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About a month ago, I bought a bike.

It’s been more than two years since I’ve been able to run. Every time I even thought about running (say, I went for a 4 or 5-mile walk) my plantar fasciitis would gently flare up, chiding me, Nuh-uh uh!

So, it became more sad than easy to not be active, which is why I bought the bike. That, and back in January I signed up to ride the 5 Boro Bike Tour as part of Team Fox, once again raising money for The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Reasearch. (Love you, Dan.)

Today was the 5 Boro Bike Tour! Here’s the story: I did not die.me at the start with my cute bike!

Here’s another story: I bike-commuted to work a week ago, from Woodside to Midtown, and I did not die.

One more story: I rode 20 miles in the Poconos, along curvy hilly roads, and again: I did not die.

In addition to not dying, I had fun. These are encouraging results from my first forays into this new activity I’m pretty sure I’m adopting. Pardon the non-committal attitude; as recently as last night I referred to my role in the 5 Boro Bike Tour as a “charity runner.” Clearly, I’m still adapting to The New TK.

I am sitting on cushion. That feels nice. Did I mention the tour was 40 miles? Also, it was really, really windy. That dampened the fun, especially as we were trying to pedal up and over the Verranzano Bridge. Thank god for gears!

If any cyclists are reading this, you will now commence snorting: I have no spare tires or tubes. I have no  watter bottle. I had to crowd source my outfit because I had no idea what to wear over my cycling kit. I figured it would all work out OK. (It did.)

The best part of the ride hands-down was riding over the Queensboro Bridge. We rode on the upper level, in lanes that usually go east-west, but we were riding west-east. It’s actually my favorite east-west approach; you enter through a little secret entrance on 21st Street in Long Island City, and it affords sweeping views of the bridge itself, the iconic Silvercup Studios sign, and of course Midtown Manhattan as it circles up, up, up. I love when Motorcycle Man takes me into Manhattan on his Honda V Star that way, it’s exhilirating. It was equally so to pedal myself along the same route, but in reverse. I could not stop hooting and hollering. welcoming all the other cyclists to Queens, the best boro! I greeted Emma and Chrissy, I thanked God, I marveled, I made sure everyone around me knew precisly how fucking awesome that bridge crossing was.

Here are some pictures.

queensboro bridge approach she's right behind me! queensboro bridge! lots of cyclists a rare view of the Roosevelt Tsland Tram! I love those beams excuse the random half-head Me! On my bridge! Ricking' the Team Fox kit.

Once we landed in Queens and cruised north up 21st Street, I was totally pumped. Never have I been so excited to pass the Queensbridge projects, or my Pep Boys service station. I was all puffed up with pride for my boro. We crossed beneath the Triboro Bridge and the Hellgate Bridge, and once we left Astoria Park (the first rest staion), we got to ride beneath my bridge! Seriously, I was in heaven.

The ride through Brooklyn to Staten Island was cool, as it followed routes I used to run along, so the roads were familiar. Rather than feel sad I wasn’t running, I was enjoying the adventure of rolling along, carried along by pedal power! Parts of this course mimicked races I’ve run; notably, the NYC Half-Marathon, and the Staten Island Half-Marathon. Those stretches brought back happy memories. I recognized the terrain, and spent time remembering the details of those races as I pedaled along.

Also cool: riding on the FDR Drive, and the BQE, with absolutely NO CAR TRAFFIC! After my hair-raising round-trip bike commute last Monday, having the city streets just for our biking selves was pretty righteous.

I took some time, as we all struggled up the Verranzano bridge, battling wind and slope, to think of Dan, and all the friends I know who have lost someone to Parkinson’s. I am so grateful that I have a healthy body, and that I have family and friends who are so generous in their support of this cause that’s important to me.

I’m pretty sure I’ll go for another bike ride soon. Once my tushy stops throbbing.

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The unexpurgated report. This is the second half.
First Half. Final Analysis.
Mile splits are Garmin; kilometer splits are official timing mats.

