28 Days

Today marks four weeks since my arthroscopic hip surgery. Before going in for surgery, I researched the procedures and recoveries pretty extensively. I talked to other patients. I saw a few surgeons. I talked to others in the medical profession. I knew I had to be committed to doing things properly and being in the recovery for the long haul and not the short term pain and frustration. This is not easy for any athlete, but it can be especially challenging for someone who is used to engaging in their sport of choice every single day. And let’s face it: people who run stupidly long distances are not entirely right in the head. Moderation and restraint are probably not things we embrace.

Like many women, I have a lifelong history of body image issues. I have been an every single day exerciser since I was 13-years-old. I have written about body image previously (particularly HERE). As the mother of two daughters and as someone who has struggled with how I feel about my appearance, it is an issue of utmost importance to me. Running freed me from a lot of concerns I held about not being ‘enough’: ‘not thin enough, not muscular enough, not hot enough, not pretty enough…just ‘not enough’. Running was something that made me feel not only ‘good enough’ but just plain old ‘good’.

tonia running CM 50k

2016 Cheyenne Mountain 50K with Tracey: I had one of my worst races due to injury, but like sex and pizza, even when running is bad, it’s good.

This is a Test

I worried a lot going into this surgery that months of not running would make my body and self-esteem take a nose dive. I guess that is one thing about being in survival mode…suddenly the size of your ass seems much less important than just making it through each day. I learned that during my cancer treatments, of course, but we humans have short memories. We forget a lot of important lessons we learn over our lives and sometimes we need to go through a hardship again to relearn them. This recovery period is a test of how well I learned certain lessons the first time around.

Of course, I have not been inactive at all. Since the night of surgery, I have been working very, very hard at my rehabilitation. I do my Physical Therapy exercises twice each day. I spin on the bike for two 20-minute sessions each day. I have been going to the pool and swimming, water jogging and doing my aqua therapy exercises 3-4 times each week. It isn’t running on trails, of course, but it is something and I am diligent about doing it.

There are No Shortcuts

I promised myself before doing this surgery that if I lost muscle or gained weight, I would not engage in self-loathing. I promised myself that I would approach this like I do a race and look at each phase as vitally important in reaching my goals. In training for ultras, I wanted to embrace the entire process, start to finish, the good, bad and the ugly. I did not seek shortcuts then and I am not seeking them now. I want to do this properly or I would not have signed up to do it at all.

Ingredients for Recovery

Right now I need two things to heal properly: rest and good food. This includes lots of veggies, fruits, lean meats and sometimes cookies because a little indulgence is good for my mental health, too. So far, I have been kind to myself and not judgmental towards my body. This is progress.

I Don’t Hate you because you Can Run and I Can’t

I am actually proud of the fact that over the last four weeks I have not once felt sorry for myself because I cannot run. I have not felt jealous of my running friends. I am still able to look at people’s running joys and accomplishments on Facebook and think how genuinely happy I am for them. I am so glad I can celebrate along with people who are still fulfilling running goals and dreams. I hoped I wouldn’t feel pathetically sorry for myself following my surgery, but you just don’t know how things will impact you until you experience them personally.

So those are the things I really feel good about and have even gone better than I thought. But there are also things which are harder than I believed they would be and some things I had no idea would be an issue at all.

I Knew this Would Be Difficult…

I really miss being independent. Not being able to drive myself frustrates me still, but I know it is temporary and I am grateful for help. I could never have done this without my mom here.

mom driving us

My mommy has to drive me everywhere still.

Trying to sleep in the CPM is just so difficult for me and lack of sleep for four weeks is really hard to deal with. I will be shedding the CPM this week, so this too is temporary.

CPM leg bed

Hooked up to the CPM, NICE machine and  DVT calf sleeve

Sitting up causes a great deal of pain- more pain than I thought it would. I was in so much pain last night after working on stuff at my computer for several hours that I wanted to cry. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t cry because I was in too much pain and just too tired. All I could do was lay down on ice for the rest of the evening and pray I would feel better in the morning.

Didn’t See THAT Coming

In many ways, the hardest part has been the stuff I was not able to plan ahead for. I did not anticipate was that I would be on medications (not pain meds) for a month which would make me very sick to my stomach and dizzy. For 28 days, I have felt like I have morning sickness that lasts all day. Aside from PT, I am spending a whole lot of time laying down on ice and just feeling ill. I am far from resuming my normal life.

After beginning to progress towards weight-bearing, things that didn’t hurt at all before are now quite unhappy. My adductor muscles are very angry and so is my IT band. This is to be expected, but I was doing so well at first I believed maybe I would escape with no pain at all.

I did not expect what a toll this would take on my mental faculties. I apparently am not the only one, because a friend of mine who had a very similar surgery also commented to me that her brain was not firing at 100% either. There are a lot of things from the last month that are a bit foggy, and since I am not on pain medications, I cannot attribute it to that. It must just be the stress on the body and lack of sleep. Whatever it is, it is real.

Yay! Phase Two is Here

So, phase one of recovery comes to a close now and I move on to phase two. I can start to say goodbye to the CPM, the DVT calf sleeves, the ice and hopefully the crutches shortly and begin working towards full weight bearing.

