Friday, May 30, 2014

What does your shirt say?

Matt had a shirt that he got from National Industries for the Blind and it says “Visually Impaired Runner” on the back in very large letters.  It is a nice technical shirt and Matt likes to wear it in races so long as it isn’t too hot or after races.  (In fact, he’d really like a singlet that says visually impaired runner on it.  Any ideas on where to get one made?)  

The shirt serves a few purposes.  First, it is basic identification so fellow runners know he is visually impaired.  Not everyone really thinks he is visually impaired, even with the shirt on since he doesn’t use guides or walk with a cane.  For example, he did a turkey trot last year and the race was more cross country so Matt had problems with his footing.  (Totally my fault—I found the race and didn’t look at the course closely enough though the website did say it was paved.)  There was a fellow runner about Matt’s pace and the two of them kept passing each other.  Finally the other runner asked if Matt was really visually impaired after Matt missed a marker and ran an extra few yards too many.  For the rest of the race he called out turns and anything in race path for Matt.  Thanks to him, Matt finished unscathed.   We found out after the race that is also from Pittsburgh.  Second, it raises awareness.  A fellow runner stopped Matt after a race last year and asked him about his vision after seeing him out on the race course.  Raising awareness on the capabilities of the visually impaired is always a good thing!  Third, it asks for help without requiring Matt to ask for help.  Matt stopped at the grocery store after a run with the girls and was trying to pick up a few things for dinner.  He didn’t have a magnifier with him.   Store workers offered to help him find everything he needed.  At first he couldn’t believe how helpful everyone was being and then he remembered which shirt he had on.  It saved me from having to send him back for ricotta instead of sour cream or flour instead of sugar.  And finally, an added bonus is that if Matt cuts someone off at a race unknowingly, maybe the other runner will be less annoyed or less likely to yell at Matt when he sees the shirt.  Matt’s not one to ask for help or to make any public decrees about his vision, so this shirt lets people know without the bull horn.  

Matt and I ran at lunch yesterday and even the off-and-on rain didn’t keep the tourists away from the National Mall.  It has been a zoo lately.  I called out to some people so that they could move over so we could pass and not accidently run into them and a woman growled at me.  Seriously, she growled.  I hope she saw the shirt.  Not that her unwillingness to move over for a runner has anything to do with Matt being visually impaired, but if I hadn’t called out, Matt could have run into her.  I wonder what sound she would have made then.  

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

In his words--the Desert Challenge

I wanted to post Matt's thoughts on his recent adventure in Mesa.  As much as he tells me about his experiences it is hard to capture his perspective, so here you go!  (I also threw in pictures of two of our kids trying on daddy's medals!) 

As you may all have read, the Desert Challenge games were a great experience. Here are some of my thoughts post races. Being my first IPC event, I had no clue what to expect. Wheelchair and amputee athletes were the majority. There were only a few visually impaired athletes. For the event being in the USA, it was a very international event. From the first night there, I made some friends with the Canadian  team.

I didn’t know what to expect in the classification process. I was asked to come in racing gear, so I came in running clothes (minus the short shorts), talking watch and Oakley’s.  After 20 mins of testing my range of vision, I was classified as a T12. From the descriptions, I thought I was a T12. Thursday night was the practice night. I got on the track and ran 4 miles plus some striders. I wanted to test out my spikes because they were still very new. After doing my work, I just wondered around seeing all the different types of disabled athletes.  I found out how the wheelchair races and draft. Those racing chairs can be very expensive. I found out that Nike makes a special spike for leg amputee runners. After many schedule changes, I found out the 5k was moved to Friday. All the schedule changes were just posted to a wall, which was hard to keep track of being visually impaired. 

