Monday, June 30, 2008

To My Teammates

Every time I've done TNT, I have just tremendous teammates. I guess in part it is the nature of the cause. As Chuck says "Mean people don't tend to do Team in Training."

I've mentioned some of my mates in prior posts: Chuck, Suzanne, Theresa, and Robbi for example. So I won't go into a lot of detail now about any one individual. Here are Theresa, Robbi, and Suzanne once again - what great teammates they are:

While I was doing the Arizona marathon, three teammates were doing the full Disney marathon in Orlando. For each of them, it was their first full marathon. I had called Robbi and Theresa the morning of my race, and they were out on their race course, and doing fine. Not only did their race start very early, but the time difference meant that they were finished well before me. I was thrilled to learn from Michal that they both finished and became marathoners, as did Paul. I was so proud of them! A fouth teammate, whose name unfortunately escapes me, not only did the full marathon in Disney but the half the day before, earning for him the coveted "Goofy Medal".

In Arizona, other than Chuck and Theresa, Rachel and JoanE from Richmond were doing their first marathon. Alan and Joel were repeaters, and Jeanine ran a half marathon while in the middle of cancer treatments - which is just incredible, believe me. When I was on chemo I don't think I could have even crawled a half marathon, in fact I know I couldn't have.

I know I am overlooking a few people, not to mention the many people from Hampton Roads and Charlottesville. A couple of the latter were also first time half marathoners: Larken was there with her dad - how proud he must have been of her - and Briana, a lymphoma survivor, who seemed like a very impressive young lady. Then there was Mike and Sandy from Hampton Roads, who are doing all of the Elite Racing Events together. Mike also had a "Goofy Award" under his belt. And Kristi was one of the mentors from that same part of the state.

So whether I mentioned them or not, they were all a big part of a great team experience all season and in Arizona. The Purple People are an amazing bunch. To all of them, I say Thanks, and GO TEAM!!!

Here are some team pictures from the Team Pasta Party:


I can't end my discussion about my 2007-08 Surviving Five Years Marathon Campaign without mentioning Amber. She is an employee of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in Virginia, and does an incredible job. It is true, this is her job to recruit us as volunteers for TNT and then make sure we get what we need to succeed. But she truly does a tremendous job with incredible dedication and passion. She makes every individual on the team feel special. She puts in hours that many people would never even consider - nights, weekends, meetings. If I email her with a question at night, I usually get an answer within minutes.

Amber is so dedicated that in 2007, she did the Disney marathon with Team in Training. Yes, she fund-raised $4,000+ and trained for her first marathon, all while working for LLS. It gives her tremendous credibility with every team, because she can say to the recruits "I've done this, and you can, too." Right now, she is training for her first triathlon for Team in Training. If you want to help a special person with a special cause, check her out web page:

Amber is such a huge part of every TNT Richmond's success. I am privileged to know her.

Coach Michal

Michal was our walk coach for TNT's winter Richmond team. I mentioned her in another post, but because she was so important to us on the walk team in particular, I wanted to give her additional credit. She is a great coach and a great teammate.

We first met in 2005 when we each signed up for Team in Training for the first time. We hit it off and became friends and training partners. We each walked at about the same brisk clip, so we usually trained together as our own little group. So we had a lot of conversations out on the race course. When the time came, Michal did her marathon in San Diego and I did mine in Anchorage, but I would have loved to have been in California to cheer her over the finish line.

Just like Coach Sarah, Michal gave up countless Saturdays, and spent a lot of her own time planning training routes, making sure we had what we needed, and gave us coaching advice. There is no way our walk team could have succeeded without Michal's dedicated coaching. She couldn't train with us much late in the season because of her pregnancy, but she was always out there with us, week after week. She and Tim had a beautiful baby boy, Alec, in late March. He couldn't ask for better parents.
After talking with Mary, the first thing I did was use Suzanne's phone to call Michal and let her know that I had finished the marathon and set a PR, and to thank her for her part in making it happen.

Here is a photo of Michal and I last year in the 2007 Ukrops Monument Avenue 10K, which we walked together, and ran a little of:

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Lucky Guy in the Purple Shirt

This article was published in the January 2008 Virginia TNT Team Ties:

“Gimme five! Gimme five years!” That’s what I was thinking in the spring of 2002 when I’d gone from discovering that I had a large, foreign mass in my chest to ultimately learning that I had stage-three Hodgkin lymphoma. I was told that I had about an 80% probability of living for five years, which is excellent for cancer, but even so, I wasn’t taking anything for granted. I would live, and I planned on using the experience to learn, grow and become a stronger person. I was maybe a little cocky (some might say, typical male), thinking that I’d just keep working full time right through chemotherapy. That is, until the second or third day of it, when I realized that this thing was really going to kick my butt for six months! Cancer has a way of removing some of one’s pride and making you face reality.

