My Run with Scott Menzies

“We are going to run this together from start to finish for Meg.”  This what Scott and I said to each other, sealed with a fist bump, as we lined up back in the pack of the November 15, 2014 Richmond Marathon.  I didn’t know how literal this would be.

We met at the start line about :45 minutes earlier. It was a cold crisp morning in downtown Richmond as Lynette Buffington Adams and I make our way to the start line to meet everyone. We immediately saw Scott and Meg’s mom, Pamela. We then saw Robert Keith Cartwright and Brooke Roney. But Scott in particular caught my attention. He had on a bright blue “I Run for Meg” sweatshirt with hoodie pulled up over his winter cap, gloves, and winter tights under his shorts. He also had a little green scarf. I MAY have asked if we were going for a run or a winter expedition and complimented him on his little green scarf. “Shhhh … it’s my daughter’s. Had to grab it on the way out. I don’t like the cold, ” he said with a smile. We laughed.

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With a very bundled-up Scott Menzies and Keith Cartwright at the start of the 2014 Richmond Marathon.

Everyone else had plenty of layers on too. I had a jacket, Brooke, Pamela and Lynette had long sleeve shirts and Kelly Clark was draped a superhero sleeping bag. It’s smart to stay warm at the start and then discard the jacket, long sleeve shirt or sleeping bag, as you start. As the half marathon started, everyone shed their layers, exchanged hugs and took off for the start. The exception was Keith Cartwright, who was bound and determined to keep all of his, what looked to be about, 15 layers on. Well, the exception to the exception was Scott, who was also determined to start in his complete winter expedition outfit.

Scott and I started at the back, about nine minutes after the official start of the race.

Within a few minutes into the start, we saw Amanda Parrish who was doing her first marathon. It was great to see her – a perfect start of our race together. She took a quick photo of us then one more as Scott and I took off together. I love that she captured us taking off together – in a perfect stride for 4-3 photo 5-3

The miles flew by as we talked for about the first five miles. We covered topics ranging from where we both grew up and went to school to the beauty of the course to why he has not shed any of his winter outfit. I was warm looking at him. We were fast becoming friends as our pace held steady at 9:00 per mile – mile after mile.

I learned a lot about Scott. We continued to talk non-stop through 20 miles – touching on some deep subjects like his love and concern for his three small children and how much he still misses Meg everyday. But for most of our run we talked about how overwhelmed his family was by how many people – from all over the US – were there to run for Meg. The weekend turned out exactly how they has hoped, everyone running to celebrate Meg’s life and how she lived it.

I also learned how much he hates running hills. During one long stretch, he pointed out again and again how the gradual hill NEVER ENDS! For about three miles, he constantly  reminded me we were still going up. I’m an eternal optimist, but he even had me cursing this 1% grade which had become Mt. Everest!! We laughed.

At mile 13, I recall he commented we were in ‘No Man’s Land”. He clarified that since the Boston Marathon, he had not run more than 13 miles.  Now I was learning just how strong – and crazy – of a runner he was!

I learned Scott loves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches … a lot. In fact, he packed one in his sweatshirt and at every water stop he offered me a bite.  Every. Single. Water. Stop. he would pull that sandwich, secured tightly in a zip-lock baggie, out of his pocket and offer it up.  “Are you SURE?” he would ask with a giant smile on his face.  We laughed.stopstomake_1

I learned Scott really DOES NOT like to run in the cold. Evidence: He ran the ENTIRE RACE in his sweatshirt – the giant blue one I was waiting for him to discard by mile 3. Nope! He was the only one on the course that day to run in a sweatshirt. I counted. If there were a division for people running an entire marathon in a winter hat, sweatshirts, gloves and tights, Scott would be at the top of the platform. We laughed – until I realized the little green scarf was gone! Somewhere along the way, Scott has taken off the little green scarf! “She is going to look up at me with her beautiful blue eyes just like her mother’s and say, “Daddy, where is my scarf?””. We laughed at the thought of him in a panic after our marathon, racing at Target looking to replace it!

Between 2:45 and 3:00 into our run, we started talking about Keith Cartwright. We were thinking Keith should be finishing in this window.  He may be crawling, but we both KNEW he would be finishing. Keith was running his first half marathon and Scott gave him credit for encouraging him to “push the button” to sign up for the full marathon. Seemed like a reasonable idea at the time… (Keith did come in under 3:00 for his first half marathon we would later find out.)

I also learned just what an amazing and talented runner Meg was. She was competitive and loved to push herself including bouncing back stronger than ever after two ankle surgeries. Scott said he had to get her a knee scooter “because she was too fast for crutches.” “Everyone was on alert in the house as she cooked because of how fast she would wheel around the kitchen”. We laughed.

“This was a race she loved and definitely would have run”, he added. We paused.

Throughout the race we saw lots of “I Run for Meg” shirts, signs and banners. There were also lots of hugs and a photo with Bart Yasso. At mile 19 we took a photo with a Meg’s banner. Just ahead was a hill that lead over an highway. Scott said how much she loved hills and would attack them. We seemed to fly up it imagining how Meg would have run it. photo 4

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photo 1-1We crushed the hill and ran through beautiful neighborhoods that lead us back downtown. We didn’t talk much for the last few miles, but I would feel his strength as we ran side by side. We were both on pace for a sub 4:00 marathon until about mile 24. We began cramping. The next two miles would be a challenge. We alternated between walking and running. The cramps moved to the calves and it was tough to even walk by mile 25. Scott attributed it to the fact he did not hydrate at all. The day before he was at the Expo for most of the day meeting people and forgot to drink. We laughed about Brooke Roney, who toted a gallon of water around with her the entire day.  So there we were: Scott who’s longest run was 13 and  me, now really feeling the effects of the marathon I had run one week earlier.  As we hobbled around the last corner to the downhill finish, we said we were the worst examples of how to train for a marathon. But if you could average us out – PERFECT!!!

Our calves were burning and cramping, but I came up with a tip you will never find in Runner’s World. I suggested like we “run like ducks” downhill for the last 1/4 mile. By swinging our feet out and and landing a bit pigeon-toed with each stride, the pressure would be less on the calf and more on the quad which would take the pounding for the last downhill to the finish. Made perfect sense at the time and Scott thought is was BRILLIANT!! 🙂

indexWe were not going to quit. Not this day. So like two large ducks, (one still in a heavy  blue sweatshirt and winter cap) we took off and “ran”.  What a sight we must have been for the spectators who lined the course to the finish.

