Multiple Myeloma: Saying Thanks and Hanging On

March 15, 2015, was a chilly day to walk 13.1 miles as part of the United Airlines NYC Half. At about 12.5 miles, Mary Jane managed to convince me to take off my red sweatshirt so my purple Team in Training singlet (and race number) would show in the finish line pictures. I had been trying for about a mile to reposition my number from the sweatshirt to my singlet in order to make the change, but my fingers were frozen and uncooperative.

She took things under control and did the pinning duties for me (being at a different angle seemed to be part of the equation of solving this conundrum) and we were able to cross in a unified line of purple!

Half Marathon Thank You

Team SOAR at the finish.

The road to this finish line began in November 2014, when I decided that what I wanted for my 50th birthday was for my family to send me to New York City in March 2015 to be part of Team SOAR. This would mean raising $2,500 for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). (For more on how, where, and why, click here, here, here, and here.)

The road to March 15 was paved with efforts on several fronts:

Training

A March 15 half-marathon, which I knew I would be walking or doing at a very manageable pace, fit in very well with my training plan. I kept up my training via my team, KR Endurance, which essentially boiled down to two weekday runs per week as planned out in a build/recovery model by my coach Kristie Cranford, a longer run on weekends, cross-training and/or yoga the other three days, and a rest day. (The only bump in the road was the cardiac oddness that happened throughout but I persevered!) I enjoyed representing Team in Training in several races as I prepared, including the Swamp Forest Trail Race in January and the Run for the Cookies in February with my awesome friends Suzanne and Laura.

Half Marathon Thank You

Fundraising

There are so many causes out there deserving of our time, money, and support. I wish I could give to them all. In choosing to fundraise for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, I chose a cause that is personal to  me, because it affects a close friend, as well as acquaintances and people I will never know. Refusing to choose because there are too many options is a not a choice that sits well with me. Therefore, I will pray every deserving cause receives adequate support and I will give every ounce of time, money, and support I can to this one.

I do not find it easy to fundraise. I don’t like being told “no.” Fundraising is not something I consider my strength. However, I do admit to liking the challenge and this is one of those areas in life where I will become a better, stronger person for having ventured outside of my comfort zone. Here is how my fundraising for this event came together:

The Tequila Social

On Saturday, February 7, 2015, Madison Social hosted a Tequila Social for the cause. It was such a fun time and they paid such close attention to small details that enabled every attendee to have a good time. Madison Social donated a generous portion of each ticket sold to LLS, as well as an additional donation.  I am so thankful to this local business with a big heart for its community. They deserve your patronage and enthusiasm. Thank you, Madison Social.

(I also want to thank the Tally Connection for hosting a giveaway of two tickets to The Tequila Social, and for making a donation for every comment that was made on their giveaway post.)

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The placemats explaining the three tequilas.

Benefit Workout at Badass Fitness

Shannon Colavecchio, owner of Badass Fitness, hosted a “couples workout” and donated the proceeds to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. A fun time was had by all (not that we necessarily would have said that mid-shockwave)!

Half Marathon Thank You

Superbowl Squares

I did a Superbowl Squares event which culminated (of course!) on Superbowl Sunday. A couple of the winners donated at least a portion of their proceeds back to me! How nice was that?

Frequent Asking

I did a lot of asking/reminding/pleading via my blog and my other social media outlets. Thank you to those of you who stuck with this “One Note Paula” throughout that time.

When I was talking with Mary Jane on the way to Central Park for the start of the half marathon the morning of March 15, we were discussing our team goal of $100,000, and the fundraising process, especially how to approach corporate donors. Since her diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma a few years ago, and her subsequent choice to be involved in Team in Training (and her rapid ascendancy to mentor/superstar which surprises no one), she has, she said, learned the following:

“I ask everyone.”

Pretty good advice, I’d say.

Charity Miles

I was already a Charity Miles user prior to committing to this event, but between my November decision to do the United Airlines NYC Half and the event itself, I did almost all of my miles for LLS. Twenty-five cents from every walked/run mile went to LLS. It didn’t go to my Team SOAR fund specifically, but it went to the greater goal of research, support, and advocacy. I also hope it raised awareness every time I posted my Charity Miles for LLS to social media.

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Special Thank-Yous

An analysis of the donations made to LLS as part of my fundraising lists 54 entries. Fifty-four individuals/businesses who gave in order to help me achieve my goal. I appreciate Kellie, my first donor, whose sister had been diagnosed with lymphoma. I thank Jon, whose donation came in while I was out on a training run, after which I came home to an email informing me I had reached my goal. And I thank EVERYONE IN BETWEEN! All of you have a special place in my heart!

Half Marathon Thank You

My fellow Idiots Running Club (IRC) members deserve a shout-out. The number of “Idiots” among the 54 donors is disproportionately high and that’s fine with me!

Speaking of Idiots (as in IRC), Amie of JunieBalloonie went to great lengths to make my effort bloom! Her custom-designed flowers are beautiful, and her creations for Team SOAR, LLS, and Team in Training, from which a portion of proceeds goes back to the cause, were no exception! (To inquire about purchasing a TNT or LLS flower, click here.)

