“If you divert over to the other block, you will be able to finish the marathon and get your medals. No one will know the difference.” That was the message delivered to us somewhere after Mile 19 this past Saturday at the Fargo Marathon. My running partner, Duana, and I shared a knowing look with each other, but we needed a moment to sort out the options that had just been made available to us before making our decision official. We could accept the diversion, cut something along the lines of 1.5 miles from the race, but maintain course support (water stops, mileage signs, volunteers directing us at corners and turns, and traffic support from local police at intersections). Or, we could take the paper map in the volunteer’s hand, move to the sidewalk and guide ourselves to the finish without any support or signage in an unfamiliar city as they were starting to erase the course in front of us. We would get in the requisite 26.2 miles, but there wasn’t a guarantee that there would be a finish line when we got to the end. There wasn’t really any decision to make. We took the diversion. We heard one last “no one will even know” as we turned right instead of going forward and Duana found her voice and said what we were both thinking, “but we will know.”
However, I was surprised to find that I was not nearly as upset as I thought I might have been at this situation. We had gotten off our pacing, (or more accurately, I had gotten us off our pacing) many miles back. It wasn’t really any surprise when the volunteer jumped out of her jeep to tell us we were starting to ‘time out.’ I had been fearing for some distance that we would be swept off the course and delivered to the end via this same jeep, so the option to continue on under our own volition was the far lesser evil of the possible bad outcomes we were facing. I did have a few moments when I thought Duana would be disappointed and mad/sad that I had lost our collective mojo and she told me she was worried that I would be emotionally bereft that we were cut short, but once we settled that neither of us was going to have a break down or try to break-up our friendship over what we were in agreement was the right decision, we commenced marching forward. Maybe it helped that both of us have successfully completed 26.2 miles in the past, or maybe we were just too tired to think of anything other than the rest of the race in front of us.
So, what happened? There was no big drama, no weather issues (in fact, it was perfect cool and overcast running conditions), no race-related injury; not even a huge marathon-style bonk – just a gradual loss of momentum that finally took over the pace we needed to sustain to finish within the allotted time limit. There are a thousand tiny little things that go into the success or failure of any endurance race, but I can point to two main challenges that grew over the miles and literally and figuratively slowed us down.
From the moment we started the race, we were in last place. I am used to being at the back of the pack and those other slowbees are ‘my people,’ but none of them showed up to this race. There was a woman in a white shirt who was within eyesight for most of the race until she dropped out and another gal walking on crutches who was just ahead of her until she dropped or was pulled, but otherwise it was very lonely back there at the end. I was not mentally prepared to be in a class by ourselves, all by ourselves. There were two volunteers (a mother and daughter) who took turns tailing us on bicycles and/or in the aforementioned jeep, and occasionally a motorcycle police officer (we learned later the husband/father to the volunteers), but we were often on the course all by ourselves. At one point our bike escort peeled off for a quick bio break and directed us to follow the bike path into the woods and she would catch up. There was no one around us, we couldn’t even see girl-with-crutches or white-shirt-girl and started to wonder if we were lost. Finally, we spotted an empty runner’s gel on the ground and were relieved to see a clue that we were still on the race course. All along the way, bands that were playing for the front of the race were packing up or gone. We saw empty lawn chairs where locals had been greeting racers. At this point, we were still easily maintaining our pace, but being alone in what is normally energetic and full of people can definitely mess with your head. At least it messed with mine and I started asking myself why there was no one else in this race in our pace group. You need all the energy you can muster to focus on what you are doing, so that mental distraction was the opposite of helpful.
The other challenge was nutrition. It is not unusual to feel a little nauseous during a race and that is usually my clue that I actually need more fuel or electrolytes. I was getting nauseous and occasionally a little lightheaded, but I would eat a little something or take a hit off my electrolytes and feel better. However, at the end of the race it was clear I was not keeping up with my body’s demands as I ate less in this longest of runs than I had in our shorter ‘longest training run’ a few weeks prior. To combat the nausea, we switched around our run/walk intervals and that helped for awhile, but somewhere around Mile 16, both my body and my spirit weren’t in the run anymore and we dropped to all walking. At least that resolved the nausea, but as I watched our splits get slower and slower I knew we were running into danger of exceeding the course limit. I wanted to ask our ever-present bicycle escort whether we would get swept, but I was afraid of the answer, so I just kept going with the specter of not being able to finish joining us for the journey. If I am being honest, there was also a part of me that would not have been disappointed to just go ahead and give up, and quit the race.