We saw Scott’s mom, his friend Sabrina with a Smiley Face sign and other Meg supporters as we made our way down the screaming downhill to the finish. A little further down on the right side, we saw Meg’s mom, Pamela, cheering loudly and waving as she saw us. He ran over and kissed her.

As Scott and I ran the last 1/4 mile down to the finish line, a girl ran up next to us and screamed in excitement, “Thank you both for running for Meg!! She is so inspiring!!”

“Do you know who this is?”, I asked her as I nodded over to Scott. After a short pause, I said, “Scott Menzies.”  “OH MY GOSH!” she yelled!!  I will never forget her expression and huge smile as the three us made our way the last few few hundred yards.

Scott and I finished as we started – together. Literally. Scott’s finish time: 4:03:12. My finish time: 4:03:12. (somehow he placed ahead of me, so next year is revenge!)

We had run it for Meg together – from the first strides to the last 1 photo 2








From start to finish, this weekend – and the race cradled within it – was an experience I will treasure forever.  My first stop in Richmond Thursday night directly from the airport was dinner with Robert Keith Cartwright and his wonderful family. My last stop before heading directly to the airport on Sunday was Meg’s Memorial with Scott and Pamela. I met them to drop off the shoes I had run in. This is where they needed to stay along with Meg’s bib. And I have already signed up for Richmond 2015. I hope thousands join Scott and I as we run it again next year. And celebrate Meg as we do.

I will be the one with an extra little green scarf and a stack of Uncrustables for Scott.






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POST RACE ADDENDUM:  The girl we met at the end was Sandra Toro Byrd. I asked her about the moments we shared at the end of the race and here is what she wrote me:photo 2-2

I didn’t know Meg, but we trained with the same training group here in Richmond! Sports backers MTT! I live in the same county and when Meg passed away it hit too close too home for me as well.. i was running for her today as well. The finish was Epic! I saw you both on and off thru the course and had no idea who you guys were until the finish when I saw your back with the “I Run for Meg” bib and it took everything out of me to speak!!! Meeting you and Scott was the highlight of my 15th Marathon! He is a very brave guy! I can’t imagine the sadness in his heart and still manages to keep running and smiling!!! I believe we were there to meet, I wanted to PR and I was right on goal until mile 23 and couldn’t keep up the pace!!! But I think it was because I was going to meet you both later!! This was fate and I will never forget it.”

Arizona Rock and Roll Marathon – The Race and Finish

As I write this on Sunday, February 22, 2012, it seems my Arizona Marathon one week ago today was an eternity ago. Two days at work were followed by five days traveling to and skiing in Banff, Canada. And as with last Sunday afternoon, I’m back on a long Delta flight eastward bound for Cincinnati.
Here are a few reflections from last week’s marathon.

So as not to burn a precious vacation day, I left Cincinnati after work on Friday at 8 pm. I arrived in Phoenix, rented a car and made my way to the Aloft Hotel in Tempe at midnight.  This translates to 3:00 am EST.  My plan to hike to Camelback for sunset Saturday am was tabled for a few more hours of sleep.  I woke up to my body’s natural alarm clock, had a big breakfast and worked on my blog. The Rock and Roll Expo at the Phoenix Convention Center Expo was fun…and expensive.  I managed to find more dry fit shirts that I “needed”.  Some women may have a vice with shoes, other’s may lay with purses. My friend Dan O’Keeffe has never met a travel bag that he doesn’t need. My vice is in the running genre… pretty much anything that has to do with running, and I somehow need it!  I lost track of how many visors I have,,, but managed to buy another one.   Thus I digress…..

After the expo I drove the entire Phoenix Marathon course.  I think it’s helpful doing this before a race so you can visualize running it and then it’s familiar the next day.  I loved the fact that two of the main streets on the course were Van Buren St and Missouri Ave – my home town and home state. As expected the course was flat. Very flat – with exception of two rolling inclines on Van Buren St.

Late Sat afternoon I had the opportunity to meet Marita Sallee and Craig Agneberg for coffee. I “met” them through Dan and we had become Facebook friends but had never actually met in person. They live in Cincinnati but start packin’ for Phoenix when the temps start pressing south of 30 degrees. They agreed to meet up for coffee at a Starbucks close to the hotel.

We had a great visit – like we had known each other forever. I love it when you meet someone new, like Marita and Craig, and there is an instant connection, good energy and the conversation just flows. They are an interesting couple and are as well read as they are well-traveled. I learned Marita had read 11 books last month, and shared that among my “2012 List of 12”  was to read 1 to 2 books!  My 11 books in 2011 didn’t exactly pan out and she had read that many in a month!!  I told her I did read three chapters of “Born to Run” on the flight to Phoenix. (I was so proud – and then even more pleased when I found it was one of the few books she had not read!). I start to explain the book and mentioned a remote tribe of Mexicans – likely the best long distance runners in the world – were central caricatures in the book though I could not remember the tribe’s name. But as the book pointed out, very few people had come across them.  “The Tarahumara?”,  Marita asked.  “YES!!”, I responded.  How did she know that!!? … I quickly found out It’s because Marita has traveled to Copper Canyon deep in the Sierra Madre’s canyons to stay with the Tarahumara years ago!!  For those of you who have read the book, likely have the same response as I did!!  Fascinating!  An hour and a half later, they had to leave due to dinner plans – thankfully,  or we may still be talking.  It’s good to have good people in your life, and I am grateful to have just added two more to mine.

My alarm went off at 5:05 am on Sunday.  I had laid everything I needed for the race out on Sat night. After a quick shower to wake up, I went downstairs and met some other runners in the hotel lobby. Four of us shared a cab from Tempe to Phoenix for the start of the marathon. We chatted the entire way and I had my breakfast of oatmeal, a bagel covered with peanut butter, a granola bar, and Gatorade while squished in the back seat of the cab.  Because of the small fortune I dropped on Rock and Roll clothes at the Expo, I was given a green Brooks sticker to be placed on my bib number.  That would get me into the Brooks VIP bathroom trailer on Sunday am. There are NEVER enough port-o-potties at race starts and the fact they were clean, heated with NO LINES helped justify my “investments” from the Expo.