Half Marathon Thank You

I also appreciate Greg Angel and Shannon Colavecchio, who gave me some excellent late-in-the game PR advice when I was making a final push to get the word out about The Tequila Social.

WTXL also helped out tremendously by having me on their noon show the day before The Tequila Social!

Half Marathon Thank You

Max Tsaparis, Me, Kellie Bartoli

Being a Florida-based runner on a Long Island-based team, I had the opportunity to work with two chapters of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Thank you to the Long Island Chapter and the Northern and Central Florida Chapter for your help!

I have been impressed all along with the coaching and mentoring received from Team in Training. In addition to the pre-race communication (emails and encouragement), numerous coaches checked in with Mary Jane and me throughout the race. They gave specific advice about technique, helped us find the best restroom (yay!), and kept us talking as the miles clicked by.

My family also deserves a “thank you.” Each of them sacrificed in different ways, including my husband and son who did the duties of eldercare for my father-in-law with one-third of the team missing, and my daughter who loves going to New York with me but couldn’t make this trip.

Remembering The Reason Why

In the midst of all the running, walking, fundraising, Facebooking, Tweeting, Google+ing, Instagramming, and blogging, I never want to lose sight of the actual individuals behind the efforts. So many people told me their personal stories over the course of this few months. I thank you all for informing me and helping me understand the impact of blood cancers on your lives.

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Lynne is a survivor who came to The Tequila Social and quickly became a friend.

And of course Mary Jane, who was one of the first people to befriend me when I started working at Fordham University in 1989 and has remained such a treasured friend.

Half Marathon Thank You

What is Next?

When I started this process, I viewed it as a “one and done.” I saw it as an endeavor that would allow me to support Mary Jane, combine an athletic cause with an altruistic one (as I love to do), and go to New York City (which I really, really, REALLY love to do!).

I have come to internalize in a way I did not prior to this event, though, that blood cancers are not a “one and done” for the people living with them, or for their families and  friends.There are people out there “hanging on for a cure,” like Mary Jane…

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….and I intend to “hang on” with them.

What This Means Exactly

While I have not decided exactly what this means, I know:

1) Team SOAR set a goal for itself of raising $100,000. We accomplished an awesome $64,643.03 and were the second-place fundraisers of the NYC Half Marathon LLS Teams. The team fundraising page will be open for a few more weeks. Feel free to get us closer to $100K!

2) I will be doing the Light the Night Walk here in Tallahassee on November 12, 2015. In the interest of not diluting Team SOAR’s work, I will hold off on posting my fundraising link (but never fear — it will come!!!).

3) I will target a “big” event in 2016 for Team in Training/LLS. I don’t know if I will be fortunate enough to go to New York again, but I will find a way to “hang on” along with Mary Jane and others.

The intent of all these words is to say, in as sincere and heart-felt a way as possible:

THANK YOU

Half Marathon Thank You

Bringing “Trailahassee” Alive: Summer Trail Series 2014

This summer, I participated in the Gulf Winds Track Club’s Summer Trail Race Series 2014. The series was first held in 2013, and I did not participate. I spent much of that summer seeing other runners’ posts about the trail races, a combination of victorious and “wow can’t believe I survived in that heat” sentiments and wishing I had been part of it. Since the series sells out early (like, in April) I made sure and secure my spot when the opportunity presented itself this year.

One of my regrets about the trail races is that it was utterly impossible to take pictures of the trails since I was so focused on survival. That’s why you’re getting pictures of me instead of nature’s beauty. But I do have this one on the Cadillac Trail that I took one day while on a training run:

Summer Trail Series

Cadillac Trail

Before I recap my memories of the trail series, a quick look at each race:

redbug

The first race, on June 21, was a 4.5 miler on Tallahassee’s RedBug Trail. It began at 6 p.m. I ran my Charity Miles that day for the Alzheimers Association in conjunction with the date of the annual Summer Solstice “the longest day.” (The connection with Alzheimer’s is also why I wore purple.) Finished 113/114 in 1:26:45.

swamp forest two

The second race, on July 12, was at the Swamp Forest Trail. It was a morning race, which meant cooler (relatively) weather. I was excited that this race included me crossing the 750 mile mark in my running for Gareth through I Run for Michael (my green shirt represents awareness of mitochondrial disorders (what Gareth has)). I ran for Feeding America via Charity Miles. Finished 108/109 in 1:04:42.

magnolia

The third race, on July 26, was at the Magnolia Trail. One of the challenges of this race was the time (6 p.m. and HOT), the fact that I had been in New York City for the week prior, and my trip earlier that morning to my family reunion (and all that good southern family reunion chow!) I ran for Team RWB via Charity Miles in honor of Anna Runs America (Anna was running cross country in support of Team RWB as well as the Wounded Warrior Project). The “train” is my favorite memory of this race (the “train” is the small group of us who remained together for a significant portion of the race … toward the end I stepped aside and the others went ahead … but I loved the comments from everyone behind me about us being a train and “in this together.”). Finished 107/108 in 59:03.cadillac

The final race, on August 9, was on the Cadillac Trail (5.5 miles). I was so happy to be debuting my Idiots Running Club singlet. I was running for Team RWB (and Anna) again, also in memory of Murphy, one of our I Run for Michael children who had passed away (and for Gareth, as always…). Finished 86/88 in 1:40:31.

