Wednesday, August 31, 2011

300 Marathons/Ultramarathons - 8/31/11

My 300th marathon/ultramarathon is scheduled for this weekend at the Woods Ferry 24-Hour in Chester, SC. I hope that I have not jinxed myself by counting the chickens before the eggs hatch (or something like that), lol. With my luck, a root could grab my toe and snap my ankle before I get the minimum 26.2 miles for the race to count. Nevertheless, I am so excited. I'm trying to remember if I was this excited when I hit #100 and #200. I remember my 100th finish, but I had to look at my spread sheet to jog (pun intended, lol) my memory of which race was #200. All I remember about #200 is that the target race kept moving because I DNF'd several races in 2008. That year, the bone pain in my hips and back slowed me down immensely, and I missed several cut-offs for races. This year, I have been very careful to schedule races that I was more likely to finish than not to finish, so that the target race wouldn't change too much. My last two races, however, really frazzled my nerves.

The race director for the Marquette Trail 50K in Marquette, MI threatened to cancel the race because enough entrants had not registered. I had already sent in my registration, but more importantly, I had already bought my plane ticket. That was the biggest expense. The goal of hitting #300 was inconsequential, because I could always find another race. So, I sent out a desperate e-mail to all of the runners in my address book asking them to consider running the race and to also forward the e-mail to their running friends. From the replies, no one I knew was going to make it, but a few weeks later the race director sent out another e-mail stating that enough runners had registered to have the race. Whew!

Then, the week of the race, a 9-hour cut-off was posted on the website. I have not run a 50K in under 9 hours in over a year, and it was on a much easier course, the Gator Trail 50K in Lake Waccamaw, NC. I went to the race any way, and to my surprise, my running buddy, Henry (WI), was at the race. Bless his heart! When I told him of the cut-off imposed for the 50K (even though the 50 milers had a 13 hour cut-off), he said that he had not seen the update on the website, and as far as he was concerned, if the course is kept open for the 50 milers for 13 hours, we should not be pulled. Well . . . we missed the cut-off for the aid station at 10 miles by 30 minutes, but the volunteers did not say anything and we surely weren't going to say anything, so we continued. We also missed the cut-off by an hour for the second aid station at 18 miles, but the volunteers were gone, leaving fluids and snacks on a table for us to help ourselves. Henry said that he was going to keep me in his sight and make sure that I finished. I felt so sorry for him because I was so slow and really struggling to keep up with him. I told him several times to go ahead because he would have no trouble making the 9 hour cut-off. He refused. Right before the finish line, after 11 hours (2 hours over the cut-off), he turns to me and says that we have to cross the finish line together. It was almost a week after the race before the results were posted. Both of us were listed with official finishing times, completing #298 for me.

Timmy's Challenge Marathon in Cairo, WV lived up to it's name when I received an e-mail from the race director stating that the early start would not be officially timed because of the chip timing system that he was using. An early start meant a 9-hour cut-off, and the regular start had a 7-hour cut-off. The Blister in the Sun Marathon (#297) was completed in 7:35:15, so I was in a panic. I decided to go to packet pick-up early and talk with the race director. I wanted to make sure that if I took the early start that I would be given an official finishing time and listed in the results, because there was no way that I could finish in 7 hours. He assured me that I would get an official time, but that I couldn't use it to qualify for Boston (hah!), that I would not be eligible for awards (another hah!), and that early starters would be listed after the regular starters, even if an early starter had a faster time (again, hah!). I was fine with the rules and proceeded to the start line with 26 other early starters. In the end, the race director made two separate finishers' lists, one for the regular start and one for the early start. The early starters are not listed on, but both finishers' lists are on the race's website, so the race counts as #299.

For 299 marathons/ultramarathons, I have 299 stories, but I won't even attempt to recall all of them here. The plan is to run eight 7.75 mile loops at the 24-hour this weekend, which will give me 62 miles, but really, anything over 4 loops (31 miles) will be great. After this weekend, I will have run 125 ultramarathons and 175 marathons for a total of 300. This number is minuscule to my running buddies. Henry completed #743 at Marquette. That number is obsolete now, of course, because he's already run one or two more races since then. Larry (TX) has 600+; Jim (CA) has 735+; Eugene (CT) has 400+; and Eugene (IL) has 341+. I really am the "newbie" when it comes to the number of endurance races completed. Because some of my running buddies are not members of the running clubs that are accumulating endurance runner statistics (Marathon Maniacs, 50 States Marathon Club, and 50 States and DC Marathon Group), I don't have access to their published completions. Running buddies, Terri (SC), the race director for the 24-hour that I'll attend for my 300th, Fred (OH), and Rob (TN) are super runners who have been doing this for decades, and there's no telling how many finishes they have. Furthermore, their finishes are primarily ultramarathons. They rarely run marathons. I am not even worthy of being in such a group of elite runners, but like the true running buddies that they are, they tolerate me trying to be like them.

