Wednesday, June 7, 2017

It all started with a Kris .. My 3 year race-aversary report for the Race for the Place 5K in honor of Elijah

The Gathering Place is a local organization that offers free services to cancer patients and their families and the Race for the Place 5K/1 Mile Walk (RftP) is their fundraiser for the year. It is held annually on National Cancer Survivors Day, the first Sunday in June, at a local, up-scale mall about a half hour from my house. I affectionately call it my race-aversary because it was the race that started it all for me three years ago. The first year after my cancer diagnosis, we did the 1 mile walk with my husband's company's team and when my friend, Kris, was called home after her battle with breast cancer the following January, I vowed to run the 5K in her memory. I wasn't an athlete growing up and had really never run before but that March, I laced up and got moving. My only intention was to run the race, however, and call it a day but I fell in love with racing and here I am, three years later. Last year, I decided to make the RftP my goal race for the year so this year's goal was to run sub 24:00. I have also carried on the "tradition" of running in someone's honor/memory. This year, I decided to run in honor of a young man I know through an organization have been an adult volunteer for for the past 12 years called the Greater Lake County Young Marines named Elijah who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia this past January and has basically lived that the Cleveland Clinic undergoing equally aggressive treatment ever since.

Even though this is a fundraising race, you aren't required to solicit donations like some other cancer organizations make you do. If all you do is sign up for either the 1 mile walk or 5K, they are happy with that and is one of the many reasons The Gathering Place is one of the few cancer-related organizations I support. No high pressure fundraising and the money raised goes back to the community because of the free services the offer. I believe in their mission so much that like to try and raise money though so I had set a goal of $1,800 in honor of the 18th birthday Elijah had to spend in the hospital this spring. I also set a more attainable goal of $500 because anyone who raised that amount would earn a The Gathering Place hooded sweatshirt and I decided if I raised the money, I'd give the shirt to Elijah. Mission complete with $639 to date.

My team consisted of the usual suspects: my oldest sister and her DH, my nephew, his wife, and two boys, my youngest son, Rick, and my co-worker who does a lot of other races with me. Paul usually does the race, too, but he was out of town. We were joined this year by my other co-worker and her daughter, my friend and her husband, and one of the mother's of two of Rick's XC team mates.
 A family the runs together stays together. Full team photo to come. 

The course

The one mile walk goes around the mall through adjacent parking lots and there is no chip timing. The 5K is chip timed and starts on a road next to the mall, goes through well-to-do residential neighborhoods, and then ends back at the mall. It's not a hilly course but it definitely had some inclines and declines (especially for a girl that doesn't run hills). 


For every race, I like to have 2-3 goals. My first goal (since it was my goal race after all), was to run a sub 24:00. After I PRd on Mother's Day at a 5K with a time of 24:14 on a VERY hilly course (the Race for the Place is relatively flat with some inclines and declines but not really hilly AND I'm not accustom to running hills to begin with), I thought for sure that goal was well in reach. My other two goals were to PR the course (a goal for any repeat race) and to make the top 5 in my AG (I started at 21 the first time I did the race and every year pick a number working my way to being closer to the top finisher). Unfortunately, several days after the Mother's Day race, I developed a mysterious issue with my hamstring and as the RftP got closer, it wasn't getting any better so I was questioning whether any of those would happen. I decided I would take several days off before the race to see if that fixed whatever was going on but had pretty much given up hope that this would be the goal race I planned for it to be. My focus switched from it being more "about me" and my running goals to just being able to make it across the finish line, even if it meant walking it, and that no matter how I got there, it was all in honor of Elijah. I'll be honest, it was a very hard pill to swallow at first but remembering all the personal reason as to why this race was important to me put me back on track mentally.

What to wear, what to wear

I like to have wearable tribute when I run this race but I wasn't sure what to do so I just planned on wearing the shirt I designed in 2015 race when I dedicated the race to the memory of my dear father and wear the leukemia bracelet I bought and have worn every day since deciding to run the race for Elijah. A couple weeks ago, I was talking his mom and she told me about some t-shirts they were having made up to sell to help pay for his mounting medical bills. I'm not a t-shirt person to begin with but she was still getting quotes for the shirts and didn't know if they could do tank top. I decided to make my own using the online storefront I have. What little commissions I make from any of my shirt sales I donate every year to the RftP so it's a win-win. I chose the color blue because it's Elijah's favor color and how ironic, it just so happens to be the color of Dory. Since the name of my team is "Just Keep Swimming..and Running", I decided that text would be perfect for the front and use the saying from the shirts his mom was having made on the back. Of course, I had to add my own tribute text, too. Since I am very particular about I like to run in, I don't require my team to buy team shirts plus it's just another expense but I always make one for me so I let everyone know they are available just in case. My two co-workers like them so they ordered some for race day.