The goals for me for now are to maintain my (mostly) good attitude and continue to adhere to PT protocols even when I am feeling poorly. Equally importantly, I hope to continue focusing on my end goals and recognize that each moment, especially the hard ones, are what will help me get there. I will be patient. I will be smart. I will be kind to myself. I will move forward slowly and surely.

 

 

 

 

 

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Cheyenne Mtn Trail Race 50K

I divide a lot of my life into ‘Before’ and ‘After’. We all have plenty of ‘befores’ and ‘afters’ in life, of course. For example, there is before/after marriage and before/after having children. For the past couple of years, it most typically refers to ‘before’ and ‘after’ my pancreatic cancer diagnosis. I last ran the Cheyenne Mountain Trail Race 50k in the ‘Before’ era of my life. It was April 2013, and I was gearing up to run the Vermont 100. I was in great shape and healthy and strong. I had been training hard for months. I ran a 5:48, finishing as fourth female, first master. I was happy and proud. I ran pretty much the entire race and finished feeling good about my fitness and my ability. That was ‘before’.

CM2013 podium

I had some misgivings about returning to a race that I had run in my ultra prime, so to speak, but I love the course, love the Race Directors, Tim Bergsten and Michael Pharis, and enjoy local running events. So, I signed up in January with every intention of training to get into hilly, ultramarathon shape. Unfortunately, a foot injury has kept me off of the hills and family commitments have forced me to cut my runs short. The training just has not been what it should be. I knew that I was physically incapable of turning in a good, competitive race effort, but I knew I could finish the 50 k as a training run.

I am going to subtitle this post as “The Race Where I Carried a Bullmastiff on My Back.” For every ultra I run, Peyton, my 13-year-old, makes me a little good luck charm. I have become superstitious about having my good luck charm. As I was running out the door to the start of the Cheyenne Mountain Trail Race 50k, Steve said to Peyton, “Did you make anything for mommy?” I had forgotten to ask and she had forgotten our tradition, but she did not want to let me down, so she ran off to her room and came back with this:

shrinky dink

It is a shrinky dink. She said enthusiastically, “It kind of looks like Greta!” I believe that it was actually a pug,  but for the sake of providing a sense of meaning, let’s just go with it and call it ‘Greta the Bullmastiff’. I stuffed the Bullmastiff in the back pocket of my new running skirt. Little did I know that I would soon feel like I was carrying an actual mastiff on my back.

The best part of local races is seeing all of the familiar faces out there and also finally getting to meet people I have heard about for a long time. I took a minute to snap a selfie with Kristin who I connected with on Facebook via a mutual friend quite a while back. This was a great way to start my day!

CM with kristen

Meeting Kristin (r) for the first time was a highlight of the race.

The Cheyenne Mountain Trail Races are deceptively hard, in my opinion. While the elevation gain is certainly not the most of any ultra, it is a relentlessly rolling course with plenty of roots and rocks. There are roughly 3600 ft of ascent/descent over the course of the 50k. When I am in shape, like I was in 2013, this course is tough but runnable. This year, with three flat 20 mile long runs under my belt, I knew I would not be able to run the whole thing. However, I also knew that if I didn’t make the jump to hilly long runs now, Run Rabbit Run 100 will not happen in the fall.

I started off running just fine. I was having fun and enjoying myself. I chatted with an amazing guy who is preparing to run his 9th Leadville this summer, along with Hardrock and a bunch of other races. We started talking because he noticed my Project Purple shirt and he had lost his brother to pancreatic cancer. It amazes me that everywhere I go it seems that someone has a connection to the disease.

Mile 8 begins a roughly three-mile stretch of significant uphill. I was hanging with my buddy Tim Gore and his friends at this point. We had switched to hiking and were talking, but my chest started to hurt. I was working way too hard and something did not feel right. I back way off and let them go. At mile 10, I seriously wondered if it was wise for me to continue. I thought, “My first DNF cannot come in a 50k, but I don’t want to be stupid.” I had not eaten anything up til about 10 miles, so I ate a gel and took a salt pill to see if I could right the ship.

Soon, I met up with Allisa. She was down from Lakewood and she was not feeling particularly well, either. So, we hiked the uphills and ran the downhills. We briefly got separated, but then joined up again at the start of the second loop. Unfortunately, I had to walk hills at the beginning of the second loop that I ran easily the first time around. I was still working way too hard. Finally, we parted ways and she continued on ahead.

The volunteers on the course were a highlight of the day for me, and they were all doing an amazing job of taking care of the runners at the aid stations. It was great seeing so many people I knew out there and hearing them call my name when I rolled in. I seriously needed those wonderful people to uplift  my spirits.

CM 50k

Coming into the Achilles International Aid Station. (Photo courtesy of Denise Flory).

tonia Aid station CM

Photo Courtesy of Tim Bergsten & Pikes Peak Sports.

I was particularly thrilled to see my good friend, Tracey, out on the course. I just love her. She popped up in seemingly the middle of nowhere and made me laugh. She was volunteering for the race after having completed the 10k. I was nowhere near the finish line in this photo, but I was so happy to see Tracey. It was a great excuse to run a few steps with my friend AND to stop to pee. What more can a girl want?

