“Dad. Dad. Look at me. I know. I understand. It doesn’t matter now. We came here to finish strong.”
No matter how many times while running the 443 miles in training, daydreaming about the race at work or trying to convince others all I wanted for Ryan and I to do on race day was get to the starting line injury free and finish it off strong I had two times in my head. One, I knew we would easily accomplish. The other was an ultimate-time goal. It was the one where everything had to go right. If it did it would make finishing Ryan’s first half marathon at the Mill Race Half Marathon even that much more memorable than it already was going to be on that overcast Saturday morning in Columbus, Ind.
I’ll return to this part and how Ryan got me back on track to finish the race strong later in the post (nice tease, right?).
After we had completed our final three runs of three, two and five miles respectively we took Thursday and Friday off from running. The anticipation of race day was getting to me in the worst way. Unlike my last half marathon where I ran it mostly by myself, this was different and carried a huge factor of unknown in regard to Ryan. Would I get the Ryan, who ran the Race Away Domestic Violence 5k in June? Would I get the Ryan who lagged behind, but was ready to come from behind at “Go Time” like he had since seeing Asbel Kiprop in the 1,500m Final of the IAAF World Championships? Would I get the Ryan who took the lead and ran effortlessly the morning we met up with the neighbors for a mock 5k? Or would the one thing I feared most – Ryan freaking out with the crowd and would that cause him to shut down before we even crossed the starting line?
I had confidence the last scenario wouldn’t happen. We had too many people praying, showing support and giving encouragement.
By the book, I got a decent night’s sleep on Thursday. Wendy and I spent most of Friday morning getting the house ready for my Mother-in-law to watch the boys. We also finished packing for Andrew and Luke for their overnights to friend’s houses since they had to be up Saturday morning to make Bible Bowl pizzas. Then Wendy and I finished packing for our overnight trip to Columbus with Micah and Ryan and also our trip to New York City.
I jokingly posted on Facebook Friday morning I anticipated I would have a Rob Petrie/Leave It to Rueffus-type moment where something happened and it would resemble an episode of the “Dick Van Dyke Show” or “Leave It to Beaver.” Case in point during the 2010 NCAA Final Four in Indianapolis, I went to grab a shirt off the rack at one of the portable vendors and the entire fixture fell on top of me and one of the clerks.
I thought things were beginning to unravel when the family where Andrew was to spend the night called to inform us one of their daughters had woke up sick that morning. The mother said she thought it was just the one person and left it up to Wendy to decide what to do. Wendy called another one of our friends and asked if they could take Andrew at the last minute. They graciously accepted.
Once we had everyone packed we left to drop Andrew and Luke off at their friend’s houses. We arrived in Columbus around 3 p.m. and checked into our hotel, which was about two miles west of the start/finish line and the expo in downtown Columbus.
We settled in and headed to the expo at The Commons downtown. We went upstairs to the level where we picked up the packets and then stood in line to also get our parking passes for one of the garages the next morning.
We wandered around the various exhibits and also bought a couple of tech shirts for Ryan and me. We were doing what we could to kill time before heading over to Mill Race Park for Micah to run in the Kids Fun Run at 6 p.m.
Wendy got talking to the person at Tower Garden about growing our own vegetables not only during the summer months but also in the winter time. Ryan and Micah were having fun going through the inflatable heart in the middle of the expo. I also took them downstairs to get their pictures taken “Crossing the Finish Line” with the Robert N. Stewart Bridge in the background.
We had thought about driving over to the park for the race. As we began to head to our van a person told us parking would be limited. That it was in our best interest to go ahead and walk over to Mill Race Park. At this point, it was 5:45 p.m. We didn’t make it over to The Commons in time to check Micah in at the Expo and had to do it at the park.
When we arrived at the park there were still people lined up also trying to check their children in for the various races. Each age group had a specific distance to run. Micah’s age group – first and second grade – would run a 1k. I got him signed in and pinned his bib on him and went to the corral for his race.
Micah’s race would be the third race of the event. He started in the back of the pack. Although it happened by accident, it ended up being a great position for him. Several of the runners in front of him trampled over each other at the start of the race. Micah patiently went around the other runners and began his run. Once he was through the “starting chute” I was able to run next to him and coach him through the course.
