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

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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

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.

Rescue Run 10k Race Report

The big New Year’s Day running event in Colorado Springs is the Rescue Run 5k/10k. Stephen has run the 10k several times. Last year, we volunteered at packet pick-up and then ran the 5k with Peyton. This year, the weather forecast was so bitter cold that we decided it was too cold for Peyton to come and stand around at packet pick-up for two hours. So, Stephen and I both registered for the 10k and ran it solo.

I had very poor sleep the night before because our neighbors decided to shoot off fireworks throughout the night. When we got up, it was freezing cold and I felt hung over despite not having had anything to drink the night before. I believe I said, “This is stupid. I don’t want to go to the race.” Or it was something along those lines with some more colorful language involved. Nevertheless, we loaded up in the car and off we went.

At packet pick-up, my feet became so cold within minutes that they burned. I was afraid that if I stood outside for two hours, I would end up with frostbite. I had to sit in my car for a few minutes with the heat on full blast until I could feel my feet again. Remember, if you are running a race on a cold day, there are lots of volunteers who are even more cold and miserable than you are. I was thankful at that point that I was actually running and not working the whole race. Thank you to the many wonderful volunteers who stood out there for four or more hours so the rest of us could enjoy the race.

As Clark Kent transformed into Superman in a telephone booth, Stephen and I transform into runners in our minivan. We shed our many layers of clothing, put on race numbers and made last-minute decisions about whether to wear traction for the race or not. We opted to go with no traction.

Getting ready for the race in the van.

Getting ready for the race in the van.

Five minutes before the race start, Stephen and I jogged to the start line. There we saw tons of people we knew. What I love most about this race is seeing so many familiar and friendly faces on the first day of the year. New Year’s Day always feels so full of promise and joy. New Year’s brings the anticipation of new beginnings and fresh starts. Everyone seems to be happy on January 1. I love coming to the Rescue Run, even when it is freezing outside.

The gun went off and I ran most of the first uphill mile with my friend Meghan. We chatted and caught up until she took off ahead of me. It was good to take the first uphill mile fairly easy because if I run that hill too hard, my whole race could be shot. The race itself is run half on roads and half of trails, though the trails are not technical. That said, there was enough snow on the trails to make conditions feel slow. My goal for this race was to run as fast as I could without doing damage to my recovering body. I ran comfortably hard for the conditions.

What is most important to me about this race is that I did not feel horrible. The pain that had me limping and hobbling at the Rock Canyon Half-marathon just one month ago was so much better. I guess the PT and dry needling is already helping me. I am nowhere near 100% but this felt like an improvement to me. I haven’t cared about how relatively fast or slow I am. What I care about is feeling good at whatever pace I am running. Hopefully I can keep on this trajectory and continue to improve.

In any event, I ended up finishing in 52:36, which earned me second in my age group. As we finished the race, it really started to snow. It was very cold, and I was sweaty, so I got chilled very quickly. I had to drag out my big ugly coat that I have had for probably 22 years or so. I don’t care if it is ugly. It is warm!

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The highlight of the race for me truly was getting to see all of my running buddies at the finish line. I love the running community. I really do. It makes me happy to be out with friends at a race. There is nothing I would rather do on the first day of a new year than be out with the other crazy runners. They make me happy and I just love them!

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