Thursday, May 1, 2014

Team in Training - Nike Women's Half Marathon - Race Re-Cap

I haven't been so good with blogging these days, but I have to write about my experience running for Team in Training.  Last weekend at the Nike Women's Half Marathon I ran as a TNT participant.  TNT is an organization that helps train athletes for endurance events while also helping them raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  I ran for TNT last year and had a phenomenal experience and really wanted to do it again this year.  I have to admit that I was hesitant because it required that I fund-raise $1,800 and I felt like I tapped out my networks last year when I ran it and had to raise the same amount.  I was worried I wouldn't reach my goal and would not be able to raise that much money again.

One of the TNT coordinators contacted me and asked if I would be interested in forming a community team and be their captain.  It involved recruiting other participants and mentoring them through the fundraising and training process.  TNT assigns coaches to help us train and each person has a TNT mentor, but I knew I would need to help with that as well.  Again, I was hesitant because I'm already very busy and didn't want to add more stress to my plate.  Jenny (TNT rep) assured me I'd have help along the way so I went for it.  I had a great time last year and figured it would be equally as good, if not better this time around.  My goal was to form a team of teachers from the county I teach in.  I got permission to email all the staff in the county and I held an interest meeting.  I also emailed the parents at my school and Team LCPS was formed.  My original goal was to get 5 other girls to join me.  I actually got 15 girls to join me and surprisingly won the TNT recruiting competition.  It was very happenstance and very cool.  Our team started with 15 ladies, but injuries and life happened and we ended with 10 team members.  Most of the members work with me at my school, but I had one of my student's parents, a teacher from another school, a friend from my running club and a TNT participant that wanted to be added to a team.  Team LCPS rocks!

Fundraising went very well this year.  Each team member had raise at least $1,800 individually and as a whole we had to hit at least $18,000.  I was very fortunate to hit my initial fundraising in January, before the training season officially kicked off.  I had some very generous friends.  It was awesome and also a HUGE relief because I was then able to focus my attention to my teammates and help them with their fundraising goals.  I continued to fund-raise, and was able to raise $3,085 for LLS!!  I am so thankful to all the many generous supporters through this process.  I remember in March one of the TNT reps asked me to encourage my team to push our team goal to $25,000.  I told her I wasn't even going to ask that.  Haha!  I knew a lot of the girls were overwhelmed just with the $1800 so I didn't want to ask them and cause more stress.  I am happy to report that as a team, we were able to raise $24,677!!

Every single one of my teammates raised more than the minimum goal for LLS and I know that together we made a difference.  Many blood cancer patients will benefit from our efforts and that makes me so happy.  In addition to our team, there were over 1,000 other ladies (and a few men) running Nike for TNT and as so far have raised $4.7 million dollars for LLS from that event alone.  It is incredible to be part of something that is making a difference.  We will be able to continue to fund-raise after the event so that number may continue to grow.

The pies :)

In case you're wondering what I did to raise money . . . Last season I used email.  This season I used Facebook a lot.  I messaged many friends and then posted about it frequently.  I also sent out some emails to a few close friends and just made it known I was fundraising.  I'm sure there were some people who may have been annoyed to see me post about it so much, but it's an important cause to me and I wanted to share it.  Some days I got nothing, some days I was able to receive a lot of donations.  I also helped organize my school's faculty vs. student basketball game.  That was definitely a little stressful, but it went very well.  All proceeds went toward our Team LCPS's fundraiser for LLS.  We were able to raise $1504 for that event and it was divided between the team.  It was fun.  One of the many things we did to raise money at the game was sell raffle tickets to students to pie some teachers in the face.  I took a pie in the face like a champ!  It was kind of gross, but a lot of fun.

This is a picture of me getting pied in the face

When you get a pie in the face you have to just go with it and have fun!
I am so very appreciative of all my donors.  I feel like a thank you isn't even enough to express my gratitude.  Not only have my generous donors helped me raise money for an amazing cause that I know makes a difference in the world, but they have given me more than money.  They have given me tremendous support and encouragement.  They put their faith in me.  They believed in me.  They made me see how good people really are.  On top of it all, through their donations, I was able to complete this journey for TNT.  I am a better person today because of this experience and all my donors were the stepping stones.  Thank you, thank you, thank you to all those who supported me on this journey!

