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.
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!
Well, here I go again – sort of…
Last June I had the good fortune to live one of my lifelong dreams and run 26.2 amazing miles in the Seattle Rock N Roll marathon in support of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. In the process I proved to myself that I (that anyone) truly can do anything we set our hearts and minds on. That knowledge will be a gift I carry with me for the rest of my life.
However, that being that “first” experience, anything else I do will inevitably pale in comparison. But I loved the training, loved meeting so many new friends (some of whom I have “kept” beyond just the event itself), and, yes, even loved those early morning dark and cold Saturday runs because the goal itself kept me moving and motivated. I also learned of the heartbreak that Leukemia and Lymphona strikes into the lives of many, and that it so often strikes young people. I almost could not bear how many 9, 10, 11 year old boys I learned were struggling with this hideous cancer during my 5 months of training (and, honestly, that particular aspect of this illness continues to piss me off).
What do I do with all that? I decided not to even try to compare last year to this year, but I knew I still wanted to participate. So, instead of running a marathon, I am walking a half marathon. I can’t do that without training, but it will require me to acquire a new discipline as well – patience. It will allow me to savor the moments, smell the flowers, and take in a little more of the journey along the way.
I cannot begin to express the gratitude I felt at the generosity of my friends and family in donating on my behalf last year. It’s not easy to come back and ask that you give again, but until there is a cure, there is still a need, so I humbly ask that you consider donating again.
Seven glorious and grueling hours, plus 5 minutes, and 12 seconds. Yes, I finished and yes it was a long, LONG day. But I’m getting ahead of myself… I’ll warn you now this is a LONG ‘update,’ but 26.2 miles is a long way to go and there’s lots to share, so I hope you will bear with me).
I have always thought of running as a solo event. Especially training for endurance runs where you spend such long stretches of time out on the running trail with just the sound of your feet hitting the pavement and lost in your own thoughts. On July 26, 2010 after 26.2 miles, I came to learn that running a marathon is most definitely a community event; at least it was for me.
One of my trainers, Nadine, asked me after the race if I felt a sense of pride when I crossed the finish line. I can honestly say that as I stepped across that line what I felt most was profound humility and an awesome sense of gratitude – that my body carried me all those miles and hours, and for the tremendous help and support that got me there.
First, to all of you who supported me both financially and emotionally along the way, I could not have done this without you. Thanks to all of you – I raised $3600 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society! And thanks to all of you – I had an army of people encouraging me and believing in me, even on those days when I wasn’t so sure. And to my coaches, mentors, and new friends with Team in Training, who guided my every step of the 5 month training journey, I cannot even begin to imagine taking this on without each and every one of you (Tuesday nights and Saturday mornings still find me thinking of all of you).
I was beyond moved by the numerous ways that many of you expressed your love and support and there are a few stories I simply have to share:
• I have to start at the beginning and therefore the first “shout out” goes to my near and dear friend Holly. When I told her I was registering for my first marathon – without missing a beat, she said, “Great, I’ll do it too!” And she did, and she made it a point to be my very first donor. Although she trained on her own, we shared the tales of woe as we ran longer and compared aches and pains. And in an a huge act of generosity and friendship, when my injured hip flexor made it painful to drive my manual transmission, she traded cars with me and let me drive her automatic for two weeks so I could heal in time for the race.
• My friend Tara made a gesture that was almost more meaningful than I can put into words. She had been cheering me along through the training and I was encouraged knowing she had completed more than one marathon herself. As I was getting to the longest part of training, struggling with my own doubts about my abilities, a small envelope appeared unexpectedly in the mail one day. As I began to open it and could start to see that it contained some sort of jewelry, recognition washed over me and I literally took a gasp and tears welled up in my eyes. She had sent back to me a charm bracelet of girl running that I had sent to her years ago when she did her first marathon. That bracelet was an anchor to me and I wore it every single day in the weeks leading up to the race – and I look forward to returning it to its rightful owner in person someday soon.
