2017 Zoo Run Run: Blaine Tate Runs a Faster 5K

TAGS: Zoo Run, Men's Aspirations, 5K, columbus zoo, they are not angry birds, Sheena Leedham, Blaine Tate, autism, dave tate

Seconds after crossing the 2016 finish line, Dave asked Blaine when his next 5K would be. He couldn’t quite finish his question entirely and add the appropriate inflection on the end before Blaine blurted, “NEVER!” After reaching our performance goal of crossing the line in under an hour, along with the addition of countless yo momma and poppa jokes and intermittent bouts of play, Blaine's answer was entirely appropriate. No one else could expect anything less based on his dramatic-funny and speak-in-opposites type of personality.

After an additional seven hours at the zoo post-race, Blaine summed up the entire experience on the drive home as loud as he could express it (country music blaring with windows down): "I'm willing to bet childbirth is pleasurable compared to what we just put ourselves through!”

Would we compete again in 2017? I’d like to think so.


WATCH: Defining Autism — Beyond the Label [Documentary]


My hope was that beyond his verbal summation of the experience, and with time to process everything, he’d associate competition with work, fun, confidence, and competence — a challenge he’d like to experience on the repeat.

Beyond hoping and wishing, all he had to do was resume training the week later.

Nine months of training proceeded, and it’s there that we channeled our focus to gaining strength and muscle, trying new exercises and implements, traveling offsite, earning McDonald's, learning more boxing skills, creating robot blueprints, and assembling a robot arm. Any mention of the race and Blaine was quick to say, “Nooooo, we’re not doing that again!”

13 Weeks Out

Riding our bikes roadside for the first time this year, I bring up the fact we have to finish the 5K in less than 56.5 minutes. Blaine adds, “We could probably beat that time.” Nothing more. I take this as huge verbal progression and immediately change the subject.

12 Weeks Out

After Dave and Traci’s consent, I propose the Zoo Run Run 5K competition schedule to Blaine. The rolling out of the schedule is identical to the previous year (because it worked), yet for this year, there's a tiny detail change. Not only do we have to finish the race as we successfully did last year, but we also have to beat our previous 56.5-minute finish. Blaine neither agrees nor disagrees — this is a good sign.

Our training day resumes per usual: warm-up, upper body work, boxing, and Project Jenny (robot work).

11 Weeks Out

The Rickshaw is presented today for our conditioning work. It’s an implement you grip, stand up with like a deadlift, and carry for distance. Blaine surpasses my expectations, adds turns around cones, and does more work with it to eliminate a scheduled accessory squat exercise. Blaine erases 12 and replaces it with an 11. He mentions our first stop after the race is the snake pit.

10 Weeks Out

A highlight of today is returning to a straight bar for bench. This swap serves more as a strength indicator for his wrists and tolerance for verbal cues. It's clear to see that including dumbbell press work, medicine ball trampoline throws, and boxing is strengthening his wrists as he maintains a neutral wrist position with an empty barbell. Currently, we're not ready to load this position any further, but this is a vast improvement compared to caving forward. Blaine erases the one and replaces it with a zero. Robot assembly ensues and we’re off to McDonald's after earning 12 tally marks.

9 Weeks Out

Blaine starts the session without me and performs rotator cuff dumbbell cleans and dumbbell curls. Dave praises Blaine with a, “Working on the guns!" and "Getting started before Sheena gets here?” Dave’s praise isn't a regular occurrence, so when it does come it's greatly appreciated and meaningful. Another highlight of the day is when we get to leg accessory work. Blaine tells me “I know what to do and the sets and reps I need to get, you can go and set up the next exercise.” Believe it or not, this is the first time I feel I can trust his actions, turn away, and let him get to work without my assistance. Independence is a big training goal of ours and this day truly represents that we’re getting closer to reaching those overarching objectives. Incredible. Our session ends with Blaine reviewing my homework: by-the-minute notes of his favorite cartoon, "My Life as a Teenage Robot." This series revolves around a misunderstood teenage robot, named Jenny, who yearns to fit in as a human teenager. She saves the world every day only to receive disrespect from her classmates and authoritarian figures on the regular. The major theme of this first episode is to not judge people based on their appearances — the prettiest people can do the ugliest things. Blaine erases the one and adds an elongated stem down from the zero to form a nine.

