Wednesday, October 11, 2017

IRONMAN MARYLAND 2017


Photo by Mindy Randall
Starting with the swim.

Worrying about jellyfish stings I prepped with “Safe swim” before getting my wetsuit on. Sue and Owen were with me by swim start as we watched the sunrise. I had been told that the PC athletes were getting a 10 or 15 minute head start and only found out right then, that we would only be given a 2 minute head start. As we approached the start area and were told to enter the water I then realized we were only to be given a 100m lead and would have the best swimmers in the race right behind us when the cannon went off. Here I was about to swim my longest distance ever with 1000+ athletes on my tail. I should have asked at that moment to go back with other swimmers of my own speed. But I didn't. And then I saw the jellies all around me. I immediately took my hands out of the water and dug my feet into the sand. I'm not blaming this on anyone. I should have been more assertive in finding out exactly how things were going to go.
Then BOOM! It was on. I started swimming and the bodies were on me in less than 30 seconds. For 20 minutes until the first turn buoy, I was being hammered. Over and behind me, I was getting hit and kicked. No one grabbed me, but for about 10 secs I honestly thought I was going to have to stop. I managed to settle my breathing down and remembered what worked in the past. Each time someone touched me, I relaxed and glided with my arms by my ears, while still kicking. At the first turn things settled down for a bit, but for the remainder of the swim bodies would often seem to just swim into and over my path. Maybe it was my own misguided swimming?
The first lap was good in terms of time, along with the first leg of the second lap but then I realized the current had picked up. I went down the outside lap very quickly and then turned to the finish. Then I really found out how fast the current was. I aimed for the finish chute, would take a few strokes and then look up only to be aiming far down river. During the second lap I also passed over a jellie and then got stung on my foot. Nothing bad, it just pinched for a few minutes. Dealing with the other swimmers was much more of a worry.
I was aiming for a 1:53 swim and instead ended up out of the water in 2:07:58. What should have been a 4224 yd swim came up as 4900 yds on my watch. I think the course may have been a bit long, but obviously, my sighting was way off. When I exited the water, I used the wetsuit strippers and then ran off to change for the bike.
Photo by Mindy Randall
I was actually able to run to T1 to grab my bike bag and get changed. I took a lot longer than planned, taking 10:36 to get changed and onto my SEVEN. It was a pretty long run through to get my bike and get out. I was happy at the number of bikes still left in transition as I was thinking I was one of the last out of the water.
The bike course is extremely flat but at spots, is subject to some fierce winds. The first 10+ miles takes you through Cambridge and then out to the high school where the first water stop is. Once I left the high school and headed out, the wind from the south kicked in. It was pretty strong. I was only able to maintain about 13mph for the next 20 miles or so. Once I reached the bottom of the loop and started heading back north, I was able to maintain some faster speed (15.5-16 mph). Unfortunately, both the cadence and power were not being picked up by my Garmin, so I had to do my best to work by “feel”. The fuel stops were all well run and I was able to get both water and Gatorade each time without having to stop. I can’t put a bottle anywhere, so I have to pour what I can into my aero bottle and then drink what I can before ditching the bottles. Every 45 min or so I consumed either a honey stinger GINSTENG or an un-crustable sandwich. When I got back to the high school I hit bike special needs. Just before that, Sue and Owen were there and what a happy sight it was to see them.
I refueled with my bottle of prepared Carbo-Pro, more sandwiches, and another bottle of Honey Stingers. I also grabbed my spare tube, just so it didn’t go to waste. After a stop in the porta-potty, I was on my way for lap 2. The winds seemed stronger now, but for some reason, I felt stronger as well. My average speed was down a bit but I tried to stay a bit more aero. This is when I started to get some added confidence as I was starting to pass other cyclists, some of whom had passed me earlier in the race. Using 20 inch wheels I have to turn my wheels 35% more to go the same distance as a cyclist with 27 inch wheels. Not taking anything away from them, but each pass gave me more and more confidence. All in all, I was able to pass 8 cyclists. Once I started heading back north again, I was able to pick up some good speed. At one point though when I seemed to be all alone, a large hawk swooped down near me and circled around. I seriously wondered if it was going to dive at me. It then flew away, but for a little while I was wondering if I was being followed.
When I reached the 100 mile marker, I just had to go a little bit until the hairpin turn back into town and past the last water stop. I rode by and got my last bottles and realized I was about to complete my longest bike ride to date. Kind of cool, since I had just completed my longest swim ever.
All of a sudden I felt something crawling inside the bake of my bike jersey. I kept trying to lift it up and get whatever it was to leave, but no luck. I had already been stung by a jellyfish, so what the heck, why not a wasp. I cycled hard to get back to transition and was “happy:” to see the bike course was coming up a bit short. This was “ok” to me since I had felt I had swum further than 2.4 miles. Just outside of transition I could see both Sue and Owen again, which was a real boost to my morale. My bike time was a 7:48:33, which was only about 5 minutes off my goal time. The time of day was about 4:45pm, so I had made the bike cut-off (5:30pm) by plenty of time.
When I racked my bike, I lifted off my bike jersey to see a nice big wasp fly out. Lucky no sting. I had grabbed a bag of chips from my special needs bag and proceeded to eat them walking “fast” to get changed for the run. I actually felt pretty good, but knew I was going to need a 6:40 marathon in order to finish under 17 hours. I knew that was a tall order with a stand-alone marathon PR of 5:50, but I was going to give it my best shot.


And now, for the run. I got my run gear bag and went into the changing tent. I was surprised how good I felt being upright after being on my bike for almost 8 hours. Again, the change was a lot slower than I had hoped. I did a full change, getting into running shorts and a singlet. I got some sunscreen on, a visor, sunglasses and proceeded to put my headlamp into my run belt as I headed out of the tent. I had 3 fuel-belt bottles of CARBO-PRO along with enough Honey Stingers to keep me going for the run. Just as I left transition, I saw my friend Arlene who was helping with sunscreen. I had her smear my face and shoulders and off I went. The time of day was 5:04pm, which meant I needed to complete the marathon in 6 hours 41 minutes to make the cut-off, since I was in the water at 6:45am. This was going to be a TALL order, but I was willing to “go for it”.
They had a water stop outside of transition, but at this point, I was good to go. There would be sunlight for about the next hour and a half and then some dark times ahead. OK, my first mile was a 15:06. If I could maintain that, or even a bit slower, things would be OK. Not long outside of transition, I met up with my dear friend Woody Freese. He is from MA and we have raced together a number of times and even done a couple of training rides. Not soon after meeting him, Eric Randall showed up. Both Woody and I were on lap one, but Eric was already on lap two. The course winds up into a residential area and even and then to turn around that is sort of surrounded by corn fields. Along with the amazing volunteers who run the aid stations, Rebecca Redmer and her son Luke were there again this year at Longboat Estates. He is one special kid who really helped to boost my spirits. More so on the next lap, which I’ll mention in a minute.
I headed back to loop around transition, but my pace was starting to suffer. Most of my mile paces were in the 16:30 or slower range, which weren’t going to get me there in time. I managed to meet up with Woody again and we stayed together until we returned to transition. We have to run around there and then down into the downtown area of Cambridge. The hardest part is that you pass by the FINISH LINE 5 times before actually getting to go into the chute. As I went downtown things were still hopping and the cheering fans were a real boost. At this point, I was at about 10 miles into the run, but really slowing down. I went back through transition and then back onto the darker streets to start lap 2. It was time to get my head-lamp on and see what I could do with fewer people on the course to talk with, to, or even at. By this time, my mile paces were up into the low 17:00 which was a bad sign. Again the aid stations were awesome, some with music and all with food and now also chicken broth. With the sun going down it was getting a little “cooler” but nowhere near cold.
By now I had to start making some decisions. It was obvious I wasn’t going to make the 17:00 hour deadline. My friend Adama Guesso, working for WTC. was on the course along with another friend Eric Knight volunteering down by the finish line, both basically said, if I wanted to make the cut-off, I needed to GET moving. As I passed Rebecca and her son again and then to the turnaround, it was DARK. They had huge spotlights out, but there were still really dark sections. It was at this point, I was thinking I was the last one out there. After the turnaround I realized I wasn’t and I passed other runners, including “NUT”, Heather, but my fate was determined. Luke came up to me and was on rollerblades and asked if I wanted some company. The bummed part of me wanted to be alone, but the rest of me said, “SURE”. Dare I tell him, I’m thinking of stopping? I decided I’d try a bit more. I got back down to the next water-stop, asked who was in charge, and told her I wanted to withdraw. At this point I had done 16.2 miles in about 4:35:59 and been racing for about 14 hrs and 45 min.
I think I need to explain why I QUIT.
It was dark and I was a little dizzy, but nothing where I thought I would fall. I had promised Sue through all of this, that I would never do something risky (like race an Ironman? LOL) where I might be feeling unsafe.
Now, I am 100% sure, I could have kept going and finished the 140.6 miles. It would have been well after midnight, but I know I could get there, but here is the thing. I want to again complete an Ironman under the RULES for the day. The rules were simple, cross the finish line in under 17 hours. I didn’t want to cross and say I finished the distance. I didn’t want a medal, hat, or t-shirt I didn’t earn.
There were MANY successes that day. I completed my longest swim ever and longest bike ever and then proceeded to run 16 miles. I think what I was most happy about was that I was racing for almost 15 hours and I did not hear a single person make any reference to my short-stature. I certainly heard a few people yell, “Be the Hammer!” One athlete passed me and mentioned that she had seen the video about me Ironman produced for the “Welcome Night” and said it was great, but wondered why it also didn’t mention that I was 51 years old!! If you don’t know, we have our ages written on our calf so other athletes know if they are coming up on an athlete from the same age-group.
I do feel I did FAIL in that I did not reach my primary goal of finishing a 140.6 Ironman distance race. I DO NOT consider the day a failure. Ten years ago, I had no desire, goal or dream of being where I am today. I hope that both children with dwarfism and able-bodied children as well, see me out there and think, “WOW! I can do anything if I want to bad enough.”
Will I race an Ironman again someday. I sure hope so!!
A long list of thank-yous. Sue, Owen, Kat Bateman, Achilles International, Tri-Achilles NYC, Achilles Boston, Brian Hammond, Travis Hawkins, Dick Traum, Pingree School, Seven Cycles, Champion Systems, Blue Seventy, Hed Wheels, Surf Butta, Gerry Boyle and Claire Cloutier, the race-director of the first multi-sport race I even did back in 2009. She never thought twice about me entering her race.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

