What started as a particularly great excuse to get back to the zoo this season turned into a weekly commitment to better ourselves and seek proof that we were indeed preparing our mind and body for the rigors of race day.

14 training weeks led us here, to the second annual “Zoo RunRun” hosted by the Columbus zoo. Minutes before the 8 AM whistle blew, we stood shouldered amongst the 600 sneakered and chip-timed participants, shaking out our last minute anticipations before stepping forward to run/walk the 3.1-mile course.

RELATED: Take Your Training Day to the Zoo

Who would have known months ago the word "race" was once a buzzword that had Blaine bend at his waist and place his hand on his head in stumped panic. For whatever reason this was the case, we slowly redefined what this action word meant and replaced all that was negative with confidence, competency, and fun.

In celebration of committing our efforts into competing in our first 5K, witnessing Blaine run with his head held high with a smile from ear to ear, and reaching our goal of crossing the finish line in less than 60 minutes…

Two faces in a crowded zoo, here's our story — a week-to-week play of the amazing minor and major accomplishments along our way.

14 weeks out

Week 14

Having trained weekly for three years, competition is a challenge we’re finally ready for. As a working definition, competition for our purpose is binding multiple skills we’ve attained over the years through training and fusing them to reach one central outcome. Running a 5K (although Dave wishes it was a powerlifting meet) feels like a perfect fit to centralize our efforts as this is one endeavor that aligns itself closely to activities that Blaine finds interest in: sprint work, games involving chasing, and biking for long distance.

With parents on board and a 5K chosen, it’s all about presenting this idea to Blaine. Presentation is key.

With this schedule (this remains on the dry-erase board next to our weekly schedule until one week out) he can visualize the days, weeks ahead — you'll notice its setup is similar to a typical training day. We have a starting point, an end point, and we know how the event will be segmented into chunks. I chose the Zoo Run because we had a fantastic experience at the zoo last season where we recorded a 7-mile day in 90-degree heat. Running only 3.1 miles, sandwiched in the comforts of spending the day at the zoo, places this new challenge in pretty good position in the eyes of a child. As he describes it, “the pain will be worth all the pleasure.”

The word “race” has been erased from schedule as it causes Blaine undue stress. We replace it with “run/walk” for now and drop it from our vocabulary. We’ll reshape how he defines “race” over the course of the next 14 weeks.

Our competition goals: have fun, stay committed, create a time limit, and reshape the definition of race.

sled work

Week 13

Blaine “buys in” to the fact that we now have a clear training purpose for the next 13 weeks. Everything we do today until race day counts.

Today’s schedule includes exercises and activities that he’d otherwise modify or cross out. Heavy sled walks, a game of 2 Square, and sledgehammer tire hits for reps are session highlights. He too, was open to arm cues while running with the sled!

Blaine erases 14 and writes 13. We reread the schedule and relive our last zoo experience. Blaine expresses he’ll definitely need a week off after the race.

Week 12

Sprint work today requires us to beat our previous running time. Sandbags of varying weight mark three distances and our job is to pick each one up and run with it, throwing it into a large bin when in throwing distance. As one player runs, the other holds a stopwatch. We both shave off time from our previous records.

Another highlight of our training session is medball squats. Up to this point these have been weight free with focus on form — imagine a trail of 10 medballs on the ground in a row, as you stand up from the squatted position, move to the next medball and repeat until you reach the end. Today Blaine picks up the first medball after squatting onto it and keeps it in hand as he squats to the remaining 9 medballs.

Blaine erases 13 and writes 12 on the schedule.

Week 11

Off Day – elitefts Weekend Event

Week 10

Week 10

Today we take advantage of the nice weather and are mostly outside of the gym. Familiar exercises with new spins include: banded tug of war from cone to cone, follow the leader jump rope, and weighted sled pull drop and runs.

In banded tug of war, each player stands within the band so that the band is against each player’s back. The goal is for each player to race to his or her cone. The first one to touch the cone wins.

We set up the jump rope so that it remains stretched in a stationary position, about two inches higher than previously recorded. One player takes the leader role and the other player has to mimic the movements demonstrated.

Weighted sled pulls have us carry a sled for a set distance, drop the sled strap, and then run to the finish line marked with chalk. These are timed.

With 10 weeks to go, and in addition to changing 11 to 10, Blaine adds detail to the artwork on the board, specifically something to my nose. We carry on a large discussion on the topic of snot and what will happen if I end up with it flowing from my nose when racing.

In two cases, “race” was used in today’s session and there was no ill effect. We continued our talk about particular animals we’ll want to see this time around.

Week 9

Off Day – Blaine is on vacation - Spring Break

Week 8

Off Day – Blaine is on vacation - Spring Break

Week 7

Back at the gym from a two-week vacation, we’re getting back into training rhythm. The highlights from today’s training begin with retiming our sand bag bin runs. We each shave another seven seconds off our previous time!

Blaine erases 10 and writes 7 on the schedule.

Week 6

A special guest joins us for training: elitefts’ videographer, Josh Goedker. Compiling footage for a project we’re working on, Josh accompanies our every move. Blaine loves Josh, so Josh serves as quite the motivator to get our work done in grandiose fashion. Highlights from today's training include a roadside 1-mile walk to the bike trail while switching a weighted vest back and forth. Returning to the gym and lifting weights and playing a few games, for Blaine’s choice he picks the sand bag bin run challenge again. He knows he can shave more seconds off his previous time and he does. After training we all go to lunch.

