Saturday, October 26, 2013

Taking the Road Less Traveled

I am sure that you know Robert Frost's poem, "The Road Not Taken." "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood..."  I used this theme a few nights ago when I spoke, as a cancer survivor and multiple-time marathoner, at a Team in Training information meeting.  If you know me, you know that I love to hike and take walks.  Put me down on a path where I have never been, with a good pair of boots or shoes, and I will be as happy as a clam.  When I come to a junction, I want to take both paths, because I am sure I will see interesting things on both.  But, I have to choose.  Which path shall I take?

And that is life, right?  We make choices all of the time.  Some are of little consequence, but a few result in a major change - for good or for bad - in one's life.  For these choices, for these roads that we choose to walk on, there is no going back.  My choice in 2005 to believe in myself enough to commit to training for a marathon while raising a minimum of $5,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in order to participate in the Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage certainly fits in that category!  After Anchorage, one of the most incredible experiences of my whole life, that path led to the San Diego Marathon, then to the Arizona Marathon, and eventually to the Country Music, Seattle, Shamrock, and Crawlin' Crab Half Marathons.  It led to the Komen 3-Day in 2011, just 4 months after my beloved sister's death from breast cancer.  There was nothing I could do for her except cross that finish line 60 miles after starting out, shed a tear, and whisper "I did it, Ann!  I did what I told you I would."

Taking that road, the road less traveled, has allowed me to experience amazing things and meet incredible and inspirational people.  If I had taken the easy way out, veered away from that road and taken the more comfortable and predictable one, then I never would have had those experiences or met those people.  It would have been my loss, and much of the money that I raised for LLS (nearly $60,000, I think) and Komen (about $9,000) would not have gone to those groups that are doing good works.

Last weekend, I did a water stop for Team in Training, getting out early Saturday morning to see my teammates who are still training for the Richmond Marathon and serve them water and Gator Aide.  As I waited for them, I watched, with a little envy, the Richmond Marathon Training Team participants running by in a seemingly endless parade.  It was almost like watching a race, there were so many of them.  I was thinking, "Oh man, if we could get 1/10th or even just 1/20th of these guys to sign up for Team in Training, how great would that be?"

Then, two nights later while speaking at the informational meeting, it hit me.  Those folks are on the road more commonly traveled.  There is nothing wrong with that road and with running a marathon just for the experience.  But what the many doing the Training Team don't have that the few of us doing Team in Training do have is the knowledge and feeling that we are doing something bigger than ourselves, something much bigger than just running a marathon.  We are helping in the fight to cure cancer, and to support people facing cancer.  We are walking and running on the road less traveled.

Frost's poem ends thus:

"I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

What will you do when you come to those two roads that diverge in a yellow wood?  Will you also take the more uncertain road, the road less traveled?  If so, that will make all the difference - in the lives of cancer patients now and to come, and in your own life!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

"A Shell of a Good Time!"

When last I left you, I was seconds away from starting my sixth event for Team in Training, the Crawlin' Crab Half Marathon in Hampton, Virginia on October 6.  It was going to be a tough day to walk or run 13.1 miles in just a few hours.  While the sun was out, temperatures would climb into the 80's.  This is the second year of the Crawlin' Crab.  Last year, temperatures were in the 40's with heavy rain, I am told.  So we sure can't control the weather.

This is a really well done race.  J & A does a great job with events, in my experience.  The course is really nice with some fantastic views, and a great tour of Hampton, Virginia, the oldest English speaking city in North America.  Everything was well organized, and the volunteers were wonderful.  If you want to try a new half marathon, I think that you will have a "Shell of a Good Time" at the Crawlin' Crab.  I wish the crowds had been better to cheer, but you know, that is outside anyone's control.

I thought I would show a few photos from the race course, the first one of the Hampton University Band providing some excellent music just after the start.