Somehow, we didn’t. We pushed on at a dangerously slow pace and kept putting one foot in front of the other. When offered the diversion, we took it and kept going. I even managed to make a joke when we magically arrived at the next mile marker without having to go past the previous one that “that last mile really flew by.” Duana snorted and we continued on. At this point, she was about 20 paces ahead of me, but routinely stopping to let me catch up or at least making sure I was still tagging along. After Mile 23, it was clear that both of us were starting to feel the pain of all those accumulated miles in our hips and feet. At Mile 25, Duana’s right hip was starting to get the better of her and she picked up a small limp. She looked at me and said she had 3 words for me, “Thank ‘effing God” and I knew she was talking about the wisdom of taking the diversion. We plodded past the last band on the course singing out “you have 3/4 of a mile to go” on a repeat loop. We made our way into the Fargodome under sheer force of will. Our tailgate party/family cheered us on the last few steps where the announcer butchered our names and Brian and my friend Lee ran out to greet us. Once past the finish line, we tromped on down to the end of the stadium to collect our medals.
How far did we go? Upon consulting our separate GPS devices and eyeballing the course map, we know it was somewhere north of 24 miles – 24.something, there was some consensus around 24.7 miles although we don’t really know for sure. Less than 26.2, in any case. Did we deserve to get medals for our not-quite-a-marathon? I suppose that is debatable, but when I look at my medal it is a reminder to me of everything I pushed through to find my way to the finish line. Just like in life, the journey is rarely (ever?) as expected. And I am not pretending that we did the full race, so I’ll take the medal and the accompanying disclaimer that goes with it.
Other than that, how was the play, Mrs Lincoln? It was not all doom and gloom by any stretch. I became fond of our traveling family of escorts – especially when the daughter told me that she and her mom rode with the final finishers every year. It takes a special kind of kindness to choose year over year to be with those who are guaranteed to be struggling (and probably in less than stellar moods). Back around Mile 11 when things were still going well, we encountered a water stop with a DJ playing and we danced and jogged our way through, singing along to “We Built This City.” At one point where a band had closed up shop, a man ran along beside us playing music from his iPhone to make sure we had some tunes. We got high fives and well wishes from the small handful of folks who hung out along their sidelines to make sure they were there until the bitter end passed. One of my best friends, Lee, flew out to North Dakota to be there for us. Showing up for people is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. Brian even tracked down a Tibetan gift shop so he could bring Nepalese prayer flags to Fargo, which he hung on the porch of our Airbnb house. Plus there is no greater (or louder, seriously) cheerleader on the course than my husband. We saw Lee and Brian numerous times throughout the race and we always heard his whoops and hollers long before we got to them. We raised more than a few bucks to fight blood cancer and honor Duana’s Pop-Pop. Not to mention the texts, emails, and Facebook posts of support and encouragement we received as well. We are both truly lucky to have such amazing friends and fans in our lives.
Plus, we had each other. I can’t begin to imagine what this day would have looked like without Duana at my side. At one point when I was having a minor pity party, I told her she would have finished the full 26.2 if I weren’t there slowing us down. Without missing a beat, she replied that she wasn’t there to run a full marathon by herself. She was there so we could do this event together and whatever happened it would be a collective effort. That by itself made the event special, even if it wasn’t quite the end we had envisioned. Also, the main reason I set out to do this crazy thing was to prove to myself that I could rebound from my broken foot. That those dark times did not define my future outlook. Maybe I didn’t get the 26.2 mile prize, but I managed months of training and 24.whatever miles on my feet on Saturday. That feels like success in my book.
