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Despite my fears of being last, a recurrent neck injury and my truly messed up final month of training, Roberto and I finished our first half-marathon. Yep. I said our first because it probably won’t be our last and we are already planning to be part of the Parkway Classic in April. The blisters that emerged somewhere between miles six and eight are going to have to be popped soon to prevent real trouble, but they don’t hurt much. I’m still glowing and a bit high from our accomplishment. We had set a goal of finishing in 3 hours and 30 minutes and made it with 42 seconds to spare, crossing the finish line together.
The Team in Training inspiration dinner proved to be both funny and heartwarming, partly because one of the presenters spent a good deal of her time photo-bombing. That might sound rude, but eight year old Emily Whitehead is a survivor whose parents shared the story behind the amazing film “Fire With Fire” and the hijacked-HIV cure that Emily was the first child ever to receive. Watching Emily give her parents bunny ears while her father talked about his frustrations and fears during the process underscored the importance of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s mission of funding researchers and supporting families. Thanks to our donors and the donors before them, Emily is now a pretty normal child with an extraordinary story.
There were more immediate, selfish pleasures too. For the first time since going gluten-and-dairy free, there was something for me to eat everywhere we went with a minimum of fuss. All I had to do was ask. In fact, I even got a free lunch because my post-race pasta took longer than the kitchen felt was right.
The weekend was not perfect by any means — in fact it was raining when we landed in Orlando and headed over to the expo to collect our race materials. I chickened out of my impulse to carry Donald Duck along for the race in the spare water bottle slot on my belt, a slot that was there because one of my water bottles went missing the night we packed. The back of my race tee wound up a bit more stylized and urban than I intended when it slid to the ground right after I decorated it with glitter glue. On race morning, I felt significantly less than 100%. Those white shorts may never be truly, perfectly white again. But never mind perfection — there’s still a medal at the finish line no matter how much chocolate fuel you spill in your pockets.
It felt great to be part of such a huge community of volunteers, athletes and families that converged upon Walt Disney World and woke up insanely early for the sake of a race. Perhaps there’s something deeply ancient within us that calls us to achieve beyond our known limits, to challenge ourselves and give witness to the extraordinary.
Tomorrow is another day, a return to work and deadlines and the rest of life. It is also a new day, and each day forward will glow a bit brighter for me with this medal in my heart.
The flag at a community center was flying at half mast in honor of Nelson Mandela yesterday during our twelve-mile training session, and it occurred to me that we all have a long walk to freedom. For Mandela, that walk to freedom was a very public road and it became the title of his autobiography. The world watched his transformation from an angry rebel leader fighting oppression and arguing for the justice of his cause in court to an imprisoned icon — a symbol of freedom so strong that his image and name were banned throughout South Africa — to a free and firm negotiating partner, to an elected official presiding over the birth of a new democratic state and guiding its people towards healing and reconciliation and finally to a revered elder statesman.
Most of us don’t face daily insults to our human dignity, nor do we deal with cruel, systematic discrimination like apartheid. Nor do we deal with the pressure and scrutiny of being a public figure. But we often live within the prison of our hurts and fears, and sometimes those prisons of the mind can be very restrictive and limiting. Since a whiplash injury over a decade ago (and many subsequent re-injuries), I have faced the challenges of frequent physical pain and depression. Team in Training has helped me break out of the mindset that limitations are part of my life and develop strategies for accomplishing my goals in spite of obstacles. Not only am I becoming an endurance athlete, but my approach to life has changed due to the coaching we receive about preparing and learning lessons from each outcome, good or bad.
Every week at training, we have a Mission Moment presented by a fellow team member, an honored teammate or another person connected to the program. This week, I gave the mission moment:
Yesterday the city of San Francisco made a young leukemia survivor’s wish come true when he became Bat Kid and fought crime with the help of volunteers from across the city (and a very cool Lamborghini Bat Mobile, complete with police escort). Thousands cheered him on, including the president, and social media went crazy for this wonderful story about strangers helping strangers, and a child’s desire to be a superhero inspiring us all.
This story really rang home for those of us in Team in Training. We were reminded this morning that the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society was formed because of a child named Robert who died from leukemia at the age of 16 at a time when blood cancers had a 5% survival rate. Thanks to decades of hard work in scientific labs funded by donations from people like you, the survival rate for childhood blood cancers is now 95%. Roberto and I have been deeply moved by the people we have met and the generosity of our friends, family, and even strangers who have slipped us cash for the cause. Whether you were part of our Something Stupid campaign in October or you’re buying Christmas cards and gifts from Abbey Press*, or you’ve just been saying a ton of prayers for us, know that we are deeply grateful and welcome you into our own small conspiracy of kindness.
*We get 50% of the profit through November 30 — just visit Abbey Press Fundraising, shop and choose VA, Team in Training when you check out. You can select either of us as your seller;)
Today I walked 6 miles at an average pace of 15:17 and it felt great, especially after the challenges of the past two weeks. When we started this quest, I was a little overwhelmed. Now I’m completely high (and yes, a little sore).
Here’s a poem inspired by my experience with Team in Training…
A Prayer in Every Step
Our footsteps are a chorus
on the road to peace
Listen, they say:
We can do this together
Our hearts drum
propelling us forward
when our legs grow weary
Excuses live in our minds
but they can not
carry us home.
Instead, we say a prayer
with every step
join hands and
journey through the night.
