Sunday, November 13, 2011

Angels and Demons

Angels and Demons……
Did I tell you that my first marathon was hard?  It was hard!  I have never been closer to something so impossible that turned out possible. Okay, except maybe that day I had 45 minutes to catch a flight at JKF from 61st and Madison, but that was luck – no angels making things happen in that cab! But the marathon was all about angels – five of them - and one powerful demon.
When you are going to run a marathon, you worry about what you are going to wear, you worry about getting to the start line on time, you worry about whether or not your training was sufficient, you worry about what to eat and what kind of relationship that will cause you to have or not have with the porta-potties! And, of course, you worry about getting to the finish line. But you don’t really think that you’ll have to worry about getting to 12 different finish lines! Two rookie mistakes and two unforeseen circumstances put me in that position.
Mistake  – Spend the day before the marathon on your feet – at the expo, walking back and forth from your hotel to the shuttle, visiting downtown Disney…..I spent ALL DAY on my feet!  I did the ice bath thing before the event!  I slept in my compression pants! My legs were so tired I should have qualified for the Goofy! (Those are the crazy people that do the half-marathon on Sat and the full on Sunday.) By mile five I knew that this had been my biggest mistake.
Mistake – Lose your focus and let your nutrition slide.
Unforeseen Circumstance – Spend 10 minutes in the porta-potty line at mile 2….when you gotta go, you gotta go!
Unforeseen Circumstance – Start in the last corral. I was two corrals ahead of my TNT teammates. Naturally I wanted to be with them so I moved to the last corral. You know who is at the back of the last corral?  The sweeper – the pace master – the balloon lady – DEMON – and I’m sure she had a few other names as well. (For those non runners you have to stay ahead of the pacer or you get pulled from the course.)
At about mile 8 my hip started to bother me, my legs were tired, and so my form was very sloppy – probably leading to the quarter size blister that was forming on my heal. This is no big thing in a marathon right?  You hurt, you keep moving, and you push through…..that’s what a marathon is! So I think “I’ll be fine.” Trust the training. Left, Right, Repeat. Sing. Count your steps. Recite your mantra. You’ve got this.  Keep moving forward. That got me to mile 14. From that point on, I would have a not-so-normal marathon experience.
At the mile 14 water stop I met my first angel. She came up behind me and introduced herself…Buffy or Muffy or Duffy or something like that, a Team in Training coach from another chapter.  She started to ask me how I was, what my name was, why I was running for TNT………and I think “REALLY?? YOU WANT TO MAKE SMALL TALK…NOW!? In the words of John Bingham… BITE-ME!”  I am sure that she got the hint that I was in no mood to chat, but she didn’t go away. After a couple of minutes of silence she says “Deborah, do you think you could pick up the pace with me until we get to that tree up there?”  My silent response….”WHAT!? You are not my coach! Why are you asking me to ……………..OH SHIT!” I look over my right shoulder and there it was….the sweep van! And right in front of it is……………..the balloon lady! They are going to pull me from the course - PANIC. I think about how tired I am, the pain in hip, the blister on my heel that has now split open and feels like someone sliced my heel open with a knife. I can’t possibly out run her for 12 miles! This is physically impossible. NO REALLY – I CAN’T DO IT.
I run to the tree with the coach and then have to walk. I start to tear-up. All that training, all that work and I am going to get swept. What will I tell people?  How will I face people at work? I’m going to be the only one in my team that doesn’t finish. I can’t go home without that medal, but I can’t possibly do this for 12 miles!  That is where I was for the next six miles – in my head, totally unfocused, totally exhausted, near tears. Muffy was there with me the whole time. She would run ahead of me every time there was a water stop and fill my fuel belt bottles for me so I didn’t have to stop. She stayed with me until mile 20. At that point I saw Harland – one of the local TNT coaches. I don’t know where I got the energy but I ran off to catch him leaving Muffy behind with others. When I caught up with Harland I said  “Wow am I glad to see you!” He said, “and am I glad to see YOU!” Angel #2.
At this point, about mile 21, you’d think I would have gotten a little ahead of that balloon lady in my effort to catch Harland. The reality was I had spent whatever energy I had trying to catch him and I had not had any gel or calorie intake with the exception of sport drink (when they had it) since mile 12 or so. So there she was again, right behind me. I’d walk until I heard her yell “You have 1 minute to get to the next mile marker” each one became its own finish line. Harland got me through by singing to me – I’ve been working on the railroad – and continually promising that beer was at the finish line, until we found my coach at mile 23.
Angel #3 and #4 - Renee had another coach with her, Jon.  I had heard the coaches on the phone with each other several times giving updates.  I think she must have figured she needed some help based on the reports. Good thing she did because at mile 24, when the balloon lady announced that we no longer had to stay ahead of her to stay on the course, the two of them had to hold me up when I suddenly decided that meant it was okay to sit down and relax for a while. I was pretty out of it at this point, but after they kept me from sitting down I had a brief moment of clarity.  These last two miles were not the last two miles of a marathon…..they were the last two miles of nearly 400 miles that we had covered training. For the first time since mile 14 I knew I could finish. Angel #5 came along at about this time, Bobby, back tracking from the finish line he had helped others to, I assume. Banana power bar! He had food and I ate half of it like I had been on a desert island staving for months. Two miles to go and all three of them stayed with me. When I could see the finish line I started to cry. That’s where they left me to cross on my own.  My TNT teammates were there waiting on the other side. Everyone was crying. It was an incredible feeling. Then, off to the medical tent for me. After a little food and a bottle of poweraide the fog finally cleared from my head.
Later that night at the TNT celebration with Harland and Renee I was able to find Muffy and Bobby. Jon had left for home but once the photos came out and I had his race number I was able to figure out who he was and found him on facebook. I will forever be grateful for their help and promise to pay it forward whenever I can.
I have a magnet at work that says “The Courage to Start, The Strength to Endure, the Resolve to Finish.” Rarely is there a day that goes by that I don’t read that quote and think…… the phone call I don’t feel like making is no big deal, the difficult conversation I have to have with an employee isn’t going to be easy, but it will be worth it in the end, the politics that make some days miserable will pass, nothing is really impossible. In retrospect, I am grateful that it was so hard because it makes so other things in LIFE that much easier.

