Donna hugged me excitedly and continued, “We’re actually here!”
We stood with around 35,000 of our closest friends in the Pentagon parking lot at the start of the 2013 Army 10-Miler last Sunday, waiting for our wave to be given the go ahead.
The wheelchair racers had already taken off in the first wave, which we unfortunately missed seeing because we were tied up in the port-o-potty line. It was the only disappointment of the day.
Picture Perfect (except for the port-o-potties)
Conditions were tailor made for a race — crystal clear blue sky, temperatures crisp enough to keep runners from overheating, and the government finally opened again, which allowed the original national monument-laden course to stand.
Other than the port-o-potty line, the biggest pre-race challenge was staying warm enough before the race. The thermometer in my car read 49 degrees Fahrenheit when I left my house, and it had only warmed a bit by the time we reached the Pentagon.
Racers get innovative to stay warm, using plastic garbage bags as ponchos that can be easily shed, wearing layers that can be tied around waists (too itchy for me), or donning discardable jackets or sweatshirts. I had a flash of inspiration the night before and cut the toe ends off an old pair of soccer socks to use as temporary arm or hand warmers.
In case you’ve never been to one of these massive races (the Army 10-Miler is the second biggest 10-miler in the United States and the third largest in the world), you might be interested to learn that a huge truck collects all of the clothing dropped along the course for charity distribution after the race. So, having served their pre-race purpose, I was happy to leave my ill-fitting, hot-flash-inducing fuzzy purple jacket and soccer sock warmers draped on a railing near the starting line.
Cannon fire signaled the release of each wave. It only occurred to me afterwards that the blast must have been similar to the sound of bombs detonating at the Boston marathon last year, not to mention the risk of a PTSD trigger for combat veterans. But there was just too much positive energy coming from the crowd to let those thoughts trickle in.
Against all odds, they’re off!
As I explained in Part 1 of this series, this was all Donna’s crazy idea. It was crazy for lots of reasons, the most minor one being that Donna had never run a race in her life and was starting with a 10-miler. Even crazier was that she was in the midst of chemo treatments when she asked me if I’d consider it.
A year ago this month, Donna learned that the ovarian cancer she kicked the first time in 2010 had come back. Starting last October, she fought her way through two surgeries, endured weeks in the hospital (including over Thanksgiving), four months of chemo, and close to two months of radiation. Somewhere in there she decided she wanted to run the Army 10-Miler.
My breast cancer diagnosis in 2009 resulted in an amputation, but required no systemic treatment. As difficult as the mastectomy was (and believe me, it was astoundingly harder than I had anticipated), I could still say, “But at least I didn’t have to suffer through chemo.”
So to honor Donna and, while I was at it, to honor my own journey, I agreed to sign up with her.
SLOW…it’s the new fast!
It was clear from the outset that Donna and I were perfect running partners. Our sons, both seniors in high school, have played soccer together for close to a decade. We have similar parenting styles and laugh at the same things. And then there’s that whole cancer thing we’ve got going. In short, we have plenty of material for training run chatter.
But we also shared something deeper, I guess because of that cancer thing. We were simply so grateful for our health, so appreciative of our ability to prepare and show up for this race–let alone life in general–that speed was not a priority.
Donna’s hook to get me to agree to the race was her plan to alternate running and walking. That was a game changer for me, since the other races I’ve done have been with my crazy-ass Wonder Women boot camp instructors, Joann and Francine. I knew I couldn’t run 10 miles trying to keep up with the pros. But if I’m allowed to take breaks, I’m game for pretty much anything.
When we learned about the Galloway system, a run/walk method designed to conserve energy and reduce the risk of injury during distance runs, we were hooked. We calculated that a ratio of 3:1 (three minutes of running, one minute of walking) would keep us ahead of the sweeper bus, which was the only time goal we set for ourselves.
Donna did the hard thinking during our training, including anything involving math. The only hard part I did was to program our 3:1 ratio into my new Gymboss interval timer. This was hard because the printed instructions were too small for me to decipher, even with my glasses on. Once I looked up the directions online and could see the darned words, the set-up was pretty easy. The gadget would beep and vibrate at each transition, so we never had to stop our gabbing to check the timer.
The icing on the cake in our pre-race prep was finding our “SLOW…it’s the new fast” headbands. We were ready.
Finally, Some Positive Energy in Washington…
It’s why they say you don’t have to train for the whole distance in advance…the energy of the crowd and accompanying adrenaline boost will carry you through. And it’s not only coming from the runners. The spectators are a key part of the voltage.
Here are just a few examples of signs the spectators were waving last Sunday morning:
- “You’re working harder than the government!”
- “Touch here for power!” (Donna and I both touched the star on the sign as instructed.)
- “Run now, wine later!”
- “Getting up early to make this sign was hard work too!”
Then there were the soldiers manning the water stations, cheering us on in their camo pants and Army 10-Miler shirts. If only this could be their most dangerous assignment. In another example of our like-mindedness, neither Donna nor I could throw our empty cups on the ground, choosing instead to run a few extra paces to find a garbage can.
But it was the runners, of course, who were the greatest source of inspiration:
- Wounded warriors in wheelchairs or running in prosthetics, at times stepping off the course either in pain or for mechanical adjustments;
- Runners–some in full combat fatigues–carrying loaded military packs;
- Groups running in honor of fallen soldiers;
- One group of women with “MISSING” written on the backs of their calves wore T-shirts with the photo of a heartbreakingly young serviceman missing in action;
- Grandparents running, white haired, knee-braced, but out there kickin’ it (that’s what I want to be when I grow up).
And because it’s October, we saw lots and lots of runners honoring cancer survivors. One of the many problems I have with pink October and Komen’s breast cancer awareness industry is that it overshadows all the other cancers out there that deserve just as much attention. Somehow, though, “Save the Ovaries!” or “Save the Colon!” just aren’t as sexy (or marketable) as “Save the Ta Tas!” Donna and I opted out of advertising.
Crossing the Finish Line
We plugged along, maintaining our 3:1 run/walk ratio for 10 miles. Since bad weather had interfered with our training schedule, we had only really gone 8 miles prior to race day. We weren’t sure what those last two miles would entail.
Frankly, it was no problem. The experts were right. We rode the energy field and barely noticed the extra distance. We even skipped the last couple of walk intervals once we heard the announcer’s voice through the speakers near the finish.
We stayed strong to the end, clasped our hands in the air while crossing the finish line, and embraced in celebration.
Having our priorities right was key to our success that day: the quality of the journey trumps how fast you get there.
Oh…and the best news of all? Donna’s scan yesterday said she’s cancer free.
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