We Did It! Plus Race Report, Part II

I don’t have any updates for you with regard to our final Alz Star “team tallies” but I should know better tomorrow.

As a continuation of yesterday’s post, I wanted to share some more thoughts about this year’s race.

Crowd support

Chicago is known for its awe-inspiring crowd support.

But I have actually noticed, in my four consecutive years now running this race, that the support has become stronger … to the point where there is really NO PLACE along the entire 26.2 route where you don’t have at least one group of fans cheering you on.

As someone who has ran races more for their beauty than their crowd support (Deadwood is an obvious one that comes to mind), this is particularly amazing.

In 2009, my first Chicago and first marathon ever, there were spots along the course that were very quiet. Of course, this was much later into the race when you need the support the most. I am not complaining by any means. I’m not one of those runners who needs to have cow bells ringing and supporters yelling. I’m a very “lonely runner,” and almost always go out on my own – whether it’s an easy 6 miles or a challenging 20.

But I did have to note that there was a short fall-off in support that first year. With each year, things have got progressively improved to the point where there was not one section I can think of that DIDN’T have at least two fans standing on the sidelines. This includes areas by bridges and overpasses that are not exactly “spectator-friendly.”

If you are a runner who absolutely needs that crowd to carry you through the last 6.2 miles when it feels like a completely different and new race, this is the marathon for you. No doubt about it.

That lump in your throat

At the risk of sounding completely corny, as I was crossing that finish line, knowing that I had ran for my grandmother and really in honor of my grandparents’ sacrifices, I did have to struggle to hold back from getting really emotional.

I know there were other people around me that were getting pretty choked up, but it appeared that these were first-timers who were thrilled to be finishing, or they had a very hard finish. It can definitely be hard on the body, especially if you’re not used to it.

I ran this time around not so much for time. I had to make two stops that set me back a good 20 minutes as my “gut” (again, not going to go there – TMI) had been having some issues in the weeks leading up to the race. Stress throughout my training had been wreaking havoc on my body.

To be honest, it almost got irritating – hearing from people who were caught up with my time and I would have to remind them, “I’m running for something bigger than that.”

It really wasn’t about the time this time. As a veteran marathon runner now, you know that so many races, the stars have to be aligned. You can train and train and train only to have unexpected humidity throw everything off. Only to have hills that you hadn’t trained properly for also throw everything off. Also to have runs that are normally easy suddenly become challenging thanks to a new injury or some new physical problem you’ve never experienced before …

I’ve said it so many times throughout my training for Chicago ’12: Raising funds for a cause you are passionate about is so much more challenging than going the 26.2 itself.

For me, I had to confront so many memories – often, bittersweet ones, as well as  confront the demons of what Alzheimer’s/dementia was capable of … these manifestations that I had seen firsthand.

I’ve been trying for some time now to really confront these memories in book form.  That said, I am once again “signing up” for NaNoWriMo. Ever heard of it?

It’s a contest that challenges writers to develop a 50,000-word manuscript in one month – throughout November.

I successfully completed the contest back in 2009, when I was also training for my first marathon. A full manuscript did emerge from that, with parts of it inspired by my family (particularly the house so central to the piece, which was inspired by the “Castle on the Prairie” built brick by brick by my great-grandfather and his father).

Please note: the link I have here does take some time to load. It’s actually the full National Register of Historic Places application. Turns out, and I had heard rumblings about this throughout my life, but my family was critical in establishing commerce in the county – at the time when Lowell, Nebraska was a railroad boomtown. Fascinating stuff.

I also plan to continue to update this blog and provide my thoughts and news related to Alzheimer’s support services and research on Twitter.

If you ever have any suggestions for stories for me to explore, or just care to share your thoughts and memories, please feel free to reach out to me.

Just because this year’s Alz Stars are winding down, doesn’t mean the race to outwit this awful disease and its related illnesses is over. So much work to be done, if only for prevention which can go a long way if a “cure” is never to come.

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We Did It! Plus Race Report, Part I

Today, the beginning of a new month, actually marked the end of fundraising for the Chicago Alz Stars team.

I don’t quite know if our “fearless leader,” Ellie, has updated our total team counts with regard to fundraising, but at last check, along with our “Honorary Alz Stars,” we raised more than $155,000! Way to go all runners and our supporters!