From Miles 12.75 to 14, we could see the elite men running back at us along their Mile 21, which wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped it would be, since I didn’t recognize any of them. I was moved by the number of charity runners on the course—the racers were wearing one of two options: a charity shirt or fancy dress (a costume). The amount of money raised for charities through these marathons is nothing short of heroic—over the next 5 years, the Virgin London Marathon thinks it will facilitate £25 million in donations for various causes! The charities are very vigilant about cheering exclusively for their supporters. I ran by the Parkinsons UK station, and gave them a wave hoping they’d recognize my TeamFox singlet, but they stood mutely. Luckily, at Mile 14 Anabel from the Michael J. Fox Foundation was there with her clappers and her big voice to give me a boost, which I sorely needed. (Apparently she cheered for me at Mile 25 too but I was so in the thick of it by that point I’m not surprised I didn’t hear her!) There were so many charity runners that whenever I saw an unaffiliated runner I was intrigued, because it meant they’d either gotten in through the lotto or had time-qualified. Another sort of runner that was a rare sight on the London course is the foreign runner. While in New York it seems every tenth runner is German, Italian or French, I didn’t see nearly the same proportion on the course in London. There were less than 190 finishers from the United States on Sunday, but in November 2,388 British nationals crossed the line outside Tavern on the Green (percentage wise LDN 0.5% / NYC 5.5%). It was a strange juxtaposition: even though I was running in a world-class event—one of the World Marathon Majors!—it felt like a local race. What’s not rare are the fancy dress runners. The Brits love it, this is where their silly side really comes out, but I have to say the costumed runners annoyed me. When they were next to me on the course, they drew all the energy. (At one point, some dude running in a foam Lucozade costume was getting more cheers than anyone. “Go Lucozade!” Really? REALLY? You’re cheering for a fucking brand, people! And yes, there’s no Santa Claus and Cousin Bobby Joe shot the Easter Bunny when he was hunting last weekend.) (another draw LDN: 3 / NYC: 3)

Miles 13, 14, 15 – 8:31, 8:31, 8:31
25k – 2:16:36 cum (25:53)

As the course led me through Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs, I sensed that the next seven miles would be a tricky mental balance for me. How to stay calm despite the crowds and the nearly two dozen turns? How to maintain my energy and drive despite my swelling fingers (a sign of dehydration) and aching quads? I decided to carry on doing my best to run the tangents while remaining as faithful as possible to my splits. It felt nearly impossible to go any faster, partly because my body was starting to feel the effects of the sun and the 60+ degree temperatures, and partly because I still could not manage my way through the pack. That sun was strong, and when I licked my lips they tasted of pure salt. Little G kept beeping our splits further and further in front of the big red arches that marked each mile; that could have been heartbreaking but I had no energy to get demoralized about it, the extra distance was just another challenge I had to run through. Somewhere around Mile 17 I did the quick math: each subsequent mile would need to be 15 seconds faster than the pace I’d been holding if I was to hit my A goal—to run under 3:45 and qualify for Boston. A ballsy goal, frankly, what having done only a few pace runs as speed training this season, but why run a race if you aren’t going to do it balls-to-the-wall? I doubted I could get my miles down to 8:15’s given the crowds and the quads, but I sure as shit was going to try my best.

Miles 16, 17, 18 – 8:58, 8:30, 8:24
30k – 2:43:13 cum (26:49)

From Miles 21 to 22, we could watch the slower runners on the other side of the road coming up through 13. I’d hoped this would be entertainment, but it ended up leaving me feeling like I hadn’t gotten anywhere at all. I was back at Mile 13! It was around this point I started praying for the next Lucozade station (my prayer sounded like this: Where the fuck is the next Lucozade station?), and telling myself pretty little lies (my lies went like this: Your legs are strong and light. You are light as air. Quads, what quads? No struggle at all for you, girl, you’re feeling great!) I took honest-to-goodness encouragement from the fact that my form wasn’t really suffering, that my lower back wasn’t in pain, my shoulders were down and my right arm wasn’t crossing my body to badly. My splits weren’t really working out for a BQ time, so now I was chewing away at my B Goal: sub 3:50, as sub as possible.

