A Journey of Thousands of Miles

I signed up for the Bryce Canyon 100 on December 1st, 2014. After what feels like an endless amount of time spent busting my butt out on the trails, I finally have finished my training and am officially starting my taper. I feel like I have spent months trudging through deep snow and running through drenching rains. I am relieved, thrilled and overjoyed to have finally reached this point. There is such a sense of deep satisfaction that comes from knowing how hard I have worked to get here. I am extremely proud of the time and miles I have put in to prepare for this 100.

Final long run. Scheri looking up at snow-covered Pikes Peak.

Final long run. Scheri looking up at snow-covered Pikes Peak.

I signed up all of those months ago because I wanted to do something epic as a comeback from having Pancreatic Cancer. I honestly do not think I would have signed up for another 100 if I had not had cancer. My first 100 went so well that I did not really feel like I needed to do another one. Yet here I am, making my final preparations for my second 100. I wanted to prove to myself that my illness would not limit what I do going forward. While I hope to finish the race, the finish is not entirely what all of this is about. The race is but one 36 hour period in time. Anyone who knows anything about distance running or ultra running knows the months and months of dedication, hard work and preparation that go into training for an event.

Signing up for a 100 signified many things to me. It meant that I would commit to training. It meant that I would put myself out there, on the line, despite all of those fears and doubts that have lingered since I have gotten my new post-cancer body. It meant that I would face those fears and work through them over the weeks and months leading up to the race.

There are many personal reasons why I chose to attempt the 100 mile distance again. I am doing this because I will never forget how lucky I have been. I am, in part, doing this as I continue to reclaim who I used to be before I had cancer, and to celebrate how far I have come since I had my surgery and finished chemo. On those moments when I unite who I used to be with who I have become, I am powerful, bold, joyful and unstoppable.

Climbing the hills

Climbing the hills

I have experienced every emotion under the sun these last few months. I have felt excitement and elation. I have felt fear and anxiety.Through it all, whenever I doubted myself, I went for a run. Running makes anything seem possible. Don’t worry. Just run.

Last week, I hit my peak of 100 training miles in a week, with 19,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. That gave me a much-needed psychological boost. If I can run it in a week, I can do it in a day, or realistically, a day plus a few hours.

Trudging through knee-deep snow AGAIN

Trudging through knee-deep snow AGAIN

With my husband, who is my best friend and biggest supporter

With my husband, who is my best friend and biggest supporter

I completed my very last long training run yesterday. I am elated to be finished with the hard training. I could pick apart the things I wish I had done differently over the past few months, but instead I will just celebrate the fact that the hay is officially in the barn. I have given my training pretty much all I had. Now comes the rest, recovery and race organization piece. Bryce takes place in two weeks and it will take me that long to figure out exactly what I need to pack, what to put in drop bags, etc.

After months and months of 80-100 miles per week of training in everything from thigh deep snow to pouring rain, lightning and hail, I celebrate the fact that I was physically and emotionally well enough to test myself. I am proud of myself for committing to this race, for working incredibly hard, for putting myself out there without knowing if I will succeed or fail, and for doing something for a higher purpose, in making this a charity fundraiser. I want nothing more at this point than to finish this 100. I also need to remember that the journey of getting to this point was one of thousands of miles. The Bryce 100 will be a celebration of those thousands of miles and all that they represent.

I hope I win the half-a-pancreas division.

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If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to my Project Purple fundraiser, please visit the link below.

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

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Are We Having Fun Yet?

I spent the better part of last week trying to recover from my 3:39 Lincoln Marathon. My plan had to be 1) Not go out like an idiot and 2) Not get hurt. My secret third goal, because there is always a secret goal, was to qualify for Boston. I accomplished almost everything I set out to do in Lincoln, perhaps with the exception of not going out like an idiot. I was hurting pretty badly all week and I kept thinking that maybe I should have reined my competitive spirit in a bit on the course. Knowing myself and my personality, this is probably not realistic. It is funny how when I have said to my friends, “I just cannot seem to hold myself back”, the response I get is, “Well, yeah, I knew you would go race hard.” Am I really that predictable? If I line up at a race, unless I am truly running start to finish with a friend, I know I will go hard. As they say, go hard or go home.