IRONMAN MARYLAND 2016


126.2 miles of tears, smiles laughs, adaptation, but mostly JOY!!!




2 Timothy 4:7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

You read all the time that an Ironman really isn’t earned on race day, but it’s really earned through all the training for the months leading up to the race.  I don’t think that could have been more true for me on my journey to that finish line on October 1st, a little after 10pm.

Well, how many times did things not go perfectly well during my training?  Quite a few times, that’s for sure.  Most people will remember the NUMEROUS flat tires I experienced during my rides up coastal MA and NH.  You’d think I was riding over glass, tacks, and nails all of the time.  Well, it sure got me prepared to fix flats.  Of course, with all the racing I did this season, I didn’t flat during a single race, especially not during IMMD!

I went through the entire season without a single injury. I certainly increased the mileage covering 3168 miles in 2015 and a total of 3564 from Jan 1st up to and including race day on October 1st. Regular visits to my chiropractor and my two fav massage therapists helped keep everything in line. 

Wednesday

We headed down to Maryland on the Wednesday prior to race day.  Most Ironman races are on Sundays, but IMMD has there race on a Saturday.  The drive down was uneventful and we arrived in Salisbury, MD just after dinner time.  We decided to spend the first two nights in Salisbury and then would move into Cambridge to stay at the host hotel from Friday until we left for home on Monday morning.

Thursday

We headed into Cambridge for package pick-up on Thursday morning.  I went in with the intention of swimming in the Choptank and then having a ride on the course for a bit.  Now it had rained most of the night on the eastern shore there and there was lots of flooding in the area and many schools had a delayed start.  When I looked at the river, to say I was nervous was an understatement. It was real windy with a lot of chop (remember, Choptank river?).  I decided I didn’t need the swim, so I got my bike out and did about 12-15 miles.  Very flat as I had expected and the wind was pretty strong at times.  Nothing I hadn’t seen riding up 1A in NH!  When I was done with the ride, I dropped my bike with Sue and Owen. 

Looking at the Choptank River
My friend Ken Sirani had come to race MD as well and we decided to tour the entire bike course to get a good look at where we would be riding.  I took the role of navigator and off we went.  The roads of the course were in excellent shape.  Only a few spots to be be aware of.  Things were going great and then we hit mile 24 on the course.  FLOODED ROADS.  We had heard of this and people said it happens often.  But seriously, about ½ a mile of water, sometimes, more that 6 inches deep at least.  That was the only concern, but it was certainly a big one.

Ken dropped me off back in Salisbury and then Sue, Owen, and I headed back to Cambridge for the Opening Ceremony and Parade of Nations.  It was a great event where they even gave me a shout-out for being the first person with dwarfism who would be racing in an Ironman.  We were able to sit with my friends Mindy and Eric Randall.  I have done a few triathlons with Eric and I have always respected his hard work and drive. He is always positive and up-beat.  Mindy is also a terrific athlete who was there to support Eric’s race.  She's an amazing photographer as well.  I would see her numerous times during the day on Saturday and her pictures and cheers really helped keep me positive that I would complete the race.

We got some dinner (Subway) and then headed back to the hotel.  The rain just kept coming and it would rain most of the night.  I did have a GREAT night of sleep.  An important thing to try and do two nights before a big race.

Friday

We got up Friday morning and then headed into Cambridge to the Hyatt Hotel. They already had our room ready and so we dropped off all of our stuff.  It was then that I got a text from my friend Trevor who was racing along with his buddy Vinnie.  They also live up on the North Shore here in MA and we had all raced Timberman 70.3 last year.  They had been downtown in Cambridge and had taken a pic of a sign at the Chamber of Commerce. It simply said, “Go John! Be the Hammer” All I could say was, “WOW!”

Dorchester Chamber of Commerce


We headed in the Cambridge for lunch.  I had been doing my best to hydrate most of the day  remembering to drink whenever I had the chance. We went to a lovely little restaurant in the downtown area called Katie Mae’s Country Shoppe.  Not a lot of tables, but filled with a few locals, other athletes and GREAT FOOD.  I had spaghetti and meatballs along with a salad (HUGE).  We didn’t have room for dessert.  I then needed to check in my bike.  We returned to the hotel to get my bike, bike bag and run bag.  We dropped off Owen to spend some time in the hotel unattended.  Heck, they had an arcade, so he was happy with that.  When we got to transition, parking around there was a s***-show.  The RD had made it quite clear that parking was not allowed on the streets, but a lot of people were simply ignoring that rule.  I didn’t blame the RD for getting upset and when he started to ask people their bib numbers warning they would be penalized or possibly DQed if they ignored the no parking order, people started to listen.  I was happy Sue was able to simply drop me off with my bike and bags.  The wind was still pretty strong and when I racked my bike I noticed since the front wheel did not touch the ground, the bike was rocking back and forth.  All it would take was a strong gust and #TheAnvil might fall off of the rack.  Wouldn’t you know it when a volunteer saw my dilemma and without me asking he hopped on his bike, rode home and brought back two bungee cords for me to use.  A photographer also offered me a reusable twist tie.  The bike was secure and I called Sue to come back and get me.

We returned to the hotel and Sue and Owen decided to head out to the mall for a bit (or maybe they went to the mall earlier, I can’t really remember) as Deb and Mimi from CNN wanted to spend some time having me answer a few last minute questions prior to the big day.  “How do you feel?”, “What if you don’t finish?”, etc.  I can’t remember if it was before this interview or after, but we received news from Ironman Maryland that the bike course would be shortened by 8 miles due to all the flooding.  What Ken and I had seen on Thursday was now a lot worse.  I kept saying to myself, “Worry about what you can control.” The weather and course changes were out of my hand.  All I could do was prepare and do my best to adapt to any changes.

I went back to my room to make sure all of my bags were packed. Clothes set out for the morning with a morning bag and both special needs bag.  I also had to get all my nutrition bottles ready.  Rather than fumbling with individual gels I bought these small bottles from CVS (intended for shampoo) and I filled 3 of them with Honey Stinger Gels (3 in each).  I prepared 5 bottles with CARBO-PRO.  Two for the bike, two for bike special needs and one for the morning to drink.  In my bike special needs, I put the bottles, one gel bottle, packets of chamois butter, packets of Biofreeze and a zip lock bag of potato chips.  My coach Brian had messaged me that he had heard about the course change.  He reminded me to check my nutrition plan, because along with the shortening of the course, a bike aid station would be removed.  I needed to make sure I had enough fuel to make it from Aid#1 now to Aid#3, about 20 miles instead of 15 or so.

