Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Even though my mind is still a bit numb in light of what transpired yesterday, I thought it would be important to blog about yesterday's events. I tend to procrastinate and I thought it would be best that I memorialize as best I could what myself and those I hold near and dear experienced yesterday. I will try to do my best. The 2013 Boston Marathon actually started for us on a beautiful June afternoon 2012. Kenny "aka gambler" Rogers had just completed the Western States 100. I made it a point that I would finally meet Bill, Victoria and Gwendolyn Strong after the race. We drove down to Santa Barbara and finally met this amazing family. It was a special afternoon. They are amazing people, selfless, kind, generous and always look adversity straight in the eye. They have to because they live with SMA everyday. They have inspired me so much. As we were sitting around and talking about running, I asked Bill if he had any goals or wishes in regards to running. Bill mentioned that he would love to someday run the Boston Marathon. I don't think it took long but I told him I could probably make that happen. I don't know if he believed me or not but I was determined to get my friend a number and make a wish come true. With the help of my good friend Geoff Smith(2 time winner of the Boston Marathon) I was able to get Bill a number for this years race. It would be extra special because my fellow SMA ass kicker, the Lovely Lauren Lundy had qualified for Boston this year. This had been Lauren's goal and holy grail for many years and she had finally achieved it. I am so proud of her. She is so bad ass and an amazing person. Also Bill's friend William Crader had also qualified for the Boston Marathon and would also be making the trip out to Boston. Team GSF would be assembled and the theme as always would be NEVER GIVE UP! For those of you who know me, I'm not big on road marathons and would much rather spend my time on the trails. I could not pass up this opportunity however and was so excited to be running with these superstars. Plus its the Boston Marathon. I have been struggling with a hamstring injury for over a year so I was not in tip top shape to say the least. This would be a "pageant" run, waving and blowing kisses to the crowd. I just wanted to run with my friends and help make a difference in a childs life. Fast forward to race day, and the full team assembled in the athletes village. It was so cool to see my friends Bill and Lauren and to meet my new friend, Billy. We were all sporting our Never Give Up shirts and I must say we were looking good, well at least those three were! Billy was in the first wave, Lauren the second, and myself and Bill in the third. Billy and Lauren left to run there Boston marathon and we wished them good luck. Myself and Bill milled around a bit longer and talked about things like we were old friends. Bill is one solid dude. Bill was amazed at the magnitude, scope and size of the race and was totally excited. He kept thanking me for the opportunity but it was me who was thankful for all that he does. I explained to Bill the significance of Marathon Monday and of Patriots day. It is the most special day for Bostonians. I told him to expect the crowds to energize him along the way. I told him to enjoy the hundred of thousands of spectators who would be lining the streets to cheer on his efforts. I told him how crazy excting Boston would be once he got near Fenway and the fans spill out of the ballpark. And finally onto Boylston St., the amazingness of the finish I just knew he would be amazed by the race and I would be proud for having him here. GSF would be heard from here in Boston! Before the race started, I told Bill that I was unsure if I could keep up with him because of my lack of fitness. I told him to run his own race, soak in the day and I would see him at the finish. Finally the gun went off and within 10 minutes or so our 2013 Boston journey began. Per usual it was slow going for the first couple of miles but that was totally enjoyable to me. Like I said, I had no intentions of going out hard and fast and would be super happy with a 4:15 marathon. The weather was perfect for running and Bill was looking real strong. I stayed with him for about 3 miles but I knew I could not keep up the pace. I let Bill drift ahead and I was content to just hang back and soak in the race. No pressure. I felt good for about 5 or 6 miles, but after awhile both hamstrings became sore and were very tight. I wasn't going very fast at all and was predicting a finish well over 4 hours. The pace was enjoyable but again the hammies were toast. The crowds were great and helped move me along the course. There is nothing quite like the Boston Marathon. I got to mile 15 and Kenny and Victor Couto were greeting runners from our area. I told Kenny I left my hammies at mile 10. Kenny jumped in with me and ran about a half mile. I told him how I was feeling and that I was taking it easy. After leaving Kenny, I proceeded along until I got to Mile 17 or 18, turned up the hills and started to give it a go. I don't know what happened but the crowds and the hills really energized me. I powered up the first hill and my hamstrings started to loosen up a bit. I forgot to mention that the Never Give Up shirts were a huge hit. The crowd kept cheering the slogan when I passed by and it always gave me a big jolt. I also like to run on the left side of the course for some reason and like to run near the crowd. There are so many children lining the course and I like to make them feel part of the race by giving high fives to them. I got to the top of the first hill which I believe is mile 19. I started to have the old internal conversation with myself, "Hey dummy, your a feeling a little better, why dont you start running." Then I doubted myself some more and then I said "why don't you run this bitch." And so I did. I felt totally energized and strong. I had not been running consistently for sometime and did not know where this was coming from. I had some time to make up to break 4 hours but I thought I would give it a go. And later on, I was fortunate that I did. Fast forward to the end, I made my turn onto Boylston St and once again I was amazed at the crowds. Thousands upon thousands of people lining the streets of the finish. Once you make the turn onto Boylston St., it is approx. 