I was grieving for the loss of my college roommate, Tracey. I was probably in the anger stage of grieving because I remember feeling that dying at age 29 from blood cancer is so incredibly unfair and it made me mad. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I didn’t want anyone else to go through what she endured. So I signed up for a marathon. I had no business signing up for a marathon but I didn’t care. I remember trying really hard to hold back tears so I just signed the paperwork as quickly as possible, and just like that, I had signed up to run the 2005 Dublin Marathon with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training. To this day it is still one of the best decisions I have ever made.
At that point, the only race I had ever run was a 5K which I partially walked. The decision to run a marathon was far from logical. I just wanted to do something big and cure cancer. I had never fundraised before but I picked the Dublin Marathon because it had the largest fundraising minimum. Looking back at it, I guess I took the saying, “Go Big or Go Home,” to heart.
Back then my MS was a non-issue. My obstacles to running were just lack of fitness and lack of running experience. In hindsight, Team in Training was the perfect place for me to land. I had teammates with cancer stories similar to mine and a coaching staff that was prepared to take me from a sort-of-working out fitness level to marathoner in 20 weeks. If you ever contemplated competing in an endurance event but feel too intimidated to do so, check out Team in Training. The support, the coaching, and the camaraderie with your teammates will get you through the training and over the finish line for sure.
When I first signed up I think a lot of people were surprised. For those who knew me well, they understood why I did it and were very supportive. But there were people out there who did not understand why I was running a marathon, and even worse, there were those who thought I couldn’t do it. Their reasoning ranged from my running inexperience to MS. The negativity, while hurtful, ultimately became a great source of motivation. So much of this world is focused on what you can’t do and, in my opinion, not enough on what you can. We really are capable of accomplishing huge tasks so long as we are willing to put the effort into it.
However, I will not lie to you. The training was challenging. After my first 10 mile run, I laid on my couch the entire day, and this was the pre-Netflix and DVR time period so I just had to take my chances with what was on TV. It was brutal. But I absolutely loved meeting my teammates every Sunday morning for our long runs. The long runs and the training schedule were demanding but it was also very empowering. I felt like I was part of something bigger than myself. I was helping to find better treatments for cancer and potentially giving people a chance to live longer lives – to live past age 29. I was working to fix what went wrong for Tracey. At the same time, I was testing my physical limits which is very empowering, albeit a bit addictive which I realized later on.
The marathon itself was an emotional experience for me. As I mentioned, I was grieving so running with Tracey’s picture on the back of my singlet and seeing her picture at Team in Training Inspiration Pasta dinner the night before was a bit overwhelming. Marathons on their own can stir up a lot of emotions, some of which can really catch you by surprise. There are the obvious ones like pre-race nerves, the fear of not knowing if you can finish, and the excitement of being cheered on by the crowds. For me, the one that caught me by surprise was the complicated emotional collage of the finish line.
When I first caught a glimpse of the Dublin finish line I was so relieved because I knew I could finally stop running. I felt very empowered knowing I was mere steps away from running 26.2 miles and becoming a marathoner. However, as I saw the finish line through my eyes, my mind was playing a highlight reel of all my Sunday long runs with my teammates and I realized those long runs would be no more. My Sunday mornings would be vacant. While I was so proud of my accomplishment I was also sad to see it end. For me, the marathon experience includes the marathon as well as the whole training process and I did not want that experience to end.
I knew when I crossed the finish line I needed to run another. I became addicted to marathons. Ironically, Tracey was not a runner but her legacy lives on through my running. Running has really been a gift that keeps on giving to me and has enabled me to give to others through fundraising. I loved the Dublin Marathon and I have been itching to get back there and run it again. Dublin 2019 cannot come soon enough.
Follow my journey as I #OutRunMS.