Miles 19, 20, 21 – 8:24, 8:07, 8:34
35k – 3:10:05 cum (26:52)

After this, I can drink red wine.

Dan, I love you so much. Parkinson’s sucks.

I won’t slow down, I won’t give in because when my niece is a young woman, I want to be able to tell her I didn’t quit. I want to be an example of female strength for her.

TK, you get this one chance in your life to run this course. One chance to leave your best stuff on the streets of London. Don’t let up for one second because if you do, that bitter taste will never go away.

Miles 22, 23, 24 – 8:38, 8:46, 8:27
40k – 3:37:24 cum (27:19)

All four of my Hammer gels were long gone; luckily, the last two had caffeine.  The crowds along the final four miles were simply amazing. I learned from New York that I had to tune them out lest they distract and slow me, but I could still feel their excitement. I was hurting, and used everything at my disposal—every mental trick, every enticement—to keep myself on pace. For the second time that day, I was spurred on by curiosity: exactly how hard could I push myself? I gave it everything I had for Mile 26, I thought I might puke, or pee my pants. Neither happened, and I hit the lap button at 26.2, then went on to run an additional .37 miles to the finish line. I was dimly aware that I had passed Buckingham Palace, and that I was coming up The Mall. I was done with this race, I was tired of pulling up behind English men and women, I was tired of the sun stinging my face. I tried to raise my arms as I crossed the finish line but couldn’t get them up. My momentum kept me going even as I was across the mats, but the runner in front of me had stopped dead in her tracks, and I careened off her and into a third runner, who wobbled badly and went down. I quickly grabbed her left arm and someone else got her right and we gently lowered her to the ground. I was crouched and stooped and realized I couldn’t get up either. So I sat there, waiting until the medics could give me a hand up too.

Not quite the triumphant finish I’d envisioned, but at least I could stop running.

Miles 25, 26, and the last bit – 8:29, 8:17, 4:51
Official finishing time: 3:48:56, a PR by 5:45. That extra .37 of a mile took me 3:03 to run.

Once up, I shuffled my way forward through the finishers’ area. Medal. Goody bag (water, Lucozade, apple, Mars bar, crisps, jelly candy fish, and a one-size-fits-all red cotton finisher tee LDN: 3 / NYC: 4). Best apple I’ve ever eaten. Baggage claim. Mobile phone! Tweet tweeted my watch time—I still hit my B Goal and ran a new PR, so even though no BQ, I was pleased. Not ecstatic, just pleased. Back to my hotel room, feeling a bit lonely. I kind of wanted to hug someone. But the loneliness passed as soon as I pulled up friends on email, saw others had been following my splits on Twitter, and knew I could reach out to my family later over Skype. Also, the comforting thought of a celebratory high tea (replete with red wine) with TS at Palm Court assured me of quality company for a play by play of both my and the elite race.

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Baltimore Half-Marathon

pigtails flying in baltimoreThere’s nothing quite like the comfort of the pre-race rituals. Oatmeal. Coffee. Dressing, putting up the pigtails, applying a little mascara. Pocket pat-down (gels, got ‘em!). Bag check. Use the port-a-potty. Get in line and use it again. Find my corral. Something new for this race—I was bringing my Blackberry, so I could tweet updates and take a picture or two if I so desired. 

7 minutes from the start… I am in the first wave! Eep, who do they think I am? (9:38 AM) 

I knew I was in Baltimore when, during the National Anthem, the crowd sent up a shout of “OH!” when Miss Maryland USA sang, “O say can you see…” With a crack we were off. Run easy, I thought, run easy girl. 

