Merry Christmas and The Wish List

It’s Christmas Day – a day in which many wishes and dreams have some true. This is a blog about wishes – some that have come true; others that will very soon…..

One of my Christmas wishes was to meet Parker – which will come true on Thursday, Dec 29th!  Last week I booked a flight from St. Louis, where I am spending part of my Christmas to Detroit where Parker and his family live. I will spend most of the day with them as I land at 9:15am and depart at 5:30. Parker’s dad, my cousin Mike, has vacation that day which will allow us to spend the day together. Mike and I agreed it would be best to do it now, prior to Parker’s next round of Chemo treatments that start on January 4th. (Details of Parker’s progress click here)

For Christmas, Parker wished for some Batman clothes, which he received and has spent the entire day in his Batman PJs!!! For Christmas, niece #1, Sydney, wished for a camera and niece #2, Kylie, wished for a trumpet. For better or worse, 🙂 both wishes came true! Sydney has been taking photos of everything in sight and Kylie is trumpeting “The Christmas March” as I type..for the third time (she knows two Christmas songs)!!!

 

In early November as part of the “52.4 in 48” project, I talked to Mike about the wishes (and needs) for Parker and his family. I felt it was important to understand everyone’s wishes .. including Parker’s older brother and sister, Harrison and Madeleine. As you can imagine coming up with a specific list of wishes is not easy to do, especially for Mike and Erica, who are both incredibly humble and don’t want to ask for much. Mike finally pulled everyone together for a family meeting, shared the project with them and asked everyone to come up with a few things they wished for.

Parker’s wishes are typical of any regular five-year-old! Harrison and Madeleine’s Wish List’s were mostly made up of ways to spend TIME with their mom, dad and friends. Mike and Erica shared items that would alleviate some stress and pressure, especially as Erica has stopped working to care for Parker as he battles Leukemia

This is a recap of their “Wish List”:

Parker-
– Lego Sets
– Nintendo DS Games (great for long days at the clinic)
– Trip to Disneyland or Legoland

Harrison-
– Time spent doing things with just Mom and Dad
– Time at a Lions Football game with just Dad
– Go to Zap Zone in Taylor, Michigan (Laser Tag party with his friends). Mike told me Harrison said, “Being with my friends helps me when I feel lonely”.

Madeleine-
– Time Clothing Shopping day out with just Mom (She likes Aeropostale & Justice)
– Go to a Tigers game with just Mom and Dad
– iTunes gift cards
– Have a manicure party with her friends

Erica and Mike–                                                                                                                 – Help financially with medical expenses for Parker
– Provide a cushion for unexpected expenses that arise from supporting a family with a single family income.
– Snow Removal – (something that “keeps Mike up at night” and would free up time and worry)
– Date night with Erica (they don’t have these much anymore due to finances and time)
Madeleine’s Summer Camp
Erica and sister go out for a day at a spa (Erica’s sister, Amanda, watched Harrison and Madeleine for weeks when Parker was initially diagnosed)
– Kids orthodontic braces

===========================================================

I have been AMAZED by (and totally appreciative of) everyone’s generosity and support for Parker and the Shanton’s. I am excited to match 1:1 the donations that were pledged/mile of my races. In addition to meeting Parker, Harrison and Madeleine, I will be presenting Mike and Erica with the final donation amount that WE ALL HAVE MADE POSSIBLE!!!  🙂

I just wish EVERYONE of you could be there with me!!!

It has been a very special day – an early morning unwrapping every present under the tree by 10:00 am, a light afternoon run (in shorts and short sleeved shirt nonetheless!) followed by an amazing dinner and pumpkin pie for desert. There’s a fire in the fireplace and The Grinch is on in the background. The two dogs are starting to slow down and the Outlaw Clan are all reading and relaxing. It’s been a perfect day…as Kylie plays yet another round of “Jingle Bells” on her new trumpet.

A very good Christmas indeed.

