Tuesday, 3 May 2016

2016 BMO Vancouver Marathon Relay

I debated doing a write up for this race.  The distance was nothing new to me, it was not a destination race, and I was not running it with a specific goal or PB in mind.  But the reason I started this blog was due to my love of endurance sports brought on by the tragedy and strength that is Abi's story.

Having ran the full marathon in 2014 and the 8k in 2015, I was very familiar with the BMO Vancouver Marathon.

I try not to repeat the same race at the same distance. And since the full and 8k had been ticked off my list, I was contemplating running the half. But due to a very big race in June, my coach and I decided that the half marathon was not a good idea.  Luckily, through Team in Training, I was able to assemble a Relay Team.

The relay is comprised of 4 legs, 12k, 12k, 5k, and 13k, and follows the full marathon course.

Needing the hill training, I opted for the first leg. Sean, whose daughter was an honored teammate a few years back and whose family has benefited first hand from the money raised by TNT, opted for the next leg. (More about Sean) Heloise, a friend of Alice, the Senior Campaign Coordinator for LLSC, had the 5k, and Tony, a coworker and friend of Sean as well as a fellow TNT alumni, was our anchor. 

We needed a name for our team.  Sean had the excellent idea of combining the names of the people we run for into one name.  Team Shaliannabi was born.  It combined Shaelyn, Anne, Abi, and Alice.

The Saturday before the race, I volunteered for a bit at the Team In Training booth at the race expo.  My girlfriend joined me and we got a few great pictures at the photo booth.

That night was the TNT Inspiration dinner.

I was asked to share my (and Abi's) story in a short 5-8 minute speech.  5-8 minutes?  There is no way I can give a 5-8 minute speech.  I need at least a half hour! Nevertheless, I was able to put something together.

After the welcome, introductions, and main course, I was invited on stage to give my speech.  I have told several people Abi's story, in a variety of settings, but never in a formal setting to such a large crowd.

I took the opportunity to be the first of many to thank everyone for what they do with TNT and LLSC.  I explained that I do not like to read my speeches, that I would much rather speak freely, but that this story was too close to my heart.  I did want to leave anything out.  I apologized for this and explained that because of this, my speech may not be as eloquent as it could be.

Every word seemed to stick in my throat.  I have no problem in crowds, and even less when giving speeches/talks.  But this was a very emotional thing for me.  I was nervous about not being able to even give my speech though the emotions it would surely spring forth.

I pulled most of my speech from my very first entry on this blog.  I did indeed break down a few times during my speech.  Every time I looked up to engage the audience, I saw the same red eyes and sad faces that surely mirrored mine.

Here is the speech I gave:

I grew up in a small town in Indiana. When I was 4 years old, I met my best friend. Ben had 2 younger sisters and a few years later, his youngest sister, Abi, was born.

Abi brightened any room she was in. With a smile from ear to ear and a wonderful singing voice, she was a truly a joy to be around. She went to school to study horses, but found she missed interacting with people. She later became a greeter at Wal-Mart. Her co-workers tell stories about how she could cheer up any customer who walked in the door with just her smile and a friendly hello. She constantly went out of her way to talk with anyone and everyone who seemed to be having a bad day. She always put her own bad days aside to help those around her.

Truly, the most selfless person I ever knew.

In June of 2011, Abi went to the doctor complaining of leg pain. At first the doctor wrote it off as a lymphedema (a condition in which fluid is not carried away from a specific part of the body). She was told to find a good physical therapist and begin treatment. After working with her therapist, she was told that a CAT scan was recommended. The CAT scan revealed what we all feared, but never spoke. A tumor. After running a biopsy, we found out it was a rare (but treatable) form of sarcoma called Extraskeletal Ewing’s Sarcoma. This was a shock because that specific form of cancer was so rare and usually attacks the very young. At 21 years old, Abi took this challenge face on and was determined not to let this get her down. She literally looked death in the face and smiled.

By November of 2011, the tumor had not responded to the chemotherapy Abi's doctors had put her on. There was talk of surgery to remove the tumor. This, however, was very risky as they had no idea if the tumor was intertwined with the surrounding blood vessels of the leg. Abi smiled and reminded us all that God gave her 2 legs. Luckily, the surgery was a success and Abi was able to keep her leg.

Though it all, Abi smiled.

