The 2013 California International Marathon (CIM) has come and gone but not without memories and not without a great blog to tell the full story “Through My Eyes”. As you may know when told from my perspective the story may be totally different.
The CIM plays hosts to the USABA (United States Association of Blind Athletes) Blind/VI National Championship sponsored by one of the global leaders in eye care, VSP Vision Care. This year was the third year in a row that I would be competing in the event and my goal was of course to “3-Peat” but more importantly I wanted to enjoy spending time with many other great people in my shoes. The man that has now become a legend, Richard Hunter, pretty much organized this entire event from a hospital bed while recovering from being hit on his tandem bike only months before. Richard is a former military veteran but if you saw him on the street you would be convinced he was a linebacker in the NFL. Even more intimidating is to be in the way of Richard walking down the sidewalk with his cane through crowds. This I was able to experience firsthand and it was great to walk behind him because it was like the parting of the Red Sea. Richard has the passion of a small nation with respect to his commitment to opportunity for the blind/VI. Richard recruited over 30 blind/VI individuals for this year’s CIM Marathon including a few internationals from across the pond.
Coming into this event, I knew I wasn’t prepared to set any world records. Technically it was still my off season and just two weeks before I was on a beach in Puerto Vallerta, Mexico at a resort accessible only from the water. The beachfront was a mere 100m long and behind the resort was a vast uninhabited thick jungle where wild horses, snakes and scorpions are much more prevalent than human inhabitance . This environment is much more conducive to laying sipping on a cocktail than training for a 26.2 mile marathon. An average training week in the months leading up to this race topped off at a whopping 25-30 miles average. Although this training did include a few 16+ mile runs at six minute pace, any runner would tell you this millage is not exactly optimal for great performances.
Now that you have the background story, I can proceed to the last weekend of college football which is also known as CIM weekend. The weekend started as I arrived on Thursday night and was welcomed by the 3.2million dollar red rabbit sculpture that hangs in the Sacramento airport. My view is that the rabbit is a 3.2 million dollar waste of money but its comforting to know that our government isn’t the only one wasting millions of dollars. My first time guide and home-stay Andrew Grant picked me up and probably began questioning his decision to get involved in the circus show that is Aaron Scheidies. Andrew is an amazing triathlete and has run a 2:40 marathon as part of his athletic profile.
Friday morning began early with an interview with Fox 40 news that Richard along with David Carr from VSP Vision Care set up. The main talk of the town was the weather so we didn’t have much time to tell our life story. From there I went back to Richard’s house to catch up on emails and rummage around Richard’s house looking for Christmas candy. I spotted a glass covered bowl which seemed to be filled with those sugar coated gummy delights. Without asking permission I snuck one out from the bowl and popped it in my mouth. As I began to chew, I bit into a rock hard piece of artwork. The taste was so disgusting and I immediately spit it out. Although it was not intentional, this was a cruel work of trickery by Heidi Hunter. This was not the first time I have mistakenly put something like this in my mouth. Actually, this was just an ordinary event in the life of a “blind man”.
Friday evening, Richard had a small group of people over for dinner including the always energetic Josh Warren who coordinates Team With a Vision in conjunction with the Massachusetts Association for the Blind (M.A.B.)for the Boston Marathon. Nobody could recognize him though because he didn’t have his lumber jack beard. Even the sighted individuals had to go by voice recognition. I also met Danielle and Charlie from the Delta Gamma Sorority. Danielle had won an essay contest to guide the super star Paralympic swimmer Brad Snyder. Since Brad was too cool to come to the dinner Danielle guided herself there. Each person at the dinner had an amazing story to tell of heroism, most had served our country and lost vision in order for all of us to have Freedom. I of course hung out at the kids table where I belong and had a blast. Not long after dinner I had to get going. I had to meet up with the Bentley’s who had so graciously given me a home-stay the past two years. We met up and caught up on life and talked about how Sacramento just wouldn’t let go of their beloved Kings so Seattle could have their beloved Sonics back.
Saturday morning came quickly and I had a jammed pack day of football watching, autograph signing and of course eating to do. From 10am-12pm, I did an appearance for USABA at their expo booth and many people came by to learn how USABA impacts lives through sport and to get CDWA apparel to raise money for USABA. Most of the cards I signed with my three word motto “Smile Through Pain”, but some people got special messages and those people know who they are. Once the 1o’Clock hour struck it was time for some football. We found a local sports bar to watch the Auburn vs Missouri game and found out as an extra bonus they even had Skeeball. We would indulge in that game at halftime. First, came the first half which was summed up by Auburn dominating but then coughing up the football time after time. The experience of watching sports at a bar with blind/VI individuals is always interesting and is best summed up by Josh Warren in his blog recap of the weekend.
