Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I'm a marathoner!

Okay party people, I'm back. I was too tired and too freaked out by all the flames visible from the front and back of my house to post last night (our house is safe, but the smoke is thick and it's pretty bad out here).

For those of you who just want the Reader's Digest version, it is this: I was injured, so I had to walk a lot of it, but I finished.

Now, for the rest of you who want to every last excrutiating detail...fasten your seatbelts! And get a drink and something to eat, too. This is going to take awhile.


I flew up Friday with a lot of TNT people, including my friend and training partner, Maria, and her mom. The person I sat next to I will refer to as Grumpy Woman. I had the aisle seat. She came down to my row and said she was in the middle. I joked "how lucky" and she said, poker-faced, "Not really."

Then, later, a lot of people were cheering, and I asked her if she was with TNT.


Ooookay then. How can someone be THAT grumpy when leaving for San Francisco to do a charity event? I saw her at different times throughout the weekend (apparently, it WOULD kill her to smile). Poor girl!

After arriving at our hotel, Maria and I picked up our marathon bibs at the Expo and then did a little shopping at NikeTown.

Later, I was treated to dinner by my friend Melissa. We had a fabulous time and needed about 10 more hours to finish half the conversations we had!

I was really looking forward to a peaceful night of sleep, with no husband to fight for space in the bed and no kids waking me in the morning. I was asleep before 11. Then I had an unpleasant wakeup call at 5:30 a.m. when my left calf cramped. I was able to fall back to sleep before my right calf cramped at 7. Not a good sign.

So what to do to make me feel better? After grabbing some Starbucks with Maria and her mom, I went over to the Expo and got a free manicure. Then I did some more shopping at NikeTown. The entire outside wall on Stockton Street had the names of everyone who'd registered for the race. It was so cool to see my name up there!

I took a short nap in the afternoon. Then David and the kids arrived. We walked the block or so to the Moscone Center for the Pasta Party. The place is ginormous, which made what happened when we arrived all the more amazing. I don't think any description can do it justice.

We opened the door and there, lining the entire entry, down the escalator and on the main floor near the banquet room, were hundreds of TNT mentors and coaches. And they all were cheering and banging noisemakers. It was, in a word, overwhelming. Because they were all cheering for me. ME! And, of course, all the TNT participants there that evening.

Mentors from our chapter later told me the expression on my face was priceless. I was so overcome it was all I could do not to burst into tears. The noise was like what a rock star (or Oprah!) must feel like every time they take the stage.

We were so stunned we didn't take any video or pictures, unfortunately...

The kids didn't want to eat anything and got agitated fairly quickly, so David took them back to the room after an hour. I stayed behind to listen to the speakers.

There was John "the Penguin" Bingham, who writes a column for Runners World. He talked all about what a first-time marathoner needs to know. That is where I learned about the Bite Me mile. This is the time, usually in the late miles, where you want to tell anyone who speaks - or even LOOKS at you - to Fuck Off (he didn't actually use those words, but that was the drift). You don't want to hear that you're "doing great," that you're "almost there" or, really, anything at all.

You are in pain. It's all you can do to take one more step. You haven't yet had the next epiphany: the moment you realize you are, in fact, going to cross the finish line.

At that point, you need to take a moment and relish the feeling. Because you're going to be very busy soon thinking about how you want to look when you cross the finish line.

The #1 mistake? Stopping your Garmin as you cross the line! Bingham said he actually ran with a woman who whipped out a lipstick from her shorts so she could look good crossing the line!

The next speaker also had some good advice. And why not? She was the first woman Olympic marathoner. She's the reason so many thousands of women have taken up the challenge of running 26.2 miles. She broke the barrier. She showed the world that women were strong enough to go the distance (for cripe's sake, we have CHILDBIRTH, of COURSE we can do a marathon!).

The final speaker was the most inspirational. Her name is Amy. She raised $5,000 and ran her first marathon with TNT a few years ago.

Then, this spring, she was diagnosed with Stage III cancer. She spoke of her journey. Of the night she and 100 friend packed a local bar for her head-shaving party. Of the chemo. Of the fear. And of the tremendous support she got from TNT and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

She thanked everyone for raising the money - $18.5 MILLION nationwide for this event. Because if not for all the research, she wouldn't be standing there.

"And now, I can say, I'm a survivor," she said, through her tears.

It was an amazing ending to a fabulous night.


I got the bed all to myself Saturday night as the kids bunked with David. I fell asleep fairly quickly, but woke late with a start, sure I had overslept. It was 11 p.m. I was up a bit off an on, then finally got up at 4:25 a.m., five minutes before my alarm was to go off.