It was time for dinner and without batting an eye I wanted to go back to Katie Mae’s for dinner.  I had an awesome meal of “stick to your ribs” chicken and dumplings.  The local paper had a story about me racing IMMD and the staff at the restaurant said they’d be out cheering in the morning since the run course went right by their shoppe.  Off we went back to the hotel.  All that was left for the evening was to check and re-check my gear and try to get some sleep.

Saturday

I awoke around 1:30AM to hit the bathroom.  I knew I’d need some added energy and so at that time I drank a PowerBar Vanilla shake.  Luckily I managed to get back to sleep.

I set my alarm for 3:45AM and was up right away. Breakfast was two small cinnamon raisin bagels with PB along with an orange and banana and a small cup of coffee.  I also started drinking my bottle with carbo-pro.  Got changed, gave Owen a big hug (he was up for some reason) and I headed out the door.  The hotel was supplying a shuttle to the swim start and I just missed it when I got down to the lobby.  I quickly texted Deb and Mimi and they swung by to get me.  Can you tell I was feeling anxious?

The ride down to the start took no time at all and Deb and Mimi dropped me off two blocks from the entrance to transition.  They needed to go and park and then bring the cameras down to start documenting the day. I walked down the block and the first shock of the day appeared.  The road to transition was flooded.  The volunteers were saying it was due to the tide and would be gone by the time we were on the bike. All I was worried about was our bike and run bags hoping they had been kept dry.  I went to find my bike bag to get out two of the bottles for my bike (I should not have put them in the bike bag and simply brought them with me in the AM).  My bag was fine and all was dry inside.  I had double-bagged it just in case, but you never know.  The bib sticker on the bag left me a bit worried and in the future I will remember to bring a sharpie so I can number EVERYTHING just in case. 

I returned to my bike, loaded up the bottles and this is when I first saw Brian, my coach.  He had traveled down from NYC to support me and witness this amazing day.  Knowing he would be there encouraging me and “kicking my ass” all day was a true relief.  Race start time was fast approaching.  I got out my SURF BUTTA and asked Brian to help apply it to my shoulders etc, where my Blue Seventy Helix was most likely to give me some chaffing if not attended to.  I took a couple of puffs of my inhaler, ate my apple-sauce grabbed my wetsuit, goggles and caps.  I put all my clothes in the morning bag and went to drop it off.

Then the short walk to swim start.  I didn’t want to get my suit on until I was on some grass.  Another trip to the porta-potty for a ”pee”.

**Bodily function post coming up** I consider myself VERY LUCKY in the fact that on most race days, except for one when I was battling a little bug, I only ever need two trips to the “loo” for #2. I have always been able to do those prior to leaving home or the hotel. 

I got to swim start, found a nice patch of grass and got my wetsuit on and then went looking for some of the officials.  They told me the PC athletes would be leaving before the AG athletes started.  The AG athletes were told to self-seed based on speed and would enter the water one or two at a time.  Not the conventional mass-start that many triathletes feel is the ONLY way to start a triathlon.  It is used in a lot of races now to try and reduce the anxiety that some athletes experience.

When I got to the start, Brian was there and I found Sue and Owen as well. I went to the water’s edge to so some pre-race sighting.  The water was pretty rough but I was prepared to do this!  One of the volunteers gave me some great sighting advice on what to aim for on the first long leg.  With about 10 minutes to start I put on my caps.  I always wear two caps and had brought one of my Pingree Swim Team caps to wear under my purple Ironman Maryland cap.  It was then that they announced that the swim start was going to be delayed by 30 minutes.

Photo by M.Schiffman

It was still a little dark, but they said they hoped that once the sun was up fully, the water and wind might settle down a bit.  I have no idea where that comes from, but the announcer mentioned that is what happened at last year’s race.  I wasn’t around a lot of other athletes at this time and I truly feel that was best, FOR ME.  I wasn’t having to listen to complaints or worries by others.  I have really worked on concentrating on what I can control and the weather is not something I can control.  Nor can I control the decisions made by the RD and his committee. 

Now Gerry Boyle, the RD is an amazing man.  This was my first Ironman race, and all I have been hearing from other seasoned Ironman athletes is that Gerry is in a class all his own.  He is active on the IM Maryland facebook page quickly answering athlete’s questions.  When I first posted I wanted to race IM Maryland almost a year ago, Gerry reached out to me right away.  Letting me know he was more than happy I had chosen this race and he would answer any questions I had along the way.  He did, every-time I asked.

With about 10 minutes to go before the adjusted start the kayaks and SUP started to go out to take their positions and there was a cheer from the crowd.  This race was going to START!! I gave Sue and Owen another hug, knelt down and said a special prayer.  I don’t pray to be fast and I don’t pray to win.  I pray to keep safe, keep the other athletes safe, race the best race I can and if I don’t finish, understand there is a reason for that.

I didn’t want to see what saw next.  The water safety people started coming back in.  And then the dreaded announcement came that the swim portion of the race had to be canceled.  I would later hear that the USCG had issued a small craft warning and instructed the RD they could not have the swim.  I am confident the vast majority of the swimmers were prepared to start.  But 2000 athletes in rough water and wind along with kayakers who are struggling to control their own craft is a recipe for some real trouble.

They announced we were all to get back to the changing tents, change into our cycling gear.  We would have a TT start commencing at 7:50AM (35 minutes later).  I think they should have done something to organize who got changed when, because basically all of us tried to find our own small spot to get changed.  I was bib 11 (the lowest one in this race) and then heard they were going to start in bib order.  Heck, I was going to be LEADING the Ironman for a while. Athletes were told if they were with their bikes, they needed to keep them racked until their numbers were called.  I would later find out that it took about 2 hours to get all the riders started.  It makes sense as they can’t have all of us start at the same time.  That would be a recipe for disaster leading to overcrowded roads, with possible crashes and a real mess at the aid stations for sure.

So let’s take a second to go over all the ups and downs.  Crazy wind and rain Thursday and Friday. Flooded roads leading to the bike being shortened. Flooded roads walking to transition, swim delay by 30 minutes and then swim cancellation.  Talk about having to adjust to race day conditions.  We did notice numerous athletes leaving transition, choosing not to race.  I can totally understand if there are more Ironman races in their season.  Why expend the energy on a non 140.6 race?  But they had already come to race on a shortened bike course, so I’m not sure why DNS now? Totally their choice and I would never criticize another athlete’s decision.  Once I started, what other unexpected things would occur?

Photo by M. Schiffman
As I neared the starting line, the officials reminded me to run my bike out of transition and mount at the indicated line.  Gerry came over and whispered a little encouragement in my ear.  And then I was off.  I ran up, mounted #TheAnvil and off I went.  The streets were lined with fans cheering, yelling, with lots of cowbell too.  I heard a number of people yell, “Be The Hammer” and it was amazing.  I quickly got into aero position and hunkered down for a 6+ hour ride.



Video by Owen Young

Every 45 minutes or so I had a gel or an uncrustable sandwich.  I reached the first aid station around mile 14 (at the high school) before my bottle emptied, so I simply grabbed a Gatorade and filled up my aero bottle, took sips of what was left and then chucked the bottle. It was after this aid station that we entered the first loop of the two loop course.  Bike special needs would be when I returned to the high school.  This is where the wind really picked up.  There would be parts of the course sheltered by trees, but a lot of it was wide open marshland.  I think I face less of a wind being smaller, but it still seemed to be a factor.  I never felt like I was getting blown around though, and that was good.  Every 30 minutes or so, I would stand up out of my saddle and pump my legs really hard.  I was conscious of the fact that I didn’t want to stay in the same position all day long.  That would be recipe for disaster.  One thing I could not do at all, was coast.  With such a flat course and with no hills to climb, there are also no downhills.  I chose to use a bike computer instead of my watch as I worried about the battery on the 920xt lasting for 16+ hours.  For some reason, I didn’t check everything and the cadence sensor wasn’t working so I didn’t have that to monitor.  It had been previously, so not sure why that happened.  I saw Brian a few times on the bike course and it always gave me a great boost.  There weren’t a lot of spectators, but the ones that were out there were great.  All of the aid stations were terrific with lots of people cheering and making a ton of noise.


