NYC Half Marathon Guide Dog Relay – Training Logs

 In News & Events

Tom & Waffle train in Central Park near a horse drawn carriage.

On Sunday, March 17, 2019, a team of Guiding Eyes dogs will help us accomplish something that has never been done before. Thanks to a special accommodation from New York Road Runners, three Running Guide Dogs will guide-run the 2019 New York City Half Marathon… with one dog aiming to cross the finish line and receive the team medal.

Three very good dogs, to be selected from our training team of Labs Gus, Lynx, Waffle, Westley – and during earlier runs Yukon, Flint and Fred  – will pace Tom one at a time on the 13.1-mile racecourse. Veterinarians and volunteers will be stationed along the course to provide check-ups and ensure the team’s hydration, health and safety. Each dog will set their own pace, running three to five miles to bring awareness to our Guiding Eyes mission: providing guide dogs to people with vision loss.

Want to join our team and be a Running Guide Dogs Supporter? Our nonprofit organization is funded entirely by generous donors like you. Please support our mission and help us provide one of these world-class running guide dogs for a runner who is blind by giving $2.00 or more per mile. Your donation of $26.00 will help fund our Running Guides program and all of our services that bring guide dogs to people in need. Donate today.

TRAINING LOGS

Training Log #5 March 14, 2019 - Pre-Race Edition: FDR State Park, Central Park, & Brooklyn, NY

Training Log #5 
Date: Thursday, March 14, 2019
Days to race: 3
Locations: FDR State Park, Central Park, & Brooklyn, NY
Conditions: 40-50 degrees, clear to partly cloudy
Distance covered: 3-5 miles

We’ve put in the hard work, and now, the race is the reward.  Runners love this period before race day.  This is the time in which training is done: we fine-tune our logistics for the 13.1-mile race, and the team can relax and enjoy how far we have come.

How is Thomas feeling ahead of the race?  “After all of our training, I have a lot of confidence that the dogs are going to keep me safe,” he said.  “We can’t wait to run for these crowds and share the message that even with a disability, there really are no limits.”

Final Training Runs

The Guiding Eyes Running Guide Dogs team completed their final training runs this Monday on the paved, gently rolling roads of Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park.  This 960-acre park is popular with local dog-walkers, offering ample opportunity to practice maintaining our focus.

On Wednesday, the team did a quick workout in Central Park followed by a field trip to practice at the second transition point.  Friday, the team will head into Manhattan to pick up their race bibs and rehearse the handoff at the first transition point.

Race Day Logistics

Thomas and the dogs will be supported on race day by our enthusiastic and dedicated Guiding Eyes Pit Crew: Trainers Jolene Hollister and Ben Cawley, Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Beth Brenninkmeyer, and Vet Tech Jen Hunt Priolo.  The Pit Crew also includes Product Designer Timothy Gorbold, on loan from our partner Ruffwear, who will serve as Equipment Specialist in charge of our dogs’ boots and UniFly harnesses.  All good teams rely on having a utility player ready to go at a moment’s notice: Lynx will accompany the Pit Crew, ready to step in at a moment’s notice if Westley, Waffle, or Gus is having an off day.

Before dawn on Sunday, Thomas will meet up with Running Guides Specialist Nick Speranza near the starting line in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.  Nick will accompany Thomas and his guides throughout the race to ensure they stay safe and on pace.  Westley, the first guide dog in the relay, will join Thomas after a final checkup with Dr. Brenninkmeyer to ensure that he is good to go.

The race will start in waves beginning at 7:30 a.m., with Thomas expected to launch at approximately 7:45 a.m.* guided by Westley.  The pair will head from the starting line on Prospect Park’s Center Drive and out to Flatbush Avenue.  Near the five-mile mark, the Pit Crew will be waiting on Flatbush Avenue at Concord Street, just before the Manhattan Bridge, for the first relay exchange.  Thomas and Westley are expected to reach this first checkpoint at approximately 8:30 a.m.*  Westley will pass the baton to his sister Waffle, who will guide Thomas over the bridge, through the streets of Manhattan, and along FDR Drive to 42nd Street.