Monday, November 7, 2011

25 random things.....

Some of you have seen this on my FB pages - for others it will give you a little background.  Let's change #6 to "I will do an Ironman one day!"

1. I never thought that I would adjust to having seven dogs much less enjoy them beyond words.
2. You might be surprised to know that I have not eaten red meat for 26 years (minus a few pieces of bacon.)
3. My relationship with my father began and ended the same - we both adored each other (the middle- not so much)
4. When I was little I wanted to be a congresswoman – but there weren’t any at the time so I didn’t think I could.
5. On April 5, 1990 at 10:40 p.m. I lost everything in an apartment building fire that killed a 2 year old - things are just things.
6. I will run a marathon one day!
7. I don’t like living so far from Syracuse, but my house is one of the most peaceful places on earth - when the dogs aren't barking.
8. I can relate to "Ghost Whisperer" in a way that many people can not.
9. I have 7 nieces and nephews and hope that at least one of them will take care of me when I'm old!
10. No more female supervisors – it just doesn’t work out.
11. I regret not having what it takes to complete a PhD
12. My grandmother has been gone for 25 years and I still miss her.
13. My favorite color is emerald green (my birthstone) and my favorite number is 21 – is it because I was born on May 21st or did I just luck out?
14. I will always remember the day when, and the reason why, I first felt truly confident in my ability to do my job.
15. Not everyone finds their soul mate – but I did
16. I used to regret not having children, but now I know that they don’t have to be mine for me to make a difference in their lives and for them to make a difference in mine.
17. I love naps.
18. I survived 12 full summers at summer-camp and I hate spiders, mice, bats, snakes and the dark!
19. One of the things on my “20 things to do before you die” list is to write a book.
20. I would much rather be wise than smart.
21. I believe that the degree of joy we are able to experience is directly proportionate to the degree of sorrow we have known.
22. I have two butterfly tatoos - early mid-life crisis
23. My extended and immediate family is filled with cooks, bakers, and restaurant owners – I inherited absolutely none of their abilities.
24. My all-time favorite book is Tao of Leadership.
25. I don’t understand people without integrity.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