Yesterday, I completed my 5th half marathon, running the Seattle Rock N Roll Half Marathon. If you were to ask me today how I felt about the race overall, I would say it was okay – not great, but okay. It was a little too sunny for my tastes (50 and overcast being my definition of perfect long distance running weather) and I got a little dehydrated as a result, but nothing horrible happened and although a little sore, my feet were in far better shape than they were after last year’s race. I think it’s fair to say I was hoping for better results, although runners are notoriously under-satisfied with whatever result they get, and I can’t really complain. Overall, the race was fine…
But it’s not the whole race that stands out for me this time around. It’s the last 1.1 miles that really make the story. Let’s go back for a moment to that sunny weather. When you train all season in typical Seattle weather (cool and cloudy), it can throw your game off a little to suddenly be running in the sun come race day. Although I was carrying plenty of Gatorade with me on the course, and every coach I encountered made a big stink about drinking electrolytes, I was not actually drinking enough of the stuff. I don’t have a good explanation for this. It was just one of those mistakes that you don’t realize has caught up to you until, well, it catches up. I was starting to feel less than great as we entered the second half of the race, and the chickens came home to roost somewhere between Miles 10 and 11. This is the point at which I was, as they say, bonking. My run intervals became shorter, my walk intervals became longer until it was all walking. My two race buddies had gone on to finish their own races (first rule of race day is that everyone runs their own race), so I was by myself and along with being exhausted, and a little nauseous, I was also in the midst of a good ol’ fashioned pity party.
I started thinking that after a season of extolling the miracles of interval training, here I was on race day sucking wind. The coaches I encountered were all telling me I looked great, but I felt grumpy and miserable and I didn’t believe them. I whined to myself that although I saw coaches, I hadn’t seen any of MY coaches that I had trained with all season. Wah, poor me. And then I actually saw a familiar face in Coach Erica and she pointed out that I was close to Mile 12, almost done, and that I looked good. I finally decided to look at my watch and face the music of how pathetic I must be performing. That was when I got a little surprise. I was at 3:00 hours exactly with just over 1.1 miles to go. One of my goals for this race was to finish it in less time than last year. Last year my finishing time was 3 hours and 24 minutes. I had 24 minutes to go a little over a mile. I suddenly realized that my goal was actually still within my reach. I even started to run (and made myself stick to my walk intervals so I wouldn’t burn out). My entire perspective shifted and I focused on the next 24 minutes. I ran into another teammate I knew, Craig, and then another TNT participant, Miguel, who each ran with me for a bit. And then I rounded the next to last corner and saw Coach Shelby, and soon after saw my husband and my friends cheering me on. Not only was I doing this, but after 3 hours on my feet in the sun, I felt not only good, but great. I had found that elusive second wind.
I crossed the finish line in 3 hours and 22 minutes. Not a particularly spectacular race time, even by my own standards, but I was overjoyed by the outcome. I had proved to myself that even when the chips are down, you don’t have to count yourself out. It ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings – or, in this case, until the huge lady crosses the finish line.
For all the talk about missing the forest for the trees, sometimes the opposite is true. We miss the miracle that is a single tree because we can’t stop thinking about the entire forest. If I had stayed hung up on the overall race, I would have missed the opportunity to prove to myself that there was still a reserve of grit and determination left to propel me forward. At the time I looked at my watch, I couldn’t change the three hours that had already gone by, but I did have the power to focus on what I had in front of me.
Ask yourself: ‘Can I give more?’. The answer is usually: ‘Yes’
~ Paul Tergat, Kenyan professional marathoner
Including yesterday, I have completed 4 half-marathons, a full marathon, and countless 10K and 5K runs. I have participated in the Seattle Rock n Roll series every year it’s been held. You would think this would be old hat and that I would just stroll out to the start line like I was going out to get the mail.
Okay, even I don’t really think I will be quite that nonchalant, but it continues to surprise me how anxious and excited I get before every race. This year the start was literally in my back yard – just a few blocks from my home in Seattle Center. And this is my 3rd season with Team in Training, so I pretty much know the pre- and post-race drill with that group as well. I almost skipped out on the inspiration dinner and victory party figuring I had already “been there, done that.”
Yet, come Friday night (after the inspiration dinner), as I was laying out my gear and pinning my bib to my race shirt, I found the butterflies were starting to flit around inside of me. I didn’t settle down to sleep until almost midnight and my eyes flew open at 5am. As I walked over to the starting corrals with my friends, I could feel the palpable pulse of nervous energy in the air that seems to be present at every race. It was clear I was not the only one feeling a sense of anticipation.