I ran my first marathon in 2001 at the Country Music Marathon in Nashville, TN. Doing the math over 10 years, that would average about 30 endurance races a year. However, that's not the break down at all. In 2001, I only ran one other marathon and that was the Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville, AL. I shaved off a whopping 40 minutes from my first marathon and thought that the trend would continue. Needless to say, I was a little naive in the early days about marathons, lol.

In 2002, I ran the Country Music Marathon almost an hour faster than the year before and also added the St. Jude Marathon in Memphis, TN. In 2003, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and chemotherapy proceeded to slowly kick my butt into inactivity. I missed the Country Music Marathon because I was too sick to participate. I remember lying on my couch and watching the news coverage of the race on television, crying my eyes out. During the spring and early summer, I work a part-time job. Weekends are optional when we get a little behind on projects, but since I couldn't run the race, I got up off the couch and went to work a 7-hour shift and was sick the whole time. I was still upset about missing the race, but at least I was making money to fund future races, so it was all good, lol. Later that fall, after chemotherapy, the mastectomy, and radiation, I managed to complete my only marathon for the year at the Louisville Marathon in Louisville, KY.

In 2004, my ultramarathon career began. I completed 10 ultramarathons, which included my first 50 Miler at the JFK 50 Mile Run in Boonesboro, MD. After 16 miles of the Appalachian Trail and 26 miles of the flat, dirt/gravel canal path, I remember running the last 8 miles of the rolling, country roads. I felt like a winner, and I didn't know how I found a last burst of energy to pass so many people. Then I saw the finish line, and I cried my eyes out. I was so happy to be there and to still be able to run after my trying time with breast cancer the year before. In addition to the ultras, I also ran seven marathons that year. I finally had 10 states completed to join the 50 States Marathon Club and the 50 States and DC Marathon Group. I also signed up for the UltraList. I never post to the UltraList, but I love reading the e-mails every day that I get in digest mode. I have learned a lot about ultrarunners, ultrarunning, gear, nutrition, and races from the UltraList. It's just a great source of information.

In 2005, I ran 47 marathons/ultramarathons in 41 different states. I earned 10 stars (Titanium Level) in Marathon Maniacs, becoming Maniac #245 in 2006. The club has an unbelievable 4000+ members now! Prior to 2004, I did not realize that it was possible to run more than three or four endurance races a year without becoming injured or burnt out. Larry (TX) explained to me that if you are already trained to run a marathon, why not just keeping running marathons instead of taking time off, reducing your mileage, and having to retrain all over again? It made sense to me, but I'm also very gullible. Those in the 50 States Marathon Club and Marathon Maniacs were out there every weekend, and I didn't want to miss all of the running parties. Nothing fatal happened in 2004 with 17 endurance races, so I stepped up my game, put on my big girl panties, and ran with the other megamarathoners.

There was a lot of adventure in 2005. I had my first DNF in December at the HUFF 50K in Huntington, IN. I had finished the race in 2004, but by the end of 2005, my body was just tired. My ITBs flared in both legs and with a foot of snow on the trails, 19 degree temperatures, and a 30 minute late start because I overslept, I was miserable, hurting, and behind the cut-offs after the first loop of the three loop course. Because I could not even complete the 2nd loop before I would have gotten pulled at the next aid station, I was coaxed into dropping from the race. I went to the car and cried. If you noticed, crying is a common emotional response for me, whether happy or sad, lol. I was on a schedule, so when I started having the ITB problems in the weeks prior to HUFF, I continued to run. I finished the Holualoa Tucson Marathon in Arizona (the race director was the elite ultrarunner, Pam Reed, who came and talked with us on the bus that took us from the finish line to the start line) in my slowest marathon time up to that point, 6:08:54. The next weekend was even worse, dragging the left leg for the last 16 miles because I was in so much ITB pain and finishing the Kiawah Island Marathon in South Carolina in 7:13:42. So, when I got to HUFF the following weekend, my body threw in the towel.

