The Love Affair

Our family spent the last two weeks in upstate NY visiting our relatives. Last year, I felt almost desperate to get there shortly after completing chemotherapy. At that point in time, I still was not feeling completely confident about my future and I had a strong need to see and touch my family. This year, still feeling strong and healthy following my recent 100 mile race, I looked forward to seeing my family not out of desperation, but out of the simple desire to see the people I love. We had a wonderful time relaxing, getting away from the stresses of our daily lives, and reconnecting with our families and friends.

Hair blowing wildly in the wind on the Lake Champlain Ferry

Hair blowing wildly in the wind on the Lake Champlain Ferry

Today is my two month anniversary from having completed the Bryce 100. Since the race, I have had plenty of people tell me that I no longer have to do ultras anymore. However, a funny thing has happened since Bryce. I seemed to have remembered how much I love running and racing. In the lead up to Bryce, I kept telling everyone I knew that I would never run another 100. I meant it with complete sincerity. I was tired and worried. I was afraid that some nagging pains I was experiencing would become serious injuries. I thought that maybe I had not put in enough miles in training. I was concerned that perhaps my heart was not completely into finishing 100 miles.

All of those worries ended up being completely unfounded. Instead, while I was out on the course, I remembered how much I just love to compete. I love to run, but I had forgotten how much I love the thrill of hunting down other runners, and of pushing myself to see what I am actually capable of accomplishing. I have never been an elite runner. I have no idea what that experience is like. But as a slightly better than average runner, I still get incredibly fired up over testing my limits. I love pushing myself as hard as I can to see how my body and mind will respond. It makes me feel completely alive.

I have run many races since I started running in 1998. I remember the thrill of crossing the finish line at my first marathon. I could not wait to do it all over again, and so I ran my second marathon just seven weeks later. I remember the first time I ran a 5k and a 10k at an all out effort. I was not sure if I could sustain the pace without passing out or throwing up, but I did and I was so proud of myself for giving everything I had. I remember the excitement of running the Boston Marathon, which to this day is the only big city marathon I have ever competed in.

Boston Marathon 2000

Boston Marathon 2000

I remember the joy of finishing my first ultra, a 50k. I remember the apprehension leading up to my first 50 mile race, and then the elation as I crossed the finish line. I remember the incredible pride I felt after finishing my first 100 mile race, as I experienced the payoff of months and months of hard work and dedication. This year, I returned to road marathons in Lincoln, Nebraska. I had not run a road marathon since 2007, and as I ran through crowds of people, I remembered exactly why I fell in love with marathons so many years ago. I returned to 100s this year, in Bryce, and my love affair with trails and ultras was reignited.

But racing is never easy. On numerous occasions, I have engaged in an internal battle with myself. There have been several races where I have wondered if I would be able to finish what I had started. During one trail race that had gone poorly almost from the start, I sat in a mud bank and debated about whether I could go on. I decided that I could. Nothing was broken, and I was not in physical danger. I was just having a bad day. I am tremendously proud of those race finishes that I really had to fight for.

Every distance I have chosen to run over the course of my lifetime has proven to be a challenge in a very different way. Every race has been hard and painful and wonderful and beautiful all at the same time. I have never regretted having shown up to run a race. Each experience has been unique and has taught me something new about myself. That is the beauty in running. Every outing provides a new challenge. Each distance is hard in its own way. No two racing experiences are alike. Just thinking about facing those difficulties gives me a jolt of mental excitement. I love it all: the competition, the challenge, chasing down other runners, and trying to fight off those who are attempting to beat me. Perhaps most of all, I love battling against my own demons.

When I finished Vermont, I thought I had officially closed the book on running 100s. Then I got cancer. It became an important part of my psychological recovery to push those boundaries again.I am still so happy about my experience at the Bryce 100. Part of me wondered if my experience at Vermont was a fluke. My second 100 mile finish made it all feel more legitimate in some way. More importantly, my time at Bryce reminded me how much I enjoy the whole race experience. In the lead up to Bryce, I often felt tired and I had some nagging aches and pains. I think I was not yet 100% following my battle with pancreatic cancer. I hope I have finally officially turned the corner on the road to a full comeback. More often than not these days, I am excited to go out and run. That feeling was often lacking a few months ago.

