Just as I was wondering, will I get any sleep tonight, my alarm went off and I realized that apparently, at some point, I had indeed fallen asleep. This morning's breakfast was peanut butter and jelly sandwich accompanied by a twenty ounce bottle of Powerade. The weather called for some possible rain and chillier temperatures so I grabbed my jacket and headed for the door just as the doorbell rang at 5:30a.m. Michael Crissie, my sighted guide for the event, had arrived and it was time to roll. We arrived at Soldier Field at 6a.m. and made our way to gear check. I put on my SF10 dry fit shirt, took off my running pants since I planned to run in my trusty triathlon shorts, and grabbed my tether which Michael would hold on to to navigate me through the course. By 6:05a.m. we were ready, but the race would not start until 7:30a.m. We walked around for a bit and it was cold. I spent most of the next hour shivering and blowing on my hands. Eventually, we worked our way to a grassy part just outside the stadium for the start. Michael was excited and feeling strong. I was a bit nervous as this would be my first double digit mile run since the Chicago Marathon last October. For the last month, I have been working mostly on my speed as I have been running at a 6:40 to 7:00 minutes per mile pace. I have not been able to run for distance and find myself averaging just under three miles at those paces. The race begins and we wait for our turn to go in the midst of a record turnout of 15,000 in the eighth year of this event which is organized to pay back the men and women of all branches of the US armed forces. The charities associated with this event work with veterans and their families as well as those currently serving around the world. We eased through the first two miles. We slowed up a bit in the third, but kept coasting along as Michael told me some stories, computed what was happening around him and relayed it to me in real time, attempted to clear a path for me as we zigged and zagged by many people. Most annoying were the ones listening to their MP3 players and unaware that Michael was attempting to get their attention. We reached the five mile turn around and we headed for home. By this point, the chillier weather was not to be found. I am sure it was still present, but with the folks around us and us moving steadily, I could no longer feel any cold. Along the way plenty of people came up to us to congratulate us for being out there. Some patted me on the back while others just offered encouragement. One older gentleman ran up and said, "I'll run with you guys for a bit. I'll clear a path for you guys." He was one of the volunteer pace setters so it was fun to run with him for a bit before he sprinted ahead and left us in his dust. One woman came up and said, "You're my hero." I said thank you. then Michael chimed in with, "She means me." She laughed and responded with, "Well, both of you." Michael is my hero. As i mentioned to my long time friend, Alison, who is Mmichael's fiance, I think people are too quick to call the blind or visually impaired a heroic person for having the courage to get out and race and they tend to forget that without the sighted guide, it would be impossible for a blind or visually impaired person to race. I have observed all that my guides do each race to prepare and to guide within the race and to be honest, I do not believe I could ever pull it off as wonderfully as the men and women who have guided me. It is a tough task keeping up with a certain pace, watching everything going on, and still have the ability to share all that information in time for he or she who is being guided to react. Suddenly, in the midst of mile six, I began to struggle. My pace slowed and I started to doubt myself. I kept plugging along as Michael noticed and began to up the encouragement. By the time we reached mile eight, I was tired, but feeling good. I heard footsteps and having breathing all around me and was pleasantly surprised that I still had not begun to breathe heavily nor stomp my feet when I landed. I was still fine. My steps were light and respiration was measured. With two miles to go, I started mentally telling myself, 3200 meters left. As we moved along, I kept estimating in meters. Then I heard 1.3 miles left. Michael prepared me for the final mile push. We arrived at the final mile and I thought, 1600 meters left. I kept speaking to myself mentally subtracting distance, but Michael noticed that I was becoming heavy and dragging. "Where's that speed work? Come on!", he shouted. Yes, I thought. This is where those seven minute miles must pay off. I can run half a mile in three to four minutes in training so let us try that now. I reached inside and began picking up the pace. Michael shouted out that we had forty feet until a turn and I would make that my goal to speed up for that distance. then he informed me we were fifty feet from the stadium entrance so that distance became my new goal. We reached the stadium and entered a tunnel. Just a few hundred meters to go. We made a turn and I heard the Chicago Bears fight song as we ran through the players' tunnel. Just a bit more and we will have made it to the field. We popped out of the famed tunnel and on to the playing surface. Just then, I heard the public address announcer call out that Israel and Michael had come on to the field. this is the first time ever I have ever the PA announcer say my name at a race. Apparently, my name is often called as I near the finish, but I never hear it. Michael urges me to sprint and I do. Of course, just then a woman in front of us slows down to record her finish with her phone, but Michael pushes her out of the way and we gallop the final fifty yards across the field and through the finish line on the Bears logo.
It was such a joy to experience this event once again. The excitement of being on that surface was like brand new today. It was such a privilege to run with Michael once more. He is such a great guide. Special thanks to Elizabeth Vincenty of Fleet Feet who I contacted about registering for this event and she ended up taking care of the entire process for me. She is so wonderful. The pictures should be up by tuesday and in the coming weeks they will probably find their way to Facebook for all my friends to enjoy.