This weekend the NF Endurance Team hit the Long Beach Marathon and painted that course yellow! Paul and I got into town Friday and met up with my fellow Team Captain John Sullivan as well as CTF staff member Joe Gunn just in time to get our booth set up at the expo. My parents kept the kids most of the weekend, and the rest of us focused on staffing our expo booth and representing the NFET.
Saturday night we finally packed it in and headed to the team pasta dinner. We had a great turnout and everyone had a chance to share their NF stories. When it was my turn I was a bit verklempt. I usually talk about having lost 3 family members to NF2, all of the tumors and surgeries I have survived, my concern for the future of my son JT who has NF2, and wanting to stay alive to see both of my children grow up. This year as I stood up in front of the team I could see JT and Mica watching me expectantly. I wasn't sure what I should or shouldn't say in front of them. My mouth moved and a few things tumbled out, but I couldn't say what I was really thinking. That I have convinced myself that if I keep running I will somehow outrun NF2, but when it comes to my children it is harder to stay so positive. I cannot imagine JT actually having surgery, or Mica having another Mom in the 2nd half of her life as I have Tish. I couldn't say that I run because I don't know what else to do, and that deep inside I feel it will never be enough. That every time I set another goal I am really just building another distraction. That I am scared. That when I run with the NFET, just for a little while, I am not so afraid. I have hope.
We met so early the next morning it was still dark and crisp, but surprisingly comfortable outside. We had all bundled up, but once we met by the lagoon we shed our outer layers and the bright yellow singlets appeared. Cameras flashed, people stretched, I could barely keep up with all of my incoming texts trying to get everyone to the correct spot. The sun started to come up and our marathoners had to head to the start to begin their journeys. One of our marathoners is my friend Christy, her boyfriend Gabe has NF2 as well as several people in his family. Recently his sister was diagnosed with cancer in one of her NF2 tumors. It was a shock to everyone, and Christy shaved her head in support as Gabe's sister lost her hair. Christy was not a runner before hearing about the NFET, and most first time team members choose to walk a 5K (an accomplishment in itself!) Christy committed to running the full marathon for Gabe and his family, and we all hugged her tight before she jogged off to the starting line. A marathon is an individual effort, for all of the team camaraderie and support our marathoners had, when the horn went off they were on their own. Soon the half marathoners left as well, including our TC John who has NF1 and walks the entire way on his cane, shoulders back and head held high.
Soon only the 5k participants and support team were left on the field. We said our good byes and headed to the 5K starting line. Team Haley members Robert and Susi Cruz snapped pictures and warmed up. Valerie and Shaleyah are two of my closest girlfriends who came down to do the 5K just to support me! I had met my friend Diana through a local Mom's club, and she had left her babies at home to come run in yellow with us! When it came down to it, like everything else in my life, it was Paul and I left standing together. Nobody else sees me through things the way he does, or knows me better than I know myself. As the crowd started moving forward we shuffled next to each other, side by side in silent support. Right before the start line, which sets off a timing chip attached to each runner's shoe, my brand new Nike Sports Band decided to malfunction! I broke away and tried to fix it, but Paul was carried off in a sea of runners and I could only see spots of bright yellow floating away in the crowd. I shook out my legs, noted that my watch read 8:32, and stepped over the start line.
