41 years, 41 miles

On a beautiful Saturday, I went for a run with my friends and it was glorious!

It got a name in there somehow.  The days leading up to the run were so busy I didn’t have time to think about it, much less be nervous.  It wasn’t until a quiet moment at dinner with Will, Greg, Jen, and David that I realized, and said to the table, “oh shit, I have to run a really long way tomorrow.”  They laughed, and nodded vigorously.

I got to bed just after 9pm, which was my goal, though it took me awhile to get to sleep.  I woke 3 minutes before my alarm went off, and started preparing for the day, too busy again to dwell on the road ahead.  My lymphedema was really hurting me, but I knew if I ran long enough, other things would hurt more and I could ignore it!  This is my strategy in the absence of any reasonable fix for it.  Runners started arriving right at 6:30 – Erin and Marty were the first to show, followed quickly by Kim and Kellye.  Brad showed up with bike to follow us for as long as he could.  I had everyone sign the green arrow as the commemorative item of the day.  I went to the restroom one last time and that’s when it hit me, “you have to do this thing now.”  That quickly evaporated when I thought about the people waiting for me outside.

As I stepped out of the front door, I said, “I think I’ll go for a run with my friends today!  Who’s with me?!?” And we all took off down the street in a merry band.  Team Valeo (Jenny, Sarah, and Michelle) + Greg were at mile 1 cheering us on.  I pretended to veer over to them, “ well that was tiring, I think I’m done now.”  As we turned in to Brookwood, our first surprise runner, Sue, appeared, “every race needs a bandit!”  And we ran through the neighborhood, enjoying the day, chatting about wildlife and the road ahead.  A new runner appeared at the first aid station stop – Michelle.  Now we really had a crew.  Kim also put forth her first words of counsel to me, which was not to get too bogged down at the aid stations.  (As the day went on, I wished I could just unscrew the top of my head to let her pour in the running wisdom, though it doesn’t work like that, I know.)

It was then that I realized that no one had really memorized the mapped route (though Kim, of course, had printed the map and put in her pack), but with Sue’s help, we made it back to Bay Area, which was all that mattered.  Jenny greeted us at the corner near her apartment complex.  She looked like a fluffy bunny in her coat and PJ’s.  Groups of cyclists passed us along Bay Area and we waved.  Everyone else was getting warm and I was ready to ditch the pants and long sleeve at the next stop.  Kim set about doing what she did for me the whole day, going ahead to the aid station and getting me set up first so it would take minimal time.  She is a great lady.

We lapped Bay Area Park, and Brad said something to me such that only my great affection for him prevented me from pushing him into a traffic sign.  I wish I could remember what it was.  Then it was up the road to the first change out of runners.  Kellye kept up the whole time, even though she wasn’t sure she could.  I’m so proud!  Marty, Erin, and Kellye stopped at the Valeo station, and we picked up Anna just as we were departing for the Red Bluff trail.

Somewhere here Kim confessed that out and backs were her least favorite thing.  I felt for her.  I don’t mind them.  I’m always relieved at the turn around – it feels like going home.  For me it’s loop courses.  Drives me nuts!  Two loops is manageable, three is annoying, more than that and I might start throwing punches.

I had my first of Jenny’s 10 Mile Cookies at the park along Red Bluff.  I told Kim I called them that because I liked to wait until after 10 miles to reward myself, and she asked me how many miles it had been.  “9.6, but close enough and it’s a special day.”  Ah, mirth.

I enjoyed the chatter of my companions, and reflected on the trail.  I like the shade and the foot bridges, which bounced up and down when our group ran over them, causing me to laugh every time.  I also remembered another reason I picked this part of the route.  It was here that I felt running saved my life again.  When I had a serious depressive mood swing from chemopause, and thought dying would be better than how I felt, I dragged my sorry ass out of the house and ran down this trail until I felt better.  By the time I got to the park, I knew I would be ok again.  Then I turned to run back to my house, knowing what to do if I ever felt that way again.  That was the hardest run to start.

As we drew nearer the end of the trails, I pointed out how awesome it was that we had a women’s group going.  Also, that none of the men wanted to get up this early.  That got a lot of cheers.  As it should.  We did pick up our first guy at the trail’s end, Will, who I asked to run in the morning so he could ready the house for the after party.  We had a moment where I thought folks knew I left the aid station, but later found out they did not, but all that meant was that Will and I got to run for a bit by ourselves.  We ran hand in hand for a few moments, enjoying the day and each other’s company.  It was sweet.

The ladies caught up to us, and I remember another time when we moved together silently, the only sound our collective footfalls, each of us working and thinking.  I savored this time of companionable silence, just as much as I enjoyed listening to everyone’s stories.

As we emerged back on to Red Bluff, another surprise runner joined us.  Cindy!  It was about here that I realized one of the next things I should improve is the point of work.  That is, the mileage where I start to feel like I’m really working at it.  This is somewhere between 13 and 15.  I want this to be higher.

