Sunday, November 27, 2016

Chicago Marathon 2016: Mike, Erica, BQ

I am always anxious on race morning. For triathlons, I fear the swim. For marathons, I fear my greatness. Entering Chicago Marathon, I was scared. After being cast in Open Space Theatre Bleacher Bums the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, my training fell apart. It was difficult to coordinate regular track sessions or long runs. My friends understood my top priority was to Bleacher Bums cast and crew. I did not have the proper training. I had the experience of seven marathons and six Boston Marathon qualifiers. I had all I have learned from triathlete, model, actress, writer, Jenna parker.

3:45a.m. I wished I had been fresh off a Bleacher Bums performance preparing for a Sunday show instead of 26.2 miles. 5:15a.m. I met up with Mike Casey, my guide for the first half. We walked to Athletes with Disability tent where we waited to file into the start coral. I spoke to Amanda McCracken who remembered me from ITU Paratriathlon World Championships in London. I look forward to racing with her in the future.

I stripped to my Pinnacle Performance Company hat, top, and shorts. Mike and I filed in ahead of the pros. Gun sounded. Race on! 26.2 miles to go. Spectators roared. No pressure. No expectations. Mike, “It’s a nice Sunday stroll with your friends.” I did not want the frustration of not being fit or fast ruin my race. There would be time for self doubt during the Come To Jesus moments late in the race. Pro men and women flew by some yelling out, “Go Sexy Isra.” Rest of the elites ran up and by us many yelling out my name. I did not want to know distance or pace. I was sad heading into this race. Getting that information would make me feel worse. More runners ran by. Mike greeted his pals. Women encouraged me. At mile four, Mike asked, “What’s the deal with all these women calling you sexy and screaming your name? There’s no way you know all these women on a first name basis.” I replied, “You’re running with a rock star. Get use to it!” As more female runners called out my name, Mike wondered how they knew me and from where.

Mike did a masterful job the first half. Erica Alansari took over the tether for the second half. In a couple previous marathons, mile nineteen is where I doubted everything. I can not run. I can not pleasure a woman. I would fall apart. Mile nineteen. Erica asked about women in my personal life? By responding, I forgot the misery. “Holy shit! You just ran your fastest mile today.” I felt strong through next several miles. Almost to Michigan Avenue. From there, a three mile sprint to the finish. I come alive. I feel the same joy as when I had sight. Erica, “We’re making the turn on to Michigan.”

I flipped my Pinnacle Performance hat backwards. Time to display my strong sexy legs. Erica encouraged me. Final mile. My quads and hamstrings burned. Final 400 meters. I coasted across the finish with my seventh straight BQ.

Afterwards, Mike and Erica reviewed my splits. Turns out, I ran the first half faster than I thought and second half slower than I thought. Thank you Mike Casey and Erica Alansari for being my eyes for 26.2. Thank you to my sponsor, Pinnacle Performance Company! Thank you lovely Jenna Parker for your friendship, coaching, and support.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Why I Run Why I Bleed

World Champion triathlete and Olympic silver medalist, Hailey Danisewicz once told me I have the sexiest running stride she has ever seen. Hailey has cried watching me run because my stride is so beautiful. Another woman said she is always impressed at how effortless I make it look. My face and body are always so relaxed that she can never tell if I am at mile two or twenty-two.

Growing up, I was never good at sports. I made a little league all star team and had an MVP type performance in one football championship game. I was never the biggest or strongest. I was frequently, the fastest. In baseball, I scored from first base on a bloop single. In football, I caught the ball in stride and galloped for a long touchdown. In basketball, I went basket to basket faster than anyone. I never worked on my running. I just ran.

After losing my sight, I was the only blind/visually impaired runner on the track team running against sighted competition for a while. Not until Paula Radcliffe set the world record for female marathoners in Chicago followed by her breaking of her own world record six months later in London did I ever consider long distance running. I have since completed eight marathons yet I remain a sprinter at heart. My greatest joy comes when I start my final kick in a race. Some times, I start it half mile from the finish. Other times, I will begin one mile or even three miles from the end. It is always my favorite moment. Like Hailey, I cry. I get emotional because I often think of the little boy I was. Running fast because that is all I knew. I never trained. I never worked on form or technique. I just turned my legs and hips faster. I have topped out at 5:55 late in a race. I have topped out at 5:00 in training. My friend, Ryan, once said that he loves looking at my face just as we are about to pick it up because I get the biggest smile, my face lights up, and I come alive. When I run fast, I feel alive. When I run fast, I am the boy I use to be. In that moment, I am sighted again. I have always said I run for that boy I use to be who had big dreams. He is why I run. He is why I bleed! In that moment, I am not an athlete with a disability. I am not a blind runner. I am simply Israel the runner. As I decide what my 2017 races will be, I take this time to reflect on who I am. I need to embrace my running greatness more. I need to appreciate how special of a runner I am. I have achieved so much and have befriended some of the most amazing people through running. I debate if I will run Chicago Marathon for the eighth consecutive year. I hope to be on a team to run 200 mile race known as Ragnar Relay. In some ways, I need to remember why I run. I run for me. I run to live. I run to feel alive. I run to embrace how magnificent I am. I run so beautiful elite female athletes volunteer to be my eyes. I run so beautiful women say I have a beautiful sexy running stride because I do.

Monday, November 14, 2016

In the Loop: Melissa Stockwell

Late in 2010, Keri Serota invited me to join a new club she, Daniel tun, and Melissa Stockwell had launched. Dare2Tri. After reading about the beautiful and inspiring Melissa, I jumped at the chance to be a part of Dare2Tri in order to meet Melissa. I am beyond lucky to say this amazing, accomplished, inspiring person is one of my dearest friends. Melissa even made time out of her busy schedule to attend a performance of Open Space Theatre Bleacher bums in which I was one of the many stars in the talented star filled cast. I can always count on her support and friendship.

Please take the time to watch this segment which aired on Veteran's Day earlier this month.

Melissa Stockwell In The Loop