I Will Tri

This morning marked the end of a journey.  It was my last Saturday morning run with Team in Training.  I remember nearly 2 years ago when I sat in the information meeting just 6 weeks after giving birth to my third child.  I was determined to run a marathon and I knew that Team in Training would help me accomplish my goal.  I was no newbie to TNT.  I had already completed a Grand Canyon hike with the Team in San Francisco and I was well-informed on how the money raised was used for cancer research and to support cancer patients and their families.   Not only did I want to run a marathon, but I knew that joining the Team would be a great way to form valuable friendships.

I was easily suckered in at that first meeting.  The next thing I know I was at the first training wondering if I would be able to keep up with the fastest runners.  I saw a woman there who looked to be about my age.  I remember that she kind of looked a bit tough and she had all of her running gear.  I assumed that she had been running for a while and I must admit that I was a bit intimidated by her.  At the trainings that followed, that running chick always seemed to go above and beyond.  She would run extra miles and turn around to go back up over the bridges.  One day I decided to stick with her and see what would happen.  Wouldn’t you know it, we became each other’s best motivator.  We became good friends…. life-long running buddies.  Even though we are now separated by thousands of miles, I say “life-long running buddies” because we already have future plans to meet up for races around the country.  Even though I don’t see my running buddy, she is still motivating me to do my best and to never give up.  I can’t thank her enough for that.

So we ran the Walt Disney World marathon.  Oh wait, let me back up for a minute.  Let’s not forget the Jacksonville Bank Marathon just 3 weeks before that.  Four of us crazy teammates decided to do our long training run (20 miles) during the Bank Marathon.  We figured that we would run the first 20 (you know, to train) and then just walk the rest (you know, to recover).  Well, that really sucked.  We don’t recommend doing that.  The Walt Disney World marathon was a much better experience even though I still thought I was going to die at mile 22.  But what do you expect during your first “real” marathon?  Pain… lots of pain.  Out of the 4, I came in last… not my best moment, but I finished!

Of course we couldn’t stop there.  My buddy calls me not too long afterwards to ask if I would be willing to coach the Fall Team with her.  Sure, why not?  Oh, but please note that when we say “Fall Team” we mean that the participants train during the summer so they can run a marathon in the Fall.  I hope you realize that I live in Florida.  I soon found out that training during the summer really SUCKS.  In order to beat the heat (whatever that means because the heat doesn’t care what time of day it is) we had to wake up at 4:00 am in order to start our runs at 5:00 am.  Not that I was a Friday night party animal, but waking up at 4:00 am on a Saturday morning really SUCKS!  But you know what?  It was worth watching those participants finish their first half-marathon.  What a rewarding experience that was!

Then what? Oh, of course I couldn’t stop there.  I just had to run another marathon with the Team, but first I had to do my own thing and finish that Goofy Challenge.  Then I was able to meet up with the Team and give it my full attention again.  But let’s go ahead and mention that I couldn’t have done the Goofy without another running buddy who I was fortunate enough to meet through TNT.  Okay,  by now you should realize that it is so much easier to finish a race when you have a MOTIVATOR!  Now THAT was FUN!  Seriously, I was ready for it and didn’t feel like I would die.  It appears that marathons seem to get easier as you run more of them.

Done with Goofy and then back to TNT to finish training for the next marathon.  I had to go back and forth between which marathon to do, but I finally decided on the Country Music Marathon in Nashville.  So, I was chugging away at my training and having fun meeting more amazing people when… WHAM!  Yep, I was hit with THE INJURY.  Whatever, you blasted injury!  It really pissed me off and I had to take a running leave of absence.  But, needless to say, I was determined to at least finish the half-marathon.  And I did.  Somehow.  Still not sure how I ran nearly the whole thing, but I did.  It SUCKED, but I pushed through.  Maybe that is why I won the TNT award for “Most Determined.”

And this morning was our celebration run.  Now what?  Oh, right.  Of course I have a plan.  Now I will finish my first triathlon.  Let’s shoot for an Olympic on June 23rd.

 

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The half-marathon I will never forget!

I tried not to think about it as the day approached.  I wasn’t too keen on walking a half-marathon.  I just kept telling myself that the plan was just to finish it and not to worry so much about how I would actually get to the finish line.  I wasn’t as stressed as I usually am when I pack for a race.  I only brought one pair of running shorts, one shirt and one pair of running shoes.  Normally I would make sure I always had a spare of each item.  I didn’t really worry too much about what I ate during the days leading up to the event.  I didn’t feel any real excitement about the race and I mostly just focused on enjoying a vacation weekend away from home.  It was almost like the race was just an after thought.