And here is a view of the people just ahead of me.  We all started in the fifth and final gate. I walked for a minute with my teammate Nancy, and went into running intervals to alternate with walking.  I passed some of my other teammates, including mother and daughter Bev and Ashley, and the Sisters Stone.
Right around the time I passed these "crab heads" - pretty cool - I passed my friend Lelia and her sister Amy.  Amy was doing her first half marathon.  Lelia and I try to train together every week or two when our schedules allow, so it was great to see her.
One of our cheer squad snapped a photo of me running at around mile 3:

After maybe five miles, we reached the Virginia Air and Space Museum, which is well worth a visit.
Some time later, running through a neighborhood, these girls were out watching the race in front of their home, which was all decked out for Halloween.
A couple of miles of the course went along the Hampton Roads, where the USS Monitor fought the CSS Virginia in 1862.  It was one of the most historic naval engagements ever, and wooden warships have been obsolete ever since.
Here is a view of the Hampton Roads from the race.  This entire part of Virginia is called "Hampton Roads," that actually is a specific body of water.
Up to this point of the course, I had been mixing running and walking intervals.  At the nine mile mark, I realized that I could come in under three hours if I walked the last 4.1 miles, so that is essentially what I did.  My legs, not used to running, just felt shot.

Here is Coach Michelle with her purplish - pinkish parasol and red cowbell cheering for me.  It was always wonderful to see one of our green-clad coaches.  I had less than two miles left at this point, and was pretty tired.
With less than a mile to go, here was one last water view.
A little while later, I crossed the finish line.  Here I am with my crabby medal and pulling my shirt out a bit so you can see the photos of Ed and Judy.  It was a great feeling to complete this race for a great cause and in memory of Ed, a great guy, on his birthday!  Enough "greats" in there?

About a minute after the race, drenched with sweat and so hot and tired, I am also pretty happy!

It was wonderful to race for a cure once again.  At just under two hours and 57 minutes, this was my slowest (of four) half marathons so far, about 30 minutes slower than my fastest.  But that is okay with me.  I have not been running much, and this was not about my time in the race.  It was about my time AT the race, racing for a cure, and the cause and people I ran and walked for.

To all who trusted me to carry their loved ones on my shirt for 13.1 miles, I did my best to honor them and their memories.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Pre-Race, Crawlin' Crab

If you have ever been in a long distance race, anything from a 5K to an ultra-marathon, you know what a nervous yet exciting time the pre-race period  is.  This is especially true for your first race for a particular distance, but even semi-veterans like myself get some butterflies.  So when we gathered early Sunday morning, October 6, to step out and do 13.1 miles together, there was definite excitement and camaraderie in the air.  I thought I would share some photos of this time before the Crawlin' Crab Half Marathon - a time to reflect on what brought us here, to wish each other a good race, and to mentally prepare a bit, all while trying to get a little rest.

As races go, this had an easy start.  We did not have to gather until 6AM (I've been to races when we staged at 4AM, so 6AM was downright civilized.)  We had a short 10 minute drive to the start.  It was relatively cool and still dark for a while.  The LLS crew set up a little purple tent so we would know where to check in after the race, and even got a coffee pot going over a camp stove!

I was joking with Coach Tim before the race.  "I hope this is the last time I see you today, Tim, before the end of the race!"  Why, you ask?  Well, Tim was our "sweep." His one and only job was to stick with the very last purple clad cancer warrior until they crossed the finish line.  He carried a big blue whale balloon so he would be obvious.  "Fear the whale!" I said.  Someone has to be last, and they get a ton of support out there.  Because one of the really cool things about Team in Training is that all the coaches at the very end will escort the last TNT participant over the finish line.  Then, their tiring and difficult job is done.
Here are our five coaches for the race, from left: Cheryl, Bob, Chuck, Michelle, and Tim.  What a great group, and they would magically appear all morning out of nowhere to check in with us and to walk or run with us for a while.
Our whole team lined up for a group photo before the race:

Here is the "Sister's Stone," in purple, along with Susan, my "Triple Crown Friend."  The "Sister's Stone" formed a team in honor of Ed Stone, their husband (to Leslie) and brother (to Meg and Lorri).  This amazing trio of women raised over $15,000 for this cause to run this race.  I think Ed must be so proud!  From left: Meg (who did 13.1 miles with a broken toe), Susan (who drove all the way down from Richmond that morning to cheer for us), Leslie, and Lorri.
And here I am, just before the race starts, with the "Sister's Stone," on Ed's birthday.  We are all in purple, but I think you can tell which one is me.
On the back of her shirt, Leslie has written "Happy Birthday, Ed."  Nasty, terrible, cruel cancer cost this loving couple decades of happiness together.
My teammate and cancer survivor Nancy.  During training when I walked, Nancy and I walked together a lot.  She is a great gal!
Mother and daughter in their first half marathon!  How cool is that? Ashley is on the left, and Bev - who celebrated her big 6-0 last week - is on the right.
My fabulous mentors, Kristina and Bryan, stopped by to help out for the day, and snapped this photo of me minutes before my start.  My hair was not purple, because I had not hit my fundraising goal (I since have done so), but I did wear my purple headband!

