Monday, November 18, 2013

Philadelphia Marathon Finisher

My alarm went off at 3:30 am on Sunday, November 17th, 2013. When it went off, my first thought was, "why in the world did I decide to do this?" I got out of bed, sleepily scrambled to get things together, and grumpily made my way to the car in my trash bag to stay warm. My sister was excited, and my husband was more than kind and supportive considering what he was doing and about to do just to be there for us. He even walked us all the way up to the corrals and watched us go in just to make sure we got where we were supposed to be without a hitch up to that point.

It was cold. Don't get me wrong, I know it could have been FAR worse for late November in Philadelphia, but it was what I had to deal with at the time, and it didn't feel great while it was happening. I asked Grace if would be a big deal if I just went back to the car to wait with Matt while she ran. I was only mostly serious... I was so scared standing around in the cold knowing that there were hours and miles standing between me and a warm shower. We wandered around looking for a warm place to wait, and we ended up running into two customers from the running store that I work at, and we talked to them for a bit, which took my mind off my impending doom.

As we waited around in a starting corral to run, I was both nervous and excited. We had agreed that we would each run at our own pace since neither of us was really trained and ready. As we passed the starting line, Grace turned around, tapped my bib, and said, "remember why." And we were off. I decided at that moment that I would need to just settle into a slow, barely-jogging 12 minute pace. I said to myself, "I can do this all day if I just stay at this pace." Then within the first 3 miles, I managed to pause my Garmin without realizing it, and break my headphones. Yep. That's Michelle Style. I didn't let it get to me though. I just turned my watch back on, stuck the earbud that I managed to fix in my ear, and I just tried to run at my own slow pace.

The first 8 miles were gravy. I felt great the whole way. Between 8 an 13, things got a little rougher because the lines for the porta-potties were so long, and I didn't want to wait for them to open up. I was straight up walking by the time I got to mile 14. I stopped for a bathroom break again once I found some without a line that weren't overflowing...which yes, some of them that I stopped to check were. And I walked the next two miles, and caught up with Matt during that time who walked with me for a bit. Around mile 19, I started crying as I saw my sister on the opposite side of the out-and-back portion of the course. We stopped to hug and congratulate each other on making it as far as we had and that point and reassure each other that we were going to finish.

When I hit mile 22, everything went downhill for me. I thought, I only have 4 miles left. That's nothing. But the pain in my legs was intense. My hips were aching so much that I wasn't sure I could put the force of attempting to jog on them anymore. Two things went through my mind at that point: 1) I can never have children because this is pain is probably my physical threshold. 2) I can't even imagine how much pain my grandma was in, and I felt for her more than I ever had before. My brother Joe called me just as I passed the 25 mile marker, that gave me the push to pick up speed slightly as Matt joined me to jog the next half mile before he sent me on my way to finish.

As I entered the finishing area, the announcer asked me what my bib was about, and I told him I was running in memory of my Grandma. He made an announcement about my grandma and reminded people that all of us have someone in our lives who inspire us, and it is great to remember those people. Just before I crossed the finish line, Mayor Nutter high-fived me and gave me a big hug as the tears were pouring out, and told me great job, your grandma is thankful and proud. Grace was waiting for me in the finishing area, and with tears in our eyes, we hugged and laughed, and cried a little bit more, and then hobbled our way down to take pictures and get food.

We made it. It was hard. I wasn't sure if I was going to make it at some points, but I finished. It took me FOREVER, but I made it. I am not sure yet if I will attempt another one in the future, but I know that I was nowhere near ready for this distance when I stepped out on the course, but I raised money with the help of several very generous friends and family members, and I made it to the finish line of a marathon before my 26th birthday and one year marking of my grandma's passing. In the end, the time doesn't matter. I accomplished all of the important goals. Thank you so much to every person who has supported me during the last 6 months as I trained, complained, quit training, complained some more, and went through a roller coaster that leads up to a marathon. I appreciate every single one of you!

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Ok, so my friend Sheila usually dedicates each mile of a race to a person who has inspired her, so I have decided to list 26 things that I learned, appreciated, strive to emulate, or received from my grandma.