Inspiration Dinner:
TNT provides a dinner the night before the race to connect with other TNT participants, celebrate the season, and hear from a few speakers.  I've attended two previous TNT dinners and always left feeling inspired and shed a few tears.  This dinner was no different.  After celebrating all the accomplishments with fundraising, we were privileged to hear from Elizabeth Stone.  I heard her speak earlier in the season at our honored team picnic.  She shared her story with us.  She was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 2012 at the age of 24.  She said it didn't fit into her life plan, but she wasn't worried.  People beat cancer all the time and she would beat it too.  She went through her treatments like a champ and went into remission.  Her remission was short-lived and she relapsed in February 2013.  She spent the next 8 months going through treatments and was cleared at the end of the year.  I heard her tell the same story back in February, but was happy to hear it again.  Although, this time was different.
Elizabeth and me after the dinner

While Elizabeth was speaking and telling her story she was very funny and it was obvious that she had a good perspective on life, despite her obstacles.  I am always amazed when people can face such hard trials in life, yet find ways to be grateful and enjoy their life.  It can be so hard to do that without major health scares or huge obstacles and here she was, finding ways to smile and be grateful.  Elizabeth found ways to entertain us while telling her story and I thought we were getting to a happy ending like we did in February.  I was wrong and she had more to share since the last time I heard her speak.  Elizabeth shared with us that she went in for her 6-month scan and found out that her Hodgkins has returned with a vengeance for a third time. Stupid cancer!!  As she continued to speak I just couldn't hold the tears back.  My heart reached out to hers and I was so grateful that I made the decision to join TNT again and raise money to fight Hodgkins and other blood cancers for people like Elizabeth Stone.  It reminded me why I was on this journey.

Elizabeth is an amazing woman.  She is 26 years old and has learned some valuable lessons.  After she told us that her cancer has returned for a 3rd time and the prognosis is not as good as it was the 1st time she found out, she still held on to hope, and she should!  One thing that she said that really stuck with me is, "Tomorrow I'll run this race and it will probably be my only TNT event, but you can do more." (I paraphrased a little because I forgot her exact wording).  She encouraged us to keep doing this and do something good to help others.  She said that before she was diagnosed she lived in her little "white, suburban, privileged bubble," and didn't do anything for others and she wished that she had done more. She didn't want us to live with that same regret.  She said to continue to work with TNT and LLS or pick another charity if we want.  She said we didn't even have to do charity work, we just have to do something that we can be proud of that helps others.  Don't always focus inward.  I truly do feel inspired by her words and will continue to help others in any way I can.  I'm sure I will participate with TNT again in some capacity as well as fund-raise for other charities.  It's very rewarding.  I love being able to meet people like Elizabeth who help remind me to be grateful for what I have.  I am very blessed in my life and can only hope to be as positive and grateful when things aren't going so well.  If you like to read more about Elizabeth's story, you read check out her blog.
Team LCPS ladies at the inspiration dinner

Race Day:
The Nike Women's half marathon was on Sunday, April 27th at 7:00am.  I love early race starts, especially on Sunday because it gives me time to run and still make it to church.  I stayed in the Washington Hilton hotel the night before the race with my running friend and TNT teammate, Stacey.  It was the host hotel for TNT participants and it was so convenient to be downtown.  I still had to wake up at 3:30am, but it was nice to be much closer to the start line.  I like getting up at least 1.5 hours before I need to meet anyone because it gives me time to eat and get ready and just sort of calm myself for the task ahead.  I planned to meet some girls in the lobby at 5:15am and be at the starting area to meet others from my team and a few friends at 6:00am.  The morning did not go according to plan and we were late to the meetup.  I was definitely bummed I didn't get to connect with a few friends before the start, but it was okay.  I still had plenty of time to get to my starting corral and have time to relax before the start of the race.  I do not like to be rushed before a race.  That is no fun!

