It’s too bad running isn’t a social sport…

“It’s too bad running isn’t a social sport.” — Mike Zensius

Yes, it was but a mere two months ago when I made the bold declaration that I would be retiring from the marathon arena. And it was also two months ago when my friends all scoffed and laughed in my face, telling me I was full of crock.

Well… it turns out they were right. Because guess what? I will be running marathon #6 on Sunday.

I’ve asked myself multiple times over the past 3 years since I started running marathons, “Why?” Certainly, the cause that I raise money for year after year has grown close to my heart, and it continues to be the fuel that drives me to return to Team In Training year after year. But why run a marathon as opposed to, say… a half marathon, which is a huge accomplishment in itself, and doesn’t require the grueling, soul-sucking training that I seem to be unable to resist volunteering myself for?

I think tonight, I got my answer. Because it’s social. Because it’s brought friendships into my life that I never could have predicted, and now can’t imagine being without. My friend Mike, of course, was being facetious when he made the above statement. But nothing could be further from the truth. Running–and running marathons, in particular–is my lifeblood because it’s the lifeblood of so many of my friendships. And so, I may as well give up this futile attempt at retiring from the game.

Who could possibly want to walk away from a game this fun and this fulfilling?

Unofficial send-off dinner for CIM

Unofficial send-off dinner for CIM

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Going out on a high note

My friends and I have a bet going.

You see, when I declared that I would be retiring from full marathons (coincidentally, not too long after completing marathon #5 on Sunday), there was some healthy skepticism. Ok, it might have had a little something to do with having said something similar four other times. Whatever. I realize my words carry little credibility at this point, so I guess it’s understandable that my friends were dubious about how long I’d be sticking to this decision. I conceded with a slight amendment of, “for the foreseeable future,” but for all intents and purposes, Sunday, October 9, 2011, was probably be the last time I would run 26.2 miles all in one shot.

Probably.

In any case, it was incredibly important for me to go out with a bang–after all, a bad outing was going to make me want to waver in my decision, and then I’d be stuck eating my words once again. But somehow I knew it was going to be a good race. I knew it from the moment I woke up that morning of October 9.

First of all, the weather forecast had been predicting rain and cold weather. Up until a few days before, it was all but a foregone conclusion that we’d need to bundle up and find a way to stay dry throughout the race, and so I had prepared my wardrobe of a 30-gallon garbage bag, throwaway sweatshirt, and throwaway gloves. But when we walked outside into the pre-dawn darkness, not only was it not raining, but it became pretty clear from the outset that I was not going to need my throwaway armor at all. We were going to have perfect running weather–and that was my first sign that it was going to be a good run.

Which isn’t to say that there weren’t challenges. The first one came right out of the gate, when my shins started to tighten up as soon as I started running. They tightened up so much, in fact, that during the first walk break–a mere 5 minutes into the race–I fell behind and got separated from my running buddies, Leah and Janine. That was devastating for me; we had trained the entire season and though I knew there was little chance we’d stay together the entire run, I also didn’t think we’d get separated that early.

I came to the realization very early on that I’d have to do this thing on my own. I’d never run an entire marathon by myself. I wasn’t even sure I’d have the mental fortitude to do it.

With my friends before we all got separated... (photo courtesy of Janine Penny)

But do it, I did. I whipped out my iPod–which I had brought with me in case of “emergency” (i.e. in case I had to go through a stretch of running by myself), popped in those earbuds (thank you Keith for those PureBuds–they really did stay in the entire time!), and fired off my music, praying that I’d somehow find the will within me to do the rest of this thing by myself.

For the next 26 miles, I charged ahead. I listened to Elizabeth Campisi’s songs over and over to get my mind off the tedium of running. Before long, my shins started to warm up and the tightness went away. I saw familiar faces along the course. I saw teammates, coaches, and our awesome team manager, Simone, cheering me along–ringing cowbells, snapping pictures, screaming my name, running with me. Before long, I was in a groove and hoping that I would be able to push out the dreaded “wall” for as long as I could.