• I called my friend Lee in the days before the event and confided in her my doubts and fears about my potential injury and whether it would prevent me from finishing the race. The Dr. had given me 3 potential options of what it *might* be, with each option less pleasant than the last, so Lee and I simply referred to it as “multiple choice injury.” I didn’t want someone to tell me everything was fine, when potentially it wasn’t, and she gave just the right balance of understanding without letting me get sucked in by my anxiety. She sent me the following in an email the next day: “You might be able to finish the race and you might not. If you don’t finish, it isn’t for lack of effort or lack of psychology or lack of passion for what you are doing, but is a sheer event of bad luck and bad timing. But I am 200% CONFIDENT that you will push your body to its ABSOLUTE LIMITS in pursuit of this goal. While you are running, we’ll be pulling weeds at an organized weedpull on Saturday. For every noxious, aggressive, invasive plant that I ruthlessly murder, I will ask that God send its strength and toughness to you.” And her comments about pulling weeds sustained me throughout the race in a way I did not expect.
• By sheer luck (or providence), I bumped into my friend Casey at the start line on race day. I had forgotten she was doing the event and was pleasantly surprised to see here there in the crowd of 25,000 people! We wound up crossing the start line at the same time and she let her two other friends run ahead and said she would run with me for a bit. We wound up running together for the first 10 miles until her half marathon run split off from my full marathon course. I’m not sure if she realized what a huge boost it was to have her company and those early miles literally flew by. After we split apart I reflected on what a shot of support it was to have her send me off to the rest of the race (and, again by fortune, we met one of my coaches, Siri, at the split and she took a picture of us before we each went on our way).
• My friend Cynthia surely deserves a medal of some sort. She casually offered to me a couple of weeks before the race that she would be willing to meet me in the back half of the race and finish with me. We agreed she would jump into the race at Mile 16, which happened to be just a few blocks from my house, and run the final 10 miles with me. I was appreciative of the offer and was glad to know I would have company, but little did I know the huge impact her presence would have on me during the race. As I said to her at least 100 times over those ten miles, “I am so glad you’re here and I don’t know how I could do this without you.”
• And finally, but most importantly, my husband Brian. When I told him I wanted to do this, he shrugged and said, “Oh, yeah, cool, I was wondering when you were going to get around to doing a marathon.” He believed in my ability to do a marathon before I had even signed up for the race. He was sans wife every Saturday morning, and when I did get home I was usually tired, cranky, and sore. Five months is a long time to put up with someone in that condition on a guaranteed weekly basis. He would bring me water or ibuprofen or a soda or my dinner if I was too tired to get off the soda. He enthusiastically (okay, maybe a bit too enthusiastically) dumped ice on me in the bath tub and coined the forever memorable phrase, “Lyda on the rocks.” He also fretted and worried when my hip injury got to the point I couldn’t drive the car. When he saw me at Mile 16, he practically danced out onto the course to give me a hug. When I saw him as I approached Mile 26, all I could see was the huge smile on his face.
So, now for the race itself…
We got up at 3:45 AM and loaded onto busses that took us to the start line, arriving at approximately 4:30 AM. The very first wave of the race started at 7 AM (and I was in wave 28), so we had some time to kill. After all the anxiety in the days leading up to this day, I was strangely calm that morning. (Or maybe I was just too sleep-deprived to notice!) I made my way to my starting corral around 7:15 and bumped into Casey. We crossed the start line together at approximately 7:45 AM. I felt good and although running at a pretty slow pace was jogging comfortably and had no hip pain. I saw my coaches Nadine and Jeff and Siri along the way and they shouted out their encouragement. Casey and I talked about everything and nothing and I feel as though I blinked and we hit the split where she turned left to finish the half marathon and I turned right to continue on the full course as it ran out onto the floating bridge deck.
It was about this time that I began to be cognizant of the time limit I had to make it to Mile 14. Our coaches had advised us that we were required to make the 14 mile mark by 11:00AM or we would be diverted to the half course and would only complete a 15 mile race. As I was running back across the bridge and towards Mile 14, I could see how few people were behind me. I did see some of my Team in Training mates and just as I was leaving the bridge, one of them was just getting onto the bridge and told me as we passed each other that they almost didn’t let her continue. My anxiety increased, but I knew I needed to keep my pace steady or I wouldn’t have anything left for the back half of the race. I made it to Mile 14 and breathed a sigh of relief to pass the mile marker on my way to Mile 15.
The Seattle Rock and Roll Marathon happens to be filled with numerous “out and back” sections where you see those in front of you or behind you. I entered another of these places as I ran up the Alaskan way viaduct and faster runners were running “down” the other direction. All of the sudden I heard my name and for a moment I couldn’t see where it was coming from. Then I saw Holly on the other side of the viaduct and we were in a place where we could run to the middle and were able to give each other a high five. I had not seen her at the start line so seeing her there at Mile 15 was a huge shot in the arm. Not long after that, some random sweaty fellow without a shirt on leaned over the railing between the two directions and shouted out loud as day, “YOU ARE A ROCK STAR” and man, in that moment, did I feel like one!