That year was also the year that I did 4 doubles, Saturday and Sunday races. The Mad City Marathon in Madison, WI and Lakeshore Marathon in Chicago, IL was the first double. I finished Mad City in 4:38:37 and then Lakeshore in 5:51:17, because the last few miles of the Lakeshore course were not marked well. A first time marathoner and I ran off-course right into downtown Chicago before we found our way back to the course. It turns out that there were also two 25 mile markers on the course. Part of the problem was that the race director had moved the start line the morning of the race and had not compensated for the extra distance on the remainder of the course. There really is no telling how much over the marathon distance we ran that day. Needless to say, there was so much uproar from runners on in the comments section for this race that the 2005 edition was the last Lakeshore Marathon.

The second double was Marathon to Marathon in Storm Lake, IA and Swan Lake Marathon in Viborg, SD. I was told at the Swan Lake Marathon that I was seen on the news coverage of Marathon to Marathon because I was running in the vicinity of the Governors of Arkansas and Iowa, who were also in the race. I didn't even remember any news cameras on the course, not to mention that I was running the same pace as the Governors, lol. I had missed the news coverage because I had driven to Viborg after the race and probably went straight to bed after dinner and a shower.

The third double was the New Hamsphire Marathon in Bristol, NH and the Maine Marathon in Portland, ME. I finished the New Hampshire Marathon on Saturday in 4:58:51, and the Maine Marathon on Sunday in 5:01:51, my closest finishing times for a double.

The last double of 2005 was the Breakers Marathon in Newport, RI and Mystic Places Marathon in East Lyme, CT. I hated the old Rhode Island course and started the race late because I couldn't find the start line. My finish time with the late start was 5:20:08. In contrast, I absolutely loved the course for the Mystic Places Marathon and had a negative split for the weekend with a 4:34:36 finishing time.

I took a couple of weeks off from running at the end of 2005, hoping that my ITB problems would clear up. On January 8, 2006, I was scheduled to run the OC Marathon in Newport Beach, CA. It was my 38th birthday, and I was to finish the 50 states circuit at that marathon. I really didn't believe that I would be able to run a step, but with the help of my running buddy, Charlie (CA), I was able to finish in 5:17:15 with very little pain. That was my sign to register for more races. I ran 52 marathons/ultramarathons in 2006, the most races that I've run in a year. I did my first 50K double in December of that year: HUFF 50K in Huntington, IN in 8:03:12 and Recover from the Holidays 50K in Huntsville, AL in 8:09:49. I also ran my worse double by time in December: Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville, AL in 4:51:51 and the next day, Otter Creek Trail Marathon in 7:22:51. In August of 2006, I ran my 100th marathon/ultramarathon at the Silver State Marathon in Reno, NV, where I learned that running through sand was hard and no fun at all. I crossed the finish line with my running buddy, Albert (CA), who was also finishing his 100th marathon/ultramarathon. This year would also yield some age group trophies for me. In the France to Germany Marathon in French Lick, IN, I won second place in my age group with a time of 4:46:41 and in the Andrew Jackson Marathon in Jackson, TN, I won third place in my age group with a time of 4:41:24.

Although 2006 was a great year of running, the first half of 2007 was my best running. I completed 48 marathons/ultramarathons that year. I finished my first 100 mile race at Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile in Huntsville, TX in 28:22:08. I had my best Rattlesnake 50K finish time in 8:01:26, a race that I've finished six times. I also ran my marathon PR at the Andrew Jackson Marathon in Jackson, TN in 4:20:02, taking home the second place trophy for my age group. In the second half of 2007, I was hampered with back and hip pain that I thought was from running too much and too often. I went to a chiropractor for three months (and later a physical therapist for a few weeks), decreased my running during the week, and continued running my scheduled races on the weekends. It wasn't until January of 2008, when my hip and back pains increasingly became worse that I found out that the pain was actually my breast cancer returning, but this time the cancer was in my bones.

