While last year was a great year for 10ks and triathlons, it was time to get my long distance running back up to speed. It's been a while since I've tackled a half marathon, the last one being over a year ago.
The original plan was he take the triathlon off season to focus on the run. Unfortunately I was sick for half of December. The rest of December was full of holiday distractions and most of January was overtime and work deadlines.
I attempted to do what training I could in the time I had, but needless to say, this half was not going to be a personal best. My run has strengthened considerably, but more at an 8k to 10k distance. While I knew the half would not be fast, I was curious to see what I could do. I decided to just pick a pace and stick with it for as long as I could. This run would be an endurance focus rather than speed.
I arrived in New Orleans Friday night and checked into my hotel. My roommate was a Team in Training participant from Calgary named Sam. This was Sam's 3rd half marathon and like me, he knew he could go the distance, but was unsure about speed.
I then went down for a team meet and greet at the hotel bar. I met several other teammates from all over North America. We had members from Texas, Missouri, Wisconsin, Florida, Boston, and several others from Canada.
After a beer and chatting with my new found teammates, it was time to relax and get some sleep.
The next morning I woke up for a team 'shake up run.' We did a short 15 minute run down to the waterfront and back. Before the run we met Kevin, our event coach for the race. We chatted a bit the night at the meet and greet.
After the run, I cleaned up and headed to the race expo with some of the team members.
I checked in, received my race bib and t-shirt, and made my way onto the expo floor. There was a ton of merchandise, but as always, it was very overpriced. I did buy one thing though; A 13.1 Rock 'n' Roll Series car window decal. Why buy a window decal when I no longer own a car? For this:
(My custom end table)
After braving the merch check out line, I went to take a look at the vendors. One of the vendors noticed my Ironman Arizona 70.3 In Training shirt and asked if I had done that race yet. I told her I was signed up for this October. She had done it last year and was telling me about how fun it was (despite the unusual rain they had last year). I shared my excitement but explained I was focused on the Escape from Alcatraz race in June, then I would concentrate on Arizona 70.3. She then pointed to the booth across from hers and told me that the man working it had raced Alcatraz before. His booth was very busy, so I decided to swing back later.
As I made my way around the expo floor, I noticed a familiar looking running rest. It was Fusion. I then realized that the whole booth was Fusion Sport. I greeted vendor and told him that I loved my Fusion tri suits and race in them all the time. He shook my hand and asked me my name. When I told him, he said, "Yeah I know the name!" Then it dawned on me. "Oh! You are Chance! It is nice to finally meet you!" Fusion is a Danish company that makes high quality sportswear. Chance runs the US side of things. We had a good chat and I bought a visor. I always like companies that have great customer service, and Chance at Fusion Sports has just that.
I then took another lap around the race expo and chatted with the gentleman who (I was told) had raced Alcatraz. Turns out, he was one of the race directors. We chatted about the race a bit. He told me that the number one thing to remember is to not freak out during the swim.
After the expo, some friends and I ventured out to find food. After realizing that most places had an hour plus wait time, we settled on a little dinner. I carbed up with pancakes and grits.
After lunch, it was back to relaxing in the hotel room. After a few hours of watching the Team Ninja Warrior semi-finals, it was tine for the Team in Training Inspiration Dinner.
At the dinner, I found out that one of my teammates from my very first TNT event was running the full (2 weeks after running the LA Marathon). We caught up a bit while waiting in line for food.
At the Inspiration dinner, there was the usual format. Recognizing those running for the first time, alumni, triple crowners, survivors, and top fundraisers. Then there was the guest speaker. As the MC introduced the main speaker, it was a mother and her daughter. I turned to my friend Alice and said, "If it's the little girl, I will lose it." Cancer is a horrible disease and no one deserves it, but when it's cancer in young people, I get very emotional. Maybe it has to do with being an uncle, but most likely because Abi was taken at such a young age.
