Run Rabbit Run 100

I had the opportunity to complete the infamous Run Rabbit Run 100 mile race this weekend. The course was both brutal and beautiful. The volunteers were absolutely fantastic. I was challenged, uplifted and beaten down at various points over the course of the race. There were many high and low points over the 31 hours and 19 minutes it took me to finish the race. Ultimately, what I remember most is the purity of the connection to the people on the course. When you are tired and cold and nauseated, you cannot hide who you are. You must be open and be both strong and vulnerable. You must rely on the kindness of friends and strangers to help keep you moving forward. In a world where we can be guarded and jaded, the experience of allowing all of the barriers to slip away and be really present in the moment and open to those around you is unique. When it all comes together, it is refreshing and life-affirming.

I signed up for Run Rabbit Run 100 way back in January, 2016. At the time, I was not really sure why I signed up, but as winter turned into spring, I found myself sinking into a depression. As the weeks and months of training marched on, I realized that spending time running in the mountains was what I needed to save myself. (You can read more about that here: https://mypancreasranaway.wordpress.com/2016/09/01/the-panther-or-the-rabbit/ )

In the past couple of weeks as I stared down a daunting 100-mile mountain race, I felt a familiar mixture of excitement and foreboding. Every time I mentioned what race I was running, people would respond, “Wow, that’s a hard course!” or some version of that sentiment. Looking at the course profile, it isn’t hard to see why Run Rabbit Run has a reputation for difficulty.

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In addition to the long, steep climbs and the significant elevation change, runners face extremely cold temperatures at night time. I had been warned that many people DNF due to hypothermia. I packed so much cold weather gear that my husband asked me if I thought that I was running in Antarctica. I know that anything can happen over the course of a 100 mile race, but I would not drop out due to not packing the right gear.

The race, which has a 36-hour cut-off, started on September 16, 2016. I had assembled a team of three adults and one teenager. My husband, Stephen, would serve as crew chief and would pace me for approximately thirty miles. Laura, who I had been Facebook friends with for years but had never met in person, surprised me by buying a plane ticket so she could come pace/crew me. She has ultra experience, but lives at sea level, so I was not sure how she she would feel with the altitude and elevation gain. She would run either 10 or 14 miles, depending upon how she felt. My friend Larry, who is a very experienced endurance athlete, would therefore do either 20 or 25. Peyton would be on hand to help crew and keep my spirits lifted.

I chose Run Rabbit Run 100 in part due to the race’s proximity to Colorado Springs. I knew we could drive up in a few hours and I figured it would be relatively easy to get people to come help crew and pace. In fact, there was a large contingent of runners from the Springs area, which made for a warm and welcoming environment.

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With Jenny and Denise.

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Tonia, Peyton & Stephen

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At the race start (Photo courtesy of Ann Labosky)

We started up the ski hill promptly at 8 am. The course sends runners straight up Mount Werner, gaining approximately 3,500 feet of elevation in the first 4.4 miles. Even though I did a lot of steep training runs, I had a moment of wondering what in the hell I had signed up for. By the time we reached the top of the hill, I had sweat dripping off of my face. Nevertheless, I knew that we would essentially be headed out on a net downhill for the next several miles. I chose to try not to think too much about what was to come later in the race, instead just opting to enjoy the scenery. I spent some time shaking out the nerves and chatting with people, knowing that it was very early and I had to keep the pace conservative to save energy for the big climbs that would come later in the race.

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Long Lake

The Long Lake aid station is at mile 10.8. I was still feeling good and the trails, which had been crowded up to this point, began to open up. We headed to Fish Creek Falls, a section which starts off with fabulous single track that becomes quite rocky and technical. I was running alone at this point, listening to music and enjoying the scenery.

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My sunglasses were bugging me a bit so I took them off. While I was messing with them, I tripped and fell, hitting both knees on rocks. I had only gone about 12 miles into the race. The hard hit stunned me and I had blood streaming down both legs. I walked for a minute, assessing the damage. Nothing appeared to be broken, so I shuffled back into a run, hoping for the best. From Fish Creek Falls, we ran along a four-mile section of trail back into Steamboat Springs.

