I am a marathoner.

I’ve struggled with putting words to my incredible marathon experience… That’s why it’s taken me so long to even think about this post; but here I go.

The day before the Philly Marathon, with "Rocky."
The day before the Philly Marathon, with “Rocky.”
The back of my marathon shirt...
The back of my marathon shirt…

Since I run so slowly, I am usually by myself out the course and alone with my thoughts. So it’s no surprise how much thinking time I had while running for 6+ hours. It’s like my “training life” flashed before my eyes. I was going to write a play-by-play / mile-by-mile rundown of my marathon run, but that could have easily turned into a novel!  Just know, those of you out there that have helped me on my journey – I reflected on every moment and every encounter I’ve had – literally. Often times, my reflections are exactly what got me through any rough patches.

One of my coaches (Jen) told me during training not to worry about the marathon day. She said the training and getting to the start were the hardest parts of doing a marathon. She’s right. The morning of the race, I was so nervous to get to the start. My nerves were raw, my stomach was weak – I couldn’t even eat. I forced myself to eat a banana and drink some Gatorade. I was so happy to be able to chat briefly with Coach Anthony and the head of the American Cancer Society endurance team, DetermiNation, about an hour before the start. Both gave me some last minute encouragement and words of wisdom. Thank you Jen, Thank you Anthony, Thank you Sarah!

At the start of the race, I went to turn my phone off after snapping a shot of the start and I noticed a text from my running-buddy, Liz. (Emotionally and mentally, she’s been invested as much as my coaches have by sharing her tips with me and emotional support.) I was so glad I saw her text, as I clung to it throughout the run. She said, “You got this. The first 10 is with your legs, the next 10 with your head and the last 6.2 is with your heart.”     

I am a marathoner!
I am a marathoner!

Philadelphia did a great job welcoming the NYC Marathoners! Just as I was running through the start, the end of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” was playing; sending me off on the final leg of my “quit smoking” journey. Thank you Liz, Thank you Philly!

I loved the crowd cheering, I loved the signs, and I loved the fact that at mile 5, I got to see my Coach Jen there cheering me on! She hopped on the course with me and gave me a quick pep talk. We chatted about the “middle” portion of the race and my fears, and she gave me a few more final words of encouragement before promising to meet me at the finish. Thank you Jen!

The first 13.1 miles were easy for me. In fact, I felt great until about mile 15. That’s when I began to doubt myself. I knew my longest run of 18 was approaching. I knew I was 4 weeks from my longest run, not 2 weeks as a perfect training calendar would have had it. The mental game really started there at mile 15. Fortunately, right at the split where the half-marathoners were finishing and the marathoners continued – I met a fellow New Yorker, Craig. The two of us really ran well together – sometimes in silence and other times helping talk each other out of rough patches. We did split up just before mile 17 for about a mile. It was at that time that I had hit the porta-potties and Craig needed to keep going. My muscles and body locked up from stopping and when I began to run again, I thought I would have to quit. I took my phone out, turned it on – and gave Liz a call. (Before the run, she told me to call her if I hit the wall.) I called Liz, practically sobbing. She calmed me down and got me through that rough patch and told me to put the pain out of my mind. I was reminded that the second 10 miles would be run from my mind; not my body. So, I kept going. Craig and I finally met up together just before mile 18 and then we began our countdown to 26. Every mile, I felt stronger and stronger… When I got to mile 20; I knew I would finish, I felt it in my heart. (Thank you Liz, Thank you Craig!)

By the time I got to mile 25, I felt as though I was already finished. My eyes welled up with happy tears. I called my mom to share them with her. Just after hanging up, I spotted my friend Autumn in a polar bear costume with Swedish Fish & her dog, Hilti. They ran with me until just about mile 26 when I ran into 2 of my coaches (Kate & Jen) who were ready to run me to the finish. I had an entourage! Just before the finish, they all broke away and I crossed on my own, with happy tears streaming down my face.

I saw this at the ING NYC Marathon Expo and thought, "I've been grossly misinformed."
I saw this at the ING NYC Marathon Expo and thought, “I’ve been grossly misinformed.”

Crossing the finish…

I recall seeing a sign when I visited the ING NYC Marathon Expo at the Jacob K. Javits convention center. The sign said, “26.2 Miles is just the start.” I remember thinking to myself, Nu-uh! I’ve been grossly misinformed! I was joking, but I also kind of knew what the sign was talking about. It wasn’t until I crossed the finish that I understood completely and felt it.