I reached the adjusted course turn where I would now be on roads I had not seen when we drove the course on Thursday.  It seemed somewhat sheltered and there were actually some gentle downhills, or so they seemed.  It wasn’t a chance to rest, but I did seem to get some good speed going.  It was now that I realized it might be a good chance to use my bottle of Carbo-Pro on my rear cage.  With my shorter arms, I can’t reach it while riding, so I had to stop, get off the bike and dump it in.  I probably lost about a minute or so between when I started to brake until I was back up to speed. 

The weather at this point was total cloud cover.  The forecast said rain was to start around 10AM and they were bang on.  It started coming down pretty steady for a while and then even poured quite a bit.  Nothing like the monsoon I had rode in at Pumpkinman.  I was making sure not to ride on any painted lines, so as to not slip.  In terms of how I felt, there were really no problems.  When muscles seemed to stiffen, I shifted my position.  Hands, arms, and shoulders were all good. I’m sure that might had been different had I done the swim.

All the aid station stops were the same, in that I would take a Gatorade bottle, dump it in and then continue.  A few times I would grab a banana, eat it right away and chuck the peel along with the empty bottle.  I had all the gels and sandwiches I needed in my Champion System bike jersey.  I also managed to put in an additional tube and CO2 cartridge, that thankfully I would never need.  I had enough practice with flats during training and it would be an added relief not to have to worry about them at all on this day.

Photo by J. Model
When I got to bike special needs. I wanted to make sure I took my time and didn’t miss anything.  I called out my bib number and a volunteer had my bag for me the moment I stopped.  I asked someone to hold my bike and they were happy to help.  I got off the bike, ripped the bag open and quickly changed out my bike cage bottle, filled my aero bottle.  I also changed out my gel bottle.  I also put two more sandwiches into my jersey along with a small bag of chips. I then took some chamois butter and applied it to the inside of my shorts.  I also used the Bio freeze on both of my knees as they had started to feel a bit sore. It looks like the stop took me no more than 2 minutes.

I was off for the 2nd loop.  I tried my best to recall landmarks in the hopes that it would then help me mentally.  It was very reassuring now, as I was halfway into my ride.  The rain lingered a bit but the real downpours did not return.  I managed to complete the 2nd loop without needing to stop and refill from my own bottle.  The course was well staffed with course marshals and police.  I did notice a few riders pass real close to my left without saying anything and at least one pass on my right.  Most announced their presence, with many calling out, “Go Hammer” or something like that.  Whenever someone yelled “Be the Hammer” I often had the same response, “All day long baby, all day long.”

Whenever an athlete says something like, “You inspire me”, I always yell back, “And you inspire me too!!!”  One athlete said something to me that kind of pissed me off.  He said something to the effect of how crappy I must feel choosing this race as my first Ironman.  Obviously implying I should be disappointed because the course was shortened.  My reply was, “Whatever”.  I think he was pissed off with my reply, but I really didn’t care.

When I reached the end of the second loop, the distance I thought I had left was quite a bit shorter than it should have been had we had the 104 mile course as they had indicated.  The way back was still flat but with more turns as we rode into Cambridge.  As I rode down the last street into transition, I passed runners heading out and there were plenty of fans cheering. I looked at the bike computer and it wasn’t even at 100 miles.  The course was actually even shorter than they had said.  Either they miscalculated or they had to shorten it even more.

Either way, I got to the dismount line, got off my bike and went to rack it.  Well, they had actually moved my rack.  Once I placed the bike, I was able to give both Sue and Owen a hug and had the worse run of my life heading back into transition to change for the run.  6+ hours on a bike and lots of muscles were stiff.  Running in cycling shoes isn’t easy either.  I was got my bike back and went to change.  I remembered what Brian had said and took my time.  The most important thing is to try and be more comfortable for the run.  I had decided a full change.  I completely stripped down, vaselined and lubed what I could and dressed.  I put on running shorts, my Achilles running (not tri jersey) shirt, Work Live Tri visor, socks and shoes.  I put on my Fuel Belt and made sure to put gloves and arm warmers in the empty bottle sleeve (I would never need them).  I also put on a headlamp which I was really glad to have later.  One guy asked to borrow my vaseline and I said one thing to him, “No double dipping.”  That got a laugh from others around us.  I put all my bike gear into the run bag, tied it up, gave it to a volunteer and proceeded out to the run.

Before we got out on the road we had to run around the outside of transition. It was somewhat muddy and I did what I could to avoid most of it.  Once out onto the road, things were actually a lot better than I had hoped.

Photo by M. Randall
Photo by Brian Hammond
I wanted to try and keep my initial pace under 16:00 minute miles and I was able to do that for most of the first 8 miles or so.  The course is a left-right out and back three times where we pass most areas a total of six times. It is just as flat as the bike course with only a couple of very slight gradual hills.  When I did the first out and back and was heading back towards transition, another athlete heading back out said, there were some puddles in town.  HMMM, more flooding.  And that’s when I saw it, first at transition, water and mud everywhere.  This marathon had now turned into something of a mud run, or Spartan race.  I would experience more water downtown.  It was at this time that I kind of threw my hands in the air and thought any kind of paced run was going to be pretty hard.  I had soaking feet and then it didn’t take long for the blisters to come.  I had thought about taking my shoes and socks off for the water, but then thought what if step on something under the water?  Now for the other athletes the water was maybe calf or close to knee deep at the deepest point.  For me that meant thigh deep and even higher.  So high that at one point, my “bits” were getting wet. Certainly time for another laugh.  We were actually doing the SWIM at last.

The downtown area on the first pass was amazing.  Lots of spectators cheering and yelling.  This course is a bit of tease because you actually have to pass the finish chute 5 times before you get to enter it. 

Back through transition again, with the mud, and out to Jenkins Creek Road.  I would have to go all the way out twice.  On my first lap there were some kids holding signs saying GO HAMMER.  It truly made my day to see them.  Well, on my 2nd time out there, it was getting dark now, but there were more kids with signs.  They truly saved my spirits at that time as I was doing a lot of walking.  Well, I managed to get back to running again.  Brian popped up a number of times, but I had not seen Sue and Owen since I left on the run and was getting worried.  Brian had tried to text Sue, but no luck.  When I saw Deb and Mimi they could tell I was bummed.  Runners could too as they were yelling at me to pick up my head!!! Good advice for sure.  I asked Deb to text Sue and she got her and was able to tell me they were getting my bike and bags from transition.

What a relief that was knowing that both Sue and Owen were ok and were somewhere around the course. I continued on, feeling good all over in terms of nutrition, hydration and all of my body, except the blisters on my feet.  I continued to drink my Carbo-pro on my fuel belt.  When that got low, I re-filled the bottles with Gatorade at the aid stations.  When I felt I needed it, I had a banana, or orange slice and even some chips when they were available.  A lot of the stops had cookies too and even warm soup.  The only thing I wasn’t happy with was the water they had.  I noticed them filling the cups with water from a hose, and it tasted like it.  When I got to the turn around on my 2nd loop out by the bypass a friendly face appeared.  Not someone I’d met before but someone I knew through fb and our mutual friend, Caroline Gaynor.  It was Tina Ament.  She is a VI para-triathlete who had raced IM Maryland last year along with Caroline as her guide.  She said she had been tracking me all day and she was helping out at the aid station. 

I left the turn-around knowing I would not need to go back that far on my third loop.  I was more than ½ way done now.  I find reaching the ½ way point of any race gives me a boost and the best part of a triathlon is that I experience that during each leg, so three different times.  I saw those kids with the “Hammer” signs one last time and was sure to HIGH-5 as many of them as I could.  It was starting to get real dark now and I’m glad I had my light on.  It felt really good knowing when I came back out this way I wouldn’t need to go out this far.  As I got back down near transition an athlete going back out said, that she had seen Sue and Owen with my bike.  As I neared the entrance to transition, I started yelling, “Sue, Sue,….. Sue”.  And then she yelled back.  They were with Brian and my bike.  A big hug and kiss for both of them.  At this point I had about 6 miles left, so that meant about 90 more minutes of running.  They would have time to get my bike to the car and then get back to the finish line to see me complete my race.

What a boost this was.  It was a relief to see a lot less water on the roads now, but transition was still really muddy.  Add to that all the other athletes getting their bikes and gear along with shuttles along the roads and things were a bit crazy.  I needed to really watch where I was going.  I passed Vinnie and Trevor who had both finished.  I hit the turnaround right downtown and told people I would be back one more time if they wanted to wait.  A number of people said they would, and you know what?  They were there my last time through about an hour or so later.