1/2 mile to the finish. So I was running close to the crowds on the left hand side and I saw my 3 Team Cheering Crew, my girlfriend Rebecca, along with my best friends Heather and Gillian. I was so happy to see them and I ran over and we had a big old Team Owen hug. I think I told them I got snots on them and then I ran away lol. I then continued on my merry way and finished my Boston Marathon 2013. I was so happy that I was feeling suprisingly good. After crossing the finish line, I started to mosey along the runners chute where all the runners are contained after they finish. I made it to the water station and started drinking some water, and doing a little stretching etc. And then it happened. I was facing away from the starting line when I heard this horrific blast. I turned around in time to see a plume of smoke rising from the start area. I knew in an instant it was not good. In what seems like seconds, I saw a bright flash of flames and then a louder blast. I knew what was going on. I was probably 200-300 yards from the explosion. I started to walk towards the explosion when several officers started to scream for us to run. My first thought was oh please don't let the girls be near this! But I knew that after seeing me they would have started to walk towards the finish line to meet me. In my head I knew that they would have been so close to these blasts. My heart was in my stomach. What I didn't know and I am so grateful for is that Bill was only 1 minute behind me. I thought he had already crossed the finish line. What I didn't know is that I had passed him along the race and didn't see him. Unknown to me, they had waited that extra minute to see Bill run by them, then they started towards the finish. Little did we know that this one minute changed everything for my loved ones. Bill was 1 minute or 100 yards closer to the blast than I was. For those of you who have not run Boston, the runners chute that we were in is lined with school buses containing runners personel belongings. There were a couple thousand runners now jammed into a "chokepoint" on Boylston St. My training and experience took over and all I was thinking was getting to the girls. Most people were oblivious to the magnitude of what had just happened. Many were saying it was probably a generator or a man hole cover exploding. I knew better. People were still getting their medals and I was trying to tell anybody who would listen that they needed to screw the medal and get out of here. We were in a perfect terrorist trap and I was just waiting for a secondary device to go off. The buses are parked bumper to bumper so you cannot get access to the sidewalk. So I low crawled under a bus and hopped the fence onto the sidewalk. And then I ran, I ran towards my bus parked on the common so I could get my phone and find out what had happened to the girls. Once I got on the bus, I frantically called Rebecca, Gillian and Heather. All my calls were going straight to voicemail. I was leaving pleading, frantic messages for them. I tried to call Bill and Lauren but nothing would get through. I tried texting everybody again but only got Bill. He said he was safe in the Common and Lauren and Bill were safe too. I still could not get through to the girls. I was frantic, I was helpless. My good friends Kevin Mullen and Mike Maher showed up and told me they had been near the blast also. They told me what I already knew, that it was a couple of bombs, maybe car bombs. The city was in chaos. Our worse fears realized. I kept trying and trying but nothing worked. My mind was racing trying to figure out what to do next. Thankfully after many calls, Rebecca finally answered. She was hysterically crying and I could not make out what she was saying. Their was terror and fear in her voice but at least I heard it. I was somewhat relieved but it sounded like the girls had been hurt. I talked to Gillian next, thankfully she told me they were OK, a little cut up, bruised and beaten, but they were ok. Heather would need stitches on her foot but they were in tact. I knew the girls were scared and I knew I had to get to them. We finally figured out that they were along the Charles near the Mass Ave Bridge. I left my stuff with Mully and then ran as fast as I could down Commonwealth Ave. I felt so strong and empowered for those 2 miles. It was like I hadn't already run a marathon. I then turned the corner and ran towards the bridge. I saw the girls being helped by another runner. I ran to them and hugged Rebecca, Gillian, and Heather. I was so grateful that they had not been seriously hurt. We got our bearings, headed towards the car and got out of Boston as fast as we could. There are so many emotions that I have been experiencing the last 36 hours. Anger, sadness, helplessness, anger again, gratitude. It is tough to comprehend what just happened. You also feel guilty, or at least I do. Why was it somebody else and not me? Why was it an 8 year old boy and not me? Why did I run faster the last 6 miles and where did that come from? Why would some evil bastard do this, knowing that you would kill and maim innocent, happy, loving people? As Team GSF, we were so looking forward to celebrating my friends accomplishments. And now their feels like emptiness. A big hole in my heart. I don't get to see my friends often and it breaks my heart what happened this monday. I can have some comfort knowing that they are all right physically and I hope mentally too. I just wish there was more I could do. My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of this senseless tragedy. My heart breaks for you and your families. I really don't know how to end this blog other than to say... I'll see you at the 2014 Boston Marathon! Post Script After looking over the blog, there was just so much more I could have written about but I would be here for another week. A couple of things that I must mention is my friend Dawn Nunes(President of the Greater New Bedford Track Club) did an amazing job accounting for all the track club members and keeping a cool head during all the chaos. Dawn was also assisted by my friend Laurie Bertoldo Walker. Well done my friends, well done. And I left out the most amazing piece of our story, the bravery of our three girls Rebecca, Heather and Gillian. After looking over pictures and video of what happened in Boston, I can only imagine the horror they witnessed. Pure horror. I am so grateful that they are ok and are still with us. Once again i firmly believe the O man was protecting his mommy and all her friends.
