One week til Chicago.

The miles are in the bank. We are T-9 days away from the Chicago Marathon, and I feel confident that our Down. Not Out! team will cross the finish line together. I’m so proud of Ann, and I’m excited that I will be with her to see this goal through.

I am looking forward to the adventure, and yet, part of me is dreading it.

I am relieved to have my Table Rock 50K behind me. I enjoyed it thoroughly, but I was nervous about potential injury. Table Rock is a wicked course—one I hadn’t run—and there’s nothing easy about 5700 ft of elevation gain on single-track trails. In fact, it was harder than I expected (but I loved it all).

A couple of weeks ago, friends asked if I was doing extra training in addition to my weekly training with Ann, plus joining her long runs whenever we were both in town. Sometimes Chicago training looked like powerful walk/run intervals; other days we needed to do more walking. Ann persevered. Marathon training with stage 4 cancer is tough. There is no manual or instruction book. She’s writing it.

I sure as hell was not doing extra training. I don’t have time, and I’m not that dedicated. I was undertrained for distance and terrain, but that’s happened before, and it turned out OK. Still, I fumbled over my response. “No, but it’s fine.” Well, of course, duh. “Look,” I said, trying again, “my priorities are clear.”

I knew they were missing the whole truth, but I didn’t try to explain. I was worried that I might burst into tears unexpectedly and make everyone uncomfortable. Still, I squirmed inside about the possible misunderstanding.

My priorities are clear. That is true enough. A mistaken assumption, however, might be that my only priority is to help Ann finish her marathon. I think even Ann worried about it some. However, that isn’t the case at all. First, Ann has had many, many friends support her training. Second, I needed these miles together. For me.

As we neared the longest runs of her training two weeks ago, Ann said one day, with weariness, “I can’t wait for this training to be over. It is really hard on my body.” Her honest words filled me with deep sadness.

We knew that she would need to hang up her running shoes, to protect her long-term health and have energy for other goals. I’ve worried about her training. I know she’s making a good decision, at the right time, and I admire Ann for making the call and doing it on her own terms. Living life large has always been her style.

But there will be weeks and months and years ahead where I would trade anything for that time spent running together. Time that is free of distraction, often in the company of other friends. No agenda, just time spent sharing what’s on our minds, laughing about our kids, making plans, and telling stories.

I will miss it terribly.

So today, we run together. To get Ann to the start—and the finish—of the Chicago marathon, and fulfill a longtime dream of hers. At the same time, I am filling my cup for the road ahead, one without my best friend running by my side.

My priorities are clear. I treasure every single day that we can lace up our running shoes together.

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Crystal Coast Half Marathon, 2011. One of our worst races together (Ann had a fever and my IT band crapped out), but the girls’ weekend with friends more than made up for it.

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Tour de Cure 2015. This was an awesome challenge for us to tackle together, since neither of us is very comfortable on a road bike. One of my favorite pics, taken at the end of the second long, hot day of riding.

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Sunset Beach Half Marathon last spring with the Peeps. It takes a flock!

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Chicago Marathon training in July with some Peep support.

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Many adventures are still ahead. We don’t just run. We also camp, eat Krispy Kremes, and listen to bluegrass. Plus a whole lot of other stuff.

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Our husbands (and kids) never question our crazy adventures and are our rocks of support. We’re looking forward to celebrating 20 years of friendship in 2018.

Chicago Marathon-bound—and I need your help!

My best friend Ann helped me start running again, back when we were 20-something neighbors living on the bucolic Trusty Trail (nothing bad can happen on Trusty Trail—maybe we should have stayed). It was a great way to carve out time together. The upcoming Chicago Marathon will be Ann’s fifth marathon, my eighth. Although we ran our first half marathon together (2006?), we have never run a marathon together. Don’t think we haven’t tried!

I told her when she and Nancy ran the ING Marathon in DC in 2008, their first, that I’d never run that far (I’m still eating crow for that line). A year later (haha), I was at the starting line for my first of four Umstead Trail Marathons (I have yet to convince Ann how great this race is). Three weeks prior, she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time. I bought a pink shirt and ran the race with her on my mind. Even though she was feeling crappy, she came out to Umstead to see me finish. We hugged and vowed we’d run the next one together.

