This post is part of my 2016 quest to do 12 races to honor people with ALS who have inspired me. This is Race #6.
YuKan Run Triple Threat Race Report
Damn, it took a lot of cutting through red tape to get permission to do this race for Beth Hebron. Usually race directors say yes or no to the trike, depending on course conditions or their insurance restrictions. But this time, I endured 7 weeks of limbo while the general counsel of the USA Track & Field (USATF) convened the “ADA Subcommittee of the USATF Sports Medicine Committee” to determine 1) if I was, in fact, disabled, 2) if my trike counted as a reasonable accommodation, 3) whether my participation would “fundamentally alter the sport.” While I experienced nothing but cordial respect, I was told repeatedly that the Olympics were dragging out the review process.
The same people responsible for overseeing the Olympics are also scrutinizing whether I can participate in a small, non-qualifying race in Cape Ann, MA??
Never mind that I’ve already participated in 4 other USATF-sanctioned races in my trike (3 Boston-qualifying marathons and one half marathon) and it didn’t trigger this process. Hell, a man with no arms or legs skateboarded the Calgary marathon this year.
(To be fair, he had to contend with his own red tape. The LA Marathon said no because if they let him do the marathon with a longboard, “then they would have to allow people to take their selfie sticks or stuffed giraffe for emotional support.” wtf.)
The lengthy process and inconsistent application of USATF’s ADA policy warrants further discussion at a later time, but anyway, I was eventually given permission to race and Cape Ann became an official stop on my month-long road trip around New England.
Julie and I headed out for the first two-week leg on August 3rd. We stopped for overnight stays in DC and Jersey City, where we had the chance to visit with the Hebrons.
I love how Beth’s fight against ALS is very much a family affair — it reminds me of the McMillen clan. Deborah, Beth’s mom and primary caregiver/driver, welcomed us. Tricia, Beth’s sister, confidante, and frequent concert wingman visited for a few minutes before she set off for her last day of graduate school for art therapy. Bob, Beth’s dad, also visited with us in between work calls. His depth of knowledge about ALS is incredible. When I first heard him speak, I thought he was a neurologist. I would bet money he’s more up on the latest science than many doctors. That is his “love language” for his daughter.
So it was great to get his take on the promising research in the field. Oddly, I kept flashing back to my issues getting into the race as he talked about how some trials seem to be benefitting certain segments of the ALS population (not equating the two). It’s these blanket policies cooked up in the name of fairness and a level playing field which obscure the fact that there are real people’s lives being affected by the decisions. Frustrating.
Cape Ann Triple Threat
Two days later, post-Gleason movie and Connecticut traffic hangover, Julie and I made it to the tippy-top point of Massachusetts. After gorging ourselves on fresh seafood, we drove almost the whole course (critical mistake) and headed for the beach. Julie braved a chilly swim, while I baked in the sun and watched seagulls bigger than Tango.
I had an awful night before the race. I don’t know if it was ALS or too much I-95 rest stop cuisine, but I spent 3-5am in the bathroom not going (Colette from ALS.net did an awesome fundraiser around this issue — the struggle is real, folks. And relevant to the story…)
So I was super tired when our alarm started going off, but who has ever gotten a good night’s sleep before race day?
The Cape Ann Triple Threat is a 1-mile race, followed by a 5k, followed by a half marathon. I thought maybe we’d race continuously, just looping back through the start line, but the organizers waited until everyone had finished before starting the next race.
I admit, after all the hoopla about me participating, I was a little annoyed at all the extra rules I’d been asked to abide by: start in the back, keep to the right, don’t pass on downhills, wear a helmet AND a reflective vest, with a flag, someone running with you at all times…especially when I pulled up next to a racing wheelchair who had a helmet only. Sigh.
But any day I get to trike is a good day and doing it for Beth helped me right my attitude. By the time Julie and I did the 5k together, I was in my happy place. My BFF, beautiful coastline, summertime, and that feeling of independence on my trike.
For the most part, I fared better than the runners. Once the morning clouds burned off midway through the half, it was hot. At least I could coast on the downhills and catch some breeze. Which was good b/c the water stops ran out from Miles 8-10. A few neighbors and vacationers set up their own impromptu tables with solo cups and pitchers of water. A couple of others brought out hoses to spray runners. While running out of water is a cardinal sin for races, I loved the way people jumped in to help.
At Mile 9, I needed a different kind of help. I hadn’t seen any hills that looked too scary on our preview drive the day before, but as I turned onto one stretch of road we’d skipped…OMG. It was practically a wall. Plus, there was a caravan of cars stretching up the hill trying to avoid the rest of the race course and some drivers seemed to be getting impatient.
I didn’t know what to do. I had no momentum, no fuel, no water, no shade, no place to stop, and no room to weave back and forth to make the monster hill a little more manageable.
“Are you okay?” I heard from somewhere behind me as I slowly ground to a stop, unable to power through the incline. I shook my head, breathing too hard to say anything intelligible.
“Would you like a push?” she asked. I nodded.
Suddenly, I was moving again, propelled by two runners I couldn’t see. I tried to do my part and pedaled as hard as I could. All the way to the crest of the hill.
“Thanks,” I gasped.
“No problem!” said the Race Angels and they were gone.
Independent types like Beth and I don’t like asking for help. We were raised to do it all on our own, to take pride in that, and then all of a sudden, wham. ALS. As Beth says:
[ALS has] taught me how to ask for help for sure. Before I got diagnosed I was living on my own in Washington, DC and was very independent. So when you suddenly start reverting to the physical ability of a toddler it’s really hard to get in the mindset of “Hey, Dummy, you’re going to hurt yourself if you do this, so ask for help.”
The hardest part of asking for help is getting over your own ego. Even when that help is so easy for someone else to give. Maybe it’s actually a joy for them to help because they get to spray you in the face with water.
So afterwards, Julie and I read all the active ingredients in the laxative aisle. Everyone needs a friend like Julie or a sister like Tricia. With ALS, it’s downright essential. BUT OURS ARE TAKEN, SO GET YOUR OWN 🙂
I didn’t want it to get all wadded up in my poop story (sorry), but I want to thank Colette and her family for coming out to spectate. I’ve not laughed so hard in a long time as we did over oyster crackers and award-winning salad. Colette, you are an amazing addition to the ALS.net team and we are ALL so lucky to have you in our corner.