1. My Dad: He is amazing, and I owe that to her on more than one level.
2. Humility: My grandma taught me through her actions that it is more important to focus on what can be accomplished rather than who is getting credit for the accomplishment.
3. Spiritual guidance: My grandma was a woman with very strong faith, and she showed me that you must have faith at all times and trust that God knows what he is doing.
4. Casserole: Catholics may be known for their fish frying abilities, but I'll take my grandma's Baptist casserole recipes over fish any day of the week. There are few things in life that can't be cured with a combination of egg noodles, a cream soup, cheese, and some sort of meat all baked to a delicious perfection.
5. Driving: My dad may have taught me to drive, but I am definitely my grandma's granddaughter when it comes to the road. "Now, Mister Jeep! You just stay in your lane!"-- My siblings and cousins will understand.
6. Patience: I only ever heard my grandma raise her voice at us kids once in my entire life, and trust me, we deserved it far more often than once.
7. Storytelling: My grandma had an excellent memory when it came to things that happened long ago, and she told me stories pretty much any time I asked. And anyone who knows me, knows that I will tell you stories all day long...literally.
8. Cardigan Love: Who doesn't love a good sweater or cardigan? Grandma did, and I definitely do!!
9. Staples: there are two things your house should never be without: Velveeta and Vaseline.
10. Cookies: They should always be made with margarine or Crisco. Real butter causes cookies to become flat and crispy. And don't spray the cookie sheet!
11. Strength: My grandma endured far more than most people could even fathom, but she was never bitter or angry. She just carried on with strength, dignity, and grace.
12. Integrity: She always did right by people whether they were strangers or family, my grandma treated them with the utmost respect while following her convictions and always doing her very best in all she did.
13. Acceptance: Number 12 is misleading... my grandma didn't know a stranger. Everyone you meet is family... treat them accordingly.
14. Bookworm: The only books I ever witnessed my grandma reading were devotionals and her Bible, but she worked in a library, and I loved going to work with her when I was little.
15. Reverence for the Past: Grandma took me on multiple memorial day trips to pay respect and show an appreciation for those who had passed and how they impacted her life.
16. Gratitude: Give thanks in all things. There is a reason for every thing that happens, and you don't need to always know what that reason is. Give thanks for what you have because there is someone with far less, going through far more, who is not complaining about their circumstances.
17. Forgive: Bitterness rots the bones. Forgetting is not always an option, but forgiveness is always an option, and though it may be hard at times, it is far better to release that burden from yourself by showing forgiveness.
18. Love and Live Fully: Life is precious. Yours and those around you. Live, Love, and be loved.
19. Pray.
20. Give: There are far greater rewards in giving than in receiving.
21. Focus: It's not about being the best. It's about doing your best.
22. Play your high cards first: Don't get caught with a ton of  negative points in your hand, and never pick up a large number of cards from the discard pile unless you can score more points than you'd be caught with if the next person went out. According to my grandma, I never actually beat her in Rummy... the one time I did, I looked at the score pad afterward, and she had accidentally written Noelle (my sister) instead of Michelle, so no record exists.
23. Work: Work hard, but do what makes you happy... it's not only about what makes you money.
24. Cobbler: Unlike pie, it only needs one crust, and it doesn't have to look pretty! And always double check your cinnamon to make sure you didn't accidentally grab chili powder.
25. Keep your promises: If you lose everything else, you'll still have your word, and that stands for something.
26. Move: Your mobility is fleeting, and you may be robbed at any time.

For anyone who wishes to cheer me on virtually, I would greatly appreciate the support! Starting around 7 am EST on November 17th , use the hashtag #MemoryMarathonMiles on Instagram or Facebook! (Yes, hashtags do technically work on Facebook now.)

A GIANT THANK YOU to all those who donated to my fundraising page! I have met my goal, but if you would still like to donate to support ALS research, you can visit my page!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Final Countdown

Ok, so it appears that I may have tapered about a month before the race. Oops. I've also been stress eating. Oops. I guess only time will tell how well the high-chocolate, low-mileage marathon training plan works out. I have also been feeling a bit nervous. I never really listen, but I tend to find out in the end that people were right in doling out warnings before I begin my crazy escapades, but that never stops me from automatically dismissing them once I find something new, and this marathon is no exception. "You'll be busy with other things," they said. "Wedding planning really can be pretty consuming," they said. "I'm not sure your ready," they said. "You're going to have to be dedicated," they said. There were so many warnings, and I thought they were all wrong. They were right, but I am still going to do it...and I will still finish.

I know that if I am going to reach my goal of finishing my first marathon, I have to put all the doubts out of my mind. I have to forget about the fact that I could only "run" a quarter of a mile when I started "running" three years ago. I have to forget any race I ever ran that sucked. I have to forget any training run that sucked. What I need to remember is why I decided to run a marathon in the first place. I am running in memory of my grandma. I remember the day. The turning point. I saw my grandma the last day she ever walked. It was July 4th, 2012. She was using her walker to walk that afternoon, and that evening she called me, but her speech was already hard to understand, especially over the phone, because ALS had already started robbing her. I didn't know what she was trying to tell me, and it wasn't until an hour and a half later that I found out she had tried to stand up, but her legs just crumpled underneath her. She had been calling me for help because she thought I was already on my way to her house. I wasn't. I have no idea how long she had been there on the floor waiting for help before she gave up on me and called my uncle.

I remember the last day my grandma hugged me and told me she loved me. It was September 11th, 2012. I came to visit that weekend for a family reunion. She didn't know I was coming. When I walked in her room, she thought I was a nurse at first because she didn't expect to see me. After a second, her face lit up, but she was so worked up that she couldn't get any words out, and she couldn't find her pen to write anything because most of her communication at that point was written; tears just started rolling down her face. I spent as much time as I could with her that week I was home. On my way to the airport on September 11th, 2012, I stopped to see my grandma one more time. I stopped to tell her goodbye. She hugged me tight, and then she didn't write it, she slowly and methodically said, "I love you," with her eyes locked on mine. I think deep down, we both knew it was THE goodbye.

I remember the day my grandma passed away. It was December 8th, 2012. It was my 25th birthday. We knew it was coming. ALS IS TERMINAL. There was no doubt from the beginning. She had been in constant pain. It's not as if I wanted her to keep suffering, but it is still the finality of that day that floods family members with such raw emotion. Grief. The thing is that there are so many reunions that my grandma had been waiting so many years to have that I am sure my 25th birthday was one of the best days for my grandma. She went home that day. She was beyond a shadow of a doubt the STRONGEST person I have ever known. I am running in memory of her, and THAT is what I need to remember.

I am still raising money for ALS research because I have not yet met my fundraising goal. Check out my page if you are able to help.