My First “Virtual” 10K Race

Yesterday was a great day. I booked a flight for next Thursday, Dec. 29th, to Detroit to meet Parker!!  I cannot wait and will blog more about it next week.  I also ran in my first “Virtual” Holiday 10K with over 250 people I don’t know and with one person I do know who Finished Strong with me today, completing 23 consecutive days of running and logging ~149 Miles!!

Ashley Rudolph Diamond and I worked together at P&G. She lives in NY now and is an accomplished blogger (Healthyhappierbear.com) and avid runner. She helped create the Virtual 10k.

As she said in her recent blog post, Home for the Holidays Virtual 10K:

“Now that 2011 is about to close and we are rushing home or to friends and families for the holidays, we wanted one last chance to enjoy that Runner’s High before we said our official goodbye to 2011.  I don’t know about you, but in our areas there were not many options for races this weekend.  People are BUSY!  It is Christmas and Hanukkah this week, so we get it.  That is why all the holiday races were previous weeks.  But we wanted MORE!!”  Plus, what better way to burn off some holiday stressors and a few of those extra cookies than kicking out a 10K with some of your closest friends and bloggers!!

After a few Twitter messages, she met some new friends and together created the “Home for the Holidays” Virtual 10k. Its a simple concept: instead of actually going to a designated area to an official race, you get to do it on your own time (within a certain deadline) and at your own place.  Ashley and her friends organized it all and all we had to do was just to run a 10K race and report back – tell them how it went, send in funny stories, pictures, whatever.  You can get friends to do it with you in person or just rock it on your treadmill. Whatever works, anything goes!  Holidays are stressful and crazy.  This is supposed to be fun, healthy, and enjoyable!!! As of yesterday over 250 people has “registered” to race sometime from Friday to Monday.

Megan Folkerth and I joined the virtual 10K and were among the first to race by meeting up this morning. Megan is fast, having set a Personal Record in the Indianapolis Marathon and qualified for Boston, and she is also crazy (in a good way). She joined a small group of runners doing the “Running Advent”. You start on December 1st and run every day until December 23rd.  You add 1 mile each day until you reach 12 miles on December 12th then work your way back down to 1 mile! When all is said and done, it works out to 144 miles in 23 days. Today was a big deal for her. This would be the last day and last mile of her month-long run!! See all the details here on her blog:  Tiararunning.blogspot.com

We took off from Awakenings Coffee Shop on Hyde Park Square and before we knew it, we had run one mile. Megan had completed her running Advent!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We “celebrated” her victory with a few photos and a high five, then continued our race.  The balance of the 5.2 miles went really fast – perhaps because we talked the entire time!!!! Before we knew it we were Finishing Strong for Parker in the last half mile.

As luck would have it, we ran into Santa Claus earlier at the coffee shop, and he invited us to sit on his sleigh and get some photos after our race outside the retail Hyde Park footwear shop, Head over Heels.

 

 

 

 

 

Megan and I had our Parker shirts and an extra for the Holiday tin man prop I brought from my house.  It was a perfect way to end our “Home for the Holidays 10k” and close out Megan’s Running Advent!

 

 

 

 

Tisha Way was going to join us but did not feel well in the morning. So in the spirit of our virtual race, this is where she would have been, virtually, if she has been with us! Even Santa missed you….Get well Tisha!!!

It will be fun to follow the other runners over the next three days on Ashley’s blog as they race their 10k.

I returned to Awakenings and met with a friend for coffee. I even ordered a few extra cookies, with not one bit of guilt!!  Happy Christmas Eve!!!

Road ID and Another Important Lesson Learned

“Expect the best, Prepare for the worst”.

Well, I experienced the worst first-hand and, unfortunately, was not prepared. After reading this, you will be!

In April, a group of us from Cincinnati traveled to Nashville to run in the Rock and Roll Marathon. Our group consisted of Dan O’Keeffe, Tammy Riddle, Mick Flynn, John and Sarah Koch, Tim Burke  and yours truly.  Ashley Davis, Katie Wetzel, Christine Mamone and their moms also made the trip. We were all looking forward to a great run and the party to follow in Nashville!

I had been in Phoenix for meetings the week leading up to the race, running lightly but in hot dry conditions. I had not slept great either – typical for being in a hotel for four days in a row. I  flew into Nashville Friday afternoon for the Sat am race.