Liz & I after a 5-mile snowshoeing adventure.
Liz & I after a 5-mile snowshoeing adventure.

I felt vainglorious! I felt invincible! Crossing the finish line meant I did an amazing job helping fight cancer; but it also meant I have been victorious in fighting for my own life. I am no longer a smoker. I enjoy fitness. I have been transformed, like a butterfly.

At the Philly Marathon Expo, I met the co-chair for the Philly DetermiNation team, Roy Kardon. When he learned that this marathon would be my first, he urged me to look at myself in the mirror the morning of the race then again after the race. He said I would be looking at a new person. He was right, I am new.

I am already trying to figure out how to incorporate fitness into my life. I recently trekked all the way to Reno to visit my running buddy, Liz. We snowshoed and hiked in the mountains together. 2 years ago, I would have never dreamed of such a vacation where activity would be the focal point. I am grateful to all of my supporters, donors, friends, family members and coaches who have been a part of this change.

Words cannot express my gratitude. Thank you.

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Marathon: Take 2

Brooklyn DetermiNators held a “Doing it Anyway” Marathon in Prospect Park on 11/4/2012, raising over $10,000 for the Red Cross hurricane relief efforts.

Well, I am writing as a would-be marathoner for the 2nd time. While I understand the decision made to cancel the NYC Marathon; it didn’t change how heartbreaking it was for me after all the months of training and fundraising for the American Cancer Society. Knowing that I had a spot in the 2013 NYC Marathon was exciting, but at the same time I knew it meant another 6 months of heavy lifting in order to train properly. To be honest, a part of me was scared I wouldn’t do it, that something between now and then would prevent me from completing my marathon.  I was also feeling so low. The most heartbreaking part of the NYC Marathon was how the runners were treated before the race was cancelled and even after the race was cancelled. Runners who raised millions for charity had already been out helping and volunteering – yet the negative attention hit the runners hard. I, being one of them, was wounded by the bum rap.

It’s important to realize, that owning how I feel doesn’t mean I don’t respect the efforts as NYC recovers from Hurricane Sandy. Frankly, I hope the experience awakens NYC residents and that the same vigor for protecting and helping the homeless or suffering in New York continues.

Fortunately, I was overwhelmed and healed by the kind words from my supporters. Many reminded me that it is about the journey and that in their hearts, I was already a marathoner. When I ran on Sunday, November 4th, with my team in Prospect Park (having raised over $10,000 for the Red Cross as a part of the activity) – tears sprung to my eyes as supporters in the park said “Looking good, marathoner!” Even though everyone was encouraging me to “build my own marathon,” I didn’t feel it in my heart.

Shattered dreams were quickly reassembled thanks to the generosity of the Philly Marathon & the support of my American Cancer Society team, DetermiNation. Thanks to both, I have been offered the chance to officiate my training and fundraising efforts this Sunday, November 18th as a part of the Philly Marathon. I didn’t expect to be in Philly, but a warm welcome expects me anyway!

My grandparents, John & Ursula Grogan

So it’s important to know why I chose the American Cancer Society as my charity. During my childhood, one of the brightest spots in my life – hands down – was the time I spent with my grandparents, John and Ursula Grogan. My grandfather was a heavy smoker, like I was just 6 months ago, and died from lung cancer when I was just a pre-teen. After battling Hodgkin’s Lymphoma for 12 years, my grandmother died just 6 weeks after my grandfather passed. Losing them at such a young age impacted me beyond words can describe. It’s why this charity hits so close to home for me too, as a former smoker – I run the same risk my grandfather did of suffering lung cancer. Through my involvement with the American Cancer Society, I learned that so many of my friends and their families have been impacted by cancer as well. I want to make a difference in these lives. As a result, here is my final #FF Fundraising Friday plea: I would really love to hit my goal of $5,000 for the American Cancer Society. If you have a few dollars and wouldn’t mind tossing a little coin my way to help me celebrate this exciting weekend ahead – I would greatly appreciate it. Please visit my fundraising page here: http://bit.ly/xahndra. If you are interested in tracking me on race day, Philly Marathon has indicated they will have a tracker program that can be sent to your phone. The directions say to check the website on race day (click here). My bib number is #14794, and my corral assignment is 4-Gray.

Thanks again everyone for your support and encouragement over these last 6 months and especially these last 2 weeks.