Why the nerves? Even though I know from experience that my legs can carry me the distance, every race is unique and the possible hurdles are numerous. Am I hydrated enough? Did I bring enough food to fuel me? Will old injuries flare back up, or new ones present themselves mid-race? Will I be fast enough? Every runner, from the back of the pack to the winner, has a couple of numbers in their head at the start line. There is the finishing time you expect you will do based on your training, there is the time you would be happy with, and there is your dream fantasy PR (Personal Record); plus there is the slight fear of a dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish).
Ironically, I think it is exactly this guaranteed unexpectedness that keeps me coming back. You never really know exactly how all your training and the events of the day are going to come together for the finished product. Generally speaking, I like my life to be well-ordered and within my control. (Ask any of my friends – I don’t even like surprise parties.) However, I think it’s important to welcome a little uncertainty into our lives. Because, really, we can’t control everything and sometimes we all need a little reminder of that fact. Plus, once the start gun goes off, it’s not like these things are pure torture – the races are fun and I enjoy running them. They are always filled with unexpected pleasant surprises, too. This race, I was thankful for the small gifts, like finding a porta-potty with a small line, and for bigger gifts like getting an exhilarating second wind at Mile 9. Hearing a few of my TNT teammates scream out my name at Mile 12.75 and give me high-fives as I ran by gave me a shot of energy that practically catapulted me to the end.
Every time I cross the finish line, it represents the fears I have conquered, the obstacles I have overcome, and the pure joy of running with tens of thousands of other crazy people who love the sport nearly as much as I do. In spite of any doubts or misgivings I had on the other side of the start line, all I can think about at the finish line is how much I want to recapture the experience I just had. So, it will be no surprise to anyone, least of all myself, when I sign up again next year for another round of pre-race butterflies.
Tonight I carpooled to practice with a fellow Team in Training participant. As we inched onto the road to take us to Green Lake, traffic got slower and slower until we came to almost a dead standstill. Then we saw the sirens and lights, which pretty much guaranteed we were going to be late. As we sat there in the car, the weather got worse and worse. It started to rain, and then rain harder, and then a light snow started splattering the windshield. My car mate looked at me and said, “I am not running in that weather.” I tried to make light of it by saying the temperature wasn’t all that cold outside and given the traffic it might be gone by the time we got to practice anyway. But she would have none of it and said these conditions simply were not working for her. (She told me later that it was probably for the best that I was driving as she would have turned the car right on around and headed for home.) I told her that I hoped it would clear up as I wanted to get our run in whatever the weather or whether we were profoundly late (which was quickly becoming a certainty). We got the car parked and found the rest of the team doing laps on one of the hills and were given instructions to do some warm-up and then hit the hill. As we started out, the snow and wind was blowing directly into our faces and I thought my partner was going to pack it in right then and there, but she was a trooper and soldiered ahead.
Running hills is actually one of my favorite phases of the training season. It’s not that I’m any good at it. I huff and puff my way up and generally my face turns red from the effort. And we slow-pokes do not go any faster on the hills, so my usual slow jog becomes a true slog of snail-like proportions. But I am the little engine that could and snail speed or not, I chug my way up the hill each lap. I get supreme satisfaction from reaching the top of the hill and the steeper the hills become, the greater the satisfaction. Plus at the end of a hill-laced run I physically feel great. My blood is pumping, my legs feel strong – I am the queen of the universe. It’s also hard to be cold when you are expending so much energy. So, sitting there in the car on the way to practice, I was anxious to get there and excited to get started. It’s even ever so slightly possible that I was jabbering on and on (and on…) about how great it was as we inched our way there.
After we got warmed up and knocked the hills out, we walked back to the car and compared notes about how the run was for each of us, weather not withstanding. I mentioned that this was a cold run, but hardly the worst weather I had seen compared to other seasons or even to one of my personal runs this season (along the waterfront when the skies opened up and dumped literally buckets of water on me). She commented that she had never trained for a race before (of any length). She always ran just for fun or exercise, so if the weather was bad there was nothing pushing her to go anyway. Her experience with Team in Training was the first time she had to force herself to go run when any sane person would stay put. I had completely forgotten what it was like to do this for the first time. I was so used to putting up with any manner of crazy conditions and situations that I already knew tonight would not be so bad. I wanted to slap my hand to my forehead for being so dense. As usual, I made the classic mistake of assuming anyone else would have the same expectations or experiences that I have had. It’s easy to go run in the wet spring snow when you already know what it’s like. Far more impressive to get out there and run in those conditions when you have no idea how cold it will be, whether you have dressed warmly enough, whether you can get up hills you have never run before. So kudos to her on this dark and dreary night for running anyway.