I should point out that at this point I was even more aware of how “behind the pack” I was – there was a random person here or there around me, but I pretty much had the road to myself. During the “alone” miles, I kept thinking about Lee pulling those weeds and sending a little prayer of strength my way. I ran into a short tunnel and all I could think in that dark space was “I sure hope Lee is still out there pulling those weeds.” (I learned later that she was most definitely still pulling weeds and sending me prayers and although I don’t often prescribe to such things, I am telling you I could feel it.) I was on my way to Mile 16 to meet Cynthia and it was the thought of seeing her that kept my feet moving. I passed a police officer who looked me square in the eye and said, “YOU are doing JUST FINE” again, in that moment I was fine. Cynthia and Brian were there at Mile 16 and jumped onto the course as we headed up a mile long hill. Brian hugged me and dashed off at the next block to drive down and meet us at the finish line.
Cynthia was full of energy and spirit and thought everything about the race was in Cynthia-fashion, “fabulous” (Yes, to those of you who know Cynthia, she uttered her famous phrase more than once). I was getting a little tired by this point and having my own personal cheerleader was a very good thing. We walked up the hill and turned around a mile later and started to jog back down and back towards the viaduct. At Mile 19, we could see the final runner across from us at Mile 18. He was slowly and painfully slogging along and was followed by a motorcycle cop, a couple medics on a golf cart, a van to sweep people off the course, and a brigade of trucks to pick up the water tables. The woman next to me looked over at the sweeper van and said it looked like the Grim Reaper. Finishing this race was not a guarantee and I could see the threat of being swept a mere mile away, but hell if I was going to let that sweeper van catch up to me!
At Mile 20, Cynthia looked at me and said, “Lyda, you know what we should do? We should run the New York City Marathon!” I replied with a very curt “No” and then told her I wasn’t really that excited about *this* marathon anymore, so I didn’t really want to talk about doing another one. I was pretty cranky at the time, but I think back on her comment and it brings such a smile to my face now! As we were up on top of the viaduct, we saw another Team in Training Coach, Shelby around Mile 24. He gave me a big hug and told me I just had another short “out and back” and then I was home free. As we made the final turn-around, we saw the “grim reaper” flotilla again and saw a truck picking up porta-potties. I literally felt like they were erasing the course behind me as I walked or jogged along. We saw Shelby again and then Siri and Nadine. It’s worth pointing out that some Team in Training members only see one or none of the coaches and here I had a “trifecta” with three of them all together! I saw a fellow Team-mate who had been behind me suddenly in front of me, when I looked surprised, she told me that she had been turned around at Mile 24, cutting her race down to 25 miles instead of 26.2. Once again, I barely missed having the race cut short. When I hit Mile 26, our fourth coach, Jeff came around the corner and I threw my arms in the air and he gave me a hug as well. I could not believe I got to see all four coaches and it was a highlight for me.
Cynthia and I turned down the ramp towards the stadium and she dropped off the course when we found Brian. I ran into the final chute and was running all the way to the finish line. When I got there, John Bingham, who is a writer for running magazines was at the finish line. He is also a big supporter of Team in Training and had been the keynote speaker at the pasta dinner the night before. I have been a big fan of his as he writes for those of us who are in the slower running camp. He had encouraged us all to slow down a little to enjoy the journey and “get our money’s worth” from the marathon. He reached out his hand to mine and said, “Let me shake your hand and congratulate you.” As my feet crossed the finish line, and the finisher’s medal was hung around my neck, a wave of emotion poured over me. I felt so lucky to have made it every one of those 26.2 miles and I was overcome by the love and generosity of my friends and family who helped me to get there.
I have ended all of my “training updates” with the statistic that a marathon is approximately 41,280 steps. For me, I came away from this absolutely amazing journey feeling like the marathon, for me, was filled with 41,280 blessings.
Oh, and to answer the other question I get all the time – I don’t know. I simply cannot say if there are any more marathons in my future (Brian is hoping no and obviously Cynthia has her own ideas about New York…). I can say that I still love running and have set my immediate sights on a 10K in September. Beyond that I am honestly taking it one step at a time.
I will leave you with a John Bingham quote. It is probably the one he is most known for, but it is still my favorite, “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”