CM 50k tracey

As I ran the remaining miles solo, I listened to music, tried to stay on top of eating and drinking, and continued with my mixture of hiking and running. For quite a while, I felt at peace. I love company, but I also love being alone on the trails. I feel best when I can allow myself to fall into the rhythm of my own body. Once again, I turned things around for a bit, but then the fatigue returned..

Eventually the sun came out and it got very warm.I started losing my mind a bit out there, honestly. I was wearing a vest-style hydration system and I kept forgetting to refill it at aid stations. I just could not remember to check my water supply.  I ran out of water. I made stupid mistakes that I normally would never make. Finally, I closed in on the finish line. I had passed one runner in a late-in-the-game burst of energy and was running as fast as I could when Karen, a volunteer, ran up and said, “There’s a rattlesnake in that bush.” I thought to myself, “I came all of this way to get bit by a freaking rattlesnake. This is how it is going to end, isn’t it?” Karen told me she would stay between me and the snake but I also did not want her to get bit. What a bizarre way to finish a race! Fortunately, neither of us got bit.

CM 50 snake

Photo courtesy of Tim Bergsten

I crossed the finish line somewhere around 6:42 (by my watch. Waiting for official results to be posted). I immediately had to lay down in the shade for a bit after finishing. I talked with a couple of guys who had finished a few minutes ahead of me, then went back to the drop bag area to collect my stuff. I was feeling pretty emotional at that point in time. I knew I was not in shape to run fast today, but I did not expect chest pain and delirium. I wonder if this is some lasting effect from my chemotherapy. I wondered several times on the course why I was still running ultras. Bryce was so amazing last year, but Bear Chase was very rough and CMTR 50k was also quite rough.. I wondered if I could get myself in shape for Run Rabbit Run 100 in the fall. I mourned the loss of the body that could run a 5:48 on this particular course. I doubt that I will ever get that conditioning back.

I spent a couple of minutes talking to Race Director and all-around great guy, Tim Bergsten, at that low moment and let a few tears escape. “My running is so up and down these days and it feels so much harder than it used to be,” I told him. There is really nothing to be said. It just is. There are things I can improve (my fitness), but there are things that are different that will never be the same. This is the ‘After’. The reality is that I had major surgery and poison pumped through my body. It prematurely aged me. My body is changed and I am changed. I want to be gentle and forgiving with myself but I am having a hard time with that because I also really want to kick ass and take names. I am thankful to be here and be able to run at all, but this part of ‘before’ and ‘after’ is emotionally tough to deal with sometimes and makes me question a lot. I often say that if I had to choose, I would choose to go through what I went through because it changed me in a lot of positive ways. However, the lingering physical effects are something I could do without.

So, I carried the Bullmastiff on my back today. It was hard but I made it. I finished. I went through an incredibly full range of emotions out there. I think I experienced as many low and high points as I have in any 50 or 100 mile race. Those highs and lows are part of what I love about running ultras. There is something so intrinsically rewarding about problem-solving on your feet, digging deep and trying to find a way to turn things around when they are not going your way. I was not proud of my performance yesterday, but today I am very proud that I was able to fix my problems enough to finish.

cm 50 finished

 

 

Race Report: PPRR Winter Series 3 & Brewer’s Cup

At the end of last year, my friend Vanessa Shawver came up with the idea for the Inaugural 2016 Pikes Peak Road Runner’s Brewer’s Cup. She got 19 local breweries and distilleries to sign on as team sponsors. Each team has 15 runners. The breweries and distilleries provide a team shirt which the runners wear at all of the local Pikes Peak Road Runner events. There are post-race, weekly and monthly gatherings at the business so it is a win-win for all involved. All of the races on our club calendar, plus the charity 5k for Project Purple, are on the Brewer’s Cup list. Points are awarded for participation, overall wins and age group awards. Because Vanessa’s goal in her running life is to encourage all runners, she wanted to make sure that runners who finish at the back of the pack would be earning points and thus contributing to their teams.

In theory, we want to make every single race, but we know that life gets in the way and not everyone will attend every race. Steve and I made it to the first couple of races and had a blast. Then we have missed a few due to illness, work and our parenting responsibilities.. But that’s just life. We do what we can and we make as many races as we are able.

After what has felt like weeks of very cold weather, we had 20 inches of snow fall in our neighborhood last Sunday through Tuesday. It has taken our area a long time to dig out. The local trails are all pretty much a complete icy, sloppy, muddy mess. There are many places that are simply not runnable right now.

The temperatures warmed up nicely over the past couple of days and Saturday was slated to top out in the 60s. We couldn’t have asked for nicer mid-winter weather. The course was moved back north this year to its old location at Baptist Road on the Santa Fe trail. The course is an out-and-back featuring 5 and 10 mile options. Even though I had missed the first two Winter Series races, I had signed up for the long series and planned to stick with the ten-mile option. Pictures from the trail taken a day earlier had showed a sloppy mess, but local runner John Volhand went out and plowed the entire course. I think I have mentioned before what an amazing running community we have. This is the kind of thing I am talking about: we have an incredible number of people here who are willing to give of their time an talents to make races come together.

WS3 friends

I carpooled to the start with three members of my Pikes Peak Brewery team, Shannon, Halcy and Debby. None of us felt motivated to run. In the five days leading up to the race I had done a 20 mile run and a one hour hard run. I was not feeling particularly rested and ready to race 10 miles, but the weather was perfect and I wanted to hang with my team.

