Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Is this the athlete?

“Is this the athlete?” the doctor at a Denver hospital asked when Zach Scott arrived by ambulance for open heart surgery this spring. Zach, 21, has severe cerebral palsy and neither walks nor talks, but thanks to Dennis Vanderheiden and Athletes in Tandem, the non-profit he founded, Zach is indeed an athlete. He’s done more than a dozen running races and several triathlons since 2008 when he and his family met Vanderheiden at the finish line of the Horsetooth Half  Marathon. They finished before Vanderheiden did.
            “Wow. You did super well.”
            “We started 90 minutes before you,” Sandy Scott admitted, exhausted from pushing Zach’s running stroller 13.1 hilly miles.
            On that day a relationship began that continues to grow in mutual trust and admiration. Vanderheiden had recently returned from Louisville, Kentucky where he’d completed an Ironman.  Beyond tired and delighted to be at the end of his 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and 26.6-mile run, Vanderheiden had an epiphany.
            He knew that day that he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Dick Hoyt who for years has pulled, pushed and pedaled his disabled son through the grueling Ironman in Kona, Hawaii. Vanderheiden was through chasing personal bests. Instead, he realized, his satisfaction came not from a fast finish, but from experiencing the joy of others. He’d never be through with training, competing, and challenging himself, but his purpose became different.
            “I don’t experience the euphoria some people do at the end of an event. It’s the journey I love,” Vanderheiden explains. And he knew that journey would be enhanced if he could share it with someone unable to do it on their own.
            Back in Fort Collins, he went about founding Athletes in Tandem to provide mentally and physically challenged people of all ages an opportunity to participate in triathlons and running races.  He wasn’t sure where to start, but he knew he needed to find willing disabled and non-disabled athletes and obtain the equipment  necessary to make it possible to swim, bike, and run in tandem.
            Zach Scott and his family became the catalyst. They trusted Vanderheiden enough to send Zach off to the Boulder Sprint Triathlon in the fall of 2008. “We had problems with the bike tipping backward so we skipped that segment of the event, but it didn’t matter,” Vanderheiden says. Thus began a partnership between the two that has grown to include Susan Strong who has also formed a bond racing with Zach.  Last month, recovered from his surgery, Zach’s doctors cleared him to race again.
            There’s a story behind each athlete, from the nine-year-old to the 86 year-old who have participated in Athletes in Tandem. Many cannot speak, but sounds and gestures express their elation at feeling the wind in their hair, cool water on their bodies, and camaraderie and kudos from their fellow athletes.  And when they return to compete in another event, it’s because they want that thrill again.
            Vanderheiden says it’s about helping disabled athletes enjoy the stimulation of movement , and feeling their joy as well as your own in their accomplishments.
            I  agree. I was privileged to push 7-year-old Logan in the Firekraker Five inCity Park, Fort Collins, this year.



Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Thanks for having me.

“Thanks for having me” is a phrase that has been in my head for a long time, begging for a story to accompany it. As a National Public Radio addict, I hear it again and again when guests are interviewed. No matter who they are, almost without exception, when they have finished speaking, they respond to their interviewer with those few simple words.
On April 19, those words took on a whole new level of meaning for me. I had such a good time being inducted into the Colorado Running Hall of Fame. I wanted to thank everyone … to the Hall of Fame for having me … to Alan Lind, an old friend, who I know had a big role in this … to the people who interviewed me … to those who sent cards and brought gifts … to my children, who gathered from all over … to my cousins who came from the UK … and to my feet, for holding out long enough for me to receive this incredible honor.
It didn’t start out as a very big deal. At least I didn’t think so. On a Wednesday afternoon in early February, I got a phone call from Maureen Roben, whom I remembered as an outstanding runner from the days when I did the Denver Marathon. She asked if I would like to be inducted. Despite my surprise, that was an easy question to answer.
Not so easy to answer was why in the world this organization had chosen to honor me for something I love to do. I’d been running for 40 years, and over time I’d had my share of age-group wins and, in the past few years, some age group records. They must be into persistence, I reasoned. No matter. I was thrilled.
Maureen explained that tables at the Denver Athletic Club seated 10 and I could invite nine people to join me. The first thing I did was send my four kids an email, figuring that the two who live close by would join me with their spouses. I invited a couple of running friends. I figured the grandkids would not be interested.
Little did I know how this thing would grow. Before I knew it, my daughters were making decisions. They assured me the boys, who live in Florida and Tokyo, would come. They wrote to overseas cousins. They planned a big party. My brother suggested we all ride to Denver in a limo, an idea that I thought silly at first but ended up agreeing was brilliant.
I asked my daughters to introduce me at the ceremony, then got concerned when I learned my sons were coming, as well. They worked it out, electing Kristin, the oldest, to share the words they had worked on together. Jeni, the youngest, stood by her side, and sons Kurt and Jeff came to the podium to meet me when I was finished with my five-minute talk.
I spoke about “aid stations,” not water and Gatorade, but all the people who have supported me in my running. Hearing the stories of the other inductees was a fascinating journey into the Colorado running community. I felt so honored to be a part of this group of dedicated, talented runners.
Every card and note is going into a little book so I can remember the details of this occasion. Recently, I helped with a race organized by a 15-year-old high school student to fulfill requirements for her International Baccalaureate personal project. All proceeds went to the Food Bank for Larimer County. Perhaps I would not have volunteered if I hadn’t been so grateful for what the running community has meant to me.
I intend to keep on running for as long as I can, but I have a new awareness of the importance of giving back, my way of saying “thank you for having me.”
Libby James runs because it's simple, challenging and conducive to special friendships. Over the past 40 years, she has raced everything from a mile to marathons and has become old enough to hold some records.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Wild West Relay