“Watching college football with a group of friends who have varied visual abilities is perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the weekend for me. We found a table that has optimal lighting and an appropriate proximity to a big screen TV. Aaron, who is perhaps the biggest college football fan I’ve ever met, watches the game through a small pocket sized telescope, and on a few occasions consults with others at the table to confirm what’s happening on the field. Our group catches the attention of a few other sports fans at the bar, many of whom must wonder why our cheers are sometimes a few seconds behind the play or call on the field, and one guy who asks what Aaron is watching the game through.”
At halftime, we took our skills or lack there of to the Skee-Ball machine and Josh learned why I should stick to endurance sports. As they would say in basketball, “I got schooled”. While Josh and Kyle (also from M.A.B.) were scoring in the 200’s, I was consistently hitting 120. Not exactly my best performance. With our quarters dry it was back to the game. If I were a betting man I would bet on the Tigers to win with 100% confidence. Auburn’s running game was too much for Mizzou and buy the time we left it was looking like Auburn would take it. We had to leave to get to the USABA pre-race dinner which was at 5:30pm. We left at 4:30pm which was plenty of time to get to the dinner 15 minutes away. we got stuck in an unusual traffic jam for 45 minutes. When I say unusual I mean we were stuck in a traffic jam in a parking structure and there wasn’t even a major event going on. It was ridiculous. We waited 45 minutes backed up in a parking garage and when we got onto the roads there wasn’t a car in sight.
We arrived at the dinner just in time for Richard Hunter to deliver his touching message and for USABA executive Mark Lucas to spill the beans on the Michigan State vs Ohio State game which was going on simultaneously with the dinner. I had it all planned out to watch the game on DVR after the dinner and not look at any score updates and that Buckeye had to ruin it for me. Well, he didn’t really ruin it because the Sparties were up 17-0. The dinner was good but the company was better. It was so great to meet and talk with Lt. Brad Snyder about his interest in triathlon. It was also great to meet all of the new people getting involved in racing and guiding. Many more CDWA shirts were sold and when the night was done I was able to write a check to USABA for $200 to help future programs for Blind/VI athletes
After the dinner, it was straight to the man cave of Andrew Grant’s friend to watch the Big Ten Championship game in its entirety before getting any pre-race sleep. Luckily, it was on DVR which expedited the watching process. It was a back and forth match where one team would deliver a blow and the other would counter. The stronger and more determined team would prevail and that would be none other than Sparty. Michigan State was smelling roses for the first time in 25 years and along with it they sent Auburn to the BCS National Championships game. When I laid down for bed at 11pm all I could think about was, “its a great day to be a Spartan!” Don’t think I’ve slept better in a long time.
At 4:45am my alarm clock sounded and as I woke up from my dreams of Connor Cook throwing a 72yd pass play to Keith Mumphery for a touchdown I realized that I had to run a marathon today. I loaded up on layers because I could always take it off. No matter the temperature, I wear CEP compression shorts and CEP sleeves but on this day I work my CDWA running tights over top. We arrived at the start area around 6:20am for the 7am start. It was about 25 degrees which is not exactly what I planned on for Sacramento but with CIM you never know what your going to get. We spent a few minutes in the comfy warming tent for the blind/VI athletes but those of you that know me know I spent most of my time in the Honey Buckets. After a short warm up in the pitch black streets of the local neighborhood, we headed to the start line.
At 6:59:30am the gun went off for the wheelchair athletes and 30seconds later our gun went off. Andrew and i had planned to try and maintain 6:00 pace for the first half and just stay as relaxed as possible. We knew the first mile would be a little fast as it is mostly downhill before the right hand turn on to the rolling hills. The first mile was 5:30 and we were right up there with the leaders. I told Andrew, “Okay, let’s slow it down a little an settle into our pace.” We pulled the reigns in a little but with all of the downhills we used the “free speed” and then settled back in to our 6:00 minute pace. By mile four I decided I would take in some water but didn’t expect ice water with temperatures in the 20’s. The frigid cold water seemed to lead to the muscles in my upper body tightening up and the miles required slightly more effort after that first aid station. By mile seven I was ready for my first Power Gel which thankfully andrew opened and handed to me. My fingers and mouth would never be able to perform those gross motor skills in the condition they were in. My face was completely numb and as I tried to speak I felt as though I either had suffered a stroke to one side of my face or had just got shot up with a bunch of Novocain . Needless to say racing in cold weather is not one of my favorite things.