He ran through the covered bridge, down a hill, and around a little pond in the park. He made the turn toward the “finisher’s chute” where then all I could do was yell at him to keep going and finish strong.
All through his “training” for his race Micah would go awhile and then stop. He would complain that he was either thirsty, tired or one of his legs hurt. During the run on this Friday, he did none of that. He kept going and looked like a natural runner through the entire race. He finished the run with a time of 5:47.
As I was taking pictures of Micah receiving his medal and getting his water cup, I heard someone yelling my name. I kept looking around and finally located Chance Walser from WRTV-TV, the local ABC affiliate in Indianapolis. Since reading the articles in both the Indianapolis Star and Johnson County Daily Journal, Walser had wanted to do a segment on Ryan. The funny thing about this is he originally called my parent’s house, where a friend of ours currently rents, to contact us about the story. When we talked on Thursday night, he said the cameraman and him coming down to Columbus on Friday night would be determined on any possible breaking news happening in Indianapolis.
Once we found Wendy and Ryan in the mass of people at the park, Chance, Ryan and I went up to the amphitheater where he interviewed us for about 15 minutes. Then the cameraman followed Ryan and I for a few minutes running along part of the path we would run as part of the first couple of miles in the next day’s half marathon. Here’s the segment which aired the Friday night before the race – http://www.theindychannel.com/news/local-news/father-and-autistic-son-develop-bond-through-running
Finished with the interview with Chance, our football watching friend Elizabeth Hassee texted us wanting to know if we were still at the park. Hassee along with her mom, Beth Smith, would also be participating in the half marathon the next morning. They had just arrived at The Commons to pick up their packets. I texted her back and told her we were walking back to The Commons and would meet them momentarily.
We met them at the top of the stairway at The Commons and talked for a little bit. They wanted to know if Ryan was excited and they congratulated Micah on finishing his race. We went back downstairs, Wendy took our picture at the finish line with the bridge back drop one more time. We finally left downtown and stopped to eat dinner at a restaurant near our hotel.
Returning to the hotel we got everything ready for the next morning. We got Micah and Ryan settled into bed. Unfortunately, Micah was still somewhat wired from his run and having eaten dinner. Conversely, once Ryan’s head hit the pillow he was out for the count.
I wish I could say I slept like Ryan did that night. By far, it was the most restless/lack of sleep night I have had since the months where I didn’t sleep after my Dad unexpectedly died in September of 2010. The combination of the excitement of race morning and my concerns along with Micah not being able to go to sleep like Ryan kept me up most of the night. Plus Wendy and mine’s phones were going off as Walser’s report aired on WRTV and people were wanting us to know how great it was to see on television.
Finally, 5:15 a.m. arrived. I quickly got showered, shaved and woke Ryan up to do the same – minus the shaving part. I had a small breakfast consisting of an apple and Vitamin Water. Ryan had a bowl of cereal, an apple, and Vitamin Water. We then left the hotel and headed back to downtown Columbus to park the van in the parking garage and get ready for the race.
Not only had I read it was best to get to the race site about 90 minutes prior to the start of the race, but I also wanted to get there to see how Ryan would react to the crowd as it began to gather. It was beginning to sprinkle rain as we approached The Commons as we met up with Lauren Slagter and her husband, Marty. Ironically after the race we would find out we had parked right next to each other in the garage. Lauren was the first one to write an article about Ryan and his running with her blog post – http://www.extramilerunning.com/blog/2015/8/24/father-autistic-son-bond-over-half-marathon-training
We talked with the Slagters for a few minutes and wished Lauren luck as she would run the marathon race that morning. Hassee texted us to tell us her mom and her had arrived. We met with them and walked to the starting line where we took our picture before going to our respective corrals for the beginning of the race.
As we awaited the final race instructions, the national anthem and the official start from WTHR weather professional Nicole Misencik, a couple of runners in our corral noticed Ryan. They told us they had read the articles and saw the report on Channel 6 last night. They wished us luck and we in turn told them to have a great race as well.
