Saturday, June 2, 2012

Pain Comes in Many Forms

For those of you paying attention, I have only had two entries so far this year, which is quite a change of pace from last year's updates.  I started out on a high note with great aspirations to continue building on my racing progress in 2011, with challenges to run at least a mile a day or other such commitments to running and keeping in shape.

And then life kicked in and I let it take over.

A new job, moving, all those months flew by and it seems like a blur now.  And despite starting my new season of Team in Training, I somehow stopped running.  All of the excuses I had fought off and preached victory over came flooding back and choked me.  Sure I put in a few miles here and there, generally with TEAM at a practice, and I even did the Whidbey Island half marathon in April and the new Portland Rock 'n Roll half marathon two weeks ago, but I wasn't putting in the hard work of consistent training that a marathon requires, the very core lesson and triumph of my previous races.  So at some point, I had to admit the inevitable: I will not be running a full marathon in San Diego.

This hurts my pride.  I should be better at this, should have done things differently with my priorities when it came to making time to run.  I love running: the fresh air deep in my lungs, the feeling of freedom, the way my legs come alive.  Letting it go again, though not to the same degree as the dark days of before, should not have happened.  Should.  Should.  Should.  My therapist has been trying to get me to stop focusing so much on this word and all of the commitments and anxiety that go into it, thereby consuming me and paralyzing my ability to move forward.  Many things have gone by the wayside these months as I tangled myself deeper into grasp of unfinished projects and the personal need to take on more than I can handle.

One of the most important things that I wanted to do but didn't was to highlight that this season of TEAM, with my new extended running family, would focus on a different party of my heart-family: Dean Miles and his daughter April, my best friend of so many years.  The intent was there, as it so often is with all of the things I want to do, but I let that fall into the numerous "to do" lists rather than actually complete what I had started.

So let it be now: tomorrow I will run the San Diego Rock 'n Roll half marathon in honor of Dean and his family.  Dean continues to battle multiple myeloma, and my involvement and fundraising with Team in Training on behalf of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society will help others fighting this and other blood cancers.

As always, there are lessons to be learned in this experience as well regarding priorities and focusing on what's most important in life.  And hurting my pride will of course hurt less than a running injury that may sideline me, and last year's experience with that does not need to be repeated.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

This Time I will be Running for Dean

Do you remember your best childhood friend, the one that saw you through everything and could always make you feel better about the bad things in life, be it as small as a pimple or as big as a broken heart?  Is that person still a part of your life today?  I am so blessed to be able to say yes to that question.

I’ve known April since we were 7, though we didn’t go to the same elementary school.  On the first day of junior high, during Mr. Wimer’s class, we became locker partners and fast friends.  She’s been with me ever since and through it all: the hard teenage years, the harder part of leaving everyone and everything behind for the Army, and the many times that I’ve started my life over in a new place or with a new resolve.  We have one of those incredibly solid friendships that flow with time, and the few times a year when we can get together to catch up it is so difficult to encapsulate all the things we want to say.

Because we often go long stretches of time without frequent updates I didn't realize something terrible had happened that would forever change her life.  In 2008, April's father Dean Miles was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma.  I had never even heard of that before, but it's cancer, and a bad one at that (not that any form is desirable).  I was shocked to read her email updating me on what had happened and how they were working to treat it;  his chances were really slim and they were considering a stem cell transplant and any other available treatment.

It's not often that I wish I still lived in my hometown, but that email prompted feelings of helplessness and separation that would somehow dissipate were I closer to comfort April and her family.

Dean began treatment and his condition improved, or at least stabilized.  While the family helped care for him when he was outside of the hospital, April spent a great deal of time with him.  My favorite story was how they cleaned out his garage and organized all of his tools.  If you know Dean, you know his love for cars (to include his '57 Corvette convertible) and this was no small feat to accomplish.  In many ways this cancer brought their family closer together, more aware of the precious gift of life and appreciation of the time they have to share.  It even went deeper than that: April was so dismayed to see how her father was treated by some of the nurses during his treatments that she resolved to become a nurse herself and do a better job of caring for cancer patients.  I am so proud to say she is well on her way to accomplishing this goal.