Vermont 100 finish, 2013

Vermont 100 finish, 2013

Like all long-term love affairs, feelings will wax and wane over the years. The secret is to learn to be patient and weather the difficult times. I am thankful that I have never given up over the times that running was less fun. These days, whether I am running up in the mountains or am pushing for a long flat steady-state run, I have rediscovered the fun and joy. I have three completely different races coming up in the next three months and I am very excited for each of them. Beyond that, I am really looking forward to finding out what new adventure the 100 mile lottery gods have in store for me in 2016. 

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I just finished a 100 mile race. What’s next?

I had a CT scan on Monday, June 15. I picked up a copy of the report and the big news is that it says “no masses”. This is awesome! I have now made it 19 months past my surgery and diagnosis without a recurrence of pancreatic cancer. June 16 also marked one year since I finished chemotherapy. I cannot believe all of the good things that have happened in this past year. It has gone by so quickly and has been simply amazing. My family and I are understandably feeling quite ecstatically happy about my good health. I don’t necessarily feel like I am beating the odds, though I suppose I am. Rather, it feels like this is how things are “supposed” to be for me and for us. I was not supposed to have cancer in the first place. I am supposed to be here, happy and healthy.While the future was once in doubt, now I make plans without really giving it too much thought.

It has been 2 weeks since I finished the Bryce Canyon 100 in Utah. Immediately following the race, our family spent several days touring some of the National Parks in Utah. This was the first vacation we have taken in a very long time and it felt like a fitting end to the ordeal of the last 19 months.

I was pleased to find that I was feeling well enough to do a series of small hikes in the national parks.Tour guide Peyton informed us that Bryce is actually not a canyon. It is a series of rock amphitheaters. We loved the hoodoo rock formations of Bryce Canyon. There are completely unique from anything we have seen anywhere else.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Steve & I next to enormous rocks in Bryce Canyon

Steve & I next to enormous rocks in Bryce Canyon

We moved onto Zion National Park following our time in Bryce.

Zion is completely different. It is a canyon and gets very hot. It is beautiful in a completely different way from Bryce.

The girls under the weeping rock, looking out towards the canyon.

The girls under the weeping rock, looking out towards the canyon.

Hiking the Watchmen Trail

Hiking the Watchmen Trail

We hiked up some of the Narrows “trail”, which actually just goes up the Virgin River through the canyon.

Hiking the Narrows

Hiking the Narrows

Under a small waterfall

Under a small waterfall

steve, peyton & riley in the narrows

Finally, we moved on to Moab and visited Arches National Park.

Obligatory family photo in front of Delicate Arch

Obligatory family photo in front of Delicate Arch

Peyton underneath Delicate Arch

Peyton underneath Delicate Arch

We came home tired and happy. It was so nice to get away together. We even survived five days in one small hotel room without killing each other.

When we got home, it was time to hit the ground running with real life. Steve signed up to run the Pikes Peak double this year. He will run the Pikes Peak Ascent on Saturday of race weekend and then run the full marathon on Sunday. For those who are unfamiliar with the race, it goes up Barr Trail to the top of Pikes Peak, a 14,115 foot mountain just outside of Colorado Springs. You can read more about the race at the website below.

http://www.pikespeakmarathon.org/

Steve has been training with me for the Bryce 100 for months now. I always feel so lucky that my husband and I can spend time running together. While it could be difficult when the kids were little because we both wanted to run, it has always been something that we have shared and bonded over.

I never wanted the kind of relationship where one of our passions or athletic pursuits trumped the other person’s. I see couples where one person runs and races all of the time and the spouse simply follows along and takes care of the kids. I know for some couples, this arrangement works well for them. But I love the fact that Steve and I spend time training together and that we take turns supporting one another’s athletic endeavors. We share our passion and truly encourage one another in pursuing the events and distances we truly love. He supported my Bryce venture 100%. Now I get to support his Pikes Peak double 100% and I am grateful to be able to do so.