I made my way to Corral #2 – the group who were expecting to finish in 3:30-3:35. I was optimistic that the rest and lots of cross-training I had done since my back-to-back marathons in early December would carry me through. My running during that time had been minimal so I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect. The temperatures were chilly but comfortable, it was still dark and music was blaring from loudspeakers on both sides of the start line.  All the runners were gathered in the corrals when there was an announcement just before 7:30 am that the race was to be delayed by 15 minutes which turned out to be 30 minutes.  The delay didn’t bother me. I sat down on the pavement and used the time to stretch, think about My Hero List and listen to my iPod. I was amused by my view of the variety of shoes, socks and legs that surrounded me – which were all in constant nervous movement – Crazy Feet everywhere!!







I wrote my “5 mile Marathon Method” Plan (credit Heather Lueke!) on my arm so I could calibrate accordingly through out the race. I wrote My Hero’s initials next to each five mile race so I would be sure to focus on them, This made it easier than trying to fumble with the paper, which I had safely and securely placed on the outside of my iPhone in my running belt to keep it dry.

The race finally started about 8 am after the singing of the “The Star Spangled Banner”. Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” was blasting as 3,863 marathoners crossed the start line.  The race was on!

I ran the first five miles for Parker, Lisa Zangara and her dad, Luciano.
Appropriate as this all started with Parker and the idea of dedicating specific races/runs to people came from Lisa. I had also learned the day before that Craig Agneberg lost his father to Leukemia so they were both also very present my mind. It was a very relaxed way to start the race with these special people in my mind and heart.

I ran the 5-10 mile race.Skip Svetanics and his mother JoAnn. She is facing her diagnosis of myeloproliferative disease (an early form of Leukemia) at 74.  I also ran for Matt Michel, who was a hero to everyone who knew him. These three people provided special inspiration as I ran this leg very relaxed and strong.

The 10-15 mile leg or the race was one of my strongest. I ran it for two people who lost a loved one in the previous week.  Jen Wright lost her father and Barb Hartman lost her brother. I have never lost an immediate family member so can only imagine the burden on them and their families and friends. I also ran this leg for Lane McKinney. He has a wife, Penny and 3 yr old daughter, Alayna.  Lane is a Wounded Warrior, having been on 5-6 deployments to Afghanistan and only returned due to an eventual diagnosis of a brain tumor. He has battled through 10 of 12 chemo treatments and is truly an inspiration.  This was the perfect leg to run for each of them. At mile 10 along Camelback Ave I could see Camelback directly in front of me. This massive and strong mountain was a magnificent sight bearing up boldly in the flat desert. The mountain was in my sight for the entire five miles.  At mile 12 I was directly at its base and by mile 15 it had moved behind me. Throughout, I could only think of it’s strength, strong foundation and beauty and how Jen, Barb, Lane and their families were also reflecting these similar attributes.

I transitioned from drawing strength in miles 10-15 to a relaxed peacefulness for miles 15-20. I tapped the mile 15 timer showing 2:01:35 (one minute ahead of The Plan), as I smiled and glanced back at Camelback. This was my transition to the next leg for my Uncle Bill Holmes and neighbor Larry Gard, two amazing men who battled their blood cancer disease with dignity and grace. This was to be the portion of the race I would focus on relaxing and gratitude. This was also an out and back portion of the race. We would see the race leaders approaching their mile 19 as we passed our mile marker 14-15 (see map above). It’s always fun to see the elite runners fly by with such ease and relaxed stride…making it look so easy.  I was reassured that there would be others in my position seeing me pass by as I approached my mile 19. I also noticed one of the runners miles ahead of me was bouncing a basketball while running!! “Basketball Guy“, I referred to him with a smile! How cool .. and hard!! I had never seen that before!! As we hit the turn around in Scottsdale at mile 17 I still felt really good, calm and relaxed, thanks to Uncle Bill and Larry.

Miles 20-25 were for Niki Gordon and Carrie Vittetoe, two young sisters, ages 27 and 23 both diagnosed with Leukemia. Having just graduated from their treatments, they and Tiffany Gossett, a young mother in southern Missouri, are fighting to put the diagnosis behind them and move on with life! These were my FIGHTERS and I drew from them deeply for these tough five miles.

The last mile and two tenths was for Parker and the toughest for me; there were two large hills I didn’t fully recognize when driving the course. Unlike hilly courses that allow your legs to rotate between muscle groups, a flat course just wreaks havoc on your quads. And mine were burning at this point.

Then with about a mile to go, I saw my target straight ahead of me….. There he was…the runner who was dribbling the basketball – Basketball Guy!  If took me forever to catch him but I finally did so in the last .2 mile. I passed him, but he countered with a surge of his own. Really!? The guy who was dribbling a basketball for over 3 hours and I were now in our own race.  Too tired to say anything funny or witty to him, I let him go out just a bit before reeling him right back in. I had run this far and COULD NOT let him beat me to the finish. How funny for my finish photo to be behind Basketball Guy! I then thought how funny – and uncool – it would be to just flick the basketball away, but decided to do it the old fashioned way …and just try to out run him. I waited for the next little hill and passed him again. This time he didn’t respond to the move. It can be tough mentally when a pack of runners pass you – especially if its a large pace group. I could only imagine how tough it would have been when a guy dribbling a basketball blows by…  🙂 Fortunately I was able to pick him off this day and Finish Strong – though it took the entire race to catch him!!!

I was really pleased with the finish and credit My Heroes as a big part of it.  I finished, collected my medal, high-fived the guys I has sprinted the last tenth of a mile with and had a few photos taken with My Hero List. I then spotted the most beautiful mirage in the distance… a giant pallet of ice. Without hesitation, and the precision of a magnet, I was drawn zombie-like to this most wonderful sight!  It was not a mirage after all, it was REAL. So I jumped up on it … HEAVEN!!



I later realized that the ice was probably intended to be used for something more than a chair.. I suppose the caption for it should be something like – “I REALLY hope you were not expecting any ice in you post-race Gatorade!”….