Again through the muddy transition and back up for my third loop.  This would be a shorter loop as I only had to go up to Bayview and then turn back for the finish.  It was totally dark now and they had some spot lights up, but my headlamp was invaluable.  I could see the road and what’s better, is that other runners could see me.  My pace had slowed considerably, but I was still managing some running along with walking.  I wasn’t really paying attention to my watch and I know my discipline all broke down with having to walk through the water and mud.  Just excuses I know, but at least I was still moving forward and feeling good about what I was about to accomplish.  “HEAD UP JOHN”!!!  There it was again from another runner.  I went through transition for the last time.  I did pass run special needs 5 times and in the end I didn’t use it.  I had a long sleeved shirt, some chips, fresh socks and some CARBO-PRO powder.  In the end I don’t think I really needed it.  People who saw me either knew it was my last time through or asked.  I proudly said, “This is it. On my way home!” The cheers helped me now to do a bit more running than walking. 

With about a mile left I saw Brian and he walked with me a bit and told me something I’ll never forget.  He said a person only has one First-time Ironman finish.  All the training you’ve done, all the effort and work and time you’ve sacrificed, this is where it all comes out.  This last stretch is for you, he said. Soak it all in and remember every moment running down the chute.  I thanked him for being here and for all he’s done and I started to run and cry of course. 

I wanted to get all the angry reasons I did this out of me now.  I wanted the chute to be pure joy.  And so for the next half mile or so, I thought of all the name calling, all the doubters and all the people who think it’s OK to snap our picture when we are out in public.  And I yelled out loud, “LOOK AT ME NOW.  TAKE PICTURES NOW!!” And then I thought how lucky I am.  How lucky to be 50 years old and doing this.  I have not had a single surgery related to my dwarfism and for that, I am so thankful.  Thankful our son Owen has experienced the same so far in his life.  I thought of a number of LP people who have had a much more challenging life than me so far.  People like; Katie, Vivian, Jaden and Quaden. They are so much stronger than I am.  They faced countless challenges and surgeries early on in their lives and dealt with the pain.  The pain I was facing I chose and so I needed to be strong. I had to be strong.

I passed by the chute one last time and could hear the announcer, “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!” I only had maybe a ¼ of a mile to go.  Up the brick road to the center of the town and then it was a quick turnaround to the finish.  I passed by the brew pub one last time and people were screaming, “GO JOHN!!  GO HAMMER!!!” And then I heard it, the song they were playing at the finish line.  It was “I Will Wait” by Mumford and Sons.  One of my favorites. And that’s what Sue and Owen were doing.  Waiting for me.  And so I ran!! All the way down.  I saw Thomas, a major player in the MD triathlon community.  He got in his golf cart and headed down to the finish.  I kept running.  The music got louder and I got faster.  No pain, head up, arms pumping.  This was it.  Over 14 hours of racing.  I entered the chute and the lights hit me.  All I saw were the lights.  I clenched my first and screamed!!!!  And then the lights faded and all I saw were Sue and Owen with the medal.  I ran into his arms, hugged him and he put the medal around my neck.  All 3 of us hugged. And I also heard the words, “You did it John, you did it.  YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”



Video by Sue Casey


Photo by Brunswick/Schiffman
With the GREAT Gerry Boyle
Photo by T. Hutchinson

Photo by Brunswick/Schiffman
I trained for it and I was prepared and ready to complete 140.6 miles.  In the end the race was 126.2 miles because that’s all we were allowed to race that day. I have fought labels my whole life.  Some people like to call me names and that rarely has bothered me.  I deal with it head on and don’t ignore it, making sure people realize it’s not appropriate.  But then I experienced something different after completing Ironman Maryland.  WTC, who owns the rights to all Ironman races called my name at the finish line, like they did for every finisher.  Heck, I received a finisher medal and an award for earning 2nd place in the PC division.  They awarded Kona slots to athletes who finished top in the age-groups.  And yet there are triathletes saying we aren’t allowed to call ourselves Ironmen because we didn’t complete 140.6 miles.  Just like I don’t allow people to label me, I also don’t allow them to tell me I can’t call myself something.  Along with every FINISHER in Maryland on October 1st, I earned the title of Ironman.  Will I get a 140.6 tattoo or sticker, NOPE. Will I proudly wear my FINISHER hat and shirt?  You bet I will!!

Photo by M. Randall



Thursday, May 5, 2016

2016 is a BIG YEAR for me!!!

I turned 50 and completed my 3rd Boston Marathon.  It's been a great winter and spring.  As many people know, I've signed up to do my first full 140.6 Ironman next October in Cambridge, MD.  One of the things that needed to happen prior to my attempt, was a change in bike.  The one I had been using since 2009 was simply too heavy and inefficient.  

During the summer I reached out to a number of bike manufacturers about helping me with a frame design in order to help achieve this lofty goal.  SEVEN CYCLES located here in MA, contacted me in less than an hour after my tweet went out.  After lots of measurements, phone calls, and emails, they have designed and built me an amazing machine.  It's my version of the AXIOM SL.  The ANVIL was then finished off by Dan and his crew at SALEM CYCLE here in town.  I have put quite a few miles on it, mostly on the trainer, hoping for better weather in the very near future.  What I do want to share with you now, is some information about the special person who reached out to me in the fall, to help with the purchase of this bike.

Debby and I had been facebook friends since April of 2015.  It was either just before or after the Boston Marathon that year.  She messaged me in late September to explain that her niece Cassie also has the same type of dwarfism we have.  In fact, Cassie and Sue were friends through LPA back when they were teens.  Debby started to ask questions about the bike I was having designed.  Her step-son Jason is an avid triathlete and in fact was heading to race in Kona in early October and Debby and her husband were traveling there to watch him race.  Debby had mentioned to Jason about the bike and he had expressed to her his belief that SEVEN was a great choice in terms of a company that is known world-wide for making some amazing and unique bikes.  In fact their motto is, "We make one bike, YOURS."

Now I have to admit that Debby was very forward when we first spoke and asked if both her and her husband could help with the purchase of the bike.  I was immediately FLOORED with the offer from this "stranger" and let know I was looking into getting some fund-raising done.   I was excited to get the ball rolling so quickly from someone I didn't know.  Debby was again very direct (WHICH I LOVE!) and asked how much the bike would cost.  When I told her the cost of the frame and then estimates for the components, Debby simply said, "We will cover it."

This totally floored me and my initial response was thanks, but I truly felt I could not accept this self-less offer of assistance.  And then Debby wrote:

"Because we love to help people achieve their goals. We love people who defy the odds and the naysayers. I know you aren't comfortable when people say you are inspiring... But you are. I follow a young woman on Instagram who lives in Australia who had a little boy with achondroplasia 2 years ago who was so afraid for his future and I keep telling her about Cassie and her beautiful family and tell her about you and what a warrior you are and that her son will be fine and have a great life. Your story and my nieces story are powerful and hopeful. Lots of people need those right now. We want to see you reach your goal. And you are friends with my favorite and incredible niece and her fabulous family!!!!! We want you to continue to "Be the hammer!!" With a good bike!"

I took some time and even called a good friend, Manny to talk about this. Through that conversation and again after chatting with Debby on the phone I think they both helped me realize that the bike is not really a gift FOR ME. The bike will be a tool to help me achieve this goal I have. But I truly feel the message is not that John Young is an Ironman (hopefully I will be), but that anyone can do what they want, dream as big as they want, and prove all the naysayers wrong. That's what this bike will help do and thanks to Debby and her husband and so many others who have helped as well in other ways, I am one step closer to that goal.

I've told Debby this numerous times, but again, thank you from the BOTTOM OF MY HEART.

#BeTheHammer


Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year's 1991 - A 25 Year Flashback

It was the Christmas break of my first full year of teaching in Canada.  I was a 24 year old single guy who had just finished celebrating Christmas with my family in Toronto.  I was living in the small and friendly town of Norwood, ON.  At that time Toronto did not have an NBA team and my favorite team was the Celtics.  This was back in the glory years of Bird, McHale, Parish, DJ, etc.  Long before the internet, I got a travel book and found a place on Comm Ave. called the College Club, booked a room, a flight, and off I went from Dec. 28th until Jan 3rd to explore Boston on my own.