I ran with Heather Lueke and although It was more humid  and hotter than expected, I felt fine until about mile 15. The water stops were positioned in an inconsistent manner – leaving about five miles at one point between stops. I thought I had been taking in enough liquids, but started to feel thirsty and a bit weak. Heather was strong and ran ahead. By mile 18 I felt chills but continued on, fighting through it, taking walk breaks and getting as much water into my system as possible. For those who have done distance running or any athletic sport requiring endurance, you know by the time you feel like you NEED water, it’s too late.  Your body is already compensating for the loss. Dehydration and the dramatic change in weather temps, altitude traveling, lack of sleep, contributed to what happened next as I pressed on.

I remember seeing the mile 23 marker, then nothing;  I had completely blacked out!  The next thing I could remember was sitting on a bench, surrounded by people putting bags of ice on me, trying to cool my body temperature.  I thought I had been hit by a car.  I was confused. I couldn’t remember where I was or what I had been doing.  I do remember moving my toes and fingers and being thankful I was not paralyzed, but mentally, I knew something was very, very wrong. My thoughts were racing, but I couldn’t put two words together.  After an ambulance ride to the Nashville General Hospital, I was admitted into the ER and immediately given the first of five bags of IV fluids. The nurses needed a contact number to let family/friends  know where I was. For two hours I couldn’t remember anyone’s last names much less phone numbers.  I couldn’t even remember the numbers “3617” in my address. I finally remembered Katie’s last name and the hotel we were in so the nurses were able to reach out to them, letting them know where I was.  At some point, a nurse explained that it was not a car accident but severe dehydration. I have never been more releived to know that I would bounce back and resigned myself to spend the night being monitored in the ICU as a precaution. There would be no live country music or post-race celebration for me!

I rested, recovered and have never been more grateful for the outcome being far less tragic than I had initially feared. In the week after the race, I chose to get a complete EKG and was happy to receive a clean bill of health!!

(Note I chose to share this story AFTER my back-to-back Marathons!!) YOU ARE WELCOME!!!  🙂

The point of sharing this story is that I was lucky and much of the concern could have been alleviated had I been better prepared. The best solutions: Listen to your body and get a Road ID.

If you are a runner, cyclist, triathlete or just a person who doesn’t sit on the couch all day, Road ID is for you. This awesome piece of gear that could save your life. In the event of an accident, if you can’t speak for yourself, your Road ID will. It’s available in six different styles. I saw Lisa Zangara had one on in a photo I posted of her in yesterday’s, See Who was Inspired by PARKER Today. Did you notice it?

One month after my Nashville disaster, I ran the Deadwood, South Dakota Trail Marathon.  I has VERY happy to have Tim Burke take this photo of me AFTER the race sitting ON the City of Deadwood Ambulance instead of riding IN it!!!A few lessons learned:

  • Listen to your body. I had all the signs that this was just not my race. It would have been fine to stop. There will always be another race, another day.
  • I have some pretty amazing friends! Everyone in our group came to the hospital to check on me and keep me company.
  • FIll out Emergency Information. In a race, the entry bib numbers have a space for emergency contacts on the back. It takes a minute to fill out… so “Just Do IT!”
  • Get a Road ID: It’s easy and inexpensive investment in peace of mind…for you and family and friends. Whether a marathon or just a fun run, bike ride, or any physical activity, this is a great way to be prepared.

The owners of Road ID have been gracious to also provide a special coupon code in Parker’s name just in time for Christmas!! Go to the website here Choose your ID, customize it, check out with your Promo ID: RID9407943PARKER  (Promo code good $1.00 off through January 1). THAT’S IT! You can find more information from Road ID on their website @ Road ID or “friend” them on Facebook @ www.facebook.com/RoadID.

May it be the best Christmas gift you or a loved one never have to use.

See who was Inspired by PARKER Today

Lisa Zangara continues to race …. and keep her word.  I blogged about Lisa in my post, Thanksgiving 10k – The Power of One and of Many. She dedicates every race to someone, mostly to her father who battled Leukemia and Lymphoma. In November after being introduced to Parker and his story through the blog, she dedicated her Thanksgiving race and the remaining races through December to him.