Saturday, March 16, 2013
Team Owen 2013 will be taking over the streets of New Bedford this Sunday! A sea of blue is ready to descend on the streets of New Bedford and the excitement is palbable. We estimate at least 150 runners representing the Team this year. The amount of support and dedication towards Team Owen is incredible. I can not thank everybody associated with Team Owen enough. Training for the race was especially tough this year because of the weather but we pushed through the mental barriers and continued on. Tommorow will be a special day and one that we will not soon forget! Stay tuned for a post race update!
Sunday, April 1, 2012
What a day! Team Owen officially owned the streets of New Bedford for the 2012 New Bedford Half Marathon. It was a truly an amazing and special day, chock full of good times and new memories. I couldn't be any happier or more proud of the outpouring of support and effort of so many. I am truly blessed to be surrounded by so many special people. Here is a brief recap of what transpired on this special Sunday.
As Team Owen assembled near the steps of the New Bedford Public Library there were several things that became apparent. First, the weather was going to be perfect. Not a cloud in the sky, bright sunshine and warm conditions. That meant big crowds to come out and cheer all the runners. Secondly, Team Owen had grown from last year. Unofficially I believe we had approx 150 runners for Team Owen this year. We had so many new faces and we have made many new friends. A sea of blue was everywhere and you could tell alot of spectators were watching and saying to themselves, "who is Team Owen."
After taking the Team pictures, we headed to the starting line and started to mingle with other runners. Heather was running her second New Bedford Half in memory of her beautiful boy and was super excited and ready to kick some ass. Her escort for the race would be the lovely Lauren "runs for Owen" Lundy straight from the boogie down Bronx. Heather and Lauren have become best friends, drawn together from this terrible disease, but united in the cause to kick SMA so hard. They are bad mama jamas!
The gun went off and we were on our way through the streets of New Bedford. This years race had a record number of runners(3500) for the race. The streets were crowded with runners and supporters and it was set for a great day. I was not in tip top shape for this run and opted to just relax and enjoy the run, and take in the whole atmosphere. What became apparent very soon in the race were the cheers from the crowds for Team Owen. You could not run 25 yards without someone shouting "go Team Owen." It was amazing. This year we had the T shirts made by my good friend Russell Katerle from Kat Man sports. He did an unbelievable job and the shirts really stood out. All along the run people were asking me about SMA. Who is Owen? What are you guys running for? How could I join the Team next year? How can I help? I was in running bliss. This is what Team Owen was all about. This is why we run and "we run for those who can't." It was great seeing so many Team Members smiling as we paraded through the city.
As I crested the hill of County St(mile 12), the crowds were huge and the cheers for Team Owen were deafening. A big ol cheesy smile was spread across my face. Again the goosebumps were there and stayed with me until the finish line. As I crossed the finish line, I was first met by Dan Macarthy(race director, Friendly sons of St Patrick, supporter of Team Owen and one cool dude.) Dan looked super awesome in his Team Owen apparel. I then waited for other Team members and took in the accomplishments of all the Team Owen members. Everybody was so excited to have run this race on behalf of Owen and were all amazed at the support we received. Lots of endorphins flying around. Heather and Lauren finished super strong and had a great race. Heather was so proud of what her little Angel had accomplished, he has literally changed so many lives. We had at least 150 runners running for Owen, as well as over 400 Team Members who supported the cause. Owen you are one amazing little boy.
After the race, we headed to Knuckle Heads Bar and grill for a little post race celebration. Lots of food, fun, raffles and good times. A great crowd showed up and we had a lot of fun. The band was fantastic! It was great to see so many little kids running around in their Team Owen shirts. That is what it is all about. Paying it forward and showing by example that it is cool to give back and to help others.
I was fortunate enough to win an amazing charcoal sketch of "Tarzan Brown' an amazing Narragansett Indian who was a tremendous runner. The sketch was donated by an amazing artist, co worker and friend, Scott Carola. And as I looked around, there were lots of smiling faces and contented runners. I can't wait until next year, Team Owen is amazing.
There are so many people I would like to thank for all their amazing support. Team Owen is a total team effort and we would not be where we are without everybodys support. First and foremost, thank you to Andrew, Heather and Adyn for being an amazing family and amazing people. Your grace, determination and unselfishness sets the example for all of us to follow. What they have been through and what they continue to do makes me proud to say they are my friends. Thank you to all my friends who supported us, donated or made time for Team Owen. I am surrounded by amazing people and quite frankly I am the person I am because of you. Thank you to Bill, Victoria, and Gwendolyn Strong for all your support and inspiration. What you guys do, how you live, and how you help others continues to amaze us and inspire us. It is an honor to run for the lovely Gwendolyn, a special, special girl! There are not enough superlatives to describe you guys. Last and definitely not least, thank you to the amazing Sampsons(Claudia, Gillian and Ianthe). You guys are the foundation of Team Owen and all this is possible because of your hard work. You guys are always willing to drop what you are doing to help others and often times it goes unrecognized or unappreciated. Believe me, we all appreciate who you are and I am fortunate to have you as friends. You guys kick ass.