I had set out my clothes and other stuff the night before. So I was dressed and ready to go pretty quickly. I wrote with a purple Sharpie "Better than chemo" on one arm and "Mind over Miles" on the other.

I went down to the lobby at 5:15 and quickly found Maria. I completed my outfit with a TNT tatoo on my cheek.

A half hour later, we were ready to walk to the starting line in Union Square, about three blocks away. Maria and I wore very fashionable garbage bags. It was a little chilly with a little breeze, but you could tell it was going to be a nice day.

Finally, finally, it was time to line up. The gun went off. We didn't move. More than 15 minutes later, we rounded the corner and could see the start line.


I took my first step.

I felt the stitch in my right side.

I knew this was trouble.

This was not a stitch because of breathing. This was something different, something I get at a certain time of the month, if you know what I'm saying. It does not go away with stretching, changing my breathing pattern, or pushing on it. It only goes away when I stop moving, although I am usually sore in the area the next day.

I started running. The views were spectactular. Golden Gate Bridge in particular was amazing. I ran a bit with some of the women who were doing the half. But mostly, I ran alone.

I turned on my iPod. The first song? Beautiful Day, by U2.

Then the hills began. I was under the (MISTAKEN) impression that there would be only a couple hills. WRONG! Mile six was entirely uphill. By then, I decided to walk the hills and save energy. I knew I could make up the pace downhill. However, two things happened. First, my iPod died. Second, I realized the impact of running downhill made the stitch in my side much, much worse.

So now I was kind of doing a walk/run thing. I kept this up for awhile. Then just after mile 12, there was the diversion: those who were running the half went right, those of us doing the full went left.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't tempted by the thought that it could be over in 15 minutes. But I stayed left and kept moving.

I called David to let him know I was passing 13. He and the kids weren't far, waiting to cheer me on. And then I saw them. Sawyer saw me and raced out onto the course to grab me.

Then as I ran away, they screamed "Go Mommy go!"


By mile 15, I was hurting. I was limping because it felt like something was pinching me between my toes on the ball of my right foot (the one in which I had a cortisone shot). I now had stitches throughout my entire midsection. I could not eat my shot blocks because the thought of it was nauseating.

And that's when Chris came up to me. My friend Torrey told me last week that I would not run the race alone, that I'd find someone along the way. She was right. I was incredibly lucky that that person was Chris. He was a coach from the Southern New Jersey chapter (fitting, as some of you know I was born there).

He asked me how I was doing, and fortunately, I didn't burst into tears. He started walking with me. One of my coaches found us at 16 and told me I could divert (there was another shortcut to the finish line).

There was no way that was happening. I was going to finish all 26.2 miles, even if it took me all day. Chris was right with me. The course now ran along the beach. Chris told me that, since I knew I was not going to finish within my goal time, that I should just enjoy the beautiful day.

He was right. There was bright sunshine, you could smell the salt kicking up from the waves, and there was thousands of women out there kicking butt.

I asked Chris, who it turns out has done FIFTY-TWO marathons, what brought him to TNT. He said he's done events for them, and had been involved with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for years. At one event, he met a woman. They started dating, fell in love, and got engaged.

Then she was diagnosed with Leukemia. She died a year later, at age 30.

He is now dating someone else who is training for her first event. I spoke with her on his phone. She sounded great. I was very happy for him.

At mile 18.5, Chris left to go run in some of his marathoners who were starting to finish. I thanked him. He hopped the median to the other side. I continued up the hill and around Lake Merced.


This was, by far, the worst part of the race. There wasn't much in the way of scenery, and it was mostly uphill. A couple times someone ran by me, tapped me on the shoulder and said "Go Dad." I was wearing a picture of my father with the words "This one's for you" on the back of my jersey.

My cousin Wendy's name was also printed on the back of all our chapter's jerseys. My neighbor hot glued crystals around her name with an arrow pointing to where I painted it.


As I made my way around the lake, I saw a rather chubby woman walking/running along. The back of her shirt read "Rumpshaker." It was not my most encouraging moment when I realized I would probably be finishing behind Rumpshaker.

I also was not pleased that a woman wearing a green bra - not a sports bra, just a regular bra, judging from the straps, would also be crossing that finish line before me.


My phone rang off the freakin' hook. Seriously. Mostly it was David, trying to find my location so they could get situated to cheer me on. But I also got calls from friends wondering how it was going and, more frequently, my friends who'd already finished and wanted to run me on.