No marathon in your future but the “distance idea” holds some fascination? Why not consider The Wild West Relay? Subtitled Get Your Ass Over the Pass, the race starts at the Budweiser Tour Center just north of Fort Collins, Colorado and winds through 195 miles of mostly back country, to Steamboat Springs.  In 2012 it happened August 3 and 4.
            Here’s how it works: The run is divided into 36 legs, distances of five to nine miles. Team members are divided equally into two vans, one active and the other inactive. When the runners in van one have completed their legs, van two takes over and the runners in van one rest for five or six hours.
            The first runner on our team of 12 women started at 5:40 a.m., headed north on dirt roads toward Livermore on Highway 287, beginning a 35-hour journey during which we’d sleep, eat, whine a little, and tell stories. Our team--two 50-somethings, four bouncing teens, two grandmas, an educator, an exercise physiologist, an attorney, a hairdresser—we were all in this together. One of us was training for a marathon, another hadn’t trained at all. What was she thinking? The teens haven’t trained either, but they’re game, young and tough. They sleep easily in the van, laugh and joke and play loud music.
            By late Friday night, our van was at rest in the tiny mountain town of Walden. As I lay in my sleeping bag on the damp grass of the high school football field, my feet so cold I knew sleep would not come easily, I relived my first leg in the hot sun of midday, and the second, in the cool of the night. If my head weren’t so small, maybe my headlamp would have stayed in place on my forehead and I wouldn’t have had to wear it around my shoulder. Bobbing up and down as it did, it didn’t offer much focused light. Thank goodness for a nearly full moon.
            A tall male speedster flew by as I approached the last mile, but slowed enough to ask if I’d seen the falling star. “A really good one,” he says. “Missed it,” I say, sad that I’d been looking at my feet instead of into the sky.
            By the time our team plods its way up and over Rabbit Ears Pass and down the other side, the temperature is nearing 90 degrees in Steamboat Springs on Saturday afternoon. The last runner, my 18-year-old granddaughter, is plugging along the bike path through town. The other eleven members of our team are waiting to join her and cross the finish line together. I’m tired, my quads are screaming, but I decide to head down the bike path, find Abby and run in with her. Red-faced, she’s breathing so hard she can hardly speak, but whispers, “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” And a few minutes later, “Thanks for coming to meet me.” I choke up. Ridiculous. Yet, that moment is, for me, the high point of a trip that can’t really be described.
            I suggest you try it.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Pre-marathon strategy

So. You’re thinking about doing a marathon?  You’ve decided to do a marathon? You’ve signed up for a marathon? You know when it is, you’ve found yourself a training schedule and you’re out there on the roads, putting in the miles you need to run before the big day arrives. With more than 40 marathons to choose from in Colorado and the surrounding states, you’ve got to be one among thousands. Congratulations. May you have the race of a lifetime.

            That said, the moment will come, yes, I promise, it will, when the race is over. And for a little while, before post-race euphoria sets in, it’s likely you won’t feel so good. In fact, during those moments, you may swear that you’ll never do this again. But before you know it, you’ll be one happy camper, basking in your accomplishment and deciding that if you can run 26.2 miles, well, you can probably do just about anything you set your mind to.

