Wolfson Children’s Hospital Ultra Marathon Relay

I was so excited when I was invited to join a running relay team this past Saturday.  I don’t think I was so thrilled when they told me it started at midnight, but what the heck.  I am still young, right?

55 miles.  That seems kind of far when you are running the entire distance all in one day.  Okay, it wouldn’t just SEEM far… it is far.  Fortunately, I wasn’t asked to do an ultra marathon.  I’m crazy, but not that crazy (yet).  There were runners out there crazy enough to do the entire 55 miles.  Not only was it 55 miles, but it was 11 5-mile loops.  Yes, they were running in circles (11 times).  Oh, and lets not forget to mention that they had to run over 2 bridges and up one incline EACH time they ran the 5-mile loop.

I think these runners kept going on and on for 8 hours, 9 hours, 10 hours, 11 hours (however long it took) because they knew that they were running for a cause.  They were raising money for Wolfson Children’s Hospital.  They were running 55 miles because each mile represented a child who had needed (or still needs) treatment for some type of cancer or other illness.  Imagine being a parent and finding out that your child has cancer.  Not only would you be concerned about your child’s life, but you would also be concerned about how you were going to fight this cancer if you have very little money.  Thanks to people, like these crazy runners, these families are provided with a little bit more hope.

Well, some of us just don’t have the physical capacity to run 55 miles so we could help out by becoming part of a team and splitting up the miles.  That sounded good to me and I was just happy to be a part of this special event.  We were team Bubba Burger because Bubba Burger so kindly provided support (funding) for this event in honor of Matthew.  Matthew was pretty much our team mascot (and so much more).  He kept us going and helped us to remember why we were out there in the first place.  You see, at 15 months old, Matthew was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a condition that can impair brain and nervous system functions.  Then, just two years ago, Matthew needed hip surgery.  They said it would take up to 6 months for him to be able to walk, but the determined young man was walking within 2 months!

Now Matthew is a running machine.  I know this firsthand because I was lucky enough to run a 5-mile loop with him and his coach.  He has such a positive attitude and willingly accepts challenges without complaint.  Matthew kept talking about how he was planning to run more miles that day.  He even refused to sleep when he wasn’t running!  What an amazing young man!

Matthew wasn’t the only hero running the relay out there that day.  Frank, Elizabeth’s father, was also supporting his team: Elizabeth is stronger than A.L.L. of us!   Frank was even brave enough to sport a tutu and a crown.   He finished strong for his relay team and ran the last 500 yards with his 3 beautiful children in tow.  Elizabeth was enjoying the after party (princess-style) like it was any other day.

Even though I didn’t run an ultra marathon, I felt like I had really accomplished something that day.  It felt great to be a part of something bigger than myself and I know that there are ongoing positive changes in how I perceive the world.  Most importantly, my own 3 daughters see this and I hope that they will experience it too.

You might not run ultra marathons (or even run a mile), but you can help children and adults with leukemia or lymphoma by donating a few dollars to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society:  http://pages.teamintraining.org/ncfl/madrid12/haponte


Running and Compassion

It goes without saying that when I run I typically run for myself.  I am not out there to please my family or my friends.  I am not out there to get people to like me.  I am not out there to make some kind of point.  I am not out there to make others feel bad about themselves.  I could really care less what anyone else thinks.  I run for me.

Yet, there is always something out there bigger than yourself.  It can drive you to achieve the unimaginable.  Most of you know that I have volunteered with Team and Training on and off since 2006.  I am not even sure why signed up in the first place, but I do know why I am still here running with the team.  A lot has happened since 2006.  My dad had cancer, fought off cancer and came out a survivor.  I gave birth to 2 more beautiful children.  I changed jobs, got a Master’s degree and moved all of the way across the country.  I attended a friend’s memorial service and my grandfather’s funeral.  I ran 3 marathons, 7 half marathons and a handful of shorter races.  Now, in 2012, I am pretty much the same person, but I am better able to adapt and endure.

As a military veteran and currently a military spouse, I have met some amazing people.  Strong and determined men and women who make daily sacrifices for the sake of their country.  As a spouse, I can see it more clearly because I know firsthand the sacrifices that the families must make so that their loved ones can keep this country strong.  Yet, when I joined Team and Training, I met a different group of people.  They were different, but the same in some ways… strong and determined and willing to make similar sacrifices.