Olympian Hall

I came down into the Olympian Hall aid station with a considerable amount of blood and dirt on my legs, but was thrilled to see Steve, Peyton and Laura. After stopping briefly to restock my gels, I moved on and headed up the next section of trail.

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(photos courtesy of Laura Falsone)

Cow Creek

As we moved on towards Cow Creek, the general consensus was, “Wow, this hill didn’t look this big on the course profile!” I spent several miles with a guy who shared some interesting stories from his years of dirt-bagging. Eventually, we parted ways and I ran into two runners I had been talking with earlier. Neither were feeling well at this point. One was injured and the other was sick to her stomach. I tried to give them both a pep talk, reminding them that they would likely feel good, then bad, then good, then bad, for the rest of the race. I think I was also trying to remind myself of that fact, because at this point my left knee, which had taken the brunt of the earlier impact, began to stiffen up. Every step hurt as I made my way down into the Cow Creek aid station. In addition, I had switched water reservoirs in my hydration pack and something had been digging into my back for the entirety of the section. I kept running with one hand between my pack and my back to eliminate any more damage.

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Arriving in Cow Creek with Peyton and Steve (photo courtesy of Laura Falsone)

Larry had made it into Steamboat, and several other local friends were at the aid station waiting for their runners, so Cow Creek felt warm and inviting. Even though I was in a lot of pain and wondering what the future would hold, everyone assured me that I looked strong and was running between a 27 and 28 hour pace. This was ahead of what I thought I could do, so that lifted my spirits. Aside from my knee and back, I felt OK, so I headed back of the aid station feeling hopeful for the rest of the race.

The next segment back to Olympian Hall was a rolling 12-mile section. My knee loosened up and I was able to run quite a bit. The sun was shining and the scenery along the single track was lovely. I was enjoying this section tremendously until my right hip flexor started to tighten up. I tried to adjust and loosen it up, hoping the pain would fade. We ran down the long steep downhill section back into Olympian Hall. Here the plan was to pick Laura up for the four mile uphill road section to the Fish Creek Falls trail head, where I would meet Larry for the night. However, shuttle issues forced a change in plans. Now Larry, who had been mountain biking but not running all summer, would be forced to cover nearly 25 miles with me.

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With Larry, headed off into the night.

I had been warned by many runners to grab warm clothing at Olympian, because as soon as the sun goes down, the mountains get extremely cold. Last year, the temperature on the course had dropped down to 8 degrees. I had been running in shorts and a tank top for hours, but threw on a long-sleeve shirt and grabbed another warm shirt, gloves and tights to put on as it got colder. We ran through town, and within a few minutes, I was hot. I stopped and took off my shirt in what would become the first in a night of many wardrobe changes. We ended up hiking much of the uphill back to the Fish Creek Falls trail head. From there, we headed on another six-mile climb back up to Long Lake.

Friendship and Inspiration

One of the things I love most about running ultras is having the opportunity to talk with people and hear their stories. People open up in a way they might not ever under other circumstances. While the scenery of a race makes the time alone special, the discussions are a big part of what makes the night memorable.

I first met Larry a few years ago when I happened to see him running close to where I live. He had on a Team Crud (Coloradans Running Ultra Distances) shirt, and I was just starting to get into ultras. I stopped him and asked some questions about races and CRUD. He humored me, answering a few of my questions. He probably thought I was a crazy lady, but that’s OK because I am forever thankful for that chance encounter.

I ran a few ultras after that meeting and then was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. As I struggled to come back to my previous form following surgery and chemo, I stumbled across Larry’s blog. I read a post where he talked about some of his own medical issues. Feeling very much alone at the time, I wrote to him. I did not know if he would remember me, but he wrote back and gave me a pep talk. Even though our issues were different, I finally felt like someone might just understand what I was going through. He encouraged me to be patient and gave me hope that things might be different but they would get better.

During the last couple of years, Larry has been an tremendous source of inspiration to me. He is an incredible athlete who has completed the Leadman series several times, but, more importantly, he is an amazing human being who gives so much to others. Larry coaches a local high school mountain bike team, spends his free time volunteering to maintain local trails and still finds time to crew/pace friends at races throughout Colorado. I followed him as he ran Burning River 100 mile race as a fundraiser for the Akron Children’s Hospital (coverage of this story can be found here:  https://www.akronchildrens.org/cms/sharing_blog/deac461c4d31a0e9/)  Knowing how much slower I am than Larry is, I was extremely humbled and grateful when he said he would pace me at Run Rabbit Run.