Thanks to you all, in my first fundraising marathon, I was able to surpass my goal of $500 by more than $100.

My sister, Tiffany, and me at start with other charity runners.

I started off with great trepidation, as the last time I had undertaken fundraising in the hundreds of dollars, I was probably selling Girl Scout cookies. In other words, it was a loonnnng, lonnnnng time ago and I don’t have my grandfather’s natural gift for selling – let’s just put it at that way.

Of course, I had good motivation to just go for it … the memory of my grandparents/parents and the knowledge of just what this horrible disease and related diseases can do to individuals and their families.

I’d also like to share with you at least a portion of the “Race Report” from last month, to give you some insight into how the marathon went this year.

To keep this post from being the monster of all monsters in size, I’ll continue the report in my next post. Sound good?

I marvel at my generous supporters and those inspiring loved ones they honored with their gifts.

For Once the Weather Cooperates

2012 marked my fourth Chicago Marathon.

It’s become almost a “running” joke that this city marathon boasts only the most extreme of conditions … in other words, not ideal running weather.

My first year, 2009, the weather was almost uncomfortably chilly. If not for a new Under Armour shell, I don’t know how I would have got through it without purple lips and hypothermia.

However, it STILL stands as my best Chicago time. And it was my first marathon (though I have to say it was about 40 minutes off of what I hoped to run – but it’s your first. You don’t know what to expect).

In 2010, the weather was the complete opposite. It was very, very warm. After the fiasco that was 2007; however, race organizers were prepared with wet sponges and such, so there wasn’t a repeat performance.

Last year I remember more vividly, as I seem to recall it being even more oppressive than the year prior. I remember progressively seeing the color-coded event alert system worsen – to the point that late into the race (I’m thinking mile 20 or so) I thought that it would have to be cancelled.

My time was a good hour off of what I had been training at … but at least I got to run the whole thing, unlike my counterparts from ’07. And at least I didn’t pass out from the heat.

This time around was more chilly than anything else, which is what you want for such a distance run. I didn’t take off my jacket until relatively late into the race, and then it was mainly for “pride” purposes – as I wanted to showcase our Alz Stars purple team shirt. It was a tank and I was chilly but I was determined to show it off for at least a portion of the race.


There is definitely something about running for an organization close to your heart. And, no, it wasn’t just the perk of starting with the runners that qualified due to their brisk times (this was the first year Chicago featured a wave start – so all 10s of thousands of us didn’t start at the same time for the first time, well, ever). As the charity corral, we started about a half-hour earlier than the other runners who didn’t qualify for the early start thanks to prior race times.

One of these days I would love to qualify based off of a time for this corral, but that would mean I’d have to lop a good 20 off of my PR from earlier this year.

By the way, the picture I’ve featured here is my sister (in hat) and me in the start corral with the other charity runners. This was the most relaxing start I have ever had. Usually it’s absolute chaos – there are people who didn’t’ get to the start until late and they’re jumping over fences – their feet are flying in your face, threatening to knock you out. Not this time around. It was so relaxing and just the way you want the race to be. You don’t want to start stressed out after someone kicks you in the face!

Though, comparatively speaking, there were far fewer Alz Stars running than some organizations (WorldVision, for example, always seems to have heaps of runners at every marathon), it was great to see the Alz Stars shirts and cheer on people you didn’t even know – but you knew we were bonded in this cause.

Stay tuned tomorrow for more of my thoughts about this year’s race.

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One day, 12 hours (and some change) until it’s go time!

As you can tell, I’ve been a little blog-happy. 

It’s been chaotic in Chicago the last few days — balancing prepping for the big race and, well, my actual paying job as a writer!

I know, I know. I just hate it when my job gets in the way of my running? Ha.

In-between interviews for that “paying gig,” I attended the Expo at McCormick Place to do the usual — pick up my race bib and packet. The bib is an absolute must. You have to pick it up yourself prior to race day OR arrange to have someone else pick it up for you. 

Some races allow you to pick up bibs early on the day of; however, can you imagine the chaos that would ensue if the race directors were to allow such a thing in a race of this size? Unthinkable!