The main goal of my trip was to try and see a Celtics game at the Garden (the old one!).  So the day after I arrived I took the T up to the Garden and tried to buy my first scalped ticket.  I still don't know why the scalper wouldn't take the traveler's check.  I had to head into a pizzeria, get a slice with a $50 check, and pay him with the change.  I can't remember how much the ticket cost, but I found out what "obstructed view" meant.  It wasn't what the scalper had said!

Well there was neat group of fans standing in an area behind some seats and they invited me to stand with them.  We had a great view right at center court.  I explained I had come from Canada to watch them play and we had a really great time. This was my first exposure to the AMAZING SPORTS fans of Boston.  Just as the game ended (the Celtics CRUSHED the Knicks - with Patrick Ewing) one of the guys (I just remember he was from Providence) said he had a ticket to a game a few days later against the Suns (with Barkley) and he couldn't use it.  He also asked me if I would be interested in heading to Hellenic College to watch a Celtics practice.  I said sure.  So I told this total stranger where I was staying and the next day he drove to Comm Ave. and I got in and off we went to Hellenic College.

What a great experience!  I got into the practice and got to meet Parish, McHale, Ed Pinkney, and Brian Shaw.  I took pics from a distance of Bird and Reggie Lewis but didn't dare approach them.  I even said "Hello" to Red Auerbach,

When the practice ended we headed back to Boston and I bought my new friend some lunch at the Boston waterfront.  I just remember we ate at huge fish market type place and the fish I had was amazing.

Now comes New Year's Eve (25 years ago TONIGHT).  I had asked one of the employees where I was staying where a great place for a New Year's Eve party would be.  She mentioned the Four Seasons had a big bash.  I had brought my nice suit and so off I went to get a ticket.  I can't remember the cost, but it was pretty expensive.

The party itself was a lot of fun.  Some drinking and dancing (with total strangers of course) but the highlight of the night came when I felt someone tap my shoulder and when I turned around, I had to look up, WAY UP, to see both Robert Parish and Ed Pinkney standing there.  They had remembered me from the practice.  Robert asked me if I would like a drink.  Of course I said "YES, please." I sat with them for a bit, but soon realized I was the third wheel as both of them had 3 or 4 lady friends draped off of them.  I said thanks again and quietly moved away.

I waited until midnight, sang Auld Lang Syne, had a sip of champagne and called it a night.

I think it was the next day when the Celtics played the Suns and crushed them as well.  It was always fun to watch Charles Barkley lose.

I headed back to Canada after having a great trip to the area of the world I would move to 12 years later with Sue and Owen.

Happy New Year!!!






Wednesday, December 30, 2015

On the Verge Of 2016.

I would like to ask a favor. PLEASE STOP POSTING the "What's your excuse?" memes with the picture of someone with a visible disability doing some athletic feat. It sends SO MANY mixed messages, the main one being, if you are able-bodied and not working out, you should be, because this "amazing" person is.  Another one I can't stand is, "The only disability is a bad attitude".  As if I can will myself to slam dunk a basketball simply by trying harder.  There are 100's of people out there with non-visible challenges as well, who simply get disregarded because we can't see how hard their life can be.  Instead of asking yourself, "Why aren't I doing anything?" ask the athlete "Why do you do what you do?" You will more than likely find out, it is for the same reason any other person competes, and that's for the personal satisfaction of being better than he or she was yesterday.

I'm the first one to admit I probably post way too many pics and details about my work-outs and races.  I'm not doing that so people say "Look at that dwarf-athlete"'  I'm hoping that over time, people will forget that I have dwarfism and simply see me as some soon-to-be 50 year old guy who decided almost 7 years ago, to take control of his life.  Do I want to be the first person with dwarfism to complete an Ironman triathlon?  Heck ya!  But if someone else does that first, that's not going to take away from what I will eventually do and I'll be the first one to congratulate them.  I simply want others with dwarfism, especially young children who have been told countless times, sometimes by people who love them dearly, "You can't do that because you're too small" to realize there are no limits to what the human heart desires.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The End of my 7th Season of Racing......and on the Verge of Turning 50 Years Young.

As I prepare to start my official training for IRONMAN ‪#‎IMMD16‬ I think it's important to reflect upon what got me to this point. There are far too many people to thank at this point and I will certainly leave someone out if I try and made an exaustive list. Suffice it to say that Sue and Owen are certainly the two most important people in my life and if it wasn't for the two of them I am certain I would not have taken this path. My mother Bernice taught me that you never give up and always finish what you start.
It's funny though, that one single act from our friend Tina is what got this idea of triathlon to germinate in my mind. She sent me the link to the following video. I watched it intently at my desk at work, and as happens to many who watch this, tears started to stream down my face. I remember it well because as the video ended a student came up behind me to ask for some help with their math. As I turned around, I must have totally freaked them out with the tears streaming down my face. They asked if I was OK and I had to explain I had just watched something that was somewhat emotional.
After watching, I thought that if Dick can do that with his son Rick, maybe I could complete a triathlon. I think that what got me with this video wasn't so much the physical feat by the two of them, but more so, the love and devotion each of them have for each other. I have raced with them both numerous times now and consider both of them, KathyBryan and the rest of ‪#‎TEAMHOYT‬ my dear friends. I hope as I continue to race, I demonstrate to Owen that it isn't so much how fast you finish, or who you beat, but simply that you try your best each and every time.
At that point I was not at all thinking of an Ironman distance race. So I started to search out in 2009 and found out about a sprint distance race in Lowell, MA called the Mill City Triathlon. I contacted the race director, Claire Cloutier (Jeffrey), to explain, that I had dwarfism and wanted to compete in her race. I was SO HAPPY as she said she had no problem with that. Well, that's how it all started. I finished that race, and wanted more. I joined up with Comprehensive Racing that year and raced with them until I joined up with Achilles NYC in late 2012.
I never dreamed it would bring me to where I am today. 35+ triathlons, including 7 half-Iron distance races, 10+ half-marathons, and 6 marathons and a proud member of Achilles International and the Merrimack Valley Striders.
Every time the training or race gets difficult I think back to all the people who told me, "You can't do that because you're too short." and that helps to push through whatever pain I am experiencing.
Prove the doubters wrong. And always remember, that YOUR WILL NEEDS TO BE STRONGER THAN YOUR WON'T.

Monday, May 4, 2015

735 Days...................


It's been two weeks since the 2015 Boston Marathon and I am finally finished with my thoughts about the entire experience.  Those of you who know me are aware of the emotional challenge these last 2 years have been.  They of course pale in comparison to the pain and heartache countless families have had to deal with in the wake of the tragedy that occurred in our city back on April 15th, 2013.  I do not for a second pretend that the depression I have gone through is anything like what others have had to deal with. But this has been my battle, and I will attempt to write down some of my feelings as I talk about what April 20th, 2015 has meant to me personally.
There are SO MANY people I have to thank before I start. I know many wait until the end of a piece to list those who have helped, but I think it's important to start first with my thank-yous.  Of course, none of this could have happened without the love and support of Sue and Owen.  It goes without saying, you were at the finish line on Boylston in 2013 when everything started to happen and you had the courage to come back in 2014, when I wasn't able to make it, and then again, this year.  
I need to thank the Achilles-NYC Paratriathlon Team and Work-Live-Tri.  My team and coaches have been amazing.  Achilles invited me to join back in 2012 and they have supported and encouraged me to strive to do my best.  They have helped me get to races and I never feel happier racing, then when I am in the BIG APPLE.  Thank you to Kat, Ellie, Dick and all of the countless staff and guides.  Thanks to Brian, my coach, for preparing me so well.  I was able to qualify for Boston this past November at the NYC Marathon, thanks to his expert coaching.
I  don't know if I would be racing triathlons and marathons today if it weren't for Dick and Rick Hoyt. When I first saw the ideo of them completing the Kona Ironman back in 2009, the seed was planted. Today I consider many members of Team Hoyt to be some of my closest friends. Dick, Rick, Kathy, Bryan, Dana, Meghan, Tammy, and countless others.  And then my MVS family.  You invited me to race the Feaster Five in 2011 and I haven't left yet.  Tom, Lyn, Denise, and SO MANY others, there are too many to name.  Nothing like starting the Boston Marathon and getting hugged by the entire Human Chain!!!  
After getting sick prior to the race last year I was trying to be really cautious this year about staying away from germs. A lot of good that does for a high school teacher and father of a 12 year old boy.  About a week prior to race day this year, I got a pretty nasty cold.  I tried everything short of going to the doctor.  All sorts of cold medicine, EMERGEN-C, AIRBORNE, and though things were starting to feel a bit better, I was worried I was going to head into the race with a nasty cold and a lack of sleep.