Just the other day I was talking to one of my other teammates.  She was telling me her story.  When her firstborn was only 9 months old she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a cancerous tumor that occurs in 1 in every 100,000 children.  Really, what are the chances?  Everything is okay now, but it was a rough journey for her and her husband.  I CAN NOT even imagine.  Really, I can’t.  All I could say was that she must be one strong woman.  She told me that is what everyone says, but she acted like she didn’t believe it.  There is no doubt in my mind that anyone coming out of that situation will come out of it a much stronger person.  My mother’s death CAN NOT even compare, but I know that I came out a stronger person… maybe a little rough around the edges, but deep down, slightly more compassionate.

I could spend hours writing about all of the amazing people I have met during this journey.  I think they have helped me view the world a little differently.  I will mention Elizabeth.  I don’t know much about Elizabeth yet, but I do know that she is an amazing little girl.  On May 13, 2010 she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.  She is currently in the maintenance phase of chemotherapy and has a little less than a year left of treatment.  Her family has stated that they would not have been able to get through this without Elizabeth’s positive determination.  She is just a little girl keeping her family in high spirits!  Her father, mother, brother and sister also posses the strength to move forward.  If you would like to hear more of their story, please check out the family blog:  http://www.princesselizabethann.blogspot.com/

Not only am I so fortunate to meet these amazing people, but I have been blessed with the ability to help them in a small way.  I can run.  Now I know I said that I typically run for myself, but a part of me can’t help but run for others… for those who need me to run for them.  I think it is that little bit of compassion that is inside of me.  As time continues, I hope that more and more of that compassion will pour out.  I hope to set an example to others, especially my own kids.  Yes, I do make mistakes… often, but I hope the old saying really is true: “the older you get, the wiser you get.”

So, tomorrow night, at midnight, we will begin our ultramarathon relay.  I know that Elizabeth will be waiting for us at the end (many many hours later) and that is why I will run.  And there are many other children who need someone to run for them.  So I will keep running… till my legs fall off.

I hope that some of my readers can understand why I run.  I will admit the self-fulfillment, but there is a bigger picture.  It gives more purpose to my running.  It gives more purpose to life.  In doing so, I am opening my own children’s eyes to the world around them.  I can’t go to my grave until I know they have true compassion for others.  I want them to surpass my own ability for compassion.

I know that not all of you run, but you can still help children like Elizabeth.  Elizabeth’s family has stated how much the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has helped them through this challenge.  Please donate a few dollars to this cause.  I guarantee that it will be greatly appreciated.  http://pages.teamintraining.org/ncfl/madrid12/haponte

Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge: Finale

Well, I actually put the word “finale” in my title so this has to be the end of the story.

I woke up at 3am.  Again.  The pain from yesterday’s run remained.  There wasn’t an overwhelming amount of soreness, but just enough that I couldn’t imagine running 26.2 miles.  Usually when you run a marathon you want to be in prime shape.  I was definitely not in prime shape.  What the heck was I about to do?  It just didn’t seem so fun anymore and I was really nervous.  Once again I tried to lie to myself by saying that I would be happy just as long as I finished.  I thought about how I could probably surpass the 16-minute/mile requirement.

I knew that I would need to wear cooler clothing (shorts & a tank) because the sun would definitely come up while I was running and the weather forecast stated that it would be a high of 70 degrees.  For a runner, that is hot.  I couldn’t even believe that it was that temperature in January.  I guess I should be used to it by now since I have lived in Florida for over 2 years.  Actually, I am not quite sure why I even thought 70 degrees was hot because I had braved many runs through the hot, sticky Florida summer.

I decided to wear my Team in Training singlet because I knew that there would be a lot of supporters out on the sidelines.  Even a few of my friends were going to be running the marathon with Team in Training.  When you wear the purple you are noticed and I definitely wanted to be cheered on at around mile 22.  And this was really a training run for me anyway (sure, whatever) since I am training to do another Team in Training marathon in April.  I love the camaraderie of the TEAM so I knew it would help me get through these next 26.2 miles.

After I had my delicious whole grain waffles slathered in peanut butter, I headed out the door.  This time I decided to drive over to Epcot because I didn’t want to worry about the shuttle.  I also forgot to mention that after the half marathon the day before, I had to walk about 2 miles to find my shuttle home… just not willing to do that after the marathon.  I arrived early and actually had an awesome parking spot (just hoped that I would find it later so I wouldn’t have to walk miles around the parking lot) and I stayed warm and snug in my car until my friend called to say that she had arrived.