One more finish line photo with two of my favorite people, Dino & Elli

One more finish line photo with two of my favorite people, Dino & Elli

In any event, last week involved some second-guessing and wound-licking. I had hoped to train fairly hard for the Bryce 100 last week, but recovery became the most important aspect of the week. I did all I could to hasten the recovery and spent a good deal of time rolling around on the foam roller and tennis balls trying to work out the aches and pains. I still managed to run about 60 miles last week, which is substantially fewer miles than what I have been running, but nothing to sneeze at, either. But, I figure that the hard marathon effort counts for something in the grand scheme of things.

This last week presented a whole host of other issues for my training. In Colorado Springs, we received unbelievable amounts of rainfall over the past week. Normally, we have a fairly dry climate. We used to be able to set our watches by the brief afternoon showers we would get, but rarely would it rain nonstop all day. This past week, it just never stopped raining. We are not talking about showers, either. We had torrential daily downpours with hail and impressive lightning storms. At one point this week, we had rain, hail, snow, thunderstorms and tornado warnings all in the same day. Trails are flooded. I have never seen so much water and water damage in the 16 years I have lived here. This makes training a challenge. I got out every single day, but it is hard to get in runs of any length when I am afraid of being struck by lightning. I did not survive cancer to go out in that manner (with a bang?).

My friend Debby and I went up to the hills on Thursday and got stuck in a very impressive thunder/lightening/hail storm.

Debby In Cheyenne Canon, before the scary storm moved in.

Debby In Cheyenne Canon, before the scary storm moved in.

Hail on the trail. It is amazing how even small hail hurts.

Hail on the trail. It is amazing how even small hail hurts.

By the time Steve and I got around to doing a long run on Sunday, there was snow on the ground. This is May 10th. I cannot remember the last long run I was able to do that did not involve slogging through snow. It is exhausting and takes forever. What was fun back in October or November is now mentally and physically challenging. Furthermore, there is so much extensive flooding on many of the trails in this area, that routes are sometimes cut off entirely. We spent a great deal of time trying to cobble together a passable route yesterday that would give us climbing and elevation gain. I ended up with 20 miles total yesterday with about 4300 feet of gain and loss. This was good, but it took forever and I was hoping for more total mileage.

We never usually have this much water around here.

We never usually have this much water around here.

May 10th snow. Really. May 10th.

May 10th snow. Really. May 10th.

I hope that by later in the week, some of the trails will have dried out a bit. I have about ten more days of high mileage training and then I have to taper.

I have had a lot of people ask me what you do to train to run 100 miles. My answer is usually some version of, “I run a lot.” The truth is, there seem to be general principles for running 100 miles, but no set in stone answers on what is right or wrong. When I trained for the one and only 100 I did previously (the Vermont 100 Endurance Run http://vermont100endurancerun.blogspot.com/), I just ran as much as I could. I am certainly no expert in the matter. I just figure that if I put in as many miles as I can, it will help build the strength I need physically and mentally to get me to the finish line of the upcoming Bryce 100.

Since Lincoln, I find myself waking up in the middle of the night thinking things like, “I wonder if our headlamps still work?! I need to check the batteries. Do I need more socks? I wonder what phase of the moon it will be on race day? (If there is a full moon, there is more light for the night time portion of the race). Will I get my period on race day? I wonder if I should try trekking poles?” Yes, these are the things that wake me up in the middle of the night. After allowing these thoughts to go through my mind at all hours of night, I can’t help but laugh at myself and think, “I wonder who else is lying awake right now with these questions and concerns running through their heads?”

I have run a lot of miles these last few months. I have not gotten nearly as much time at elevation as I had hoped for due to snow and time constraints. I have not gotten in as many true back-to-back long runs as I had wanted. I spend too much time thinking about the things I have not been able to do. I am trying to remember all of the things that I have done: all of the weeks when I have run 80-100 or more miles. All of those runs through deep snow that were slow but that also build mental and physical strength. All of the runs I have done that had lots of elevation gain and loss, even if they were not as high up as I wanted.