One thing I felt very early was that I wanted to give something back once I was healthy again, out of gratitude for surviving. I learned about TNT a few months after I was in remission, and ultimately decided that was how I was going to give back, starting with walking the Anchorage, Alaska marathon in 2005. This was followed a year later by the San Diego marathon, also as a walker. Along the way, I learned some of the intricacies of training for a marathon and fund-raising, both of which were totally new experiences for me. I also was exposed to the camaraderie and joy of attaining difficult goals, Team in Training style, and was hooked!

Now, here I am, preparing for my third event, walking the PF Chang’s Marathon in Arizona in January, 2008. In 2002, I asked for five years, and I got them. In addition to all the usual reasons I do TNT, this year’s endeavor in Arizona is a special and personal celebration of reaching the five year remission milestone in December. I know that none of this was guaranteed, and that many others who developed cancer five years ago are no longer here. On January 13, I will be pretty psyched up – all the hard work of training and fund-raising will be in the past. My race shirt will be covered by the names of those who I and my donors are honoring. I’ll gratefully think of all who helped me make my five year milestone event a success: donors, family, friends, coaches, mentors, teammates, patient honorees, and LLS staff. I’ll remember again that I am trying to make the difference I swore I would five years ago, and how blessed I am to have such an opportunity. I’ll think of all the “Purple People” in Arizona and Florida who are also making a difference that day. Then, I’ll take the first step of the 47,000 or so steps between the start and the finish.

So if you see me during the race, ”Gimme five!” I’ll be the lucky guy with the big smile in the purple shirt!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Coach Sarah

Our coaches do so much for us with Team in Training. Every Saturday, they are out there, giving of their weekend, their time, and themselves. They give us training advice, train with us, and help us with stretching, nutrition, and injury prevention. They work hard to come up with training schedules and routes that are fun and interesting. TNT would not be possible without them.

On race day, each team sends one coach to the event. In that way, there are dozens of coaches there to support us in our events. Our head coach for Richmond, Sarah, went for out to Arizona with us as the coach for Team Virginia. The coaches work incredibly hard. In Arizona, the marathon and the half marathon were more or less going on simultaneously, so coaches only had to do one or the other. Sarah got assigned to the marathon, and she met everyone from team Virginia at one point or another.

She probably put in 30-32 miles that day, running and walking with us for a distance, then going back to run with others from the team. It was her first TNT event as a coach, and I think she enjoyed it a lot. We were all glad to have her out there with us. We all owe her a lot of thanks.

Plus, in addition to being a great coach, she is a really nice person and a pleasure to be around.

Here are Sarah and I near mile 24, with me giving a high five for five years in remission. She walked with me for about a half mile, getting me to the bridge connecting Scottsdale and Tempe. How about that purple hair!

Arizona Marathon – Second Half

One of great things about doing a marathon is the crowd support. Many people are out there to support a specific loved one, but they cheer everyone all the same. And of course the “Purple Cheer Squads”, TNT staff and volunteers, cheer for everyone and especially wildly for those of us doing Team in Training. Then there are many TNT coaches spread throughout the entire race, giving support and encouragement for everyone, and helping in the case of injury. The participants cheer each other. At the Rock N Roll events, there are fun rock bands every mile or so. And finally, there are cheerleading squads, like this one:

For the second half of the marathon, I ran for two minutes each time I got to a milepost, then I would walk the rest of the mile. I kept trying to keep track of the time I started each mile, using the big digital clock that they have at each milepost. When I got to the next mile, I would calculate my time for the previous mile, but as I got more and more tired it was difficult to do. Let’s see, did I hit that last milepost at 4:14:27, or was it 4:13:27? Or maybe it was 4:12:17. So I either just did an 11:40 mile, a 12:40 mile, or maybe about 13:55. I was even having trouble calculating the difference, assuming I knew the actual time to start from, so I finally just gave up. It was what it was.

