If there ever comes a day when we can't be together, keep me in your heart, I'll stay there forever. Winnie the Pooh

Monday, February 20, 2012

Racing With My Heart On My Sleeve

When Chris signed me up for the Livestrong Austin Half-Marathon, I inwardly groaned. I had just committed to running the 3M half marathon on January 29th and the thought of running another half-mary 3 weeks later wasn't really this runner's idea of a good time. I felt like my body had been asking for a break. I pushed myself especially hard on the 3M race, to the point that my whole body ached for a few days after. I never get sore after a 13.1 mile run, so I knew I gave it my all that day, when I woke up the next morning moving like a 90 year old lady. But all that pain was rewarded with a PR (personal record) and I was happy to float on that runner's high for a while.

So when Chris told me he signed us up for the Austin half, I wasn't too happy. I knew the hills were brutal. My new positive thinking is to not limit what I can do by saying it's impossible, but my practical side knew it was impossible to beat the PR I had just set 3 weeks earlier. My running coach said to expect to add 10 minutes to my 3M time. That's how much harder Austin is for runners. So why run the race? I wasn't sure. But I knew once the fee was paid, I was running it. And though I said I would "take it easy" on this one, I knew once the gun went off, I'd be running with all heart.

Sometimes I don't see the big picture. But when He turns on the light for me, it's the best A-HA moment ever. During the race I could clearly see why this race was chosen for me.

Chris and I were in the chute, nervously adjusting our music, bibs, shoelaces and just channeling the positive energy that is buzzing through runners getting ready to start a race. That's when I first noticed him. A few feet ahead of me there was a man with a mask around his neck. I noticed his arms, legs and head were completely hairless. It looked like he had gone through chemotherapy. His shirt said Cancer Survivor. As the runners started walking towards the start line, he adjusted his mask over his mouth and took deep breaths. Humbling.

When the gun went off, Chris and I gave each other a farewell kiss and hug. We'd see each other at the finish line. As I turned back to the front, that's when I noticed a group of women. Proudly wearing pink. On their backs were pictures of the loved ones they lost to Cancer. They were all smiling, laughing and their energy was contagious. Amazing.

After a few downhills, the pack I was in, headed up Congress. I say up because it's just about 3 miles of uphill. I noticed the man running directly in front of me. He had an Ironman tattoo on the back of his calf and he didn't let the hill slow him down. His shirt read, I beat Cancer. Inspiring.

If you ever want to know why someone runs, they may give you a list of reasons. This race reminded me of one of the reasons I run. For me. My health. My life. A year after Claire was born, I had a routine checkup with my doctor. A few weeks later I got a call. I remember hearing the words: Abnormal cells. It's probably nothing. Biopsy to rule out something. It shook me to my very core. I went back to the doctor who, with kind eyes, reassured me there could be a million reasons for abnormal test results. He never said it, but I knew there could only be one reason for what he wanted to rule out. That big, ugly C word. Cancer. I had a biopsy done. The doctor wanted to show me: See? It's nothing. But a few days later I got another call. Come in. That nothing was indeed something. I remember the doctor being much less light hearted this time. He sketched out a diagram that looked like a flowchart Stage 1. Stage 2. Stage 3. Stage 4. The last word he wrote was Cancer. He circled Stage 4. The words he spoke next will forever be ingrained in my head: You have stage 4 precancerous cells. We need to remove them. As soon as possible.

That memory replayed in my head as I barrelled through the toughest of the hills. I appreciated the pain I felt as I ran up those hills. It was a reminder: I'm alive. I'm healthy. The race I ran on Sunday was for me. For loved ones lost to Cancer. For those who beat Cancer. For those who are at this very moment, fighting Cancer. For those who are at risk of Cancer. It was a race of pure love. I prayed and thanked God during the race. Thank you for allowing me to run. Thank you for this wonderful gift. I went back every 4 months for 2 years to make sure my precancerous cells didn't come back. I thanked God for giving me good news 6 times in a row. Grateful. I prayed I will continue to be healthy. I prayed for the health of those running by my side. And I prayed for the hearts of those who lost loved ones.

I didn't beat my 3M time. And it didn't matter. I ran with pure heart and enjoyed every step. Grateful. Thankful. Humbled. Inspired.
For my Grandpa Vincent. A true example of endurance and strength.

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