We met up and joined the herd to the starting corrals.  Surprisingly, this herd did not seem as large as the day before.  We were actually moving faster than a shuffle.  That was a relief.  Maybe we wouldn’t have to endure so much weaving in and out of walker/runner traffic during the race.  Actually, my friend and I made a deal not to weave during the next 26.2 miles.  We wanted to conserve our running and it would also force us to start out slow.

So, Mickey and Goofy were on stage this time and when we crossed over the starting line I could already notice the difference from the day before.  It was so much easier to run without smashing into the people in front of me and next to me.  My friend and I maintained a good, but slow, pace.  Something was bothering me though.  My right knee was acting up.  It hurt so much that I knew I was overcompensating for the pain and that really worried me.  I kept thinking about how much it would suck to have to walk and I didn’t want to make my friend do that (she had been explicit about sticking together the whole way no matter what).  Then, miraculously, my knee just suddenly stopped hurting at around mile 2.  I don’t know what that was all about, but the pain was gone and I was so relieved.  All I could feel now was the residual soreness from the day before.  I was certain that pain would stick with me (and intensify) during the rest of the race.  I just had to deal with that slight inconvenience.

As my friend and I ran through the theme parks, we would pick up the pace because there would be so much adrenaline from the crowd of supporters (and of course there were people yelling “Go Team!” thanks to the purple).  We would yell at each other to slow down, but for some reason we couldn’t until we exited the park.  Then our pace would slow during the long and boring trip down the road to the next theme park.  There weren’t as many people out on those roads.  When we passed the half marathon mark all I could say was “we just did 2 half marathons, only 1 more to go!”  Our half marathon time was 10 minutes slower than it was the day before, but we weren’t upset about that.  We knew we had done a good job at starting off slow so we wouldn’t die in the end.

Every once in a while I would feel a sudden burst of energy and feel the need to pick up the pace.  My running buddy and I didn’t always get these bursts of energy at the same time, but it would force us to push through.  I had the job of getting us up the hills (since I love climbing up those hills) and my running buddy would need to get us down the hills (she is a speedster when it comes to downhills).  Sometimes we would talk, but most of the time it would be silent.  It didn’t matter either way because we were just happy that someone else was suffering right alongside.  Sounds cruel I know, but we don’t take offense.

There was a nice incline right around mile 19.  I remembered it vividly from last year.  It wasn’t the incline that scared me, but what would happen afterwards.  During the marathon last year I had lost my 3 running buddies at around mile 20 because I just couldn’t get my legs to go.  I had hit the WALL.  This time I was running in this same spot again, but I actually felt pretty good.  There was an out and back portion around mile 20.  I saw 2 people I knew ahead me on the “back” as I was heading “out.”  I waved to them thinking that I would probably not be catching up with them.  I knew they were strong runners (and they both were male… just had to throw that in).  Well, guess what?  We passed one of them within 5 minutes and the other one within 10 minutes.  Oh, that only got me going.  I was feeling GOOD now.  I mean, how many people can say that they feel GOOD at mile 22?  I was still worried that I would hit the WALL, but it never happened.  Sure, I was in pain, but I kept moving and my mind was on a positive vibe.  We ran through the last theme park like it was nobody’s business.

When we were at mile 26 I knew I couldn’t really sprint to the finish line, but I tried my best.  I focused on looking good for pictures so I could keep my mind off those blasted 0.2 miles.  Then we were across and it was over!  I didn’t cry this time, but I was full of contentment.  Okay, and pain.  Lots of pain.  But it’s alright because I expected it.  Come to find out, I had beat last year’s marathon time by 5 minutes!  And to think all I wanted to do was finish…  My friend and I also realized that we had run the second half of the race faster than the first half!  That was remarkable!  We had done a good job at pacing ourselves in the beginning and it helped us get through those last few miles.  I was so proud of our achievement!

So, I hobbled back to my car and managed to drive back to the hotel.  A nice warm shower was such a treat.  My friends decided that we should return to Outback Steakhouse and I agreed.  This time we shared a Bloomin’ Onion and I enjoyed a steak!  It tasted so good!

If you have been inspired by my story, please make a small donation to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  I will be running a marathon in April in support of this cause.  Please check out my website:  http://pages.teamintraining.org/ncfl/madrid12/haponte

Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge: Part 3

Okay, I should be able to end this story now (maybe).  The shuttle ride to the start went by much too quickly.  I was hoping to squeeze in a nap, but that didn’t quite happen.  I wasn’t too surprised to see a large crowd of people when I arrived because I had experienced this before.  The Disney events always draw a large crowd.  I just didn’t realize how large until I was standing in my corral waiting for the race to begin.