At about mile 19.5, I was shocked to suddenly catch up with three Virginia teammates. They were all runners, and faster than me. In fact, I was the slowest person on the team, plus I am sure the oldest. It turns out that Sandy had developed huge blisters on both feet and had slowed to a walk, gamely going on. Her husband Mike had stopped running to walk with her. The third was JoanE, a great gal from our Richmond team. She was willing ill and worn out, and had changed to a walk. Believe it or not, if you are used to running, walking long distances is difficult because your muscles are just trained differently. But all three were not giving up despite the pain and misery, and they all finished. I snapped this photo:

I slowed to walk with them for a bit. Mike and Sandy went on ahead, and JoanE and I walked together until mile 20. I asked her if she was OK to be on her own, which she was, so I gave her a sweaty hug and picked up my pace, passing Mike and Sandy again. I met my coach, Sarah, near mile 24 and we walked together for a half mile or so, crossing the bridge into Tempe. People actually called this a “hill” because the rest of the course was so flat. Sarah turned back to meet the remaining three Virginians, but it sure was great to see her. A couple miles flowed by, and now I was at the campus of Arizona State University, heading towards Sun Devil Stadium, when a most welcome sight appeared:

The time on the clock, which is the gun time, was 6 hours and 22 seconds. Since I had crossed the start about 8 minutes after the gun, I knew I would break six hours, and the feeling was great. I went into my final run, every part of my body hurting, every step an effort, for 352 more yards. I crossed the finish line and threw my hands up in the air, then as quickly brought them to my eyes to brush back tears. Five years in cancer remission, and my third marathon to celebrate it. How fortunate I am! I slowed to a very slow walk as my brain told my legs that they no longer needed to move as quickly. I got my shoe tag removed and received my medal, putting it around my neck. As I walked to find the check-in tent, I saw Chuck, Suzanne, and Warren waiting for me, and for the remaining three Virginia teammates. I was so appreciative of them being there. They had to be so tired, and could have been relaxing back at the hotel, but they waited for us slowpokes. Chuck had run a great race, but had missed qualifying for Boston by a few minutes. He was still a marathoner, though. And Suzanne, walking most of the race, now was a half-marathoner and had broken three hours by several minutes. Warren snapped this picture of the three of us with our medals:

I used Suzanne's cell phone to call Mary and tell her I was back. She was monitoring the race on the internet and told me that I had come in under six hours. It turned out my time was 5:56:44, a great time for me, especially after all the missed training. The four of us hung around until Coach Sarah, Mike, Sandy, and JoanE came in, then we headed back to the hotel, ice water baths, and the evenings victory party. Another great Team in Training event was over, but the memories are for the rest of my life.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Arizona Marathon – First Half

I crossed the starting line about 8 minute after the gun, setting the start of my “chip time”. We all wear a chip on a shoe that registers at the start, the 10K point, the half-marathon point, the 20 mile point, and the finish. Therefore no matter where you start in the pack, you will know your actual time, even if you are in the very back like I was. Plus the chip allows you to eventually figure out your time at various points. I suppose it also prevents runners from pulling a “Rosy Ruiz” and taking transportation to the late in the race and then jumping back in the field to finish in a spectacular time.

It is exciting and daunting at the same time to take that first step in a marathon. You put that foot over that line, feeling just great, and you realize that you have 26.2 miles ahead of you. That is 46,112 yards, and since my stride is about 36 inches, that means I had 46,111 more steps to take. Having already done two marathons, I also knew that the last six or seven miles will be pure pain and fatigue. But there is no going back.

The race course will pass through three cities: Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tempe. Most of the mileage is in Phoenix of course, the capital of Arizona. The course is pretty flat, so at least we won’t be going up and down hills. Like San Diego and unlike Anchorage, most of the course goes through urban environments, but there were still some natural beauty to be seen, most notable Camelback Mountain. It really does look like a dromedary if you use a little imagination:

A few miles into the race, a TNT coach pointed out a lady with a big balloon about 100 yards ahead. She said “if you don’t pass that lady by the half-marathon point, you will be pulled from the race.” Holy cow! I had started at the very back of the pack, and had not idea that I had to pass someone way in front of me to stay in the race. I starting really moving my butt at that point, and passed her within a few minutes. I made sure I never saw her for the rest of the race.

Unlike Alaska, there really wasn’t much hope of seeing wildlife along the race course, although there was this cool statue of desert bighorn at about mile 9:

Another mountain, seen about seven or so miles into the race is Piestewa Peak, seen in the photo below. At the time of the race, it was known as Squaw Peak, but it was renamed to honor Lori Piestewa in April, 2008. She was the first American Indian woman to die in combat in the US Military in our history, having given her life on March 23, 2003 in Nasiriyah, Iraq.