I eventually arrived in Nashville and spent some time looking around the race expo.  I wasn’t interested in purchasing any race attire or souvenirs.  I didn’t feel the need to take home any mementos other than the medal that I would receive if I crossed the finish line.  The Goofy event a few months ago was a different story.  I made sure I had purchased a shirt that very clearly stated that I had run 39.3 miles.  That was an obvious necessity.

When I went to the inspiration dinner later that evening I was inspired (not an unusual feeling for me at those events).  A young woman talked about how she lost her sister to cancer many years ago.  She cried often during her speech and it brought tears to my own eyes.  I listened as they announced all of the top fundraisers and I was utterly impressed.  At the end of the dinner I still wasn’t sure about my own goals during the race, but I knew that I had already done something… I had raised $3,000 to help fund cancer research.  What more did I need to do?

As usual, I couldn’t sleep that night.  I tend to run races on very little sleep because I have so much trouble falling asleep the night before.  I woke up not very refreshed, but ready to get it over with.  We took our team photo down in the lobby and wished each other success on the race.  A few participants were running the marathon and I felt a twinge of jealousy because that had been my original plan.  Yet, I knew I had just been dealt a different set of cards.  I knew that this would be a challenge and challenges usually motivate me, but for some reason I just wanted to get through it and be done.

I waited with another participant near the starting line.  We actually waited a very long time because we had arrived so early.  She was nervous because it was her first half-marathon and she wasn’t confident that she had properly trained.  I encouraged her as best as I could.  Come to find out later, she actually did quite well.

I went to my corral up near the front.  The only reason why I was up near the front was because I had registered with a decent finish time for the marathon.  I considered moving back since I feared that I would be the only one stopping to walk.  I often get annoyed with people who decide to stop in the middle of the road, especially at the start of a race.  I didn’t want to be one of those people.  Yet, I also didn’t want to get stuck in the back where I had to deal with weaving in and out of traffic if I decided that I would pick up my pace.  I decided just to stay in my assigned corral and move off to the side.

At that point, I began to get a little worried.  The furthest I had walked in the past few weeks was 6 miles.  And of course I hadn’t been on a run in over a month and a half.  I just assumed I would be fit enough to finish because I maintained my fitness through cycling, swimming and weight training.  However, I knew that people who thought that they could run a half-marathon without actually training for it were just plain stupid.  Now I was standing there wondering if I was one of those stupid people.  Not only had I not trained specifically for that event, but I had an injury to deal with.  I began to wonder if I had made a mistake.

Well, it was too late to reconsider because the next thing I knew I was following the crowd past the starting line.  I started at a slow jog because I didn’t want to inhibit anyone behind me.  People were still passing me, but at least I had a decent speed.  After jogging a block or so I felt the adrenaline pumping and I started to pick up speed.  I wasn’t about to be that slow person holding up traffic.  I kept thinking that I should stop to walk.  Actually, that was a recurring thought throughout the entire race.  I never really ever responded to that thought except maybe a few times when coming down a steep incline or during an approach to the water table.  The next thing I know I was at the 5K mark within 31 minutes.  Yikes!  I told myself that I needed to slow down because there was no way that I would be able to maintain that speed.

Every now and then I would consider the pain in my left leg and lower back.  I would consider it thoughtfully.  It was more of a dull ache and not a sharp shooting or severe pain.  I didn’t feel any numbness in my leg or foot so I knew that was a plus.  I couldn’t find a real excuse to stop running at the pace I was moving at.  Then I focused on endurance.  Yeah, I would probably tire myself out before I got to the finish line.  I hadn’t run this far in a long time so I knew that fatigue would take over all areas of my body.  These thoughts always ended with a final decision:  to just keep running until I was either in severe pain or too tired to move my legs.

And the hills!  Wow… Nashville is hilly!  All of my running buddies know I love to run hills.  It is actually the best part in my book because I usually tend to pass loads of people who are wearing down.  Well, you might think that I would get even more tired since I hadn’t been out for my regular Tuesday night bridge runs in quite some time.  Sure, I was more tired than usual, but you know what?  That pain in my left leg would subside when I ran up an incline.  No pain meant more running.  On the downside, I had to go easy with the declines because those made the pain worse.  So, I was passing walkers going up the hills, but runners were passing me as we went down the hills.  They must have thought I was some sort of freak.  Who runs up hills but walks down them?