In February of 2012, after several months of remission, Abi was rushed to the hospital, presumably pneumonia. The scans reveal that the cancer had returned with a vengeance and had a strong hold in both of her lungs. She was put back on chemotherapy and medication to battle the blood clots associated with the infection in her lungs. It was at this time the doctors had to tell this sweet 22 year old that she was fighting a battle she could not win. Abi, with no fear and no regrets, continued living her life. Day by day. Hour by hour.

And through it all, she smiled.

In March of 2012, Abi was rushed to the hospital for what appeared to be a stroke. Scans revealed that the cancer had spread to her brain. This, in combination with the blood thinners to battle the clots, did not bode well. When she was not in the hospital for chemotherapy, she was there to have blot clots removed, and when she was not there for that, she was there to have fluid drained from her lungs. At this point, the doctors gave her a month to live.

On March 23rd, 2012, I flew back to Indiana to visit Abi and the family I had known since I was 4. For a very brief time, we were all kids again. Laughing and playing, joking and singing. It was as if time never moved.

That Sunday I flew back to Los Angeles, and the following Tuesday, I got the call. That Thursday, I was back on a plane for the funeral.

Now Abi looks down on all of us. And she is smiling.

That May, I joined Team in Training (TNT).

I was never a runner. At one point, I was pushing 300 pounds. Could I run a marathon? Screw it. This is for Abi.

Originally, I was signed up to run The Disneyland Half Marathon, but ended up switching to The Nike Women Full in San Francisco. This race was being held on
October 14th. This would have been Abi's 23rd birthday. I could not think of a more perfect situation for my first race.

I completed that race with Abi's picture held high over my head through a stream of tears.

Since then, I have ran 4 fulls, 17 halves, countless 10 and 5ks, 5 triathlons, a Ragnar Relay, a Tough Mudder, and am currently training for Escape from Alcatraz and my first Half iron. Several of which I have done with TNT

Throughout my years with TNT, I have met so many amazing people, with so many amazing stories. Many of those people would not be here if not for the treatments we help fund.

I've met Mothers who survived for their children,

I've met children, with smiles as bright as the sun, who have shown strength and resilience above and beyond what any child should have to endure. But they endured. And they Survived

I've met families, who though the struggle of this malicious disease, exhibit unyielding positivity, though on the inside they must be screaming. Knowing the whole time that the fight can be won.

I've met Children, who run for their parents. Friends who run for their friends, and perfect strangers who run just to make a difference.

The bonds and the people I have met through my 4 years with TNT and continue to meet, will live in my heart forever, right next to Abi.

Those who know me, know that I have an affinity for superheroes. I'd like to share a quote from a recent super hero movie that I feel pertains to us all.

“Four or five moments—that’s all it takes to be a hero. Everyone thinks it’s a full-time job. Wake up a hero. Brush your teeth a hero. Go to work a hero. Not true. Over a lifetime there are only four or five moments that really matter. Moments when you’re offered a choice to make a sacrifice, conquer a flaw, save a friend. In these moments everything else falls away.”

When you are running, when you are training, when you are fundraising, know that these are your moments.

Make tomorrow a moment. Make every step you take, from the start line, to the finish line, a moment. Make every person who see's you in your Purple know, that this is a moment.

Make the sacrifice.

Conquer this disease.

Saves Lives

Be a hero. 

I returned to my seat, not looking at anyone.  The room was silent.  I was not sure if there was an applause or not.  All I could feel was my heart pounding, my eyes watering, my legs shaking, and my girlfriend squeezing my hand. 
I do not remember the name of the next speaker, but she was from the Florida Chapter.  She began her speech outlining how her experience was that of a caregiver.

She told us about her son, who while away at University, constantly complained about not feeling well.  After a year of this, and seeing various specialists, he was diagnosed with a blood cancer.

She went into extensive detail about the treatments, remission, more treatments, and the toll it took on everyone.  She shared her feeling of helplessness as a mother, who never thought any of this could happen.  

"You never think about things like this when you are changing a diaper, or getting them ready for school."

The toll it took on her had made her selfish.  She would constantly lament about how this could happen to her and her son.  Why was this happening to me? 

I. Me. My.

As she continued her story, I remember thinking how hard it must have been, being so powerless to help, so powerless to fix the one thing wrong with the one thing you care the most about, your own child. How hard it must be to recognize that it's out of your control and the only thing you can do, is to do only what you can.