Photobomb

Pikes Peak Brewery getting photobombed by Fieldhouse members

There really isn’t much to say about my race. We lined up and started running at 10 am. I chatted with a few friends as we started. It was sloppy and got sloppier, muddier and icier the farther north we went. It was kind of difficult footing, but I cannot imagine how it would have been if John had not plowed the trail. We ran north for five miles, then turned around and ran south. Early in the race, Brianne and I chatted. I watched her pass me, and then caught up at the turn-around. She caught back up to me and we pushed each other to the finish. I appreciate the friendly nudges that runners can give each other and since I had kind of been in cruise-control mode, Brianne helped make this more of a race and speed workout for me. I love our our running community! Thanks again, Brianne.

I finished in 1:27:08, which made me 14th female OA and third in my AG for the day. This gave me an extra point for my team, which made me happy. I have missed points for some races but if I can show up and get an AG, then hopefully that helps make up for some of the absences.

WS3 mud

Muddy Legs after the race!

The larger point that I want to make from this report has nothing to do with MY race. It has to do with the Brewer’s Cup and PPRR. At Winter Series 3 and the other races I have attended, I have been blown away by the sense of camaraderie that the Brewer’s Cup has fostered. It is so fun to see teams taking pre-race photos together. It is hilarious to see teams photobombing other team pictures. During the race, as we pass by one another on the out-and-back, we cheer for our team members as well as for other team members. I may not know everyone’s name, but I tried to always say, “Nice job Triple S!” or whichever team shirt I saw. I also had plenty of runners say, “Nice job Pikes Peak!” It is fun to be a part of a friendly and supportive competition that is much larger than one’s self.

Toads

Smiling Toads at the Post-Race festivities at Pikes Peak Brewery.

It is also really fun to go to the social gatherings. I love runners. I love talking to runners and meeting new runners. Under any circumstances, going to a race is a fun experience. The Brewer’s Cup has added tremendously to that experience by fostering friendship, teamwork and friendly competition.

PPB and friends

Our fearless leader, Vanessa Shawver, on the right, with teammates and friends and family at Pikes Peak Brewery.

Hope to see you all at the upcoming races and please do not forget to sign up for the Run to Beat Pancreatic Cancer. Registration is open and we have lots of wonderful prizes for winners and raffle items, thanks for our wonderful sponsors. Find more information here:

http://www.run4projectpurple.org/event/run-to-beat-pancreatic-cancer/

 

 

Two Year Cancerversary

November 18, 2013. That was the day I had surgery for pancreatic cancer. I was one of the lucky ones. I could have surgery. Most people with my diagnosis cannot. Half of my pancreas and my whole spleen were removed and then shortly thereafter I went through 18 rounds of chemo. It was a long road that I have previously chronicled here, but I made it through. Most pancreatic cancer patients do not survive the first year. In fact, 80% do not make it to the one year mark.

When I planned my surgery, I did it strategically. In our house, November is a busy month. Our oldest daughter, my husband and my father all have November birthdays. I remember scheduling my surgery between my daughter’s 16th birthday and my husband and dad’s birthdays. I knew my illness cast a dark cloud over all of our celebrations that year, but I wanted to try to give enough time so that we could celebrate everyone else’s special day.

Last year, as the birthdays and my cancerversary approached, I admit that I thought a lot about my own anniversary. I was excited for the birthdays and so grateful that I got to be there for them, but I thought a great deal about my own anniversary and what it meant to me. I thought about everything that it signified and all of the stuff that we had experienced over that past year.

This year, as my cancerversary has approached, I have been aware of it, but in a significant mental and emotional shift, it has become less important to me. I have been more focused on other stuff in my life: Riley’s 18th birthday, my husband’s 50th birthday, my daddy’s birthday, my work and the race series that I am currently wrapped up in co-directing.

Still, it is an important anniversary and one that bears marking, because so much in our worlds changed two years ago. At this point in time in 2013, our worlds were rocked by my diagnosis. We did not know how much time I would have with my family. I think about the things that I have gotten to take part in over the last two years that I might not have had I not been so fortunate throughout my diagnosis and treatment. There have been birthdays. The girls were 10 and 16 when I was diagnosed. Now they are 12 and 18. Riley is legally an adult. Riley got her driver’s license. The college decision has been made (Go CSU Rams!) There have been homecomings and a prom. For Peyton, there have been karate belts earned, selection for a club volleyball team and a number of other successes in athletic and academic areas. She moved from elementary to middle school as I finished chemotherapy.

With Riley & Peyton on Riley's 18th birthday

With Riley & Peyton on Riley’s 18th birthday

Steve and I celebrated another year of wedded bliss. My family and I took an amazing vacation together, where I also happened to run a 100 mile race.

The family crossing the finish line with me!

The family crossing the finish line with me at the Bryce 100

Goofing around in Bryce Canyon after the race

Goofing around in Bryce Canyon after the race

I ran a full marathon and a half-marathon with Project Purple charity teams.

With Elli & Dino

With Elli & Dino in Lincoln, NE

With Jenny

With Jenny in her home state of NE

Several of the Project Purple Denver team members at the event.