Steve leaving me in the dust on his first real training run for the Pikes Peak Double.

Steve leaving me in the dust on his first real training run for the Pikes Peak Double.

A lot of times after completing a big goal race, I experience a bit of an emotional let down. After months and months of preparation, followed by completion of the event, I often find myself thinking, “Now what?” So far, I haven’t really had that post-race funk sink in. I am not sure why. I know immediately after finishing Bryce, I started thinking, “What race can I run next?” There really is such a emotional, psychological and physical high that comes from a successful race. It is easy to fall into the trap of chasing that feeling. If I had my way three days after the 100, I probably would have signed myself up for five more races. Instead, I decided to slow down and rein myself in a bit.

I know there are people who race constantly all year long. If they have jobs and families and can still make it work with their sanity and relationships intact, then I am in awe. I try to target a couple of big races per year and find that is really all I logistically do and still work and be a good wife and parent. Maybe that takes my badass credibility down a couple of notches, but that is OK with me. I don’t need to be a badass. I only need to be honest with myself about what I can successfully manage in my life. I am most proud when I feel like I am doing a good job balancing all of the roles I play.

I know I will eventually have to have another epic race on the horizon. Right now I just want to have some fun with my running and enjoy some mental and physical recovery and rejuvenation. I plan to run the Denver Rock n Roll Marathon with Project Purple in October and I am looking forward to sharing training runs with my teammates. I have a couple of other trail/ultra races I am eyeing, but I really want to support my husband in his upcoming races and I do not want to miss out on Riley’s senior year of high school. We have started the summer college tour and interview process and I know that in the blink of an eye my baby will no longer be living with me.

For now, I continue to reflect back on the Bryce experience and think about how truly incredible it was for me. Instead of being consumed by what I feel I need to do next, I am trying to simply enjoy all of the wonderful experiences of the last couple of weeks. For endurance athletes, there seems to be this insistence that we always have to constantly outdo what we have already done. I think that in many cases, it boils down to the need to chase that high. Right now, I am resisting that urge to compulsively chase the high of big ultra endurance events. I am really focusing on taking some time to breathe and celebrate my life and my accomplishments.   I will, of course, pursue other races down the line, but for a little while, my goal is to support my family as they work towards fulfilling some of their own dreams. I will cheer on my husband at Pikes Peak. I will soak in all of those memorable “last times” with my high school senior. I will focus on making some good memories with friends and family over the summer. I will run simply for the joy that running brings me.

Finally, I wanted to say a special “Thank You!” to Arianne Brown for the nice article on KSL.com about my Bryce adventure.

http://www.ksl.com/?nid=1010&sid=35027516

Bryce Canyon 100 Race Report

The Bryce Canyon 100 was incredibly beautiful. It was also very challenging.The race features close to 19,000 feet of elevation gain and loss and most of it sits between 8,000-9500 feet of altitude. The Bryce 100 course tested every runner out on the course, including me. Though it was very hard, I would not change a single thing about the entire weekend.

The key to success in life is to work hard and surround yourself with the best human beings you can find. This was the strategy I employed to hopefully bring success in Bryce. Months ago, when I signed up for the race, Steve and I tried to figure out logistically how we could pull off a 100 mile race and a family vacation in the same trip. I knew that I could most likely finish the 100 on my own, but since having half of my pancreas removed, my body is still a bit of a mystery to me. Since I seem to have some blood sugar issues, I knew I would feel more comfortable having a pacer with me on the course through the night. The only person I really wanted with me on the course, besides my husband, was Lisa Bliss. I “met” Lisa through online running groups. Over the years, we started having conversations via email and Facebook, and then eventually over the phone.

I asked Lisa if she would come help and I really honestly could not believe she said yes. Somehow I, a slightly faster than average 46-year-old genuine nobody in the running community, had scored an endurance superstar to help me out. I jumped around the house yelling and screaming with happiness when Lisa said she would come. Silly, I know, but I really, really wanted her to be there and could not believe she said she would do it.