My mind raced to my own future, to my own son, and what I would do if I was in that situation.  I would love to tell you that I would be strong.  I would love to tell you that I would be the rock that fathers are meant to be.  While I know that I would do everything humanly possible to help my son, in the process I would most likely shut down.

The strength these parents exhibit, is beyond my comprehension.  How do they do it?

They are superheroes. They are my heroes. 

As she continued, a thought crossed my mind, either her son survived, her son is still battling, or her son lost his battle (and she is taken it better than I ever could).

As she finished her speech, I let out an audible sigh of relief, as she told us her son has been cancer free for 3 years.  The room burst into applause. 

He was at home, taking care of the dogs, while she was in Vancouver running this race for him, accompanied by her husband.

"There is is less 'I' and 'me'.  Now here is more 'us' and 'we'."

Through these sad, heartbreaking, emotion wrenching stories, I find hope.  For those who survive, they and their families surround themselves with a community dedicated to the eradication of cancer.  For those who lose the battle, their strength exhibited during that raging battle gives strength to those they leave behind to fight even harder.  

And we continue to fight.

The next morning was race day. My girlfriend dropped me off at the skytrain station early so I could watch the half marathon start (and so she could beat the road closures out of downtown).  I had several TNT teammates as well as friends who train with me through my coach. I wanted to support them.

The walk from the skytrain to the start was long, but I thought it would be a good way to warm up. I remember this walk from 2014, but today, it was warm and sunny.

I made my way to a small hill, just passed the start line.  From there I watched at each wave was given their countdown and start.

As the sea of people ran by to the rhythm of footfalls, my eyes darted as quickly as they could to try not to miss any of my friends/teammates.

After the half marathon was fully underway, I had to make my way back to the skytrain station for the relay gear check and meeting.

There was a wave of full marathon runners arriving, so I just followed the line of participants back to the skytrain.  I made note of the route they took, as it was much more direct and faster than the route the half runners were taking earlier. 
I met my relay team, gear checked my sweats and jacket, and showed them the timing belt we would need to pass off.  After some encouragement, I headed back the start line for my race.

For some reason, they had our relay start in the last corral.  After doing some warm ups, I made my way to the front of the corral.  I ran into my friend Jamie, who was about to start her very first full.  She is a TNT alumni from my second Vancouver (third overall) TNT team.     

Our corral soon merged with the one ahead of us and I was able to chat with another great running friend of mine, Angela.  She told her friends that she knew she would run into me, because I am apparently at all the races. She told them about our adventures doing the Tough Mudder.  I also saw my friend and former LLSC Executive Directer Liz, who was also about to run her first full marathon.   

I then realized that the full was not a wave start, it was a mass start.  I got my watch set and started my ipod. 

Let's do it.

The first section of my leg I was more focused on winding around slower runners.  The last corral was not ideal.  I am only running 12k and pacing myself accordingly.  The rest of the runners were running 42.2k and pacing themselves accordingly. 

As I started up a gradual incline at the 1k mark, Hold Your Head Up, by Argent starting playing.  A very fitting song for an uphill. 

At the 2k mark, I saw Tony watching as he waited for his shuttle for his relay point.  I waved and told him I'd see him at the finish line. 

I remembered the course from 2 years ago, but I was in better spirits today.  Maybe it had to do with the weather not being horrible or maybe it was because I was running 12k instead of 42.2. Not sure. 

At the 3k mark, I overheard a woman ask what 3 kilometers was in miles.  I told her that 10k is a little over 6 miles.

"You can use that as a key to figure out the rest.  The best part is, by the time you do the math in your head, you are at the next kilometer mark, and you have to do it again!  Just keep doing that, and before you know it, you'll be at the finish line."

Everyone had a good laugh and I continued on. 

At around the 7k mark, I felt I was pushing a little to hard.  I knew the hill was at 9k, so I took a short walk break.   I used this time to re-adjust my shoes.  The Speed Laces I bought were still working great, and the slight loosening I needed took about 2 seconds.  So far I am still really liking them.

At the 8k mark I was psyching myself up for the hill.  I knew the hill from 2 years ago as well as a few times we have done cycle repeats on it.

