Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Going the Distance: GDB Grad Completes Boston Marathon

Kerry Kuck and Janet Tebbe running in the Boston Marathon
Last month, GDB alumna Kerry Kuck of Denver, Colo., accomplished his dream of running in the Boston Marathon. He ran the race with a couple of different sighted human guides, tethered together (he is pictured above with his second guide in the race, Janet Tebbe; photo courtesy of Janet Leonard). Kerry finished in an impressive 4 hours, 24 minutes, and 32 seconds. He trained for the big day with his Guide Dog, Audi, by his side. This is his story.

By Kerry Kuck

The Boston Marathon was the culmination of 22 years of running. Over the course of those years, I've had three different Guide Dogs. My original dream was to run the 10K Bolder Boulder with Audi, my current Guide Dog, but after I finished that, I wanted to go further.

In January, 2007, I joined the Rocky Mountain Road Runners, a local running club, and ran with Audi to take home the first place ribbon in their 7 mile race. This was my second monthly race after I joined the club. RMRR races are set up so that the winner is the one who improves the most from their previous races, so after taking fourth place in their next 3 mile race, I needed to switch to human guides so that I could get faster. Fortunately, Achilles Track Club of Denver was getting started, and I was able to use young, fast guides from that running club for my guides in RMRR races.

Often in running clubs, the conversation is about running half and full marathons, so I committed to run in the Colfax half marathon. I successfully completed the Colfax race, and then the Denver Half Marathon before I decided to try a full marathon. In order to qualify for the Boston Marathon I had to run a chip timed marathon in less than 5 hours.

For my qualifying marathon, I chose the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon which has a flat, fast, relatively straight course at a much lower altitude than any race in the Denver area. I ran it in 4 hours and 39 minutes.

I should mention here that I am totally blind, with no light perception in either eye, 52 years old, and have Type 1 diabetes. I am lucky to have Audi as my primary running guide. For training, I use human guides one or two days a week, and Audi four or five days a week; I have never used a treadmill. I train with Audi in a park or on sidewalks with no traffic, or even driveways, and race with him on courses that are also closed off to traffic. Audi is 10 years old, but he still guides me like nobody's business, sometimes on very cold days, or even in blizzard conditions.

On race day, I woke up at 4:20 AM, but I had slept for almost 6 hours, pretty good for the night before a big race. Instead of trying to get in another hour or two of fitful sleep, I decided to get up and start my pre-race routine (I did my last shot of fast-acting insulin before the race, stretched, ate a little bit and started hydrating). I left the motel at 7 a.m., and did not cross the starting line until 10:43 a.m., almost 13 minutes after the starting gun went off.

I was supposed to start in the 22,000 wave, but it was so crowded, my guide and I only managed to get to the back of the 23,000 wave. I finished in around 18,900 place, so we had to pass a lot of people. I was bouncing off of, and jostling with, other runners during the entire race, but the first mile was really crowded. I wore a shirt that said "Blind Runner on Insulin" in big red letters. For certain sections of the race, I wore a sleep shade. I wanted the casual observer to understand that I was blind enough to be in the VI division, in fact, that I was totally blind (most of the people in the VI division have some degree of vision).

Thanks to plenty of training runs with Audi and nearly 50 other human guides over the last two years, I ran strong for the entire race (I checked my blood sugar routinely throughout the race, and ate/drank as needed to keep my levels up). Heartbreak hill was a piece of cake.

I wanted to break 4.5 hours, so when I crossed the finished line at 4 hours, 24 minutes, and 32 seconds (15 minutes faster than my qualifying marathon), it was mission accomplished. In addition, we were the first team to accomplish the difficult task of getting a blind person with Type 1 diabetes through the 26.2 mile course without a trip to the hospital. I love it when a plan comes together.

I think that running the Boston Marathon is something that everyone should do at least once in their life if they can. It is not fun, it is very hard, but that is why it is worth doing. My team had so much skill, dedication, and reliability, that once I crossed the starting line, I had no doubt that we would finish the race.

Special thanks to my guides Jana Tebbe and Scott Dailey for being fast, good looking, reliable, and ever ready with their glucose meters (we are all pictured, below; photo by Ric Schmitz). I also need to thank Audi and Guide Dogs for the Blind. Audi gave me more training miles than anyone else, and if we made it look easy, that is what I call teamwork.

Jana Tebbe, Kerry Kuck and Scott Dailey. Photo by Ric Schmitz.

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