Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Different Kinds of Runners

There are lots of different kinds of runners.  There are optimal weather runners who come out in the spring and fall (sometimes very overdressed) and run.  There are ultra-marathoners who thrive on long, hard runs that take days, not hours to finish.   There are newbie runners who started running for fun or exercise or to raise money who may become one of the other types of runners, but aren’t there yet.  There are runners who run to compete in races for fun.  There are runners who run for exercise and that’s it—no more, no less.  And then there are runners who run because running is part of who they are.  This type of runner may also be one of the other types of runners (and I apologize if I forgot a category), but when running is part of you, your day or week isn’t complete without running.  It is an outlet.  It is a time for reflection.   It is you time.  If you have an injury and can’t run the not running is almost as painful as the injury.  Matt is in this last category.  When I question his judgment about running in bad weather or the dark or fill in the blank condition he gives me a look that tells me he just needs to get out for a run.  It doesn’t have to be a good run or a long run, but he needs to have that time alone with the road and his thoughts.  As I put in one of the write-ups, running was an outlet for Matt when he lost his vision.  Although he’s accepted his vision loss, he has bad days.  There’s nothing I can say that will make him feel better.  But for whatever reason, even a twenty minute run seems to help him.  I’m a runner too, but I don’t have the same connection with running that he does.  Maybe it is because he doesn’t need to ask for help to run.  Or maybe he’d need running just as much if he hadn’t lost his vision as he does now.  But whatever the reason, describing Matt as a runner is just like describing him as a redhead.  He just is.  We’ve been having bouts of torrential rain the last few days.  I have opted to skip a few days of running, but Matt has been out there.  He did suggest doing track on Thursday this week, but Amazon said that his new spikes arrived so I am guessing he might be out there anyway.  That’s just the runner that he is.  What kind of runner are you?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Two Shoes

In my last job I traveled internationally for work frequently so Matt and I were forced to come up with a routine early so that he and the girls could have a seamless week.  In our spare bedroom I would lay out outfits for every day of the week for daycare, complete with matching socks and backups in case an accident happened.  If there was picture day or some event at daycare, I would make sure that everything was already picked out.  I would make as many meals and goodies as I could so that Matt didn’t have to worry about any of those things.  For the most part, we were able to plan everything in advance, but there are always unforeseen mishaps.  We lived in Alexandria at the time and were fortunate enough to have lots of running paths and trails by our house so that Matt could take the girls for a run without having to cross any major streets.  This was always an important characteristic for me because as capable as Matt is, there are still bad drivers.  On one trip I called Matt to check in and he tells me he lost one of Emily’s shoes.  Now if you have kids, you know that a pair of shoes that will fit about three or four months can cost $50.  We had just bought those new shows the day before I left.  Before I can get in a word, he starts telling about his six mile run with the girls and how he decided to go to Home Depot afterwards.  Before he went in the store, he checked in on the girls and Marisa threw one of her shoes at him laughingly.  As he put it on he realized that Emily was short a shoe, too, but wasn’t playing with it.  He turned around and started back out on the trail to look for it.  So here we have two grumpy kids who want to get out of the stroller and a dad who can’t see looking for a tiny shoe wondering what Emily will wear to daycare all week.  Matt asked everyone going by if they had seen the shoe.  One unhelpful biker commented on how expensive little kid shoes are.  Finally, a famiy out for a bike ride said that they had seen a shoe on the trail.  The mom had the dad go back and get it, thankfully.  A few minutes later the dad gave Matt Emily’s shoe.  Matt decided his now 12 mile run was long enough and opted to go home instead of going through Home Depot.   If that family is reading this blog, thank you so much for helping Matt!  

Friday, April 25, 2014

Week in Review

We are a little over a week out until Matt leaves for Mesa for the Desert Challenge and to obtain his International Paralympic Committee classification.  Matt broke down and ordered a pair of new spikes so he’ll finally get to retire his college ones.  We might need to have some sort of retirement ceremony because he seems pretty attached.  He wants to do well for the two events he is running, but he hasn’t been in his usual crazy mileage mode.  He’s been shy of running 40 mile weeks.  Although that is about half of his peak marathon training weeks (at least pre-kids), it is the most miles he has logged since Zachary was born late last summer.  I’m sure once he decides on a marathon that his weekly mileage will increase.  As that happens, it becomes a little more challenging to find a time to run that doesn’t take him away from the kids.  Matt and I don’t run the same races anymore for exactly that reason.  In 2012, Matt and I ran marathons a few months apart so that we weren’t in our high mileage weeks at the same time.  Since we are both entertaining marathons later this year, with Matt as a definite and me as a maybe, we will need to pick ones that are spaced out.  Right now, his race schedule includes a Father’s Day race (it has become an annual tradition) and the Wilson Bridge ½ marathon, but that is it until he decides on a marathon.  