Blaine erases 7 and writes 6 on the schedule.


Week 5

After our training day at the gym, Blaine and I head out to Choctaw Lake to finish our training. We park the car at the beach and walk/run 1.5 miles to his home. This begins the assimilation process of getting us following a route roadside to get from point A to point B.

The HR Charge, a wristwatch that measures a number of health and performance indicators, is worn throughout. Blaine uses the Fitbit app to track and monitor our distance, route, and speed. This device serves to be quite the motivator for Blaine because he has numbers to work with that give him immediate feedback on how he’s performing.

I allow him to set our pace and he suggests we rest every quarter mile and get used to running longer distances to prepare for the race. So we walk, rest, and follow a short 2-minute rest with a steady jog for distance.

On race day we’ll use the Fitbit as well.

Week 4

Each month we travel off-site to complete our training at a location that is movement based —this gets us out of the gym, mixes up our schedule, connects us with new people, and provides positive exposure to other forms of movement other than lifting weights.

This week we go to Lazer Kraze in Columbus, Ohio. Each mission is 20 minutes long — in constant motion walking up and down ramps of a two story building wearing a protective vest and laser gun to ward off zombies. In our second mission we started to form alliances with our teammates to invade clusters of enemies and help locate safety zones. This location is roughly 40 minutes away from London, the same driving distance to the zoo.

3-mile run at lake

Week 3

Blaine’s parents are out of town, but training must go on. This is a first for us. In previous years, we’d take the week off, but training for the 5K we have no room for inactivity.

Back to the lake again for what was supposed to be a 3-mile walk/run: Blaine suggests we add a half-mile a few blocks away from home (pretty cool!).

Compared to the previous lake walk/run, we triple our mileage, cut rest time in half, and run for longer spurts. Our halfway point is a gas station. This gives us a destination to refuel and hydrate (even after we're convinced it is only a mirage). Now we have concrete numbers to trim for race day (3 miles: 1 hour). We utilize the Fitbit for the entire session to track and monitor our distance, route, and speed.

Blaine, Bryce, and Howard

Week 2

Blaine’s parents are still out out of town, but training must go on. Because the gym is preoccupied by guests, this week we’re going off-site to Get Air Trampoline Park with Bryce, Blaine’s brother. This is the second time we visit Get Air and this time our attitude is much different. There is a consensus that we have to outperform what we were capable from our previous visit. Our attitude is of confidence — we’re in training, and we have to make this count. In an hour’s time we visit every corner of the place. Already having experience with many of the obstacles, we had mastered the learning curve and were primed for exercise. 

MORE: Take Your Training Day to the Trampoline Park

A few highlights from this session include: Blaine and Bryce sharing the same space and not fighting, meeting a new friend Howard who wants to join our fit challenges (we talk about working out and how we are prepping for a 5K), completing the ninja course (last time we lacked the strength to complete at least three of six obstacles), climbing the entire length of the fidget ladder (last visit he fell off one spindle in), running the length of the elevated trampolines for time, jumping (high jumps to touch the punching bag hanging from ceiling, playing follow the jump leader) and playing basketball.

Week 1

In this final week, our goal is to get the blood moving, attain a light sweat, and reiterate expectations for the following week. Since specific race details were provided from the race company, I have more information to relay to Blaine that fill in a few logistical gaps (pick-up time, race start, chip explanation, sleep expectations, etc.) This is the perfect time to go over the schedule once more and summarize everything we have accomplished in this short period of time.

Blaine erases 2 and writes 1 on the schedule.

Race Day

14 training weeks prepared us for so many amazing moments I couldn't imagine would all take place in one day. It started with Blaine excitably running outside of his house to get in my car, smiling ear to ear at 6:40 AM on race day.

“The night before the race I asked him to go to bed at 9pm (his normal weekend training bedtime is midnight) because he needed to get a great night’s sleep before the race. There was not one bit of resistance. He just put his computer in sleep mode and went to his room. Thirty minutes later when I checked on him he was asleep.” - Dave

He redefined what it meant to race and based on the many new associations formed, Blaine read the 5K schedule aloud with confidence, unfazed by the word race. Within minutes of arrival, friends and family were by our side as we pinned our racer IDs onto our t-shirts, as the whistle blew, as we reached mile 2, and again at the finish line. Blaine repeated multiple times how he couldn't believe he was still moving (without rest) as we hit each mile. We even reached 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 pressing trigger points hoping to make me drop.

Most importantly, we committed ourselves to a challenge and put in the time and effort to meet the challenge head on with everything we had — something he'll be able to remember and pull from for years to come as he’s faced with more challenges (those self-inflicted and external).

After an additional 7 hours at the zoo post race (yes, we visited every continent with Dippin’ Dots in hand), 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!”

My hope is our story inspires trainers and parents working with children and adults with autism to continue to differentiate training, move outside of comfort, create and commit to challenge, use interest to guide your decision-making, and celebrate small and grand progression along the way — the results will be extraordinary.