Finally around 7:30 a.m. in honor of the train, which abruptly stopped last year’s race – http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/unexpected-train-puts-marathon-runners-risk-72655/ a train horn signaled the corrals to take off in two-minute intervals.
Mile 1 – After the train horn sounded for our corral to start I had a hard time trying to figure out how to pass people while at the same time get into a comfortable pace, but it seemed Ryan was handling the crowd well as the race began. That was a good sign. We ran passed the Reising Radio Partner Studios (I have previously worked at both radio companies in Columbus – White River and Reising). QMIX was doing its radio broadcast outside and blared Queen’s “We Will Rock You” as we passed and made the turn to 11th St. and headed toward Mill Race Park. Just as we went through the covered bridge in the park we completed the first mile.
Mile 2 – The packs of people began to thin out and there were some open spaces as we left the park. Most of the second mile is still through the park and we made it to State Road 46. Getting out of the packs of people and finally having some clear space allowed us to pick up the pace a little as we finished the mile.
Mile 3 – About a third of the way through this mile we head back into downtown Columbus and cross the Robert N. Stewart Bridge which the Flat Rock River goes under. It was cool to look ahead and seeing other runners ahead of us heading into downtown and then look to our left and seeing others crossing the other bridge to complete the second mile.
Mile 4 – Made it back into downtown Columbus and around the Cummins campus. It was also during this mile Wendy’s cousin, David Browning, passed us. He yelled out at me as he came by. I told him he should slow it down and run with us and make it a complete family event. He laughed and continued on the course. We wouldn’t see him the rest of the race.
Mile 5 – Went passed Columbus Central Middle School and the First Christian Church on 5th St. The church had a band outside playing Christian songs and it was a nice pick-me-up as it was also the first water stop we would use after skipping the first water stop at the two-and-half-mile mark.
Mile 6 – This was one of the few stretches of the course that was straight with just a little jag for roads to connect along the course. As we were on 11th St. and passed Sycamore St. there was a sign outside the Lincoln Central Family Neighborhood Center which said “Congrats Ryan Reuff! Way to Go!” with the Autism logo at the bottom of it. I wanted to stop and take a picture, but I knew we were focused on getting our best time possible. At this point, we were on pace for our ultimate-time goal. I thought maybe we could go back and get a picture after we finished.
Mile 7 – We went back around the Cummins campus on Central Avenue and headed back out toward State Road 46/State St. At the end of this mile would also begin a very long stretch of straight road. During our training none of the roads we ran had long straight stretches except a couple of times we ran the hilly route. We only did that on a couple of occasions. It was in these sections of the race I worried Ryan’s mind would wander or I would kick my pace up a notch just to see if he would stay with me.
Mile 8 – This became an interesting mile. I did increase my pace and got a little farther ahead of Ryan. As I did I caught up with Kimberly Gale, who is the Director of Marketing for the 500 Festival Indianapolis Mini Marathon. As I came up to her our conversation went something like this
“You’re Ryan’s Dad? The kid in the paper and on TV last night.”
“He looks really good. He’s got a great form and pace. You really should think about doing the mini in May. It would be good for you guys.”
“We’ll think about it after we’ve recovered from this and had some time evaluate it.”
“Well, I think he’d enjoy it. He looks to be having fun right now.”
I stayed on pace with Gale for a little longer when I then met Pingnan Shi. I had read about Shi back in June in one of the locally-published magazines we get in the mail. The Mill Race Half Marathon was his ninth of the year. Shi has run all of them barefoot to help promote awareness about depression. He plans to run this coming Saturday’s Indianapolis Marathon at Fort Ben barefoot as well to finish off his racing season.
I told him I had read the magazine article and followed his blog. I told him I wanted to somehow meet him during the race and was glad I was able to while we were out on the course. He seemed appreciative and he had also read the articles about Ryan racing today. As with Gale, Shi said he was also impressed with how Ryan was running for his first half marathon. Here’s a link to Shi’s blog – http://conqueringdepression-pingnan.blogspot.com/
Shi finished the race just under two hours with a time of 1:59:19.