I made my way out of the finish corrals and into the area where volunteers give the runners drinks and food. I continued to walk through collecting a Gatorade, two fruit cups, a bagel, a banana and some frozen yogurt. I continued moving out of the race area and on to my hotel about a 1/2 mile away. My next race was on: get back to the airport for a 2:30 flight. I had eaten everything by the time I returned to the hotel.  After a quick shower and change of clothes, I was back in the rental car headed to the airport only pausing for an In and Out burger enroute.

It really was an incredible weekend not to be forgotten.  It was amusing with all the Crazy Feet and Basketball Guy among the the sights.  It was emotional running for so many special people and getting chills every time someone shouted out, “Go PARKER, you can do it!” as I ran by. Throughout the race I also remembered the trailer I had seen on Saturday. It’s message: Run Happy.

That I did. And I ran inspired. And I managed to run another PR of 3:31:51!

Race Day Plan and Inspiration

I am running solo this morning.
This race came together quickly. After getting a $50.00 discount from the Rock and Roll Marathon Group for the Arizona race, I managed to stumble upon a cheap airfare. I found a decent rate on a Tempe hotel and after a quick check at the Cincinnati extended weather forecast (Brrrrr…) , I booked everything – less than two weeks ago. Did I mention I really like spontaneity? So all this has come about quickly – many friends may not know I am even racing this weekend…

But I have a plan. And I have inspiration. From those, I will draw strength.

The plan comes from Heather Lueke, one of my best training partners and friends. She helped me with a strategy for running the St Louis Marathon that worked perfectly. I think for now we will call it Heather’s “Five Mile Marathon Method”. (ok, that name may not be so great, so I will remain open other other ideas….). She wrote it out on a menu from Behle Street Cafe, Covington KY during dinner a few weeks before the race.
She proposed breaking down the marathon into five mile segments or “races”. Each “race” has a specific time target to be based on a minutes/mile pace. We made sure the first two segments – start to 5 and 5-10 “races – were slow. .. almost uncomfortably so. One of the most common mistakes in running a marathon is going out too fast in a race. You pay for that mightily at mile 23. The plan results in a negative split , where you run the last 13.1 miles faster than the first 13.1. Mentally, it allows you to pass lots of “those people” in the last five miles or so who when out too fast. If you are too fast of too slow at each five mile marker, you can adjust, but the key is to nail each one. I put it to use in the St Louis Marathon and ran a “modern day” personal record (PR) of 3:35:40.
Below is the original back of a menu she used to write out the plan. You will see 3:35 projected finish on the bottom right. 🙂 I didn’t have a calculator so went “old school” with math on the front of the menu. I am contemplating putting all this into a spreadsheet, securing a copyright on a better name, launching it in a book and making my first million… (don’t tell Heather)!

The inspiration came from Lisa Zangara, who I met only through Facebook when Mary Kallio Brady (fellow Smucker’s employee and Rockstar in her own regard), chose to share a blog post about Parker. Lisa “connected” with Parker and his story. She had lost her father to Leukemia. She shared that she always dedicated her races to her father. I decided to do the same. Starting with the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot and four marathons after that, each was run with Parker and a few others in my mind the entire time. (More on Lisa and how I “ran” with the idea in blog post: The Power of One and the Power of Many).

Skip Svetanics, another friend I only met through this process, ran the St. Louis Marathon and dedicated each mile to someone special in his life. He has an amazing story and had provided me with inspiration by sharing his mother’s battle with Leukemia. He has drawn some compelling similarities of his mother, JoAnn, 74 and with that of Parker as they take on Leukemia together. Through them, it’s apparent Leukemia does not discriminate. See Skip’s story and his own 52.4 mile race here. Did he finish his? Chick here to find out!

So for Phoenix I will combine ideas from Heather, Lisa and Skip – I will dedicate each of the five 5 mile segments that make up the marathon to two-three people. Here is where my mind and heart will be during my four hour race Sunday morning:

Miles Start to 5
Lisa Zangara runs for her dad, Luciano. As noted above, She runs to keep him and their relationship with her. As a result I will likely never run the same again. I think its appropriate that I will run for Lisa and her dad, Luciano and in my mind and heart to start the race. I will also be running for Parker. This entire project started with him in October. Its gone from “52.4 in 48” to The Flat Parker Project. He is also starting his most difficult year of chemo treatments. So equally fitting, I will be running for Parker in the in the first five miles of Phoenix.

Miles 5-10

After Parker, the first person I dedicated my runs and races to was Skip’s mother JoAnn. She is facing her diagnosis of myeloproliferative disease (an early form of Leukemia) at 74 with the same fight and determination as Parker is at five. Matt Michel, is a hero to everyone who knew him. His sister, Beth Michel Cirami continues to champion his passions through motorcycle fundraisers since he passed just over two years ago.

Miles 10-15.
Most of the people I will be running for tomorrow have been impacted by Leukemia, but

Lane McKinney and daughter

not all. Skip asked that I keep Lane McKinney in my thoughts. He has a wife, Penny and 3 yr old daughter, Alayna. He is an Army Ranger and Green Beret. Went to Afghanistan for about 5-6 deployments before he was forced to return home due to unexplained seizures. He had a brain tumor. After undergoing brain surgery to remove some of the tumor, he has completed ten of twelve chemo treatments. My thoughts, prayers and gratitude for what he has done to serve our country are on my mind now and will be during miles 10-15 tomorrow.

Two other people I know lost close loved ones this week. Barb Hartman, is an  amazing person who I have known for over 10 years while at P&G. She was always an informal mentor and avid supporter of me (and many others). I have always loved that about her. This week she lost her brother Michael Lee Steinber, 54. She and her family are headed to his funeral today.
I have only met Jen Wright once while at church last Sunday. She moved in with a friend, Caroline Keating to do PT work at U of Cincinnati for a few months. Caroline called and said that Jen’s father, suddenly passed away last night. Thankfully Jen had flown down and was able to spend some time with him before he passed. My thoughts and prayers are with Barb, Jen and their families.

My Uncle Bill
Niki Gordon

Miles 15-20
This is the point of he race where I will need to just relax, remain calm and be positive. My Uncle Bill Holmes and neighbor Larry Gard will help insure I do just that. They battled their leukemia-related diseases with grace and courage. I am amazed by how much they had in common. Both men had this amazing quiet, calm strength about them. And they both had smiles that would light a room up. Neither knew what a stranger was – someone they didn’t know as more of a potential “friend to be”. They attracted people to them. My family and the Gards take solace to have had such good men like Bill and Larry in our lives.

