Monday, August 12, 2013

75 Miles for Cancer

In Memory of Bruce Robinson
Feb. 7 1952 - Jan. 29 2012
                After two previous Relay 4 Life events, my third effort came on May 5th, 2013. Since the last Relay 4 Life, my good friend and running mentor, Bruce Robinson had passed away from cancer. It gave a new level of purpose to my run to have him and his family in my thoughts and prayers.
                The track it was to be held on was not really a track, but cones laid out on a football field so I knew it would be small. What I did not know was the field would be lined with tents, and more tents down the middle so that we were running on a track that was about 7 laps to the mile, YIKES! I was immediately concerned knowing the problems I have had before with track running and constant, tight turns in the same direction. Oh well, nothing to it but to do it! I was also a bit worried about the mental aspect of running the same little circle hundreds of times, it would be a challenging race indeed.

0900 0 laps
                Unlike the Relay in Virginia where the ceremony/explanation of the rules started at 0700 and the running started at 0730, this event is not run by Ultra-Marathon runners so things went off a bit differently. The opening ceremony was lovely, but did not start until 0900 and the running could not begin until the ceremony ended so the run did not really get started until almost 0930.  Despite the late beginning, it was off to a fun start. We had a stage set up with lots going on, live music, games, announcements, and constant barrage of sound and activity. The track was packed and the walkers, who vastly outnumbered the runners, at times were hard to get past as they kept drifting into the inside “lane.” I don’t really blame them since it was not really marked. They were pretty good about gracefully getting out of the way when asked, but at one point I was walking myself and yelled at a whole group because I guy running and wearing a 70 lb. Explosive Ordinance suit was having to go out and around the walkers in a turn! The other road hazards included small children darting through the runners and walkers, and flying footballs and Frisbees. It was total mayhem, but very entertaining.

1224  100 Laps
       By noon it was starting to heat up, but the enthusiasm had not slowed down one bit. My daughter had been dropped off after an overnight camp and hung out to support me (by cheering, not running.) I sent her to make a Luminary for Bruce and then she hung out and ate my snacks until her dad came to pick her up. I got a pat on the back and a peck on the cheek from Hubby as they went home to relax.

1715 200 laps
                As the crowd thinned out it got easier to run, but after about 200 laps, my knee was beginning to balk at the tight turns.  I changed gears and began running the straights and walking the curves, which meant a lot of stopping and starting, but helped. Then I figured out that my knee did not hurt if I ran at least a 9:15 pace. I certainly could not maintain that pace for dozens of miles, but I could between walks! So my running got faster and my sit down to eat or drink breaks drug out a bit, but I kept at it. When I could not run, I walked fast, probably a little too fast since I am not trained at all for walking long distances. About this time I turned to my med kit for some Tums to counter act the Coke and coffee. I was horrified to realize I had forgotten it! I was able to acquire some, plus some Tylenol and Aleve for later (just in case) and was back in business. I was feeling pretty good about my pace. At 100 laps every 3 or so hours, I had a shot at my 75 mile goal, if I could just keep going. Even if I slowed down I still had a chance…

1929  250 laps  
     By 7:30 pm, I had slowed down a lot. Two hours to do just 50 laps meant I was going to be out there a very long time if I wanted to finish. As a general rule, I never take anti-inflammatories during a race, but 24 hour runs are different and I figured I could risk a little boost. My right knee had calmed down but my left knee was now complaining from compensating and my arch was acting up. I KT taped both and popped some Aleve. The KT tape was great for my foot, it never bothered me again, but it did not do anything for my knee and peeled off pretty quickly. (KT tape does not work over sunscreen and sweat :-P )  By this time the sun had gone down, the lights had come up, and the volunteers were busy lining the track with the Luminary bags in preparation for the ceremony to honor the current fighters, survivors, and those was had lost. For the first 200 laps, I had zeroed my Garmin each hundred, at 250 I switched to zeroing every 50. I was counting laps with a series of 25 rubber bands, moving one from my right wrist to my left every lap. Sometimes I got off, but my Garmin reconciled it. A couple of times I stopped my Garmin to go to the bathroom or eat and forgot for a lap or two to restart, but having so much data made it easy to extrapolate accurately. When in doubt, I went short so likely I traveled farther in the end than I had recorded.
    Around 9:30 pm they held the Luminary Ceremony and all movement on the track stopped as the lights were lowered. It was the only time I stretched out, but I did not sleep. I lay there, under the tent, watching the video on the big screen that was playing survivor stories. Then I listened to the roll call for the people the lights were dedicated too. When they called out Bruce’s name, my exhaustion overwhelmed me and I wept. All thoughts of giving up and going home left me. I was going to see it through and do the best that I could.

2152 300 Laps
   After over 12 hours of running and walking I was numb. I was only 50 laps away from matching my previous record, but so very very far away from my goal. I just could not think about it. Every 25 laps I recorded my distance, elapsed time, and cumulative laps on paper, and by now people were noticing me. My friends knew my goal and word was spreading. People that had gone home for naps or dinner returned to find me still on the track, still walking and running. I had lots of people to talk to and when I did not have someone to talk to I listened to the conversations around me. My favorite was the guy that said to his buddy, “Did you hear about the guy that has been out here the whole time? I wanted to beat him, but it is too late now.” I wanted so badly to turn around and say, “By the way, that GUY is a 44 year old CHICK!” LOL. At another point I was walking with a gentleman from Puerto Rico, we must have talked about food for a good 10 laps, another young man talked at length about growing up with a cleft pallet. They were all great and kept me very entertained and motivated, but as the hours crept by I found myself turning inward more and just not thinking at all.

