Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Valio La Pena




Marathon weekend finally rolled around. Having put off brain surgery for it, I was more than a little nervous. I had run 2 marathons before (13 days apart) and had only decided to do another one to try to qualify for Boston, a mark I had missed by nine minutes on my best one before.

This goal for some reason had become a great symbol for my life; this brain tumor had interrupted it, other things like my IT band problems had interrupted it. The training had been good, but less than I wanted. There were times where as people asked what my goal was, I’d almost hesitate to answer qualifying for Boston. I started out giving tentative answers like no matter how it went I’d be proud, but almost as quickly I’d add that if I didn’t qualify for Boston I’d be disappointed.

The weekend was originally supposed to be just about Boston, but things kept getting added to it that added support while also putting the pressure on. A friend from California, Shelly, decided to fly in and hang out for the weekend. It would be rather amusing that I accompanied her and my wife dancing because I sat and just watched like the shy boy I’d never been. Thent the Livestrong foundation gave me a tour of their facility. It was the first time that I’d met Ashley Koenings and Doug Ulman, the people who had provided so much support. They provided t-shirts for my wife and Kiana to wear during the marathon.

My running group, the Ship of Fools, decided to make me Shipmate of the Year. I was a little embarrassed that during the conversation, (before I realized that they were going to be announcing me), I was making fun of the presenter. They handed me a stack of several hundred-dollar bills to be used for the upcoming trip to Barbados, and added pressure by saying that they were sure I’d be qualifying for Boston. During my own thank you to the group, I commented on the fact that the only things I’d consistently gotten rides for were work, medical appointments, and marathon training. I thanked Sean and Buff (Jonathan), the guys who had primarily provided rides, but did not in the least address the Boston question. The weather report for the marathon was predicting a low temperature for the day that would be higher than the high temperature had been for both of my previous marathons. This had me intimidated.

Saturday morning, KVUE, a local TV station had decided to interview me because the 2011 marathon was the first time that Livestrong had sponsored the Austin Marathon and apparently I was a natural connection. I wore my Ship of Fools jersey and my Riverside Ultimate cap, giving nods to the communities that I would always owe so much of my life to. KVUE had given me a list of the questions before hand, a script they didn’t stick very close to and the last question was about how I had hoped to do. With hesitation and trepidation, I announced that I was going to try to qualify for Boston.

Saturday night, Shelly and my wife once again went dancing and got home about 1:30 in the morning. I awoke, and never got back to sleep…so I started doing laundry. Nervous and anxious at the starting line, I prepared to go and realized I had not brought the right headphones (texted my wife to get me those). So I had to begin the marathon without the playlist I had spent hours preparing. My goal was to keep the first twenty miles between a 7:00 and 7:10 per mile pace and keep the last 6.2 underneath a Boston pace, 7:15.

The support was overwhelming throughout the entire course; there were clever signs, irreverent ones with jokes about people’s mothers and that my BQ time was 3:40 (which is the women’s BQ time). There were friends who handed me ice water to pour over myself. People cheered, screamed and hollered; each one put a smile on my face and a spring in my step. My friend Matt, who had run with me in the hospital, joined me at mile 20 both to help me finish and for safety reasons. Still, towards the end, those dark thoughts of slowing down started creeping in. There was certainly a time where there were two competing thoughts: 1) as long as I finish everything will be fine and everyone will be proud 2) I put off brain surgery to run this marathon, this story can only end with a Boston qualifier. Between miles 23 and 24, I saw the only person that I had no clue would be there, my physical therapist. Heidi. She had come out to cheer, and ran with me saying, “You’re going to qualify for Boston.” The thoughts didn’t compete anymore after that and the finish line was just a matter of waiting. I finished at 3:08 with just over 2 minutes to spare. Turning into the crowd at the finish line, I got them cheering for me when I screamed “Come on people, I’m finishing a marathon here.” One guy audibly said, “Wow, this guy really wants it.” I finished with a smile on my face and enough energy to keep shouting and singing for over an hour. My wife had given me the right set of headphones at mile 11, and the last song that played as I was crossing the finish line was a song entitled “Valio La Pena,” it was worth it.

Coincidentally, shortly after the race my friend Victoria came up wearing a Boston shirt (have to wonder what she would have done if I hadn’t qualified). She became the 8th person to tell me they knew someone who had been victim to an astrocytoma. They had received a surgery 20 years previous and were back to their old self with no more problems than a droopy eye when tired. A day filled with a long haul of training and lots of support, ended with success and good news. I hoped it held as a parable of my life.

Valio La Pena.

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