And Dear Owen, thank you for inspiring us and making us realize how fortunate we really are. Your beautiful smile is a bright beacon that shines brightly and will continue to shine. You are changing lives and making us realize the power of one little boy. We will continue to run in your honor and keep you in our hearts as we continue to fight this shitty disease. I am one grateful man.
Ahhh these are SPECIAL DAYS!
Friday, February 24, 2012
Well folks 2012 is in full swing and I hope your training is going well. As you may know, we are running the New Bedford Half Marathon on March 18th 2012 in memory of Owen Simmons. Team Owen was a smashing success last year and we are hopeful that we will have as many or even more runners helping stomp out SMA. The response thus far has been outstanding and the donations are starting to roll in. Last year we were able to raise over $15,000 and we are hoping to top that mark. Let's get that moolah flowing.
We have a new T-Shirt design this year and to put it simply, they are awesome. We will have over 100 runners with their blue angel wings come race day. Again all we are asking of Team Owen members is to wear their shirt on race day and to take a picture with the whole team before the race on the library steps. After your race is run and completed, we will be having a post race dinner and party at Knucklheads Bar and Grill. We will have food, music, raffles and a great time. If any Team members know of anybody who wishes to donate any raffle items, we are excepting. We will also be having 3 more training runs on the New Bedford Half course starting this Sunday and following the next two Sundays. It is a great way to meet other Team Owen members and to also get a feel for the course. Come on out and experience some great people running for a great cause.
Finally, Heather(Owen's Mom) received some sobering news this week. She received an email from a local family who shared that their 4 month old child had just been diagnosed with SMA. They are full of fear, sadness, worry etc. SMA is so cruel and this is a strong reminder of why we do what we do. Be grateful for your healthy children. Be grateful for you're health. Remember how devastating this disease is and that SMA babies and their families need our help and support. So lets dig deep and and try to make even more of difference in a child's life this coming half. Thank you so much for your continued support and help and remember "WE RUN FOR THOSE WHO CAN'T"
Saturday, December 31, 2011
Well 2011 went by in a blur but it was certainly a memorable year! I am grateful for all that I was able to accomplish and look forward to more adventures in the coming year. There is alot on tap and I'm sure more will reveal itself.
Once again, I entered the lottery for 2012 edition of the Western States but sadly I was not picked this year. I am a bit disappointed but I am grateful for the opportunity to have run this race two years in a row. Many go years without being selected so somebody else will have the chance to have their life changed by this incredible race. However my good friend Kenny "the gambler" Rogers was selected this year and he asked me if I could pace him. Of course I gladly accepted and will be in Squaw Valley this coming June to support and help bring Kenny across the finish line. I will be able to view the race from a different perspective and still represent Team Owen and the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation at WS100.
Which brings me to the purpose of this post. Once again SMA ass kicking will be in full effect again in 2012 and you can join us and help make a difference in a child's life. On March 18th 2012, the New Bedford Half Marathon kicks off and Team Owen will be running strong in Memory of Owen Simmons. Last year was our inaugural event and it was a smashing success. We had over 100 runners running for Owen and this year I know we can top that number. It was a such a great day, an exciting day, a day that we still talk about. " There are big days, and their a little days.......Make this your BIG DAY."
We are in the process of ordering t-shirts for the event and also planning an after race dinner/party. All we ask to join Team Owen is to purchase a t-shirt and wear it proudly on race day. We will also have a fundraising page set up on the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation page to make it super easy for any fundraising you want to do. We encourage fundraising for our cause but it is not mandatory. Every penny counts though in helping find a cure for this crappy disease. Again we will take a pre race photo on the steps of the New Bedford Public library to show everybody that we are in the SMA ass kicking business and business is booming! We will also have some training runs on the course starting in February and I will be posting when they will take place. For any further info, don't hesitate to contact me at email@example.com or on facebook.
I would just like to thank my friends from Team Owen for all their help this year. Without you guys, all of this would not have been possible. A very special thanks to Andy, Heather, Adyn, Bill, Victoria and Gwendolyn Strong, Gillian and Claudia Sampson. You guys rock and I am fortunate to call all you friends! 2012 here we come!
Sunday, July 3, 2011
With Western States 2011 in the books, now is the time to reflect on a truly special and epic weekend!