Once Thomas and Waffle reach 42nd Street, they will head to the second relay exchange point at First Avenue and 42nd Street, near the 10-mile mark.  When they arrive around 9:15 a.m.*, the Pit Crew will be ready with Gus, the team’s anchor and seasoned veteran.  Good boy Gus will be patiently waiting for his turn to guide Thomas, as he has done so faithfully for the last five years.  Thomas and Gus will run the last 3.1 miles along 42nd Street, through Times Square, and around Central Park to cross the finish line near Tavern on the Green around 10:00 a.m.  The Pit Crew, friends and families will be waiting to celebrate the team’s accomplishments and toast Gus’ retirement.

Our NYC Half Marathon Team is excited and fully prepared to conquer the course on Sunday.  Please come out to cheer us on, or visit the 2019 United Airlines NYC Half website for more ways to watch.  On behalf of the entire Guiding Eyes team, thank you for your support as we run to bring awareness to the our mission: providing world-class guide dogs at no cost to the people who need them most.

* Anything can happen on race day!  All times are approximate and may vary 15 minutes earlier or later.

 

Support our mission by making a donation of $2 per mile, and cheer on the Running Dogs!

Training Log #4 February 19, 2019 - North County Trailway, Briarcliff Manor/Tarrytown, New York

Training Log #4
Date: Tuesday, February 19, 2019
Time: Mid-day
Days to race: 26
Location of training: North County Trailway, Briarcliff Manor/Tarrytown, New York
Conditions: 33 degrees, sunny, light wind
Distance covered: 5 miles

It was distance week for the Guiding Eyes team as we took four running guide dogs – Gus, Lynx, Waffle and Westley – out for a five-mile run.  Our preferred distance route, the North County Trailway, was icy in our hometown, so Running Guide Specialist Nick scouted out a clearer stretch to the south.  We boarded two vans, each containing a runner, two guide dogs and a pacer, and sent one van to Briarcliff Manor and the other to Tarrytown, five miles apart via the trail.  All the dogs wore their Ruffwear dog boots for extra paw protection on the chilly asphalt.

Tom set out first southbound from the Briarcliff Manor parking lot, guided by Waffle and paced by Jolene on her road bike.  Waffle is famous for speed rather than distance, but on her longest run to date she handled it like a champ.  The team swapped Waffle for Gus at the Tarrytown meeting point, and Gus guided Tom back north with ease; “He laid down the miles like a pro,” said Tom.  Gus was especially impressive when approaching the trail’s few icy patches.  Said Tom, “He knew when we were running too fast for conditions, and came to a full stop before the path became a skating rink.”

Nick set out from Tarrytown on the northbound leg, guided by Lynx and paced by Ben on his e-bike.  Lynx was angling to keep up with a pair of professional runners ahead of him on the trail, and ran the five-mile distance to Briarcliff Manor at an impressive pace of 8:09 per mile.  Westley ran the return southbound leg at a consistent pace, staying calm and focused on his guide work even when faced with the day’s most unexpected distraction: a coyote striding across the trail, 50 feet ahead of the team.  That’s a big change from last week’s Central Park carriage horses.

During transitions in the parking lot, the team drew the attention of Briarcliff Manor’s Finest.  Lieutenant Dominick Bueti, Sergeant Linda Salov, and Police Officer Fredrick Yerks, all fitness enthusiasts, “were impressed with the program and offered us any assistance we needed.  And Dominick loved the size of Westley’s head,” said Nick.

Another highlight of the day was the much-anticipated mid-run reunion as the southbound and northbound groups blew past each other at the halfway point; Ben said, “the dogs loved it when they realized they knew the approaching runners!”  The people loved it, too; with the dogs on their left, runners Tom and Nick managed to fit in a high-five.

Our team performed exceptionally well on this long run, proving that they have the endurance, stamina and paw-power they will need on race day.  Five miles each for the guide dogs, and ten miles each for their runners and pacers, made for quiet van rides back to Yorktown as we all rested up from a strong day’s work.

 

Support our mission by making a donation of $2 per mile, and cheer on the Running Dogs at www.guidingeyes.org!