It was kind of funny to be chatting away. Of course, I wished I was running too hard to answer, or that my music was too loud to hear it, but that wasn't the case.


I came upon our walk team coach. She told me chin up, shoulders back, and pump my arms up the hill. She later told me that I was a very good walker. I didn't have much choice at that point!

Finally, I could see the ocean again. I was at mile 24. Waiting not far up ahead was my family. The kids were having a blast running around in the sand. But once they knew I was coming, it was all GO MOMMY GO time!

Then I passed the Mile 25 marker. There, at the water station, were five of my TNT teammates: Maria, who KICKED ASS and ran a 4:15 marathon; my mentor, Cari; another mentor, Alida; and Leticia and Mary. Their job? To run (walk) me in.

I can't tell you what it meant to see these women. They were there just for me, to make sure I crossed that finish line, no matter what.

They all had their Tiffany necklaces already.

TNT people on the sidelines cheered as we went by, our little purple posse.

Then, Chris saw us and joined in, high-fiving me for making it.

Maria says "See the finish line? By those tents? Do you see it?"

I didn't.

Then I did.

It was a huge brown banner with white letters.


I started to sprint. My calf tightened for a second, but then it let go. My body realized that I wasn't listening to it anymore.

I ran. And ran. My girls (and Chris!) ran with me.

I crossed the finish line.

I grabbed my little blue box.

I became a marathoner.

Most of the purple posse
Maria and me!

Some post-race stretching
David's so glad it's over


I thought I would bawl once I finished. But it was bittersweet. I felt great that I've raised close to $5,000. I know that I could have given up during the race, but I kept going. It should've been my proudest moment.

Instead, I kept thinking about how let down I was that I trained so long and so hard, only to not be able to run it like I wanted to. I felt like I let everyone down who supported me along the way.

So, of course, I have to run another one.


My bff Laura and I had been playing phone tag all weekend. She finally got through Monday morning, while we were getting ready to leave.

"I'm in the hospital," she said.

"Why? What's wrong?"

"Oh, I have my PET scan. I have one every six months. To make sure the cancer isn't coming back."

We chatted while she choked down the barium.

I guess having to walk instead of run really isn't such a big deal after all.


Julie said...

It may not have been your dream marathon run but...


Thanks so much for sharing your story.

OCHalf07 said...

Yeah you're running another one BABY!!! RNR San Diego '08, here we come! Just imagine how awesome it is going to be to know what to expect going in, to be able to anticipate the experience and to train harder/ better/ funner this time around. Yeah to six more months of long Saturday morning runs -- I can almost taste the Powerade now...

Oh by the way, for the record, I TOLD you it would all work out. (Just had to get that in.)

You go, you marathoner you!!! Congratulations.

Jen C said...

Cheryl, I am seriously amazed by your dedication! You ARE a rock-star in my book!

Stacy (StacRachSam333) said...

I am so so proud of you. Because of you, I've started to "train" for my first 10k! What an inspiration and role model you are for Sawyer and Sage. WTG!!!

Janine said...

Cheryl - what a wonderful story. Thanks for posting all the details. I had chills while reading about all the emotions that you went through in each leg of the race. What an amazing experience you had. I am so happy you have such wonderful support and that you are able to turn around and give that support to others who need it. Tremendous. I love all the pictures too. It makes me want to start running too and that is saying A LOT!

mommato2boys said...

Way to go! What an amazing accomplishment! It's been amazing following your journey and your story gave me chills more than once.

Cheryl said...

THANK YOU, everyone! Today I was driving to swimming lessons with the kids and what I am most proud of is the money I raised. That to me is my biggest accomplishment!

Melissa said...

WOOHOO! You are amazing!!! That is such a huge accomplishment. And the story you wrote was incredible inspirational!

Simply Lovely Gifts said...

Cheryl - you are AMAZING! My favorite picture is of you & the kids in their fabulous "GO MOMMY GO" t-s. I can only imagine how proud they are of you. You are AWESOME! Congratulations on your huge achievement!!!! :-)

AllyZabba said...

That sounds like an awesome time. I ran the Nike+ Half Marathon over the weekend. You may have just inspired me to try a full one next time. Thanks for sharing your story.

Mely said...

Cheryl, I have been think of you the whole week! Woo Hoo that you DID IT!!!! I love your story thanks for all the details. You should be very PROUD OF YOUR SELF! Not only for the marathon but b/c you helped a good cause. Can't wait to heard all about the next one.

Cheryl said...

Thanks! For those of you who are getting out there and running - I think it's awesome! If I can do a full, anyone can!

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