Tracie spoke about her daughter, Riley and their struggle with her diagnosis and treatment. During her speech, Rylie was off to the side, smiling from ear to ear, reacting to her mother words, and humorously pantomiming. Her zest for life and the suffering her and her family went through left few dry eyes in the hotel ballroom.
(Tracie and Rylie at the Inspiration Dinner)
Tracie read a entry from a journal she kept during Rylie's treatment that she was kind enough to email it to me. Here is that entry.
"Run for Your Life
By Tracie Richards — May 9, 2012 7:14pm
Remember all the unsolicited advice you got when you became a new parent? While most of the comments I received were well-intentioned, some had me nervous that my child would morph into a gremlin at sundown. I'm sure the sleep deprivation did little to inhibit my fears; but somehow I survived the years of infancy and toddlerhood intact and can even look back on those years with fondness. These days I find myself on the receiving end of a new kind of advice -- cancer advice. If the word "cancer" itself does not provoke an acute anxiety attack, I can assure you that all of its dirty, dark secrets will. Don't worry, I will spare you the details. So far we've been fortunate enough that we haven't yet experienced the worst of the stories I've heard while folding laundry in the RMH (Ronald McDonald House) basement. Oh yeah, that's the escape for all the parents around here. After the kids are in bed for the night, the lucky parent on laundry duty gets to leave the room and hang out with all the other strung out parents. It would be perfect if there was a cafe, or better yet a wine bar down there, but the vending machine full of bottled water will have to suffice. As we sit down there and watch our unmentionables tumble in the dryers, the worries and fears tumbling in our minds find themselves spewed out among virtual strangers. Most times, our only common bond is that our kids have cancer and we are all scared out of our minds to find what the next day will bring. At the moment, I am the newbie, and as such, I get a lot of forewarning and suggestions. Most of the time the advice is actually helpful, and it is the analogies that I appreciate most. The one I frequently hear is, "Cancer is a marathon, take care of yourself if you plan on crossing the finish line." Pardon my language, but you can all bet your sweet asses that we will cross the finish line of this race. Quitting is not an option, so I am lacing up my shoes with double knots and gearing up for the run of our lives.
So where are we in this race? When I go for a long run, the first mile is always a telltale sign of how I will feel at the end. Right now I feel like we are finishing up that first mile and have hit momentum that feels good and strong. Rylie is literally fueling up, out-eating both Kelly and I due to a ravenous appetite brought on by the steroids. One good piece of advice I got from another mom is to let Roo stuff herself silly and pack on the pounds as she will surely need the reserves later on down the road when the therapy becomes more intense. This morning I watched her plow through three scrambled eggs, two sausage patties, two waffles, and a yogurt. Two hours later the only thing she could talk about was tacos and refried beans. If she isn't actively eating, she's planning on what she will be eating next. We are trying to provide a balance to her daily activities, encouraging her with exercise and daily outings to parks for fun and sunshine. This week she started going to the school at the hospital. Each day from 10-12 she works with a teacher, Mrs. Hammer, to complete the kindergarten curriculum. The best piece of information that I can share with all of you are the results of Friday's lumbar puncture and bone marrow biopsy. Both tests came back clear, meaning that smears of fluid under a microscope showed no signs of leukemia cells. In terms of her treatment, nothing has changed at this point. On the last day of Induction they will repeat the LP (lumbar puncture) and BMA (bone marrow aspirate) along with a third test called a MRD (minimal residual disease). MRD is an extremely sensitive test that can trace minute levels of cancer cells that neither the LP or BMA can. If Roo passes all three tests, she will officially be labeled a rapid responder and the course of therapy will be a bit less intense. Once all traces of leukemia are gone and her other blood counts begin to recover she will be considered in remission. So while the test results from Friday don't really change anything for the time being, it is an indication that we are moving in the right direction. It is a small victory and could not have come at a better time. It is akin to being on a running trail and hearing Twisted Sister blaring through my earphones just when I start to feel a bit tired and sluggish. Some good ol' fist pumping, heart jumping, fast beat music that gives you the inspiration to pick up your pace and go! Roo's favorite song is "We're Not Gonna Take It", and I can just see my little girl belting out the lyrics to all the cancer cells in her body. "We've got the right to choose and there ain't no way we'll lose it, this is our life, this is our song. We'll fight the powers that be just don't pick our destiny 'cause you don't know us, YOU DON'T BELONG!" That's right cancer. We're not gonna take it ANYMORE! On to mile two of this marathon. Keep the pace. Keep the spirit. Run, Roo, Run!! "
After her speech, Rylie said a few words of encouragement to us. After the dinner, I asked Tracie if I could share her family's journey on my blog. She wrote her email address on a piece of paper. When I realized what else was on the paper, I told her I could not take it. She assured me that it was ok. She had written her email address on Rylie's speech.