While I train for my biggest running events, working with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to find a cure for blood cancers such as the one Dean fights has become my way of helping others outside my reach.  Finding a cure is crucial not only for the lives of those who battle it, but also for their loved ones.  Please help me on this crusade against cancer by donating today: Emmie's LLS Fundraising Page.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year, New Races, New Resolve

As I drove to my first race of the new year this morning, I reflected on the past year's race events.  It included 2 full marathons, 3 half marathons, a 10k, an 8k, a handful of 5ks, two adventure mud runs, and a sprint triathlon.  It's easy to measure my running progress which was derived from a goal to set a new PR for every race distance; I blew that out of the water!  My half time is down to 1:54 (x2 this year), and I pulled 7 minutes off my 10k distance too.  I even went to Miami to complete one of my races, not my best showing due to the extreme climate change, but it earned me my Rock 'n Roll Triple Crown heavy medal and I got to be in a beautiful and warm place in December with some of my Seattle friends.

As I ran along the trail in Magnuson Park on today's race, it followed part of a route we ran on our very first TEAM practice on April 30th; that was a difficult day for many reasons aside from not having run for months following my first marathon in January.  I thought of how far I've come since that day: the friends I've made, the accomplishments in running as well as life, and how much TNT has come to mean to me.

Team in Training (TNT) is a training group that helps prepare people for endurance events, be it a half or full marathon, a century (100 mile) bike ride, or a triathlon of either Olympic or half-Ironman distance.  Even people who are coming off the couch ready to change their lives can accomplish these goals; TNT provides the training, support, and encouragement to see you to the finish line.  As a participant you agree to fundraise for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (something quite dear to me after losing a friend: I'm Running for Dawn) in exchange for the event preparation and participation.  As a group we received detailed coaching and a training schedule, and ran together every Saturday morning for many months. As you can imagine, I've made countless friends and heard some incredible stories of determination, fighting, and sadness about how cancer has invaded the lives of people we may or may not know.

I loved it so much and it meant so much to me and many people in my life (new and old) that I'm doing it again!  I'm going to be a mentor for the summer season, where I will assist new participants with their fundraising goals (they offer hundreds of suggestions!) and help field questions about the program and training.  My mentor was Liana, who is now a close friend; I hope to impact my mentees' experience as well as she did for me. 

My next marathon will be in San Diego on June 3rd, 2012.  It will be preceded by the new Portland Rock 'n Roll half marathon in May and followed by the Seattle Rock 'n Roll half marathon in late June.  So these are some of my goals for 2012.  While not unobtainable, I will have some serious work to do to accomplish these.  Yesterday at brunch a friend mentioned John "the Penguin" Bingham's 100-day Challenge: to run a minimum of 1 mile a day (with purpose) every day for 100 days to instill (or re-establish as necessary) running in our lives.  "It is all about inspiring intentional movement and a healthy, active, happy lifestyle."  What a great motivator to help me bridge between today's race and the first practice which isn't for several weeks!

So while running may or may not be your thing, I encourage you to set some goals for yourself in various areas of your life to make the most of this new year before us.  The progress on some goals may not be as easy to measure as a faster race time, but don't give up hope that you have the power to improve your own life when you set your mind to it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Continuing Toward the Ultimate Finish Line: a Cure

Last Saturday I met Dawn's children for the first time, and saw Doug for the first time since high school (which I will just suffice it to say was a very long time ago).  It was my chance to visit with her family and tell them more about how I came to do this marathon to honor Dawn's memory.  I was afraid of getting too emotional, as I have been known to do from time to time, and had already drafted this letter to try to say all the things I wanted to say:

I met your mom when we were about your age; we were both in Mr. Campbell’s band class. In high school we did DECA together, with Ms. Czarapata (for some reason I will always remember how to spell that!); Kacy was in that class with us too. I don’t remember that we were for long the closest of friends, as young friendships tend to fluctuate, but I do recall one time when I was at her house; it was somewhere near Whitman school. That’s when she played Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” for me, and that sounded like such a bad song at the time! I don’t remember your grandmother very well, as I think I only met her a time or two, and I was saddened when she passed away while we were in high school.