Even though I originally wanted to hit 5:55:55 in the race, I had decided not to stress over the time. Therefore, I took my camera along and I stopped frequently to take photos along the race course, taking a total of about 35 photos during the race. The memories meant more to me than a race time. Even so, I got really annoyed with myself when I stopped for a quick pit-stop in a very short porta-potty line, and seven minutes later whoever was using the facility still hadn’t come out. I left in frustration, realizing that I had just added seven minutes to my time for no reason.

During the first half of the race, my split time for the 10k was 1:27:37 and for the half-marathon it was 3:02:58. At that point, my goal of 5:55:55 or at least coming under six hours seemed like a long shot, although I kept telling myself that I could do it since I wasted seven minutes in the porta-potty line. I had starting running a little at about the ten mile point, and decided that I would keep running a little each mile for as long as I could, even though I really hadn’t trained with running. At the least, despite taking pictures, I had a great shot of beating my previous personal record of 6:14:15, from San Diego in 2006.

See photos from the second half...

Arizona Marathon: Pre-Race

In addition to my summary of the trip ("Seasick in the Desert, but a PR all the Same"), I wanted to add a little more about the race. It was just an amazing experience.

I felt just fine the morning of the race, with the vomiting and vertigo of the day before in the past. We were up about 5:00, with the race to start about 7:40AM. In San Diego the year before, we had to be up about 3:30, so sleeping until 5:00 was great. My roommate, Chuck, is a great guy. It was his first marathon and he was trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon with his time. Obviously he is much faster than me because I couldn’t qualify for the Boston Marathon if someone drove me the first 25 miles. He is active with Team in Training and has helped out with several half-marathons in the capacity of participant and mentor.

We had all of our stuff carefully, some would say obsessively, laid out neatly in our room. You don’t want to forget anything on race day. I ate the bagel and banana that I bought the night before for breakfast, met the rest of Team Virginia in the lobby, got some group photos taken, and loaded up on the bus. We had people on the team from Richmond, Tidewater, Charlottesville, and one young man from Kentucky. We all hung out a few blocks from the race start, chatting and trying to stay warm in the 45 degree air. It was looking like a beautiful day coming up, and everyone was excited. Everyone hit the porta-potties a time or two, including one extra time for me (see my post “O Canada”).

About a half hour before the race, our teammates who were doing the half-marathon said goodbye and left. My tremendous walking teammate, Suzanne, gave me hug and told me that she and her husband Warren would see me at the end of the race. Warren had battled non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2007 and I had written his name on my race shirt. It really meant a lot for her to tell me that she would wait to see me at the end as it would be easy for her to head back to the hotel and get some rest.

After my porta-potty incident with the wonderful Canadian ladies (boy, that sounds a little weird, doesn’t it? Just read my “O Canada” post, OK?) I got in the very back of the marathon pack. I mean, I was in the very last row of participants in the whole race field! When I finally passed the starting line, a number of people were in a cherry picker over the start, including the governor of Arizona Janet Napolitano and a number of famous athletes, most notable Frank Shorter. Mr. Shorter is the first American male to win a gold medal in the Olympics in the marathon. I snapped a quick picture as I got to the start:

Then my race began!


I have to say a few words about Danielle, the Leukemia and Lymphoma staff person assigned to our team for Arizona. She just did a great job. In particular with me, she got a lot more than she bargained for when I got sick. After I started throwing up, my roommate Chuck got very concerned and left to find Danielle, who came up the room. I was lying in bed, probably looking as pale as a ghost, and she was understandably concerned. After consulting with the TNT doctor, it was determined that I had to go to the emergency room, and lucky Danielle had to take me, since she had a car.

She was great, hanging out it the ER for hours when I am sure she had tons of things to do. Our pasta party was at 1PM, and I was putting us both in danger of missing it. Fortunately, the doctor didn't need much time with me, and I was cleared to go within 45 minutes of getting in to see the doctor - so we both made the pasta party. By then we were both starved since neither of us had breakfast.

I know Danielle was doing her job to take me to the hospital, but she did her job very well and really cared about how I was doing and whether I could make the race. I'll always appreciate this.

After doing three TNT events, I am so impressed with their staff that accompanied us to each event. But Danielle really went above and beyond. Plus, she was a great cheerleader for us out on the course.