More running, more conversation, more listening.  Back at the Valero station, Liz and Ryan joined us.  I think Michelle ended her run there – Anna was still going.  It was mile 18 or so, and I was still feeling pretty good.  I ditched my gaiters, and we continued down Red Bluff.  I really enjoy running that section in the dark, so it was strange to head down the road in the middle of the day.  The weather was still beautiful.  Running with Liz makes me so damn happy.  She sent me all those supportive texts during the marathon and gives me nice compliments about my ass.  Now that’s a friend.

At the Chevron, David joined us, earlier than I expected!  Now we really had a crew.  David and I would have a running conversation for most of the rest of the run, much of which I don’t remember in any detail.  But I do remember enjoying myself.

At Clear Lake Park I made the long trek to the bathroom, and felt relieved to ditch my pack for some minutes.  I shouted at Liz on the return to the exit, hoping she would go get my pack, but she already had it!  Hooray!

At Space Center, Cindy turned around to run back home.  We crossed the street and were joined by Paul on roller blades.  Weeeee!  This was kind of funny, except for the corner he where he almost ran into me.  And the acorn that almost made him wipe out.  We made our way through Nassau Bay, and things started to get a bit harder for me.  But then suddenly we were coming down the road to the MD Anderson Bay Area Regional Care Clinic!  Sarah and Beth were there to take photos of us, and a host of people gathered to cheer.  Then it was down through the neighborhoods.  We ran along the newly refurbished pier, then suddenly we were at the park.  We had a surprise Scott join us for a brief time!

We headed toward the peninsula wilderness area, and my how suddenly things change.  The pedestrian gate was locked.  And for unknown reasons, the way was now paved over.  We debated a bit as to what to do.  We had Paul on roller blades and Justin and Phineas in the stroller.  I was ready to just not attempt it, not because I didn’t want to, but because I felt responsible for my people, and didn’t want to push my luck.  But they kept egging me on, and I can always give in to running peer pressure.  I remember a cheer from the group to go around the fence.  The lack of rain meant the water level was down, and someone had already blazed a path and put down some boards.  I stepped down quoting 180 degrees South, “well ‘the adventure begins when things start to go wrong’” and with the blessings of my pack, I felt renewed.

Off we went down the road.  I was pretty sad about the lack of wildlife.  The paving was a really terrible decision.  Other people that had run the trail also commented on how much they missed the grasses.  No bunnies, no crabs, it was starting to bum me out.  At the loop end, I noted there were no crawfish burrows.  Woe!  I think there were a species of primary burrowing crawfish that used to live at the end of peninsula.  Not sure if they’re still there after the construction.  And that was the moment of the first great low.  That excellent feeling of everything in your life being pointless and stupid.  I was not so concerned, though.  Compared to actively wanting to die during chemo, this felt like a party.  Justin told me the “All Got Stuck” story, and it really helped me.  Kim kept feeling me electrolytes and protein drink, and by the time we got to the gate, I started to feel a little better.

There was kind of a large crowd cheering at the park as we emerged; I noticed the CKris and family there.  Debra joined us also.  Debra is a pretty excellent pacer for me.  She laughs easily, and is just the right height to hand things to.  This may have been the time I started checking in with Greg at the aid stations about the status of observable reality.  Was I phase shifting?  I couldn’t be sure.

As we neared the end of the Nassau Bay run, Kim and a few others were out in front of us.  This turned out to be a helpful tactic, as I felt compelled to try and catch them.  But it was getting difficult.  I was hitting mileage in the 30’s around this time.  Another giant crowd of people appeared at the Bullrito’s aid station.  Dave was there, Rick and Mike joined us.  Rick attempted to stop traffic as we crossed NASA parkway, a tactic he would use at every road crossing.  I never figured out if he was serious or just making me laugh, but it was hilarious every time.

By the time we got to the Chevron on Saturn Ln., I noticed the full crew change to Fabio, Layla, and Nishal.  Layla went to town on my calves with a stick roller.  It was pain but heaven at the same time.  Kim kept telling me what to eat and drink, and I was so thankful she was there to do it, because I was decision impaired at this point.  Mmmmm, Clif Blocks.  So delicious.  We made our way to the golf course, where Paul helped to herd us, and then surprised us by following us on the unimproved cart path.  He had to off-road in those roller blades near the old clubhouse location, after which he declared himself done like a baked potato.

I think Ann and Keiko joined us here.  Ann had a Garmin, which was good for me because mine died just before entering the golf course.  I asked Ann to keep me on pace between 12-13 min miles.  Just after the Penn Hills turnaround, I noticed a critical error had been made.  Well, with aid stations less than every 2 miles, not that critical, but still.  While ice had been added to my pack, water had not.  I had just sucked it dry.  “Where’s Andy?” I asked, in a fit of clarity, remembering that he was bike shadowing us with a pannier full of water and Gatorade.  He was right behind us!  I got a Gatorade, and Ann held the bottle for me.  No one was attacked by ducks, but we did run through a family having a portrait taken.  I think about here I started guessing at the mileage, and then Kim would taunt me by saying it was 3 miles less than I thought.  Good times!  Somewhere in here was the second point where I decided my life was pointless and this was stupid.