Several of the Project Purple Denver team members at the event.

I ran a 50 mile race this fall at the Bear Chase Trail Race.

Lucky girl getting a hug from both RDs, Ben Reeves (l) and David Manthey (R). Notice the missing glass lens.

Lucky girl getting a hug from both RDs, Ben Reeves (l) and David Manthey (R). Notice the missing glass lens.

I ran a mountain race with my husband and friends.

Breck Crest with my honey

Breck Crest with my honey

With Debby, my friend since I moved to CO in 1999!

With Debby, my friend since I moved to CO in 1999!

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I race directed a charity 5k for Project Purple and continued working with our local club, the Pikes Peak Road Runners.

Having fun after the race!

Having fun after the Project Purple 5k!

With my PPRR Fall Series crew

With my PPRR Fall Series crew

We gained a new family member when we adopted Willy in January.

Our newest family member, Willy

Our newest family member, Willy

And last week, we said good-bye to the Grand Dame, Greta, who passed away..

She was a natural beauty

Greta, the Bullmastiff

I got to spend time with our wonderful extended family back east over the summer, which is something I never, ever take for granted.

Through all of this, I have met so many amazing and wonderful people that I simply cannot name them all. I do hope they all know the positive impact they have had on my life.

I often think in long-term thoughts now, which is something I did not always feel that I could or should do. I wonder what college will be like for Riley and what high school will be like for Peyton. I wonder what new adventures are on the horizon for Steve and me as our kids grow and prepare to move on to live their own lives independent of us..

Not everything is easy or joyous, of course. You never get through cancer without any long-term repercussions. I saw an endocrinologist recently and  we agreed that it was time to try a medication to help stabilize my blood sugar levels, which have been all over the place. I have not felt like my normally energetic self for a while now and I am hoping that this will help return me to where I used to be. I am still trying to make peace with this recent turn of events. I would never have been in this position if I had not had half of my pancreas taken out. While I know that I am so very lucky to be here, I am also frustrated by how I have been feeling. If pancreatic cancer had not chosen me, I would not be facing the health issues that I am facing now.

All of the above being said, I know that pancreatic cancer gave me many gifts, too. One of those gifts is the gift of friendship from so many people I would not have otherwise met. I will relay one story now because it demonstrates to me the serendipity of life. In September, I was running the Bear Chase 50 mile race. I was wearing my Project Purple shirt which says “Survivor/Running with half a pancreas” on the back. I passed a woman who was running the 50k (different courses that converge over time) and she asked me, “Why are you running with half a pancreas?” I told her my story and she told me that she was a type 1 diabetic. We chatted a bit, but eventually parted ways. I had hoped that I would see her again after the race was over, but I did not.

Three weeks later, I was working the Project Purple booth at the Denver Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon expo. Guess who stopped by?

With my new friend, Jen.

With my new friend, Jen.

Jen and I were meant to meet. I believe that fully in my heart. As it turns out, she had a friend who was battling pancreatic cancer. Sadly, her friend passed away shortly after we met in Denver; another tragic loss to this dreadful disease.

When I met with the endocrinologist a couple of weeks later, he told me to make friends with Type 1 diabetic athletes. I believe we met because we both needed each other at this point in our lives. She needed to see someone living beyond PC and I needed to meet someone who could show me that distance running and diabetes can co-exist. It all seems overwhelming right now but I know that I will figure it all out in time.

So much has happened in the past two years. I am so grateful that I am still here. I have been given the gift of more time with my family, and I have been given the gift of new and meaningful friendships. This year I look forward to seeing my eldest graduate from high school and go off to college, and to seeing my youngest enter her teenage years. Even though it has not always been easy, I am excited to see what year three brings!

You can read last year’s cancerversary remembrance here:

https://mypancreasranaway.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/remembering-on-my-cancerversary/

Project Purple Denver Marathon & Half Marathon

I started this blog nearly two years ago when I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I went searching the internet for blogs written by other young, athletic PC survivors and was devastated because it seemed that all of the others out there “like me” had passed away. I remember locking myself in the bathroom and crying one day when I found yet one more blog of someone who had passed away too soon from pancreatic cancer. That is when I decided to write about my experience. I wanted to be here, living a good life, healthy and strong, so that when someone else “like me” came along, they would have at least one long-term survivor who could provide some hope. This weekend, I found hope and inspiration in a whole new venue.

I love to run and I love to race. Perhaps even more, I love to help others find their love of running. I spent this weekend in Denver drawing inspiration from an amazing group of runners. Almost a year ago, I became involved with pancreatic cancer charity Project Purple. Since Project Purple is a charity that runs to beat pancreatic cancer, it was a perfect fit. What better way could I bring my two passions of pancreatic cancer advocacy/fundraising and running together? Since I became involved, I fundraised through Project Purple’s Pioneer Program, with the Bryce 100 being my goal race for the year. I directed a 5k race this past April in Colorado Springs. This weekend, I was in Denver for the Rock n Roll marathon and half-marathon with our newest Project Purple team. If you love to run and you want to become inspired, run with a team for a cause. You will find other people who are united by the same passion and who are willing to dig deep to make big things happen.