Running Through the Night

Larry spent most of the night sharing stories with me. I was so wrapped up in his tales that I temporarily forgot to eat. This led to a blood sugar issue as we headed uphill on the Fish Creek Trail. As we picked our way over rocks and up the climb, Larry watched me stagger and stumble like I was drunk. Because he coaches a type 1 diabetic, he knew exactly how to remedy things. He made me eat a gel every 15 minutes until I started to feel coherent again. This is why I have a pacer. I knew I was in good hands and I am grateful he was there with me.

It was at this point that the temperature seemed to plummet. I was shaking, my toes went numb and I knew I needed to get changed immediately. I plopped down on the side of a swampy section of single track and pulled off my shorts. Larry, ever the gentleman, looked the other way as he dug through his pack for a jacket. Several runners came through as I was changing and asked if we were OK. This was a reasonable question, as we had recently seen several runners throwing up along the side of the trail. I just laughed and said, “Yes, I am just getting naked…You’re welcome.”

We headed up a long uphill section that took us back to Long Lake and then to the high point on the course at Summit Lake.I was once again freezing. I grabbed warmer tights, stepped about a foot away from a crowd at the aid and changed again. I just did not have the energy to be modest at this point. I started joking that it was goal to flash every runner on the course. We headed down a 2100 foot drop into the Dry Lake Aid Station, where I would be picking up Laura for a ten-mile section. Once again, my knee started to stiffen up. I was running when I could and hiking when I had to. It was frustrating, but I maintained my sense of humor about it. As it turned out, Larry didn’t have to worry about not having run much over the summer. I told him I wouldn’t break any speed records and I as right.

We got into Dry Lake, where we met Steve and Laura. I gave Larry a big hug and told him to get some sleep. Laura and I headed off onto a section that featured several bridges and most likely would have been beautiful during the daytime hours. Fortunately for us, there was a bright spectacular full moon and very few clouds in the sky. It was a beautiful crisp night and we chatted, alternating walking and running through this out-and-back section that was fairly crowded. We got to the Spring Creek aid station, got a bite to eat and then headed back to Dry Lake.

Heading to the Finish

When we arrived back in Dry Lake, Stephen was ready to get me to the finish line. We had roughly 30 miles to go at this point. I had just gone uphill for 4.5 miles and we were facing another 8 mile climb back to Summit Lake. I knew we would be hiking most of this and was fine with that. I was tired but my spirits were still high. We laughed and joked as we made our way up the jeep road. The moon went down and the sky began to lighten. I knew 27 and 28 hour finish times were long gone. I also knew that a sub-30 was pretty much out of the question. Normally, I would be upset to slow down as much as I did, but I honestly did not care one bit. My knee and groin had been hurting and my back hurt where my pack had rubbed it raw. I knew, however, that i had more than enough time to walk it in to the finish line if I had to.

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When we finally got to the Summit aid station at mile 81.5, I was looking forward to jogging downhill for a bit. As I started to run, however, my right ankle hurt so badly that I immediately had to stop.I tried to jog again and just couldn’t do it. I felt the ankle and determined that it was probably just an angry tendon, so I resigned myself to walking. We walked back to the Long Lake aid station for the third time. I changed my clothes once again, putting on shorts in preparation for warmer temperatures.

The rolling but mostly uphill section to Mount Werner seemed infinitely longer than it actually was. I was getting passed by plenty of people but I did not give a second thought to attempting to chase anyone down. All I wanted to do was finish. I did not want to injure myself but I knew if I kept walking I would cross the finish line with minimal damage to my body. We rolled quickly through the aid station and then hit the 6.4 mile road that would take us to the finish line.

My husband is an amazing man who not only supports me in theory as I tackle these adventures, he is always there with me as I take those final steps to the finish line. Throughout the last miles of the race, I asked him to talk to me, but I could only give one word answers. This was the first time in my life that I ever got sleepy during a race. I became frustrated when I found out that he had told me I had 12 miles to go, but it was really 12.8 miles (Hey, it MATTERS!) Despite the fact that I was exhausted, I would never take my exhaustion out on my husband. He is the man who stands metaphorically and physically with me as I struggle through the most difficult times in my life.He is my rock and my hero and I come away from these races feeling more in love and connected to him than ever.

