Monday, November 22, 2010

What A Difference A Year Makes by Karen Cole

Karen Cole leaping for joy at the 2010 Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco.
Like many of you, I had received those aspirational Team in Training brochures in the mail – the ones with pictures of triumphant athletes, proudly wearing their race numbers affixed to their purple Team jerseys. I remember thumbing through them thinking: these people just ran and biked a very large number of miles, yet they still look glowing and fabulous. Could I bottle this in a face cream, I wondered? I always just stacked those brochures in a “I’ll-get-to-that-one-day” pile.

Then that “one day” came suddenly last year in September, and I went digging through my pile. This time I was driven by a promise I wanted to make to my oldest and dearest friend. Evie was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma just a few short weeks before her wedding last October. Talk about the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows. For Evie’s bridal shower, the plan was to not give her gifts that we purchased, but instead give meaningful expressions or tokens of friendship and love. Driven by fear and a sense of helplessness for what to do, I decided that my gift to Evie was doing a race in her honor and raising money for LLS.

As I sit here writing, it dawns on me that this week marks my one year involvement with TNT. I saved my “Welcome to Team In Training” email and I recently opened it and a smile came across my face. The person who opened that email exactly a year ago was, lets just say, a little frightened wondering how the heck she was going to fundraise and run more than…well, to her mailbox. I remember driving home from the information meeting thinking, what have I done?! But the email I received the next day confirmed I had indeed signed myself up for my first race, the ING half marathon on March 21, 2010. It was official and in bold letters, so it was true.

Opening that same email today, I feel a huge sense of accomplishment and pride. Little did I know, I would actually run WAY past my mailbox and exceed my fundraising goals. My Team in Training journey this year includes completing three half marathons, one marathon and mentoring a team of new participants. Whew! Evie has been my inspiration through it all, propelling me farther than I thought was even possible. She’s still battling lymphoma, so I keep going for her putting good TNT vibes into the universe.

As the winter TNT season is winding down, and the participants I’m helping to mentor are achieving their goals, it’s hard to believe I was in their exact running shoes just a year ago. I was with my mentees at the ZOOMA half marathon at Chateau Elan a few weekends ago, and it was so awesome to see the excitement of race day through their eyes and all the hard work pay off. While I know to a lot of veteran TNTers, one year maybe isn’t a lot, but it feels like I’ve been wearing purple forever!

Well, a year later I am still sort of wondering about that miracle face cream – but on second thought…nah, I don’t need it. I’m wearing my own post-race glow.

Karen Cole has been busy with Team In Training in 2010 having finished the Nike Women's Marathon with the TEAM back in October and even more recently having acted as mentor for the ZOOMA Atlanta Half Marathon TEAM. As she puts it, it's almost as if she's been wearing purple forever. Follow her blog at Thanks Karen for sharing and for being a part of Team In Training!

Friday, November 19, 2010

I Can't Believe I Can Call Myself a Marathoner by Jenny Li

Jenny Li (left) and Sherrie Dougherty celebrate after crossing the finish line during the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, October 17, 2010.
Photo: Laura Morton / Special to The Chronicle

As my breaths puff in and out of my tortured lungs, I think, "My legs are hurting; my shoulders are sore and this rain will not stop." But the people are cheering me on and I know, deep down that I will not give up. Because when I think back on the days I have trained for this moment—this fleeting, evanescent moment—I know that this was what I was meant to do, to finish this race strong.

To this day, I can’t believe I can call myself a marathoner—a title of less than one percent of the world's population can claim. Running the 26.2 miles of the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco, California transformed me inside and out in four hours and thirty-nine minutes.

During the summer when I first began training, I was skeptical about my chances of finishing the race. When I was younger, my parents had insisted that I take tennis and karate lessons. This experience seemed to dilute my natural passion for sports. However, as I undertook the marathon training, I found that passion being created and my drive to succeed being restored. Now, I understand the difference between having to do something you are supposed to do and simply doing something that you love. No matter how hard, how painful, and how incredibly impossible that sport is, you will always want to keep going when you love it—when your heart is there. In all, it took six hard months of training, incredible guts, strict endurance, and swollen feet for me to reach the starting line.

Still, despite all I had done to prepare, I found it difficult to outrun my own vicious doubts. By the 13th mile, my lungs burning and my feet as heavy as ingots of lead, I began to question myself. Can I really do this? Will I be able to run another 13 miles? Suddenly, an image appeared in my head. It was of my close friend, Doris. She was a girl I had met in China who had suffered from Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia in 2009. She was the key reason I had signed up for the race. When I found out about Doris’ illness, I had felt so helpless. This terrible disease was slowly killing my friend in China while I was in Georgia unable to even see her. So as I struggled to confront my doubts, I realized that my race, my pain, and even my fears were not about me. They were about a friend I love and millions of other cancer victims. It was about the lives that were saved with the money that was donated by generous hearts. And with that, my feet and legs began to feel better—muscles pumping, heart throbbing with emotion. Ironically at that moment, my friend had saved me.

They say that a marathon is divided in halves: the first twenty miles and the last 6.2. Thoughts of Doris had revived my flagging spirits, but in the final 6.2 miles my flagging body became an issue all on its own. All I could do was keep moving. These miles were a blur. There were people who were cheering but I could not hear them. The volunteers handed out water but I could not even drink. The scene was moving fast and I did not know where I was going. My leaden head tilted up and the finish line was 50 feet away... 25 feet away... 10 feet away. Swoosh. All of sudden, I could hear cheering, but my eyes were still a blur. I touched my cheek to wipe off the sweat, only to realize there were tears streaming down my face.

The first thing I felt was pain. When you stop running, your muscles immediately condense and the lactic acid fills the muscles. I felt the pain in my legs first when I started walking. But then, it became worse. I felt the pain in my shoulders and in my feet and in my arms and in my back. For the first time, I felt the cold. And I felt the rain.

But even then, this whole experience from beginning to end was worth every ache in my entire body, every tear that was shed, and every bead of sweat that coursed down my face. In this unique and solitary moment I felt truly alive, filled with a universal energy. I knew that these moments of unimaginable bliss was what I wanted to experience again, and that I could infuse each moment of my life with this depth and power.

There is a saying that goes something like “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breaths away.” At that split second when I crossed that finish line, I genuinely and wholeheartedly experienced what that quote truly means. In those seconds, I knew I could do anything. I knew I could take on the world. And I knew that I would succeed.

Jenny Li joined thousands of other Team In Training participants from around the country at the 2010 Nike Women's Marathon to complete her first marathon. A High School Senior, Jenny wrote and submitted the essay above with her college applications. Great job Jenny and good luck!

The photo above appeared on on October 18, 2010 and is credited to Laura Morton.