Every Saturday we start our practices with a “mission moment” in which we hear stories about how blood cancer has touched the lives of those we are raising funds for and their families. Each season I go into the practices thinking that I will not be as impacted as I was the first year, and somehow I end up being more affected than the year before. There are the stories of survivors, memories of those who fought valiantly but ultimately succumbed, and hope for those still in the midst of their personal battle. Blood cancer doesn’t seem to discriminate based on age or gender and strikes children and grandmothers alike. For some reason, the stories that are the hardest for me to hear are those about the very little boys who are afflicted. This Saturday we heard the story of Joseph Boyle who was diagnosed when we was 2 and left this world for a better place when he was just 5 years old. Yesterday would have been his 21st birthday.We were all given laminated pictures attached to safety pins to wear on our run.
Standing in the cold and rain at 8am on a Saturday morning, it was honestly a little tough for me to totally absorb this little boy’s story. I was moved and saddened, but also distracted by the thought of running in the rain. And it was a rough start. My feet were like lead blocks that I struggled to lift with each step. Everything was stiff and I felt like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz in desperate need of an oil can. It was only a 40 minute run and I slogged and dragged my sorry self every step of the 20 minutes out.
But then I turned around and something happened. My legs warmed up, my joints loosened up, and I began to relax into the second half of the run. It was at this point that I started think of Joseph Boyle. What kind of fucked up cancer takes 5 year old little boys from this world?? What must his parents have gone through – so excited to have him join their family, only to have him taken away so soon. And it was not an easy life, considering his final years were spent with doctors and in hospitals. I started to get mad and the madder I got the faster I ran. Every footstep became my personal rage against this injustice.
Blood cancer – you are a ruthless, evil disease, and you don’t play fair. You are a thief and a cheat. I may not be fast but I’m determined as hell. I’m coming for you and the running trail is my warpath. Every dollar I raise is a nail in your coffin and I run for the day I can dance on your grave.
I am ardent admirer of my friend Siri’s blog, Minus 40 by 40. She has set a goal to lose 40 pounds by the time she turns 40. And she’s holding herself accountable by publicly sharing the journey and tracking her weight loss. She hasn’t been perfect, but she’s following a sensible plan (Weight Watchers) and she set a goal for herself that is challenging yet realistic and that will put her at a healthy weight. She’s doing all those things that contribute to success, and she’s lost 9.8 pounds so far. I am both impressed and honestly a little jealous.
I’d like to say this post was a similar announcement that I set some BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) for myself and we could all watch me transform my life, but sorry to say that is not what’s happening here. I am known for being determined and driven and in former days I even lost 50 pounds following Weight Watchers. However, I am also equally adept at denying and outright ignoring what is right in front of me, and I can rationalize with the best of them. I have set goals for myself and found untold ways to excuse myself from actually fulfilling them. I know about myself that I have to be really REALLY bought in for the big goals to work, and it is easy for me to be depressed and discouraged by setting a goal that is out of reach and therefore giving it up altogether. I need something that is both motivating and real for me where I am in my life right now.