In the meantime, here’s what his week of running looked like:

Sunday - took Easter off
Monday - 9.3 miles at 7:45 average pace
Tuesday - 6.5 miles 8:30 average pace (3.5 miles with me)
Wednesday - track workout for a total of 8.6 miles
1.5 mile warm up run @8:30 mile pace
8x800 with 200 rest @ 2:50 per 800 meters
1.5 mile recover run home @8:30 mile pace
Thurs - had to take it off due to work
Fri - today was going to be a time trials for Mesa, but the GMU track team was on the track so Matt ended up doing 13.3 miles @7:41 average pace
Sat - anticipates a short recovery run
I hope you all have a great weekend! Happy running!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Matt's Phone

For Christmas two years ago I bought Matt an iPhone.  Ever since the 4S came out, he had been reading about the usability of the iPhone for visually impaired individuals.  If you know us, you know that we are not quick to make a decision.  It took us weeks to decide on a vacation rental for this summer so if we are talking about an electronics purchase it can be months before we make up our mind.  At the time Matt had a flip phone (remember those?!) and was undecided on whether he wanted a smart phone.  He was able to make the font larger to read the time, but he had to dial by feel.  Texting was out of the question for him.  I was a bit skeptical about how well he would be able to use the iPhone, and I never thought he’d be able to use it as a running tool, but two years later it is indispensable.  There is a built-in voiceover function that works with most of his apps.  When it is on, the phone will speak everything he touches.  There is a learning curve because to select something when the feature is on requires two taps and there are lots of short cuts to do things differently than if you don’t have voiceover on.  I still can’t send a text when the feature is on, but Matt is a whiz at it and also uses the Siri feature to do searches and send texts to help him when he doesn’t have time to type everything out.  As I mentioned in Monday’s post, there isn’t a GPS watch that Matt can use to track his pace and mileage, but he can use his iPhone.   One of the apps that he can use with the voiceover feature is a running app that acts just like a GPS watch.  When he uses it, it will speak his running distance, current pace, average pace, and give him splits.  It has been a huge help to him during his training.  I always ask him to have his phone with him on his long runs or runs at night, just in case, so it does double duty as a training partner.  He even used it on the track last night.  I don’t know that our twins realize that daddy doesn’t see very well, but to attest to the usability of voiceover, our girls know that daddy’s phone talks and they know how to turn voiceover on and off so that they can listen to their favorite Disney song…over and over and over again.  

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Running Celebrities

In honor of yesterday’s Boston Marathon, I want to tell you about Matt’s first Boston Marathon in 2009.  We found out that Matt placed third in the visually impaired division so we went to the awards ceremony a few hours later.  The room was packed with all of the winners—fellow visually impaired winners, overall winners, age group winners, and wheelchair, handcycle and mobility impaired winners—as well as other runners that wanted to cheer on the winners.  As amazing as I thought it was to be surrounded by such athleticism, Matt was awe struck.  It was like his Academy Awards and he couldn’t stop pointing out some of the well-known runners.  That year there were a number of top American finishers, to include Ryan Hall and Kara Goucher.  Matt got to stand up on the podium in front of all of these runners and accept his award.  Afterwards, we were near the restrooms waiting on Matt when Matt’s dad and I saw Kara Goucher go into the ladies room.  When Matt came out we told her she was there and suggested a photo.  So there the three of us were standing outside the ladies room trying to decide who should ask for the photo.  How it happened is a bit of a blur, but Kara was very gracious and complimented Matt on his third place finish (she was the third place overall female runner that year).  So just to embarrass Matt, I am posting both pictures from that day, the first one where he looks a bit starry-eyed (or embarassed that we were taking so long to get the photo taken), and the second where he was trying to compose himself.  