Friday April 17th

I finished teaching and headed down to Boston for a talk put on by the Harvard Book Store at the Old South Church. Meb was going to be talking about his 2014 first place finish at Boston and also a bit about his new book.  It was a chance to listen to him and at the same time get a copy of his book.
It was a nice evening and I got a chance to have a quick "catch-up" with David Willey, editor of Runner's World magazine.  Meb is a terrifice speaker who did an amazing job speaking from the heart.

David Willey, Mary Wittenberg, Meb, Amby, and Scott Douglas
I was also able to catch up and meet one of my local online friends in person.  Christine runs in the area and is married to "BIG BIRD".  Runners in the area know exactly who I'm talking about.  After the chat I took a quick run over to the hotel in Charlestown where the Achilles Freedom Team were staying.  The Achilles team decided to pick up my packet and number at the expo.  I was a little bummed as this is one of the FAV things to do prior to a race.  I'll make sure if I run again next year, I'll ask that they leave my bib for me to get.  This night would end up being my only good night sleep all week.

Saturday April 18th

I had planned to head into Boston early in the AM to watch the B.A.A. 5K and Invitational Mile races to support a lot of my friends.  After chatting with my friend Ric from MVS, I knew being rested for the race on Monday was much more important.  I can go in another year to watch (as I did last year), so I decided to rest at home in the morning.   I  was planning on heading down to the expo to pick up the finish line passes I managed to arrange for Sue and Owen, and to my pleasure, both Sue and Owen wanted to tag along.  It was a beautiful afternoon for a trip into the city.  Prior to heading into the expo we met up with a long-time online friend, Rachel Weeks.  She is a visually-impaired Ironman-finisher and marathoner.  She was there along with her guide, Brian Lane.  It was a super quick visit, but I'm glad we got to finally meet in person.  We walked around the expo and made sure to head to the Team Hoyt booth.  Sue and Owen have met Dick, Rick and Kathy before, but got a treat today as my dear friend and runner, Dana was there with her boyfriend Giancarlo along with another friend Jennifer.  Dana and I have known each other for a few years and try to connect every time I race in New York.
Dana and I together for a moment
in the 2014 NYC Marathon
Usually it's on the race course for either the 1/2 or full marathons.  After looking around we headed back to the car, but managed a stop at the new Marathon Sports "Concept Store" on Boylston.  We met up with the store manager Rusty, who is also a guide for a visually impaired runner, doing the marathon.  Owen picked up a really cool 2015 Boston marathon t-shirt.  We headed home and made a stop at one of our favorite restaurants along route 1, the Border Cafe.  At this point my head/chest cold seem to be on the way out, but I was nowhere near 100%.  I had a 60 minute ride on the trainer in the hope that it might help and relax me.  I tried to make it an early night, but things did not go well, and I did not have a good night's sleep.



Sunday April 19th

Prior to heading off to church I decided to do my last 20 minute run.  It was a beautiful morning and all went well.  It was a quick out and back from home making it almost all the way to downtown Salem.  Church went well, and has been customary prior to my marathon races, Manny, our parish priest called me up to the front for a blessing.  Again, it was a very humbling experience, but it helps me relax to know that I will be cared for while running.  Knowing that others will be keeping me in their prayers during the long day goes a long way to helping me relax.  After heading home I needed to make one last trip down to the expo.  I was to be checked over by the USTF in order to be considered classified to run for the US Paralympic Track Team.  Well, I now have provisional standing and can compete at events if I like.  The problem is, they don't have any long distance events in my classification and I would never consider myself a sprinter.  Before heading home I had the pleasure of meeting up with Wes Harding and his family from Canada.  He is an amazing athlete who runs for Team Hoyt.  His daughters are the most amazing cheering section ever.
Rebekah Harding and I had to do a "Bandana Selfie"
Once done, I headed back home to pick up Sue and come back for the Achilles Marathon Team dinner at the Constitution Inn in Charlestown.  Owen was going to come along, but he had been involved in a play and chose to attend a cast party instead.  Good choice for him, since no other children attended the dinner.  We got to sit with my dear friend Ariel from NYC who was going to be a guide for "Backwards" Bill.  He is an Achilles athlete from NYC who races in marathons pushing himself with his feet going backwards in a wheelchair.

We headed home soon after the meal and I started to finish getting everything ready for the EARLY morning trip down to the city.  The weather forecast was calling for cool temps in the low 50's with rain coming later in the afternoon. My hope would be to finish before the rain if all went well.  Once Owen came home from his party he had one very important job to do for me.  It's Owen's tradition to put on my shoes to put "SPEED" in them.  For bigger races he also puts on my singlet to put "HEART" in my jersey.  I find it hard to race without Owen doing this.  I had all my clothes ready, including my drop bag and the clothes I would dump at the start line prior to the race start.  With the alarm set for 3:30AM, I went to bed, but it would be quite a while until I finally fell asleep.

Marathon Monday

The alarm went off before I knew it and I was up.  I headed downstairs to get dressed and try to get out the door by 4AM.  I had decided not to eat my breakfast, but instead take it with me and eat on the bus ride to Hopkinton.  A quick look outside and the sky was actually partly cloudly and then I looked at the weather forecast.  They were calling for the rain to start much earlier then originally planned along with some strong winds from the NE.  My immediate thoughts went to the winter of training I had just completed.  Lots of snow and cold temps from the middle of January all the way until mid-March.  I was ready for this!  Once I was all ready to go, I went upstairs to wake up Sue and give her a gentle kiss and hug good-bye.  We each said, "See you at the finish line", and I headed out.

Meghan Cole from Team Hoyt
Of course, the drive to Boston was the quickest ever with no traffic on the roads.  My plan was to drive down and park very close to the finish line and then head over to the Sheraton Hotel for the ride with the other mobility impaired (MI) athletes.  If I got there quick enough I would be able to see all my friends on Team Hoyt before they headed to Hopkinton.  Once I parked the car on Clarendon, I started to make my way to the Sheraton. Things were not looking good on a taxi as I started to walk to the hotel.  According to GPS it would be about a 15 minute walk and I might miss Team Hoyt.  All of a sudden a car pulls over and the driver leans over and says, "HI John.  Where are you heading?"  It was another athlete from Baystate Triathlon driving to his bus and he offered to give me a lift.   I got to the Sheraton and headed upstairs to find Team Hoyt assembling.  I made it!!!  I managed to see all my friends and wish them well.  These were all the charity runners for Team Hoyt who had all raised money for the foundation in exchange for their bib to run in the marathon.

My friend and hero, Rick Hoyt
I headed downstairs to wait for my bus.  I had decided to see if I could ride with Dick and Rick Hoyt along with Bryan Lyons who would be pushing Rick in the marathon for the first time, and Kathy Boyer.  Along with all the MI athletes we loaded up on the buses and then headed out to Hopkinton at about 6:15AM.  The ride is really amazing as we have a police escort all the way to the starting line.  I took the time on the ride to try and focus on the race and at the same time eat my breakfast.  I had my usual pre-race breakfast of an english muffin with PB, a banana, Gatorade and something special for today, one of Sue's homemade chocolate chip cookies.  I also had an apple sauce that I would eat about an hour before the race start, which would go off at exactly 8:50AM.

We arrived at the school near the starting line and there was some confusion as to where the MI athletes were to assemble with some people were telling us to go the tent with the hand-cyclists while others said we were to be in the gym of the school with the wheelchair athletes.  Given the choice with the weather the way it was, I opted to go into the school.  I found a spot on the floor to chill for a while and was able to spend some time chatting with some of my fellow MI athletes like Scott Rigsby, Richard Blalock, Kelly Luckett, Dahn Trang, and Cedric King to name a few.  I made my
Getting ready with
Scott Rigsby
obligatory trip to the bathroom upon arrival at about 7:15 AM and later would realize I never went again until we were home after the race at about 5:30 PM.  I am SO LUCKY when it comes to the bathroom and racing!!!!