After graduation I joined the Army and left the Valley for bigger things (or least a more interesting life) until college. As that was before a lot of today’s common technology, people didn’t usually stay in touch unless they were especially close, and your mom and I lost contact. I’m not sure when it was that I saw your mom at the Hastings check-out counter, but we recognized each other and said hello and tried to catch up in those few moments; that’s the last time I saw her. We were more recently in contact through Facebook, the little bits of our lives that people share on there. I was scared for her when she announced her diagnosis after such a long period of being sick and having unanswered questions. When I saw her post with the number to her hospital room I just had to call, and her voice sounded exactly as I remembered. Her recovery was optimistic at the time and she planned to be in Seattle in the spring for more treatment and I would see her then, but told her not to worry about the details for that until later. Her best news was that she would be going home soon to spend Thanksgiving with her family: her husband and children, you. She proudly told me about each of you and your ages; I was in denial that we were really old enough to have children that big! I was so happy and sad for her, having such a family while battling her disease.

What a lot of people don’t know about me, and what I was able to share with your mom that day, is just how much I want to be a mom. The paths my life has taken have been incredible; some have been good and others sad, and all have led me to where I am today and shaped the person I am, but not yet as a mother. And while I don’t remember her exact words, your mom comforted me and I knew she understood my longing.

We didn’t talk again after that one call, and at the time I thought we would catch up closer to her trip to Seattle. I didn’t know that calling made her day so much brighter, and if I had known I would have called every single day. Sometimes we can make a big difference when we least realize it.

Finding a way to combine my passion for running with a cause to help fight cancer in your mom’s memory allowed me to know that I was making a difference, and even more incredible is not knowing how far that goodness will stretch as it continually renews itself through new people and kind actions.
In joining this cause I have met survivors, people undergoing treatment, and others whose loved ones lost the fight. Though I hadn’t yet met you, I thought of you often. I also thought of the children of Heather, a butterfly angel whose sister runs with me for some of the same reasons. I think of all of the mothers, sisters, friends, and children that are affected by these diseases. I don’t want there to be children without mothers because of cancer; I want to do what I can to help. With hard work and generous donations from family and friends, both new and old, as well as a significant gift from an anonymous donor, I was able to direct funding to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and increase awareness of blood cancers to keep working towards a cure.

On October 16, 2011, I completed the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco in memory of your mom. Her name was proudly displayed on my jersey, and her picture and name were included in the remembrance signs for our training chapter. There were 3,700 fundraising runners like me that raised a total of $11.7 million dollars for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for that event, and the race itself has raised more than $118 million in the 8 years it has been offered. That’s a lot of hope for a brighter future without cancer.
The finisher's symbol of my race was a necklace rather than a medal, and it was my honor and privilege to put it on Dawn's 10 year old daughter.  I cannot imagine the pain of losing a parent, especially at such a young age, and I wanted to give her a reminder of this journey that I made in her mother's memory.  I showed the family my jersey and talked about the other names that are on it and how I came to know of their stories.

There is still more work to be done and miles to run before a cure is found, and while the road is long and uncertain I will continue to do what I can to make a difference.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Emmie Runs Marathons

I’ve run two marathons this year, and already have my next one picked out, so it must be official: I’m a marathoner.  A junkie for speed and pushing myself to new limits, and the pain and triumph and exhilaration all of that entails, I’ve found a challenging test of will for my body and mind; a marathon combines all of these elements and more into a grueling 26.2 miles of stick-to-it toughness.  It’s easy to get into a comfort zone of only running a set number of miles or limiting the boundaries of perceived ability, so taking on the challenge of a marathon pushes past all of that and propels commitment to a whole new level.  While I seem to subject myself to pain more frequently than I’d care to admit, there are specified limitations within the course of running the marathon in which to endure it.  It’s only 26.2 miles, and the torture will be limited to however long it takes to complete it (and for the body to recover in the subsequent day or so); with life there’s not always a defined finish line you can run towards to signal when the painful times will end. 

As a member of Team in Training (TNT), I completed the Nike Women’s Marathon on October 16, 2011.  The course started downtown in Union Square and went down along Fisherman’s Wharf.  As promised, there were hills; legendary hills that one envisions to hear the name San Francisco.  They went up and kept going, with plenty of supporters cheering on the sidelines and big drums thundering at the top of the steepest one at Presidio to keep spirits high and the momentum going.  The downhill curves weren’t as noticeable, so they couldn’t provide a comparable decompression, but they brought awe-inspiring sights of the city, the bridge, and the coastline.  It ended at Ocean Beach, mere steps from the sand.  To call it beautiful seems inadequate.