In my daily perusing of the blogosphere on my iPad (hat tip to Steve Jobs, iRIP), I stumbled across something pointing people to register as bone marrow donors. I clicked through and started looking at the medical requirements. I half-hoped that I would be disqualified and guess what, I do not meet the weight criteria to register. I’m officially too fat to be a bone marrow donor. Ouch. I’m not over by much, just about 6 pounds. I sat there and stared at the screen. I will be brutally honest and say I am not totally sure I wanted to sign up for to be a donor, but it’s so much different when you are choosing (or rationalizing why you should or shouldn’t) and having that choice taken away from you. Because of how I have let myself go, this path is closed off to me. I don’t like that feeling – it frankly pisses me off and makes me mad at myself. But I stopped short of hari-kiri and decided that it seems very do-able that I could lose 6 pounds and keep it off in order to qualify. So, here in black and white, is my little goal: I will register as a bone marrow donor before the end of the year. It fits in with my desire to do BETTER (instead of try to be perfect), and maybe I’ll even help someone else along the way (and for a cause I am passionate about – ending Leukemia and Lymphoma), but without requiring that I dive head first into something I know in my heart I’m not ready for yet. It’s the opposite of a BHAG. I’m calling it a SAG, a small-ass goal. (And yes, I appreciate the double-meaning…)
How will I do it? The classic way – consume less calories than I burn. Which means more mindful eating, healthier eating, and moving more. No drastic dietary or lifestyle changes, but I can walk home from work one more day a week, and drop the desserts one more day a week, or eat one more serving of vegetables a week. I stepped on the scale last Monday (yep, faced that number, and yep, it sucked) and will do a weekly weigh-in, no more, no less, to see how I do. Once I have dropped 6 pounds and kept it off for 3 weeks, I will register and share the news online.
Why such a small goal? Because sometimes growing up, being a “big girl,” means being honest with yourself about your own limitations. It’s a small goal and it fits my current limitations, but is also one that sets me up to succeed, which I hope will lead me to seek other wins and down a healthier path. I think it was best said in that 80’s classic, Better Off Dead, “I think all you need is a small taste of success, and you will find it suits you.”
The training season is coming to a close. We’re in the tapering phase where we rest and heal our bodies in preparation for the big day. On June 25 I will walk 13.1 miles in Seattle’s Rock N Roll Half Marathon. I haven’t posted much this season and I knew going into the training that walking a half marathon would be a far different experience than running my first ever marathon. For starters, I have already completed a couple of half marathons, including the Seattle Rock N Roll Half back in 09, so I pretty much know what to expect. And last year was so monumental for me in accomplishing one of my lifetime goals, that this season has been a much quieter, calmer experience.
Many runners experience post-marathon blues after they complete their first (or fastest or Boston or…) marathon. I did not have this experience after my marathon – mostly I was filled with a tremendous sense of gratitude and the enduring knowledge that we are all capable of fulfilling any goal we set our hearts and minds to. However, I will confess to feeling a little melancholy as I approach this year’s event. I guess it’s a little like climbing Mt. Rainier after having summitted Mr. Everest. Maybe it is because the anticipation is gone. The fear that you don’t know the outcome mixed with the excitement that you are really doing it is not present. You still have to train and work for it because nobody wakes up one morning and says I think I’ll stroll up to the summit of Mt. Rainier today, but it’s just not the same. Honestly, I feel a little ambivalent and even a little jealous as I watch my teammates fill with excitement over their first time at “the show.” Oh, it’s not stick my leg out and trip them jealousy. It’s more wistful and nostalgic and it brings back memories of when I was in their shoes.
So, why did I come back? I have proven to myself twice now that I can train for and successfully run a half marathon on my own. I don’t need Team in Training to complete this event and, frankly, I don’t need to prove to myself that I can do this at all. I could have stayed home and had a pleasant spring sleeping in on Saturday mornings. On the other hand, I can’t imagine myself not being here, not being part of this group. For one thing, there is still that pesky blood cancer that insidiously takes the lives of young people far too soon (and I include my 41 years young friend Gil in that group). Training with a purpose, training as a way to do something more than just 13.1 or 26.2 miles, is one way I can leave a positive ‘footprint’ in this world. Secondly, training in a group, with people cheering and supporting you, is far more rewarding than training alone – even if the act of running or walking is ultimately a personal one.
But that doesn’t really answer the question of why do endurance events. I’m not sure I actually know the answer. For whatever reason, they are simply in my blood. Or maybe I have a bit of George Mallory’s “because it was there” sensibilities. I have 2 weeks to go before completing this year’s event and I’m already asking myself what I think I might like to do next. I just finished reading Marshall Ulrich’s Running on Empty (thanks Mark Maraia for the recommendation), which lead me to watch Running the Sahara on Netflix, about 3 men who run across the Sahara desert. Brian left the room mid-way through because it was too hard for him to watch how these men abused their bodies, but I could not peel my eyes away. I have zero desire to run 2 marathons a day for 111 days in a row (in the desert no less), but do I walk another marathon? Maybe next year I could run the half? Dare I even consider walking an ultra event? There are no definitive plans at this point and I promised Brian the summer for the two of us to be active together, but come this fall I am sure I will get that unexplainable itch, tie up my laces, and go out on the trail again, chasing the next mountain – big or small.