I ran into friend and fellow ultrarunner Larry DeWitt this weekend while out on the trails this weekend. He is an amazing runner who has overcome some physical obstacles of his own. Larry has been a source of inspiration for me throughout all of my recovery and comeback to running. He reminded me this weekend that the big goal is to have fun while I am out on the trails in Bryce. I know when I ran Vermont, I had fun the entire way. Even when I hurt, I had a good time. I needed Larry’s pep talk. It sounds so simplistic, and yet his words have stuck with me. I needed someone who has been there and done that to remind me that this is all supposed to be fun, and if you forget about the fun, then you run the risk of throwing in the towel even when you truly can keep going. I have some amazing people coming out to Bryce with me and their one and only job is to keep me smiling no matter what.

My goal for the next ten or so days is to put in some good quality miles, spend as much time in the hills as possible and continue to try to focus on the fun. I know I can do that much. No matter what has happened in my life, even through my surgery and chemo, I still managed to have fun. “Difficult” and “fun” are not mutually exclusive. Some of the hardest things I have done in my life have also been the most fun and rewarding. As usual, this lesson from running (Just remember to have fun) is applicable to life in general. If we stop having fun no matter what we are doing, even in the most difficult of times, we run the risk of giving up and throwing in the towel. Find the fun. No matter what you face in life, never give up the fun.

Even a slog through the snow in May can be fun.

Even a slog through the snow in May can be fun.

Tonia’s Run & the Lincoln Marathon

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind. Anyone who follows me knows that I was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer in November of 2013. I have tried to express many times what an impact my diagnosis has had on my and my family’s life.I have written about how lucky I have been. I am grateful to be doing well, despite the surgery and chemotherapy treatments. I have made no secret of the fact that I have struggled with survivor’s guilt at times. My way of dealing with that is to try to do what I can to help others who have been affected by this illness. It is my passion and mission in life.

I have become involved with Project Purple, whose motto is “Running to Beat Pancreatic Cancer”.

http://www.run4projectpurple.org/

I am so fortunate to have found a charity that I believe in so completely. As a runner who cares about improving the survival odds for Pancreatic Cancer, Project Purple completely aligns with my own passions in life.

On April 26, 2015, we held the first annual Tonia’s Run to Beat Pancreatic Cancer in Colorado Springs, CO. We had over 120 registered entrants for the race. Despite the weather being overcast and rainy on race morning, the event went on as planned and the runners and walkers had a great time.

Runners waiting to start the 5k

Runners waiting to start the 5k

Top three male winners, Brooks Williams, Jesse Mascaranes & Jon Teisher

Top three male winners, Brooks Williams, Jesse Mascarenas & Jon Teisher

Top Female, Kristina Mascarenas

Top Female, Kristina Mascarenas

Having fun after the race!

Having fun after the race!

With JoAnne Kienle

With JoAnne Kienle

With Vanessa Shawver

With Vanessa Shawver

We had a great first year event and are looking ahead towards next year’s race. I will be announcing a date very soon.

This past weekend, I traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska, to run with the Project Purple Marathon team. I was originally asked by my dear friend, Elli Zadina, to come and speak at the dinner. I thought about running the half-marathon but then decided I wanted to run the full as a training run for the Bryce 100.

My wonderful friend, Jenny, said she would also come to Lincoln and run the marathon with our team. We left Colorado Springs on Friday and stopped along the way so she could visit her son who attends college in Kearney, NE.

Jenny & I on our way to our Thelma & Louise weekend, but sadly, we did not find Brad Pitt anywhere.

Jenny & I on our way to our Thelma & Louise weekend, but sadly, we did not find Brad Pitt anywhere.

We arrived in Lincoln mid-morning on Saturday. I volunteered with the Project Purple team booth for a couple of hours that morning. I love nothing more than spending time with other runners. I especially love being around other runners who care about Pancreatic Cancer. So, that was pretty awesome!

