Running to Save Lives

I used to be cynical about “raising awareness” campaigns. I remember wondering, “How does raising awareness actually help to accomplish anything?” That all changed instantly when I was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer in November of 2013. Pancreatic Cancer has the highest mortality rate of any cancer, yet funding from the federal government for pancreatic cancer research is among the lowest for any cancer. While death rates for other cancers are declining, death rates for Pancreatic Cancer are expected to grow in the next several years. It is projected that pancreatic cancer will be the second leading cause of cancer deaths by 2020, surpassed only by lung cancer. The five-year mortality rate continues to be about 6% for all four stages.

After getting my diagnosis, I suddenly understood the point of “awareness” campaigns. We desperately need attention brought to this extremely lethal illness so that the general public will care enough to give much-needed funding for research. Those of us who have been affected by the pancreatic cancer want to scream from the rooftops, “Please help before one more amazing human being dies!” We are in a race against time. We desperately need new and better therapies. We need money to go into clinical trials. It truly is a matter of life or death. So, when we talk about “raising awareness”, please understand that we are talking about bringing attention to an illness that is highly lethal and we really are talking about trying to save lives.

It is because of this that I decided that I must personally do something to help others with Pancreatic Cancer. My contribution is what I am calling the race trifecta of 2015. I will be running the Lincoln Marathon in May, 2015. In June, just a month later, I will be running the Bryce Canyon 100. Then, in October, I will be running the Denver Rock N Roll Marathon.

I have established a Crowdrise fundraising link that you can follow here. Please consider making a donation. All funds raised will go to Project Purple, which has a mission of helping to fund cancer research and help those who have been affected by pancreatic cancer.

https://www.crowdrise.com/survivortoniaruns/fundraiser/toniasmith

Running for the cause of helping others inspires and motivates me. I know of no other pancreatic cancer survivor who has run  a 100 mile race. Sadly, most people who have been touched by pancreatic cancer have not been as fortunate as I have been. I hope to use my own good health to bring much-needed attention to the illness that has affected my family and so many others so deeply.

I put in 94 miles of training from last Saturday through this Friday. I ran in snow. I ran at 9500 feet of elevation in the mountains.

In the snow about 9000'.

In the snow about 9000′.

I did a speed workout. I ran when I was tired. I ran during every spare moment I had. I ran when it hurt. I ran alone. I ran with friends. I ran with my husband. I ran with my dog.

Running with my dog in the snow

Running with my dog in the snow

I ran for every person whose pancreatic cancer story has touched my life. I ran for the people who are still fighting. I ran for the people who have been lost. Every time I felt like not running, I thought about all of the reasons why I needed to press on anyway.

I have met so many amazing people who have been affected by Pancreatic Cancer in the last 16 months. As long as I continue to live, breathe and have “fight” left in my body, I will do what I can to continue to bring attention to this disease. We need a cure now. Too many people have been lost already. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to my campaign. Your money can help save lives.

Commitment

I have been thinking about commitment this week. Commitment is different from agreement. We agree to do many things in life. How many things do we truly commit to? Commitment is following through with what agreed to do, even when it becomes extremely difficult. Commitment implies that we are giving 100% of ourselves to something. We may agree to do something half-heartedly but committing to something implies an entirely different level of passion and involvement.

Commitment is when we continue to work towards a goal we set, even if we know we may not get accolades or win awards. Commitment is demonstrated by what we do to achieve something when no one else is looking. We can participate in things in our lives or we can commit ourselves completely. This is a difference in semantics, of course, but there is a difference in emotional involvement and passion when we commit versus simply agreeing to go along with a plan.

I thought I had committed a few months back to the Bryce 100. Since that time, I have experienced every emotion under the sun over having made the commitment. I have felt excitement, fear, joy, disbelief, and even anger at myself (WHY did I do this?) Lots of thoughts have gone through my head. “I don’t HAVE to do this.” “I have nothing to prove”. “Are you sure you want to put your body through this?” “No one but you cares if you do this 100.” “You could drop to the 50”. “You have so much other stuff going on in your life. Why are you adding to your plate right now?”

I signed up to participate. I agreed to run the race. Somewhere over the last week, that agreement has turned the corner to commitment. I want to do my absolute best to honor the commitment I have made to the race and to myself. I do believe that we should all do things that scare us a little bit. Truthfully, everything about this race scares me right now. Everything in my life is different from it was when I ran the Vermont 100 in 2013. I am different from I was back then. I knew taking this on would be more difficult this time around. It scares me, but isn’t that exactly why I wanted to do it?