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Yesterday at our Team in Training session I set a personal best, walking an average pace of 15:50/per mile — shaving nearly five minutes off my previous best time over 3 miles. When I started this quest, walking a mile in less than 16 minutes may as well have been walking on the moon. Now I’ve walked four and because this is called training, I’ll be walking a lot more. Roberto also had an awesome run; no one will be confusing us with the medal-winning Eatons but it’s great that we can share this experience.
It helps so much to have teammates, mentors and coaches encouraging us. One of the mentors will be racewalking the full Disney marathon, and today she gave me some great pointers about form and speed. She also set me on a good pace that I could maintain for most of the walk; it seemed a bit brisk at first but I got into the flow and eventually became impatient at cross walks. I’m jealous of her speed, her endurance, and her fabulous running skirts. Seriously. My walking shorts are great, but sporting fashion has improved immensely with the advent of new fabrics and smarter designs.
Today we had a turnaround route, which meant we could yell Go Team at each other from opposite directions. I snuck over to kiss Roberto when he went sailing by on the other side of the street. It was really encouraging to see other team members along the way. Our coach was waiting just past the three-mile mark and walked that last stretch with me; we met up with Roberto along the way because he was sweet enough to come back for me. That was a great help; the company and the pace they set kept me from stalling as minor workout twinges set in.
And those twinges are real, so it was doubly helpful that we had another TNT coach who talked us through the issue of stretching. She’s an expert on how people hurt themselves because she fixes them in her professional life as a physical therapist. She gave us some great dynamic stretches to get us started (including some in this video), showed us essential warm-down stretches, taught us the joys of a foam roller, and helped each team member troubleshoot particular twinges. Sometimes during my walks I get a sharp but temporary pain around my inner knee, so I got some tips about stretching my hamstring and doing some butterflies after my workout to target that.
Today I definitely feel like I accomplished something yesterday; we did our twenty-minute easy walk in the mall due to rain and then my legs announced that it was time to go home. Check out the cool pictures of our Capitol Hill route and make a donation on our team page — any amount helps!
This morning Roberto and I headed to Annandale High School where we met more of our team members, mentors, and coaches. Our honored teammate, Brian, shared with us his struggle with blood cancer and, more importantly, his triumph. He was diagnosed at age 23 and just passed his five year anniversary on Monday. He credits the patient services arm of the Luekemia and Lymphoma Society with helping him and his family face the financial and emotional realities of his diagnosis and treatment. Thanks in part to research funded by LLS, doctors identified his leukemia down to the exact deleted chromosome causing trouble and planned his treatment accordingly. Today he’s grateful to be alive, part of a young adult support group for survivors, and a marathon runner.
As for me, it was a humbling moment on the track when I looked up from my Runkeeper app and realized that I had been left in the dust. Today I happened to be the only team member walking the entire half-marathon, so everyone else darted away to start their alternating run/walk workouts and I headed to the outer lanes where I wouldn’t be in the way. Yet it wasn’t a totally solitary experience; there was a cow bell and frequent calls of “Go Team” as we made our way around and around and around again. Roberto visited with me during one of his walk breaks, one of the coaches checked in with us about our shoes (which desperately need replacement) and later another coach swung in to chat with me about my goals and encourage me.
I was not the very last person to finish, mostly because the marathoners had to go a mile further than I did. That said, I’m proud that I hit a personal best with a 16:54 minute/per mile average and I look forward to making that number drop below 15 and maybe even 14 as the season progresses. I also feel a little triumphant that I walked a bit further than the two miles required because I was on the outer ring of the track. As we get deeper into the season it may be harder to get through each workout but we’re fortunate to be starting early and ramping up slowly. Two miles sounded really doable to a coach potato like me, and it was.
Today was a great day because it helped me see that I really can do a half marathon, and I loved meeting all my awesome new teammates. We had a nice warm summer shower that washed away any thought of sweat on my part; apparently the only weather that interrupts a workout is a thunderstorm or a hurricane. Weirdly enough, I’m glad to hear that, and I’m really glad that I decided to join Roberto and kick off my 42nd year with a commitment to Team in Training. Walt Disney World, here we come!
On Saturday afternoon, my birthday celebration got off to an unusual start at Sobe in Arlington. We were there not for their seafood, but for the kickoff of the winter training season for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training. There were presents involved — I walked out with bag of goodies that included a t-shirt, a $10 gift card to Potomac River Running and other sundries. Our coaches and mentors introduced themselves and encouraged us. But the real gift was hearing from a blood cancer survivor how the funds we raise help provide supportive programs. The man who spoke shared about finding a brochure from LLS in the hospital and being grateful that he could finally make sense of all the things doctors had been trying to explain, and even more grateful that LLS could connect him with a survivor willing to talk about the experience. Most importantly, the treatment that saved his life was discovered through research funded by LLS.
As you can read on my fundraising page, I attended an informational meeting to support Roberto and had no intention of participating in a half-marathon or anything else. I filled out the application because everyone was so enthusiastic, but I figured I’d back out in a few days once I came up with a really good reason. One of the fun coincidences is that the winter training season started on my birthday and will end on Roberto’s birthday, but that wasn’t what convinced me. LLS is a great cause, however it was the opportunity to be part of a team really that interested me since I work alone at my desk quite a bit. Also, I have become a couch potato since we got a car. Several other good reasons turned out to be in the “Just Do It” column so here I am, walking twenty minutes a day as we prepare for our first training session on Saturday. My goal is simply to finish; I’ll be walking the whole way and enjoying the sights of Walt Disney World on my very first trip to Orlando. I’m excited, and a bit terrified since I’ve never succeeded at anything athletic.
You can help by donating, praying, and encouraging me. I promise to let you know how it goes…