So finally after 2 days of just sitting around, I was going to race. Early in the week, I found out that another blind runner dropped the 5k due to some medical issues. But I didn’t find out until 20 mins before the race that I was the only runner in the race. So the first event of the entire meet was just me. No spotlight or anything. Even though it was just me racing on the track, the meet kept it very official. My first mile was little slow, but the next two were even. I was hanging around a 5:40-5:50 pace. I was happy to have a KICK in the last lap. For my current level of fitness, a 17:52 wasn’t bad, but I still have a lot of improvement to go. After finishing, the US Paralympic coaches were already giving me form advice and telling me to ice bath afterwards. So I went back to the hotel got a very cold ice bath and a chicken burger. Saturday was the big day for the meet. Most races were in the evening so I did something I have not done since the twins were born, went to the movies. My race was the 1500, which wasn’t until 9 pm. But I still went over to the meet to see all the sprinting races. Most of the athletes seem to be sprinters. There is one blind sprinter which can give the pros a good race. There were two heats, one heat of wheel chair athletes and a second with anyone on two feet. I finished second in my heat, but first of the visually impaired runner. I was getting close to the first place in my heat but there was just not enough time to get him. I enjoyed getting back on the track but forgot how much waiting time there is for an event. For a road race, there isn’t much waiting time.

So over all I enjoyed the experience in Mesa.   The hardest part wasn’t the racing but being away from home for so long. Now it is time to get ready for the next step of this adventure!

Matt gave the girls his race medals, but clearly Emily wanted them for herself!

Zachary decided he needed a photo, too.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


How do you train? Do you come up with your own training schedule or do you run with a group or follow an online training regime?  How do you get faster?  For many years Matt has run with DC Roadrunners and still wears the DC Roadrunners singlet in ALL of his races.  (If you look at the race pictures posted throughout this blog you’ll see the same shirt worn with one of two shorts.  I promise he owns more running clothes!)  Unfortunately, since we moved last year, getting to DC Roadrunner track workouts and Saturday long runs is a challenge with only one driver and three little kids who go to sleep at 7pm.  Matt has run long enough to know how much he needs to run to be ready for a marathon or an upcoming race, but he is moving into uncharted territory.  Matt doesn’t need to shave a little time off his events; he needs to shave a lot of time off in order to meet the United States A and B track and field standards.  If he had to meet the international standards he wouldn’t have an issue. 

Over the last few months Matt has been trying to find a coach that is willing to coach him for free until he makes the team (he’ll get a stipend once he makes the team).  We had two possible leads, but neither has panned out.  When he was in Mesa he was told that he was holding his arms too high.  Little pointers like that will add up to helping him meet the qualifying times that he needs to in order to make the team.  So I am throwing this out to you to ask if you know of a qualified coach that would be willing to send Matt workouts and provide guidance throughout this journey.  We think a lot of the training can be done electronically, but he’ll also need someone to watch him run occasionally for help on form and technique.  Let us know! 

Absent a coach, I have taken to reading other running blogs to find drills and other things that might be helpful.  We’ve also started doing a short workout together every evening after the kids are bed and we’re ready for the next day.  We alternate between a night of ab work and strengthening and a night of yoga and stretching.  We’re only in our second week, but it is one small contribution to this process. 

The other night our daughter Marisa asked if she could get a pair of running shoes like mommy and daddy so that she can run with us.  Sounds like there might be at least one additional runner in the family!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

What's next?

Less than a week after Matt participated in the Desert Challenge Games he turned his attention to selecting a marathon.  That shouldn’t be hard, right?  Not so fast!  Matt will need to run an IPC-certified marathon in order to compete in the U.S. Paralympic marathon trials in 2016.  There are windows when the marathon must be completed in order to count as a qualifying event, but those windows have not been published yet.  The California International Marathon (CIM) in Sacramento has a visually impaired division and is also the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes championship marathon event.  Matt has participated twice, once in 2010 (placed first) and again in 2012 (placed fourth).  It is possible that this early December race will be just shy of the qualifying window, but Matt chose it as his next marathon.  Not only is it a net downhill course where Matt set a personal record in 2010 (3:00:39), but it is also a wonderfully planned event for the visually impaired.  A diverse group of visually impaired runners, of varying ages, speeds, and nationalities come together for a weekend of camaraderie and sportsmanship. 