The route was dense with walkers blocking the path and runners darting side to side trying to break away from the pack. I breathed in through my nose and out through my mouth, my heart rate already high from the excitement and adrenaline. Soon I came up on Paul's right side, I slapped him on the back and kept on running! I glanced back a moment later and saw him melt behind me into the crowd. This was it! After months of training I was on the course, and needed to run a 5K in under 25mn! Self doubt nagged at the edges of my mind, I kept imagining if I did not reach my goal, having to go back and get sympathetic pats on the back, and remarks about it being about the effort. My entire life I have been mediocre at everything, I am not uniquely talented in any way. I may not win the race, but I was going to reach my goal! I wove in and out of the walkers' paths, eyes focused straight ahead looking for any room to squeeze a few steps further. The path wound around but I did not take in any of the sights, all that existed was the pounding of my feet on the pavement pushing off beneath me, and my heavy breathing rasping in and out. I saw the 1 mile marker sign and noted it had already been 10 minutes. I was crushed. I was 2 minutes behind in just the first mile! There was no way to make up that much time in 2.1 more miles without killing myself. Then I remembered this was not a training run! I only had 15 minutes left, and I was going to give those 15 minutes everything I had. There was no room for doubt or negativity, it was time to push beyond my limitations and fly! My balance wobbled a bit and I ignored the fear of falling as I threw myself forward and let my heels hit my backside. The course had doubled over and I could see the elite runners passing back the other way, already almost done. Before I knew it I could see the 2nd mile marker! I immediately knew the first mile marker had been measured incorrectly, and by my watch I was exactly on pace, running under 8 minutes a mile. I could not believe my short, skinny legged, full of tumors, hunch backed self was clipping 8 minute miles! My stomach heaved, I thanked God I hadn't had the audacity to eat anything before this race and swallowed down the bile. My lungs burned, each breath searing through my chest as I tried to suck in air. The crowd had thinned out, the masses were behind me and those around me looked like me, regular people who could run! We weren't elite, we would never get an endorsement or VIP status from race officials, but we were just as proud, worked just as hard, and this was our moment! I turned a corner and saw yellow! Beautiful, bright, neon yellow, shining like bursts of the sun along the course! 2 tiny little bursts could only be my babies! There were my parents cheering like crazy people and taking pictures! I threw them a smile as I ran by, not even slowing for a high five, the finish line was in my sights. I thought I was running my fastest, but dredged up my last reserves and ran full speed over the finish line! I glanced down and my watch read 8:57! Exactly 25 minutes! Had it been under or over 25? I couldn't calculate, the edges of my mind were foggy and I realized I was hyperventilating just a bit. I took my medal and turned around to wait for Paul. 3 minutes later my breathing had already returned to normal and Paul came bounding over the finish line into my arms! With our medals hanging proudly around our necks we headed out to cheer on the rest of our team. As soon as I could get away on my own to the official race booth I looked my time up online... 24:36! I startled an entire crowd of people when I gave a little yelp and jump, and ran back to find my family with a huge smile on my face. I did it!!
I got back on the 5K course and found Valerie had already finished. I cheered on the rest of the 5K team and headed back to collapse at our finish tent. I saw my other 2 girlfriends Adria and Eileen had found our tent and were waiting with hugs and goodies! I rested for just a minute before heading back for the marathon course. I may have crossed the finish line, but we still had runners out there battling the half and full marathons. The course was blocked off and fenced around in a really confusing way, but Mica and I were able to see John cross the finish from behind the chain link fence. We yelled and cheered for him as loud as we could. He had finished all 13.1 miles, and it was obvious it hurt, but he just kept going and never gave up! I grabbed Paul and JT, we all 4 headed down to a good spot by the finish to wait for Christy with her family. That is when we finally found Master Kim's family! JT's taekwondo instructor and his friend Chris had signed up to run for the NFET this year, but we had been unable to find them all day. Now, just in time, we had found them! Chris had already finished and was recovering. Master Kim hurt his knee on the course and was gutting it out. Soon he came along, trying to run in obvious pain with a look of complete determination on his face, he crossed over the finish line and immediately took all the weight off his knee. Even with an injury, he never gave up, he had finished a full marathon!
Now the only one left was Christy, and we all waited expectantly for her. Gabe kept peering around the corner, worry edging his face every time a person in yellow turned out not to be her. Then, we saw her, with a smile on her face and still running strong, Christy came up the final distance and we all cheered wildly for her. She crossed the finish, and I knew that our team efforts were a success this year in Long Beach!
After a lot of hugs and packing up, we all said our good byes. My kids were passed out in the back before we could even hit the freeway, and even though I was exhausted, it was the best kind of exhaustion I've ever felt. Next up... VEGAS!!