Smiling huge because I've just seen our team manager, Simone--it's great to see a familiar face! (photo courtesy of Simone Sarracino)

Remember when I said that the weather was the first sign that it would be a good race? Pretty soon, other signs came. After a brief downpour of rain, the weather cleared up again. I hit a long stretch of downhill–a welcome break after the steep climb leading up to St. John’s Bridge on mile 16. And then I spotted a dragonfly on the back of some stranger’s shirt and I knew Brittanie had come to say hello.

I knew I had this in the bag.

The downhill gave me the energy boost I needed. For the next 5 or so miles, I had new life again, and by the time I came upon another significant downhill around mile 20 or 21, I felt like a new woman. I was running through my walk breaks, feeling no fatigue in my legs or lungs–I may as well have been just starting out on a run, rather than coming up on the tail end of a marathon. This was usually the point (actually, usually, the point comes much, much earlier) where the mind games I play with myself start to affect my game and the aches, the pains, the fatigue get to me and I start to fall apart. But that didn’t happen here.

I thought of Britt. I listened to Elizabeth’s beautiful, inspiring music. I kept eating my gels, drinking my electrolyte drink, taking my salt tablets. And I kept on pushing, kept on pushing. At mile 24, I ran into Coach Tim and told him giddily, “I think I’m going to PR.” At mile 25, I was stopped by a train, giving me a brief (albeit unwelcome) rest.

1 mile to go and what happens? A train happens, that's what! (photo courtesy of Simone Sarracino)

At mile 25.5, I saw Coach Kris, and she said to me, “You see all these people cheering? If running a marathon were easy, they’d be running it. But they’re not. You are. Dig deep. Finish this strong.”

Finishing strong (photo courtesy of Ilya Shafir)

And I did. Limbs tingling, head light, feet numb, I kept on charging ahead and somehow made it across that finish line–and I got my PR. It was a close one: a mere minute and 1 second (damn that train!!), but it was a PR regardless, and I would take it.

It was a good day. It was a good way to say goodbye.

Wait, I thought this was the SUMMER team?

57 degrees, pouring down rain, runners dressed in rain-proof gear, tights, and long-sleeve shirts…

 

Is it really JUNE?

 

So it’s not exactly the kind of beginning to the summer season that most of us are used to… It’s not often that we’re giving advice to the newbies about how to dress in inclement weather and reassuring them that, despite rumors to the contrary, we will indeed NOT melt in the rain. Guaranteed. But it’s that kind of summer season so far, and I’m so proud of the team for not only showing up for today’s run, but actually braving the downpour and running 3-5 miles.

 

It just goes to show that the cause that brings us altogether is enough to awaken the crazy–er, I mean, the dedicated in all of us. So the next time it’s pouring down like this and you are in the comfort in your own home, snuggling in a blanket and sipping hot chocolate, think of us poor folk who are out there running in the name of kicking cancer’s ass.

 

And please save a room for us by the fireplace when we’re done :).

 

"Break out the umbrella, ella, ella..."

Break out the umbrella, ella, ella...

A less than stellar debut

Well the first run of the brand new season didn’t exactly go as I had hoped…

After an off-season spent battling various injuries and ailments (I’m talking to you, evil migraines), I was hoping to put the disappointment of the last few months behind me and get back to business doing what I love to do best: training for a marathon. Today was supposed to be my fresh start, my chance to wipe the slate clean of all of the things that have plagued me recently. So of course what happens? I go and get myself infected with a wicked cold virus.

But no matter. So I was a little down and out today (managing a meager 1.34 miles before finally, FINALLY listening to my body and stopping), but it’s the first day of a long season, and there will be plenty of opportunities to get in there and run (I sure hope :)). Besides, I still found a way to meet many of the new participants and give them a great TNT experience, and at the end of the day, that’s my job as volunteer staff.

I’ll get ’em the next time.

Here we go, here we go

While the rest of the world was counting down to the rapture that might or might not happen, we TNTers were gearing up for our favorite day of the year (ok, the second favorite day–I guess race day tops this one!): kick-off.