Mile 9 – We made the turn off State Road 46/State Street and into a residential community behind Columbus East High School. While I had been talking with Shi, Ryan had tapped me on the shoulder and said “Hi Dad.” It startled me at first as I didn’t know if I had slowed down while talking with Shi or if Ryan had picked up his pace. Regardless we were on a really good tempo. We were on pace to crush the realistic goal and the ultimate goal was still there for the taking. It had me excited. Then we made the turn off Coovert St. to Indiana Avenue and things quickly changed.
We got to the water stop at Mile 9 and I pulled us off the course. I was doing all I could to keep it together mentally, but my main concern was Ryan. Was he OK? Did he want to finish? The time had slipped away from us at this point and the ultimate-time goal was out of reach. I frantically tried to decide what to do.
After a couple of minutes, Ryan calmly looked down at me and said, “Dad. Dad. Look at me.” I stopped what I was doing and looked at him. “I know. I understand. It doesn’t matter now. It didn’t matter when we started training. We came here to finish strong. Nothing else.”
You have to understand what had happened at that precise time. Ryan had one of those “moments of clarity” with me. He didn’t sound like an autistic kid. He didn’t even sound like a 12-year old. He sounded like a grown man. Ryan talked to me like he did when I “interviewed” him after our last run on that Wednesday prior to the race. I wish I had kept the outtakes. When I first began filming he elaborated on every question. Each answer was a good 30-60 seconds in length. Unfortunately as time passed and I kept saying we needed to redo the video because I stuttered out questions or lost my train of thought, he gradually faded away and I got one-word to maybe 10-word answers for the video I would then post on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Ryan was right. Neither the ultimate-time goal nor realistic-time goal I had in my head were of importance and never should have been. Like anyone though my competitive nature that morning got the best of me.
A mere six months ago Ryan went from barely running a complete mile in March to one Friday morning in April when I thought we were getting ready to do a walking segment he ran past me and kept going. In June, he ran his first race and finished second in his age group. Now he was about to finish his first half marathon. That’s what was valuable. That’s what made Ryan’s story so great and inspiring.
Mile 10 was a long stretch down Gladstone Avenue. It gave me a chance to text Wendy. I told her what I needed when we got to the finish line. By the time, she answered we were at mile 11. She asked me how close we were to the finish. I told her we had just finished 11 miles and were probably 16-18 minutes out.
Mile 12 was another straight stretch down Chestnut Avenue and then on to 23rd St. going by Donner Park. When we made the turn off 23rd to Lafayette that’s where the marathon and half marathon split.
“Look, we don’t run for at least a week after this. Let’s let it all go here. Why waste it. Time for the kick. It’s GO time!” I said.
“I’m trying,” Ryan said.
We made the turn to Washington Street and the finish. All along the street there were people sitting in lawn chairs or standing holding signs cheering all the finishers. I told Ryan all these people were cheering for him. They wanted to see him finish strong.
“Dig deep. One good “Kiai” should get us through,” I said remembering that since he got his new shoes at the beginning of the month Ryan had hardly screamed that at the end of our training runs.
“I know,” Ryan said. “I got it.”
We crossed the finish line. Both of us tried to raise our arms up in victory, but we were too exhausted to do it. We were given our medals and snacks as we came through the finisher’s chute. Elizabeth’s Dad was also at the finish line handing out water to the finishers as they crossed.
I began looking for Wendy and Micah. I thought maybe Micah suddenly had to go to the bathroom. I also thought maybe something had happened to either Andrew or Luke as they went to make Bible Bowl pizzas that morning. I was about to have that Rocky yelling “Adrian” moment.
While I slipped off the armband to get my phone and text Wendy several other runners and those who watched the finish came up to Ryan and congratulated him for finishing the race. One gentleman came up and shook Ryan’s hand. He told Ryan – “That was AWESOME BeastMode out there. You were great.” As I continued to look for Wendy those who congratulated Ryan also were telling me how great and natural he looked out on the course that morning.
Suddenly around the corner by the Old National Bank at 5th and Washington, Wendy and Micah showed up. Wendy was on her phone. Something had happened in regard to the Bible Bowl pizzas. The boys were alright, but the ingredients to make the pizzas had arrived, but weren’t refrigerated and had spoiled. The teams couldn’t make the pizzas.
