Winning Chicago.

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Team Down. Not Out! Ready to get started in Chicago.

The Chicago Marathon was more memorable than anything we could have dreamed! Our whole team really appreciated all the support, notes, and video cheers along the way. I was touched by how many of our friends and family followed us online during the day.

As I barely rolled into class on time Monday, a colleague who didn’t know our story asked me, “Did you win?” I said, “Hell yeah, we won!” [As I explained, with a little too much emotion, I’m sure he was sorry he asked.] Here are some of our team’s winning metrics:

Friday night, Ann was honored with the Heart of a Champion award from the American Cancer Society. Just wow. Such a surprise, and so well deserved.

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Standing ovation and not a dry eye in the house. Ann was stunned.

Saturday we learned that a few final donations put Down. Not Out! over $15,000 in fundraising for the American Cancer Society. Geri also raised $3500 for the Ronald McDonald House! Go team!

Sunday morning brought perfect weather and excitement to get started. We waited nearly 20 minutes to cross the starting line. 6 hours and 27 minutes later, the five of us crossed the finish line together.

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Yeah!!! Finished!

Maybe most importantly, for others diagnosed with metastatic cancer, Ann showed that you don’t have to put your goals and dreams aside. Finishing the Chicago Marathon promised hope and inspiration to others.

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Heart of a champion. Go BIG or Go HOME! #LikeaBoss

We had an amazing run and walk through the streets of Chicago, told incompletely here with a few stories and photos.

  • The Sears Tower (now renamed, don’t ask me what, something with a W) was always in sight, seemingly always in a different direction.
  • Highlights of a big-city marathon like Chicago included the colorful neighborhoods, funny signs, and wacky people along the course.
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Like Elvis.

  • I found my running shoes after a momentary panic attack where I couldn’t find them, then calmed down and started considering just how bad it was going to be to run 26.2 miles in Doc Martens.
  • Geri discovered the magic of Fritos and candy during long-distance running. She, Rebecca, and I did a lot of silly dancing with the music along the course.
  • Our cheering section was unmatched! We saw Jeff, Grace, Rose, Frank, Marie, Bernadene, Emalee, and Megan all over the course with their awesome signs.
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Rock star support from family!

  • Reading messages of support sent before and throughout the race carried us along.
  • Ann kept pushing forward, doing run/walk intervals for over half the race, and never complaining even as the sun got hot. She looked for and celebrated moments of joy even during a very tough run.
  • We kept a similar pace as a woman whose husband was wearing a loud, watermelon-print shirt. We started calling him Watermelon Guy and he cheered us on too. He was a hoot!
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Watermelon guy kept hopping on his bike and riding ahead to the next cheering stop.

  • At a few points during the race, my emotions got the better of me, and I pulled my hat down and dropped behind to shed a few bittersweet tears.
  • Even when we were mostly walking, Rebecca encouraged us to run short intervals, which kept us on track for an official finish.
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    Too many names, and not even all of them.

    We carried so many family and friends in our hearts for 26.2 miles. ❤There are far too many names on this list! I hope that research done by the American Cancer Society will one day lead to a world without cancer.

I felt really confident about Ann’s pace, and it was probably more nerve-wracking for those tracking us from afar as we slowed during the race and our projected finish time crept closer to the “official” time cut-off, 6.5 hours. For better or worse, I thought we were fine until I looked at my watch and realized that we’d be a lot closer to the cut-off than I’d originally realized. Fortunately, it was close enough to the finish that I knew we’d make it. We crossed the line together with joy and relief.

As I told Andrew afterward, each of us is struck with a few instances of clarity in our lives, times when you know that you are exactly where you need to be, with exactly the right people, for exactly the right reasons. Yet I’d trade our entire memorable weekend in Chicago, gladly and without hesitation, for Ann not to have cancer. Since that isn’t possible, I felt lucky indeed to be in the best place I could be. On October 8th, 2017, I saw Ann win Chicago, achieve her goal, and bring hope to others with her indomitable spirit. I will remember it always!

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Best cheering section ever! They walked miles and miles.

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Down. Not Out!

 

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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.

Tuesday reflection

Tuesday after work. I am

camping with Stephen at Shinleaf,

on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail,

after he has spent much of his day

slowly moving himself and many

surprising (to him) pounds of gear from

Bayleaf Church Road, about

ten miles away. Tomorrow,

he will walk another thirteen to

Rolling View and await pickup

after I finish work. An experiment

in carrying everything you need and living simply.

