Running Away From the Finish Line

Frequently people I meet will tell me about races they think I have never heard about, races they think I would want to run.  Last fall someone told me about the Wings for Life World Run.  When I heard how the race is organized, I knew immediately it is one I have to add to my “to-run” list.

The Wings for Life World Run was started in 2014 to raise awareness of the physical and medical challenges faced by paraplegic people and raise funds to help find cures for spinal cord injuries.  This race is held the first weekend in May.  It is unique for several reasons.  First, the race, which is held in 24 countries all over the world, starts exactly at the same moment, 11AM UTC (Coordinated Universal Time).  For some locations it is the middle of the night; for others it maybe be the middle of the day or early morning.  Regardless of location, everyone is running at the same time throughout the world.

Source: Wings for Life World Run website

Next, there is no finish line in the traditional sense.  Instead there are “Catcher Cars” that start out a half hour after the race starts.  The cars travel initially at 15 km per hour and slowly increase their speed.  Global satellite navigation is used to ensure that the Catcher Cars around the world are synchronized. When a Catcher Car overtakes a runner, the race is over for them and they have to board a bus back to the start area.  In essence, the runners are not running to a finish line.  The runners are trying to run away from a mobile finish line that is trying to catch them.

Finally, the distance a given runner completes is determined by how fast and fit they are as runners.  For each race, a 100 km course is prepared.  Slow runners may only be able to complete a 10 km distance (or 6.2 miles) before the Catcher Car ends their race.  Faster runners may be able to complete a marathon distance (about 42 km).  The current record for the furthest distance a runner covered before the Catcher Car caught them is an amazing 88.44 KM (almost 55 miles).

The winners are the male and female runners who are able to run the furthest before being the Catcher Car gets to them.  There are winners for each location as well as overall global winners.  Remember Michael Wardian, the winner of the 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days?  It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Michael has been the overall global winner of the Wings for Life World Run – twice!

I definitely plan to run the Wings for Life World Run.  I might not get very far before the Catcher Car passes me.  But until it does, it will be exciting to be part of a global running event, happening across the world at exactly the same moment.

Interested in participating in the Wings for Life World Run?   Check out their website for more information.  Can’t get to one of the race locations?  There is a virtual app to enable runners to participate wherever they may be.  There is also a goal calculator to help you determine your expected time and distance.

Our Sixth Sense

Recuperating from my broken toe has taught me a great deal about recuperating from an injury, the importance of rehabilitation, rest, and patience.  (That last one is very difficult for me.)  Two broken bones within two years will do that.  From my experience I can tell you that your body gets a bit discombobulated when you break a bone.  Your body parts know their job until something bad happens like a broken bone. Your body will try to figure out a way to work around any limitation a broken bone puts on it.  That is when the trouble can start.  I have been learning all about this from my new hero, Carrie, a certified rehabilitation fitness trainer who is working to get me back in shape for the Boston Marathon.

Carrie has been teaching me about proprioception.  Proprioception is considered by some to be our sixth sense.  It is a system of receptor nerves (proprioceptors) that tell our brains where the various parts of the body are, if they are moving, and how they are moving.  A good example of proprioceptors at work is walking on a moving train.  As the train car sways from side to side, you have to adjust your body as you walk.  Otherwise you will run into things or even fall over.   Your proprioceptors are sending information to your brain so that it can tell your muscles how to adapt to the swaying car.  Injuries such as broken bones in our feet or ligament damage can disrupt the proprioceptors.  When our “sixth sense” is not working properly, we can have balance issues or our stride and posture can be off.

I noticed a few months ago my balance seemed off.  For example, I was having difficulty balancing on one foot while going up and down stairs.  I don’t need any more broken bones so I decided to get help to sort myself out.  Enter Carrie. During my first appointment with Carrie, she put me through some tests and proved what I had suspected.  I was putting more weight in my heels instead of the balls of my feet.  The wrong parts of my feet were engaged when I was walking (and when I ran).  As a result, I had developed a nagging pain in my ankle that increased with my long distance runs.  I could only run 6 miles before my ankle started to scream at me.

Carrie explained the proprioceptors in our feet send information to our brains about the running surface – whether it is hard or soft, even or uneven, flat or steep.  Using this information, the brain tells our bodies how to adjust to the conditions – things like our stride, our gait, and which muscles to use.  When I broke my toe, I disconnected some of those proprioceptors so my body was improvising – and badly, I might add.  Worse, I was at risk for more injuries.

My sixth sense is in these Sauconys

Over the last month Carrie has given me specific exercises to get the proper muscles firing again.  I have been following her instructions for strength training exercises for my feet as well as my core.  There are a number of balance exercises as well.  I am regaining my “sixth sense.”   My running form has improved and the pain in my ankle has disappeared.  No more 6-mile ankle for me.

If you are experiencing recurring injuries or have injuries that are not improving despite periods of rest, I highly recommend that you seek out a rehabilitation fitness trainer.  Someone who understands how the body moves will be able to assess how you might be compensating for an injury and help you make the appropriate corrections to prevent further injury.  I am grateful to have Carrie on Team Funatical Runner.  I don’t think I would have regained my sixth sense of proprioception without her.