Mile 1: 8:46
Mile 2: 9:02 

Just ran by Apex thtr—adult movies! Ha! (10:01 AM) 

The first few miles went by easy enough, as we ran away from the Inner Harbor and over to Little Italy, Fells Point and around Patterson Park. I was happy to be running through my old college town. (I wasn’t a runner in college. Actually, I went for a run once my freshman year. I was listening to Fugazi on my Walkman and was running so fast I nearly puked after 10 minutes. That was the end of that experiment.) My thoughts turned to HK and TW, friends from the Green Mountain Relay who were running the full marathon and had already been on the course for nearly two  hours. I also thought of Dan, and how I couldn’t wait to get to him and give him a big hug—he would be waiting for me somewhere between Miles 9 and 10 with his wife and CB. I passed a group that had clearly formed a party around the marathon going by their front door—they had a table set on the sidewalk with pitchers of Mimosas and Bloody Marys. I shouted, Can I have a Bloody Mary? and the whole party raised their glasses and shouted back in unison, “Yes!” 

Mile 3 in 8:36?? Yikes! Funny sign—run like u stole it (10:14 AM) 

Mile 3: 8:34
Mile 4: 8:49
Mile 5: 8:56 

This course didn’t have any steep hills, just a lot of gradual inclines that seemed to never end. I definitely watched my effort levels and tried to distract myself with the sights on the side of the road. Everything I ran past felt like Baltimore—it was definitely a case of Dorothy not being in Kansas any more—the storefronts, the homes, the spectators. Baltimore row houses are a trademark of the city’s architectural style, and part and parcel with those rows of homes are the stoops upon which everyone sits. One of my favorite sights was a whole family–four kids, a mom, and her man—spilling out the door, all crammed onto three narrow steps, and hooting and hollering for all of us runners. They’d cheer, but only from the stoop!

Downhill! Finally! Mile 5.5! (10:36 AM)

Mile 6: 9:19 

Well, downhill for a little but I knew there were plenty of hills coming up all the way until the 10-mile marker. I seemed that they had stationed someone from the neighborhood watch at each incline to tell the runners, “Just two more blocks to the top of the hill!” It was helpful information to have, actually—not demoralizing at all. At around six and a half miles, I texted CB my location and pace so they’d have enough time to get from the apartment to 33rd and Guilford Avenue, where they would wait for me to run by. 

More than halfway! (10:45 AM)

Mile 7: 8:50
Mile 8: 9:01
Mile 9: 9:08

At a certain point we ran around Lake Montebello; that was pretty flat and was a chance for me to recoup some of my energy.  A news helicopter hovered over the lake (local TV was broadcasting the entire marathon—pretty cool!), so of course I waved and smiled as if it was the Roosevelt Island tram, hoping I’d end up on TV in my pigtails and Team Fox singlet. Nah…The weather, I should have mentioned earlier, was utterly cooperative—though it was a little warm and humid at the start, the temperature seemed to drop as the race progressed, it remained slightly overcast and we even had a refreshing misty rain fall upon us at about 1/3 and 2/3 of the way through the course. The race organizers couldn’t have planned it better themselves. I was amused by the squeaky noise hundreds of sneakers made running over the damp roads. 

I just saw dan! @teamfox this race is for him!! (11:11 AM)

Mile 10: 10:07 

Soon after Little G chirped my split for Mile 9 (ah, Mile 9!), I started looking to the left for my trio of cheerers. And there they were, all huddled together under a big golf umbrella. I called and waved to them, and CB rushed over and gave me a great big hug. Then I kissed Dan and his wife, and stood there panting and grinning while CB took a picture and then I said, Well I better get going! I ran off but turned to catch another glimpse of my friends. For the next three miles, the image of the three of them waving me goodbye pushed me forward. 

At the 10 Mile marker, I turned to a runner next to me and asked, Is it all downhill from here? He laughed, and I said, No, that was a serious question. 

Mile 11: 8:01
Mile 12: 8:30
Mile 13: 7:52
+0.21 miles: 1:29 (7:15 pace) 

My only tentative strategy coming into this race was that after Dan, and after the hills, it was Go time. There was no reason to hold back, since the last three miles of the course are pretty much all downhill. So, I kicked it! It felt good; it was difficult. I passed a guy who I overheard saying to his buddy, “Man, I don’t remember getting passed by this many girls last year.” Spectators haed started cheering for me, “Go Team Fox!” By Mile 12 I felt like I was working just as hard as I had been at Mile 25 in the New York City Marathon last year. I could feel my tank getting low; I knew it would take me to the finish line and no further. 