Training Log #3 February 13, 2019 - Central Park, NY

Training Log #3
Date: Wednesday, February 13, 2019
Time: Mid-day
Days to race: 32
Location of training: Central Park, New York
Conditions: 32 degrees, clear and windy
Distance covered: 2-5 miles

Our third training run brought the Guiding Eyes team to New York City’s iconic Central Park for a spin around the half-marathon route’s last few miles, which trace a loop around the park before finishing near 75th Street.  And while it snowed yesterday morning in New York, the team was able to squeeze in a mid-day training run in clear, cool weather.  This reprieve from the snow brought the day’s biggest challenge: the park was bustling with distractions as tourists and locals alike came out to enjoy the break in the weather, with horse-drawn carriages lumbering by and Central Park Conservancy crews working hard to clear the roadways.

Three members of our training team – Lynx, Westley and Waffle – pawed the line for the day’s workout, with Gus and Yukon each taking a well earned rest day.  The dogs suited up in their Ruffwear high-visibility harnesses and boots to protect their paws from the slush.  Mimicking the strategy for race day, our team set out in three relay segments, each led by Nick on point.  “It reminded me of my NYPD days!” said Nick.  “I was on a mission to stay ahead and clear the way for these VIPs: very important pooches.”  Tom, running with a guide dog, followed Nick, and Ben swept behind the group on his electric bike.  Jolene worked pit crew and managed transitions, getting the dogs geared up and ready to take part in the relay.

Lynx ran first, starting at Tavern on the Green and completing a five-mile loop with a confident stride and careful attention to other runners.  His biggest challenge is usually birds, but pigeons held no allure for him today: he was more interested in the horses, wanting those giant dogs with hooves to come along for the jog.  Westley ran second on the same route, drawing attention from a utility worker who pointed and exclaimed, “He has his running shoes on.”  This social boy loves to visit other dogs; he is learning to resist the temptation to stop, say hello and exchange high-paws as he passes other canines.  Waffle, who is new to the team and still building up her endurance, anchored the relay in the last position.  Refreshed from her weekend walking in the woods at home with Tom and Gus, she was excited to show off her speed during her two-mile run.

In total, Tom ran 12 miles yesterday.  That’s a long time to hold a harness, but the job was made easier by his Ruffwear custom handle, which the company 3D-printed from a clay mold of his hand to make it easier to grip.  The team also learned a logistics lesson: in Energizer Bunny fashion, our runners outlasted Ben’s e-bike – he had to stop and switch batteries at mile 10.

Given today’s beautiful conditions, our biggest challenge was working on pedestrian clearance: getting the dogs used to navigating Tom through crowds at a safe distance while managing the park’s many distractions.  Distance runners love the mantra, “nothing new on race day.”  By acclimating the team now to the sights, smells and obstacles of Central Park, we help ensure that the dogs will be calm, focused and ready to run on March 17.

 

Support our mission by making a donation of $2 per mile, and cheer on the Running Dogs at www.guidingeyes.org!

Training Log #2 February 7, 2019 - North County Trailway, Yorktown, NY

Training Log #2
Date: Thursday, February 7, 2019
Time: Mid-morning
Days to race: 38
Location of training: North County Trailway, Yorktown, New York
Conditions: 40 degrees and overcast
Distance covered: 3.1 miles

The Guiding Eyes team kept it local for our second training run of the week, held on the North County Trailway just minutes from our headquarters. This trail, part of a system that connects our county with Manhattan, is an asphalt-covered former railbed framed by woods and waterways. The flat and fast course is perfect for gauging each dogs’ preferred pace: the speed at which they are comfortable running.

As often happens to runners, work got in the way of training for two of our team members: good boys Flint and Fred stepped off the team, as they were needed in their important day jobs as guides. We also welcomed a new addition: Waffle, the first female Lab on our team, who was so eager during training class that we decided to move her up.