While Twisted Sister's We're Not Gonna Take It was indeed on my running mix, it never played during my run. But rest assured, every time my playlist shuffles to that song, I will remember Rylie and her family, and keep working toward a day where no one has to take it.
That night I was very restless. I had hurt my back a while ago, and although still able to train, sleeping is still an issue. On top of that, I was fighting a headache.
The alarm went off early and I began to make myself race ready. The team met in the lobby for last minute announcements and some photos.
We made our way to the start area in the early morning cold. I stretched as we chatted about the race. Soon it was time to make our way to our corrals.
The sun was starting to peak through the buildings as small groups of runners huddled in the sunny spots. I chatted with a very nice local couple for a few minutes before lining up.
Then it was the typical stand around and wait for your corral to make it to the start. I was in corral 14 and knew it would be a while. As I stood there, I began to be aware that my head and my stomach were feeling a bit off. I shrugged it off, knowing that once I got running, everything would fall into place.
As we approached the start line, I really needed to go to the bathroom, but I did not want to give up my place in my corral. I kept trying to figure out why, in all my other races, why I never felt like I needed to go. Then I realized, all my other races were triathlons. I just went in my wet suit during the warm up swim. A luxury I did not have today.
Soon, it was time to start the race. Corral 14 made it's way to the start and we were underway.
My goal for this race was to just find a good pace and stick with it, but I started too fast. I really needed to find a bathroom. About a kilometer and a half in, I got in line for a porta-potty. While in line, a random runner thanked me for running for TNT. She told me how she had lost several friends to leukemia.
After some much needed relief, I was back on my way. 7 minutes per kilometer was the pace that felt good, so I decided to stick with it. I knew I would slow over the course of the race, but 7 felt good at the time.
The next 10k was an out and back along St. Charles Ave. I positioned myself on the left hand side so I could see the speedier runners on their way back. I was keeping an eye out for my friend Alice. Alice works for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society as the Senior Campaign Coordinator. This was her first half marathon and it held significant meaning for her. Although Alice herself is a cancer survivor, she was doing this race for her dad.
Here is the write up she did for her fundraising page:
"Cancer has knocked on my family door multiple times. The time it hit me the hardest was 13 years ago when my Dad was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma, one of the many forms of blood cancer. I was 15 years old. My father has always been this untouchable figure whom I admire and respect so much. Dads don't cry, Dads don't get sick, Dads are never scared, Dads will always be there... All of those ideas just crumbled in few seconds, and suddenly the father I admire and respect so much could die. My dad could die. Being the stubborn man he is my dad took on the challenge to fight immediately, down playing it, refusing to stop working or let anyone know about his condition. As a family WE took on this challenge to fight. Thanks to the amazing health care team and support we received we put this Cancer into remission. Now I can't say that my dad is back to normal as he is still struggling with some of the effects of the treatment, but he is alive and well.