With two incredible people, Elli Zadina & Project Purple founder, Dino Verrelli

With two incredible people, Elli Zadina & Project Purple founder, Dino Verrelli

With Coach Jane, who also happens to be a pancreatic cancer researcher!

With Coach Jane, who also happens to be a pancreatic cancer researcher!

With runner and all-around great guy, Travis Russell

With runner and all-around great guy, Travis Russell

With Brian Reeves, who is on his way to running a half in all 50 states!

With Brian Reeves, who is on his way to running a half in all 50 states!

We had a wonderful team dinner Saturday night!

I had the pleasure of speaking to the team.

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Dino gave me purple Shwings for my shoes!

Dino gave me purple Shwings for my shoes!

Most importantly, this amazing team of 88 runners raised over $100,000!! What an incredible group of people.

Race day was going to be warm, with predicted highs in the 80s. I finally fell asleep at 3 am Saturday night and my alarm woke me up at 4 am, so I was not well rested going into the race. Since my big goal is to run the Bryce 100, I did not taper, except for the final four days before the race. I honestly did not know how the race would go.

I decided I would just go out and see what I could do. My secret goal was to run a Boston Qualifier, but my big goal was to finish and not get injured. I must have put down a predicted finish time in the 4-4:30 range when I signed up. I was not too happy with myself for low-balling my finish time, because that meant I had to line up farther back. Since it was supposed to be hot, I wanted to get moving as quickly as possible. I think we started about 15 minutes after the gun went off.

The first hour or so went well. It was sunny, but we were running through neighborhoods that were lined with trees. Soon, the sun moved higher into the sky and I could feel the heat and humidity. I knew this would play a factor for everyone. I knew it would be a factor for me, since it has been cold in Colorado Springs recently. Over the first half, I ticked off miles in the 8 minute range. I had a few that were faster and a few that were slower, because I stopped for water. The first half of the race, we ran with the half-marathoners. That was nice, because there were lots of people and big crowds lining the streets. As the marathoners split off, the crowds became more sparse. It also became blazing hot. My mile splits dropped into the 8:40s and higher. I tried to hold it together. I saw a woman lying on the side of the road getting an IV. I saw a lot of people walking. Somehow, I managed to keep running.

At about mile 20, the runners turn back and head toward the Nebraska football stadium. It is a net downhill on the way to the finish, so despite the heat, I was able to bring my mile splits back into the 8:20s. The course had plenty of aid stations. I ran through each one, drinking water and dumping a second cup over my head. I also stuffed ice in my bra in several stops.

I eventually finished in 3:39:45, which is about a 15 minute Boston Qualifier. I also got 3rd in my age group, so that was exciting and unexpected.

Holding my award plaque and award winner's shirt

Holding my award plaque and award winner’s shirt. My race & awards are dedicated to Virginia & Gina, two  PC warriors

With Elli & Dino

With Elli & Dino

With Jenny

With Jenny

Finishing in the football stadium was very cool. My hat is off to the Lincoln Track Club for putting on a fantastic event. I would definitely recommend the marathon. The course is pretty and quite flat, and there were plenty of aid stations.

I am thrilled with my results and finish time, especially considering the fact that I have done maybe three speed workouts since before I had cancer. I think the long runs are building strength that I have been unaware I had. What it comes down to, though, is I am stubborn and determined. In cancer circles, people use the phrase “Never, Ever Give Up” and it is a phrase that I often think of in running, also.

These last two weeks have been so incredible. I have met so many fabulous and inspiring people. I have feel incredibly blessed and lucky to be surrounded by so much love and support. I just ran a solid marathon and I plan to go back to Boston in 2016! Now I have to focus on my last few weeks as I prepare for the Bryce 100. I am happy and grateful for so many reasons.

Surround yourself with good people who inspire you to become a better person. Work your butt off. Enjoy your successes. Have fun and make time to play. Practice gratitude daily.

I have 32 days until Bryce 100. I have to rest and recover for a couple of days and then hit it hard for the next couple of weeks. I am trying to raise a minimum of $5000 for Project Purple. If you can, please help me to reach my goal.

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