8.5 Weeks Out

Blaine is invited to join a group of boys at Lazer Kraze! Separate from training, this is presented as something fun to do and a chance to meet other kids his age that all love laser tag. Today, two missions of laser tag are sandwiched between arcade games, snacks, and planning what we’d like to do as a group for the next three months. Men’s Aspirations, brought to you by Ohio State University’s Nisonger Center, is a group I coordinate events for monthly. We provide a social outlet for teens and young adults with high functioning autism.

8 Weeks Out

After biking to the new elitefts site (two miles away, off the bike trail, next to the swamp, and behind a church) to check it’s latest construction status (we are supposed to move in by the end of summer), we resume pressing work with the Swiss Press bar. This position naturally keeps his wrists neutral and functions as a loadable pressing position for him. Accessory work introduces a new way to work the lats. He wasn’t very receptive to learning a new movement, but as I’ve witnessed countless times, even though it appears he’s not receptive, in a session or two he’ll model perfect form and be excited about it. My goal for today is to model with patience, explain why we do this, have him try (even if it's for a single rep), and move on. Conditioning work involves a boxing review of all the major moves we learned up till this point: our stance, slip, jab, cross, parry, hard block, and forward/backward jab. Blaine erases the nine and draws an eight.

7 Weeks Out

After warming up with bracing, medicine ball throws (overhead, floor slams, chest passes with forward and backward runs), we move to legs. We have yet to get under a straight bar for squats so today we practice hand placement, getting under the bar, bar placement on our back, standing up with the bar, and racking. Dave helps with this, thankfully. Another highlight of this day is working with the rickshaw outside. Blaine wants to add weight, so we do (fives per side). He increases walking distance from the previous carry and makes smoother turns. He feels very confident and competent carrying this implement and is fully aware that it’s strongman-like. Interestingly, Dave pulls me aside and shares that Blaine knows everything about Brian Shaw. Boxing in a chalked ring to provide a boundary, a homework check, and robot assembly ensues. Blaine erases the eight and draws a seven.

6 Weeks Out

For upper body, today we try out the new American Cambered Grip Bar for bench press — a slight Swiss Press bar variance. He describes this as being in a cage since it kind of hugs your ribs. What I find is how this bar serves as an excellent reminder to “get in the cage” so his body makes contact with the bar before pressing. Instead of overhead pressing, he asks to carry the rickshaw, again. More weight is added (after a bee tragically lands on it and is killed — semi-full story in the video above) from last week, and we continue to work on our turns. After accessory work, homework, and robot assembly, we head out to the lake for our first roadside run for the year. We park the car at the gas station and run 1.5 miles to his house. He considers this a torture run (for me) because I have to backtrack my efforts uphill to get back to my car to get home. I dramatize the entire experience and throughout the run complain about the weather, my attire, and remind him that when he’s resting and refueling in central air, I’ll be thirsty and hungry in the afternoon heat. Believe it or not, this is quite the motivator for him. He loves that this tortures me, and so we mainly laugh and joke about my situation the entire run.

5 Weeks Out

Dave is in the hospital unexpectedly. We cancel the day's session.

4 Weeks Out

The highlight of today’s lower body work is refining trap bar deadlift form. Although this is not the first time we deadlift with this bar, this is the first time we associate the bar and movement with the rickshaw. As such, we take this contraption outside. Instantly, deadlifts are “cake” since we are so used to picking up heavy objects off the floor with a fat grip and carrying them for long distances. Head position is the main technicality we focus on for today. Blaine erases the six and replaces it with the Roman numeral four. After the routine homework check and robot assembly, we head to the school track to climb bleachers and run track intervals. Different from last year, I’m noticing less excessive body movement in his running stride; therefore he’s faster and less physically spent after each sprint interval.

3 Weeks Out

Blaine walks in the gym with a devised plan for the rickshaw — for today and future use.

        • Today’s goal: Warm up to 150 pounds (a PR).
        • Goal for the last week of spring: Carry 200 pounds.