So, I sat huddled on the ground (yes, it was slightly chilly so I was thankful I wore my warmer running clothes in addition to my “throw aways”) waiting for my friends to arrive from their hotel.  My running buddy was one of those friends.  We had decided to stick together throughout this whole race and a half.  I was thankful that I wasn’t going to have to run 39.3 miles alone and we knew when to push it and when to back off.  I only tried to think about how much fun it was going to be.  I didn’t want to dwell on the distance and the pain that would most definitely follow.

Have you ever been a cow being herded back to the barn for your dinner of hay?  Probably not.  Well, when you do a race during Disney marathon weekend it pretty much feels the same.  I have even heard the occasional “moo” being blurted out in the crowd…  seriously.  So, the starting corrals (funny that they even call them “corrals”) are only about half a mile from the parking lot, but it takes about 45 minutes to shuffle there (while tightly squeezed between people).  You also need to remember to leave yourself an extra 15 minutes to use the port-a-potty and I must say that Disney does a good job of providing loads of them (but the shortest line is still 15 minutes long).  Oh, unless of course you are a man.  They are often seen peeing in the grass just 10 feet from the port-a-potties.

Just 10 minutes before the official start, my buddy and I “herd” into our corral.  We stand there debating when we should lose our “throw away” clothing… now or wait till we warm up?  Yes, Disney actually donates a lot of clothing that people chuck during these races.  You have to be careful not to trip over clothing in the street while you are running (come on people, at least toss it to the side!).  I do remember seeing one runner fling his sweatshirt onto an innocent runner who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Stuff like that just happens.

Anyway, Donald is on stage (the half-marathon is his race because I guess he can’t run as far as Mickey 🙂 and some announcer is trying to delve out some motivation.  If it is your first time, then you get prepared to start right at 5:30.  However, you will only be disappointed.  They start in waves.  If you have done this before then you know that those waves are actually a good thing.  I think my buddy and I crossed the starting line at around 5:50.  If you want to know where you stand during the race then you must have some kind of Garmin or other running application because the clocks at each mile checkpoint are way off.

As soon as we actually started running we became frustrated because we couldn’t really run.  I remember the announcer saying something about 27,000 people and I couldn’t help but believe that he might be right.  Our method for the half marathon was to keep it easy, but this was ridiculous.  We were actually running intervals because we would be forced to run slow and then would speed up during passes.  I knew that it would just kill me in the end to keep running like that, but I couldn’t accept the slower speeds.  In most cases, a race will start to thin out the further you run, but that wasn’t the case with this half marathon.  It was cramped the entire way!  My buddy and I just joked about how we planned on making this our slowest half marathon ever. Yet, somehow we manged to do better than we anticipated.  I was just worried that my legs would not be happy about the sudden changes in pace that occurred throughout the 13.1 miles.

It was over and I was ready to head back to my hotel to take a shower and refuel (eat).  I attempted to take a nap, but for some reason my neighbors were still in their hotel room… seriously?  I could not get any sleep so I decided to go for a walk around the Disney boardwalk.  I just wanted to take a short walk, but ended up doing a long loop that I didn’t really need.  Then I was so hungry, but spent about an hour trying to figure out what to eat and ended up going back to the hotel before I could make a decision.  I knew that I needed to eat something that would not only help me recover, but also help me prepare for the next day.  For some reason I finally decided on pizza.  I don’t normally eat pizza before a long run, but it just sounded so good and I was literally starving by that point so I didn’t care anymore.

I worried about going to bed that night and of course I had every reason to worry.  The neighbors were there again.  And they were loud… again.  Another 3 hours of sleep before a race… again.  Whatever.

Okay, I need to stop rambling and get to the marathon right?  Well, stay tuned for the Finale.

Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge: Part 2

I suppose I need to finish my account on the Goofy experience before I forget what happened (okay, I guess it was rather unforgettable).  I started getting nervous a week prior to the event.  I just didn’t feel confident that I had trained hard enough.  However, I tried to reflect on the idea that it is actually better to undertrain than it is to overtrain.  Last year I made the mistake of overdoing it.  Remember that marathon 3 weeks before the actual marathon I was training for?  Yes, that was a really bad idea for my first marathon experience.