This challenge was brought on to me, I had no say, I had no choice and it was terrifying. Today I AM CHOOSING to take on a challenge to continue this fight and to give back. As of June 2015 (so really few month ago) the longest distance I had ever ran was probably 2KM (maybe not even). On February 28th 2016 I will be running a half marathon (that's right, that's 21KM...what did I got myself into? I don't know?!) in honour of my dad. I will also be running in memory of the friends whom I have lost to this terrible disease. I will be running AND fundraising to find a cure to blood cancer. I want to give back and help to make sure that many, many, many more people like my father, and families like mine can overcome this disease and get the support they need."
Alice raised $3,200 for the LLSC.
Around kilometer 4, I saw Alice on the other side of the out and back. It was her kilometer 11 and she as trying to upload a status to facebook. I yelled to her, but she was in the zone and moving really well.
Around the 7k mark was the turn around. I was still holding a very good 7 minute/kilometer pace, stopping to walk only at water stations.
Normally, at this distance I would do a run:walk interval, but with all the triathlon training, I was eager to see if I could run the whole thing. So far so good.
There were several other charities running and they all came with their own cheer squads. It was a good boost when one of them would recognize the purple and cheer me on.
About the halfway point, I could feel blisters forming on the balls of my feet. I did my best to block this out of my mind for the rest of the race. It was the first indication that it was time for new shoes.
Around kilometer 13, the out and back was over. I found the course to be very boring. It was very flat and there were very long stretches of straight aways. Nonetheless, I was still having a good time.
The course took a right and then a left before heading back into the city. We ran by the National World War II Museum as we ran through downtown towards the French Quarter.
(Photo take the next day)
As we ran down St. Peters to Decatur street, the sides of the road were full of people cheering us on. Some where race volunteers, and others were just tourists seeing the sights.
(Photo take the next day)
About 16k in, we ran by Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral. I remember thinking to myself, "That is on the medal!" Past the Cathedral was more spectators and lots of music.
(Official Race Photo)
(Photo take the next day)
At 16k the route turned left though a residential area. This was the part of the race I was beginning to feel tired. I kept looking at my watch and telling myself, "7 minutes at a time. Just run this next 7 minutes and it will be 17k. Then another 7 and it will be 18. Soon. You will be done."
The next stretch of the course looks long on the map, but went by very quickly. Several of my 'power songs' played in a row during this stretch. Several runners chuckled as I ran by singing through my breathing "I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more....."
My blisters had gotten worse, but I knew I was so close. I kept mentally blocking the pain.
At 20k, we were not far from the southern tip of New Orleans City Park, and the finish line. As I ran over a bridge, I could see the New Orleans Museum of art. I looked at my watch and figured that the finish line must be just on the other side of the museum.
The run to the museum was gorgeous. There was a long driveway though a green lawn. I saw a few TNT runners and as I ran past them joked, "Just 0.1 kilometers to go! By the time you convert that to miles in your head, you will be done!!"
I rounded the museum as Lovin' Every Minute of It by Loverboy blared in my ear buds.
As I approached the finish line, I did my best to make sure my heart rate did not spike (as it seems to do at every finish line). I concentrated on keeping an even pace and staying relaxed.
As I crossed, I felt that same rush of relief and accomplishment I always feel. I got my medal and slowly made my way down the finishers chute.
I hobbled to the gear check truck, grabbed my bag, and went in search of the TNT tent.
Those who had finished all shared their experiences while hydrating and stretching. My shoes did indeed need replacing. Not only were the bottoms worn down, but at some point in the race, the sides has split open. Time for a new pair.
Alice was hoping for a sub 2 hour time and it turns out she got it. 1:59:23. She called her dad in Paris after the race. Needless to say, he was very proud.
Sam, Alice, and I all caught the shuttle back to the hotel. So much accomplished before noon.
Oh, yeah. My time. Like I mentioned earlier, this was not a race I had trained for so I had no real estimate of my time. This being my first half in over a year, and my first half not doing my run:walk intervals, I am extremely happy with my time.
Thanks you for once again taking the time to read my blog and share in my adventure.
If you are reading this before the end of March, you can still donate by clicking the link below.
Show Cancer that we're not gonna to take it.