After a month or so, Lisa said she did not think she could pace me, but she wanted to crew. She offered her husband Tim as a pacer. Tim and I really did not know each other at all, but I figured that if he was Lisa’s husband, he had to be just as awesome. Thus, we planned he would run about 33 miles with me and my husband would run the final 17. The goal was to keep my blood sugar stable so I wouldn’t wander off and die in the woods.

We piled the family into the car and drove out to Utah on Wednesday. The drive was uneventful and the scenery was beautiful. The first obstacle came as we arrived into Bryce Wednesday night. Apparently there was a controlled burn going on. Smoke filled the air. After living through two summers of forest fires in Colorado Springs, I know that my lungs do not handle fire very well. Forest fire was not something I had considered in my race preparation and I was very concerned about potential lung issues if the fire continued to fill the air.

We met up with Tim and Lisa at the race host hotel, Ruby’s Inn, Wednesday night. After taking some time to chat and catch up, we all headed off to bed knowing the next couple of days would be very busy. Somewhere around midnight, I woke up. Our room smelled like the fire and it made me cough and choke. I tried to go back to sleep, but never did. This was not a good thing two night before a 100 mile race.

Our amazing race team!

Our amazing race team!

On Thursday, when we got up it was still smokey. Stephen, Riley, Peyton and I headed into Bryce Canyon in the morning to take in some of the sights. Photos truly cannot do the canyon justice. It is breathtaking and spectacular. I wanted to loosen up a bit, but not spend too much time on my feet, so we just did a couple of short hikes on the canyon rim that morning. Despite the beauty, I was still nervous about the smoke. We all had headaches and scratchy throats from breathing in the irritants. I just hoped the winds would be favorable come race day.

After lunch, we met up with Lisa and Tim and went to the race check-in and meeting. I loved the feel of the Ultra Adventure event right from the start.We had a very informal and casual meeting where everyone hung out, eating make-your-own pizzas. We enjoyed chatting with the other runners prior to listening to Race Director Matt Gunn speak.After the race meeting, we headed back to try to catch some sleep.

At the pre race dinner with Adrian Stanciu

At the pre race dinner with Adrian Stanciu

With RD Matt and Cherri, who is part of the awesome UA team

With RD Matt and Cherri, who is part of the awesome UA team

I set my alarm for 3:30 am, but was up at 2:30.

My special Project Purple shirt.

My special Project Purple shirt.

The whole crew wanted to see me off to the start, which was very sweet.

The family at the race start.

The family at the race start.

One last hug

One last hug

With Lisa, who means the world to me.

With Lisa, who means the world to me.

Going into the race, I had three goals: 1) to finish, 2) to finish in under 30 hours and 3) to finish in under 28 hours. As we arrived at the start, I was pleasantly surprised to see and smell only a little of the smoke from the controlled burn. I hung out in the car with Lisa, Tim and my family until 5:50 and then walked over to the start. We started promptly at 6 am and headed up a dirt road. After the first couple of miles, we turned off onto some single track trails. We climbed several switchbacks, and were rewarded with spectacular views of pink hoodoos. I passed the first early miles talking with Helen Pelster, of California. She took off ahead of me and I settled into running my own race.

As the miles ticked along, I chatted with a few other runners, but mostly just kept to myself, enjoying the sights. At mile 18 or so, we came to the first crew station. I was very excited to see my family and friends. I refilled, or should I say, over filled my pack. Lisa and Riley asked me if I wanted a hat and I said no. I also tried to refuse to take a rain shell with me, but Steve and Lisa both insisted. As soon as I left the aid station, it started to thunder and rain. I would not see my crew again until mile 41 and I wondered if I had made a very big mistake by not bringing the hat. As we climbed a hill shortly after leaving the aid station, it started hailing on us. One runner commented that he did not think it would last long because the sky was not very dark. I hoped he was right.

Fortunately, a few miles later, the sun came out. We continued on a long section of uphill. As it warmed up, I shed my long sleeve shirt and hoped that the nice weather would hold. The weather forecast had called for scattered rain and thunderstorms, which was good in terms of helping keep the smoke at bay. I just hoped that it would not rain for the entire race.