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Blue Ridge Marathon and Half Marathon, 2014.

Ann, Nancy and I threw our names into the hat for the NYC Marathon the following year—it was their second attempt at the lottery, my first. It never once occurred to me that I might get in and they might not. But, that’s what happened! I ran NYC in 2010 and Ann and Nancy finally had the chance to run NYC in 2013. Then I ran the Blue Ridge Marathon in 2014, while Ann—wisely—opted for the half marathon option after all the training she did for NYC the previous fall (we did, at least, run the first part of the race together).

Last year, only a few weeks before she was re-diagnosed, this time with metastatic breast cancer, Ann ran the Asheville Marathon—but it was only 2 weeks before another race I had planned, so I decided to pass.

Ann has chosen Chicago as her last marathon, and hell if I’m going to miss out this time!

I have the opportunity to earn a slot and contribute through fundraising for the American Cancer Society as part of Ann and Nancy’s DetermiNation team, down-not-out. I committed to raising $1500 by the end of September. I am happy to invest my time toward achieving this goal, because the number of people with metastatic cancer is growing, and we need better answers, better treatments, and better outcomes.

A recent analysis of people with metastatic cancer projects that 11% of the younger patients will survive beyond the 10 year mark—and that’s supposed to be good news. We need to do better.

I am wary of lotteries now (see NYC Marathon, above), but I would bet on Ann any day of the week to defy those odds and lead that group of survivors. Just this morning, she pulled out half mile splits at a sub-10 minute pace—despite the July humidity and the many side effects of what I call “invisible chemo” –because she’s still on chemo, but that’s not evident to most of the world.

She may be down, but she is not out! I want to run 26.2 miles with Ann and her team, and see her achieve her Chicago Marathon goal. To read more of my story, make a donation, or cheer us on, please visit my page. You can read more about Ann, her story, and my other teammates on our team page. I’ll see you in Chicago!

Warm wishes and many thanks,
Steph

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Sunset Beach Half Marathon in May with our Peep friends. You can see the humidity!

Pushing the PR

Several of my running buddies have worked toward personal records (PRs) in races over the last few weeks. These are friends I run with each week, so I have seen them flying around the track and gutting out tough tempo runs, striving for a new PR at their next race. It’s been inspiring to see them working so hard to achieve their goals.

There’s nothing like a time goal to bring focus to your training. But, it can be disappointing to work so hard and fall short (sometimes just short) on race day. As one friend noted with refreshing frankness, “I either need to get over this time goal I have or find a way to push through the discomfort to get there. It is 100% mental.”

Although I’ve worked hard to improve my speed over the past year, it wasn’t a primary focus for me this spring. As I shaved minutes off my half marathon PR last fall, I could see where I was headed—the margins were getting smaller and smaller. Now a PR in the half rests on a minute or less. That amounts to a walk versus run through an aid station, an untied shoelace, a high-five from a kid along the race course. In short, a ridiculous expectation for the casual runner. Right?

Oh, but it is addictive. I knew I could achieve my first goal—break my 1:51 PR—but as soon as I did that, I needed to see if I could clear 1:45. And I think I can do it (12 seconds, precioussss!), but I needed to set it aside for a while. I could not do race after race, each focused on relentless pursuit of seconds off my half marathon time. I’d like to claim that this is due to my healthy, holistic perspective on running. Instead, I’ll blame my short attention span.

I think there’s still room for me to break 1:45. But at some point I won’t be able to pull down my time, no matter my training or mental focus. To achieve these smaller margins, everything must be 100% on race day. It’s thrilling when you can pull it off. But I don’t want to hang my definition of “success” for every race on a time goal that, at the end of the day, is arbitrary.

After two half marathons this fall, I walked away from the distance, happy with what I had achieved and still intrigued by the idea that I can return to this goal. I turned my focus to trails and longer distances, mostly without a time expectation. Doing races with friends, hitting the trails, relay or adventure races, trying a new race, encouraging friends in pursuit of their individual goals—these are the things that keep me running.