Compared to last year, the race was more organized than last year.  Last year was the inaugural year for the event so there were some kinks and it was really nice to see the changes.  This year instead of basically starting all 15,000 runners at the same time, they did a wave start with a few corrals in each wave.  That helped clear a lot of congestion at the start of the race.  I remember weaving through people for at least half the race last year so it was so nice to just be able to start running this year.  I was in a slightly faster corral than where I should have been for my goal, but I was happy with my placement.  There was no weaving for me!

Half of my team at the hotel before the race:
(L to R) Kim, Emily, me, Nguyet & Stacey
This was not a goal race for me.  It was considered a training run, meaning I run at my long run pace in my training plan, which is slower than race pace.  Goal races I run faster than my training pace.  I did have a goal, which was to complete the race in 2:30 or less.  I secretly hoped to PR or come close to it, which would have been a 2:19, but it didn't take very long once I started to figure out that wasn't going to happen.  The Nike race was the 5th weekend in a row of me doing a race and my body was tired.  I did the Reston half marathon, Cherry Blossom 10-miler, MCM 17.75k (a hilly 11 miles) and the Salt Lake City half marathon in the 4 weeks leading up to this race so a PR was extremely unlikely.  I never planned to PR and wanted to run it and enjoy it.  Running for time is often very stressful and I didn't want that for this race, but it's still hard to fight the urge to beat your best time time.

One thing I decided to do different for this race was to run without my Garmin GPS watch.  I LOVE my Garmin, but I look at it way too much to check my pace and see how far I have left.  I just wanted to go and run so I could truly enjoy the experience.  It definitely made me anxious to ditch the watch at first, but it was also really nice to just run by feel.  I wanted to run under 2:30, but without my watch I didn't know if I could do it.  Thankfully, there were a few running timers at some of the mile markers.  I was sure to pay close attention to the time of the clock when I crossed the start line in case they did have clocks so I could do a time check during the course.  Although, doing math while running is never any easy thing for me :)  I didn't do a perfect job, but I was able to get a feel for how I was doing.
My race big with ribbons of all the people I was running for

It was a beautiful morning for running.  As soon as I started the race, I tried to run a nice, easy pace.  I wanted to start slow and get faster (negative splits).  Running faster at the end than I ran when I started is my favorite race strategy.  To me, it means I ran smart.  I had hoped to run around an 11:27 per mile pace at the start and gradually get faster.  When I hit the first mile I was right on track.  When I hit the 5k mark I had slowed down.  My pace at that point was 11:50ish per mile.  It was at that point I knew a PR was not going to happen.  I had to tell myself it was okay because this was not a goal race and I ran the last 4 weeks. Sometimes self talk is a very good thing.  I do it a lot when I run.  At that point I decided I wanted to run an easy pace because I knew my body couldn't handle pushing the pace anymore.  This is where the "running by feel" came in handy.  If I had my Garmin I probably would have been bummed out that my time wasn't better.  Not having a watch made me relax a lot more during the run so I really could just enjoy it.  I found my "happy" pace for the day, which was a pace that I felt like I could run for a while comfortably.

Kim and me at the finish line
In addition to changing the starting area this year, Nike also changed the course.  It was less hilly than last year (not that it was that hilly last year), which was nice.  It was a beautiful course and a beautiful day.  I loved seeing all the sea of women pushing toward their goals.  I had music in ears and was pretty much in my own head, but because I was relaxed and not worried about my own time, I was able to look around and enjoy the scenery and interact with the crowds more.  There were lots of husbands and boyfriends on the sidelines cheering on their girls.  It was so cute to see.  There were also a lot of TNT coaches along the course to provide encouragement and support.  I think that's one way TNT stands apart from running with other charities.  The fundraising minimum is much higher than other charities, but they provide a lot of support throughout the entire journey.  I'm sure other charities do as well, but I don't see other charities with coaches along the course helping their runners to the same extent as TNT.  If someone is new to endurance events, TNT is an awesome organization to work with.  I didn't join them for my first half marathon, but think I would have had a better experience in my first half marathon if I had been running with TNT :)