First off, I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to run Western once again(two years in a row) It is such a special event, a world class affair that is terrifically run. There was about a 7-10% chance of getting in this year so a bit of luck was on my side. There are so many factors that make this such a special race. The first thing is the course/trail itself. I live at exact sea level so I don't get the opportunity to run on such a beautiful trail. The Sierra Nevada's are amazing. The history, the elevation, descent, flora and fauna etc, it is a beautiful part of America.
The other factor that makes Western so special is the volunteers and race officials. The size and scope of this race is huge and I am very thankful to the race committee for the hard work they put into this race every year. The Sierra's had been blasted with snow all winter and still had huge amounts of the white stuff for the first 35 miles. I can't imagine how difficult it must have been to make all these last minute changes, a logistical nightmare. The race went off without a hitch and went very smoothly. As for the volunteers, they are second to none. They give up there whole day(sometimes two days) to help you accomplish a life long dream. They are so happy, supportive, willing to do anything for you(including taping up my nasty dogs). When you are feeling at your lowest and you come stumbling into one of the aid stations, the volunteers will always send you on your way feeling so much better. I salute all the volunteers at the Western States 100.
The pre-race buzz was electric. Myself and the Mullenator had changed rooms and were now in the center of the Squaw Village. Tons of world class runners and back of the packers like me milling about. It was a great place to stay and we were right in the middle of everything. All the pre-race briefings went according to plan but I have to admit I was a bit frazzled. I freaked out for a spell when I thought I had lost my race number. Little did I know or I had forgotten that they had not given it to me yet, it was to be given to me the next morning. Mullen could only laugh and tell me to try to keep my head in the game.
Something special did happen during the pre-race briefing that I want to share. I was wearing my 100 Miles 4 Owen shirt when I was approached by a man whose name escapes me. He asked me if I was affiliated with the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation. I was a bit surprised and said that I was. He stated that he recognized the 100 Miles 4 Owen from the GSF website. He mentioned that they have a child with a disability and that his wife follows the Strong's blog religiously. I felt so proud and also a sense of accomplishment. Myself, Mullen and Magda received so many compliments from the shirts we wore and the slogan "we run for those who can't". I love being able to take the time, explain the story of why I am running these races and spreading the message of ending SMA.
Magda arrived on Friday afternoon and the team was fully assembled. I had my running guru/pacer and now I had my chief crew member/Facebook posting officer/No hands Bridge or Bust runner. Team Owen was fully assembled and would not be denied. Let the SMA ass kicking commence!
The morning start was again a literal blast, approx 400 runners and there friends and families assembled at the base of the Squaw Valley Ski resort. The shotgun blast signified the start and we were off. After about 100 yards of running, this part of the race turns into a power hike/sometimes run up the ski slope. They modified the beginning of the race because of the nasty white stuff on the other trail. This I certainly appreciated. After approx. 50 minutes of hiking/running we reached the top of Escarpment. Again I took time to take a look around and was again treated to breathtaking views. Now the fun part.
The big story of Western States 2011 initially was the SNOW. The course had been modified even more than last year because of the snow pack. There was still over 8ft of snow pack in some parts of the high country making the running a bit dicey. I decided before the race that I wasn't going to worry about it or complain about it because there was nothing I could do about it. Last year I found it not to be that big of a deal and kind of enjoyed it. It wasn't running so much as skiing but it was fine. This year was a bit different. The night before the start had been a bit cooler and I found the snow to be more icy. It was tough going but it wasn't that big of a deal. I found myself working a bit harder and I think for some reason the altitude effected me more this year. I fell on my ass a good 8-10 times but no significant injuries or problems. I actually fell right on the back of my head but it didn't hurt. I 've been accused of being a bit a hard headed!.
After about 15 miles of running through the snow, we dropped into the French Meadows Reservoir for some sweet single track. It was a welcomed change from the snow slog and I ran fairly well. My lungs for some reason were still feeling it but no major issues. We came into the Duncan Canyon Aid station and I replenished with some fuel. I was feeling pretty good at this time and ran out of the aid station fairly quickly. This would be a new part of the course we were running because of the snow. As soon as I left the aid station, I ran into a a little low point. It wasn't a big deal but I felt that my energy was sapped. It might have been the extra work through the snow, or maybe the altitude, but whatever it was I slowed down a bit. The one thing that was nagging on my mind was the condition of my feet and how they would hold up. Last year, my feet were crushed with blisters by mile 80 and I didn't want to go through that nastiness once again. I was using hydropel for the first time and I was def satisfied with the results thus far. However I was feeling a hot spot in the area that had given me trouble last year. It was gnawing at me but I knew there was nothing I could do at this time.
This section of the race brought us down a highway road to a new section of the course. The running was easy and I quickly regained my strength. I felt OK and that I was back in the game. We left the road and started a pretty steep climb(over 1000ft) up towards Little Bald Mountain. This was in lieu of Robinson Flats aid station. The climb was tough but I was running ok. I was still feeling my chest though and it was like I couldn't catch my breath. A little further up the trail, my breath was taking away literally as I ran right into a little rattlesnake(at least i think it was a rattler). I am by no means a snake expert but it scared the living bejezus out of me. I definitely picked up the pace after that. There were all kinds of wild life sightings this year, a couple of bears, one of which actually slowed down some of the female lead runners toward the end of the race. This is not your local 5k road race.