I was in the fifth and last gate.  Here we are, a moment from the start of the race.  All of us could not wait to get moving, even though the race was only about six minutes old at this point.  The small number of participants moved fast.
"Coach Bob," known to every TNT person in Virginia and a great guy, was the announcer in the race.  He wore a crab suit the whole time on this very hot day!  A few years ago, he won the Team in Training Service Award!
At this point, we were moving to the start of the race, just seconds from racing 13.1 for a cure!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Inspiration Dinner

One of the biggest things about race weekend with Team in Training is the inspiration dinner the night before.  At all my other events, these have been huge, with hundreds or even thousands of participants and their guests.  Our dinner last Saturday was tiny by comparison, but just as important.  First, before dinner, we walked around a bit and enjoyed views of the downtown Hampton, Virginia waterfront.

 After having a nice Legend Brown Ale draft - and toasting the memory of my friend Ed Stone - in the hotel bar, I went to the Inspiration Dinner.  First, I ran into some of the coaches and mentors waiting to escort us in and cheer for us.  Here is me with Coach Cheryl, who I wrote about the other day.
Then, there was Coach Chuck, our surprise guest coach from Richmond.  I was thrilled to learn Saturday that he would be making the trip down.  Coach Chuck is the best!  I wrote this ode to him after he coached our excellent team in Nashville, TN back in 2009.
Then there was a mini-gauntlet of clappers and cowbells, which is always cool.  The first time you experience this, at a huge TNT dinner, it is almost overwhelming.  This group was small but enthusiastic.
After this, the dinner went on, with recognition for our five fundraising "Rock Stars" (people who raised at least $2,700 for the event), a slide show of our honorees (all too many of which are no longer with us), the dinner, and our guest speaker, Chris.  Chris was the lifelong friend of Ed Stone, who we are especially trying to honor with this race, to be held on his birthday, October 6.  It is still hard to believe that this strong and determined young man is no longer here.  Chris gave a great speech about some of this memories of Ed, and of why the raising of funds for cancer research as we are doing is so vital.  Ed was a huge champion of LLS and Team in Training, having done over 20 events, I think.  We also got a handout with photos of Ed, and on this, I am honored to say, was the poem I wrote about Ed a few days after his death, "When I Think of You, Ed."

Our mini-team, Sisters Stone, consisting of Ed's widow Leslie and his two sisters Lorri and Meg, raised over $16,000 collectively for this event.  What a way to honor Ed's memory and his devotion to this cause!  Leslie also rang Ed's special cowbell to cheer us on!

After some information about the race and a reminder to meet in the morning at 5:45, our dinner broke up.  I went back to the room and finished getting my gear ready.  I snapped photos of the front and back of my race shirt, honored with the names of so many people who have suffered from cancers.

Then, I relaxed and read for a while, then hit the sack.  As is my tradition, I would get a terrible night's sleep before my race - never fails!

Made My Goal!

I reported yesterday that I missed my fundraising goal by race time, so my hair was not purple on Sunday.  But today, a very generous coworker stroked a check to LLS for $250, which puts me over my goal (I was $176 short).  The ironic thing was that she called my desk Friday about 5 minutes after I left work to tell me she wanted to donate and close the gap.  So I just missed by minutes running with purple hair.

But here I am - half marathon accomplished, and now, I have accomplished my fundraising mission as well!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

So Close to Purple, but Gray it is!

Some months back, when I signed up to walk and run the Crawlin' Crab Half Marathon for Team in Training on what would have been my friend Ed's birthday, I set my fundraising goal.  The amount I came up with was $6,511 - my sixth Team in Training event, five family members and friends who died from cancer since I did my last event in June 2010, and 11 years since having cancer myself.  And I declared that if I reached that goal, I would dye my hair purple for the race today.

Dang!  I came so close!  Counting $75 in checks I got Friday, I made it to $6,335, or 97% of my goal.  A week ago, it looked impossible to get anywhere close.  But I sent out a final fundraising note Wednesday night, and the money came in fast and furious over the next 24 hours.  I almost made it to purple hair, but not quite.  Even as late as Friday, I felt like I would reach my goal.  But things slowed down, and I didn't quite get there, so my hair remained gray for the race.  I was less than $200 away from that purple!  I am not going to second guess myself and think of the things I could have done to get an addition 200 bucks.  It is done, and my hair remained gray.  Probably, purple would be more becoming than my drab gray hair!