I took my usual ALEVE prior to race start and was itching to get outside to start stretching.  And of course, the rain started, far earlier than expected.  I went back inside for a bit, but then decided there was no time like the present to get used to the rain.  Prior to heading outside I lubed up my feet in preparation for the all the rain and rubbed some Arnica creme on my legs and hips.  The final step was to roll-on some BIO-FREEZE on my lower back. I quickly ditched my rain pants, tied up my drop bag and headed outside.  I was left with only one remaining piece of clothing to ditch, a hoodie I picked up from Savers.  The other athletes headed outside a few minutes later and then as a group we were lead to the starting line. For the 3rd year in a row, I was to be in the starting wave of the most amazing race in the world, the BOSTON MARATHON.  One of the MANY amazing parts to the marathon for me, is the Human Chain that holds the runners at the start.  I have been blessed to be a part of the Merrimack Valley Striders (MVS) for the last few years.  The majority of the volunteers in the chain are from MVS.  My dear friend Lyn, organizers this group of amazing people, so rather than list some of the names (you know who you are) and miss out on someone, I will simply say, that seeing Lyn and all the others reassured me that I was going to have an amazing day.  I got a hug from my dear friend Dave (the race director) and even Tom Grilk, the CEO of the B.A.A. came over to wish me luck and remind me that I had a job to do.  This was HAMMER-TIME!!!!

My 3rd time at the starting line of the Boston Marathon
The rain had stopped for the time being and I was well-dressed.  I had shorts, three layers on the top (a short-sleeved compression shirt, long-sleeved shirt from a Feaster-five race and my Achilles singlet), gloves, my MVS red headband to keep my ears warm, and my CAF visor.  I had sun-glasses to help with the wind if needed, but I don't think I ever used them.

At precisely 8:50AM, the race was started and off we went.  We were warned to keep to the right, but I knew we had a long while until the wheel-chairs would start, so I ran the tangents as long as I could.  I was doing my best to keep to my planned splits and like my coach Brian had suggested, I was focusing on my 5K splits instead of each mile.  The race is downhill at the beginning and I did my best to pull back and not go too fast.  I was to hit the 5K at 39:12 and in fact, did so at 39:11, so all
Early on in the race by Eric Conti
was well.  The first few miles are sparsely populated, with a large crowd though at a restaurant in Ashland,  They had a live band again and the crowd was amazing.  Once I got into Framingham there is a bend to the left in the road at Waverly Place I think.  There was a huge crowd of college students (guessing from Framingham State) on the right side, being help back by police.  I was alone at this time and so I tried to get them to react and so I ran over by them and stuck out my hand.  They went crazy to try and slap my hand, so much so that the police were asking me to move back towards the center of the road.  It was awesome!!!  By this time the wheelies and hand-cycles had passed me and then I was passed by the pro-women.  I consider myself extremely lucky as very few marathon runners ever get the chance to be racing and then be passed by the fastest people in the world. Of course, when the women passed I yelled out encouragement to both Shalene and Desi.  Before the men caught me, Bryan and Rick caught me.  I got a hug from Bryan and a big smile from Rick.  That really boosted my spirits.  As the men soon passed I of course yelled out to MEB to stay strong.

Photo by Bradley Rhoton
Keeping track of my time, I was to hit the 10K at 1:21:39.  According to the tracker, I hit it at 1:21:33.  So far all was working to plan.  Of course, then one of the downpours we were to experience happened and for a few minutes we were in a huge soaker.  It was at this point last year that my stomach started to bother me.  As many of you know I only made it as far as Natick Center before being violently ill, only to have to withdraw.  So wouldn't you know it, for a moment my stomach started to feel a little weird. Was I getting sick again?  I literally had to yell out loud, "You are NOT getting sick again.  Suck it UP!!" Well, I started to slow down but made it through Natick and on  towards Wellesley,  My times were starting to slip though and it was at this point I think I realized I might not make my BQ time of a sub 6 hour marathon.  I got through Natick, noticing the same group of firefighters who helped me and I even waved at the med tent where I withdrew last year.  But I was really starting to slow down now.  Don't know if it was the wind, rain, or something else, but at least I wasn't feeling cold or getting the chills.  At about mile 12, I came upon some friendly people, First, I saw Deb Jackson and she came over to give me a big hug. I told here things were not looking good for a fast race and she said not to worry about it. It was her late husband Jim Logan who first convinced me to do my first triathlon.  I remember telling him I had never ran 5K before and he said so, "Walk if you have to."  Now here I am running the Boston Marathon 6 years later.  Thanks Jim.  I would also see Neil Bernstein wearing his Pesky Pole.  And then off I went to Wellesley.

Dr. David Driscoll
The Scream tunnel came next and I managed to pick up my pace somewhat as I ran through and gave a few of the girls a "high-five".  I stopped and kissed one, totally picked by random, and then proceeded into Wellesley.  I came upon the medical tent past the 13.1 marker.  At this point my 1/2 time was a 3:08:56, a sure sign that my race now was a quest to finish.  One of Sue's co-workers from Harvard Vanguard is a doctor who volunteers at the marathon.  As I pulled up to the tent, I asked for Dr. Driscoll and David came running out. We had a quick chat, he snapped a picture and off I went.  It was then that I saw Jason Carraro, a good friend from Wicked Running in Salem and we had a couple of quick words.  Down through Newton Lower Falls, up over HWY 128 and onto the Newton Firehall, the first of only 5 turns in the race.

The next few miles were the Newton hills, culminating in Heartbreak Hill, just prior to Boston College.  I saw lots of friendly faces along this part of the course including but not limited to;  Bill Pennington, all the Wicked Runners (Mike Fitzgerald for sure!!!) at the gel stop, Team Hoyt Support (thanks for the fig newtons Corey!!!), my friends at Breakthrough Performance (Marty!!!), and Bill Burnett of Streamline events at the water stop.  If I'm leaving anyone else out, I'm
Around mile 17.  Photo by Mike Fitzgerald
sorry, as you all really helped get me up those hills!!!! It was at this point where a mother approaced me that I realized WHY I continue to do this.  She was a runner and as she passed me she turned around to tell me, that she has a son who is 16 who has achondroplasia, the same type of dwarfism I have.  We hugged and  I said to her, "He can do anything." She nodded and I think we both started to cry, at least I know I did.

The Scream Tunnel at Wellesley is great, but I truly think the students at BC are more enthusiastic.  Maybe it has something to do with the kegs of beer!!!  As I reached the summit and started to head into Brookline, I knew I would finally be achieving our goal.  I say our goal, because I consided Sue and Owen just as much a part of this journey.  As I cruised down past the church at BC and down past the green line turn-around, the crowds were starting to really fill in.  I think it was at this point that my friend, Scott Rigsby caught up to me and asked if we could run together,  In my mind, that would be the same as Wayne Gretzky asking if I wouldn't mind having him skate with me for a bit.  Scott was the first double amputee to finish the Kona Ironman and he has done it twice.  He is truly a hero of mine.

Running with my friend, Scott Rigsby.
Photo by D. Fitzpatrick
Heading up Hereford
I would now start to see a few familiar faces, I might be listing these out of order, but here goes. Melissa Gleaton from MVS, Dominic Fitzpatrick, a colleague from Pingree, two former students Jamie Berman and Caitlin Doherty, and Taylor Hartz.  These friendly faces got me all the way to Charlesgate Road, where I was stopped back in 2013.   I was hoping to finish the race with Scott but he had to make a pit-stop to use the bathroom and so I continued on my own.  Maybe it was fitting I finished this last 3/4 of a mile alone, since unlike so many others, I was not able to finish my race back in 2014.  The tears certainly started to flow on and off.  Once I reached the Mass Ave bridge and truly realized I was now in uncharted waters on the course, I got an idea to raise 4 fingers in the air.  This was not premeditated, but simply something I felt I should do to honor  the lives of Martin, Krystle, Lingzi and Sean.  I didn't keep my hand up the whole way, but on and off as I ran that last mile I would hold those fingers up in the air.  I made the right onto Hereford St and the crowds were still pretty big.  I passed Newbury and up the slight incline and took the left onto Bolyston.

Almost there.
And then I saw it, the finish line.  About 2/5 of a mile away.  I ran and cried holding up the hand at times, at other times outstretching both hands, not looking for cheers, but merely a release and an acceptance of what was waiting to complete.  This was a 735 day quest, from April 15, 2013 to April 20, 2015.  As I reached the grandstand, I looked and could not see Sue and Owen, but they were there.  The final few steps were finally done.  I walked along in a daze and then I saw Bill and Henry Richard cross the line and as I turned around a dear friend, Jackie also from Salem, was also finishing.  I then saw my dear friend Tom from MVS.




I was lead away to the VIP tent where they kept all the MI bags.  I called Sue to have her answer the phone cheering that they had seen me finish.  We were done.  My finish time, 6:39:52.  The most important word being, FINISHED!!!

Photo by Joe Kelley