After what seemed like a lifetime, we reached the top of the climb and came into an aid station. Again I was in a bit of a lull and I took a little more time than I usually do in this aid station. I changed shoes and socks and did a quick assessment. Feets were looking ok but I was feeling the hot spot on the right foot. I decided to press on and deal with it later. The sun was bright and warm but it was not overly hot. This was also a new section that took us out about 2 1/2 miles and then back. There was still snow all over this section which was hard to believe. I was working hard, actually working too hard I think. This section was pretty unremarkable but it did bring us back to the original part of the course, a nice slow descent toward the canyons and the Last Chance Aid station.
As the air got warmer, something stood out to me. There were a ton of butterflies this year through out the course. Last year as I ran through the canyons I observed many birds hovering skyward with the heat vents. I was reminded and thought of my SMA angels and this year it was the butterflies that gave me pause and reminded me of why I run ultras. My thoughts turned to Owen and his family, Gwendolyn and her family, and all other babies effected by SMA. I also thought of my Grams throughout the day this year. Grams was a huge inspiration for me and a guardian angel for me. She was always there for me when I was down and I owe her alot. She played a big role and was hugely responsible for helping me become the man I am today and I am eternally grateful for her.
As I entered Last Chance, I knew I had to have my foot looked at before I plunged into the canyons. I took about 20 minutes inside Last Chance while a volunteer nurse tended to my feet. She couldn't have been nicer and she had the greatest bedside manner. I was disappointed that I was inside the aid station so long(I am usually right in, right out) but I was sticking to my plan to take care of myself and let the chips fall as they may.
I left Last Chance and entered the Canyons, the toughest part of the course. The first downhill section into Devils Thumb is very steep and unforgiving. Downhill running is not my forte and my quads took a beating as I tenderfooted down the canyon. No turned ankles or injuries occurred so I was quite happy. I crossed the bridge and headed up the Devils Thumb climb. What I remembered from last year is that the first switchback literally took my breath away. And this year was no different. My hill training consists of rolling trails on the Cape so this rugged terrain takes it's toll on me. I was planning on doing more hill training this year but my hernia surgery put a kink in that plan. Oh well, I trudged on and found it a little easier than last year. It was not easy though and it sapped alot of my energy. I was feeling Ok and made my way into the Devils Thumb aid station. Again the volunteers were great and I was quickly rejuvanted for El Dorado Canyon. This is some sweet running, a deeper canyon but more gradual in its descent and ascent. I ran the downhill very well, probably a bit too well. By the time I got down to the bottom my quads were crying momma. I climbed up El Dorado with no problems and was even able to run a bit of it.
I made it out to Michigan Bluff(mile 55) feeling ok but a bit tired. Usually your crew is able to pick you up there and give you a bit of energy but because of logistical issues, Magda and Mullen could not meet me there. I was ok with that because the aid stations are really stocked well, but it would have been nice to see my team. I was buoyed by the site of Jim Guilford and the members of the G.A.C. running club. They cheered my every step and definitely gave me a boast. Gilly and the rest of the members of GAC always make the trip out to Western and they are what is good about the sport of running. Great people! I quickly made my way out and started running towards Volcano Canyon. Only 6 miles until I see Magda and Mullen and make my way into the final 38 miles.
I made my way up onto Bath Road on my way to Foresthill. Mullen was at the bottom and he was a site for sore eyes. I never have a problem going at it alone but it is always easier if you have somebody to pick you up when your feeling down. We made our way to Foresthill Aid station and I was feeling pretty good. I wanted to get in and out because I was about an hour earlier than last year and wanted to make some time. But I stuck to the game plan and had my footsies looked at. I had the pleasure of being attended to by my new friend George Miller. He took great care of my feet and he taped up those badboys with some Rocktape. They felt great and I felt pretty confident that the blister issue of last year would be last years problem. George was great along with all the other volunteers of the aid station. In particular a young lady who was with George whose name escapes me. She was very helpful and supportive and a great example of all the volunteers at Western. After about 20 minutes we met up with Magda and did a quick systems check. I was feeling pretty good and wanted to get going into the trail. I am so very grateful to Magda for making the trip out to Western for me. Crewing at these races are never easy, lots of running around and lots of waiting. Magda does it without complaint and is always willing to do for others. She was amazing and a huge boost as I made my way into the final 38. If I made it to mile 93, Magda would be pacing me the final 7 miles across No Hands Bridge and Robie Point.
As we entered Cal Street there was still plenty of daylight left. I wanted to run as much as I could with daylight still on and made it about 1/2 hour before the headlamp came on. The trails and running were fantastic and I was feeling pretty good, except for the quads. Myself and Mullen fell into a pretty good rhythm and enjoyed our run. I hit a few rough patches but all in all there were no problems. Mullen did a great job of pacing me and keeping me company. I can be a long day on the trails and I some time put my crabby pants on. Mullen put up with my bullshit and was a great pacer. I would pick him again to pace me in a heartbeat. He's got great mojo!