Takeaways:

Choo Choo. As I mentioned in my recap of the Magnolia race, the little “train” of runners we created during the Magnolia race (and replicated to some extent during the Cadillac race) was so meaningful to me. The positive vibes from the runners behind me who liked the pace and were counting on me to keep it consistent made me feel so great. I have so often been last or next to last (which is fine!) but once in a while to feel like I am helping another runner hang in there is the best feeling.

HR Issues. During the two evening races, I came to a point in the race where I was struggling mightily with a very elevated heart rate. Far above my Zone 5 (and I rarely run at Zone 5 on purpose). After the RedBug race, I deactivated the beep that tells me I am above my max HR because it was disturbing to hear and I figured the other people on the trail with me didn’t want to hear the constant beeping either. I know (from conversations with other runners) that I am not the only one who struggled with HR issues during these races, but I found it frustrating (and worrisome).

Trail Beauty. I lost count of the times I thought “I wish I could take a picture of this to share” (mostly this was about beauty but other times I wanted people to see how darn technical and difficult some of these trails are because [wait for it…..] I AM NOT ACTUALLY A MOUNTAIN BIKE! (The races were on Mountain Bike trails.)) Pretty beats hard but these trails had plenty of both.

Trail Etiquette. One aspect of this race series that I loved (and that perplexed me at times) was the emphasis on trail etiquette.  I can’t find the original email, but the parts I remember were: no earbuds, respect the trail, don’t leave anything you don’t take out, and pass on the left. There were other etiquette tips, but those are the ones I recall. I appreciate how much care was taken to respect the natural balance of the trails (including capping the series at 150 participants so as not to overestress it). I must admit I was frustrated to see a runner with earbuds (maybe (s)he had missed the instruction). It was a different set of rules than I was used to and I appreciated the way it made me think about running in this environment.

Popsicles and MoonPies Rock. You won’t see me complaining about the post-race spread (and there were healthy options too). I didn’t miss an opportunity to wolf down a post race Moon Pie. Yum.

Working Harder Than Ever. With the exception of a few ill-advised mid-summer runs I took without adequate (i.e., ANY) hydration before I got a hydration belt, this series was the single hardest running endeavor I have ever undertaken. Of course, the fact that it was the hardest makes it the most valued!

Sponsors. We were so fortunate to have the support of some generous sponsors (and props to the Race Director Bobby York for securing all of these donations). Salomon Running came out to all of the races, and at several of them let runners use their shoes for the race. Other sponsors included: Gulf Winds Track Club, Trail & Ski, Trail Runner Magazine, Earth Fare, Power Bar, Smart Wool, Buff Headwear, CamelBak, Eagles Nest Outfitters, Road ID, MoonPie, Damn Good Bikes, and Reflekt.

Volunteers. We had the best volunteers for this series! It takes some dedicated people to work through the sweat and keep us a) from getting lost b) hydrated c) encouraged and d) happy. These volunteers did all of that and more. They were incredible! The diligence taken to make sure the course was well marked is much appreciated. Don’t think I will ever forget “flags on the right”! Those who planted the flags are much valued!

FRIENDS. Many of our Moms Run This Town Tallahassee members participated in this series. There’s nothing like sharing this experience with friends. Thanks, ladies!

mrtt cadillac

Moms Run This Town Tallahassee Cadillac Trail, August 9, 2014

FINALLY. To close things out, I have a few thoughts on the trail series that elude any type of categorization. I am so glad I did this (I think that shows in my words and pictures). The experience made me explore how I really feel about my perennial back of the pack status. The trail environment put me even farther back than a road race would. As much as I jokingly say to people (frequently!), “oh I can’t tell you the number of races I have finished last in, with the law enforcement saying into their walkie talkies ‘hey do you think she’s the last one?'” I don’t take finishing last lightly. I work hard at my running and there is a competitive fire beneath this relatively calm exterior. Am I glad I never finished last? YES. Would I still be happy if I had? YES. Do I find it amusing that the race director said as I headed out for the final race, “My mountain biker isn’t here so when you pass the aid station, let them know you’re it?” YES (And in fairness I had sent him a message the night before imploring him to proceed with the end-of-race awards even though I would probably still be slogging my way through the 5.5 miles (as long as someone noted my time because Lord knows I wanted it noted!)). There were so many times I asked the people behind me “do you want to pass?” Why did I ask them instead of waiting for them to tell me they needed to pass? It was like a microcosm of my southern-bred polite girl life. I think the trail isn’t the place for that! I am also pleased as punch that I never fell down! These trails were tremendously technical (remember, we were runners not mountain bikes!) and I came close to falling many many times. I am grateful I didn’t (but of course I would have gotten back up and persevered!).

Our Gulf Winds Track Club singlets have the word “Trailahassee” on them in small print.

That small print got magnified in the prism of my own sweat this summer.

I am glad we spent the summer together, TRAILAHASSEE.

trailahassee