In 2010, I went out to CIM with Matt.  I was about five months pregnant with our twins at the time and was not supposed to fly.  We were literally sitting in the lounge waiting to board when my OB called to explain some test results and Matt was telling me I shouldn’t go.  Being somewhat stubborn, I refused to back out of the trip.  I am glad I did, because we had a wonderful long weekend.  The only hiccup was that due to weather our flight was canceled so we got back a day late and I missed day one of an international meeting I was hosting.  It was a little awkward to tell my boss that I was stuck in California when I hadn’t been able to fly for several months and that she needed to fill in for me.  But I digress.  For three days Matt and I got to know some wonderful runners, many of whom Matt keeps in regular contact with, and to participate in a few events just for these runners.  We also had some time to explore Sacramento.  Neither of us had been there before so we had a lot of fun and it turned out to be our last mini-vacation before our twins were born.  The race conditions were pretty good that weekend.  It had been raining, but it cleared just long enough for the race and winds were minimal.  He shaved 6 minutes off of his previous PR set in Boston earlier in 2010.  Matt didn’t run CIM in 2011 because logistically it wasn’t possible, but returned in 2012.  The field of visually impaired runners had grown and he ended up placing fourth overall in that race.  There were very forceful winds so everyone’s times were slower than usual.  Matt went out to that race by himself and did a homestay with a family member of one of the other VI runners, the driving force behind having the VI division and USABA championship at CIM in the first place.  Matt took the 2013 CIM off, this time because he was sleep deprived having a four month old son and two year old twin girls.  Marathon training was pretty much out of the question.  He probably would have gotten more sleep if he had run the race!  

Matt will view this marathon as the deciding factor of whether he will pursue the marathon in 2016 or instead focus on track events.  Only time and a lot of training will tell!

Matt at the race expo

Matt right at the 26 mile mark

Friday, May 16, 2014

Desert Challenge Games in Photos

Sorry it took me so long to post the photos that Matt took while he was in Mesa.  I am still new to the whole blog thing and I was having some technical difficulty getting the photos to be right-side up.  I finally figured it out. Unfortunately, I don't have any of Matt running.  Hopefully for the next event. Enjoy! :-)

The obligatory cactus picture
The official logo for the Desert Challenge Games
The track at Red Mountain High School where the events took place
Athletes took advantage of open track to workout 
An American at track workout

A Canadian team member at track workout

One of the wheelchair events

Isn't this an awesome photo?

Another great shot

Waiting for events

Track event

Another track event

Matt relieved his two events are over

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Results!

Wow, what a week!  Or, I guess I should say, wow, what a great 23 minutes!  There was some schedule reshuffling last week that worked out in Matt’s favor.  Instead of having the 1500 meter and the 5000 meter events in the same night, the 5000 was moved to Friday night.  It was the opening event of the evening and Matt was the only runner.  So of course he won, but the awesome part is he won with a fantastic time of 17:52.  If you recall, this is more than 30 seconds faster than his last time trial before he left for Mesa (but shy of his 17:24 personal record).  Matt said that everyone was cheering him on and that even though he was the only runner, everything happened just as though there was a full heat of runners--they cleared the track, used the flag system, and gave Matt all of the regular race commands.  The last mile was rough, but he pulled through.  Going into the two events, this was Matt’s stronger event.  He is a distance runner (in running terminology that is anything over 800 meters (half a mile)) and doesn’t have the rapid leg turnover for the sprints.  With the three hour time difference, I had to struggle to stay up for the results, but it was worth it.  I could hear in his voice his enthusiasm, and I know he must have had a huge grin on his face. 

On Saturday, Matt got to the track at about 5pm, but his event wasn’t until 9pm.  He got to watch all of the wheelchair and other ambulatory track events.  Then, at 9pm, it was his turn to take the track again.  All of the runners were introduced as either a member of their national team or another affiliation.  Since Matt has no affiliation (yet!), he was introduced as “last night’s 5000 winner” which sounded pretty cool to him (and me).  For Saturday night’s 1500 (a quarter lap shy of a mile for the non-metric) he had some competition.  There were eight ambulatory athletes in his heat, including one other visually impaired runner.  As far as times and placing goes, Matt’s only competition was the other visually impaired runner, but that didn’t stop Matt from wanting to run with all he had.  During the first lap one of the runners took off and was almost instantly out of his vision.  As lap times were being called, Matt realized that he was closing the gap.  In the end, Matt was the first place visually impaired runner with a time of 4:45 and the second finisher in the heat.  (The first place finisher was four seconds ahead of Matt.)   