I put on the headphones for a little bit as we ran along the American River. The running was good and strong and pretty memorable as I listened to the Dark Side of The Moon while running along the American River. It was very cool. We then approached the Rucky Chucky River Crossing at mile 78 feeling pretty good. The volunteers were again great and were a huge boost. Again this year we had to cross the river using boats, which was fine with me. One year though I would like the challenge of crossing that river late in the evening. Maybe next year, hopefully. One of the volunteers told me to step onto the boat and as I did I slipped and fell hard into the boat. Everybody was laughing including myself. At mile 78 you don't mind making a fool of yourself. We made it across the river with no problems and made it to the next aid station, Rucky Chucky Far Side. Magda had made the long 2 mile walk from Green Gate aid station to meet me. I quickly changed my shoes and socks and we made our way up the 2 mile climb towards Green Gate. This climbed sucked and I was in full bitch mode. I was feeling so good crossing the river and now I was struggling to climb up this steep road. I was complaining, bitching, moaning and groaning lol. I was in a low patch for sure but kept my head down and kept on plugging.
The next 20 miles are in the deep of the night for me and were a struggle last year. This year I felt a bit better and I felt I was running more of these sections. I was running pretty well for a while but I was in full grumpy mode, Right after mile 85 aid station, I rolled my ankle in the same exact spot as I did last year. These little damn holes along the trail got me again. I was able to walk it off and then run it off and it didn't present any further problems for me.
We made it into Brown's Bar aid station(mile 89) and I knew I was coming to the end. At this time I knew I was going to finish the race but I was a bit disappointed in my time. I knew I was a bit faster than last year but I guess I had higher expectations. After running out of the nasty part of the trail leaving Brown's Bar, I was able to run alot better than I had last year. This was the direct result of not having a blister problem in either foot. We plugged along to Highway 49 where we would meet Magda so she could pace me in.
As we entered Highway 49 to pick up Magda, I was feeling Ok, actually alot better than last year. I even told Magda as we started running that I wasn't as crabby as I was last year and we got a laugh out of that. The running was slow and painful but we were making some progress. Halfway through the race I was hoping to run somewhere in the low 25 hour range but that ship had sailed. I was pretty close to the 27 hour mark and it was pretty doable. However my quads were toast and were not functioning that well. We pressed on and kept going. Magda was doing a great job, gently prodding me to keep going and then letting me know that we had to pick it up if we wanted to make 27 hours. I told her that breaking 27 was not a big deal to me and that my quads were hurting to much for me to push it to hard. Typical baby talk. She stuck with me and we made our way across No Hands Bridge. No hands Bridge and the surrounding area is breathtaking. The sun had just come up and the canyon river basin was live with different colors. The American River was roiling and very powerful! I love the area.
As we approached Robie Point(Mile 99) Mullen made his way down the steep climb to greet me and encourage me. We trudged our way up this climb(whose idea is it to put a steep ass climb at mile 99 of a 100 mile race anyways lol). We made our way out of the trail and made it out to the familiar road towards the track. It is great seeing all the residents of Auburn up early, cheering you on. After running all night in solitude, it definitely pumps up your spirits. I really wanted to run and push the pace into the track but my quads did not want to cooperate. I ran for a little while and then I stopped. I was spent. Magda then let me know with about 1/2 mile left that I had about 12 minutes to make 27 hours. I got my ass in gear and proceeded to run as hard as I could.
As I entered the track, I was again overcome with emotions. The very same weekend in 2007 was a terrible low point in my life. I was adrift and felt that I had no purpose or hope. My life had turned to shit. As I entered the track it struck me how much life can change and I am so grateful for that. Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and know good thing dies! I was running 100 miles for the second year in a row instead of being stuck and spinning my wheels. Unbelievable.
The time around the track is much too short, you don't even realize that you are running. As I made it too the finish line, John Medinger announced my name, and that I run for Owen Simmons and to find a cure for SMA. I made a quick look skyward, a little point towards the O-man and then onward to the finish line. I finished in 26 hours and 54 minutes. Someday i will get that silver buckle, I know I will but for the time being I am totally happy and satisfied with my time. Just finishing or starting the race is reward enough.
Again Western States was a truly remarkable experience and life changing event. I love this race and will run it every chance I get. I ran 100 miles and I feel so grateful for that. I have been given a gift, the gift of endurance and the gift to persevere. I feel on top of the world and love feeling like this.. I will continue to run Ultra's in honor of Owen and will keep on running until a cure for SMA is found, or until my legs fall off.