2359 350 Laps
     Nothing special happened to mark the passing of midnight, but I watched the clock roll over as I choked down a bit of food and recorded my 50th mile. Every step was now a new record. Every mile was closer to my goal. I was two thirds of the way there, but I absolutely could not let myself think about the 25 miles or 175 laps left to go, it was just too much to think about. Things were still going on around me. There were Zumba classes, CrossFit challenges and something where a person on their knees had their face covered whip cream while their partner competed by throwing cheese puffs and getting them to stick to the fluff covered face (I may have been hallucinating this one, but my daughter assures me it is a common party game.) Now the real challenge began. Staying awake and continuing to move. There was no way I was lying down, I knew once I did that my journey would be over, so on I went.

0215 400 laps
                I don’t remember much at this point but I think this is around when the director decided I was the clear winner for the night and started talking to me about what they could do better for next year, asking if I needed anything and generally questions about me, my purpose, and my life. It is all a pretty big blur from here on out. People would ask me how far I had gone and I could not even come up with an answer because I could not remember which 25 laps I was working on or what milestone I had passed last.  Thank goodness I was writing it all down and my Garmin was recording it! By now I was getting to the end of my Garmin’s battery so I started zeroing it out every 25 laps and writing down the distance and elapsed time on every lap. My hand were so swollen and my head was so fogged that it took me almost the whole lap to get the info read, recorded and the rubber band moved!
        Somewhere around this time I passed a tall runner who said, “You are STILL OUT HERE? Go home and take a nap so I can catch you!” LOL He had been right on my heels for hours, but had caved in and slept for a while in his tent. Ya’ snooze ya’ lose!

0338 434 laps
       My Garmin finally went to sleep. At this point on it was all about the rubber bands. I knew from all my tracking that I had to move a rubber band at precisely the same point on the track every time or I would get mixed up. In my fatigue, I had on more than one occasion moved a rubber band and then checked my Garmin and confirmed that I had already moved it for that lap and just forgotten. From here on out, if I was even 10 steps past my check point and thought I had not moved the band, then it was not moving until the next lap. It was the only way I could be sure my count was honest. Failing to count a lap I could live with, adding in an unearned lap was unacceptable.
  By now my knees were a real problem, my other arch was hurting, and my heels had started to balk. This is the sticking point when you are reaching for a goal. I was indeed listening to my body, I knew exactly what it was saying and it was definitely asking me to stop. Every lap was a decision. Do I go on or do I stop? Is the pain in my knee something that will be sore for a few days or something with the potential to be much more complicated? The pain in my left knee was from walking and that concerned me more, but it was a manageable pain so far. I would listen and barter for a few more miles.

0430 450 Laps
   Right, Left, Right, Left, Right, Left…….

0537 475 Laps
    The sun coming up made a huge difference. I noticed when the stadium lights went out, but I would not say it was exactly light out. The fog was thick with a pale glow and people were offering me food. NOTHING sounded even remotely palatable. My stomach was empty and growling, but threatening to toss back anything I presented it with. The last thing I wanted anyone to see was weakness on my part. I did not want anyone to point and me and say, “See? That is why you should not try a stunt like that.” I wanted them to see me strong and capable, not sick or limping.

0745 500 Laps
  Hallelujah! Only 25 laps to go and I had over 2 hours to do them in! Then the announcement came over the loud speaker, all laps had to be turned over and we would be done at 0800. WHAT!?! It turned out that their idea of a 24 hour run was start at 9 and end at 9, including awards, closing ceremony, and clean up. I panicked! I knew though that I could walk 25 laps in an hour and 15 minutes, I would just squeak it in. I set off at a blistering walk passing people as fast as I could, but making way for the speedy runners that had been home sleeping in their warm, comfortable beds all night and were back out on the track racking up miles for their teams. Left-right-left-right-left-right
    When I got down to 10 laps, the director was counting. He caught up with me and said he wanted to announce my final lap and have everyone run it with me. Did you catch that? He wanted me to RUN the last lap. I looked at him like he had three heads and said I would do what I could. As I rounded the turn for my last lap, I heard the announcement and broke into a run. Shockingly, either because I was totally numb, or full of adrenaline, it did not hurt and I coasted around the track at a great pace. It felt AMAZING after the hours of walking and I was in no pain!

0748 525 Laps, 75 Miles
                I won the award for most miles run and was over 30 miles ahead of my next closest competitor. After the awards were given, we were all sent out for one more lap together. I ran around the track and then did it again, running the last part holding hands high with the 8 year old boy that had run 40 miles (he drives his parents nuts running all the time so they told him he had 24 hours to run all he wanted!) We were champions!
                What I did was hard, but it was nothing compared to what someone fighting cancer faces. I could quit any time I wanted, Bruce had to keep up the fight for 2 years. My run was dedicated to Bruce and his memory. He was with me every step of the way with all his good advice and his mantra of, “Baby steps, baby steps.”  When I wanted to stop, I thought of him and took another step. When the miles and laps ahead of me seemed too overwhelming I thought about Bruce and how he must have felt when he was told the cancer was back and he would have to start fighting all over again. He never quit, he never gave up, he never showed us the despair in his heart, and he just kept moving forward one baby step at a time.

Post Script: The 8 year old boy that I finished with was chastised by his teacher the next day for being a “liar” when he told his friends how far he and I ran. The teacher even went so far as to get the other kids to tease him for his lies telling them no one could have gone that far. He was devastated at the time, but fully redeemed when his trophy was presented to him in front of his class. I expect to see his name in the ultra records some day!