Dropping back down 3500 feet over the stretch felt painful and cruel. Many people remarked that they were unable to run at this point, and I was definitely in this camp. It was hot and I was hurting. Even Stephen was hurting at this point and wondering where the finish line was. Finally, we saw it.

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Peyton ran out to meet us and I gave Larry a hug as we made it down the road. I was completely spent physically but emotionally ecstatic. We got to the grassy section before the finish line and pathetically jogged over it.

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I got my 100 miler buckle and a beer mug for my efforts, finishing in 31:19. This was my slowest 100 mile finish by nearly five hours, yet I was not remotely disappointed with my finish time or placement. I was simply ecstatic that I finished the race and, despite some aches and pains, had a truly spectacular time.

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It was so wonderful to be greeted at the finish line by two of my favorite female runners, Tracey & Meghan.

After the race, we went back to the condo we had rented. I was so exhausted I could barely keep my eyes open. I was also too sore to sleep, so that made for an interesting night. When I awoke at 3 am the next morning, I was in a state of deep emotional happiness and gratitude. Yes, I was proud of my finish, but more importantly, I was filled with intense appreciation for all of the people who had supported me along the way. There is something so uniquely special about running through the night with people. I find that people become the essence of who they truly are over those long nighttime miles. We talk about things that we might never discuss under different circumstances. The stories, the images, and the memories will stick with me forever.

I spent the summer training for this race, often alone in the mountains for hours, trying to work my way through my own issues. Over those 31 hours and 19 minutes, I was grateful to be there in the midst of the outstanding scenery and to feel fully alive. I am thankful for the opportunity to dig deep, to work through the problems and to connect with other human beings. When people have asked me why I do ultras, I have often said it is because I enjoy the challenge. While this is completely true, more than anything, I embrace the chance to learn about not only myself but those who are around me. I am forever grateful for the selflessness of others, for friendship, for the shared stories, for love and for the opportunity to fully be my perfectly flawed self. After struggling for months with my own inner demons, a 103+ mile trek through the mountains of Colorado finally brought me the sense of connection to others I desperately needed

Finally, I had the opportunity to work with Paul Nelson and his amazing crew, John Uibel, Marina Polonsky and Shawn Brown, at Run Rabbit Run.

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They are putting together a documentary about the race and they chose to feature me as a ‘human interest’ story. They followed several elite runners as well as a few of us regular folks. I am honored to be a part of this project and am pleased that they chose to feature a variety of runners. Look for this to be coming out by the end of 2016!

https://www.facebook.com/paulmichaelnelsonphoto/?fref=ts

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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!

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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.

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

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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?

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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.

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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

 

 

Rescue Run Race Report

Happy New Year 2016! Here is a brief report on this morning’s 10k Rescue Run. I have run this race for a few years now. A couple of times I jogged the 5k with Peyton. Last year, I came back after an injury and placed second in my age group (you can read last year’s Race report here: https://mypancreasranaway.wordpress.com/2015/01/02/rescue-run-10k-race-report/ ). Coming back from an injury seems to be a theme for me at this race. Following a whole lot of racing in 2015, I ended up experiencing some heel pain. I have been running over the past couple of months, but have done no speed workouts, no hill workouts and no long runs. Up until a couple of days before the race, I was not even sure if I would be able to run or not. The Rescue Run is only 6.2 miles long, but it is a very hilly course and the first and final miles are on pavement. Every time I run on pavement my heel pain flares up, so I am trying to avoid it as much as possible.

Nevertheless, I enjoy starting off the New Year with this race. It feels like the best way to start a brand new year and the Rescue Run is a special event because so many local runners come out to do it. It also benefits El Paso County Search & Rescue, and they do a lot of great work rescuing people who get in way over their heads on the trails in the Pikes Peak Region. So many familiar faces come to the race that it feels like a New Year’s party without any alcohol. Adding to the appeal this year is the Inaugural Brewer’s Cup. The brain child of Vanessa Shawver, the Brewer’s Cup features teams that are running for local brew pubs. We have nearly 20 teams of 15 runners each competing in a variety of local races. The Rescue Run was first on the list for 2016.