Here we go again with yet another article talking about how all us average marathoners are ruining the sport for the ‘real’ runners. I was intrigued by this NPR article written by Asma Khalid, Marathons, Once Special, Are Now Crowded because it features an athlete, Rachel Couchenour, training for her first marathon with Team in Training:
After a sorority sister was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Couchenour decided to join the charity running group Team in Training. The organization raises money for leukemia and lymphoma research.
The article goes on to describe how Team in Training has had a hand in the growth of marathons:
“These training programs are the pipeline for this growth,” says Ryan Lamppa of the research group Running USA.
“They can take that new runner from unfit to finish a marathon in 3 to 6 months,” he says. “They opened up the sport to mainstream America.”
So far, so good. Team in Training is a great organization that takes people from zero to 26.2 miles and at the same time raises money to fight blood cancer. The article also talks about how more and more people are qualifying for the Boston Marathon as a result of these efforts, but it loses me when it gets to this comment about the dilution of the sport:
And while the folks who host the Boston Marathon are also happy that more people are running, they worry that as mainstream American joins the race, amateurs will dilute Boston’s prestige — especially if the fastest runners are locked out because they miss the sign-up.
The Boston Marathon requires athletes to run qualifying times which are no small feat to accomplish. If I wanted to qualify, I would have to run a qualifying event in 3 hours and 50 minutes. Given that it took me just over 7 hours to finish the last marathon I ran, I don’t think anyone in Boston has to worry about me ruining their race.
As I understand it, the article is saying that too many people are qualifying for this prestige event. In other words, groups like Team in Training are training their runners too well? They make them such fast runners that they are taking up all the slots at the Boston Marathon? If you actually qualify for the event, how does that make you unworthy to share the route with other “real” runners?
I understand that the Boston Marathon is a prestige event and I am in awe of the very few people I know who have qualified. And I am more than okay with events that have entry requirements. There are plenty of fun events for the athletes at my end of the spectrum. And to be sure the organizers of this event have a capacity problem on their hands and I don’t pretend to have all the answers to that, but can we at least agree that if you can meet the requirements to participate, that you should have just as much opportunity to be there as anyone else. If that is not acceptable, then change the requirements, but don’t blame the people who did what you asked.
I have been struggling with my fund raising this season. Last year I blew my own goal out of the water without barely trying. I raised so much that I now have a full wardrobe of TNT branded attire – sweatshirt, fleece pullover, back-pack, and was even able to upgrade to the hotel option. This year, not so much… I am stuck at about 60% of my much smaller goal and recently had to fork over a credit card number in case I can’t raise the rest. Ouch. I was pouting and feeling sorry for myself and wondering why it had to be so hard. I guess I kind of forgot that it’s not actually supposed to be easy. I have been having such a delightful time walking instead of running that I sort of assumed it would all be fun and games. In my quest to bond with other walkers, I even posted a comment on a discussion board about being a non-traditional (er, uh, heavier) athlete. Much to my surprise, I got this in reply from a fellow named Steve:
*Just want to say a big THANK YOU to Lyda for her work with TNT. I’m a leukemia survivor and a failure at TNT fundraising. I think asking people for money is harder than doing the distance. Lyda you did both!!!! THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!*
I was blown away as I hadn’t said anything in my post about fund raising, but it was exactly the message I needed at that moment. I asked Steve if he would be willing to share his story and below is his email to me in it’s entirety. Steve and I have never met, but his words have touched my heart and inspired me to raise the bar on my fund raising efforts.
If you have been meaning to donate, but just haven’t gotten around to it, or if you have been trying to decide if supporting a half-marathon walker is where you really want to ear mark your donation dollars this year, or if you just haven’t been moved to give, read Steve’s story below and please consider making a donation in his honor. Maybe $52 dollars for the age he was when he was diagnosed, or $6 for the years since the diagnosis, or $35 for the years he’s been a pilot. Any amount is welcome and every bit counts. And if your budget simply doesn’t allow for a donation, your emotional support is every bit as important to me and for that I say “Thank You!”