This morning she ran the Peachtree Corners Christmas 10K. When I saw her Facebook photo posing in her race outfit with Santa, I wasn’t surprised. Then I noticed her Parker T-shirt!  Then I noticed a photo with “PARKER” scrolled across her hand.

 

Then I remembered when she said she would run for Parker.  It was more than just words of encouragement and inspiration.

On November 12th, I first heard from Lisa with her following post: “Thanks for accepting my friend request. I was reading Mary’s post about your back-to-back Marathons. You are an inspiration..run fast and run hard for that little boy!:

No, Lisa, thank YOU for continuing to run fast and hard for that little boy!  You don’t just talk the talk, you run the run!!

————————————————————————————-

I met Laura Lindauer and her boyfriend Matt Kuether, both from Wisconsin. while at the Deadwood, ND Trail Marathon.earlier this year,  As with Lisa, Laura has been following Parker’s story. She bought a shirt to support Parker.   But it was Parker who supported her today.

As she wrote: “Just wanted to let you know I wore my Parker T-shirt to my first spin class! The class was kicking my butt and and at one point I put my head down and looked at my shirt, thought of Parker and was like, “Really Laura, you CAN go faster and FINISH STRONG”!”  And she did.

————————————————————————————–

Caroline Keating and I went to a spin class this am at 8:00 a full hour earlier than my regular class. So after a fun – and late – Friday night with friends dressed in their “Best” Ugliest Christmas Sweaters and very little sleep, I found myself glancing down at my Road ID throughout the ride – especially the last line. Caroline and I closed the class with a mad sprint – and ended with a quiet nod and smile that we had done it!

————————————————————————————–

Today was a good day for Parker and his treatments.  As Mike posted on Facebook, Parker had a ton of energy this am.  He wrestled with his stuffed animals (taking down both “Pup” AND Henry the dalmatian), then wanted to go for a “walk”. Mike posted the picture below with the following description “If you’re wondering why the pic is blurry, it’s because he was going so fast thru the hallways. We did six laps around the 6th floor today. He was way ahead me making sound effects like he was driving while I was trying to keep up behind him with his I V pole in tow.”

Whether running in Georgia, spinning in Wisconsin and Ohio or doing laps around a Michigan hospital, lots of great people FINISHED STRONG today.

Tomorrow’s Blog: A Scary Story and the BEST Christmas Gift you will hopefully never use nor need.

 

ANOTHER 52.4 Miles in the Books!

One week ago today I completed my “52.4 Miles in 48 hours”. Today another 52.4 Miles were completed, but they were not mine. Starting last Friday Skip Svetanics decided to run his own 52.4 Miles race but in 240 hours. Every day he ran 5.24 miles – for 10 consecutive days!

Some days he ran early in the morning; others at night or at lunch. Some days in the rain; some in freezing temps.  Some days he ran alone, others with friends. Sometimes the location was in Blue Ash, OH, sometimes in Newport, KY, and many times around his home in Loveland, OH.  Regardless, he ran exactly 5.24 miles every day.

Yesterday and today I ran with Skip.

You can get to know someone well through running – one of the many things I love about it.  During our runs, we talked about his mom JoAnn, battling a form of Leukemia, and Parker. We talked about my cousin, Mike, his wife, Erica and their other two children, Harrison and Madeleine. We talked about his family and mine. We talked about his new subdivision, trail running and our connections with Japan. We talked about the Bob Roncker’s Running Group. We even talked about why I talk so much when I run (…guilty!).  Skip would give me live updates of what song was playing on his iPod. (one ear bud in for the music; one open to hear me blab!)

Heading out on Skip’s last 5.24!

Today it was freezing cold as I drove out to Loveland and met him at 7:30 am for Peets coffee before our run (a habit I am bound and determined to help him break so seized the opportunity to load him up with Millstone coupons).