Finally, congratulations to all of the finishers at yesterday’s Boston Marathon, particularly the Team with a Vision finishers—you inspire us all!

Monday, April 21, 2014

What time is it?

Most runners have the same standard gear when they run--clothing, shoes, and a watch.  You may have specialty versions, like a GPS watch or the latest version of a shoe, or you may choose to run with music or a phone, but the core items are the same.  When you don't have one of those things, either you can't run, or in the case of a watch, you can run but you can't really keep track of your pace or time unless it is a route you know well.  I never thought much about how I use a watch when I am running until I started running with Matt.  My inexpensive running watch can help keep track of my overall time and my splits.  If I want, I can wear my GPS watch so I have a better gauge of my pace and to know when to turn around on a long run.  There are lots of neat gadgets out there for the visually impaired, but a good sports watch isn't one of them.  Matt has a sports watch that talks and has a stopwatch feature, but that is where the fancy perks end.  No GPS option.  No laps feature to keep track of splits.  No bells.  No whistles.  You might not think those things are a big deal in a race, but remember that Matt can't see the mile marker signs.  And even though it is possible to do the math and figure out the mile pace based on the mile you are on and your overall time, who wants to do math at mile 19 of a marathon with 7.2 miles to go?!  It would take me time to figure that out with pen and paper so I certainly wouldn't want to do it when I am trying to put one foot in front of the other while trying to not run into people or slip on a water cup or glove that someone discarded during a race.  Every so often we have stopped at a watch vendor table during a race expo and every time we get the same answer.  There is no good running watch for the visually impaired or blind runner.  So how does Matt keep track of his pace and time in a race?  Usually he wears two talking watches, one to keep track of his overall time and the other to do his mile splits.  Sometimes he misses a mile marker so he has to guess until he gets to the next mile marker.  It isn't great, but it works.  This is just one of the things Matt has to plan on during his training.  A few times a week Matt and I  meet up at lunch and go for a run together.  It was beautiful today so we were going to meet.  I got to the locker room only to discover that I was missing one of the other key running items--shorts.  Matt got in a nine mile run solo. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Mesa, here comes Matt!

Stop one on Matt's journey is Mesa, Arizona.  He will be flying out there on May 6th for the Desert Challenge Games.  There are only a limited number of opportunities for a blind or visually impaired athlete to obtain an International Paralympic Committee (IPC) classification, a requirement for any track and field event to count as a qualifying run to be considered for the U.S. team.  The Desert Challenge is one of those opportunities.  He had to submit detailed medical history and paperwork in order to obtain an IPC license.  Now that he has the license, he can get classified.  Unfortunately, he can't just go out and get classified.  He also needs to compete in one of the track and field events.  Since Matt graduated from college, he has run road races almost exclusively and the last time he did a race in spikes has been at least three years.  At the Desert Challenge, he'll run the 1500 meter and the 5000 meter events in the same night (FYI, today's high in Mesa is 91 degrees!).  The U.S. men's A and B standards this year for the 1500 in minutes:seconds is 3:56 and the B standard is 4:00.  For the 5000, it is 14:20 and 15:08.  (This can change year-to-year.)  Yikes, that's fast!  Matt's fate on the team isn't hinged on these events in May.  In fact, he'll have to compete in track and field events and marathons several times before the 2016 National Championship that will finalize the U.S. 2016 Paralympic Track and Field team.  If he were to run an A or B cut qualifying time in Mesa or at one of the designated meets or marathons before the 2016 National Championship meet, he'd be able to make the team and begin receiving the benefits that come from being a member of the team.  But that isn't Matt's goal for Mesa.  Matt has two simple goals:  (1) get classified, and (2) don't embarrass himself.  I think he'll be able to make both goals.  I wish I could travel there with him, but the kids and I will be cheering him on from a distance.  Hope you will be, too.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Our New Wednesday