Matt after the 1500 on Saturday night

I will have pictures and more on his experiences tomorrow, but right now I’d just like to tell you all how proud I am of Matt.  I’m not going to lie, it was a long week for me, but listening to him talk about all of the new friends he made and amazing athleticism on display that he was a part of made it all worth it.  I know that this was only the first event for Matt and that he’ll have to travel to many more over the next two years, but I think it was probably one of the most important ones in that he needed to get that first whiff of what it would be like to be on the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field Team and to meet other extraordinary people striving for excellence.  If Matt had a bad race or didn’t feel a part of the process and experience, I think it would be hard for Matt to justify continuing.  But he did have two great races.  He did meet extraordinary people (I heard a lot of great things about some of the Canadian team members he met).  He did get sucked in to the experience.  I’m his wife so I get the award for biggest and loudest cheerleader, but I know that there are lots of other cheerleaders out there reading this that were rooting for him last week.   Leave a message on the blog or forward to someone that you think might be inspired so that we know you’re out there cheering him on.  He might be doing this for himself a little bit, but he’s also doing this for his family and for everyone out there that wants to be known for something other than what people think of first when they describe them.  

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

It's official!

Matt now has an International Paralympic Committee (IPC) classification!  Woohoo!  I’m very excited.  His flight out of Dulles was delayed three hours so I was getting nervous about him getting out there in time, but everything worked out well.   As I’ve mentioned before, the classification was the main reason that Matt went to Mesa.  He can now put a big check box on that to-do item.  Now, he can enjoy the rest of the week there and compete in Saturday’s two events. 

What is an IPC classification?  It is all a bit technical, but here’s my understanding.  There are three categories for visually impaired athletes:  T11, T12, and T13.  Today Matt was classified as a T12 athlete. Technically that means that his visual acuity ranges from LogMAR1.50 to 2.60 (inclusive) and/or the visual field is constricted to a radius of less than 5 degrees.  To come to this determination, Matt met with two ophthalmologists from the IPC, two representatives from the Desert Challenge, and one representative from the U.S. Olympic Committee.  He was instructed to show up in athletic clothing with all of his gear, so for him that is basically running shoes, sunglasses, and a watch.  The test was set up in a hallway with marks on the floor every foot.  One of the ophthalmologists started with a card that had five 4-inch letter E’s on it.  She would hold it up in various directions and he’d have to say if he could read it and which direction the Es were facing.  She would progressively get closer and closer to Matt until he could tell her which direction the Es were facing.  When she started he couldn’t see her at all.  At about the 2 ½ foot mark he could tell her the direction of the Es.  She then moved to a card with one eight-inch letter E on it.  He had to do the same thing and again could start giving details at about the 2 ½ foot range.  Next, she used an autorefractor to take a picture of his eye and give a reading of what his corrected vision should be, just like what happens when I go to the eye doctor.  The only difference is that when I get the test done the eye doctor gets a reading and then confirms it so I can order my new contacts or glasses.  On Matt, the autorefractor says that he doesn’t need any corrective lenses.  That’s the thing with Lebers, it isn’t his eyes that don’t work, but rather the wiring.  Finally, the ophthalmologist used a light refraction to see his optic nerve.  The ophthalmologist was able see that his optic nerve is dull and pale, i.e., dead.  If there’s a good thing about Lebers it is that it reaches a point and stabilizes rather than being degenerative as some visual impairments unfortunately are.  In the 14 years since the onset, Matt’s vision has been the same.  Nonetheless, the IPC decided to give Matt a two-year classification so that they can establish a baseline.  He’ll have to be reclassified before the Rio Paralympics, but then his next license will hopefully be valid for a longer period of time.   

All last night the girls kept asking me if daddy was on an airplane and if he was going over the sea or under the sea.  Apparently “The Little Mermaid” made quite the impression on them!

Matt after his classification appointment.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Running can be dangerous.