I decided to wear my yellow running skort, too, so I could in Dory colors. Perfect! One more thing about colors… When I got the race packets for my team, I chuckled when I saw the color for this year's event shirt was blue. Perhaps it was a sign of good things to come?

Race morning

At 2:30 am Sunday morning, I woke up stressing about my hamstring and how I would fare during the race and never went back to sleep. I was already exhausted from staying up too late Friday night when my son has his birthday sleep over so needless to say, even if my hamstring cooperated, there is no way I'd have the energy for a stellar performance. Add to the fact I got out of the house later than I wanted, missed the exit to where the race was being held which made me even later which then added to the pre-race anxiety I already had, and they were calling for severe thunderstorms, this race was surely doomed.

Meeting up with the team

The race is staged at a local mall's parking lot. The teams are organized alphabetically in the parking spaces in one of their many lots. There were over 3,500 people at this event and because I got there later than I wanted, we had to park pretty far away. This actually worked out well though because Rick and I could get our warm up run in. I started to jog and sure enough, there went that hamstring making it's presence know. Apparently taking all that time off didn't do a thing. Great! Any hope I had of actually trying to race this race was gone for sure. Even though teams are organized the way they are, it's still very hard to find team mates. We eventually all found each other and then the heavens opened up so we took cover under some trees (I decided next year we'll just meet at the trees rather than search in the sea of people. It was much easier to say "hey, we're by the trees" than anything else). I tried to do a couple more test runs and things still didn't feel good so decided I would start running the race and figured at some point I'd end up walking.

It's go time

The rain stopped, the opening ceremony started at 8:45, and shortly there after, those of us running the 5K headed over to starting line. It gets PACKED. QUICKLY, so we've learned over the years to leave the ceremony and listen as best as we can from the starting line. It's a shame because you miss everything they say but they could also manage the race a little differently where people would get the best of both worlds. I always mention this on the after race survey they send out to all the team captains but it's always the same year after year.

There are a lot of competitive runners and a lot of local school track and XC athletes from schools not in our division who attend this race so it's not all just "community" runners and those of us who want to race the race always try to get close to the front as possible (giving the competitive runners their space, of course) and it never fails people who don't "run" try to get close to the front too. When a group of kids walked up and stood in front of us, at first we were like "ok great, this will be fun" but we quickly learned they were athletes so we figured they'd be perfect to stand behind because they'd all take off and we'd be eating their dust. =) This is exactly what happened when the gun went off and it was the first year there wasn't a lot of dodging and weaving and almost tripping over people. Speaking of the gun going off, the race was supposed to start at 9 but it was delayed by several minutes for some reason. Wouldn't you know the heavens decided to open up and by the time we were off, the rain was really coming down. Great, it was going to be a crappy race AND a wet one.

Rain is a good thing

I'm not sure how long the rain lasted and at one point I remember looking up and seeing the sun starting to peak through. It was already in the upper 70s and I thought for sure if the sun came out, we'd be roasting, just like we were last year. Luckily, the sun didn't come out until well after the race was over so to me, it was almost darn near perfect racing conditions and I'm kind of glad it rained to be honest: we were wet but not soaking, it was warm but comfortable.

Hammy, oh my hammy

I could definitely feel my hamstring the whole race but it was more of a sore feeling rather than painful feeling so I decided I would just try to run at a decent pace and if it got worse, I'd just scale it back. Of course, just like every other race, I looked at my watch too much at the beginning and wondering if I was running too fast but this time because I was worried what effect this was going to have on my hamstring. And, just like every other race, I eventually decided to ignore the watch and just run by feel. Mile two was a pretty rough mile for me mentally and at one point I wanted to walk. My hamstring was achy but no more achy than it was during my warm up so it wasn't getting worse, I was just tired and I'll be honest, 5Ks suck and are really my least favorite distance… BUT then I kept thinking about Elijah and how he keeps fighting so I used that motivation to keep me going. I told myself to I could slow down, but walking would only be a last resort and only if my hamstring was telling me to.