It was sure fun trying to get there, though, and I appreciate my many, many very generous donors who almost turned my hair purple.  I am not sure exactly how much money I have raised for these causes, but something like $68,000, counting Light the Night last year and the Komen 3-Day two years ago.  So you can see that people are really, really generous.

To all who donated, and especially to those who entrusted me with the name of a loved one to write on my shirt, THANK YOU VERY MUCH!

Happy Birthday, Ed!

Happy Birthday, Ed.  Today, you would have been 44.  You are missed, but still seen as an inspiration, by so many of us.  So when I heard last February that the Crawlin' Crab was on your birthday, I knew I had to do this race and raise money again for this cause we both held dear.  After all, you did something like 19 different events for Team in Training in your young life.

So I will be thinking of you today while I walk and run 13.1 miles.  And I will be there for Leslie and your sisters if they need support.  So look down on us, and cheer us on!

When I think of you, Ed, I still see your smile and get infused by your upbeat spirit.  You were a great guy, and I wish you could be at this race today.  But we are in it for you, and your spirit is with us!

Your TNT pal,

Saturday, October 5, 2013

More Cowbell!

At send-off Monday, we were given our race shirts.  They are always purple, and there is always a symbol on the front that identifies the team.  For example, Philadelphia would have a Liberty Bell, New York City would have an apple, the Bay Area would have the Golden Gate Bridge, and so forth.  Virginia always has a heart ("Virginia is for lovers!")

But this year, ours are different.  Instead of a heart, we have a cowbell, and it says "Go Team" on it.
And on the back of the shirt, near the bottom,  it says "MORE COWBELL," and "In Memory of Ed Stone."  Ed was one of our most beloved teammates, and such an inspirational guy.  He was the guest speaker a few years back at the large team dinner at the Rock 'N Roll Half Marathon, and I guess during his speech, he said "We need more cowbell!"
It is really good to be wearing this shirt on the race, held on Ed's birthday.  It is hard to believe that he has been gone nine months now.  He tried so hard, fought so strongly to beat his final bout with cancer.  It will be fun to do this race tomorrow - it always is - but it will be emotional, too.

On the top photo of my shirt, I've arranged the photos I'll be wearing tomorrow during the race: my sister Ann, and my friends Ed, Judy, and Faith.  How I miss them all!  But they are at peace, and their suffering is long over, and always will be.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Coach Cheryl!

I first met Cheryl in my first marathon (and first Team in Training event), up in rainy Anchorage, Alaska on June 18, 2005.  We were both on Virginia's team, about 16 of us in total.  Cheryl was with the Tidewater group, and I was from Richmond's.  We were the only two walkers, so we walked together for the first 16 or 17 miles.  Here we are around mile 7, I think.
Since we never walked or trained together, we were not used to each other's paces, and at some point, I was just a bit faster, so I went ahead for the last 10 miles and waited for her at the finish line.

Fast forward a few years.  Cheryl would be the one waiting for me.  She has done many events - raising lots of money for this cause - become a runner, and also completed a triathlon.  I find the latter particularly impressive, since it involves swimming in a river.  So, she is quite the athlete!  If she completes a century (100 mile bike ride), she will earn the coveted Team in Training "Triple Crown."

Cheryl has also become a coach on our Tidewater Team, and for some time now, has helped others attain their athletic goals.  She has supported my LLS fundraising quests very generously whenever I have asked, including during my current "Crabby" campaign.  And, to top it off, she is simply a great person.

But best of all, I learned that she is going to be our team coach for the Crawlin' Crab Half Marathon Sunday!  I am really excited to be participating in an event with Cheryl as our coach, and can't wait to see her.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Final Pre-Race Update Note

Hello one last time before the Crawlin' Crab Half Marathon in Hampton, Virginia, just four days away now. I want to thank everyone who has donated to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in support of my efforts. Your generosity never fails to amaze me. If you have been meaning to make a donation, or if you just want to read about why I am crabby about cancer, or if you want to see the list of names I will be wearing on my shirt, then my Team in Training web site is the place to start:

As of right now, my hair will be its normal color come Sunday, the day of the Crawlin' Crab. But I am 81% of the way to dye it purple, so who knows? With some final donations, I could be walking and running with purple hair for 13.1 miles on October 6th!