In contrast to most of my training, I ran a lot of it alone.  A teammate’s knee gave way around mile 6 and she implored me to go on without her.  My coaches joined me for short stints at various points to check in and give support and advice; it was at one of these times that I first heard mention of a lake.  I was advised to find somebody, anybody, to run with for that portion but I kept trying to recall the course map and whether I had even noticed a lake; bear in mind that mental functioning is greatly reduced after the first 12 or so miles.  I suppose there was a patch of blue on the map that I hadn’t given much thought to, but to witness it in real life was a harsh realization.  Lake Merced looked enormous; getting around it felt like it would take forever and in many ways it seemed like it did.  Getting up the hills hadn’t been a problem; I had trained hard and was ready for them.  Pushing so hard on the hills propelled a complete draining of energy that couldn’t readily sustain the long stretches that followed.  This was especially compounded by my inability to take in anything other than Gatorade and water, despite my training with energy-replacing electrolyte chews.  There was a long straight stretch of road before and after the lake, the second of which provided a beautiful view of the sandy coast that I couldn’t fully appreciate as my brain desperately tried to calculate how much time I had left to make my initial pace goal.  When my energy continued to seep out with my shuffled steps I thought that I certainly could at least do as well as I had on my first marathon in flat Phoenix.  No such luck.  At a certain point you wonder how much longer the course will go on, and “helpful” fans try to say it’s just one more mile, or that stoplight ahead, and conceptually you know it’s not true and that it will continue on even further, but oh wouldn’t it be wonderful if they were telling the truth and it was really that close?  Eventually you just give in to the idea of repetitiously putting one foot in front of the other with the faith that an end will come eventually.  Finally I saw it; the arch with the glorious words “FINISH”.  I dug out the last of my juice and raced as hard as I could to that line, sprinting to get there as fast as I could muster.

I wanted to fall over after crossing the line.  I couldn’t even see straight enough to notice the man in the tuxedo other than he held a platter piled high with the prized boxes in their signature Tiffany color.  The fact that he was one of the firefighters was lost on me; I think now that they should have been wearing sleeveless shirts or at least their helmets.  All I wanted to do in that moment was sit down and pass out.  I couldn’t even function enough to get a finisher’s photo, instead focusing solely on the purple sign that told TNT participants to check in at the designated area.  The white ribbon around the box was tied so perfectly that I didn’t even want to open it to see the necklace, so I just held on to it while I stumbled around and futilely grasped for my bearings.  Slowly the fog lifted and I could finally appreciate what I had just accomplished.

I left everything I had on that course; there was nothing more to give when I crossed that finish line.  My Facebook status update began: Everything hurts except my heart.

Being with TNT made all the difference on this marathon, as my hard work could be supplemented by a cause for helping the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society fight blood cancers and care for patients.  There were 3,700 of us out there that day, representing over $11 million raised; I helped bring in almost $4,000 of that amount with the support of my fundraising donors, most especially from a very generous anonymous donor and another generous supporter.  In the many quiet moments I had along the way I thought of my friend Dawn and her children, and of all the people whose names were on my jersey and their families.  I read the shirts of other runners, some adorned with pictures and ribbons of remembrance.  No matter what happens to us in our lives, we have to continue on by putting one foot in front of the other again and again to go forward.  Wanting to stop and stay put isn’t an option, as the world will continue on around us.  Whatever pain and disappointment we encounter will surely fade in time, no matter how badly it hurts.  TNT helped put a cause to my journey, a way to allow me to focus on and help others as I shuffle beyond my own pitfalls.  Even more, it added a whole additional layer of fulfillment on top of an incredible accomplishment.

Despite what would sound like to most people to be a terrible ordeal to get through the months of training and numbing hours to complete just one event, there was never a doubt in my mind that I wanted to do it again, to jump right back in line for the next ride.  Doing it without TNT isn’t even an option; even though I’m physically capable of training on my own, the camaraderie and purpose of TNT add their own level of energy to the equation.  I had already come to this realization when I wrote my story of why I was running the Nike Women’s Marathon for Dawn, in which I stated that this is the group for me, and this is where I belong.  Seeing it through to the end just clinched it further.

Although, it’s not yet the end of this story…