Dino and I worked at the Expo all day Friday and Saturday. There is nothing I like better than to spend the day with a bunch of runners. I love working race expos and races.I especially loved meeting the people who came by and wanted to tell me stories about how pancreatic cancer has touched their lives. While it is heartbreaking to hear how many people have been impacted, it is a gift to be able to tell others that there are organizations that are committed to helping change the future of pancreatic cancer.

Expo booth set up and ready to go.

Expo booth set up and ready to go.

On Saturday, Marathon Goddess Julie Weiss and equally awesome Project Purple runner Shawn Veronese came by to help at the Expo.

Julie, Dino and Shawn

Julie, Dino and Shawn

We showed Julie’s movie, Spirit of the Marathon 2 at a team event Saturday night and enjoyed some time together relaxing before the big race the next day.

Several of the Project Purple Denver team members at the event.

Several of the Project Purple Denver team members at the event.

When I stood in front of the room Saturday night, it literally took my breath away. I have such a sense of gratitude towards all of our runners. I have been told that by surviving, I provide inspiration for them, but really, it is these people who inspire me. Most of the people on the team have family members who are currently fighting pancreatic cancer or they have lost a loved one to pancreatic cancer. I had several friends who joined us just because they are my friends and they wanted to support my cause. Whatever their reasons for joining, they really provide me with a sense of hope for the future, and not just for pancreatic cancer, but for humanity. These are people who wanted to give of themselves. They wanted to train hard, raise money and run to help others. They want to make the world a better place for other people. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about how amazing they all are.

We had a team of 25 runners who came together from the east coast, the west coast and several places in between. The half-marathoners started out on a wave start at 7:15 am. The marathoners were bussed out to their start. The gun went off for them at 8 am. For the half, we had perfect weather conditions most of the way. The temps were in the 50s and overcast. The course was scenic through downtown Denver. There were a lot of runners running the half and since I spend a lot of time running the trails, I forget how fun it is to run in a crowd in a city. I particularly enjoyed the points on the course which were out-and-backs, as I loved seeing other teammates in their purple singlets. We all high-fived or yelled encouragement to one another out on the course.

I had several people ask me how my race was. The weekend really wasn’t about my race, and part of me wishes I had not even signed up to run so that I could have watched every runner come in to the finish. My recap of the race will be very brief. I liked the half course very much. I am not fully recovered from the Bear Chase Trail race 50 three weeks earlier, but I ran as comfortably as I could, enjoying the crowds, music and sights. I finished 13th in my AG of 463 with a finish time of 1:49:52. Several runners asked me how my race went and I told them, “It was fine” or “It was OK”. After the fact, I thought about it, and hope that it didn’t sound like I was disappointed in any way. Truthfully, I just didn’t care about my race. I cared about THEIR races. I wanted to talk about their experiences.

Larry, Laura, Jaclyn and Diane all finished ahead of me. Sadly, I did not get pictures of Larry or Laura, but I got photos of the rest of the runners. I crossed the finish line and ran into Rene, who got a couple of pictures for me.

At the finish.

At the finish.

With Diane, who finished ahead of me.

With Diane, who finished ahead of me.

Right after the finish, I jogged back to my hotel to check out, and then jogged back to the Project Purple race tent so that I could watch the runners come in. After the two-hour mark for the half-marathon, the clouds burned off and the temperatures started to climb. It would ultimately get brutally warm later in the day.

We had very experienced runners on our team and we had several people who were completing half-marathons and full marathons for the first time. We had some PRs, and we had some people who struggled with the heat and/or the altitude. I was so proud of each and every one of them. I was proud of them for putting in the training prior to the race. I was proud of them for how hard they worked to raise money. I was proud of them for finishing their races. Every person on the team crossed that finish line. I am exceptionally proud of each and every one of our runners, for the speedsters to the ones who had to dig deep in the remaining minutes of the race.

There is a saying, “If you want to change your life, run a marathon.” I would argue that supporting other runners also changes your life. It feels good to run for a cause. It gives purpose to those countless training runs. It also feels so good to celebrate other runners’ successes. I enjoy that as much, if not more, than my own finishes.

One moment stands out for me: I was hugging the members of family who recently lost a loved one and was told, “Thank you for all you are doing. You give us hope.” I cannot explain how much I appreciated those simply and kind words. That is a moment I will never, ever forget. No matter what you do, find something you are passionate about and find a way to give back. Surround yourself by people who inspire you. Make the world a better place for someone else. That is my definition of success in life.

Diane, me, JoAnne

Diane, me, JoAnne

With Jaclyn

With Jaclyn

With Vanessa

With Vanessa

With Faby

With Faby

With Marisa

With Marisa

With my middle school/high school friend, Lynn

With my middle school/high school friend, Lynn

With Julie Weiss and Shawn Veronese

With Julie Weiss and Shawn Veronese

With Matt, who ran a marathon PR!

With Matt, who ran a marathon PR!

Kristina and Eric.

Kristina and Eric.

Boomer & Felicia

Boomer & Felicia

Marshall & Kelley

Marshall & Kelley

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Carolyn and Colleen

Carolyn and Colleen

Paige, Julie & Lisa

Paige, Julie & Lisa

Phil & Kristen

Phil & Kristen

Alisa & Kim Lindsay

Alisa & Kim Lindsay

Kim, finishing her first ever marathon, finishing for Dixie, her mom, who passed away from PC two years ago.