It was one hill after another, but I didn’t really notice like most normal people would.  The only hill that I actually cursed was the one at mile 12 because I was just so dang tired.  At the marathon / half-marathon split at around mile 11 I easily talked myself out of joining the marathon course.  I knew that would have been just plain stupid.  As I neared the finish line I couldn’t believe that I had continued to run pretty much the whole way.  Not only that, but the time just flew by and I couldn’t believe I was already almost there.  It was then that I felt a wave of emotion.  I had to curse the hill just so I would refrain from shedding the tears.  I just could not believe what I had done despite all of the setbacks.  I wasn’t sure if I should have been proud of myself or if I should have cursed at myself for being really stupid.  I just knew in my heart that whatever pain I was feeling was nothing compared to the pain that Elizabeth and her parents have endured.  I nearly choked at the thought of what it would be like to have a sick child and feeling helpless as she endured endless treatments.  I almost felt like I had no right to stop and walk.

Somehow I managed to cross the finish line at 2:19:18.  My worst time ever, but not by much.  My first half-marathon time was 2:17:55.  A far cry from my fastest time of 1:49:57 (accomplished just a few short months ago), but how can I complain?  My goal was 3 hours!  I was planning to WALK!  What happened?  I don’t know, but I will take it.  I just can’t believe I did it.  I really can’t.

Of course I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed the next morning.  Then I would hear the endless “I told you so’s” and never be able to redeem myself.  But to my utter amazement, my left leg and lower back were perfectly fine.  Strangely enough, I didn’t feel even the slight pain that I had been feeling over the past few weeks.  Yet, I wasn’t left in tip-top shape.  Nope, my body had to reward me with a strained right calf muscle.  Now I am limping around on my other leg.  Okay, whatever.   I will take it.

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: Part 1

Just over a year ago, I completed my first Walt Disney World marathon.  It was only the second marathon I had ever completed (and I don’t even really count the first one I did just 3 weeks prior… yeah, very  dumb move).  After I had crossed the finish line and stumbled around to find a place where I could attempt to rest my aching body, I noticed people walking around with 2 medals (of course at the time I didn’t realize that they had actually received 3 medals that weekend).  I asked around about the Goofy medal because I knew that Donald represented the half marathon and Mickey (the one around my neck) represented the full marathon.  Come to find out, the Goofy medal was received when a person (crazy to say the least) finished both the half marathon and the full marathon in the same weekend.  All I could think was that those people had lost their minds.  I was having enough trouble trying to get my legs to move.

Needless to say, the thought came back to me later that day, but I was more focused on getting a cheeseburger and fries into my belly.  Then there was the fun of walking around the Disney parks for the next 3 days and I would occasionally spot someone with a Goofy Race shirt.  It didn’t take long for my running buddy to start talking about the Goofy race…. I’m almost positive she mentioned it the very next time we ran after that marathon.  Yeah, she was (still is) kind of insane about that stuff.  I remember saying that it sounded like a good idea, but thinking that I would never follow through with it, especially when I caught wind of the registration fee.

The months creeped by and I became more focused on my speed rather than distance.  I was happy keeping my races at a 5K, 10K or even 15K.  I really had no desire to get right back to that marathon business.  However, the next thing you know I am signing on to coach Team in Training (TNT).  Lucky for us, we really only had to focus on a half marathon.  However, since we were intertwined with TNT yet again, my buddy decided to play the Goofy card again.  “How about we do the Goofy Race with TNT?”  It seemed plausible, but the thought of fundraising again made me keep my distance.  Somehow that didn’t last long and I was coerced into saying that it sounded like such and great idea and “let’s do it!.”  Just a few days before I was supposed to submit my registration with TNT, I received a text from my friend:  “I just found out that TNT is offering a marathon in Madrid during the spring!”  To make a long story short, we opted out of the Goofy Race with TNT and registered for the Madrid marathon.

Yet, I wasn’t out of the clear.  The idea of the Goofy race never left my friend’s mind.  Not only that, but we found out that one of our other friends had been registered for the Goofy race as a birthday gift from her husband (nothing like torturing your wife on her birthday).  I remember sitting at my computer hitting the “submit” button.  After that there was no turning back.  I couldn’t really start training until I had finished coaching.  Even after that I kept putting it off.  I began to wonder if I was ever going to get prepared for this race.  Little by little I started training… And then… I was hit by a ton of bricks.  Not literally of course, but there was some bad news that had traveled my way.

Come to find out, my friend (yes, the one who talked me into this mess) was getting deployed for 6 months.  And it just so happened that she would be leaving the country one week before the Goofy Race.  At that point it was too late for me to back out.  I had already paid a large sum of money and I had kind of started my training.  However, I wasn’t alone.  Our other friend had started her training and we brought ourselves together for a common cause (to finish this sucker).  It wasn’t looking so bad after all, but we often found ourselves animatedly discussing our friend’s absence and how she must have done this on purpose to torture us.  I guess friends can make us stronger…  at least that is what I keep telling myself.