Tom ran a total of 12.4 miles today, guided by four dogs in sequence: Westley, Yukon, Waffle and Gus, each running 5K, or 3.1 miles, with Lynx taking a well-earned rest day. The pairs were accompanied by Nick as the pacer, while Ben was overseeing the progress and training from his electric bike. The dogs sported our partner Ruffwear’s spiffy dog boots to protect their paws and provide added traction.

Tom was first guided by Westley who put in a solid performance on his giant paws which required a large-sized boot. Waffle was Tom’s second guide, and their first run together was impressive. The dogs set their own pace, and she was enjoying the run so much, they allowed her to “open up” to her top speed, comfortably achieving a pace of six minutes per mile for a short stretch. “She had more gas in the tank.” said Tom. Yukon guided third, taking his time to get used to his new running shoes. Gus, who is usually a barefoot (or should we say “barepaw”) runner, guided last and achieved a coveted negative split – completing the last half of his run at an 8:17 pace, faster than his first half. This achievement showed that Gus, a seasoned runner, has patience and won’t guide Tom too fast, too early in the race. Tom suspects that Gus’ time was improved by the refreshing roll in the mud he took midway, “just to get those new sneaks looking real.”

Overall, the dogs’ pacing ranged from Waffle’s blazing six-minute mile to a more leisurely 10:45, with an average pace of approximately 8:15 to 8:30 per mile. By letting the dogs set their own pace, we learned what times to expect on race day. With the half-marathon a little over one month away, the team will continue to put all of the pieces together – endurance, speed, gear and focus – as we work towards our Central Park finish.

Want to join our team and be a Running Guide Dogs Supporter? Our nonprofit organization is funded entirely by generous donors like you. Did you know a donation of $50.00 will provide a guide dog with protective dog boots, like the ones worn by our runners today? Donate to support our Running Guides Program and as a thank you we’ll email you an exclusive video of the last few seconds of Waffle’s first run with Tom – a well-deserved after-run meal and a celebratory full body wag!

Training Log #1 February 5, 2019 - Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY

Training Log #1
Date: Tuesday, February 5, 2019
Time: Early afternoon
Days to race: 40
Location of training: Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York
Conditions: 57 degrees and sunny
Distance covered: 3.25 miles

This week, the Guiding Eyes team went to Brooklyn on an unseasonably warm and sunny day to take the guide dogs out in Prospect Park, setting paws on the start line of the half-marathon route. The team – Jolene, Ben, Nick and Tom, with dogs Westley, Yukon, Lynx and Flint – took the training van to Brooklyn from Guiding Eyes headquarters about an hour away.

After arriving at the park, the team began their training runs: two runners, two dogs and two pacers on electric bikes. Tom was guided first by Westley and then by Yukon, paced by Ben; Nick ran first with Lynx and then finished with Flint, paced by Jolene. The dogs wore their spiffy UniFly running guide harnesses, developed by RuffWear in partnership with the Guiding Eyes Running Guides team. After warming up with a quarter-mile walk, each dog ran a 5K, or 3.1 miles, around the park.

The dogs worked hard on avoiding obstacles in this new environment, occasionally pausing to refocus when facing challenges such as pedestrians with strollers and city dogs begging them to play. During Tom and Yukon’s miles, a fellow runner pulled alongside the team to offer encouragement: “I’ve got friends at home that won’t come running because they’ve got a bum knee. It’s great to see you out here.”

What did the team learn from the day’s training? Tom said, “The dogs showed us their enthusiasm for running, but just like humans, they need more time to build up their confidence and ability to get safely across the finish line.”

Another challenge was the weather: the conditions were 50 degrees warmer than the previous week’s training run. The dogs are not yet acclimated to running in warmer temperatures. We trained inside at New York’s Armory Track & Field Center during last week’s polar vortex, so this week the team focused on keeping the pace slower and the dogs hydrated. Runners know that the key to a successful race is preparation, but when it comes to race conditions, it’s smart to “expect the unexpected” – an important lesson for the team as training ramps up.

Next stop, Central Park.

Support our mission by making a donation of $2 per mile, and cheer on the Running Dogs at www.guidingeyes.org!

HALF MARATHON TRAINING PHOTO GALLERY
The Graduating Class of January 2019Closeup of guide Gus in harness
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