the Honey Bucket. I did my business but then decided that the aroma was far too potent to find shelter in there so I ventured over to the blind/VI tent which was packed like sardines and looked like at any moment it would be swept up like Dorothy's House in the Wizard of Oz.
The time was approaching 6:40am and it was time for a warm up. It was during this time that it really felt like I was at the center of a natural disaster. As we warmed up, the rain was horizantal and constant. Thousands of people ran around in trash bags, frantically seeking cover. They seemed to all be wearing black trash bags which doesn't bode well for the blind man when it was also dark outside. Needless to say I hit a few of them even with my guide right by my side. We maneuvered our way around the thousands of people and through puddles and to the startling. There was no way to start this race with dry feet but some people tried the best they could, including this woman.
Despite the relentless rain, the race still went on and the gun sounded at 7:00am sharp. "Bang," and the chaos began. Those that wore trash bags finally realized that they would be too hot. The ones training for their next wrestling bout kept the bags on. It was like a game of dodgeball but in this game it was flying bags that were being dodged. We luckily made it out unscathed but there was an unfortunate blind athlete that got wrapped in a flying trash bag and was taken out, ending her day before it really started. For Stephanie, I hope your knee is ok and your recovery is quick.
Rich and I went out quick, probably quicker than I should have. I tend to have that problem despite my ever increasing age. The first half mile is downhill with a right hand turn uphill to start a ten mile stretch of rolling hills. We went out for the first 4-miles at 5:45/mile pace and I knew that I was probably a little ahead of my league. We reached 5.5-miles and made a lefthand turn to the South. As we made the left turn a volunteer shouted, "5-miles straight into the wind, tuck in behind someone!" We got around the corner and got blasted by a wall of wind and sheets of rain. The 1st split at 5.9-miles was 1:05 seconds faster than last year (36:14/35:09). This is when the race changed from a physical to a mental challenge. Even though I know the group we were with was ahead of my league, I also knew we were running into 25mph constant wins with gusts up to 40mph and we needed to stay tucked in the group. I was really hurting but Rich and I made a joint decision that we would just keep with this group until we made the turn out of the wind at mile 11.
The rain continued to come down and we chose our position on the road very strategically. Although there was no way to avoid the water, there was definitely less accumulation in the center of the road at the crest of the crown. Miles 11-13 wind through the small town of Fair Oaks helping to break up the monotony. At around mile 12 we were in no mans land. The group ahead of us had pulld away and there seemed to be no one behind us. Then, all of a sudden like a cattle herd, a huge pack of 50 people blew by us. It was like on the Lion King when Simba was out there alone and the pack of hyenas came stampeding through. In my head I was thinking, "Am I going that slow?" Rich quickly reminded me that I had went out like a banchy and those were the people that should have been ahead of me. Within another mile, another but smaller pack of hyenas went by before Rich handed the reigns over to trucker Dan.
At the halfway mark we were 23sec slower than last year (1:22:00/1:22:23). That 5-miles into the wind really took its toll and the fatigue from this lingered into the 3rd leg of this race. Trucker Dan came out from the crowd and we made the famous tether exchange. Trucker Dan has legs like a giraffe so one of his strides was like two of mine.
By mile 15 I had slowed down a bit. My lateral quad began feeling as though it had been beaten with a hammer repetitively. This continued to worsen and by mile 18 I decided to take a quick stop and stretch it. This is always a difficult call, weighing whether taking the time to stretch is worth outweighs gutting it out and potentially slowing more. I chose to make a quick pit stop and I did feel as though I came back at a quicker pace. By mile 20 the rain had finally stopped and my body was numb to pain so I was able to get into a rhythm. I casted my line and went fishing, reeling in some of the fish that had squandered away earlier in the race.
At mile 20 we were 3:15 behind last years split (2:06:17/2:09:32). I was happy that my calf was holding up. I attribute this to getting it taped with Rock Tape the day before along with the awesome benefits of the CEP compression sleeves. Once we crossed the bridge into the city of Sacramento and passed by CSUS (Trucker Dan actually is a collegiate runner at CSUS) I knew we were getting close. I just kept telling myself to "Smile through pain", and waiting to see the huge white dome of the capital building. As we entered into the last few miles it definitely crossed my mind that one of the other blind/VI athletes could be lurking right behind me. Little did I know that last year when superstar female VI athlete Amy Bell McDonaugh was creping up on me and finished only one minute behind me. Trucker Dan took several long looks back but did not see any other leashed athletes coming up.
At mile 25.5 we began the drawn out trounce around the capital until finally making the left hand turn towards the promise land. As we made our way down the finishing shoot all I was thinking about was two things. I wanted a Coke and I wanted to plop down on a chair and sit for an hour. That is exactly what I did. I got myself to the USABA tent and sat. By the time I got up wouldn't you know but the clouds had parted and the sun came out. It was like the Biblical parting of the sea except it was 3 hours too late.
Despite the added elements from the man above, we still managed to finish in a respectable 2:53?36 and defended my title as the USABA Marathon National Champion. Fellow American Adrian Broca had a great performance, taking 2nd place in 2:57:36.
I want to first thank my guides Rich and Trucker Dan (Dan Mitchell) for giving me this opportunity. Without them I would never toe the start line nor cross the finishing tape. Secondly, I want to congratulate all the other blind and visually impaired participants. All of us are paving the path of opportunity for so many in our situations in the future. Finally, thanks to USABA, VSP Vision Care, Richard Hunter and Dr. Shermer for making this event t what it is today. The 30th Annual CIM will definitely be a day that will live in infamy for all those that participated and were involved.
2012 USABA National Marathon Championships
Top 3 Men
1. Aaron Scheidies 2:53:36
2. Adrian Broca 2:57:36
3. Rob Mathews 3:01:20
Top 3 Females
1. Tina Ament 4:10:02
2. Diane Berberian 5:00:03
3. Rachel Weeks 5:31:44