In 2008, I still ran a lot of races (completing 45 marathons/ultramarathons) but at a much slower pace. With the pain, I just couldn't train like I had become accustomed, and I was gaining weight because of it. It was all I could do to make it to the start line. That year, I ran my first 100K at the Bandera 100K in Bandera, TX, one of the hardest courses that I have run because of the rocks and ascending/descending of mountains. The race director gives you 24 hours to finish, and I finished in 21:21:35. I also returned to the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile, finishing in 29:28:07, an hour slower than the previous year. This was the year that I began running a lot of timed events, completing my first 24-hour race at 24 Hours Around the Lake in Wakefield, MA with 69.52 miles. The race was on concrete, and the balls of my feet had never been so sore after a race. Also, #200 occurred in 2008 at the 12-Hour Adventure Trail Run in Triangle, VA, completing 39 miles. My second 100k was at the Wild West 100k in Lowell, MI. There were only 3 females in the 100K. My running buddy, Terri (SC), and I stuck together for the whole race. She was 2nd overall female, and I was 3rd overall female. The overall awards were huge gold painted horseshoes with a star in the middle that I absolutely loved. I also managed to finish two more 100 milers that year, Heartland 100 Mile in Cassoday, KS and Mother Road 100 Mile in Elk City, OK.

In 2009, I started this Blog with the intention of having a place to talk about my running adventures. Unfortunately, it has slowly deteriorated into a "How to Live with Metastatic Breast Cancer" chronicle. This post is probably the most I've written about running in months. So, let's get back to that.

I finished 38 marathons/ultramarathons in 2009. I ran the Bandera 100K for a second time in 20:43:43. I also completed the Umstead 100 Mile after taking a 50 mile finish in 2008. My momma travelled with me to Hawaii for the Kona Marathon, her very first flight ever. I ran 80 miles at the Tour d'Esprit 24-Hour Run in Memphis, TN, promptly and literally passing out a few minutes after I sat down for the awards ceremony. I woke up surrounded by paramedics. Someone had removed my glasses, so I couldn't really see. Ice packs were being placed on my head and neck. Someone was lifting and propping up my legs. And a running buddy, Harry (MS), had to accept my award for me because all of these people would not get out of my personal space, lol. I had placed 2nd overall female. After I convinced the paramedics that I was fine and that I didn't need a trip to the hospital, I remember kicking myself later that day because the first place female had also run 80 miles, but she had run it in a faster time. I had time to run at least one more mile, if not two, which would have given me the overall female win. But I had a goal of 80 miles when I started the race, and when I reached it, I stopped with about 40 minutes left on the clock. The lesson learned here is that, in a timed event, you run until the clock stops, lol.

In 2010, I was becoming very discouraged from all of the pain in my back and hips, side effects from the various treatments, the weight gain, running less, racing poorly, and fighting cut-offs. I don't know how many DNFs and DNSs I had, but it was a lot. I managed to finish only 24 marathons/ultramarathons last year. I did complete the Philadelphia 100 Mile and Mother Road 100 Mile, bringing my 100 mile race total to seven. The month of June saw no race completions at all, while I had two weeks of radiation to finally give me a break from the pain. I finished several timed events last year, because they were less stressful for me. There are no cut-offs, and you just run what you can. I saw my first overall female finish ever at the Badgerland FX 24-Hour Run with a 24-hour PR of 80.5 miles. It's not my fault that only one other female was in the 24 hour! A win is a win, and that's coming from someone who isn't competitive at all, lol.

This year, I've already finished 23 marathons/ultramarathons, so I will have more completions this year than last year. As I perused my spread sheet, I remembered something about every single one of those 299 races. It just goes to show you that it truly is about the journey and not so much about the destination. And what a great journey it's been! I've been to places that I never would have seen if not for a race. I've overslept. I've run injured with ITB and achilles problems. I've missed planes. I've been bumped to later flights and left wondering if I'd make it to the start line in time for my race. I've gotten lost getting to races and leaving races. I've gotten lost on some race courses. I've fallen on the trails many times. I've seen bears and snakes, which are not my favorite things to meet on the trails. I've run with some wonderful people who have become great friends. I've done well in races and just as poorly in others. But no matter what, I am always thankful that I'm still out there.

I talk to God a couple of miles before I cross the finish line of my races. I thank Him for allowing me to do what I love to do. I thank Him for the volunteers, the race director, the safe travels, the food that nourished my body over the weekend, and the weather, whether it was cold, hot, rainy, snowy, or whatever. And I thank Him for the beautiful courses that I run on, roads or trails. There's always a pretty sight for my eyes and soul. I thank Him for a job that pays me well enough to do these races and that gives me free weekends to do them. I joke about quitting, but I don't think that I can. I don't know if and when I'll ever get back to being able to train like I should, so that my race times can improve. I get so frustrated from the cancer pain and the side effects from the treatments, but as long as I can run, walk, shuffle, or hobble in the races, with my running buddies, life is good. I love this sport. I really, really do. I hope that God allows me to see #400, #500, #600 . . . .