The sun shined brightly for the next several miles.I happily took in the scenery but was pretty much out by myself at this point. I enjoyed the solitude and the beauty of the area. I went for miles without seeing another soul. Off in the distance, however, I could see the sky was black. I wondered if the  storm was moving towards us or away from us, but could not tell at that point.

Miles 30-50 can be a mentally difficult stretch for me. I have already gone a long way, but know I still have a ridiculously long way to go. I listened to some music for about 8 miles in this stretch. I arrived at the Kanab Creek aid station and saw Adrian there. Adrian is a speedy guy who runs a lot of hundreds. I had figured that he would be one of the top five males, but he was not feeling well. I asked him if he needed anything. He was going to wait at the aid station and try to get some food in his stomach before moving on. I wished him well and hoped he would turn things around for a finish. I headed out on my way, knowing I only had about five miles until I could see familiar faces again.(Adrian did finish, but I will let him tell that story in his own blog post).

Finally, I came into the Straight Canyon aid station. I had been counting down the miles til when I knew I would see my crew again. It really provided an emotional boost, though I tried to keep each stop to the bare minimum. I knew there was a big climb coming out of Straight Canyon to the Pink Cliffs, which would be the high point on the course. We could hear thunder rumbling off in the distance. I vaguely remember saying that I needed to hurry to try to beat the storm. Once again, shortly after leaving, the thunder and rain picked up in earnest. Being out in thunderstorms scares me. I am not ashamed to admit it. I am afraid of being struck by lightning. I did not survive cancer to be killed by a lightning strike.

Steve calls this my going to battle look.

Steve calls this my going to battle look.

The trip up to the Pink Cliffs is almost all steep uphill. I was alone as I headed out, but a man came flying down the hill towards me. I was not thinking clearly at this point and I asked him, “Are you OK?” He said, “Yes, I am good.” That’s when I realized he was the lead male. I laughed at myself for being an idiot. The lead eventually set a blistering course record for the 100.

I trudged up the long road leading to the Pink Cliffs. The thunderstorm moved in with a vengeance. I was still alone, but I could see people ahead of me. I was afraid. The lightning was striking very close. The ground shook with the thunder. The flashes and bangs seemed simultaneous.The hail hurt as it pelted me. I heard later that one runner who was using trekking poles had gotten knocked to the ground when lightning hit very close to him.

I finally caught up to Linda, Todd and another lady whose name I cannot remember. We kept plugging along towards the next aid station, wet and weary, but the company alleviated some of my fears. Eventually, I caught up with a gentleman named Bruce. He and I made it to the Pink Cliffs Aid Station at mile 46. I have never been so happy to see an aid station in my life. There were several runners crowded inside the tent around a space heater. People were talking about dropping at the turnaround. I ate some chicken soup to warm up, changed my wet shirt and told Bruce that I wanted to move on. He did too, so we took off on the final five-mile section to the turn around. Bruce was a super nice guy from Michigan, and we would run off and on all night until nearly reaching the finish.

The storm had rattled all of the runners, including me. I knew people would be dropping due to the weather, but I had no intention of dropping. I had come to run 100 miles, so finishing 50 was just not an option. It was really nice during this section to have Bruce’s company to take my mind after the scary patch we had just been through.

I was so excited to get to the turn around. Bruce and I pulled into the 50.5 mile Crawford Pass aid station in just about 12 hours. I was way ahead of schedule. Lisa made me change all of my clothing at this point, which was smart because I was soaking wet down to my bra. The big highlight for me at this point was that I would be picking up Tim as my pacer. Because I continue to have blood sugar issues, I really did not want to be out on the course all by myself in the dark. I thought it might be dangerous for me with the unknowns of my body still creating issues for me.