Recently, I was running a race when I overheard participants near me engaged in banter and frankly, sand-bagging. They were discussing who among them was the least prepared for this event. “I was up drinking all night!” “My longest run was only three miles!” I wondered why people would be arguing to win the “least prepared for this race” award. Is this a new thing? Trying to run with no training? Since when are people proud of not doing the work involved to get ready to run a race? I belong to a few running/ultrarunning groups and I often see people say, “I have been running for three months! I want to run an ultramarathon NOW!” I wonder, “WHY? Why would anyone want to attempt to take shortcuts in running or racing?”

I am by no means a running expert. I am just a mom who started running at the age of 28. I jumped into running marathons shortly after I started running, but I trained every single day to prepare myself. I did the work. I logged the miles. It was not until I had been running marathons for several years that I began looking into running beyond the marathon distance. There is something to be said for patience, and for being willing to put in the work involved. Training for a marathon or an ultramarathon is hard work. There are countless hours of effort and dedication that go into making a successful race. Isn’t that part of the attraction to distance running? Why run a race if you are not interested in putting in the work that is required? I know I run long distances because I am attracted to the difficulty of the entire process. I want to do hard things. I relish the challenge.

I want to reiterate that my training is far from perfect. I do not work with a coach. I make up my training program as I go. I have to schedule runs around my family and my work. Regardless, I put in many, many miles. I put in effort. I run when it is cold, snowy, hot, raining, icy, etc. I ran through chemotherapy so I wouldn’t have to start from zero. I am proud of the fact that I work my ass off to prepare for races. It demonstrates commitment and respect for the race.

I realized at this recent race that I had been waffling on my commitment to Bryce. Either I am “all in” on this or I am not. Since then, I have made some adjustments to my training. I have a new energy and enthusiasm that has been infused into the training process. Between last Monday and this Sunday, I logged 85 miles, including a 24 mile run.

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I have had a couple of days where I ran twice. I have thrown in hill repeats while I waited for my daughter to finish up with a practice. I am trying to take every single opportunity I have to move forward towards reaching my goal. I have even begun working my weak core every single day. Good habits are formed out of practice and repetition. Ultimately, I may fail to reach my goals, but it won’t be for lack of commitment and dedication. Love the work. Love the effort. Love the dedication required to achieve something. Love how good it feels to know you gave all of your effort towards something. Be committed.

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Super Half-Marathon Race Report

In December, I ran the Rock Canyon Half-Marathon in Pueblo, CO and suffered in pain the entire way. Since then, I started seeing a Physical Therapist for my back pain related to a disc problem. Right away, I felt some improvement. On New Year’s Day, I ran the Rescue Run 10K and felt much better. Today, I returned to the Super Half-Marathon in Colorado Springs.

Last year I ran this race with a friend after completing my first cycle of chemotherapy. This year I was hoping to push the pace and see what my legs had in them.Since my long-term goal is an ultra, I just trained as normal this week, although I ran slower since I was getting used to running with our new dog, Willy.

This morning, I knew Willy wanted to run. I took him out for about 2.5 miles prior to heading down to the race start. I had wanted to get a long run in today, so I figured I would add a few more miles on with the dog after the race. I got down to the race venue just ten minutes before the race was to start.I found bathroom so I could pee right before the start, lined up with a couple of friends and then we were off.

I have run very few half-marathons, and of course, I am still in cancer comeback mode.I honestly had no idea what pace I should run. So, I figured I would shoot to keep the pace comfortable on the way out and then either just hang on or push it on the way back, depending on how I was feeling. It was cold at the start, with temperatures only in the mid 20s and with a bit of a wind, but the good news is that there was very little snow on the course. I ran, monitoring my garmin more out of curiosity than anything.I seemed to be running in the 8:15-8:20 range on the way out.

As we hit the turn around point, the course begins a gentle downhill to the finish. My splits were a little more scattered, but generally were in the 7:50ish range. I found myself running with a couple of guys for the last couple of miles and we pushed each other,so that was nice. I ended up finishing in chip time of 1:45:54, which put me 3rd in my age group and 29th out of 265 women.

3rd in 45-49 AG

3rd in 45-49 AG

I am happy with my results. The biggest bonus for me is that I felt good. After being in pain for a while, it felt awesome to be able to test myself out. Pain was not my limiting factor, my fitness level was and that is something that I can work to improve. I ran 9 minutes faster than I did in Pueblo, at an elevation of about 1000 feet higher. Hopefully this means that things are starting to turn around for my running.

I spent a little time at the award ceremony at Jack Quinn’s after the race. It was great seeing so many of my friends out on the course, running, volunteering and celebrating afterwards. When I got home,Willy was waiting by the door. He ran another 5 with me, and I got my 20 miles in for the day.Life is good.