Stay tuned for what happened next…

Pushing Yourself Towards Greatness

First of all, this is my 50th post since I started writing this blog.  I write mostly for myself, but I do enjoy knowing that there are a few people who may find my stories slightly interesting.  I hope that I can be a positive influence on others and maybe even entice a few folks to take a crack at this running thing.

Last night I also realized that I enjoy encouraging others to be successful runners.  I couldn’t have been happier when I was asked to be a running coach for Team in Training.  I am not an elite runner so it may seem as though I don’t have a lot to offer the novice runner.  Quite the contrary, in fact, because I have a lot of passion.  I am also human and just plain average when it comes to running.  I do make mistakes and I expect my trainees to learn from my mistakes so that is why I share my embarrassing stories.  You just have to be willing to remain humble.

With that said, I love encouraging others to work harder and strive for greatness.  I suppose that is why I became a teacher.  Since I am not currently teaching, I guess that this is my new outlet for helping others. However, when it comes to this team, I find that I don’t have to try very hard.  They seem to find the motivation within themselves to push through the tough terrain.  I must say that I am proud to run next to someone who has made a choice to work towards running further from one training run to the next.  I know it isn’t easy to do something that pushes your body to the limit.  It is amazing what we can do when we put our minds to it.

Some do need more encouragement than others.  When an activity becomes too tough it is human nature to back off and take the path of least resistance.  That was how I used to approach running.  If it became too hard, then I would slow down.  Yet, running is very much a mental game.  I have learned that if I push back when it gets difficult, then I can achieve more than I ever have before.  It does take a lot of willpower to do this, but it can be done.  One step at a time is the best approach.  You can’t expect to run a half-marathon in under 2 hours overnight.

Not only does it take willpower, but it takes passion.  You can only achieve greatness if you want to.  Someone recently told me that they didn’t want to run fast.  Well, they won’t run fast.  If you don’t want to run far, then you won’t run far.  That makes perfect sense.  What doesn’t make sense is when you say that you can’t.  If you want to, then you can.  It does take work though.  Sometimes people can’t do something because they don’t want to work at it.

I tell my trainees that if they make it over the hill before everyone else, then they have to turn around and come back up the hill.  If they want to improve their running and not just settle for what feels comfortable, then they will turn around and come back up the hill.  Yes, it is a challenge, but that’s the point.  The point is to move out of your comfort level in order to achieve what you never thought possible.

Training Day #1

What an exciting new adventure that awaits us!  I am working with an awesome team of walkers and runners… some of whom have never completed a half or full marathon!  I sure know what that journey is like and now I am excited to help others accomplish this amazing feat!

Last night our team walked or ran 1.5 miles.  It was the furthest distance for a few (but that will very soon change).  I have to admit that I was a little nervous about running the show (no pun intended).  I had my little route mapped out and it should have been simple enough… given that it was an easy loop.  In making myself feel better, I had hoped to drive the route prior to arriving at our meeting location, but that didn’t happen because a last-minute trip to the store was necessary.  If you know me, then you know I get a little freaked out when I am late for something (I think I get that from my dad who is never late for anything and who would ground me if I was ever even a second late for a curfew… seriously).  Nothing ever seems to go smoothly when you arrive late (especially when it is your duty to get things going).   When I was teaching, I would always arrive at least an hour before the students arrived.  I just can’t stand the feeling of being unprepared and unorganized.

So the next thing I knew I was there, in front of the group telling them that it was an easy loop and that I hoped no one would get lost.  If that happened, then the coaches would know who to look out for on the longer and more complicated routes.   It was then time to head out and I took the lead with the group of faster runners.

Yeah, I was originally concerned about the participants getting lost.  Needless to say, I was the one who ended up making two wrong turns.  Sure, it didn’t hurt for the faster, more experienced runners to get some extra mileage, but it didn’t really make me look good.  I said I was great at navigating, but obviously I didn’t prove to be all that great… and it was just an easy loop!  I knew I was a perfectionist for a reason, so missing that vital step of checking out the route really threw me for a loop (once again, no pun intended).  So, all I can do now is to try my best not to let it happen again.  Otherwise, it makes for a fabulous story.  At least I can be humble and say that nobody is perfect… not even the coach.  And we all did make it back (some of us just put in a little extra work).

And you know what was even more humorous about the whole situation?  I was concerned about the other participants taking the wrong turn as well, so I went back to check on them and found out that one of the runners behind us actually made it back before us (yes, he knew where he was going).  No one else seemed to have any doubt about which way to go.

Regardless, I know I am going to enjoy this coaching experience.  I get to meet amazing people who are dedicating themselves to pursue a fitness goal while helping to raise money for cancer research.  I know how much the experience changed my own life and made me a healthier, happier person.  I want to help others succeed in making a difference not just in the lives of others, but in their own life.