Kim, finishing her first ever marathon, finishing for Dixie, her mom, who passed away from PC two years ago.

Thanks again to all of these fabulous people. I am incredibly grateful to have been a part of this team.

The team has raised almost $25,000. If you would like to make a donation, you may do so at the link below.

https://www.crowdrise.com/fundraise-and-volunteer/the-team/RocknRollDenver

The Bear Chase Trail Race 50 mile 2015

The month leading up to the Bear Chase Trail Race 50 mile has been a difficult one. The last race that I ran, I had an altercation with a bike and ended up with a concussion, whiplash and a separated shoulder. It hurt too much to run a whole lot for a couple of weeks following that accident, so my running was sporadic and uninspired. I could not do core or lift weights because of the shoulder, head and neck pain. I had to really rest. I hate resting. Then, the week before the race, two things happened. On Monday, I was throwing up and sick from some bug that I had acquired. On Tuesday, my daughter, Riley’s friend passed away unexpectedly. My heart ached for her. I found myself consumed by her grief. Running suddenly seemed pointless.

I watched Riley grieve and did the best I could to comfort her. But this weekend was also her final high school homecoming. I wanted her to mourn her friend and keep him in her heart. But, I also wanted her to go on with her own life. She needed to go to homecoming and I needed to go run my race.

On race day, I woke up at 1:30 am with my stomach not feeling well again. I have had issues with reflux off and on since my surgery for my pancreas, and so I was feeling bloated, full, a little nauseous and I could not stop burping. Food was not at all appealing. This is not how you want to start a 50 mile race.

My husband, Stephen, was running the 50k. We packed up our stuff and were out the door by 4 am, so we could make it to Denver in time to board the race bus.

On the bus to the race start at 5 am

On the bus to the race start at 5:15 am

We got to the race with about 45 minutes to spare before the start of my race. The 50k started an hour later. We set up shop and chatted with some of the other runners. Finally, we lined up just prior to the gun going off at 6:30.

At the start with my friend Kathy, who was running her first 50k!

At the start with my friend Kathy, who was running her first 50k!

At the start receiving my annual pre-race hug from RD extraordinaire, Ben Reeves

At the start receiving my annual pre-race hug from RD extraordinaire, Ben Reeves

At 6:30 am, the 50 milers and 100kers were off. Right away, I knew I was off my game. A lot of times, I taper and go into a race feeling sluggish and stiff, but then am fine once I warm up. My hips were so tight that I could not run with my normal full range of motion. Add to that the fact that I felt full, bloated, flabby, weak and heavier than my normal racing weight, and it was a rather inauspicious beginning to a very long day of running. I really hoped that those feelings would pass.

The course is four 12.5 mile loops. Some people hate loops, and truthfully I think my favorite courses are out and back or point to point. However, the nice thing with loop courses is you do not need to carry much. I had a small water bottle and that was all I took. I knew there was plenty of aid on the course, and I could access one drop bag at the start/finish area. Traveling lightly is nice in a long race.

My reflux was in full swing, so I kept belching and feeling classy. Then, within the first mile, I had to pee. Badly. My hips were still not moving well. I could not run remotely fast. I was not feeling like myself. I started wondering if I was going to make it 50 miles.

Since I had to pee so badly, I started looking for a place to go. The course was set up slightly differently this year, so I was a little confused as to where we were. I saw that we were going to be headed up a very exposed Mt. Carbon shortly, so I pulled off into the trees quickly. Feeling extremely relieved, I hopped back on the course went up & over Mt. Carbon and soon had to pee again! I went on to pee three times in that first loop. Nothing seemed to be going well. Towards the end of the first loop, two other women and I went off course. After a couple of minutes, we saw another runner and figured out where we needed to be.

I saw Stephen as  I was coming to the Boat Launch aid station! I got very excited because I was not having much fun. We ran together for a bit, thinking that we could maybe finish out his race together, but then the 50k and 50 mile courses split up again. It was fun while it lasted. I started wishing that we had decided to run the same race as a “date run” and that maybe I wasn’t really a competitive person any more. I also thought that while it was nice to have company, I would have DNFd had I kept chatting while running. I just did not have the energy for it.

I had not been able to get any food down and barely drank any water for the entire first loop. It is not good to get behind on eating and drinking so early in a long race, and I knew it. But I was afraid if I ate or drank, I would throw up. I started thinking about quitting the race somewhere early on in that first loop.

Coming through the start/finish after the first lap. Photo courtesy of Ali Smith

Coming through the start/finish after the first lap. Photo courtesy of Ali Smith

After a while, I ran into my friend Kathy, who was running her first 50k. We ran and chatted for a few minutes, but then eventually parted ways, too. My stomach took a turn for the worse as the heat cranked up. I had to stop and walk because I felt like I was going to throw up. If I started puking, I would have to drop. I was having an internal debate. The devil was on one shoulder telling me it was ok to quit. The angel on the side kept telling me, “You don’t quit. You are not a quitter. You have never DNF’d. Suck it up and find a way to finish.”