I figured that if I could run 23 miles during my training without too much difficulty, then I should be okay.  I just wasn’t sure about running the marathon the day after running a half marathon.  I tend to push myself during these races and I am almost always left with some form of residual pain that tends to intensify the day after a race.  I just kept telling myself that my only goal was to finish the Goofy Challenge.  Yet, I knew that I was lying to myself.  I am too competitive to just tell myself that all I want to do is finish a race.  Finish times are always flashing through my mind and I can’t help but focus on achieving personal records.

I was picky about what I ate during the week leading up to the race.  I passed on spicy foods (and I love spicy food!), skipped the broccoli, limited processed foods (basically cut back on the junk) and ensured that I was consuming plenty of lean protein and quality carbs.  I really should eat like that normally.  I even kept my alcohol intake to a bare minimum.  No glass of wine or bottle of beer even 2 days before the event.  I tried not to overdo it during that week in regards to my physical activities.  I felt like I finally had time to just relax and not stress about getting my runs in or hitting up the gym.  Even when I took my weekly BodyPump class I limited myself to half squats and I didn’t care what anyone thought.

It is funny, though, when a runner is preparing to run a race.  All of sudden every part of your body is hurting. You notice every little bit of soreness and become paranoid that you will be unable to participate in the race.  I kept thinking that my knee wasn’t feeling right (and I have never had any knee issues) or that my sciatic nerve was acting up (I do have that issue).  I just kept telling myself that everything would be alright.  I even stretched more often than I normally do.  I continued to hope that my body would be in prime condition for this event.  There was nothing more I could really do about it.

Two nights before the race I went to Olive Garden and enjoyed a healthy spaghetti dish.  Then the next day I had leftovers for lunch.  By that point, I was already sick of spaghetti.  When I stopped at Chick-Fil-A during my drive to Orlando I refrained from eating waffle fries and instead opted for the yogurt parfait.  That evening (the night before the half marathon) my friends asked me to go to Outback Steakhouse for dinner.  That sounded like a crazy idea, but I didn’t really want to eat alone.  Normally, when I go to Outback I eat steak… that just makes sense right?  However, I have learned from experience that eating steak before a long run is not a good idea.  So, I ate chicken and rice for dinner with water… lots of water.  No Bloomin’ Onion for our group.

After dinner I went back to my hotel and prepared for the morning.  I kept checking the weather on the internet like I was expecting the forecast to change from one hour to the next.  I could not decide if I wanted to wear running capris or running shorts, a long sleeve shirt or a tank top.  I would refer back to the internet for the same weather information hoping that it would magically tell me what to wear.  I finally made my decision to stick with the warmer clothing options since I figured that the sun wouldn’t even be up by the time I finished the half marathon in the morning.  Yes, we were starting at 5:30 am which meant I had to be awake at 3:00 am.  The clock was ticking and I needed to get to bed, but I wasn’t finished yet.  I had to decide whether or not I wanted to check a bag and whether or not I should wear my fuel belt.  I am not quite sure why these decisions seem so difficult the night before a race when they come so easily the night before a training run.

I managed to figure it all out somehow and crawl into bed around 10:00 pm.  That didn’t leave much time for sleep, but all of the adrenaline pumping through my system wasn’t helping anyway.  As I turned off the light and closed my eyes, I heard the people in the next room return.  To make a long story short, the family consisted of at least 3 kids that enjoyed screaming and 2 very frustrated parents who reciprocated with yelling.  I might have managed to fall asleep around midnight.  Somehow I woke up to my alarm just a few hours later.

As I prepared my whole grain waffles slathered in peanut butter, I realized that I was sick of whole grain waffles slathered in peanut butter.  I eat the same thing before every run because I am scared of trying something different.  You see, stomach issues during running are my biggest concern.  It is no fun when you have an “emergency” while out on a run.  I have had some pretty close calls.  I knew that I definitely could not change my ways until after this race was over.  So, I scarfed down the waffles and headed out the door.

I had to walk to the next hotel in order to catch the shuttle to Epcot (the start of the race).  As I came to the front of the hotel, a group of people were discussing where the shuttle was supposed to do the pick-up.  It appeared that everyone had been told something different from the hotel staff.  So, we all stood there wondering whether or not the shuttle would actually come pick us up.  Fortunately, it didn’t take long before we spotted the shuttle coming our way.  That was a huge relief.  I couldn’t imagine missing the race because I wasn’t able to get there on time!

Stay tuned for what happens next during Part 3.