Tim and I did not know each other at the start of the weekend. While Lisa and I have spent plenty of time texting, messaging and talking on the phone, Tim and I had never spoken. If you really want to get to know someone, though, go for a run with them. Over the course of the next 33 miles, Tim and I would get to know a lot about one another. He was perfect. Tim was a great conversationalist, without being pushy when I needed to be quiet and focus. He helped me keep my head straight when I needed it. We shared serious stories and lots of laughs. I appreciated his company more than I can ever really express.

Still smiling as we head out of the Crawford Pass aid station (Photo courtesy of Tim Englund)

Still smiling as we head out of the Crawford Pass aid station (Photo courtesy of Tim Englund)

As soon as I came out of the turnaround, I started experiencing stomach problems that would plague me for the next 40 miles. I had a ton of food but I could barely get any of it down. I knew I had to eat, but every time I put anything in my mouth, I spent the next several miles trying not to throw up. This was not good and I knew it could potentially end my race. Why did I have stomach problems? I have no idea. I have never had this happen in a race before. Was it because my digestive system reacts differently now since my surgery? Or was it something simple like I ate too much salt? I don’t really know and I will likely never know the answer.

Tim and I had a couple of hours of light when we took off together, which was nice. He got to see the beauty of the pink cliffs. I had expected that he would be running entirely in the dark, so I was happy to be able to share in the beauty of the course with him. Eventually we turned on our headlamps when it was close to pitch black. Shortly after that, the rain came back, along with some thunder, lightning and hail. I put my rain jacket back on and prayed that the storm would not be as bad as the one between miles 40 and 50. Fortunately it was not. It lasted for a while, but then moved on. I was not soaked and shaken like I had been earlier in the day.

Soaking in the scenery (Photo courtesy of Tim Englund)

Soaking in the scenery (Photo courtesy of Tim Englund)

Bruce had caught up with us, and ran with us off and on for sections throughout the night. We rolled in and out of the various aid stations as quickly as we could. I still could not get much food into my stomach. I had to walk way more than I should have due to nausea. For quite some time, we heard two female voices in the distance ahead of us. I wondered if I could catch up to them or not. Eventually around mile 80, we did pass them. I was determined to put some distance between us and ran as much as I could in the following miles. As the night wore on, we started to count down the miles until we would return to the Proctor Aid Station where I would pick up Steve as my pacer for the final 16-17 miles. My Garmin had died a long time ago, so I kept asking Tim what his watch read to figure out where we were. After what seemed like forever, we got to Proctor. It was a little after 3 am when I arrived and I was still ahead of schedule. This was a big mental milestone. I looked at this section as the final push.

Lisa was great about getting us in and out of each station as quickly as possible. We spent maybe five minutes in the aid station. As we were leaving, the two girls I had passed a few miles back walked in. I knew I had to step up my game. We ran as much as we could going out of the aid station. It was about ten miles until the next aid station. I had borrowed Tim’s watch to help me track the miles, but it died, too. I was tired, I knew I had a big blister and pretty much everything in my body hurt at this point. I was not the conversationalist I had been earlier in the day.

After what seemed like an eternity, we got to the final aid station. They told us we only had 7.5 miles to go and I was ecstatic. I also knew this section would take some time, as there was a climb of about 1000 feet at mile 94-95. Once again, we saw Bruce, who was now running with his wife. He looked incredibly strong, and pulled away from us going up a hill out of the aid station. I was very happy for him.

The sun was now coming up, which was great, because even though I knew this last section would be really hard, I also knew it would be really beautiful. I wanted Steve to see the hoodoos. He snapped some pictures as we went.

The final long, steep climb

The final long, steep climb

I suffered greatly on the big climb. That is when we heard the voices. The women I had passed were behind us. Because we were in the canyon, it was hard to tell how far back they were, but we could see and hear them. I had to really push it now. I was in second place, but if they both passed me, I would miss the podium spot. Mentally, I had thought I was done. I did not think I had a whole lot of running left in me at this point, but now I had no choice. I ran every step that I could, as fast as I could.