Andrew had called Wendy and needed her to call everyone or find a way to contact everyone on our list to let them know the pizzas wouldn’t be made and not to come to the Student Ministry Center to pick them up. They rescheduled the pizza making to last Saturday. They were still going to Brown County for the afternoon.
“Did you finish?” Wendy asked as Micah and her came running toward us. “We got the alert at 5K but didn’t get anything else from the tracking service.”
“Yes,” I replied. “I thought you would have been at the finish line when at mile 11 I texted you and said we were about 16-18 minutes away.”
“We missed it!” she exclaimed. “Well, there’s a crisis with the Bible Bowl pizzas. They aren’t getting made today. I’ve been trying to figure out how to get a hold of the people and let them know not to pick them up today.”
Thus with everything that happened beginning midway through mile nine up to the moment I found Wendy, my Rob Petrie/Leave It to Rueffus moment had finally taken place for the weekend.
Once we had cooled and calmed down from the run, Wendy and I did the best we could to contact people who bought the pizzas. I also went to the tent where they were printing off the results to see how Ryan and I had finished the race. Our time was 2:06:06 – almost nine minutes under our realistic time goal of 2:15:00 and six minutes off what my ultimate time goal was for us of under two hours. Ryan finished fifth in his age-group division.
Ryan and I began to walk to find that sign from mile six. We found some Indiana State Police Troopers in a golf cart and explained to them what we were doing. They graciously drove us over to the Lincoln Center only to see that the sign had already been taken down.
Almost an hour after we crossed the finish line, Elizabeth Hassee texted us to tell us her mom and her had crossed the finish. We located them and took one last picture with them. We also took pictures of Ryan and I with our medals.
Eventually, we had everything we needed and headed back to the hotel where we showered and I took a much-needed ice bath before heading back to Greenwood.
Even with the set back the day had been a success. Ryan finished a half marathon and got his medal. After a few more pictures, he went upstairs put his medal, 13.1 magnet, and sticker away and went downstairs to play Beyblades.
Here is the Indianapolis Star article by Vic Ryckaert – http://www.indystar.com/story/life/diet-fitness/2015/09/16/year-old-runs-autism-matter/32497521/
Here’s the article by Corey Elliot which ran in both the Daily Journal and The Columbus Republic – http://www.dailyjournal.net/view/local_story/Running-with-dad-helps-keep-Ce_1442878262
Also had the pleasure early in race week to connect with Edie Brannigan. She’s Mikey Brannigan’s Mom. I quoted her in my blog post https://rueffreport.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/ryan-you-can-do-this-lets-go-racing/ when we decided to begin training for the Mill Race Half Marathon back in May.
I hope to use Brannigan as a valuable resource as Ryan continues to grow.
During our layover in Atlanta to New York, Hassee texted to inform us that aside from the regular age divisions they had broken down the results by specific ages. Ryan was the top 12-year old with his time by 18 minutes.
So you’re probably wondering “What’s next for the Runnin’ Rueffs?” Well, while Wendy and I were in New York we talked about the race and training. We discussed what went right and what should be tweaked a little. When we got home we asked Ryan if he still wanted to run. He quickly said yes. He also said he would enjoy racing again.
I had looked at my work schedule and also what races would be coming up that would be possible for us to do. Nov. 14, the Saturday before my birthday, there is “Katie’s Run for Autism” in Fishers. There also is the “Festive Four Mile Foot Race” at Perry Meridian High School on Thanksgiving morning. Both doable since I have those days off work.
With much thought and the thinking it would be fun to run around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, we will also plan to run the 500 Festival Mini Marathon in May. This is one though we’ll run for the fun of it. There will be no time goal. Being able to stop and take a picture of kissing the bricks at the “World’s Greatest Race Course” along with other things along the route will make for a memorable experience.
As for the Mill Race Half Marathon. To paraphrase Clair Bee – By the driving desire that always inspires to rush us forward and upward, we will grasp that challenge again with eager legs and feet and race for that starting line on 4th and Washington. WE WILL BE BACK!