We ran from his subdivision to the Loveland Trail.  On the way, we ran down a big hill on Adams Rd. We stopped at the bottom and ran back up it for Parker. Half way up,  I understood why he called it “Redemption Hill”.  Completely out of breath, we jogged back down, turned right on the flat Loveland trail for about a mile and looped back.   Next thing I knew we were back to the bottom of The Hill!  This time we dedicated the run back up for JoAnn. We both blitzed up the hill.

This was only appropriate as he called his “52.4 in 240 Hours”, the “J&P Workout”,  for JoAnn, his mother and Parker.

 

But Skip runs for many people. In October, he ran his first marathon in St. Louis.  He dedicated each mile to a specific person who was important to him:  Mile 1 for his late father Milton, Mile 7 for his mom, JoAnn, Mile 11 for cousin Jen, Mile 18 for a friend’s father and Mile 26+2 for the Bob Roncker’s Running Group.

But I am glad that he also runs for his family and himself, perhaps the greatest gift of all.

You see, I discovered another thing about Skip on our runs. He has been in a lifelong battle with his weight. Just two years ago, Skip weighed 304 pounds. To date, he has lost 107 pounds, He credits many tools including lap band surgery, running, support from friends and family, but mostly his faith in God for giving him the tools. As he shared, ” Whether with weight loss, overcoming addictions, even through a tough run, (God gives us) tools at our disposal. It is our job to recognize and use them to achieve success. Then when we learn how to use the tools ourselves, we can help others.”

Nothing in the world is a miracle cure. It takes a change of mindset, a change of heart.  Skip keeps a photo in his car of him from years ago in NY to remind him of what he used to look and feel like. The photo is also next to a ceramic tile he designed. It has a road leading into a beautiful blue and red sky with clouds. In the center where a setting sun would be, he painted the Kanji characters: 継続 – (keizoku) -meaning “continue on/never quit”.

 

 

Skip Finishing Strong – 52.4 Miles in 240 Hours!!

 

I sprinted ahead so I could take a photo of Skip FINISHING STRONG as he hit the last tenth of a mile of his 52.4 mile race!!

 

 

After we finished, his wife, Ko, took some awesome photos of us with the P.A.R.K.E.R. GINORMOUS SMILEY FACE. We had both Finished Strong, smiling all the way!

FINISHING STRONG at the end of Skip’s 52.4 Mile “J&P” RUN (for JoAnn and Parker)

I then met their three children, Rita, Hal and little son Nico in his PJs, who was the first to greet us at the door. Like me, he had lots to say and chose an interesting mix of English and Japanese to have me completely confused. While there, he did add one important new word to his vocabulary, which he was clearly able to pronounce: “Parker.

We all said goodbye for now, and as I drove out of his subdivision, I remember him telling me that his dad always urged him to, “shine your light on the world.” He said if we can find a way to do that, we can affect change in the world.  We can then truly have an impact on others and others on us.

This sounds like LOVE to me. And I couldn’t help but smile as I approached the road sign in front of me. It read,  “Welcome to Loveland, (Ohio)”.

Skip says Parker and I inspire him. I say Skip inspires all of us.

 

Coming up later this week:

Parker update as he enters a new round of treatments, The Perfect Christmas Present from Road ID and The Best Videos EVER!

Crossroads Christmas and Angel Tree

This morning’s church service had a wonderful message, Christmas songs and it closed with a prayer and over 3,000 people holding candles that dimly lit the room as the band played.
It was also the last weekend to bring in the Angel Tree Gifts. Crossroad’s Angel Tree Program provides gifts for children whose parents are incarcerated.

Two weeks ago, as included in my blog, At Crossroads with Five Days Left, I had chosen an ornament from the tree for a boy Parker’s age, named Gregory. His wish: “jeans and a black or blue long sleeve shirt. Size 5”.

As I dropped off the wrapped gift before the service, I found out some great news. Gregory would ALSO be getting a “fun” gift to be paired with my “necessary” gift of clothes. I was SO RELIEVED as I had tried to find the coolest pair of “cargo” jeans and “kickin’ stylish” long sleeved shirts for the five-year-old set, but with no experience I was going into it a bit blind. I think he will enjoy both gifts, especially since they will both be from his dad.