We were clicking along still by mile 10 as we weaved our way through the small town of Fair Oaks. Andrew was probably feeling much better than me at that point but i was still able to keep the pace without going to anaerobic. The crowds and bands in Fair Oaks always help to give a little boost. As I continued to run by aid station after aid station I kept smelling a similar scent in the air. Every aid station seemed to smell like weed. I’m not sure if that was actually what I was smelling but maybe that’s how they get aid station volunteers at CIM, I don’t know.
As mile 13 approached Andrew and I prepared to disembark on our journey and hand the reigns over to Dan Mitchell. Dan is an experienced second half guide for me as this would be his third time leading me to the capital building at CIM. As we went over the mile 13 timing mat we were at an astonishing 1:18:45 putting us about 1:19:15 for the first half. This was a bit faster than I thought we would be and we even caught Dan by surprise. He still had his warm up pants on and so he had to quickly rip them off and sprint up to us as we kept on running knowing he would eventually catch up. They don’t call him “Leggy Dan” for no reason. The guys legs must start at my chest. That first quarter mile would be the fastest Dan would need to run all day as my speed began to fade with each mile. At mile 15 I told Dan, “if we can keep it under 6:30 pace I will be happy.” That tactic worked until about mile 18 where some would say, “the wheels came off the bus.” My right calf which had been stained in prior marathons began acting up and with each step my legs just felt like they could give way. I began taking gels more frequently which helped briefly but by mile 20 I was in a whole other world. I began to get very dizzy and lightheaded and was on the verge of passing out. In my head, I contemplated stopping to walk but to me “walking is not an option.” I forced myself to just put one foot in front of the other and keep my eyes open. I knew that if I could just withstand this bad episode of bonking my body would regroup to some degree.
Miles 21 thru 24 were not pretty and the pace creeped to 7-minute miles but as I thought about the smiley face on my forearm and the joy I would get when crossing the line, a bit of energy shot through my body. As we made our way down the long straight away before making the last few turns toward the finish I was able to return to a 6:30 mile pace the last mile. Dan and I made the left hand turn toward the line and I envisioned the Gates of Heaven that I had just entered. The relief from the pain and discomfort that I had just put my body through was amazing but the lightheadedness and dizziness began to come back. I was staggering a bit and I decided it was time for Aaron to hit the med tent. A few cups of chicken broth and a few minutes with my feet elevated and I was good to go. Dan and I have crossed the line with a time of 2:50:02. I told Dan and Andrew later that with the way I felt and the lack of training I did, “I’ll take a 2:50.”
This CIM was one of the toughest races mentally that I have ever done. I know the main reason I struggled the second half was my poor training but I’m sure the cold weather didn’t help. I am much more of a warm weather athlete as my body struggles to maintain body temperature in the cold. I was glad to be done and excited to go to the USABA tent and hear about how everyone else was doing. There were some great performances including Adrian Broca going 2:54:41, Matt Oliver PR’ing by a landslide going a 3:08:54 and Rachel Weeks qualifying for Boston for the first time. There were many more great performances but I can’t share them all.
The day was not over. I still had a very important event to attend. USABA in conjunction with the Society for the Blind Sacramento had planned a Paralympic Experience for blind/VI youth to learn about Paralympic sport opportunities and hear from Brad Snyder. Richard had asked me to come and meet the kids and sign autographs to give each kid. This event was quite possibly the most powerful event of the weekend. To see these kids embrace the opportunity and to hear the joy of hope in the parents voices as they see the opportunity for their child was just so powerful. We met Annie Deselernos and the others that run the programs at the Society for the Blind and they were so excited to see the impact that the day had on the kids.
From the Paralympic Experience we quickly headed over to the Sheraton Grande Hotel where the awards ceremony would take place at 3pm. Luckily they do the Blind/VI National Championships awards first as I had to jet out of there to catch my flight back to Seattle. I made one short detour to say hello to my Boulder buddy Michael Stone who is about as hard to get ahold of as the president but he did write a great book I recommend reading called Eye Envy which gives success stories from around the world of blind and visually impaired individuals.
And than my friends, that is when my 2013 California International Marathon weekend came to an end. The memories and the comrodary will last forever.