When we got to Neptune and exited the golf course, it took everything I had to start running again.  I started at the road ahead, took some deep breaths, focused, exhaled and did it.  Kim, who I then noticed was beside me said, “you’re very focused and determined,” and that made me feel  awesome under all the intense fatigue and aches.  “I’m running on sheer willpower now,” I replied.  “That’s all it takes.”  Kim is wise.

More cookies and calf rubbing at the Kroger stop.  Fabio had worked on my shoulders so I could pick my head up again.  Now I know, when I get that tired, my head falls forward, and then my shoulders get pretty stiff.

Then it was up the road over so many acorns.  At some point Rick started menacing me with sticks he would pick up along the course, trying to motivate me to run faster.  It kind of worked.  Nobody wants to get hit with a stick.

At the last Chevron, I went in to the restroom, and thought for about 5 seconds of just making a nest in the bathroom.  We picked up Jenny, who I didn’t recognize. “Yeah man, I’ve got a hat on and shorts!”  Jenny is funny.  We quickly got into an argument about who was more awesome.  “No you are.”  “No you are!”  “Nuh-uh!!!”  “Uh-huh!!!”  (Fear our powers of rhetoric.) “You’re more awesome times a million!!!”  “Uh.”  “You can’t even think about a number that large!”  “Nope.”  “Here, I’ll try to count.  One, two, ……. that’s all I got.”  Yeah, I couldn’t count past two.  This was funny to the crew.

Team Valeo started playing music at the aid stations.  I had to think about what I wanted at the end. Rocky featured prominently in their musical choices.

By the time we got to the pothole prairie marsh, it was dark.  A bit later than I planned!  But still, I decided we should forge ahead on the trail, even if we couldn’t run it.  We didn’t have headlamps, and roots were not our friends.  This creeped most of the crew out.  I was enjoying myself immensely, even though I did hallucinate a person in the trail, which later turned out to be just a shrub.

We used Mike as a guide down the roads in Pine Brook, because he’s tall and easy to see in his white shirt.  “We’ll follow the soothing sounds of your voice, Mike!”  “HELLO.”  You had to be there to experience the deep radio announcer mode.  Heh.

We wound our way down to what would be the last aid station.  I felt like I might actually make it!  What seemed like a large number of vehicles were parked at Middlebrook park.  Paul came back all suited up and spiffy for the symphony!

I started down the park sidewalk toward home.  This is where it all began.  I ran C25K in this park in what feels like another life.  And there I was, running mile 40 down to my house.  I think someone gave me an encouraging ass slap, for which I blamed Ann.  She claimed innocence, which prompted me to ask for the full Ann treatment, because I would not be deprived!  I think my brain said, “I WANT TO FEEL YOUR LADY FINGERS ON MY ASS!!!” because I am classy that way.

I was surprised to see Will, Scott and Keiko, and the CKris at Havenpark!  And Will brought the hounds!  I almost veered over to get my hounds, because they are runners too, but I couldn’t figure out how to work this, and my crew kept me on track.  I saw flashing lights down the path, which I would later learn was Greg flashing “the end is near” in Morse code, but Ann and I thought was an idiot trying to take a flash photo.

As the field of view at the end opened up, I was very confused.  Why were these people lined up at the park?  I was going to head straight for my house.  Ann had to tell me to run through the line of them, and in retrospect, what I needed was someone to tell me when it was OK to stop running.  And then I was almost there, and I picked up the pace and left my crew, for a few meters of what I remember as flying through a line of people.

And then, it was done.  I wanted to cry, but I reached a new threshold of overwhelmed, where it wasn’t possible to cry.  I hugged people, as many as I could.  All these people, they came out for this one crazy day, to do this thing with me.  It was an amazing day.

I was pretty sore and tired at the after party, but everyone generally seemed to take away something very positive from the experience.  Jenny and Debra made me an awesome commemorative shirt, which they also both wore, but I was so out of it, I couldn’t figure out what they were wearing!


Some general thoughts to wrap up, and lessons learned:

I planned to have 2-4 runners with me at all times, and ended up with 6-8, because nobody wanted to stop and most people ran more than they planned.  Kellye, David, and Jenny, all ran farther than they’d ever run before!  This meant having Team Valeo was even more critical – people going farther wouldn’t have been possible without them.

I need more electrolytes than I think.  Yes, more than that.  Try the pills, they are great.  I got a host of nutritional experimenting to do for my next long race.

It’s hard to let someone do things for you when you’re used to being self sufficient on the road.  But if you can let that go, things will get easier.

I couldn’t have done this without Kim.  She was invaluable in helping me to manage fatigue and nutrition.

I didn’t have a major new or unexpected problems, which was pretty good.

And finally, the thing I want to leave as a final thought……people kept coming up to me and telling me how inspirational the run was, and how in awe they were.  I said this at the party, and it bears repeating, it’s easy to do great things when you’re surrounded by great people who love, support, and inspire you.

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