Looking Back

Okay, clearly punctuality is not my blogging trade mark.  I just posted a race report 6 weeks late for crying out loud.  Well, that’s nothing compared to this… how ’bout a race report from a year ago.  Yes, one year ago this weekend I ran the Cherry Creek Sneak.  Its a local 5K/5mi that just added a 10mi this year.  I participated in the 5K.  If you’re thinking, ‘Oh, 5k, that’s why we didn’t hear about it’ you’re completely wrong.  It was one of the most memorable races of my life.  I guess I have trouble describing those things right after they happen.

So there I was….  my phone rang Friday night, close to 10pm, from a number in Texas.  I don’t know why I answered.  It was Matt Miller, a friend of a friend, former elite triathlete who lives in our same general neighborhood.  We’d been on a ride or two together and I knew Matt was part of an organization called C-different that helps visually impaired athletes compete across the country.  He needed a guide.

Matt – “I’ve got a guy who can run under 21 minutes but no guides who run that fast.”

I’m always a sucker for flattery, so I know I’m going to do this.

Me – “But, I’ve never guided anyone before.  Is it hard?  What do you do?”

Matt – “Oh, its easy we’ll get together before the race and go over a few things.  Do you want a ride down there?

Me – “The race is Sunday, right?  Lets meet tomorrow.  I’ll go down by myself.  I’ve got some other things to do afterwards (like the rest of my workout).”

Matt – “Cool, I’ll call you.”

We didn’t meet up until race morning when he introduced me to Donovan Tildesley, whom I would be guiding.  We didn’t have a lot of ‘get to know you’ time, but through the process of bibs, timing chips, what to wear, and bathroom breaks, we figured a lot out about one another.  I have a hard time believing Donovan wouldn’t get along with just about anyone.  But I was certainly captivated.  Donovan has been blind his whole life.  He was born without retinas, which means everything is dark.  There were 14 other VI runners racing and (I gathered that) these are some of the things they cover when becoming acquainted.  Donovan is Canadian and was in Denver for roughly nine months to attend the Colorado Center for the Blind, one of a handful of such places in North America.  Donovan is also one hell of a swimmer, I didn’t really appreciate how good until we hung out for a bit after the race.

I'm in the back. Donovan is in the red vest.

About 15 mins before the gun it dawned on me that we should give this running thing a try.  Actually, I panicked.  “Just tell me what to do,” I said.  He must have been used to running with amateur guides because he just handed my one end of his lead (a piece of rope about 14-inches long with a grip at one end and a knot at the other) and said, “I’ll be on your left.  Tell me when to turn.”  I panicked again.  Those who know me well, know I’m terrible at right and left! I can’t explain it, but I always use NSEW and generally point or gesture whenever possible.  Quite often I point left and say right when I mean left.  And yes, I have three degrees.  This is going to require more concentration than I’m used to, esp running.

The CC-Sneak people were awesome!  We got to start 5 mins ahead of the field.  A huge relief for me and apparently quite a treat even for experienced VI runners.  We took off without incident and I immediately realized how much I take for granted.  I tried to relay all the things I thought would be important, turns, pot holes, competitors and a lot of ‘is this pace okay?’ without jabbering the whole time or slowing both of us down.  Running 7 min/miles is different than narrating 7 min/miles while running. It also makes converting splits to km (Donovan’s Canadian preference) even harder, especially when you can’t reach your watch to change the settings.

I also quickly figured out how competitive Donovan is.  We were trailing another VI runner, who was older, female, and very accomplished.  He had heard of her reputation and to say he would have liked to beat her would have been a mild understatement.  He was also very in tune to where we were when the sighted runners began to pass us.  We finished in just under 23 minutes, second VI runner.  He was very gracious and appreciative, but a little disappointed.  I tried to convince him that it was being new to the altitude, but I really think he wanted me to push him harder.

As we talked afterwards I learned a lot more about him as an athlete.  I said he is a hell of swimmer…  Donovan has been to three Paralympics!  London will likely be his fourth, and he said final, even though he’s still in his late twenties.  He has swum for Team Canada since he was 16 at a list of international meets that would make anyone jealous.  He even has/had a few VI world records.  I learned an unbelievable amount about international swimming and travel, VI swimming, competing for Team Canada, and the importance of not confusing Paralympics and Special Olympics.  Luckily I did not, it just came through in one of his stories.  I did however, make the mistake of asking about swim times.  Humbling doesn’t even begin to describe it.  When in competitive form, he swims his 100’s (meters, of course) on roughly 1:10.  Yeah, mine are on 1:40…

One of the C-different coordinators caught wind that I was a triathlete and tried hooking us up for the US VI championship triathlon in Loveland last summer.  I asked him how long it would take him to swim 1500 meters.  He reminded me that he doesn’t get to swim in open water very often (umm yeah, right), but supposed he could go roughly 19 minutes.  Sorry, but I AM NOT your guy.

All in all it was a fantastic morning!  I spent way to much time hanging out instead of finishing the rest of my workout, but I didn’t regret it one bit.  Donovan and I ran together a couple more time over the spring and summer.  Including the Bolder Boulder 10K, remind me and I’ll do an anniversary race report for that one too!  Just like all of my other training buddies, we promised to do it more often and then didn’t do it often enough.  He competed in a few triathlons and I was jealous of his guides.  Donovan is back in BC now and getting ready for London, I expect.  I’m excited for the Olympics just like every one else, but this time I’ll be excited when they are over too, because now I know that the Paralympics always follow immediately after.

I met a lot of inspiring people that morning.  The group thank you emails that followed were pretty heart warming too.  Much belated thanks to everyone involved.  Here’s another guide’s race report.  The Denver Post also ran this story about one runner in the group.  I had no idea Ethan’s story was so heart wrenching, I just remembered him because he was always smiling.

Ethan Johnston and volunteer coordinator Deb Conley

If you’re ever interested in some of the ‘easiest volunteering around’ (I mean, we do this stuff anyway right?), contact C-different.  It’ll be a experience you’ll never forget.

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About acbeeson

Professional engineer, passionate triathlete, once a runner always a runner, Husker fanatic but CO is the place to be!
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One Response to Looking Back

  1. Hey, I’ll take a late race report like this anytime! Awesome story and it sounds like an incredible experience for all involved.

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