Matt has had a pair of running shoes in the back of our closet the entire time we’ve been married.  They look like they might have been white at one time, but that is debatable.  I never paid them much attention until Matt said that he needed to dust off his spikes to get ready for the Desert Challenge (more on that soon).  He has had these spikes since college.  They don’t even have all of the spikes in them anymore and if they could once unscrew, they have been permanently put in after more than a decade of use.   Tonight Matt put his college spikes in a bag and ran to the George Mason University track to do a speed workout.  A couple of weeks ago we decided that Wednesday would be Matt’s track night.  Before we moved to suburbia and had three kids, Matt would go to Wednesday night track to run with DC Roadrunners and I’d meet a friend for a jog.  Afterwards we’d go to dinner at Whole Foods.  I know, romantic, right?  So the first night he wants to go to the track, the twins decided they didn’t want to eat their dinner and were crying for daddy.  I really wanted to tell him to start a different night, but there are only so many Wednesdays before the Desert Challenge Games in May so I told him to go.  Thankfully, the girls had pity for me and decided that their dinner was in fact good.  They even humored me and didn’t protest during our bedtime routine.  Matt returned home an hour later and all three kiddos were in bed.  I survived night-night…night one and the last couple of Wednesdays since then.  Tonight while the Frozen soundtrack ran at the house, Matt ran a good workout: 
He ran the 1.3 miles to the GMU track and did a safety lap to make sure there was nothing in lane one (like a bench or something).  Then he did four times one mile at 5:40 pace with a one lap recovery in between each mile.  Then he ran the 1.3 miles home.  The girls were still awake singing in their beds so he got to say good night.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ice, ice, and more ice.

So here we are in the middle of April and the weathermen are saying we could get some snow flurries tonight.  Right now, it is just rain.  Winter running isn’t always fun and I worry about Matt more when there is bad weather.  Early on in our courtship, Matt hurt his knee running.  It was months before he was running normally and that same knee is to blame occasionally for flare ups.  He even broke down and went to physical therapy to try to get better.  He had been out running on a trail near his apartment where he ran most of his runs and fell on ice…hard.  Naturally, as the concerned girlfriend and then wife, I decided then and there to always caution him on his way out the door if there was even a possibility that there could be a patch of ice.  Ice is definitely something that he can’t see.  Last winter, a good seven plus years into our relationship, Matt was heading out for one of his winter runs getting ready for a race and I again told him to be careful.  Once I get a worry in my head, it doesn’t go away so at least I am consistent.  Apparently it was one good intentioned reminder about ice too many because he blurted out, “I didn’t fall on ice!  I ran into a fire hydrant.  We hadn’t been dating very long and I was too embarrassed to tell you!”  A fire hydrant?  I didn’t see that one coming.  In an effort to be helpful, I haven’t told him to watch out for fire hydrants on his way out for a run.  If there is another fire hydrant incident, I might reconsider.  I do still warn him about ice, even though I’m not sure he’s ever actually had a bad spill on ice.  Here’s hoping winter is behind us!

Monday, April 14, 2014

My inaugural blog!

Thank you for checking out my blog.  I hope this won’t be the only time you stop by.  Maybe you are looking at the blog because you know us or maybe someone who knows us sent you the link—but whatever brought you here, I hope you will keep coming back.  The purpose of the blog is simple: document Matt’s journey towards his goal of making the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field Team.  If you know Matt, you know it hasn’t been easy for him to get to this place.  His visual acuity is minimal, but his dedication, passion, and ambition are boundless.  I met Matt five years after he lost his vision, so what I know about those initial challenges and emotions are based on what Matt has told me.  The raw emotion he originally felt was gone, and when he told me about his sight he had the benefit of five years of living with Lebers and knowing that things would get better.  But he still has hard days.  He hates that he can’t drive.  He can’t always tell our kids apart.  He can’t read the actual words of a book to them.  If I didn’t tell him the color of my eyes he wouldn’t know.  He sometimes walks down stairs in two different colored socks (or worse, two different colored shoes), and gets annoyed when I point out that his tie and shirt don’t coordinate because he thought he was wearing a different one.  But this blog isn’t a pity party.  It is a celebration of Matt’s amazing ability to overcome all of these challenges and be the wonderful man that he is.  I don’t know if he’ll make the U.S. team.  But since meeting my husband almost nine years ago, I’ve seldom heard him complain about his visual impairment, and I’ve never heard him use it as an excuse for why he couldn’t do something (except maybe for sweeping). So when he said he was maybe sort of thinking about trying to make the U.S. Paralympic team, I committed to helping him in whatever way I can.  I thought that a blog of Matt’s journey, from the perspective of his wife, might be a good way to start.  Happy reading!  Happy running!