And because of Crossroads, Gregory and over 5,400 children will be getting Christmas gifts next Saturday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming tonight: Another 52.4 Miles in the Books!

 

52.4 Miles in 240 Hours??

I have never met Skip Svetanics. But I feel like I know him well.

Skip also is a runner in the Bob Rockers Running group. We “met” two weeks ago via Facebook and through my blog after Caroline Keating, a friend and running partner, chose to share one of my  posts.  Skip read it.  And as I recall, he was about to go on an early 10 mile run and came across my “52.4 Miles in 48 Hours” race for Parker. I am humbled that he said it helped motivate him.

But he had a greater inspiration that morning; for his run would take him close to the very hospital where his mother, JoAnn lay in Room 815 battling myeloproliferatvie disease (an early form of Leukemia).

My Hero- JoAnn Svetanics
My Hero – Matt Michel

His mom was diagnosed with myelofibrosis in 2002 and doctors only gave her three years. Well, nine years later, she continues battle with the help of medicine, prayer and a very supportive family.  I asked if I could write her name down on a card and run with it during my races.

Skip agreed and asked that I also add one of his dear friends, Matt Michel. Matt lost his battle with AML but as his sister, Beth Michel Cirami, shared with me later, “know that the spirit of the marathon really is his so I am sure he loved to be with you on yours”. Matt’s battle lasted from diagnosis on 2/20/09 until he passed away 10/29/09. He is the hero of everyone who knew him, including Skip. He was now my inspiration as I wrote their names on a piece of paper for Skip and tucked it in my running belt.

My Heroes

There were many others in my thoughts as I prepared for my race Saturday morning, including survivor, Tiffany Gossett, whom I have not met, yet inspired me with a touching email after learning about Parker’s story. Close to my heart were my mom’s own brother and my Uncle, Bill Holmes and my wonderful neighbor of seven years, Larry Gard, both of whom had battled the disease with such dignity and grace. I watched “Parker Through Pictures” a few times and had all the inspiration I needed to start my first Marathon.

So I thought.

I received an email from Skip. He wished me luck and shared that he had started what he called his “J&P” workout – 10 consecutive days of 5.24 mile runs.  Mirroring my “52.4 miles in 48 hours”, Skip’s would be “52.4 Miles in 240 Hours”.  🙂

I read a little further and discovered what the “J&P” Workout stood for:  JoAnn and Parker.

I read on and below is what he shared that touched me more than I can put into words:

“You see, recently when I looked into my mother’s eyes in the hospital, I saw a similar look as what I’ve seen in Parker’s pictures. I saw bravery, happiness and hope. They are at the opposite ends of the spectrum (in age) but they have similar expressions. I see beauty in my mother becoming like a child and bravery in Parker dealing with such an adult concept of the sickness of Leukemia.”

Now you know the over-flowing emotion and motivation I had, as I comprised myself and walked out of Room 925 at 8:10 am to meet my small crew of other runners and two support vehicle drivers to run the cancelled Death Valley Marathon. It would be the first 26.2 of 52.4 miles and too many thoughts, images, stories and emotions to count.  I had all the motivation I would ever need.

Tomorrow morning I will meet Skip Svetanics in person. We are going to run 5.24 miles. We will then run 5.24 miles again on Sunday morning, finishing the last leg of his “52.4 Miles in 240 Hours” together!  Inspiration can come from many places and people. I am inspired by what Skip has taken on and honored to join him on these last two runs.

I am sure we will recognize each other.

We will both be wearing our white “PARKER” shirts.

Las Vegas Marathon – and the Finish

I expected the first-ever Las Vegas Night Marathon to be full of energy, costumes, and running Elvis’s.  I also expected it to be a party atmosphere with lots of twists and turns along the way.  I would not be disappointed. I just didn’t expect quite so many people!

I arrived at the start line about 10 minutes before the race. Most of the marathoners with their white number bibs were already in their corrals for the 4:00 pm start.  I slipped through the barrier into corral #2. As with any race, you would feel the nervous anticipation of the runners; some listening to music, some talking and laughing, some in silence doing some last minute stretching. There were a total eight corrals for the marathoners totaling 5,000 for the race.  The runners were placed in corrals based on projected finish time you place on the registration form. I looked behind me and saw my first running Elvis.