Steve and I volunteered to work packet pick-up prior to the race. As we drove over, the thermometer showed us this:

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It was very cold, but at least it wasn’t snowing sideways like it had been in 2015.  We handed out race bibs and numbers for an hour-and-a-half and then got ready to go.

As much as I wanted to run the race, I had been dealing with a sore throat for two days that seemed to be sapping my energy and enthusiasm. But, I signed up and said I would work, so I figured I might as well go ahead and run. At 10 a.m. sharp, we were off. The first mile is a long, winding uphill. Even when I am in shape to run hills, this hill hurts. Conditions on the roads and trails were marginally better than last year. I seem to remember more snow and ice in 2015. Despite the frigid cold we have been having, the road was fairly clear and there were only spots of ice on the trails.

Since I was not feeling well, have had no real training and I have gained weight, I had no goals for this race other than “I hope I don’t embarrass myself too badly.” I felt pretty good going up the first long hill. At the top of the hill, we wound around some ups and downs over a combination of roads and trails. At mile 3, the foot warmers in my shoes felt like they were burning my feet. This is a case of ‘don’t try something in a race that you haven’t tried in training.’ I had to go with a new brand of foot warmers and they had me feeling like I was on fire. At least I wouldn’t get frostbite.

I enjoyed seeing lots of familiar faces along the course. I also liked seeing all of the various brew team shirts out there. It was fun seeing who was on what team. It also took my mind off of my side cramp and my hot feet. The last mile is a screaming downhill. I hammered as fast as I could without falling on my face. I had no idea what I ran in 2015, so I wasn’t sure if I would PR or not. I crossed the finish line in 50:51, which was good for first in the 45-49  female age group. I crossed the finish line, threw myself down on the ground and yanked off my shoes so I could get my foot warmers off. When they chill set in post-race, I shoved them down my shirt to keep my core warm.

AG Rescue Run

It was a pleasant surprise to win and AG award, but I felt badly because my husband ran faster than me but did not win anything. This is one of those rare times that it sucks to be a guy.

It was fun running with the Pikes Peak Brewery team.

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And it was fun volunteering with my husband and seeing him briefly out on the course.

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As it turns out, I beat my time from last year by nearly two minutes. Conditions were better for running this year, but, still, two minutes in a 10k is a lot of time. So, I am happy with how the race went. I am feeling somewhat cautiously optimistic about the upcoming year of racing.

A couple of notes about the end of 2015.

I had the pleasure of working with some amazing people on the 2015 Pikes Peak Road Runners Fall Series.

A very special Thank You to Larry Miller, who served as Race Director for 26 years. Also, a huge thanks to Micky Simpson, who runs the accompanying kids’ series. Thank you to Bethany Garner, who was the club president, and my friend, for the last two years. Also, thank you to Thom Santa Maria, who does so much behind the scenes for the club that it is impossible to sum it all up in one sentence. Thank you to my husband, Stephen, and to my friends Tracey Anderson, Matt Hopper, Dennis Collard, Rick Hessek, Kees Guijt, and everyone who came out to help make the Fall Series 2015 a success. This is a great group of people who puts in an unbelievable number of hours behind the scenes to make these races successful. Essentially, for 9 weekends in the fall, these folks give up their time to bring a great event to area runners. It has been an honor to work as a team with them for the past couple of years and though the composition will be changing a bit for 2016, I look forward to working with them all again going forward.

Also, in November, my daughter, Riley, turned 18.

Riley's birthday

Stephen turned 50 and I surprised him with a birthday party.

Steve's surprise party

Finally, we celebrated Christmas.

steve and tonia Christmas

Xmas 2015

That pretty much wraps up 2015. It was an amazing year for many reasons. I had some incredible racing experiences. I remained cancer-free. I spent a lot of quality time with my family and my friends. I really cannot ask for anything more in life. Now, on to 2016!

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

Running to Save Lives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the snow about 9000'.

In the snow about 9000′.

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

Running with my dog in the snow

Running with my dog in the snow

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

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

Commitment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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