Here are a few fun facts, including some insight into the sheer size of this “beast,” courtesy of the 2012 official program (thank you, Chicago Athlete Magazine).

n  In 2011, there were 35,628 finishers.

n  At today’s expo, I saw bibs numbering in at least the 40,000’s!

n  How has the race grown? It emerged during the running boom of the ‘70s. Chicago’s inaugural race, in 1977, boasted 2,128 runners.

n  United Nations, much? Runners hail from nearly 110 countries.

n  Go fellow charity runners! More than $80 million has been raised by runners since 2002 alone.

n  Runners chug down some 77,000 gallons of Gatorade. It seems like some 75,000 gallons of that ends up on my shirt every race. Ha.

Sunday we’ll be adding to those numbers and building upon a tradition. Go runners and my Alz Stars supporters. 

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An anonymous honorary Alz Star + some not-at-all-unfamiliar stars

Imagine my surprise when, two days before the marathon, I get another cash donation.

I logged in to my donation page, so I could appropriately thank the generous individual(s); however, I couldn’t thank them!

They had not listed their name(s) or contact information.

The only distinguishing feature I could find was an address in Joliet, Illinois. It was not a home address.

So, thank you, to that anonymous wonderful honorary Alz Star(s)!

There are a number of individuals who I have had the honor of knowing. Throughout this process, they kept my spirits up by supporting this cause that (hopefully) will one day be a horrible thing of the past. Wouldn’t it be nice if one day there wasn’t a need for this fundraiser, right? Because this awful disease will have gone the way of a plague we only know about in the history books.

Drumroll, please (I’ve put these in rough chronological order of “when” these friends and supporters became honorary members of our team):

Mr. and Mrs. Larry and Jeanette Klein of Hastings, Nebraska

Mr. and Mrs. Darrell and Honey Lou Bonar of Hastings, Nebraska

Norma Guge of Kearney, Nebraska

Dr. and Mrs. Van and Shirley Sandstedt of Hastings, Nebraska

Jackie Boryca of Omaha, Nebraska in memory of her mother, Mae Koch

Patsy Smelko of Durham, North Carolina

When I started this process, it wasn’t the training that was daunting. It was the thought of confronting what my grandmother lived with, and the actual process of drumming up the support for the Alzheimer’s Association. Quite simply, I have a difficult time asking people for much of anything, let alone money during a time when many families are suffering. So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you all for your generosity.

Thanks to each and every one of the Stars listed above and throughout these posts, together, we have “out-raised” the goal set at the start of fundraising by more than $100 in a matter of TWO MONTHS – and ahead of schedule. Yes. If there is anyone out there who has been touched personally by Alzheimer’s or is just passionate about the cause, we have until November 1 to finish our fundraising efforts.

Ellie, the go-to gal throughout the process with Greater Illinois Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, notified us last Wednesday that, at the time, we had raised more than $120,000!

Imagine what that type of $$$ will do to help families, and who knows? Maybe even our future selves … 

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Getting kudos pre-race: A funny marathon prep story

Last night, I was running along Chicago’s Lake Shore. I knew I wanted to get in one last, solid run before the big race on Sunday.

The run started off beautifully. Couldn’t ask for better conditions. It was just a touch chilly. Just cool enough to prevent runners from taking off their jacket or rolling up their sleeves.

During the last six or so miles of the 10-miler, however, it got absolutely frigid. First, it started as a light rain. Then it started to come down pretty much nonstop.

I had on a cotton hoodie (big mistake). The hoodie was completely soaked by the end of it.

The good news? As I was running those last miles, looking at other runners who appeared equally pained and miserable, I was also helped along (quite perplexingly) by a number of runners with race bibs. Why would there be a race at 6:30, 7:00 p.m. on a Thursday night?

My suspicions were confirmed when I encountered a group of men playing bagpipes – you know, standard race (and wake) fare.

It just got to be a little weird at that point. I started a run and was ending a race finisher.

At one point, just as I encountered a far-too festive tunnel to cross Lake Shore Drive, I stopped another runner who looked as puzzled as I did.

I asked him what was going on, and he knew less than I did.

Well, I was bound and determined to take THAT tunnel.

Imagine my surprise when I encountered what looked like Marathon day … wall to wall people, some in choir gowns, blaring happy music, cheering me on.

A photographer was in front of me, snapping pics like I was some sort of celebrity. At one point, one of the choir-robed ladies reached out to give me a high-five.