A list of all of my marathons/ultramarathons is on my Marathon Maniacs page:

A list of the Mega Finishers in the 50 States and DC Marathon Group is here:

A list of the Ultramarathon Finishers in the 50 States and DC Marathon Group is here:

A list of the World Megamarathon Ranking (300+) is here:

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

We Have the Same Name - 8/3/11

We have the same name. We both wear prescription eye glasses. We are about the same height and complexion. When I was bald, she was losing her hair. Now that I have hair, she has none. I had a mastectomy. She had a double mastectomy. Cancer was only found in one breast, but she had the other breast removed as a precautionary measure. She has a family history of breast cancer. I do not. I'm only three years older than she is. She has two kids, ages 5 and 13. I have none.

Her oldest child understands that she is sick. He tells her often that he loves her, and she happily returns the sentiment. "He told me that his love for me is as big as the sun," she proudly said.

I laughed. "That's a lot of love," I told her.

"I told him," she continued, "that I loved him as much as I love God." She has a lot of faith. "I believe that it is all going to work out," she said. "I'm not giving up my faith. I pray every day." She made me a believer. I told her that prayer does help, and she nodded enthusiastically.

Her breast cancer was discovered when she was pregnant with her youngest child. She prays for another six years to see her oldest become an adult and her youngest become old enough to understand what is going on with his mother.

She has metastatic breast cancer to the bones, liver, and lung. So do I. We see the same oncologist in a cancer treatment center with several oncologists. We often are in the treatment room together, although we've never had the opportunity to sit next to one another and talk. Since we have the same name, a few months ago, one of the nurses joked about getting us mixed up. I threatened to sit next to my MBC sister and really confuse her. The nurse laughed and agreed that would really throw her off.

Our treatment protocols are different. I ran down my list of treatments since my second diagnosis in 2008. She, on the other hand, could only recall having Tamoxifen, one of the drugs I was also given initially. "I got 2.5 years out of that drug," she said. I barely got a year.

She had radiation to her hip. Her pain is better, but she has been having bowel troubles ever since then. Her stomach is visibly puffy. I also had radiation last year to my left hip. The pain is much better, and I am having no residual side effects. I'm beginning to see that even with the same disease, we are having much different experiences.

"I would feel so much better if we could get my bowel problems under control." I asked if there wasn't something they could prescribe to make it better. "Stool softeners," she said. They are treating the symptom, not the problem, and she is miserable. Although I had bowel problems from the chemotherapy for the primary breast cancer in 2003, I have had no bowel problems since I started treatments for my metastatic diagnosis. I feel sorry for her.

She is hooked up to an oxygen tank. I am so grateful to still be able to huff and puff our pollution-filled natural air. Sure, I complain when I can't get enough air into the lungs, and I get dizzy from lack of oxygen, but I can still breathe on my own. She can not. How in the world would I pull the oxygen tank over some of the hilly, rocky, and rooty trails that I run on? She can't run. I'm guessing that she can barely walk. I would die if I could not run/walk/shuffle along on the trails and roads. Again, my heart is breaking for her. How is she mentally handling all of this?

I am called back to the lab for vitals, blood work, and a urine sample. Both of us had scans this morning, so we'll see the oncologist for the results, and then proceed to the treatment room for chemotherapy.

My oncologist tells me that my scans from this morning look good. The liver and lung tumors are stable. My blood work and urine are good. My oncologist gives me another prescription for antibiotics because the nails are now oozing and smelly. Other than that, we will continue with my treatments. I am blessed to be in a state of stability. I realize that my situation could be a lot worse.

Unfortunately, the treatment room is overcrowded as usual. When my MBC sister comes into the treatment room later, she finds one open seat on the other side of the room. I have so many more questions for her. I guess I'll have to wait to talk with her again. I only get my 30 minutes of Avastin today, but she is there much longer than me. I leave with heavy thoughts about the sister with the same name as mine.

Make her feel better. Solve her bowel problems. Shrink her puffy stomach. Answer her prayers and give her another six years with her kids. While I'm asking, give her another 60 years. Let her see both kids become adults. Let her see the grand babies that will hopefully come sooner rather than later. Take away her cancer. Give her beautiful hair. Take away her oxygen tank and allow her to fill her lungs naturally. Let her walk effortlessly. And if she so desires, let her run on the trails and the roads, exploring the beautiful scenery around her. Let her live.