His brand new demeanor all stems from his brother “thinking he’s all tough now that he’s training.” In Blaine’s mind, Bryce will never get stronger than him. As you can guess, sometimes my schedule is plan A. Today is one of these days. Blaine sets up the warm-up progression (this is huge in itself — this took years to relay why we warm up and not attempt to move the heaviest weight for our first set). We work up incrementally to 150. Before carrying, he wants JD to witness. JD is a great motivator and models how to breathe better while in motion. The 150 feels good, so Blaine decides to surpass his daily goal. All I can relay at this moment is to listen to his body and, if he feels strong and good, to take advantage of it. Twenty pounds added to the rickshaw and without any spectators, he carries the rickshaw for the same distance while also incorporating the breathing cues he has just learned from JD. It doesn't end there. An additional 20 pounds is added to hold 190 pounds for time. Can you believe this is Dave Tate’s son? We shut it down after this. Fantastic. Bench press, accessory work, robot assembly, and homework ensues. Another batch of tallies is earned, and next week we’ll conclude training with McDonald's. A Roman numeral three replaces the four.

2 Weeks Out

I can sense Blaine is ready to surpass his last rickshaw record as he walks through the door. My attempt to prove a point is through a message bubble exiting a robot's mouth drawn on the dry-erase board: “Blaine, you can’t max out every week!” Back and forth through debate, we settle that the rickshaw will be our secondary work, as that is not the priority two weeks out of our 5K. Once we get to the rickshaw, I am adamant that he continues to listen to his body. He works up to 160 with a proper warm-up and confesses, “That’s it for today. My upper body is smoked, and I don’t want to push it.” Although his progression doesn't go as planned, he listens to his body, accepts what it has to say, and we move on quickly. Huge success! We complete the day with a bike ride, leg accessory work, homework, robot assembly, and McDonald's. Blaine replaces the two with a one.

1 Week Out

The theme for today is to get the body moving, stay healthy, get in, and get out. Well, like before, that is Plan A. After he reads a message I have written in our chalked ladder that reveals episode details from the latest homework assignment, we spend the next 40 minutes filling an empty five-gallon jug with water from the kitchen sink. He is convinced that “the outsiders” will use the information. For what, I don’t know. Filling the jug with water leads to how to carry a water jug down steps and for distance properly. We talk about how some implements in strongman use water as resistance, as this creates a whole new set of skill requirements to harness. Who knew this would lead to a conversation about creating a special lid so we can refill the jug with adjusting water levels and use it as another carrying implement — I couldn’t have dreamed this would be the result of a written message in a chalked ladder. I’ll take it! After taking this scenic route, we redraw a chalked ladder, complete a few drills, complete floor-based bracing ("a healthy back equals heavy rickshaw carries" is what I say, so now he’s all for these drills), and complete bench press, accessories, homework, and robot work. Not only do we complete the day healthily, energized, and optimistic, we’re ready for race day!

Race Day

The kickoff whistle blows, and we’re in my car fumbling with race IDs and pins. Back up 80 minutes, you’ll find us on I70, shifted in park due to an accident. Taking a median strip detour (and after GPS takes us to a dead-end road), we finally arrive and sprint from the car to join the pack of runners.

One mile down and 15 minutes in, despite a traveling hiccup (in the car for an additional 40 minutes), we're off to a fabulous start.

Two miles down and 34 minutes in, everyone is given the option to take a shortcut due to downpours coupled with steady rain conditions. We don't take the shortcut. We didn’t train to take shortcuts. Still making great time.

At 3.1 miles, we cross the finish line in 52 minutes and 32 seconds — four minutes quicker than our 2016-competition time. A success! Beating our previous time was exactly what we came to do.

For the next eight hours (a spectator PR), we complete the second portion of what we came to do — visit every continent and refuel with plenty of chicken fingers, fries, Sprite, and brownie batter Dippin’ Dots.

As you can see, no prep work repeats itself year-to-year. Schedules switch from Plan A to Plan B, back to Plan A again. Strength has the power to redefine itself without permission. A celebration of the smallest improvements remains. The demand for flexibility in a rigid world toughens. Competition continues to take us back to our roots and remind us how far we’ve come.

And you’ll never guess who’s already trash talking that he’ll cross the finish line before we do in 2018.

Here’s a hint: He’s a bald and large mashed-up meathead. Blaine is convinced this "old man's bionic hips" are something we’ll have to outwit.

Thanks for following our journey. Stay tuned!

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