Miles 20-25
This five mile “race” will be dedicated to my fighters!!! Lauren Marsh is a friend who lives in Cincinnati. I distinctly remember her telling me of some close family friends; two incredible sisters and an amazing family. The girls, both in their 20s, were diagnosed with Leukemia. Niki Gordon is 27 and her younger sister, Carrie, 23 years old, was just cleared to start student teaching. This week a student raised his had and asked,” Miss Carrie, Why do you have boy hair?”. Having not yet shared the news of her cancer with

Carrie Vittetoe

the young students, she just told them that her hair used to be really, really long and last year she just decided to cut it alllll off, but now she is letting it all start to grow back and they will see it get longer every day.  Such an innocent question and such wonderful response.

The pictures are from the day Niki and Carrie graduated from their chemo/radiation! As Lauren said, “Faith, family and friends are getting them through this difficult time.”

Tiffany Gossett

Tiffany Gossett is a young mother from my hometown and also battling leukemia. She celebrated an early Christmas gift on Dec 7 with a negative PET Test (cancer screening)!!! By far, the best present anyone could wish for.





For those counting there is an additional 1.2 miles left after mile 25. This will be all Parker! Enough said!Tonight I had coffee with Marita Sallee and Craig Agneberg, another set of “friends” only through Facebook introduced to me by my friend, Dan O’Keeffe. It was fun to meet in person. They are one of the most amazing couples I know and the conversation flowed like we had known each other for years. As we talked about my race and dedicating miles for friends impacted by leukemia, Craig paused and shared that he lost his father to leukemia. I just couldn’t believe it … this awful disease touches so many people! It goes without saying Craig and his father will be in my thoughts tomorrow!

These are just a few of the people I have met and been inspired by through this process.
Hopefully sharing stories and running for others brings us all a bit closer together. Clearly none of us are facing our struggles and challenges alone. We are all in this big race together!!

…including the Rock and Roll Marathon this morning. I may be running solo, but will hardly be alone!

So thank you to everyone for the support and My Heroes for allowing me to run with and for them tomorrow am! I will FINISH STRONG!

Confidence and Doubt in the Desert

I am writing this from a cruising altitude of 34,000ft aboard a westward bound Delta jet. I am excited to leave Cincinnati just as the temperatures start dipping into the high teens and grey skies start filling with a dizzying maze of snow flurries. I am trading the bite of the first blast of winter for the inviting mild and sunny “winter conditions” of Phoenix, AZ, albeit for only a few days.  Not to add insult to injury to my friends and family in the Midwest, but had to check and confirm the weather looks to be as perfect as predicted.

I am excited to see relatives and friends in Phoenix, climbing Camelback on Sat am and running the Arizona Rock and Roll Marathon on Sunday am. I’m excited to execute Heather Lueke’s “Five Mile Marathon Method” for the second time. It worked PERFECTLY in St. Louis in October. I am excited to run for ten amazing people, My Heroes.

I’m confident. But I am also nervous. Perhaps more nervous than any other marathon…including the back to back Death Valley and Las Vegas races on Dec 3rd and 4th. Am I really ready to race?

On one hand, I am confident, especially in my long run and my taper.

In training for marathons, effective long runs and smart tapering can translate into a successful race. Generally the longest run of the training (typically 16 weeks) is done about four weeks prior to the race. And that run is never the full 26.2 race mileage; it’s typically only 20-22 miles. From that point, you taper until race day – the runs get shorter, cross training is encouraged, you try to stay relaxed, eat smart and sleep well. You basically need for your body to fully recover before putting it through the 26.2 miles on race day.  I have yet to “master the taper”…I usually spend the 3-4 weeks prior to the race second guessing myself.  Did I really train hard enough? Am I taking in too many carbs or not enough? Am I stretching enough? Will those extra pieces of Dewey’s pepperoni pizza come back to haunt me?

I am confident with a “long run” of 52.4+ miles within 24 hours for Parker in early December. I have had six weeks of tapering.  I have been swimming, spinning (including this morning at 5:45am with “my crew” of Jill Dann, Alicia Baron, Tisha Way and Todd Lang) and practicing hot yoga. I have been on few runs, but not many.  I have eaten ok and slept well. So I feel confident.

However, that confidence is matched by an under-lying sense of doubt. I have really only run a few times and took almost two full weeks completely off over the holidays. How will my body and legs react? How will they feel at mile 12; at mile 20?  I sleep well but did I really get enough sleep?  Have I hydrated enough for for the hot, dry weather? And remember what happened in Nashville?? You cannot hide shortcuts and any weaknesses get exposed quickly in a marathon. So I feel nervous.

I have come to understand the confidence and nervousness will always be there – coexisting together for every race from a 5k or Marathon.

But I have learned an invaluable lesson through running for Parker.

My Confidence and My Nervousness – while there in the healthy form of “butterflies” – can be pushed into the background.  For when I run for others, two overriding emotions move to the forefront: Their Inspiration and Their Strength.

I suppose that is why I enjoy running and racing. It’s managing and harnessing the emotion as much and the physical demands. And knowing, despite the best planning, things will change physically and mentally come race day. It’s about making adjustments, It’s about being smart. It’s about listening to your body.

And it’s about being inspired by others. Its a subtle shift from my emotions being the focus to drawing on the emotion of others. It’s calming strength. On Sunday morning I will run for 10 of My Heroes. (I know you know one of them – certainly the smallest and if you saw yesterday’s Facebook photos, one who really likes bubbles on his head and the “Mini-Me” Flat version of himself).  Who are the rest? Check back in tomorrow. Some people you have gotten to know; others you will meet for the first time. But they will all inspire and provide strength.

I think I am ready to race.


The Flat Parker Project

As many of you know, Parker is an adventuresome soul who loves to explore and learn.  However, he is about to enter the most difficult year in his battle against Leukemia and he will not able to travel at all…outside the predictable trips to and from the clinic and hospital.
So we have created a substitute for him – Flat Parker!!