Finished! 1:56! @baltrunfest @teamfox feel super (11:46 AM) 

CRAB MEDALOfficial time: 1:56:33 to be exact, an 8:50 pace, which is faster than I honestly thought I could go. It’s startling for me to think about what a journey this year has been for me. This is far off my PR, and it’s only my fourth-best time for the distance, but yet I am pleased with the effort; I realize I couldn’t have done any better. It’s a night-and-day experience from the Bronx Half I ran in February; symbolically, that race’s tee was the one I threw away at the start in Baltimore. This time there were no tears at the end; it’s possible I’d wrung out all possible race-related emotion during my freak-out the night before. My left and right hamstrings took turns making me uncomfortable throughout, but if I popped my posture back into proper form the pain immediately subsided. I love my medal; it depicts a crab breaking the tape. After I’d stretched, showered, and changed I cabbed it back up North Charles Street for a late lunch with Dan, his wife, CB and RL (another dear friend of Dan’s and an old college buddy). It was the perfect capstone to the day—sharing a meal with close friends, toasting the quietly heroic efforts we each make to get ourselves and our families through the day, the week, the year.

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I’m Not Normally a Ditz. Really!

baltimore half teeTook the train down to Baltimore Friday morning, and was checked into the Renaissance Hotel and walking over to the Expo by 2 PM. Went through packet pick-up and the expo zip-zip (the race tee is super-cute; this is the first time I’ll be using one of those D-tags instead of a Champion Chip), then was headed up North Charles Street to visit Dan for a few hours. Dan, as regular readers of Pigtails Flying will know, is my friend in whose honor I am running the Baltimore Half-Marathon, as the culmination of my fundraising for Team Fox (part of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research). CB turned up sometime after four, and soon after that Dan’s wife got home from work. We all sat around chatting about the race, Loyola College, the Booker Prize and Indian food. Around 6 PM I started to get antsy and nervous, wanting to begin my night-before rituals. It’s a good thing I didn’t stick around for that Indian dinner… 

Back at the hotel, I immediately arranged my outfit and gear, all in a row, so that I wouldn’t have to root around for anything in the morning. This is when I realized I had NEGLECTED TO PACK A SPORTS BRA.* You must understand, I always go a little “bridezilla” the evening before big races. Being away from home and out of my usual routine certainly doesn’ thelp matters. And of all things to have forgotten–it’s not like I’m a 34B, people. I can’t just buy my sports bras in a store. I have to order them special from Title9 so I can be sure my girls are held in place as firmly as possible. Uh, yeah—”bridezilla?” How about a full-on-shouting-out-loud-cussing-as-professional-sport-with-heavy-doses-of-self-recrimination episode? I did this for about fifteen minutes, alone, in my hotel room, like a crazy person. It’s possible I also tweeted about it. I knew I had no option: I had to return to the Expo. Of course I didn’t find anything that fit me, but I did find a serviceable option. In what seemed a conciliatory gesture from the race ready?gods, it cost only $15. Back to the hotel I trudged again, exhausted and starving, having walked now a total of three miles in an Indian Summer heat on a day I was supposed to have stayed off my feet. Only slightly calmer than before I had bought a bra, I finally could order take-out pasta, finish painting “for Dan” on the back of my singlet in Wite-Out, attach my D-tag, pin on my bib number and pack the pockets of my shorts with Hammer Gels, extra hair ties and lip balm. 

*(How did I forget to pack my sports bra? I think it’s because I left the packing till 6:30 AM Friday morning; I hate packing and always push it till the last possible moment. There you have it: hastiness masquerading as ditziness.)

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Charm City

It’s settled then. I’ve decided (with help from my PT Danielle) that my body can handle the Baltimore Half-Marathon. So, on October 10th at 9:45 (the latest race start in history) I will head out with thousands of others and race around the city of my alma mater, the city of John Waters, The Wire, and the O’s.

