Why I run

A phone call at 2:00 AM is never good news.  An ambulance ride in a snowstorm rarely leads to a good vacation.  And being delivered to the hematology-oncology department usually means you’re in for a long haul.

Fifteen years ago this week, I embarked on the adventure known as cancer when I was diagnosed with ALL – acute lymphocytic leukemia. It turned out that my limp wasn’t just from a ski injury, those dots on my arms weren’t just a reaction to the winter cold, and my lip didn’t start bleeding just because I smacked it with a sled (though it certainly didn’t help…) – they were all the signs of something much more dangerous.

My diagnosis at CHaD (the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth) kicked off a new normal for me and my family.  We spent weekends – and holidays – in the hospital.  I missed a full quarter of sixth grade.  All my hair fell out, and I spent my week at Girl Scout camp coating my head in sunscreen.  I moved two steps forward – returning to the softball sidelines and helping with costumes in the school play – and two steps back, missing classes for weekly shots and monthly spinal taps.  I made new friends along the way, and had to say goodbye to far too many.

When I got diagnosed, all I could dream of was a day when I would have hair again (and no bangs, thank god).  When it wouldn’t be a challenge to walk across the room or eat the same meal as the rest of my family.  When my skin, and my mouth, and my poor stomach would all belong to me again.  I could barely imagine that some day I would leave home for college, where I would row on the crew team – that I would get to travel to far off lands on my own – that I would move to Boston to have new adventures every day – that I would be able to put this cancer crap behind me.

And the truth is, you can’t.  I’ve been cancer free for more than a decade.  My doctor doesn’t even care that I had it once because it’s medically irrelevant (she literally made me carry my chemo records back home because they just don’t matter anymore!)  But it’s a solid part of who I am, why I strive to appreciate every day in this amazing world, and why I’m training to run my very first half marathon this spring.  Donate now >>

My mom and I are joining the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and training for the Cox Providence half marathon on May 12, 2013.  It’s a challenge unlike anything I’ve ever undertaken, and we’re going to be racing the clock to finish before the course closes.  We’ll be running in honor of that day 15 years ago – and for Brian, for Granddaddy, for Mike and Danae and everyone else along the way.  Running for a better future – and present – for people dealing with blood cancer.

Please – whether you were there or were hearing this story for the first time – make a gift to support a better life for people with blood cancer.

I’m here today and able to run because of the love that surrounded me in my darkest hour, because I had the good fortune to get cancer in 1998 and not 1968, and because of the kind of research that LLS makes possible.  Every dollar will go to support this cause – whatever you can give will make a difference.

Mom and Sal text

 15 years down, 13.1 miles to go!  Add your support now >>

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A colorful life

Alternative titles:

  • Colors of the wind
  • Color me awesome
  • Color-issa explains it all – rad and in action
  • This is why I’m blue

This dye is never going to come out of my ears, my socks, and the space behind my knees – and I couldn’t be happier.  My mom, friends, and I just finished Color Me Rad 5k at South Shore Plaza in Braintree, MA.  This Color Run knock-off was a rip roaring good time, and not even that much running, for better or worse!  But really, it’s a story better told in technicolor photos:

The crew before the race

The aftermath, as seen in my hair

The scene, with my teammates

Me and Mom – Color Me Rad racers extraordinaire!

The team post-run – we’re a colorful bunch!

Mom shared her lessons here, if you want to hear more about the logistics of this mayhem.  Bottom line though: if something sounds crazy, and messy, and athletic, and outdoorsy, and you can do it with your friends, AND you can be home in time for brunch – do it.  Always and forever.  You won’t regret it, though your car door might be a little blue for a while (sorry Mom!).

Happy Sunday!

Winter Weekend Win

20-degree perfection!

Not pictured: brownies that are cooling in the kitchen, the roommate who will watch very silly Christmas movies with me, and the cute boyfriend who came to cheer on us Jingle Bell Runners.

After finishing the Jingle Bell Run 5k.

Our neighbor's amazing light display. Holiday cheer huzzah!

Delicious risotto for dinner - recipe to come!

Curve in road ahead

Done and done.  Yesterday was the 34th annual Tufts 10k for women, and we kicked its butt.

“We” is my mom, myself, and 8,200 other women (and some errant men, grrr) who ran the 6.2 mile race around Boston.  It was a madhouse of female athletes and their fan clubs all gathered on the common to warm up, snag some free samples, and get ready for the run.

We started at Beacon Street, then headed down and over the Longfellow Bridge (really hoping the construction is finished by next year – I lost all my downhill momentum here!).  Then we went along Memorial Drive toward MIT.  It was here, less than two miles into the race, when I came down on my ankle wrong and felt a piercing pain that made me stop in my tracks.

A nearby runner stopped to give some advice which helped a little, but I could barely walk, nevermind run.  Every time I tried to put any weight on it, it felt like there was a pin being jabbed into my ankle and my leg.  I feel like I could have sprinted if only I could get past a jog, but I couldn’t get to that point.

Cue my hero of the day, my mom.

My mom, who has been training for this with me all summer, was there by my side as I winced, as I hobbled, as I tried to run and then almost fell down.  She said it was ok if we didn’t do the race, that she didn’t care if it took us three hours to finish, that she just really didn’t want me to do anything to hurt myself.  And she stayed with me as it took us 18 minutes to go the second mile, after a strong 12:15 on the first one.

Because she’s my mom, she didn’t care when I started and stopped running as the pain came and went.  She also wouldn’t let me cheat and skip the middle miles by running across the median strip, but I respect her for that, too.  She told me to stop saying sorry and to do what made me happy.  In that moment, it was running at a snail’s pace next to her.

We crossed the finish line 1:33 after we started, more than an hour after the elite runners came in (my mom and I like to say “anyone can run for half an hour, but it takes a real athlete to run for three times that!)  My dad and sister were standing there to cheer us on and photograph our success.  Most of the runners had already returned, and we joined a good crowd on the grass to stretch and celebrate our victory.

I am confident that I will finish even stronger next year, and will again cross the finish line with my running partner, my best cheerleader, my best friend, my mom.

[ETA: This is basically half of a half marathon, which I hope to accomplish as part of my Five Year Plan.  After this race, I am feeling pretty confident that I can do that, and maybe even more!]

Three Days

That’s the amount of time between me and my next road race, the Tufts 10k.

I’ve spent all summer getting ready for this, in fits and spurts.  I’ve run on the bike path, by the dirty water of the Charles, through the streets of Somerville and Cambridge.  I’ve gone first thing in the morning, after dinner, in the blazing heat, dodging puddles.

I think running is the best way to get to know a city.  In all the place I’ve lived and those I’ve visited – Hollywood, FL, the suburbs of Michigan, the backroads of New Hampshire, small towns in Europe, and more – I’ve found that my best adventures and discoveries happen when I am aimlessly jogging around.

In London, it was how I found what what ended up being our favorite bar with “baby football” aka foosball and foreign beers.  In Germany, it led me to an art museum featuring the works of Damien Hirst.  Here in Boston, it taught me the actual proximity of Alewife station to my house (for those times when the train gets randomly expressed and I end up way out there).

I am proud to call myself a runner, and proud of my dedication to going out and pounding that pavement.  And I am also not embarrassed to admit that my pace is about 13:00/mile on a good day.

I don’t run for speed or to impress other people – I run for adventure, for the feeling of my ponytail whipping in the breeze, and for another way to see the world.

I like the medals too, though, and I’m looking forward to collecting another one on Monday!

[Want to read about a more serious runner?  Visit my friend’s blog about training for the Boston Marathon!]