As I rounded the corner to start my ascent, Iron Maiden's Run for the Hills began to play.  I cranked it. 

As I started up the hill, I focused on short steps, high turnover, and upright posture.  I found another runner with the same pace as me and I drafted behind him. I focused on his heels and tried not to look at how much further I needed to go. 

The problem with this hill is not that it is steep, it just keeps going..... for almost a kilometer. 

There were tons of spectators cheering as we trudged up the hill.  At the top, people were shouting congratulations as we reached the top.

I joked with one spectator, shouting back, "There was a hill!?"

One spectator was shouting that we had made it up "the only hill" on the course.  I knew this to be a lie, there was one more at kilometer 23, but it was not this bad and I did not want to discourage those running the full marathon.

As I reached the very top of the hill, my coaches voice rang in my head, "No reward at the top!"  I kept pace and continued on.

Between 10 and 11 kilometers, I saw an older gentleman with an Ironman tattoo.  I asked him which Ironman he did and he told me Arizona.  We got to chatting about Ironman and triathlons.  I told him my story and he told me his.  I told him about how Arizona 70.3 would be my first half iron.  He asked me when I was taking the leap to a full iron.  2018 seems to be the year I'll make that jump, pending how my first (and following) half irons go.  I told him I was thinking Louisville, as it's really close to were I grew up.  The only problem is, I grew up on that river and I'm not sure I want to swim in it. 

We wished each other luck and I pulled ahead off to kilometer 11.

With 1k left to go, I could feel my heart rate rising.  I focused on breathing and settled back into my pace.  Soon there as the sign, 'Relay Exchange: 100 Meters'.  I saw the spotters and shouted my number to them.   I wanted Sean to be ready.

As I rounded the corner,  I saw the exchange.  It was on an uphill, but I was too focused on finishing to care about another climb. I shouted ahead, "Be ready Sean!!"

I unclipped the timing belt, passed the timing mat, and handed off the belt.  After a short good luck and have fun, Sean was off!

I was done.

I took a little time to let my heart rate settle.  I was feeling a bit sick.  Towards the end, I took a little too much of the sports drink and that, mixed with the heat, did not help. 

I chatted with another runner who was wearing a Northwest Passage RAGNAR shirt before it was her time to join the relay. 

After my heart rate had come down and the sick feeling had gone, I noticed there was no water and no shuttle.  Several other relay runners noticed the same thing.  There was a volunteer with a megaphone who was shouting the relay numbers for the next runners to prep.  After proclaiming, "I bet the guy with the megaphone knows," He made the announcement that both water and the shuttles were at the bottom of the hill.

After walking down the hill, getting some much needed water, and boarding the bus, I began chatting with another relay runner.  We shared stories of the races, training, coaching, weight loss, and running in general.

Once off the bus, I made my way to the relay tent were I picked up my gear check bag, thanked the volunteers, and received my medal. 

I then went to the TNT tent to check in and grab some more water and food.  There, Alice and Nicole congratulated me and we chatted for a bit.  Nicole was the US Flex Team's staff person on site and was also at New Orleans

I made my way up the finish line in time to catch the top 3 male and female full marathon runners cross the line. 

Kenya’s Daniel Kipkoech--2:21:04

Ethiopia's Lemma Gemechu--2:23:29

 Canada's Ryan Day (from BC)--2:36:44

 Ethiopia's Hirut Guangu--2:39:52

US's Allison Macsa--2:42:07 

 Canada's Ellie Greenwood (from Vancouver)--2:45:21
 (sorry for the bad photo)

When Allison Masca crossed the finish line, I was standing next to her friends.  They were upset they did not take a picture.  I showed them mine and asked if they wanted it, so I texted them the picture.

As more and more runners crossed the finish line, I stayed and cheered them all on as I looked for people I knew.  

Soon, Sean and Heloise joined me and we kept a keen eye out for Tony. 

Tony came across the finish with the 3 of us cheering him on.

We all met at the TNT tent to share congratulations and stories. It was pretty cool that the relay medals were purple to match our TNT attire. After some more water, we congratulated each other one last time before heading out.

Thank you for taking the time to read today's entry. I know there was less about the race in here than usual, but I felt it was important to share the events leading up to it.

If you'd like to help be a hero, and rid the world of cancer, consider making a donation here

Thanks again!

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