            For next couple of days, you may choose to descend stairs backwards and groan really loudly when you try to get up out of a chair or off the ground, but the day will come when you are ready to hit the road again. There are all kinds of advice on post-marathon recovery. Here are some guidelines you might want to consider:

1.    Some say recovering from a marathon takes one or two weeks. Others claim a person should consider himself  “injured” for 26 days, one day for each mile of the race. The duration of recovery depends upon the level of competition and intensity of effort put forth. Only you can decide what that is for you.
2.     Before the marathon put in adequate mileage. The more it hurts before the race, the less it will hurt afterwards. Be faithful about your weekly long run which will prepare you psychologically for going farther when it counts.
3.     Pace yourself carefully during the marathon. If you go out too fast and have to do the last few miles in “survival mode” you may end up with some issues that even a week in a hot tub won’t cure.
4.     Drink at every opportunity.
5.      After the race, get off your feet as soon as possible and have something to drink. Soft drinks are good because of their high sugar content.  Shower and rest a little while before you eat.
6.     Do very little for the next few weeks. Refrain from any running for as long as long as a week. Now is the time to walk, swim or bike—activities that use different muscle groups.
7.     Listen to your body. Everyone is different. Don’t go back to hard training until you find yourself eager to do so.

The Colorado Runner magazine event guide for 2012 lists more than 700 races in the area. It’s a great year-long reference. Upcoming races in Fort Collins and Loveland include the Horsetooth Half Marathon, April 22, Fast and Furriest 5K, CSU, April 28, Cinco-Cinco 5K, CSU, Colorado Marathon, half-marathon, 10k and 5K, May 6, Sierra’ Race Against Meningitis, 5K, Loveland, June 2.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

At the Tokyo Marathon

Every decade or so, one of my kids talks me into doing a marathon. This time it was Kurt, my son who heads up McDonald’s supply chain for Japan in Tokyo. A long way to go to run 26 miles, but there were added attractions. A chance to be with grandchildren that I see rarely, travel with my Wyoming daughter and son-in-law, and celebrate my friend Cathy Morgan’s birthday and first-time marathon.
            We packed a whole lot into six days, travelling by train, foot, taxi, and subway. We admired the Meiji shrine in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo’s answer to Central Park in New York. We cruised the world’s largest fish market in the early-morning rain, and afterwards appreciated the welcoming warmth and expansive breakfast buffet at the luxurious American Club.
            We shared little plates of exotic fish and veggies at a restaurant where each diner squeezes a fresh grapefruit and concocts a delicious drink, not for himself, but for the person sitting next to him at the table. “Eating is much more social here,” Kurt explained as he ordered for us all. “It’s not like in the states where you order your own dinner and eat it all yourself.” The highlight of that evening was a magic show in a setting so intimate that a total stranger in the small audience, learning it was Cathy’s birthday, ran out to the street and bought her a beautiful bouquet of roses.
            Sunday morning it was down to business. For the first time ever, I rode a taxi to a race start. It took 30 minutes to drop a clothes bag and find my assigned spot in the line-up of 35,000 people, packed so closely together that the cold was no longer an issue. Twenty minutes after fireworks announced the start, I finally crossed the starting line. The course, nearly all flat or down hill, ran through the city with two long out-and-back sections. When I reached the 20-mile mark where I’d promised myself a walk if needed, I kept on running, anxious for the last miles to be over. Crowds of spectators along the way offered dried plums, candies, and at one point even beer or wine.  Thousands of volunteers saw to it that there was plenty of water, electrolyte drink, medical assistance, and encouragement.
            The first 26 miles were manageable. It was the next two, or was it three, after a subdued finish area because spectators were barred, that became a challenge. I began to walk, following the orderly stream of human traffic that flowed, up, down, and around the Tokyo Big Site conference center until I’d completely lost my bearings.  
            The day before, while picking up race packets at the Expo, we’d spotted the small McDonald’s restaurant where we planned to meet.  Fifty employees had run the race, and hundreds more had cheered us on as we passed by in our yellow McDonald’s “Smile Runner” shirts, so it seemed an appropriate place to gather. But after the race, obscured by milling crowds, it took me 90 minutes to find it.
            Never, in all my life, I had I been so happy to see the golden arches.