Again a special thanks to all of Team Owen, for without your help no of this would be possible. A special thanks to Claudia and Gillian Sampson who I can always count on to get stuff done. They are Team Owen's foundation and are the best. Even though I am still mad at them for cleaning my house, fixing stuff, etc. lol Magda and Kevin, you guys were great and I am forever thankful for your sacrifice. Magda is always quick to help out and give of herself and for that I am eternally grateful. She is always thinking of others and she is a power of example on how to be selfless. I will be there for Magda when it is her turn to run Western! Kevin I had a great time at Western this year and hopefully we can do it again. You can pace me anytime or next time I will pace you. To Bill, Victoria, and Gwendolyn, thank you for all your support and positive vibes. You don't know how much a power of example you guys are and I am grateful for your friendship. We will not stop until our work is done. Bill the marathon is going to be epic! To Andy and Heather, again thank you for sharing your little angel with all of us and for being the people you are. You guys are amazing and I cant wait to do it again. Finally to my main man Owen, thank you so much for inspiring me, for helping me become a better man. We will continue to honor you and to make changes in children's lives. You are not forgotten, only remembered more strongly!
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
As the Western States 2011 has approached, alot of different things have been going on in my cluttered head(and boy is it cluttered). Last years event was truly a life changing event, a memory that when I'm old, grey, senile and ready for the nursing home, I will be able to reflect back, smile, and say I gave my all. I was able to honor a little boy who has done so much for so many people. Unfortunately Owen never got the chance to even know it. He never got the chance to be, just a little boy. I was also able to meet an amazing family, Victoria and Bill Strong, proud parents of the lovely Gwendolyn. As I corresponded with the Strongs, I immediately got the sense that I was dealing with an amazing family. Like Andy and Heather, they have a child afflicted by this dreaded disease. Also like Andy and Heather, they are a power of example. I saw first hand how devastating this disease is, not only to the little warrior but to the whole family in general. And I saw how Andy and Heather handled it with Owen, and I see how the Strongs deal with SMA. How to conduct yourself in adversity. How to take the high road when the low road would be that much more satisfying. How they are doing everything in their power to come up with a solution to this hideous problem. How SMA families do it, I do not know. I often think to myself, how would I handle this adversity, would I be strong enough, would I have enough grace under pressure? I dont think I'm that strong a person.
As the race has drawn a bit closer I have got a bit more excited. The excitement however was nothing like last years run up to the race. I was just beside myself in anticipation last year. I don't know what it was, maybe just because it wasn't a new experience. Not that I think I'm an old 100 mile veteran, I'm just trying to quantify why I was feeling the way I was. When I had surgery in April I was really hoping I would be ready but internally I was at peace if I couldn't run. As I healed from the surgery I was fairly certain that I would be able to run and again I got slightly excited. May rolled into early June and I started thinking more and more of the race. Then Victoria posted a blog and it gave me pause. Victoria talks about how unrelenting this disease is to Gwendolyn and the family as a whole. How it is totally consuming and its like they can't even catch their breath for a minute. Every SMA family feels this pain. I was choked up. Well anyways, I thought to myself, "this is why we run, we run for those who can't." Why I am doing this? Obviously there are selfish reasons, I'm able to do something that I love to do and do something that not alot of people are able to do. But the real reason that I'm able to do this is because i was given a gift of inspiration. And I can't forget that! I have to give back and give everything I got! So it was time to get pumped for this gift of running Western States once again and boy I am.
Before I left yesterday I made sure that I grabbed my sheet of paper with the that lovely smiling face of Owen and all the names of SMA Angels who are no longer with us. And I'm mad as hell because sadly there are more names to add. There is more work to be done and its time to do more. I'm mad as hell because on a daily basis another child or family has to deal with SMA. 100 Miles 4 Owen has started a small fire that is growing. Friends who have never run before are now running for those who cant. Endless messages of support and encouragement are flowing in as well as the generous donations! The message of ending SMA is being spread but we need to do more. Its time for everybody to do a little more so some of the pain that is felt can be eased a bit and so no other families have to endure this hardship. Thats why I'm mad as hell!
So yeah for the last 10 days or so I've been super excited and motivated. Like truly motivated to do the best that I can. I can't wait to get out there and lay it on the line. And this year's edition of the Western States looks like it may be a bit more difficult conditions wise. The course has been altered due to huge amounts of snow(8ft snow pack) in Robisnon flat. So it looks like snow up to about mile 34 plus as an added bonus it is 100 degrees in Sacramento right now. Forecast for Auburn this weekend looks to be in the low 90's which will make the Canyons a bit toasty. And you know what, I cant wait. Again I will have my SMA angels with me carrying me through the day.
This year's crew will have a bit different feel to it this year. The lovely Magda will once again bring me in from mile 93 across No hands Bridge. Again Magda has been a huge help, and inspiration. She is always going the extra mile for all that are in need and is so selfless! Thanks again Magda for all you have done! My main man Kenny "The Gambler" Rogers was unable to make it this year, so Kevin "the Mullenator" is stepping into the breach. He is going to do awesome and I am looking forward to hitting Foresthills with him. It's going to be epic!
PS Please go to GwendolynStrong.com and check out what Im talking about