Last night Matt and I got to catch up with a lot of his high school friends at a wedding.  (Congratulations, Becky and Wes!)  Throughout the evening the subject of this blog came up and we were overwhelmed by the number of people who told us that they have been following it.  There was even discussion of a possible movie and picking which actors would play Matt.  Ryan Gosling won out.  But in all seriousness, thank you all for your kind words and support.  Matt has a long road ahead of him, but he knows the destination.  Since Matt won’t be doing too much running this week before his track meet on Saturday night, I thought I’d share one of Matt’s funnier (at least for me) running stories. 

One Sunday evening I wasn’t feeling up for a run so Matt decided to go out for a few miles before dark.  He ran on the same trail we’d run on for years.  He came storming in telling me that he needed to call the police.  As the concerned wife, I thought maybe he had been mugged.  Not sure what someone would try to steal off a guy wearing only shorts, socks and shoes, but some people aren’t very smart.  But what actually happened is that he was shot by a pellet gun in the buttocks.  He heard people laughing so he yelled a few things I won’t include here in their general direction and said he was going to call the cops.  He ran home and did just that.  The pellet made a huge mark and broke the skin.  After 15 or so minutes a policeman arrived at our house.  Matt explained what had happened.  It went sort of like this:

Matt:  I was running home and was between the two bridges on the path to Eisenhower Avenue when I got shot with a pellet gun.  I heard laughter afterwards.

Policeman:  Can you describe the individuals?

Matt:  No.

Policeman:  Can you tell me how many there were?

Matt:  No.

Policeman:  Can you tell about how old they were?

Matt:  No, but I am guessing kids. 

After a long pause I decided to answer the confused look on the policeman’s face by informing him that Matt is visually impaired.  This seemed to help clarify the situation for him.

Policeman:  Can I please see where the pellet hit you? 

I forgot to explain above, but they were standing on the landing with our front door open.  The policeman was this very large guy that likely lifts weights…frequently.

Matt:  Um, sure, but can we close the door?  It hit me…on…my lower back.

The policeman pushes the door closed.  Matt then turns around, lifts his shirt up and shorts down.  The policeman inspects the area and then pulls out his flashlight to get a good look.  The wound was pretty visible so I’m not sure what the flashlight added, but all of a sudden I just started cracking up.  I couldn’t help myself.  By this point I knew Matt wasn’t in need of medical attention so I was able to see the humor in the whole thing.  The policeman said he’d send someone out there to investigate.  We found out a bit later that the perpetrators were gone.  I guess they weren’t dumb enough to stick around after Matt told him he was calling the police.  We were a bit more aware of our surroundings after that and thankfully have not had any repeats.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Almost here!

Okay, you’re probably sick of hearing about spikes, but humor me one last least for a while.  Matt chose not to run on Wednesday because the rain was pretty intense.  So track Wednesday became track Thursday this week.  The girls were very interested in his new spikes and took turns running around the house in them (before Matt screwed in the spikes or else my floors would be a mess!).  Running the loop from the stairs, through the dining room, the kitchen, and family room and back to the stairs is a nightly pre-bed activity, so why not do it in daddy’s new shoes?! 

Three weeks ago (on a very hot day) he did a time trial for the two events that he’ll run in Arizona next (the 1500 meter and the 5000 meter) and he ran a 5:08 and a 19:27, respectively.  Last night he did the same workout and he’s already improved his time.  He ran the 1500 meter in 4:50 and the 5000 meter in 18:18.  Was it the shoes?  Probably not, but they sure are colorful, don’t you think? 

He took a ten minute break between the two events.  Next week he’ll have two hours between events, thankfully, because it will be very hot (even if it is a dry heat!).  When he got home I made him put his spikes back on so I could get a picture for you.  I’m not sure he looks like he really ran both events and three additional miles to get to/from the track, do you? 

Since it is Friday, I wanted to give you his weekly mileage information:

Sunday – Track Workout
1.5 miles to track
8x400 @80-85 second pace
1.5 miles home

Monday- 7 miles (3.5 with me)

Tuesday – Off

Wednesday – treadmill and weights
did 3.5 miles 

Thursday – time trails (times above)

Friday – 6 miles with 4 in spikes on the track

Saturday – to be determined

Have a great weekend!