I was pleased to see an Elvis so soon. My friend, Tim Burke, bet me that for every Elvis I passed, he would donate $.25 to Parker. I felt it only fair to give him $.50 for every Elvis who passed me. Five minutes till the race was to start and the crowd of runners started to push forward.  The band at the start line stopped playing while someone sang “The Star Spangled Banner”. Minutes away and we would be off.  Had I trained well enough? Would I be able to Finish Strong?  Would the training run calf cramp come back and haunt me? Would the slight hamstring pull at the end of the St. Louis marathon return? Lots of thoughts and questions….

Then the countdown started: “5, 4, 3, 2…..1″… And we were off. I stood close to the barrier and let people run by.  I remember thinking it would be good to let some Elvis runners pass so I could pick them off later. (Each one worth $.25!!)
I was in no rush. It didn’t matter when I started, as this was a chip race. The chip tied to my shoe laces would register when I crossed the start line, mark my finish time and measure my progress at multiple times during the race.  I collected myself, tried to stay calm, breathe and think of Parker.

I noticed thousands of Half Marathoners starting to crowd around the barriers in their yellow bibs for their 5:30 pm start. I knew I would see many of them about two hours later as we would merge with them at mile 13. It was time. I started jogging with corral 5 and crossed over the electronic chip timer. It was on!!!

The first 3-4 miles were rough. I found I was working hard. Despite the massage and stretching two hours earlier, I was still tight. I had to adjust my running belt packed with four GU packets, a piece of paper, $20.00 bill and my iPhone. The first few miles of any race is difficult for me. It seems like it takes about 4-5 miles to settle in, and start hitting a pace.  I noticed lots of costumes: I was running with a devil, an angel, Captain America, an indian and five running Elvis’s – all of whom I passed.

By mile 5 it was getting dark. It was surreal at times running along dark streets lined with large flood lamps brought out to light the way.  It was very calm and the next 8 miles were perfect. At one point I ran by a band and heard the lead singer thanking everyone running for a cause. He, the female singer and the drummer were all in remission from their battles with cancer. I immediately thought of Parker and his battle.  I reached down and patted my race belt – written on a piece of paper in it, “My Heroes: Parker Shanton, JoAnn Svetanics and Matt Michel. FINISH STRONG!”.   You all know Parker, but likely don’t  know JoAnn and Matt. They are the mother and friend of Skip Svetanics, who lives in Cincinnati. I haven’t met Skip in person, but met him via Facebook after a friend, Caroline Keating, shared one of my posts.  He reached out to me as he was facing a 10 mile run that would take him around the hospital where his mother was battling Myelofibrosis. JoAnn, Matt and Parker had traveled with me though the Death Valley Marathon and were now about 14 miles from finishing at Las Vegas!

Supporters along the course were sporadic during the first half of the race and I recall how quiet it was. I had found my zone.  I was running comfortably, staying hydrated and taking GUs.  I ran past another seven running Elvis’s – all shapes, sizes and ethnicities – in the dark. I passed an Asian Elvis as I ran up a bridge.  I saw the Mandalay Bay Hotel just ahead. I moved comfortably down the bridge and through a long dark tunnel. So far it had been an incredible race, but I was minutes away from a huge shock.
As I came out of the tunnel at Mandalay Bay, I saw a HUGE sea of humanity moving slowly right to left in front of me. I couldn’t believe how many people there were – a number that would turn out to be 38,000!!!  I turned to the left, immediately forced to merge into the slow – moving mass of runners and walkers. The energy and fun I had anticipated was more like a rude and abrupt punch in the gut. I had to walk as there was no where to go. Momentum lost… physically and mentally. I lost the runners I had become familiar with for over 13 miles – the Army vet running with the American Flag, the girl with the blonde ponytail, the sisters doing their first night-time marathon and an older guy running with a headlamp. I didn’t know them but for over 1.5 hours we were all at the same pace and drew strength from each other. They had been absorbed into the mass. I wouldn’t see them again.  I tried to stay to the far left and run against the barrier.  Any openings were immediately shut down by walkers or slow runners. It was frustrating!!