It was an exhilarating end to a very challenging run.

Though I didn’t smile through a lot of it as I felt stiff as the Tin Man and as soaked as if I’d plunged into the Lake itself, by the end of it, I had a huge smile on my face.

Want to know “why” so many people LOVE marathons? You need only run through a tunnel like that one and have so many people cheering you on and music blaring to discover one of life’s great mysteries (to the non-running inclined).

By the way, this much I’ve been able to piece together: One of the signs in the tunnel read “Marathon preview race.”

Also, there were a number of Old Town related signs. I’m assuming there was an Old Town neighborhood group or neighborhood-specific running club that had put on this morale-boosting race as a preview to the biggie.

And, no, I would not have taken a medal if it was extended to me 😉 . I’ll gladly take applause and free music, but actual race swag? That’s going too far!

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Getting Down to the Nitty-Gritty … A 10-k & A Long Slow Run To-Do

So many things to say, so little time!

For starters, thanks to the generosity of my Honorary Alz Stars (I am long overdue in my official “shout-outs” on this page) we have together surpassed our initial fundraising goal.

I can’t tell you how thrilled I am at this outpouring of support from friends old and friends new.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again; I thought the real hurdle was the fundraising as it was unchartered territory to me. I’ve ran marathons before but never fundraised while training for a marathon. It was a whole new challenge. But I have the sneaking suspicion that any rough patches along the route will be helped along by my remembering exactly who I’m running this race for and why.

Unbeknownst to me until this week, I was signed up for the Corporate Cup. It is turning into an annual tradition, but I didn’t realize how quickly it came upon us.

I ran a moderately-paced four last evening and then this morning was the 10-k. I know it’s one of the top-rated 10-ks in the U.S. — certainly one of the largest at more than 11,000 participants.

I was originally slated to run a 20-miler today but, due to the race, I’ll be putting it off until tomorrow or Tuesday, depending on how the day(s) pan out. Wabash trail here I come!

The final month of training got off to such a great start, thanks to my generous and kind supporters, who kept the momentum going and recently helped me along to surpassing my goal.

You all did the hard part. It’s up to me to finish out the remaining three weeks (less than that with taper!) of training strong.



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Why I’m Running

Two years ago to this day my grandmother passed away.

It’s true what I was told a long time ago. You never get accustomed to the loss. You just learn to live with it.

I ran my 9 tonight for my grandmother. I’m running Chicago in less than a month for her. I think of many times when she was still here with us that I ran for her. To make her proud, even though I quickly outgrew the fast stage. I could run far, but I could never really run fast. Not fast in the way that a competitive high school runner, let alone college runner, is supposed to …

It’s been a tough day. Every September 13 will be a tough day. And when you’re out on a run for not just minutes, but hours, your mind has the tendency to wander because that’s what you’ve got out on the road or the trail by yourself … you’re alone with your thoughts.

And I thought often of her tonight, as I think often of her any other day, particularly on those long, lonely runs.

Much of what I did when I was growing up was for my grandparents. To make them proud. I will never be able to give back what they gave to me, not even close, but maybe when people read this blog or see my fundraising page, see why I’m running for Alz Stars this year, they’ll remember or get to know for the first time, what amazing people my grandparents were while they were still alive. Not to just dwell on the last months or years of my grandmother’s life, because she was never defined by this horrible disease — even up to the very end.


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My Grandparents Day Run: Somber reflections

Before I took off on my mid-length (10-miler) run this evening, I discovered that “Grandparents Day” was trending, and I had the awful realization that I completely spaced a day that was once something my family and I treasured.

Two years ago almost to the day, the last of the only grandparents I ever knew, the ones who were more my parents than “grandparents” (though they are quite “grand”), passed away.

As I was running, my feelings vacillated between anger for not remembering that today was Grandparents Day and simply “bittersweet” — memories bubbling up to the surface of better times.

I thought of how, even during the years when the day would pop up like so many holidays often do when life just gets in the way, I would still remember it in plenty of time to make something special for my grandpa and grandma, or pick out some gift that I knew they’d like. We would make it an event and it would never go unnoticed.

Today, with my grandparents gone, I didn’t even know that this holiday was upon us until I saw the words trending. It’s sad because this is the only day, on a national level, that we recognize these individuals who sacrifice so much.