There were a couple of people in my running club that had come to cheer on their girlfriends at the race.  I was told they'd be around mile 7 and when I crossed mile 6 I was really looking forward to seeing them and getting a hug.  Although I was running an easy pace, I was tired.  It was more mental than anything and I was a little bummed because I didn't think I was going to break 2:30.  I really wanted a hug!  Haha!  Running turns me into a softie.  Normally I try to be a tough chick and brush stuff off, but I get very emotional when I run.  It's a good thing.  When I run I have moments of gratitude and clarity and it can make me teary eyed.  I feel important and strong and valued now that I run.  I didn't feel that way in my life before and it's one reason I cling to it so much.  It's made me a girl who is happy with who I am.  I do also have moments where I'll really be pushing myself and cry because it's hard, but the happy tears are more frequent.  (True story. Haha!).  Anyway, I was just having a mental roadblock during the race and wanted to see a familiar face for some encouragement.  Mile 7 came and went and I wasn't able to find my friends.  I just kept on going and knew the moment would pass.  It did.

The beautiful Tiffany's necklace we earned at the
finish line.  It's true runner bling and I absolutely love it!
The best, yet hardest part of the race was not having my watch.  It was very freeing and I liked it, but it was really hard to be in the dark the whole time.  I never knew my pace or how far I'd run or how far I had left to go.  Around mile 10.5 the 2:20 pace group came up behind me.  I knew they started after me so it scared me.  I knew I was slowing down and didn't want to wuss out in the end.  I went up to them and asked them what time the clock was at when they started and found out I started about 4ish minutes before them and they were on track for 2:18 or so.  I ran a 2:19 at Shamrock half marathon and knew they would be running my tempo pace (10:40/mile), which is a pace I knew I could do.  I decided to hang with them the last 2.5 miles.  It was a little tough to push it at the end, but I'm so grateful I did because I came into the finish line at 2:27:08!!  I was so proud of myself. It is not my fastest time ever, but it was a fairly easy pace and I was able to break 2:30!!  I have come a lot way.

Breaking 2:30 is a big deal to me because I was chasing that time last year and no matter how hard I pushed it, I could never quite get it.  It was amazing to come in under that time and do so at a comfortable pace.  It made all the hard work I've been doing in training worth it and it's so awesome to see how far I've come.  The trick is consistency and speed work.  I have a running coach and she's taken all the guess work out for me.  She creates training plans for me and clearly they are working.  My first half marathon time was 3:11:07 and it was rough.  It's not easy, but I've almost cut an hour from my half time.  I'm confident that I'll be running half marathons in less than 2 hours in the not so distant future...maybe even as soon as this time next year :)

At the finish line I was able to find Kim, one of my teammates, and we walked back to the TNT tent to meet up with the other girls who were finished.  It was really nice to have the tent to go back to and a place to wait comfortably for everyone.  Three of the girls on my team were finishing their first half marathon.  I was so excited to see them and so proud of them.  Once all of the girls were finished we took the metro to the hotel, packed up and went home.  It was a great day and I'm really happy that I made the decision to run this race for TNT.  It proved to be a phenomenal experience again.

From the beginning I was uncomfortable to recruit a team.  I didn't think anyone would want to join me and raise so much money.  On top of raising the money, they would have to run 13.1 miles!  I am still in awe that 9 other ladies made the decision to join me.  I hope they had a great time too.  There were a few moments of stress raising the money, but it wasn't too bad.  Also, I wanted to make sure everyone had a good experience so I was worried about that.  I think everyone had a pretty good experience so I feel it was a success.  I know I had an amazing experience yet again and finished the race a better girl than when I started.  It taught me that just because things are uncomfortable doesn't mean that's a good reason to avoid it.  We have to do hard things that take us out of our comfort zone!  After this journey I have even more things to be grateful for every day.  Even if I don't have all that I want, in this moment I have all that I need and that is something to be thankful for.  I love running and all the joy and meaning it has brought to my life.  I can only hope and pray that I will be able to run for many years to come.  

Emily, Denise, Kim and me after the race.  I'm so proud of these girls! 

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