Why I Run...
Update letter following Leukemia fundraiser and Columbia Triathlon
22 May 2003
This past weekend, Steve and I ran the Columbia Triathlon: 32 miles of hills before lunch (yes, even the swim was uphill). Here are my impressions of race day.
It’s the morning of the race, and the team members assemble in the hotel lobby for bananas and bagels with peanut butter. Lisa, one of my teammates, is passing out small laminated photos of a little boy in overalls with big blue eyes. His name is Matthew, the son of our teammate Chris. He died of Leukemia just after his second birthday this past September. I look at the photo, nod, take a safety pin, and pin the photo to my running jersey. Many of my teammates have put the names of their loved ones and honored teammates on the back of their jerseys. I’ve encased photos in plastic and pinned them to mine. There is a photo of little three-year-old Peyton and her older sister Madison. On a piece of athletic tape attached to the photo I’ve written “For Peyton.” Directly beneath it is a photo of Steve’s Aunt Donna with the caption, “For Donna – Five years in remission and going strong!” Finally there’s a photo of my cousin Jo with the caption, “For Jo Anne in loving memory.” These people will be with us on our run. They will inspire us to keep going when we feel like we can’t go any further.
We have to be at Centennial Park for body marking - where they write your race number on your arm and leg in permanent black ink that won’t come off till next Tuesday. My wave (the group of same-age females that I start the race with) doesn’t begin until 8:05 am. That leaves me plenty of time to check my gear, use the port-o-john, and pretend I’m not nervous.
It’s been raining off and on for quite some time and the ground is muddy. Thankfully I’ve brought a doormat that I can use to stand on when I change from wetsuit to bike shoes then to running shoes. It’s set up in the transition area beside my bike amongst hundreds of other bikes.
The pros have just started the first wave of the race. Soon they’ll be closing the transition area and we’ll all have to make our way to the pier, where we begin the swim. It’s about 56° F outside and raining slightly. We’re all barefoot, except those with the forethought to wear throw-away shower shoes. One woman is in surgical booties. Later I’ll remember that the most painful part of this race was walking barefoot on the asphalt from the transition area to the swim start.
I join the other women in my wave, identifiable by their day-glo orange swim caps, and find my Team in Training teammates standing in the mud (it’s warmer and less painful for bare feet than the asphalt path) and join them. As we stand shivering in our wetsuits, I ask if anyone else can smell butter. “Yes,” says Cathy, “I smell popcorn!” “Yeah,” I confess, “it’s me. You know how we’re supposed to spray Pam on our wetsuits to help them come off easier? Well, I picked up the butter-flavored by mistake…”
Steve’s wave (age 35 – 39 men) is about to begin. As he moves toward the pier, I mentally prepare myself for the 62° F cold dark water. This whole week has been mental preparation: seeing myself surging to the top of the hills on my bike, making it to the top of the hills during the run, and putting my face in the cold dark water and swimming like it were a pool. I repeat to myself, “Remember your training. Remember your training.”
My wave heads to the pier. We get final hugs and high fives from our coach and the Team in Training Staff. We get into the water. It’s not as bad as I thought, which means my mental preparation worked, because I hear others complaining about the cold. I repeat to myself again, “Remember your training.” I pray.
We hear the countdown, and we’re off! Confusion ensues as women swim over one another and most of us get kicked a bit. We all know to expect this. It happens in every triathlon. You get kicked in the head, you breathe, recover, and keep going. “Keep the buoys on your left,” I think to myself, “Remember to sight them and not swim off-course. Get into a rhythm. Remember your training.” About ¾ of the way through the swim, I realize my feet are numb from the cold, but mostly ignore it. What else do you do?
I emerge from the water. One mile down, only 31 to go! I run down the chute towards the transition area taking my wetsuit off as I go. I look over and see Steve’s family standing in the rain cheering for us. What troopers! I’m running awkwardly, because my feet are completely numb. I speculate that I can’t be the only one who can’t feel her feet and that no one else has stopped yet, so I keep going. Off comes the wetsuit, on go the bike shorts, jersey, wind jacket and bike shoes. It was almost too easy, and I hesitate thinking I’ve forgotten something. No matter. Keep going. I head for the bike course.
When you ride for 25 miles, much of it in the stillness of the morning, a lot goes through your head. I think of the photos I’ve pinned to my shirt of my honored teammates and the captions I’ve written. They seemed simple and appropriate at the time I wrote them, but suddenly at about mile 12, I’m overcome with emotion and tears start streaming down my face. “For Peyton… For Donna… For Jo…” Because it hits me that the single biggest gift that I personally can give to a cancer victim is to live, to not take for granted the gifts of health and life that I have been given, to strive to be more than I thought I could be. That’s what they want most of all. And for me to live my life carelessly is… wrong. Thinking of the number of times I have wasted opportunities to live, with tears in my eyes I ask God’s forgiveness, I forgive myself, and promise my cousin Jo in heaven that I’ll do better.
I think of my 36 teammates that I’ve trained with for the past 15 weeks. We’re all here a variety of reasons, but mostly so that parents don’t have to get those phone calls telling them their child has leukemia, and so that little girls like Peyton and Jo can climb trees and eat ice cream and just enjoy being a kid, and little boys like Matthew can grow up and play baseball with Daddy in the front yard.
My feet are still numb. I won’t feel the right one till about mile 3 and the left one till mile 4. So, you really can run with numb feet. Who knew? As I round the corner, I meet some of my teammates coming the opposite direction, which means they’re about 25 minutes ahead of me. We greet each other with cheers, high fives, and shouts of “Go TEAM!” I pass them and tears again well in my eyes. I am so proud to wear the purple TNT jersey and be a part of this group. I wouldn’t be anywhere else at any price.
As I near the end, I can see the race officials in the distance lining either side of the finish line. I can barely make out the shape of one person standing in the center of the path. It’s my coach Patti, waiting on the other side of the line, cheering me to the end. I want to sprint, but I feel dizzy, so I keep my pace. As the Team in Training supporters who are gathered at the finish line begin to cheer, I raise my arms in triumph, like Rocky atop the steps of the museum. It’s a great moment, and I cross the finish line and fall into the arms of my coach, who tells me how proud she is of me. I feel great, and I’m ready to do it all again.
Well, maybe next week…
During the past 15 weeks, I’ve learned a lot about training for a triathlon, but more about myself. I’ve learned that I must strive to live life deliberately, and not carelessly. I’ve learned that I should run because I can. I’ve learned that there’s nothing you can’t accomplish if you have the desire and opportunity.
I strongly encourage you to get involved with Team in Training (please let me know if you are interested). You will not find a finer group of people. On our team were three cancer survivors as well as two fathers whose children are leukemia victims. I am truly blessed to have been a part of the Team in Training Triathlon Team. I enjoyed it so much, I’m joining Team in Training for two more events this year! I’ll be raising another $4000. Don’t worry, I’ll only ask you once a year for a donation. J
Steve and I want to thank you for your prayers, words of encouragement, and for helping us to reach our fundraising goal.
Thank you and God bless you.
|HOME||TNT FAQ||race photos||links|