He is tired and sore, but clearly pleased with

his accomplishment. Yet he’s puzzled to also

feel somewhat disappointed, and it

gnaws at him. I let him talk

but don’t say much, allowing him

space to think more and return later.

As for me–I sit outdoors at 8:45 pm

watching the waning sunlight,

an early bedtime whispering the

sweet promise of rest before the

sun rises on Wednesday. And I can

tell you that I feel content

with this ordinary

yet extraordinary

evening.

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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!

Summer plans

This summer will be how I always intended to live,

Mapped out neatly in my notebook next to the scribbled to-do lists,

Allowing me to breathe in the sauntering, unstructured days of summer.

Filled with possibility and unmarred by the daily grind.

I shall go to bed early and sleep until I am rested.

I’ll nurture my family with meals we make together

With the summer bounty from local farms.

We’ll eat and laugh around our table, sharing our joys and woes

With space for deeper conversations, too.

I shall ride my bike to work, and give away things I no longer need;

Walk gently on the Earth, with pauses for wonder.

Appreciating my abundance with austerity and generosity,

Recalling that time is the only currency worth seeking.

My neglected summer garden

Will be raucous and beautiful, yet unsullied by weeds–

For I will work in my garden for an hour each day.

[I shall call it “happy hour.” Or maybe “half hour.”]

I will read a new book every week, and they will all be worthy

With thoughtful words, fiery ideas, and deeper meanings.

Words will flow from my own fingertips, and they will be precise and uncluttered,

Arranged with perfect balance and cadence and clarity.

I shall run any day that I wish, and soak in the company of friends

Like roots pull nourishment from the soil, and we will linger

Over jokes and earnest conversations with steaming cups of coffee

In the humid early mornings, just after sunrise.

I will seek joy and deliver it with intention to others,

Open my heart, to allow love to wash away the shattered bits

Love without expectation or fear for tomorrow’s woes,

Like drinking deeply from a clear mountain stream

Remembering only the cold wetness the moment it touches my lips.

Then I will awaken and notice the goldenrod flowering

The last brood of Carolina wrens has fledged,

And the sticky days of August are upon us.

Summer days stole by on silent yet swift feet,

Gathering into weeks that were surprisingly busy

And months that disappeared without a trace.

I’ll shake my head and laugh at my Quixotic optimism,

Roll my eyes at my silly, navel-gazing privilege

That enables such dreams and noble intentions.

Nonetheless, I’ll treasure those found moments, and promise myself

 That next summer will be different.

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Sick Day

Creeping out my back door on a perfect day in May,

Body aching, still in sweat-soaked pjs at 10 am;

Weak and dizzy from an unplanned, day-long fast,

Screeching red-shouldered hawk pierces my pounding brain.

 

Wind moves the tender spring leaves of white and red oaks;

I sit in filtered shade, cool wind evaporating sweat on my forehead;

I hear chickadees, Carolina wrens, and a pair of barred owls;

Raucous, joyful noise surrounding a quiet body and throbbing head.

 

I watch two blue jays share a tasty morsel;

For me, a piece of toast, no jelly,

Plus half a cup of black coffee—enough to prevent a headache crescendo,

Austerity seems best for a raging belly.

 

A gorgeous day for working in my garden, or running on trails,

Meanwhile my muscles ache like I’ve done both;

[I haven’t, of course; I’ve been in bed for the past 15 hours.]

Frustrating, to waste this perfect day.

 

Instead, I sit quietly (and queasily),

Listening to the drum of a red-bellied woodpecker,

Watching for the upside down nuthatch,

Absorbing the soothing green canopy and cooling breeze.

 

I don’t feel much better, but perspective helps.

Maybe patience is the lesson nature is teaching me today.

From my chair, I can see tulip-tree flowers, high in the canopy,

Sighing, I know that it’s a lesson I won’t remember long.

 

The shifting sun aims its rays on my face,

My head can’t take the blinding brightness, so I head back inside;

Pausing to scan a nearby sweet gum for the cardinal I just heard calling,

Accepting, reluctantly, the gift of stillness, and the healing pace of nature.

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Ocean of Stars

I want to lose myself in the night sky,
Shiver in the November air,
Lie by the sea among grains of sand.
I want to feel dwarfed by the universe
Tiny, and inconsequential.

Perhaps then my cares, too, will seem small
Fear drifting away with the outgoing tide
My heart growing lighter
So I might twinkle again,
Just one of a billion stars above my head.