A Truly Memorable Race

Recently someone asked me, of all the places that I have been on my running adventures, which was the best place I have visited.  I thought about it for a moment.  I have run in so many memorable places that it is difficult to pick just one.  Every place I have traveled to has had something unique – London, Berlin, Tokyo, Disney races through the Magic Kingdom, Montana, Colorado, Vermont, coming home from Mississippi via the City of New Orleans train, running on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are just a few.  I am not sure that I could even narrow it down to five.

But there is one race I will never forget – the 2016 Zion Half Marathon in Utah.   Although I ran that one a year ago, I can still remember each step as if I ran it last week.  Below is my post about that race.   I also wrote a follow-up on this amazing story that shows further why what happened at this race was something miraculous.  And if you have an extra few minutes, read the follow-up I wrote  Miracle at Mile 4 – An Epilogue.  I think you will agree that it is not something one will easily forget.

Miracle at Mile 4 (originally published on March 16, 2016)

The Court of the Patriarchs in Zion National Park

My latest half marathon was the Zion Half Marathon outside Zion National Park in Utah.  The race was put on by Vacation Races, the same folks who organized the Rocky Mountain Half Marathon that I ran last year in Estes Park, Colorado.  Of all the races I have run, the Zion Half was in the prettiest part of the country.   And of all the races I have run, this is the first one during which I prayed.  It was all because of what happened at Mile 4.

Race morning was a bit stressful.  It rained during the night and the start line area was very muddy.  Walking over to the warming tent and the port-a-potties resulted in running shoes heavily coated in mud.  The start of the race was delayed 15 minutes because people who had driven to the start line couldn’t park in the field due to the mud.  It took a bit of extra logistical work to get cars parked and runners to the start line but the race organizers got all that quickly sorted out.

Big change from running below sea level in New Orleans!

The course started in Virgin, Utah (great name for any runner doing their first half marathon) and ended in Springdale, right outside the entrance to Zion National Park.  The elevation at the start line was 3,546 feet and 3,953 feet at the finish line.  Except for one little bit of downhill around Mile 7, this race was all uphill. 

My mud caked shoes stayed behind in Utah

 

The first mile was a little tricky.   It was chilly but the rain had stopped.  My shoes felt like they weighed an extra 5 pounds because of the mud caked on them.  But the mud quickly fell away and I got going.

As I approached Mile 4, I was passed by two emergency vehicles with sirens going and lights flashing.  They pulled up next to an ambulance along the side of the road.  As I passed the scene, I saw a man on the ground being attended to by a number of people.  It was scary.  That is not a sight any runner wants to see at a race.   I didn’t linger or stand and gawk at the scene.  Three more ambulances flew by me as I continued to run.  I did the only thing that I thought could help this runner and myself.  I prayed.

Later two runners passed me and I overheard one talking about the man.  One said that he hadn’t had a pulse for over 10 minutes.  I couldn’t imagine a positive outcome in that situation.  For the rest of the race I thought about that runner.

When I met up with my husband after the race, I burst into tears and told him what happened.  It was difficult to be happy about finishing the race while knowing that someone didn’t get to run theirs.  Later that day, the race organizers sent out an email thanking all the runners for being cooperative with the changes that had to be made at the start due to the weather.  They also let us know that the runner who collapsed was stable and recovering.  I felt so much better when I heard that.

But the story of what happened at Mile 4, I learned later, is much more amazing than anyone could imagine.  The runner was on a reunion trip with a bunch of old friends, people who had been friends for years but hadn’t seen much of each other.   They didn’t know that he had collapsed until after they finished their race.

When he collapsed, a bicyclist who was pacing his friends jumped off his bike to roll the man over and help start CPR.  (That bicyclist had just gotten re-certified in CPR.)  Even more amazing is that a group of “angel runners” stopped to help until an ambulance and EMTs could arrive.  Among them were a cardiac surgery ICU nurse, two trauma ICU nurses, an ER nurse, a cardiologist, a neonatologist, and a neonatal nurse practitioner.  From the accounts that I have read, these medical professionals – who didn’t previously know each other and were also running the race – came together in an instant to help a fellow runner.  In a situation like this one, seconds count.  For over 20 minutes, they performed CPR on the runner before an ambulance and EMTs arrived with equipment (i.e., a defibrillator).  That this runner came back from being down that long is a miracle.

I look at what happened at Mile 4 and I see the lessons to be learned.  The first is about priorities.  Racing may seem important but it is not more important than someone’s life.  My shoes got muddy and I had to trash them but I was still alive.  The small stuff in life just doesn’t matter.

The next is about the importance of community.  We all are part of this community of runners.  We have to look out for each other.  During this race, in an instant several people stopped everything they were doing to come to the aid of another runner.  They shifted their priorities from racing to helping someone else in a life-or-death situation.  I will never look at the person next to me in a race the same way again.  That person may end up helping me or vice versa.  We are all in this together.

Finally, if I never believed before, I certainly believe now in miracles.  It can only be a miracle that a runner collapses and is immediately surrounded by the people with the specialized skills needed to save his life, that performed CPR on him for over 20 minutes, and that he lived.  It was a miracle.