I told myself to stay calm in case of an emergency change of plans (since that seems to be my M.O. this year), but I can’t help myself. I love being part of the throng, I love getting gritty, I love zeroing in on the finish. I booked my hotel, my train, and have sorted out when I’ll go to the expo and to visit DM and IM (Friday afternoon and Saturday late lunch). CB will be down for the event, too; if Dan can make it, they will come and cheer for me somewhere between miles 10 and 11, which is when I get closest to their apartment building. 

There’s a lump in my throat when I think about it: running with my Team Fox singlet on (finally), and seeing Dan, IM and CB on the side of the road as I go by. I have raised about $8,000 so far, but am hoping to get to $10,000 by October 10th. Towards that end, I emailed all my colleagues in my publishing group asking for donations. I am always bowled over by their immediate and generous responses. 

Obviously I won’t be PRing, so I am approaching this race with a whole different mindset. No doubt I will still be nervous and jittery the eve and morning of, switching back and forth between being a chatterbox and a clam (EN I will miss you in the corral). But I want to try and run this half-marathon the way I ran my first marathon, and the way I celebrated at my wedding reception–unhurried, soaking it all in so as to remember every step, every vignette, every turn and image that I may catch from the corner of my eye. If Dan can indeed make it to the sidewalk to give me a cheer, I will stop and greet him. I may even run with my blackberry, so I can tweet and take photos. I will put my name on my singlet, I will wave at the crowd, I will crack jokes and spur on the other racers. My half-marathon will be about exalting that my body can do it, and about dedicating each mile to Dan. 

I am really excited!

Learn more about Dan, and why I am running for this extraordinary man.

Help me get to $10,000.

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Did you know that in the UK, most of the amateur racers in marathons are fundraising for one charity or another? It’s the rule, rather than the exception. Here in the US, running for charity is becoming more and more popular. I have run two marathons as a member of Team in Training, and in fact, my first race ever (The Run to Home Plate 5k) had a charity component (I raised about $300 for the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation).

I’ve been donating to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research for many years, and I get their email newsletter. That’s how I learned about Team Fox. Not just for runners, Team Fox supports citizen fundraisers of all types–people who hold community pancake breakfasts, organize cruise trips, or climb Mount Everest to gather funds that the MJFF can use to finance research. I’m amazed at some of the ideas fellow Team Fox members not only dream up but execute. (I wish I’d thought of this idea first…) Me, I was instantly jazzed the second I heard that Team Fox will get me entry to any of the five World Marathon Majors races, if I promise to raise $5,000.  That, I thought, is what I’m going to do for Dan. After I saw Ryan Hall’s spine-tingling performance online (yes, I watched the whole race on my laptop, cheering like a crazy person) last April, I knew I had to trace that course as well.

I registered with Team Fox the second I heard registration was open for the 2009 Flora London Marathon, convinced that runners would be elbowing each other out of the way for a chance at guaranteed entry. I was so psyched (yes, psyched!) to sign on with Team Fox that I didn’t even feel silly when they told me (in October) that I would be the first on the list for a bib, as soon as they got their entries from the race organizers. As it turns out, I am the only Team Fox runner headed to London, from the whole of the US!  With Team Fox, there aren’t any group runs, or coaches who hold your hand through training and taper, but they do give you this nifty blue plastic portfolio to corral all your fundraising papers, and help you promote your events by mentioning them in email newsletters and on their blog. Also, I’ll get to race in a Team Fox singlet, which I think is cool. Their offices are in the Financial District, and my contact is no-nonsense and very helpful (and also a speedy runner–she finished the London Marathon just several minutes over three hours).

I like the way, instead of holing up away from the public, Michael J. Fox started this foundation to quickly finance research to find a cure. I like the foundation’s mission, and I like that Fox is deeply involved, rather than merely lending his name for publicity.  Full disclosure: he remains one of my favorite actors, I never missed an episode of “Family Ties” or “Spin City” because of him, and Back to the Future still makes me laugh. His memoir, Lucky Man, is a great read, and takes you through his rise to fame but more importantly, through the first years in which he lived with Parkinson’s.