Purple hair may be in doubt, but wearing a purple shirt is not! I got my purple TNT shirt the other night at our team send off, and now I need to start writing dozens of names of cancer survivors, and those that were not fortunate enough to survive, on my shirt. When I am finished, it will be covered in names, and I will also pin four photos on my shirt for race day: Ed Stone, Judy Zettel, Faith Eury, and Ann Ritter. Ed's birthday is Sunday, and that is the reason that I chose this particular race. He died earlier this year at age 43 after battling various cancers for over half his life, starting with leukemia at age 19. He is a constant inspiration. His widow and sisters will be running in the race with me on Ed's birthday. Judy, a very good friend, died far too young from multiple myeloma and leukemia in 2011. Faith, who I met about four years ago through our mutual adventures with Hodgkin's lymphoma, was just as determined to live as I was. But she was not as fortunate, and died from this often curable disease last year at age 43. Ann was my sister, and she died two years ago from breast cancer. There is not a day that goes by that I don't miss her or wish I could just pick up the phone and say "hello."

Losing my sister and these three friends from cancer in less than two and a half years is a very good reason for me to feel crabby about cancer! And they are a constant reminder of the fact that, while there are many more cancer survivors these days than there were 20 or 30 years ago, there are too many people that do not survive. Despite the best medical care based on the advanced understanding of cancers that we now have, despite having the same grit and determination and spirit that cancer survivors everywhere have, despite all the new drugs with their awful side effects, there are so many people that just will not survive their cancer experience. So, there is still plenty left to do in understanding and curing cancer.

That is why I am doing Team in Training again. I know that I will not personally cure cancer, nor will any one donation of any amount made on behalf of my efforts cure it by itself. But cumulatively, all the donations I receive, added to those of thousands of others doing this, will make a combine to be a force for good, just as raindrops combine to form a river. LLS is one of the groups on the forefront of making a difference in the war against cancer. And understanding of blood cancers seems to be crucial in understanding other cancers as well. I once heard a researcher describe lymphoma as the "Rosetta Stone" of cancers: figure that group of cancers out, and clues to many other cancers will fall into place. It’s a daunting task, but it needs to be done!

11 years ago, I was down to my last two months of chemotherapy for Hodgkin's lymphoma, and feeling totally ill and worn out. Now, I'm getting ready to complete my seventh long distance event racing for a cure! Given time and good luck, our bodies have an amazing and inate ability to heal themselves from the damage caused by things like chemotherapy. But they do not have the ability to defeat cancers, once they get established, without assistance. For that, some external response - surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation - is needed. And that external response is usually pretty brutal to our bodies, and often of limited success. We don’t just need more effective cures, we need more effective cures that don’t partially destroy people’s bodies in the process. So if it feels right to you, join my seventh Cancer Kickin’ Campaign and make a donation to pinch Cancer the Crab where it hurts! It’s one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and on Sunday, it will be four to go - in the Crawlin' Carab Half Marathon, racing for a cure in purple! The time is now!

Thanks for the support and interest.

PS: If I do end up racing with purple hair, I will post some photos and send out a post-race email next week to let you all know! And even if I don’t end up with purple hair, my TNT site will have a link to photos from the race event by a week from Thursday if you are interested.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


Well, I am down to the last few days of my latest Cancer Kickin' Campaign!  We had our team send-off last night at Legend Brewing Company, a place I don't get to often enough but enjoy when I do.  I like having a mug of their brown ale while sitting out on their deck with the great view of the Richmond skyline.

Send-off is where our team gathers to get our race shirts and last minute instructions from our coaches prior to the event.  It is also a nice chance to socialize.  Everyone looks different to be in regular clothing instead of running clothes, their heads not covered by hats.  We have a really small team, and not everyone showed up, but those that did had a good time.

It felt sad to see Ed Stone's name memorialized on our purple shirts.  It will be his birthday Sunday and that is the whole reason that I picked this race.  Otherwise, I would have done the Nike in San Francisco.  Ed fought cancer so hard, did everything he could to live.  It was just not meant to be.  On Sunday, his widow Leslie and two of Ed's sisters will be racing together in his memory.  I know that it will be a really tough day for them.

I did my final training yesterday, getting in four miles before work.  It was the last running I will do before Sunday, because my knee felt pretty good and I want to take it easy.  I will do some walking of course, just a few miles here and there.  Mostly, it is important to rest the week before a marathon or half marathon.  I still plan on trying to run some of the race, although I've not trained enough with running to make more than a token running effort.