Saturday, June 2, 2012

Mission accomplished...5k on wheels!

Somehow, despite the nervousness, I managed to sleep last night.  I even managed to get right out of bed when my alarm went off (6am isn't too much of a stretch for me as I'm getting used to getting up for deep water aerobics).  I get everything gathered, get on the road, and get to the airport (where the race is being held).  I get parked, which was a little worrisome as I try to make sure that I have enough room to set up the chair.  I find the shuttles and breathe a sigh of relief as I see they're using the area transit buses for shuttles...which have to have wheelchair lifts or ramps in them (thank you Americans with Disabilities Act).  I'm also pretty darn early because I wanted to make sure I could handle any access snafus that might happen.

So I roll along looking for the sidewalk to get to the bus...and there's gravel, grass, and dirt.  I start popping a series of wheelies to try to maneuver (as I haven't mastered rolling while wheelied), and a fellow racer comes up and asks me if I want help.  I take it as I had the rest of the grass and gravel to contend with, plus the curb...I really didn't want to fall just getting to the race shuttle.  One of the drivers pulls away from the curb so I can actually use the ramp (hooray), and after a false start up the ramp because my handrim was on the lip of the ramp.

Ridged tarmac at the 5k
Tarmac has ridges! Ack!
A short bus ride later and we get to the tarmac.  My first hurdle was getting off the bus, as I didn't realize that I would need to wheelie the last part because of how low my footplate is....roll, catch, & fall out of the chair.  Thankfully, pain level was still a bit low and I got my feet back under me without too much issue (although some embarrassment).  After I get situated, I look down the runway, getting a little nervous.  Maybe I should have brought my iPod for music, even though I've never raced with an mp3 player before (it's against most racing organizations, like US Track & Field and USA Triathlon to race with headphones).  I roll along, and notice that the tarmac has ridges...ALL the way down the runway.  They're going to be perpendicular to my wheels...for 3.1 miles.  So this "flat & fast" 5k has now turned into something even scarier, and I start worrying about being able to finish.  I've also determined that I'm the only wheelchair user, so I'm getting concerned that I'm going to be some sort of spectacle (combined with a few dirty looks I got from women with more "traditional" running bodies).

I'm wearing a ballcap that says "Iron Girl," a black shirt that says "Challenged Athletes Foundation," sports pants, running shoes, race number, sitting in my wheelchair
I'm flexing the arms that will get me 3.1 miles!
Thankfully, the coworker that told me about this race finds me at about this time, so we start chatting.  Some of it about our respective racing histories, then about using the chair.  I told her I was worried, but worst case scenario was that I wouldn't finish the race...and since I've never actually DNF (did not finish) a race, I was ok with that as the outcome.  Right before we were lining up at the starting line (which we didn't find until about 2 minutes before it was supposed to start), I got her to take a picture of me, wearing my race number, clad in an Iron Girl hat (from the duathlon I did in 2007), and a Challenged Athletes Foundation tech shirt.

So the race begins and I'm finding myself being passed up pretty quickly by everyone, including some folks walking with strollers.  I keep cursing the ridges in the tarmac, and praying that my arms hold up.  I keep pushing.  At about the one mile point, the elite runners are now coming back to almost finish.  I eventually find my "sweet spot"....I'd push, the chair would reward me with a "whir," push, whir, push whir.  Ok, my body can handle this, so now it's just mental.  Endurance events are mental challenges, and I can do this.

The water station was about at the 1.25 mile point, and this was when some of the less elite but still swift runners were on the way back.  Folks were cheering for me "you go girl," "keep it going,"  "you're an inspiration!" (this one made me uncomfortable, but that's because of some discussions of "inspiration porn" in disability activist circles), and the like.  Push, whir, push, whir....and the turnaround cone.

Sometimes in a down-and-back race, that cone is either a savior (it's halfway done) or a buzzkill (I've only done half of this damn thing??).  Well, today it was a savior because it showed me something I hadn't realized about the's on a slight hill.  I had so many problems getting to that point because I was going UPHILL.  No wonder my forearms were burning...I was pushing against the ridges AND a hill!  Push, whir, push, whir...I start zooming down (well, wasn't that much of an incline).  Since I'm able to coast more, I'm noticing that either the tarmac is sloped a little side-to-side or I'm not sitting quite squarely in the chair, which is making me curve.  I try to not grab the left handrim to straighten out, but start doing more of an alternating push with my arms, right push, whir, both push, whir, right push, whir...

At about the 2.5 mile point, a police officer on a bicycle comes up to me and asks how I'm doing.  Amazingly, I'm really not all that winded even though I'm working pretty hard.  He asks if this is my first race (I explain the yes & no situation), and end up telling him how there are specialized chairs for racing in.  He essentially tells me that I'm awesome, and leaves for a bit.  I notice my watch and see that I'm really not that far off my old running PR for the 5k distance, which gives me an added boost of energy.  The officer comes back and asks if he can have the honor of crossing the finish line with me.  I tell him sure, partially because at this point I notice that I've ripped open part of my hand from the wheel (I must have been scraping against the tire, but was so "in the zone" that I didn't notice).  We exchange names, and when the finish line is in better view, I dig in. 

the finish line
The finish line, photo taken pre-race
Forget whir...push push push push.  I actually think I lost the officer in my mad pushing, but he's on a bike and can catch up, so I stop paying attention.  I get within view of the announcer, who makes a comment about me doing the race in a standard wheelchair.  I didn't hear all of it, but I'm pretty sure that he said that phrase a couple times, trying to impress upon the onlookers that this was hard, and this is not the ideal way to race in a wheelchair.  That made me beam...the announcer knew that this was the hard way to wheel a race, and wanted everyone else to know how badass this was!

My coworker met me at the finish line with water (thank you thank you!) while I kept talking to the police officer (who got his partner to come with a bandaid for the ripped skin).  People kept coming up to me, saying "good job" and the like.  Thankfully, getting back on the shuttle was less traumatic, although getting to my car was a bit frustrating.  The driver parks so the ramp goes in the grass, which beats trying to wheelie a curb.  When a couple guys ask me if I want help, I tell them to let me get to the fence for support to hobble, and let them get the chair to the pavement, which worked pretty darn well.

I'm happy I did it.  So happy.  I'm even pretty proud of my blisters and rip (I have a picture, but I'll spare the closeup of my filthy traumatized hand.  I think my desire for racing wheels has just increased though, and unless I get a grant from Challenged Athletes Foundation, Project Athena, or some other awesome adaptive sports agency, my racing will continue to be really sporadic in a standard chair.

Zoom :-)

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