Lyda, I was very touched and moved by your wanting me to be an honoree but I'm just a guy who was lucky/blessed/gifted (from others hard work) to survive a bad disease. I went into the hospital on Valentines weekend in '05. I had Acute Myelogenous Leukemia and was told I would have to have a bone marrow transplant. AML has a 20-25% 5 year survivor rate (I didn't find this out till much later.) but most people get it an an older age, I was 52. My first question to the doctor was "How long till I get my life back"? He said 6 months but it was more like 8. Being in the hospital for a total of 93 days over 4 stays sucked as I'm an outdoor kind of guy. I had been walking 800-900 miles a year for 10 years after quitting running. (Running is hard work and walking is just putting one foot in front of the other.) I have been a pilot for over 35 years, for 20 years in hang gliders and for the last 20 sailplanes (gliders/airplanes without engines). And I did a lot of outdoor/field work with my job. (I'm a tech in earthquake research) I received a tremendous amount of support from my wife and son, father and siblings, the doctors and nurses, co-workers, friends and strangers and one of the biggest was the wonderful cells from my sister. These are the people that did the hard work I just stayed in the hospital and got taken care of. No way was I going to let them down. I have been very lucky through all this, I kept my job and was able to work part time as my strength came back, my insurance paid the (huge) bill, my sisters cells work perfectly ( I was off the anti-rejection drugs in a few months with just the right touch of graft vs host). I remember the day during recovery I walked to the corner, it was a big deal! In '08 I got the idea for doing a half marathon but as I was already doing 8-10 mile walks I thought that a marathon would be more of a challenge. So after 8 weeks of training I did San Diego Rock and Roll in 6:10. You know how that feels. I signed up for TNT for the next year but didn't like asking people for money so I came up short of the needed amount. I paid my way and did the marathon in 5:38. Last year I did it for the LLS "Make Cures Happen" and was able to get a few hundred in donations. I'm better in giving money than raising it. I also broke 5:30 with a 5:24 finish. For me the hard part of training was 14-16 mile walks so I never let myself get out of condition. In 2010 I did 51 walks of half marathon distance or better. I always feel so good after a long walk. But after weekends of 18, 18, 20 and 20 mile walks training for Carlsbad I hurt my foot (planner fachitis- misspelled I'm sure). It's slowly getting better and I should be able to do the La Jolla half on the 17th. Then training starts for real for SD R&R in early June. Maybe more of my story than you wanted. I just wanted to thank you as I try to do with others from TNT when I get a chance. Your raising funds for LLS helps real people (like me). The world would be a better place if more people said "Thank You!". So once again THANK YOU! Steve
Don’t get me wrong, running a marathon changed my life forever and not much else is going to compare to that, but I have to say I am finding quite a few benefits to walking a half marathon this time around…
- Your body is not in physical pain – this is a novelty that continues to surprise me, even 2 months into my training. I can walk for an hour or two and although I might be tired, I don’t have to take an ice bath just to get from sitting to standing and back again.
- You can have a glass of wine (or two…) the night before your long training day without, well, any negative consequences. And, hey, I’m all about a training program that lets me have a glass of wine on Friday after work!
- You can talk and walk at the same time. I know, I know, theoretically that’s supposed to be true when running too, but no one ran as slow as I did and I was too fast for the walkers, so there wasn’t really anyone to talk to…
- No Energy Gel. Let’s face it, that stuff is disgusting. I learned to accept and adapt to it as it allowed me to go 26.2 miles, but I can’t say enough how excited I am to be functioning on Cliff Bars instead of Cliff Energy Gel (which, btw, I liked far better than Gu, not that that is saying much).
- You’re not totally wiped out 100% of the time. The long training days actually energize me instead of totally ruining my energy for the next 2 or 3 days or all week.
The one thing that hasn’t changed from last year to this year is the young people suffering from Leukemia and Lymphoma. I’m still about $650 from my fund-raising goal and need your help in the fight to eradicate blood cancers. Please consider a $50 donation – if only 13 people gave that amount, I would have it!