Jake Spitz is one of our Heartbreaker Captains from Chicago. My first introduction to Jake as an athletes was at Heartbreak's welcome-to-Chicago-party, the Nike Chicago Unsanctioned race 001 summer 2019. I knew him only through social media at that point. About all I knew was that he seemed psyched about Heartbreak, he liked good beer & cocktails, food, bikes, & fashion. Ok, we'll get along, I thought.
"I have been a part of the endurance world for a number of years. After a tough 2018 Ironman season, I looked towards 2019 to rekindle my love of running and focus specifically on some time/run goals that had been out of reach during long course triathlon training. After a good build through that spring marathon season, some friends in Dare2tri reached out to see if I'd be interested in helping at some triathlon camps over the summer. With a run focused training schedule, I had so much more time available and this seemed like a great way to stay connected to the community. One of my best friends, Ashley Eisenmenger, is an elite paratriathlete, who is visually impaired (VI). I would be her summer project for sighted guide training.
As with anything, there's nerves and apprehension associated with a new experience. Communication is key between the guide and athlete. It took a few runs to understand what Ashley needed as far as verbal cues. It's much less information than you'd think! Things as simple as "uneven" (if the sidewalk isn't level) or "step in 3, 2 ,1" for curbs/etc, give enough information to the athlete to maneuver the route. Most of the time, we're just talking about normal stuff: where to brunch, new music, beers - everything you talk about on a run when you're not talking about running! Explaining the world around you makes each run unique; you find ways to describe everyday things and occurrences in fun ways. Occasionally, I'll tell Ashley there's lava on the sidewalk we need to jump over when it's really a puddle. Gotta keep things fresh!
The biggest responsibility with guiding is also the highest honor: trust. To be someone else's eyes, tethered to that individual, is a partnership beyond comparison. It helped me see the world better around me, both in running and everyday life. After a season of running exclusively with Ashley, I was asked to guide an athlete at the Chicago Triathlon last August. For a complete stranger to put that same trust in me (I met the athlete race morning) that one of my closest friends did, meant the absolute world to me.
The #WeJustFeltLikeRunning campaign has been a great opportunity to combine two important communities in my life. I met Nicole at a race camp last year, and when Ashley brought up the event, I immediately thought it would be a great outlet for our team! The Heartbreakers in both Chicago and Boston have a unique opportunity to raise awareness for this campaign, connect with current team members and meet some new amazing athletes, and participate in a group run experience, which we all greatly miss.
Quote from Ashley: "The main things I look for in a guide are typically being able to gauge space be it how far away we are from a turn/obstacle or the fact that we take up twice as much space as a team. I like them to be communicative - using enough lead time to communicate when they need me to do something. It’s important to know left from right. Most importantly I need them to be teachable and willing to leave their ego at the door. My goals become theirs once they’re sharing a tether with me. Everyone describes things differently and you learn a lot about people when you’re 8in apart for hours with no escape 😂 .""