Flat Parker is 9.5” tall and 4.5” wide, weighs less than 3 ounces and will spend the next year traveling for Parker. Where he will go and how he will get there, no one knows – but we will all have the opportunity to find out and follow him together…

There will only be one Flat Parker. He will start with Parker in his home in Michigan. A photo will document the start of his travels. Mike and Erica will decide who to then give Flat Parker to next. That person will TAKE a photo of Flat Parker at a landmark, sign or identifiable location, POST them on Flat Parker’s Facebook site and PASS HIM on to someone else…and so it goes…for one year!! Then on 1/1/2013 we hope Flat Parker makes it back safely to Parker for a photo reunion back at their house. 🙂

To follow Flat Parker on his travel adventure, all you will have to do is “LIKE” him on Facebook.

  • The Project is an experiment in human nature –  Will people really try to help him travel across the US to each state? Who will he meet? Where will people take him?
  • The Project is also intended to be fun and a distraction for Parker as well as Mike, Erica and the family given the difficulties this year is likely to bring.
  • The Project will provide lessons in geography, but also across nature, culture, urban, rural areas – wherever people take Flat Parker will give us a chance to see and learn a little about each location and meet great people along the way.

** I will send Flat Parker to Parker this week.
** This week we will also launch the Flat Parker Facebook Page…so stay tuned – You will receive an opportunity to LIKE him! (Remember he is a five-year-old boy and likes to have lots of friends!!)

When I shared the idea with a few others in the planning stage, two people approached me with a pledge for every state that Flat Parker makes it to in one year!  We now have $5.00/state and $.50/state pledged…Flat Parker makes it to 50 states = $275.00 raised! LOVE IT! (This may also help those who get Flat Parker to keep him moving so we will create a Flat Parker State Tracker!!!)

So if you would like to continue to contribute or were not able with the “52.4 in 48” Adventure – this is your chance.. and you will have an entire year to save!!! (I’m betting 20 states!) Otherwise, sit back and just have fun tracking Flat Parker!!!

The “52.4 in 48” Adventure took on a life of its own thanks to the ideas and inspiration from SO MANY of you who chose to share the passion or shared their ideas.  Jeanette Tromley, who lives in Indiana and I have only met once, was the inspiration for Flat Parker. She reached out and sent me a message, thinking it would be fun for Parker and his family. Many of my friends helped with ideas to bring the Flat Parker Project to life! These ideas helped take the project to a whole new level – and an exciting sense of the unknown!! THANK YOU!

This will be a fun and exciting adventure!!! What better way to kick off 2012!!

Sushi & Ninjago

Madeleine with some of the sushi ingredients

Parker’s Dad again….  and this is going to be a Japanese themed blog…    First of all, I have to say, Tracey’s visit to Michigan was such a blast.  I’m sure you could all tell from the pictures, the kids had a wonderful time meeting Tracey and the day flew by…

As for me and Erica, we cannot thank YOU ALL enough on behalf of not only ourselves but also our whole family for such generosity…  We were truly speechless and we are SOOOOOOO thankful…

So today is New Years Eve and our two older children Madeleine and Harrison have been looking forward to it for quite some time…  Not so much because of tonight but because of what happened this afternoon.

19 Rolls 🙂

We made sushi!!!!!!  It is such a fun family time because it takes a couple hours to complete from start to finishing eating and Harrison and Madeleine simply LOVE the process. (Also, just to clarify, we don’t make the sushi with raw meat, we primarily make it with tempura shrimp, crab meat, chicken or veggie.)   Upon completion, we had made 19 rolls and lunch was AMAZING!!!

Lots of sushi!!!

Another quick topic I wanted to share was Parker’s gift from Tracey, the Ninjago Lego set. It was a great part of Tracey’s visit when Parker attempted to TEACH Tracey how to pronounce “Ninjago”.  Parker told Tracey, “Say it with me, NIN….  JA….. GO….”.  (The “Ja” part has a long A sound.)  Tracey had been pronouncing it as “Ninja Go” and Parker was cracking up since Tracey couldn’t “say it right”.  He has been playing with the set all day and is still playing with it right now on the front room floor.

Parker and his NINJAGO Lego set from Tracey

New years will be fun tonight.  Erica’s sister Amanda and her husband Bob will be coming over for a fun time with the kids.  It will be a nice way to bring in the new year as we reflect back on all the blessings we have as we enter 2012.

Thank YOU ALL for being part of our lives in 2011.

2012 is going to be a fun year… especially when Tracey announces the ‘Parker Project’ plans tomorrow.

My 2011 “List of 11” and a few Thoughts for 2012…

A Year in Review

I “only” managed to accomplish five items from my 2011 “List of 11”. Many friends had a hand in helping me create the list last year, so THANK YOU!!
At first glance, it may seem like an utter failure, but as a cup-half-full-kind-of-guy, I use statistics in baseball to better define “failure”.  If a batter gets a hit three of ten attempts, he hits a 300 average and is an All-Star; if he hits 350 he is all but guaranteed to win the batting title. So by my math, five out of 11 is a 450 average… and NOT SO BAD!!

Here is a quick rcap of the items on the list:

  • Complete Triathlon/Half Ironman – I had the best intentions to complete a triathlon or Half Ironman in 2011. I had targeted the Branson 70.3 race in September as it would be close to home. While I fell short, two friends did completed theirs: Joe O’Hern did a tri and Tom Iten did Branson.  I frankly chose running over the cross training required to complete an Ironman. I have done more spinning and swimming in the latter part of 2011 than ever before in my life, so perhaps they will make the list again in 2012?….
  • Turn Finances over to a Professional – DONE! In early 2011, I turned my portfolio over to UBS.  They did a complete financial overview, reviewed my goals and my short/long term plans are now set. If the measure on finances is how well you sleep at night with your investments choices or plan then I have never slept better!
  • Go off-Roading in a Jeep. Again NO EXCUSE. My friend Tim Burke inspired this one from last year. He has not one, but two Jeeps and I still didn’t manage to get to out and play in the mud. Perhaps 2012 will be the year!
  • Take a Yoga Class – This has been transformational for me. I credit yoga, specifically hot yoga at Moksha for allowing me to run better and injury free this year… especially considering four marathons in less than months.   While it will not be on the 2012 List of 12, you can bet I will continue my practice!
  • Scuba diving outside the US – Not! Dan Okeeffe and I did a scuba trip three years ago, and I am bound and determined to do another. I am waay overdue to head south and get it in with some beach time!
  • Take an Art Class –  I learned more this year and continue to get more efficient with programs like Photoshop, but didn’t take a formal class.
  • Stay in an Ice Hotel – Not even close! Lots of hotels stays during the year, but none made of ice!! I sooo want to do this though…..
  • Join a bowling League – Did I ever!!… Joe Wojciechowski, Jake Kloepfer, Tim Burke and I joined a league that went about two months longer than I thought it did when I spontaneously signed up!!!  The league started in January and continued through March!!!  It was a blast and we actually took second place (but I will not be bowling this  year)!!!
  • Visit one of the Seven New Wonders of the World – I actually have vacation planned to do visit Machu Picchu in September 2011. However, when some friends were not able to go we postponed the trip. It turned out for the best on all fronts as I put the vacation time to good use in Oct-Dec.
  • Read 11 Books – I bought three. I read one. Not good. I find it SO hard to find time to read. Even on long flights I find it hard to create the time to just read. Some people are so good at it. I am jealous of how they make it a priority. My 2012 List will likely have something about books on it! I am determined to read more!
  • Launch a Website/Consider a blog – I was able to do BOTH (so perhaps could count them as TWO!?). The blog actually came first – as the voice to share my race of completing back-to-back marathons and to share Parker’s Race against Leukemia. I had considered doing a blog for over a year, but was not sure of the subject matter… art, design, running? If it were not for Parker and my “52.4 Miles in 48 Hours” adventure, I would likely still be in the quagmire on what to blog about.  I was also able to start a website, to post my Holiday Cards. I had purchased the site over five years ago but has not done anything with it. I credit Tim Burke for helping bring both of these to life.
  • Run a Marathon in three new states – This was one of the bonus “items! In lieu of the Triathlons – I did run a marathon in three new states – four actually – in 2011. I have petitioned to get in the 50 States Club now that I have met the requirement of 10 States!  The four new states included South Dakota (Deadwood Trail), Nevada (ET Midnight Marathon), Missouri – home state was #10! (St. Louis Rock and Roll) and Indiana (Monumental Marathon).

Many people will be formulating lists and making New Year’s Resolutions for 2012. I like making lists, but I don’t view the items on them to just get “checked off” or items I HAVE to do. Rather, this is a list of intentions. It’s a list of things that are not necessarily comfortable for me. It’s a list of things I am fascinated by or curious about. It’s a list of things that will enable me to grow and learn. It’s a list of items that will be fun!

I also think of my “List of 11” as just a guide. You have to be present to other people and and aware of opportunities that come along your path. There were many things that came along mine in 2011 that were not necessarily on the list. The most impactful was a little five-year-old boy batting leukemia named Parker. He was not on the list. “Running for someone with Leukemia” was not on the list. “Raising money for a cause” was not on the list.

And through “52.Four Parker“, I was pushed to my limits mentally (learning to blog) and physically (running back-to-back marathons), met some amazing new friends through a common cause, helped make things a little better for a deserving family and finally, met and became buddies with the coolest five-year-old I know!!!!

Lastly, I learned a great deal in 2011 – much coming from ParkerIn short, was a pretty good year!!

As 2012 approaches, stay aware or the things that are destined to come along that give you a chance to grow and learn. Listen to your intuition and and lean on your faith. Look for creativity and leap to make connections between people. The new year will offer plenty of opportunities and choices for you to take and different forks in the road for you to travel. Take each of them on with passion and the zeal of a five-year-old taking on a brand new Ninjago Lego Set!  For this, I have seen first-hand and it’s a very good way to take on life…

Tomorrow I will share my 2012 “List of 12″… and I would not be more excited!

…and, as you may know by now, the “Parker Project” IS on the list!!


An Amazing Day Meeting Parker in Detroit

My head – and heart – are still spinning this morning after yesterday’s visit to Detroit. I will do my best to capture the emotion of the day in this blog, but fear words will not do it justice.  I hope the photos help tell the story….

The  morning started early at 4:30 am with my wake up call. It seemed surreal that TODAY would be the day I get to meet Parker and reunite with the Shantons.  I caught a shuttle bus at 5:30 am to the Delta terminal and sent Mike a text as I boarded my flight. After a few more quick messages, we were meeting outside baggage claim.  It was great to see Mike as we caught up on the short drive to Allen Park.  Next thing I knew, we were pulling up to his house.

Mike and I walked through the side door of the house. He got half way through the door when he stopped. I heard a little voice at the door requesting for “a password to enter, please!” Apparently the password was “Parker“, as that was sufficient for us to be allowed to enter the house. I heard little footsteps scamper away. I followed Mike around the corner, up a few stairs and into the kitchen.  Parker, dressed in his slightly-over sized, long sleeve white PARKER T-shirt and baggy black sweatpants, had retreated to the far side of the kitchen safely between his mom and the small dining room table. We saw each other in our Parker shirts and I immediately recognized the kind, brown eyes and beaming SMILE that had graced every photo I had seen. He then, without hesitation, bee-lined it over to me, leaned in and gave my leg a little hug. We were officially friends.

I then noticed a large hand-drawn banner with some little drawings on it.  It read “WELCOME TO MICHIGAN, TRACEY!” and was hanging from the archway in the kitchen. I was too overwhelmed to even ask about it, as I busted out my gift for Parker – The Ninjago Lego Set. It seemed to be as big as he was!

I then finally said “HI!” to Erica and Madeleine who were both standing quietly on the far side of the kitchen, giving Parker and I plenty of time and space to get acquainted.

Parker loved the Lego set and I told him I also had something for Harrison. He shadowed me over to the table as I started to empty my backpack to find Harrison’s Star Wars Battle of Naboo Lego set. As I placed my computer on the kitchen table, Parker shouted, “Yea, Harrison is getting a computer!” “No, no no…”, I tried to interject quickly as Harrison came running in!! We all laughed at one of “those moments”…of which there would be many throughout the day!

After hugs to Erica and Madeleine, I gave Madeleine her $25 iTunes gift card. We traded a fist bump and her smile validated that the card was as good for her as the Lego sets were for the boys. Mission accomplished! I connected with the kids. I also knew that while the gifts were nice, these were great kids who were genuinely excited to see me – with or without Lego sets and iTunes cards!

