Running with a purpose

I’ve been trying to be a runner for about 10 years.  It all started when we lived in LA and I saw an ad for a training program for the Honolulu Marathon.  I had never run a day in my life but decided to sign up for it because I really needed something to distract me from the fact that I really didn’t like living in La-La Land.  The program I ran with required that you raise money for Aids Project Los Angeles.  It wasn’t a cause near and dear to my heart, but it was as good a cause as any, in my opinion, and I set about raising the $3000 needed to get me to Honolulu.  Many of you reading this today helped me reach that goal and again, I thank you.  It was a wonderful experience…I met amazing people and I really believe it helped me keep my sanity over the 6 months that I trained.  But, when I crossed that finish line, I swore I would never do it again!

I kept that promise until a few years ago when I got the itch again.  The Rock and Roll Marathon was coming to Seattle and I really wanted to run the inaugural race.  So, I signed up and went about training by myself.  I was faithful with my runs but didn’t train on hills, which was a big mistake.  I ended up breaking my foot during the run and by some miracle — and the encouragement of my dear friend Janet, I crossed the finish line and got my medal.  I spent the next several months in a boot and was told I would likely never run long distances again.  That was fine with me. The truth is that I don’t really enjoy running long distances — I really just like finishing the race and getting the medal!

Then my husband got the bug and started running.  He’s a natural runner (read:  fast) and I am too self conscious to run with him, but we had an idea to run the Arizona Rock n Roll 1/2 marathon relay as a celebration of my 40th birthday.  We had a great plan — he would run the long leg (8-1/2 miles) and I would run the remaining 4-1/2.  Easy enough, right?  What we didn’t fully think through was that I would be entering the race with sub-8 minute mile runners.  This proved to be disastrous as I tried to pace with them and was exhausted after the first mile.  Lloyd joined me on the course and we finished it together but it was hot and it was hard and it wasn’t much fun.

I had set a goal to run a race a month during 2011. After that race,  I wished I could take back the public announcement that I’d made.  I skipped February and then ran the St. Patrick’s Day 8K in DC in March.  It was fun, but I continued to be frustrated at how slow I am — and my foot still hurts.  April came and went — and then so did May (although, to be fair, I was signed up for the Warrior Dash and ended up having to skip it because Jake had a piano recital that day).  I joined a running group for beginners and realized, sort of at the last minute, that I was signed up to run the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure on June 4th. I remember thinking it would be fun and I could wear lots of pink (those of you who know me know that it’s sort of my signature color).   We have had a very busy week and last night I was exhausted.  I didn’t want to do it, but drug myself out of bed this morning at 5:45 and got ready to go.

As I walked from the Metro toward the start line, I was looking around at people who made up the crowd of 40,000.  Right in front of me walked a mother and daughter, hand in hand.

It’s hard to read, but the girl’s “In Celebration of” sign says “my mom”.  Mom is wearing the Breast Cancer Survivor pink shirt.  Tears just started to fall down my cheeks.  The emotion completely caught me by surprise as I looked around and saw all of the pink shirts.  There were women of all ages wearing these shirts. Each one of them has a personal story of sadness, pain, fear, happiness, triumph and hope – probably all on a daily basis.  And with each one of them was a husband, boyfriend, sister, friend, child…there to support them.

As I ran the 3.2 miles, instead of taking in the sights of DC, which always leave me in awe….I took in the signs on the backs of the runners and walkers.  And, it was even more awe-inspiring than the history and architecture that surrounded me.  It is the people that make up the city that really matter.  I took note of the names and prayed for them as I ran through the streets.  I thought about my friends who’ve struggled as their mothers have fought this terrible disease.  I thought about my great-aunt, who died several years ago.  I thought about my friend Mia who was my age when she died, leaving behind a husband and two young kids.  I’ll never forget the day she told me she had cancer.  I remember exactly where I was standing and the look on her face and the words that I could not find to respond as I just hugged her.  It was devastating — and yet so inspiring to watch her walk through the rest of her life on this earth with such grace and dignity and love.

When I was about 1/2 mile from the finish line, I saw one of those pink signs on the ground.  I had to stop and pick it up.  I thought about how I would feel if I got to the finish line and the sign bearing the name of the person who inspired me to run was nowhere to be found.

Ms. Betty Mitchell, I don’t know you — but somebody loved you enough to put your name on a sign and run for you.  It was a privilege to take it across the finish line on their behalf.

So today, I didn’t care that I’m slow or that my foot still hurts.  None of that compares, not even a little bit, to the struggle that the women fighting breast cancer face.

One final note:  Even though today was about breast cancer – we are all painfully aware that it isn’t the only form of cancer that takes our loved ones from us.  As I ran, I thought of my grandfathers.  My dear friend Julie.  And of course, sweet Dylan.

And as I was walking back to the Metro through Judiciary Square, I was reminded of that one more time.

Thanks for inspiring me, buddy.

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