As adults, we get few opportunities to experience the excitement of back to school, when you’re reuniting with friends after a long break and eagerly looking forward to the next few months, full of adventure, learning, and lots and lots of hard work. Lucky for me, I do get to experience this, every time the summer season for Team In Training comes around. Today was no exception, as we welcomed new participants to the team and caught up with old friends.  We also came together in honor of the cause that binds us all: the desire to rid the world of a monster called cancer.

In the course of today’s celebration, we paused to remember a fallen hero named Louie Bonpua, a Leukemia patient who defied the odds by completing an Iron Man (aka a 2 mile swim, 110 mile bike ride, and full marathon all in the same day!) while going through chemo. One of Louie’s good friends spoke today, to honor his friend who, as he recalled, inspired everyone whose paths had ever crossed with his–and even those who never even had the honor of meeting him.

As we watched clips of Louie in the last embers of his life, desperately ill and barely walking, but carrying the 2002 Olympic Torch as hundreds of his supporters walked with him, we all felt the profound impact of this man and there was not a single dry eye in the room. When asked why he did such crazy things as training for an Iron Man–which is a hard enough feat, even without the rigors of chemo–Louie had a simple answer: I’m still here. I’m still alive, and I’m going to do it as long as my body allows me.

His fierce attitude and refusal to let go of hope reminds me of another inspiration in my life, my dear friend Brittanie Siobhan, whose memory always weighs heavily on me when I think about why I am coming back for “more torture.” Like Louie, Britt never once succumbed to the belief that she wouldn’t be able to beat this demon. She fought it with every once of strength she had–and boy, did she have a lot. Till her last breath, she was a shining example of courage, grace, humor, and hope, and even now, as an angel, she continues to give me–and so many others who were privileged to know and love her–strength and courage.

I don’t think there will ever be a time when I won’t feel this hole in my heart because she was taken from us. But I also know that she’d be the first to tell me to take that sadness and use it as fuel to carry on in her example to live life to the fullest and leave as mighty an imprint in this world as she did in her all-too-brief 26 years.

So once again, I kick off this season with this: I hope I make you proud, Brittanie Siobhan. Fly with me, dragonfly.

She’s at it again…

Y’all didn’t think I’d stay away, did you?

Summer approaches, which means I am once again gearing up for another season to train for a marathon. Marathon #5 will be on October 9, 2011 in Portland, OR, where I hope to beat Oprah Winfrey’s time of 4:29 set a new PR.

We all have to have something to shoot for :).

But most of all, I am back because we still haven’t come to that blessed day when we can say: There is a cure for cancer.

There is no cure yet. Yet. But as long as I am able, I will continue to put efforts into making sure that “yet” turns into “soon” and that “soon” turns into “now.” Just four days ago, I soberly marked the one year anniversary of my dear friend Brittanie Siobhan’s passing. Cancer robbed me of my friend, and that makes me angry and sad and determined that her fight not be in vain.

And so, I am back with Team In Training and back raising money. If you would like to help support my efforts, I would welcome your very generous donations–remember, no amount is too small! Simply visit http://pages.teamintraining.org/sj/portland11/jenkeepsrunning and help me make cancer cry like a little girl.

When I say “Go,” you say “TEAM”!

Most people probably think of running as a solitary sport. After all, there’s really no obvious need for another person (or two or three) to join you on a run. But after 5 years of running with my Team In Training team, I’ve come to learn that running is indeed–contrary to popular belief–a team sport.

 

And not to brag, but I happen to be on the best team there ever was :).

 

How can I possibly assert this? Picture it: 7:30 on a gray, drizzly, cold-ish Saturday morning–the kind of morning that begs for you to sleep in and/or cozy up with a book and a mug of steaming hot chocolate–and in the parking lot of Los Gatos High School were 15 or so of my closest running buddies, all pumped and ready to hit the trail.

 

The summer training season ended last week, and with it, the formal training calendar that all of us were following. There are no official events to train for, no official coach-led runs that we’re semi-obligated to attend. There was absolutely no reason for any of us to be there other than the sole purpose of getting to hang out with everyone again and go for a nice run. And 15 of us showed up.

 

If that’s not an awesome team, then I don’t know what is :).

 

I love my team!

I love my team!