Then someone yelled,  “GO PARKER!”. I got chills… it changed everything and brought me back to why I was there. Not for me, but for Parker, and Joann and Matt.
So I relaxed and took what the race gave me. I tried to be present to everything around me – the neon lights from the casinos, the music from the live bands, the cheering of the crowd.

I also knew there were four runners and a spectator in Parker shirts somewhere along the course. Suzanne Butz Adcook and Deborah Hill bought shirts for all their friends to run in during the race. While I didn’t see them, I knew they were with me!

As I ran past the Bellagio Hotel, there was a wedding ceremony in process.  Forty-one couples were married during the event.  I recall seeing a sign that read: “Run Faster, everyone’s watching you!!”  There WERE a lot of people watching and supporting the runners. Over 100,000 spectators lined the course, with most along The Strip.
The street was so crowded I ran on the sidewalks, and on the medians, jumping over the decorative  rocks and bushes. I would run wherever I could find an opening.  I tried to make a game of it,  like an obstacle race.
I heard more “GO PARKER”s!!
After leaving The Strip and going past the Stratosphere, we ran about four miles (miles 17-21) in an old commercial area of Las Vegas. There were constant twists and turns, and it seemed like every time we turned a corner, I would see the sea of runners a block away, sometimes headed to the left , other times to the right. I didn’t know if they were ahead of us or behind us. It was very confusing – like a giant snake making its way around one block after another.  I just kept running, taking wide turns on some blocks and cutting corners on others, all the while, thinking of Parker. I noticed some of the water stations were out of water, I just kept running.  I noticed after Mile 13 , the mileage signs and timing clocks no longer listed the marathon; but only the half marathon. As with Death Valley, I had no idea of the time I was running or how far.
We circled around and finally made our way back to the Stratosphere. I took a cool photo, “checked-in” via Facebook and called Mike and gave him an update…I was feeling fine and wanted see how Parker was doing. He said I had done 19.5 in 2:50. I asked him to call my parents and continued on. By now I was back on The Strip and a pleasant return to the crowds, lights , music and more “GO PARKER” cheers. I saw more running Elvis’s…FINALLY!  I had lost count while running through all the twists and turns, but now with a straight , well-lit road and about 4 miles to go, the hunt was back on.  I counted another 14, three walking which were easy and one in a giant wig and cape who I could not catch until the every end ~25.5 or so.  The marathoners finally split with .2 miles to go. I was able to run freely and by myself as I made my way through the last few turns then finished at Mandalay Bay. It was emotional as I crossed the Finish Line. I knew I had Finished Strong.

Minutes after I finished, my parents called asking if I were ok. They had been waiting for me to run through the next-to-the-last chip check-in point of the race.. back at mile 23. Apparently, I was running on a sidewalk or in the median again and my chip didn’t register on the electronic timing strip in the road!!  It did register my finish in 3:54. They were relieved, as was I.

I had completed two marathons 24 hours apart!! Both had their obstacles: one was cancelled and the other was over-booked. I was one of four racing through the desert and one of 44,000 running through Las Vegas. I learned a great deal from each and while my 52.4 race is over, Parker’s continues.

And I will help him Finish Strong!

Oh, in total I managed to pass 26 running Elvis’s and didn’t let one pass me!  So Tim, you own me … the best $6.50 I have ever earned!!!

Post, Post Recap:
The Las Vegas Rock and Roll Facebook site has been overwhelmed by negative feedback on the race. Issues ranged from the over-crowding at the merge, no water at some stations, running out of shirts, lack of volunteers, and safety on dimly lit streets. It was so bad they offered an apology and a discount for all participants on a future Rock and Roll race.  But because of my focus on Parker, I enjoyed it!  I ran with an appreciation that I was able to be there and took the obstacles as challenges to overcome…just like Parker does.

The challenge of running a marathon in this mass of runners!!!