Steve kept me informed as best as he could as to where they were. While I need no external motivation to keep pushing, he made helpful little comments like, “You didn’t run 96 miles to get passed at 97!” Where the hell was Tim? I didn’t want this slave driver. I wanted my nice and encouraging pacer back! I kept pushing, up over the final climb and then down to the final miles of switchbacks to the finish. I was not sure at that point how far I actually had to go. I just know the switchbacks nearly broke me mentally. I kept thinking the finish was around the corner, only to turn and see more switchbacks. Still, I wanted that second place finish so bad I could taste it. I pressed on and on and on.

Then, finally, we saw Peyton in her pink jacket. We yelled to her and she said the finish was just around the corner. I really hoped she was right. We went up one final hill, made the turn and saw the finish link in all of its glory. My whole family crossed the finish line with me and we ran to see Lisa and Tim. My official time was 26:31, which far surpassed all of my goals. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. We all hugged and were a little teary. Matt Gunn, the race director, came out to congratulate me. He seemed pretty blown away and said that he had hoped to see me finish but he did not expect to see me finish so well. Neither did I, but I was thrilled that I did.

The family crossing the finish line with me!

The family crossing the finish line with me!

The third and fourth place women came in within minutes after I did. It was nice to be able to cheer them on. They made me work much harder than I had planned over the final miles and I appreciated having someone push me.

With my amazing and spectacular team at the finish.

With my amazing and spectacular team at the finish.

With my belt buckle and 2nd place award

With my belt buckle and 2nd place award

This was the most special race of my life for so many reasons. Obviously, it is amazing to come back from cancer and run so well. I remember in November of 2013, wondering if I would ever run again after my surgery for pancreatic cancer. To come back and be possibly the first PC survivor to run a 100 mile race is just so wonderful. Having my husband, Riley and Peyton out there to celebrate my comeback with me was just incredible. Seeing my kids out on the course made me so happy and proud. I love having them see their mom go out and bust her butt doing things that most other moms (and dads, for that matter) do not do. Finally, spending the weekend with Lisa and Tim was absolutely one of the most special parts of this race for me. They are such selfless, giving, kind and fun people. Their presence made this a weekend that I will forever cherish, no matter what happens to me in the future. I can never express the full depth of my gratitude to this wonderful couple. This is about so much more than crewing and pacing, which Lisa and Tim did perfectly. This is about love and friendship. Spending the weekend together and enjoying every single moment of it created a special bond that will last forever.

My phenomenal crew and pacers! Indebted to this amazing group of people

My phenomenal crew and pacers! Indebted to this amazing group of people

Goofing around in Bryce Canyon after the race

Goofing around in Bryce Canyon after the race

As Lisa said several times, everything went perfectly. Truthfully, the crew and my pacers did everything perfectly. I made mistakes. I suffered with stomach problems. The weather was a real challenge. I carried too much stuff in my pack and that slowed me down. I saw that only 76 people out of 120 registrants finished the race. The conditions were very tough. But all of those factors (the weather, my stomach, almost getting passed at the end), made the finish and the placing all that more sweet. I would not change a thing. The difficulty made it all that much more gratifying.

I am so thankful to everyone who has followed my progress over the last few months and supported my endeavors. I am so grateful that I have had so much support from family and friends. I appreciate all of the support I have gotten from Project Purple. Thank you to Brooks Running for the shoes. I wore the same pair of trail ASRs through the entire race. I am grateful to Dirty Girl Gaiters for sending gaiters for my whole crew. I am thankful to Matt Gunn and everyone from Ultra Adventures for putting on a fabulous and challenging event. I appreciate everyone who has donated to my Project Purple fundraising campaign. I plan to take a little time to just enjoy the sweetness of this whole journey. I feel good and plan to savor the moment before gearing back into training for some fall events.

Thank you all for following my journey back. This is what pancreatic cancer survivorship looks like for me.

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

A Journey of Thousands of Miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climbing the hills

Climbing the hills

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

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

Trudging through knee-deep snow AGAIN

Trudging through knee-deep snow AGAIN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are We Having Fun Yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We never usually have this much water around here.

We never usually have this much water around here.

May 10th snow. Really. May 10th.

May 10th snow. Really. May 10th.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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