We all know Parkinson’s Disease sucks. If someone dear to you has it, well then you know first hand the practical implications of the facts I’m going to list now. Nearly 5 million folks suffer from its effects. It’s a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder whose symptoms progress, unrelentingly. There’s no cure, and current treatments just minimize the symptoms without halting the disease’s progression. Symptoms I’ve seen include involuntary tremors, depression, speech difficulties, decreased mobility, imbalance and dry eyes.

I leave you with a video of Fox cheering on members of his team at the 2008 New York City Marathon. I remember this part of the race (Mile 24), but don’t remember passing the Team Fox cheering station. But by that time, I was a “little dazed,” though I prefer the word “focused.”

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For Dan (2)

Nearly three years ago, when I chose to put aside the words “impossible” and “cannot” and begin training for my first marathon with Team in Training, I was emerging from a sad, dark time in my life. Training for the Arizona Rock & Roll Marathon was part of how I healed myself, how I hastened the regeneration of my spirit. That first time, I trained myself out of the bleakness; this time, I am training through it and despite it. 

What is it that keeps us going through months of poor performance, through race times that make us shudder, through feeling like we are always on the brink of injury and never well-rested? A full answer to that question is a longer essay; and indeed we each have our own answer, which may change with the seasons. But for this season, for this month, my answer is: I train for Dan.

About three weeks ago I began sending out my fundraising letters and emails. As you may recall, I got my bib for the Flora London Marathon through Team Fox, which sends runners to all five World Marathon Majors races in exchange for our fundraising for The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Disease Research. Dan, my college professor, mentor, and dear friend, has Parkinson’s Disease. The letters were sent to the names & addresses his wife Ilona (also a dear friend) had transcribed from their address book and given to me on one of my recent visits to Baltimore. The emails went out to my personal contacts: running buddies, TNT alums, Loyola College alums, and randomly assorted family members and friends who have stuck by me.

This weekend, when my pace run took me uphill, I couldn’t help it: I thought of Dan. Together, Dan, we’re going to make it up this hill, and we’re not slowing down. And when Sunday’s long run felt too long, when my sneakers felt like weights, I thought, Together, Dan, we’re going to get our feet through this mile.

The response to my invitation to donate in honor of Dan and/or in support of my marathon efforts was immediate, and a bit overwhelming. I think I had modest expectations, given the recession, and the fact that I’ve already tapped many friends & family twice over the past three years for the LLS. But, I found myself blinking away tears of gratitude as all manner of people from my circle gave $1000 collectively, in 48 hours. A few days later, Husband came running when he heard me crying–the first check donation had arrived, for $500. People I hardly know, people I haven’t seen or spoken to since college graduation, giving hundreds of dollars. Perhaps I am betraying my middle class status, but these sums make me tremble with thankfulness.

I have two thoughts. First, I should have done this years ago. And second, if some other student of Dan’s were to send me a letter asking for money to find a cure for his disease, I too would smash the piggy bank or skip a fancy dinner (or nine) to write a fat check.

Once a week, I take ten minutes to make a list of the things I am grateful for. I’ve been doing this every Tuesday for over a year now. Some days it feels like a fruitless exercise, that either there’s too much and I can never get it all down on paper or that my bitterness has locked my heart against the intangibles. But lately, simply because I have asked friends and strangers Will you help? I slosh around in a little puddle of gratitude all the time. Gratitude for Dan, and for those who love enough to donate in his honor, or simply because I’ve told them it would mean a lot to me if they did.

Dan is who keeps me training, and unexpected generosity is what gets me to work, to interact, to want to be Sunshine instead of a little gray cloud. If it weren’t for this fundraising in honor of Dan, would I still be training? But if I weren’t a marathoner, would I be fundraising as a part of Team Fox? These questions, however, I don’t need to answer.

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