Unexpected pacer

My friend's husband knew about my hamstring issues and knew what a big deal this race was to me so before the race began, he asked if I wanted him to run with me so he could keep me motivated. He's a competitive runner who is just coming back from long-term injury and I knew he wanted to see how well he could do so I thanked him but said I would be ok to run on my own and just get into a zone. The XC mom who joined my team this year is an experienced and pretty fast runner, much faster that I am. She has been running for over 20 years and has several marathons under her belt. Luckily she's in an older AG so she's not my competition LOL but definitely is a lot faster. We lined up together at the starting line and I had decided when she got ahead of me, I was going to try and keep up with her or at least not let her get too far out of my sights if my hamstring would allow it. Sure enough, she and I started out at the same time and for a brief time I was ahead of her but she ended up taking the lead and I knew if I could at least not let her get too far ahead, I might have a shot at a decent time so she became my target, never knowing she had become my pacer.

The finish

As we headed out of the residential area across the main road and down the final stretch to the finish, I knew I didn't have much longer to go and by that time I almost felt like I had just a little bit left to give. My hamstring was achy, I was tired, but it was the finish and I was still running!!! Plus, the street is always lined with people cheering and I knew my family who did the one mile walk and the family members and/or friends who finished the 5K before me would be there too so I decide to see what I had left. Imagine my surprise when I turned the corner and saw the time clock still in the 24:00's. Are you serious? Did I really did just race my goal race? Bum hamstring, tired from no sleep and all?! With only seconds to spare before the clock turned 25:00, I remembered Elijah, the race, and all the things it meant to me and put everything I had to crossing that finish and sure enough, official time was 24:46… a mere 3 seconds from my course PR! As I sit and type this I still can't believe I did so well, not with all the odds that were stacked against me.

Post race

Since this race doesn't have live results like my other races do, we always stay for the awards. My brother-in-law is a competitive runner and usually does really well in his AG PLUS this year I decided to schedule our team picture for AFTER the race rather than before because it's always such a cluster before the race. Also, the XC mom and my other friend are competitive runners too and I knew they would be interested to see how they fared. And I'll be honest, last year I surprised the heck out of myself and won 3rd female OA cancer survivor and knowing my time per my Garmin was only seconds off from last year's time, I wanted to see if I placed again. We eventually met up with everyone and walked over by the stage to wait for the awards. My hamstring would give me fits causing me to limp at times but if I kept walking around, it would get better, so that's what I did.

After they announced the awards, we got our team picture taken and some of us decided to go out after for celebratory drinks and lunch (a ritual of ours, even if we don't win anything). None of us won anything but by the time we got back to our cars, the results were posted. My friend, the XC mom, PRd and came in 4th in her AG and even though they only gave out 1st male and 1st female cancer OA cancer survivors rather than the top 3 like they did last year, had they given out the other awards, I would have placed second with a time only 20 seconds behind the woman who was awarded first. I also placed 5th in my AG, moving up in the ranks. Sweet!

Final thoughts

While I didn't make my time goal of a sub 24:00 5K, other goals were achieved making 2017's race a huge victory regardless of what the time clock said. In three years, I've gone from 21st in my AG to the top 5 and this year was 6th OA cancer survivor, 2nd OA female cancer survivor, and was 203/1834 OA. Lastly though, the biggest goal was just being able to cross that finish line, come hell or high water, for Elijah. And I did it!! What a great day. Yep, rain and all.

This race sealed the deal on my opinion of 5Ks and that they are really my least favorite race distance. I know I was tired from lack of sleep and I know I was having hamstring issues but regardless, 5Ks are pretty dang tough and with everyone one I do, I like them less and less.

Thank you to everyone who supported me for this race. Whether you made a donation, joined my team, encouraged me not only when my hamstring issues started, but encouraged me in general, or cheered me on from afar, you definitely made my third race-aversary one of the most memorial races of my lifetime and I could never have done it without you. Of course, my biggest thank you goes to my friend, Elijah, for being my inspiration from day one as I prepared for this race. His attitude, grace, and fighting spirit is truly amazing and I could not have picked a better person to dedicate this year's RftP too.

The Gathering Place will accept donations through the end of June for the RftP so if you are interested in helping me get closer to my $1,800 goal, click on this link. As always, thank you for your support.


8:07, 8:43, 7:59

Race stats

Chip time 24:46
5/91 AG
203/1843 OA
6/125 OA cancer survivor
2nd OA female cancer survivor