I think I'll Start a Blog

Swim, Bike, Run…'s about LIFE.
I think I will start a blog.  It has been a very long time since I’ve done any kind of writing – even at work I am struggling to write a simple proposal.  Everything seems to be boiler plate these days without much creativity.  Recently I have been inspired by other triathletes’ blogs and their creative flare and personal testimonies. So……I think I will start a blog.  I think it might help me write more easily at work and ANYTHING that can combine training and my job is a big plus in the time management category.  In fact, I think that is what I will focus on here – not just training for my first Ironman, but how my life as a triathlete weaves into my everyday LIFE.  There is a reason that we all talk about finish lines and climbing mountains and pacing ourselves and running our own race and focusing on the present as metaphors to life; because they are.
I’ve always wanted to do an Ironman for as long as I can remember. I don’t know when exactly it started – probably watching Kona on television the same way it started for many of us.  I do know this however; it started when I was much younger and much lighter than I was when I finally got down to business!  I was a swimmer in high school and college and weighed 125 pounds. I was a couch potato and 232 pounds on May 21, 2010 when I decided to work toward attempting my first triathlon – Iron Girl Syracuse; 600 yd swim, 18 mile bike and 3.1 mile run. I wasn’t worried about the swim. I hadn’t been on a bike in years (didn’t even own one!) and clips and hills scared the *#$(! out of me (more on that in a “conquering fears” entry.) Running – well I used to run some. Like I said, I was younger and lighter.  Now I’m heavier and slower!  And when I say I am a slow runner I don’t mean it like some others mean it; you know the ones who run a 10 and 11 and 12 minute mile.  (Like the people who say they're broke but have 10K in the saving account?!)  I am SLOW – most people can walk faster than I could run!  I gave myself until June 30 to work up to three miles. If I could do that, I would do Iron Girl. I did, and I did…my run was 38 minutes 13+ minute miles.  I had no organized training plan, I just swam and biked and ran. But I finished and I was hooked!
The very day I decided that I needed a new goal to keep going a TNT flyer came in the mail. I signed up for Disney thinking I would do the half marathon. That changed to a full marathon sometime in October. This was about my father, this was about LIFE.  Here is a reprint of the fundraising letter I wrote in September of 2010 – it will give you the whole story.
Dear Friends and Family,
Seven years ago this week I ran my first “Team in Training” run with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS.) My aspiration was to run the Disney Marathon in January 2003 while supporting the LLS.  At the time, it was far more about my running goals than it was about cancer - but I was happy to help them while they helped me.  That was the only run I was able to accomplish. I dropped out the next week and instead of spending my weekends running, I spent them with my dad. He would die from colon cancer, as it turned out, the week after the Disney Marathon.
I stopped running altogether after my father died. But today, once again, I ran my first training run with “Team in Training” with my sights on Disney in January. This time it is about much more than my running goals. I could spout a lot of statistics about all the great things that LLS does, but for me this challenge is about my father’s wish.  It was the day we were discussing his obituary (not something you forget) and we got to the part about sending gifts in lieu of flowers.   I suggested the obvious organizations– Hospice, the Cancer Society, etc.  He said I could decide. Later that night he called me into the living room. There was a story on TV about children who were suffering from cancer. He said “there – that’s where I want the gifts to go; no child should ever have to go through this.”
Leukemia causes more deaths than any other cancer among children under the age of 20. So, in memory of my father and in honor of the children in Central New York who are fighting, I am asking you to join me in helping them to win their fight……..

Please help me make my father’s wish come true for as many children as we can.
With Much Gratitude,
That marathon was the hardest thing I had even done.  It took me all seven hours to finish (more about that in another entry.)  But in the end I finally understood the connection to LIFE. I will leave you with the small note I wrote on facebook about a week after the experience.
The Finish Line.....There is a silence that comes after and is hard to explain to those who were not there. You feel separated from everyone around you having lived an experience that others can’t possibility understand. It must be similar to the way cancer patients feel – chemo and radiation tearing them down to the point where they think that they have absolutely nothing left to take the next step. I’d like to say it was an easy run, an enjoyable run, or even a rewarding run, but it was not. It was a test, it was painful, it was hard beyond my wildest dreams and I wanted to give up so many times. But the reality is that when I crossed the finish line I was done. The cancer patient has to endure, has to run again, and again and again before their finish line. I did not understand the connection between endurance sports and raising money for cancer before my run. But now I understand that there are no truer words than
“There is no finish line until there is a cure.”