The (not so) Great Race

I could have used this knee brace.

I could have used this knee brace.

Saturday morning, race day. An alarm wakes me up at 6:45 a.m. I hit snooze. Again it goes off, telling me it’s 6:55 a.m. Time to wake and run Eppie’s Great Race.

I brush my teeth, put on my race jersey, the number 11 bib safety-pinned to the front. Shorts, socks, running shoes, timing chip—I put all those on, too. It’s a cool morning, 7:15 a.m. The race starts in 45 minutes and I have home-court advantage, in the sense that this is my usual running route. I’ve done it hundreds of times in the last few years. So many times, in fact, that my foot started hurting after logging hundreds of miles, and then my left knee. It was so bad, I had to quit running for a year.

Then last month, my dad invited me to join Eppie’s with Try for Others, a local team in the adaptive division for disabled athletes. I tried the route once, and with only minimal knee pain afterwards, I agreed to run.

Disabled athletes have long thrived at Eppie’s. With the help of guides, Harry Cordellos, a blind athlete from Texas, finished the race in 1976. Local paraplegic Mark Wellman completed the race in 1993 without any assistance. My dad, along with a number of wheelchair users on team TFO, would take the second leg of the race on custom handcycles. With those guys in mind, how could I chicken out with dull knee pain?

My job was to cover the running portion of the race, hand off the timed racing chip to my dad, and a third team member, a guy named A.C., would kayak the last leg of the triathlon.

My backyard gate opened out to the levy, the same one that I’d be running for most of the 5.8-mile run. Someone was already warming up on the levy. I jogged up over it, another 200 paces, and met my teammates who were congregating around the starting line.

Minutes later, the race started. For logistical reasons, the adaptive division started at 7:58 a.m., two minutes ahead of the rest of the field. My two-minute lead didn’t last long, probably not even three minutes. For the next 50 minutes, racers passed me left and right. About 30 minutes into the race, just minutes after the fastest runners had already finished (running at a pace twice as fast as me), I started to feel the familiar dull knee pain. Thankfully, there were now several blooming blisters on both feet, a new sharper pain that made it easier for me to tune out my long-term knee injury until I crossed the finish line.

I crossed at the one-hour mark, rushed over to my dad and passed him the timing chip. Our team of three would eventually finish in 15th place in the adaptive division out of 16 teams.

Overall, we finished in 328th place out of 374 teams. So much for home-court advantage.