The U.S. Census (2010) reports that some 5.8 million households in the country include grandparents, and, quite importantly, grandparents are responsible for their grandchildren as my grandparents were responsible for me and my siblings in some 2.6 million households.

Many times, the grandmother is the single provider for the children, as the grandfather has since passed.

I understand that, particularly with my grandparents’ generation, they stepped up to the plate in so many horrible situations unselfishly — no questions asked. I get that. They’re the “greatest generation,” right? In the case of my family, they stepped up when my mother could not.

But, just imagine for one moment if you can (and if you aren’t already in a tough situation like this), having your golden years redefined in this manner? You may have thought your parenting days were long over many decades before, and now you are the last hope for children, who might otherwise be split up in foster care? You must make the tough choice to be the parent again, even though you’re aging — in your 60s or 70s, maybe even older. It’s not a fair situation for anyone — the grandparents whose golden years are, well, tarnished in this way, as well as the children who may never have an opportunity to “know” their parents and the parent themselves who, possibly through no fault of his or her own, will never have the opportunity to really “know” his or her children — as they come to know Grandpa and Grandma as the parent(s).

The children are also in some respects “cheated” of their mom and dad prematurely as, courtesy of the age difference, the grandparents they come to know as their only parents pass away many decades before their friends must experience the loss of a parent, barring any horrible diseases or accidents. I make it clear to those in my peer group to not take their parents for granted.

Grandparents Day was once a joyous time, a time to celebrate and to give thanks for what they have done. Though my grandparents are no longer on this earth, as I have grown older, I have come to better understand the sacrifices they made so my sister and I could be better, do better than my mother was able to “do” and “be.”

But no longer is it such a joyous day. The reflection and the memories make it tough. We as a society must acknowledge and support these individuals who often become parents for the second time around in their lives while they are still alive, and to provide the networks that enable the family — grandparents, children and the parent that for whatever reason can’t be a parent — to be the best that it can be.

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Week 12 Off to a Jubilant Start! (Thanks to honorary Alz Stars)

OK, given Labor Day (or “Day of Labor” in my case) wasn’t a run day, Tuesday marks my first run of the week. 

It’s not that I had some awesome run this evening. It was muggy. I didn’t go far. Felt refreshing but not particularly so. Probably because I had a two- to three-hour dentist appointment this afternoon and was still feeling “out of it.” 

No. The reason for my jubilation is the support I’ve been getting from old friends, awesome teachers of “yesteryear” and family members found again. 

The other day one of my bosses asked me if I was training for a marathon again. It seems like I’m always  in some stage of training. I told her “yes,” but it was different this time around. Running 26.2 is one thing, but asking for support for a cause that’s still tough for me to wrap my mind around (because it’s so close to my heart) is quite another — far more grueling, actually.

So when I say I’m THRILLED to have such support to help fund the research and support others who are going through what my grandmother and our family went through a few short years ago, I mean it. I have always felt I can express myself pretty effortlessly in writing, but there are no words (even in writing) to describe how grateful I am.

Tomorrow I’ll walk through the latest “Honorary Alz Stars” who have rejuvenated my training program and have reinforced to me that this race isn’t about the miles I’m logging now or the minutes I can shave off my time. It’s a far longer race than 26.2.



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Honorary Alz Star: Rose Wilson

Rose Wilson of Apple Valley, Minnesota is the latest honorary Alz Star. I am so grateful for her support.

Rose and Cathy (see below!) would travel to see us in Hastings. It was always much-anticipated. I bet my grandmother cleaned for days leading up to their visits! 

Though I didn’t have the opportunity to see their mother in those later years, I’ll always carry fond memories. I enjoyed exchanging letters with her throughout the years, and she was a great role model.

I have no doubt that our parents and grandparents were the “Greatest Generation.” They definitely earned that high praise.

Awhile back, I was doing my own genealogy-surfing. And, while I’m betting that Rose, Cathy and Jeff have seen this photo many times, I thought I’d post it anyway.

The youngsters of this family of 12 kids are all pictured in this old-time photo, with Ruth peeking out from behind and Uncle Dean next to her. My grandfather, Wayne, is off to the side in the photo. 

Anyway, thank you, Rose, for really putting in the miles to beat this awful disease.

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