I kept thinking about quitting. Every mile, I tried to convince myself that it would be ok to drop. I could run three loops. The would be 37.5 miles and technically be an ultra, even if it wasn’t an official race distance. Who cares, anyway? 37.5 miles is a nice distance to run for fun.

After the third lap, I saw Ali Smith and asked her if she could find me some tums or rolaids or something to help settle my stomach. I grabbed a couple of gels and some salt pills, ate the tums that Angel Ali found for me, and headed back out.

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It was hot and I was not heat acclimated. I have been running with Willy as early as possible because he gets hot quickly. As a consequence, I was not handling the heat well at all. I walked a lot of that third lap, especially the long section by the golf course, which has zero shade. I continued debating quitting. I had picked up my ipod at the start finish to help motivate me for the last two laps of the race. When I dumped water on my head, some of it must have gotten into the ipod. It kept stopping every couple of seconds. I would restart it. It would stop again. I debated throwing it into a drainage ditch. It was infuriating to me but I desperately needed something to take my mind off of the pain I was in.

At each aid station, I packed my bra with ice. I was suffering in the heat. I kept battling waves of nausea. I was afraid if I kept going that I would have to walk the entire final lap. I started trying to play mind games to try to convince myself that I could keep going. I told myself, “You only have 5 more miles to the start/finish. You can make it there. Then you only have to do one more loop!” While I generally feed off of my own internal happiness when I run, I was not feeling particularly happy. I told myself, “You know there are people who would love to see you fail. Don’t give them the satisfaction of throwing in the towel.” After a whole lot of internal dialogue, I found some motivation. I was able to start running again.

Eventually I made it to the start/finish area. I did not allow myself to think of quitting. I had no doubt that I would now finish the race. Steve had finished his 50k about an hour prior and was sitting in a chair, not feeling too well. He had made it to the final mile of race but then threw up four times. This was a bit of a setback, but he managed to finish in just under 6 hours. Ali Smith and RD Ben Reeves came over to help me get my stuff together for the final lap. Race Timer and friend Lonnie Somers of Hallucination Sports announced that I was second female in the 50 mile. I thought, “There is NO way.” But, this lit a fire under my behind. I had to suck up the discomfort and run as much as I could. I ran and caught up to Marianna, whom I had passed going into the start/finish, but who had passed me on the way out. She was ahead of me going up Mt Carbon, but I pulled ahead on the downhill. It was my goal to get as much distance on her as possible, because she had been strong and steady all day. Marianna inspired and motivated me, particularly over the last two laps.

I ran until the Fox Hill aid station, which marks the long exposed section by the golf course. Here I knew I would be mixing in walking and running until returning to the wooded section. My legs were cramping at this point. My ipod kept shutting itself off. I was frustrated but knew I would finish at this point. My goal was to just not get passed. I ran as much as i could and walked when I absolutely had to. I looked behind me to see where Marianna was, an instead saw a new woman behind me. Where the hell did SHE come from? I could not afford to goof off or walk unnecessarily.

About three miles from the finish, my glasses fell off my head and broke. The lens popped out. I briefly tried to fix it but knew that I couldn’t waste time on my glasses. I shoved the lens in my bra since I had no place else to keep it.

I kept moving forward and eventually came up on the finish line. My official time was 9:52, a PW on this course by far (PR is 8:39). But, I had made it. I was so incredibly relieved. I also held on to second place female overall. This was in many ways the hardest day I have ever had on a race course. I usually do not think about quitting. Instead, I spent the entire day thinking about quitting. I had to talk myself into finishing. It took me a while to find reasons to keep going, but I did and I am so glad. I would have been very upset with myself for dropping.

Why was this particular race so difficult? There are many reasons. Since finishing 2nd at the Bryce 100 in June, my training has been completely unfocused. I signed up for a high altitude mountain race and the Bear Chase. My training was not zeroed in one particular course or goal, so I was all over the place. My mental motivation was also somewhat lacking over the last few months, too. I never fully came out of 100 mile recovery mode. I need to drop a couple of pounds to get back to my fighting weight. Some of this was due to lack of discipline but some of it was due to the fact that I still don’t have my half-a-pancreas digestive system figured out. I was getting hypoglycemic, so I was eating more than normal to prevent myself from having scary bonks. I was not heat-trained. I did not taper properly. I ran more than I should have two weeks out, then the final week I ran very little due to my stomach issues and Riley’s friend’s passing. I have a typical protocol that I follow and I did not follow it at all this time around. I will be running the Denver Rock & Roll Half-Marathon with the Project Purple team, but I am going to take a couple of months to focus on recovery and fix all of the things that I did wrong this time around.

I may have run a Personal Worst, but I am so glad that I did not give up.

Crossing the finish line. So happy!

Crossing the finish line. So happy!

Lucky girl getting a hug from both RDs, Ben Reeves (l) and David Manthey (R). Notice the missing glass lens.

Lucky girl getting a hug from both RDs, Ben Reeves (l) and David Manthey (R). Notice the missing glass lens.

With Kathy, who finished her first ultramarathon! So proud of her!

With Kathy, who finished her first ultramarathon! So proud of her!

With Stephen, who had to hold onto my awards because I physically could not do it.

With Stephen, who had to hold onto my awards because I physically could not do it.

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http://www.bearchaserace.com/

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