I also quickly realized I had met my match with Parker – as he too also likes to talk (We just have lots to say!).  He immediately took me by the hand and introduced me to every room in the house, including a small room he shares with Harrison and his bottom bunk bed overflowing with stuffed animals. Throughout the day we were constantly talking and sharing stories. He told me all about his recent trip the North Pole (whispering secretly to me it wasn’t REALLY the North Pole but it looked like it). A highlight: drinking a Coke on the airplane with mom (as they didn’t have any milk)!!  And, he questioned me on why he only has one muscle in the cartoon!

Flight to the North Pole and a Coke!

We discussed whether Catwoman was a superhero or villain and why he had three Robins and no Aquaman. He introduced me to “Pup“,  Henry the Dalmatian and “Babies” the blanket (all of whom were much smaller than I thought they would be from the pictures). He told me about “running” laps around the hospital and his recent “fun date” with Chloe. He said he liked my black Road ID band, but placed a preferred orange Leukemia band around my wrist, that has “Parkers’s Pals” inscribed in it!

He laughed (at me, not with me!) as he beat me for the third time in a row in a Mario Kart Wii racing game. We danced to Wii’s “Just Dance 3” and he showed me his chicken dance. Madeleine led the way through every dance, while Harrison, Mike, Parker and I just tried to maintain some sense of dignity as we tried to keep up to Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite”.  I shared pictures of the Death Valley and Las Vegas Marathons and he lit up when I gave him the medals from both races. (He liked them…”but they are not really toys…”, he whispered to me. True, Parker, very true!)

At noon Erica ordered Dolly’s Pizza (Parker’s favorite) for lunch. After a brief prayer by Parker, we dug into cheese and pepperoni pizza. After lunch we spent much of the afternoon staging a massive superhero vs villain epic battle, taking up the entire living room, which everyone seemed to be content that it had become more like Parker’s playroom.  Because the bedroom he shares with Harrison is really small and he still has trouble getting up and down the basement stairs, the living room is really the only place for him to play.

Slideshow of our day together (click photo to advance)

About 3:00 pm the kids retired downstairs to watch a movie which gave me some time with Mike and Erica.  We sat around the kitchen table and just talked. We talked about the blog, we talked about Erica’s difficult decision to stop working. They shared the trials of being parents, raising pre-teen kids and raising a five-year-old with a life-threatening disease. We talked about the joy in the small things, being so grateful for what you have and hoping others see that gift in their lives. We talked about how others have helped; from her sister, Amanda, who has helped throughout and just hosted a sleepover for Madeleine and her friends, to Mike’s parents, John and Linda, who drive from Virginia every other week to care for the kids while Parker is in the hospital, to the amazing community of friends that has expanded since the blog started and supported them with prayers, emails, notes, sharing the blog and contributions. It was an emotional conversation that moved to a few tears of joy as I handed them a card. They both took a collective deep breathe as Erica accepted it. I think they knew that the donation lay inside. Erica paused, smiled, then opened the card and read a short note I wrote inside. She handed the folded check to Mike to open. After they looked at it, Mike leaned back in his chair speechless, Erica wiped away a little tear. No words needed to be spoken. Their expressions said it all. They were overwhelmed! 🙂  In total, WE raised $8,600.00 dollars for Parker and the family.  Another $371.00 was donated to the Michigan Chapter of the Leukemia Society on behalf of Parker. I told them over 250 people donated. Pledges from $.50/mile to $7.00 /mile and flat donations from $10 to $262.00 and Parker T-Shirts for $20; no amount was too small. So THANK YOU – TO EACH AND EVERY PERSON FOR YOUR SUPPORT AND THOSE WHO MADE A DONATION. YOU made this possible. YOU helped make a difference beyond what you can ever imagine.

I am not sure if they were more overwhelmed by the amount donated or the sheer number of people who chose to donate. I think it was a little of both. We sealed the conversation and moment with a hug and then a laugh at how over-whelming it all was!!!  My day with Parker and specifically the hour and a half talking with Mike and Erica will be treasured forever.

We had used every minute of the day we could, but all too soon, it was time to leave for the airport.

The three kids were kind enough to pile into the minivan to escort me back to the airport. Erica has folded up the “WELCOME TO MICHIGAN ” banner for me to take home. As we drove to the airport I asked Parker to walk me through each of the detailed drawings on it.  After first prefacing that he had not helped with the letters, he said one drawing was of me standing in a castle (which my house apparently looks like to a five-year-old), one drawing was me and a female Easter Bunny, another was of his sister swimming, and above it, his brother was standing on a bridge between two trees. Finally there a big, oblong shape in the middle with a hat – apparently is was to be a snake, but as he acknowledged, “it just didn’t work out so good.”  “Sometimes my drawings don’t work out so good either”, I empathized, “but I totally could see it was a snake, which are hard to draw.” He nodded and grinned in total agreement. All the drawings made perfect sense to him, and as he explained each of them with such great detail and conviction, they made perfect sense to me as well!  (We artists just understand each other including our shared obscurity and randomness.)

Finishing Strong on the way to the Airport

The elaborate explanation of the banner and how it came to be, was broken a few times as we got closer to the airport and saw planes. Making sure no one missed a single one, he would shout, “WOW!”, “LOOK!” and “they are HUGE, like this big!!”, as he spread his arms out as far as he could!

At times it is easy to forget he has leukemia. He is energetic, creative, and has an incredible imagination. He loves to be in photos and smiles brilliantly on cue. He is hyper, funny, and random but he can also be very orderly, deliberate and can play with his superheros or Legos by himself for hours.

But then Leukemia has a way of creeping back in and showing itself…you can see it when he walks, the help he needs going up and down stairs, fragility of his little arms and legs and the constant reminder of the port in his chest.

The reality is that he is facing another three years of treatment. So while my 52.4 Mile race is over, his has just begun. It’s likely that Parker and the family are facing the most difficult year of treatment starting Jan 4.  Which is why I will continue to race with him and his family, raise money for him and his family and blog about him and his family.

And if you thought the “52.4 Miles in 48 Hours” Adventure was interesting, prepare to be blown away with what we have in store for Parker in 2012!!! Stay tuned for details on 1/1/12 and be prepared to LIKE what you see!!!  🙂