Thursday, November 28, 2013

What I'm Not Doing This Holiday

For the first time in as long as I can remember I didn't make the sweet potato casserole this morning. I decided a few days ago that it was just too much. There's a lot going on in my life right now and I won't go into it all here, but I think the real reason I decided to skip making the sweet potatoes is because last year I used salt instead of sugar.

I know that probably seems like a silly reason, but I remember so clearly how my Grandpop was happily eating those sweet potatoes right up until one of us took a bite and realized that something was VERY WRONG. It didn't take us long to figure out that the white stuff in my unmarked container was salt and not sugar and my morning of peeling and mashing and mixing and baking was in the garbage can before you could say Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Grandpop seemed unfazed. He complimented me on them regardless and said how they are always delicious and then moved on to the other things that were still on his plate. 

He died on May 31st of this year and I miss him so much. So this morning after I ran a Turkey Trot 5k I stopped by the cemetery and recounted the story through a flood of tears. If there is one thing that I have learned over the past two years since losing Joe it is that  I must listen to where I am at and be respectful of what I am capable of on any given day. Today was not going to be a sweet potato casserole day.

So I'm glad that last night I emailed the sweet potato casserole recipe that I use to my mom. I think she plans on using it and I'm sure she will not confuse her salt with her sugar. I doubt, though, that any of us will be able to eat it without thinking of Grandpop and how different our Thanksgiving table is this year. And that is perfectly ok. After all, Thanksgiving is about being thankful even if that is for some wonderful memories.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Anne Luck-Deak, Marathoner

In some ways I think the reality is still sinking in. I did it. I ran all 26.2 miles. I completed the journey during which I raised over $5,000 for the American Cancer Society and I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face and more joy in my heart than I could have ever imagined. Not only did I do it, but I enjoyed every minute of it and I've already set my next marathon goal. (More on that in some future post.)

As almost always happens when I race, I woke up before my alarm. In this case, that meant about 4:30am since the Team DetermiNation bus was scheduled to leave for the start area on Staten Island from just outside Central Park at 5:45am. It was a good thing we lucked out with an extra hour of sleep and that I had mostly adhered to my "lights out" time of 11pm the night before. I came back from our Team DetermiNation pasta party inspired, but with a terrible migraine, so I had been concerned about my ability to get any sleep before the race. Thankfully, I had gotten a good night's sleep on Friday (I'm told that's the key anyway) and I slept off my migraine for a good hour before my pre-race prep and my actual bedtime.
Inspiring view from our Team DetermiNation Pasta Party of the
 Empire State Building lit up for the Marathon
By the time my morning wake up rolled around, I was actually feeling pretty good and as ready as I was going to be for my 26.2 adventure.

I posted this photo on Facebook before leaving for the Marathon.
My friend Scott who had already been more than hospitable during my stay in NYC hopped into a cab with me to make sure I made it over to my Team DetermiNation bus without any problem. I arrived in plenty of time and was on my way to Staten Island by 6am.

Many thanks to Scott for playing host to me & my
parents for the weekend.
I was able to catch at least another half hour of shut eye on the bus and then it was through all the security measures to gain entrance to the start area at Fort Wadsworth. Everything was so organized and the race officials and volunteers were a proper measure of enthusiastic and serious. I couldn't believe I was actually there and I couldn't have been happier to finally find the Charity Village area!

In our Team DetermiNation tent we had hot coffee, shelter from the wind, and inspiration beyond measure. I was able to spend time hanging out with my friend Melissa and her husband Paul - fitting since Melissa is the reason I found myself at the start line that day. There was a beautiful banner in the tent which featured photos of many of our loved ones who motivated us to run with the Team - it included a photo of Joe, Domani and me from our trip to LBI in July 2011. Then, not long after Melissa and Paul had left to join their Wave, in walked Kate and Alena who I had trained with in NJ. It was so nice to see them and share hugs and take photos together in advance of our own starts.
With Melissa under the bridge after checking my bag

Posing with the "I'm Racing For..." banner in the Team DetermiNation Tent
I thought that the morning hours leading up to my start time would drag on, but the truth is that the time just flew by. Before I knew it, our coach Ramon was announcing that it was time for those of us in Wave 3 to make our way over to the start corrals.

With Kate, Alena, & Coach Ramon just before leaving for the Wave 3 Corral Start
We watched from just outside our corral as the first wave started across the bridge and it was spectacular. I alternated between watching the big screen that was set up in the start village and the bridge itself which was directly in front of me. I just couldn't believe I was actually there and that in less than an hour it would be me going across that same bridge starting my first marathon.

Watching Wave 1 cross the bridge from just outside our Corral
The next 45 minutes passed quickly as those of us in Wave 3 made our way into the start corral and maneuvered our way past all of those waiting for a last minute bathroom break. I was in the corral with Lindsey, another Team DetermiNation runner and I was so happy to be sharing the start experience with her. We ditched our outer clothing along with the other items which would go to Goodwill just before moving out of the corral up towards the bridge. Much of what happened next was a blur except for the moment when they started playing New York, New York and it seemed like the whole crowd started singing along. It was the first time along the marathon route that I got teary, but it wouldn't be the last. What a thrill it was crossing that start line after that send off!

The first two miles were exciting but so windy that I found myself wondering what NYRR would do if all of our bibs flew off our shirts at the same time and landed in the Hudson. I spent most of mile 3 dodging outerwear that had been thrown to the ground haphazardly and by mile 4 I finally felt like I was in a groove, attributed mostly to the great spectators in the Brooklyn neighborhoods. I found myself running towards the sides of the course, taking my time and high fiving anyone who offered - but especially all the kids. I was having a grand time and enjoying everything about running in NYC.

I was able to ride the crowd to keep a cool and steady pace through Brooklyn and into Queens, periodically relying on my random shuffle tunes to provide a little pick me up here and there. Then came that 59th Street Bridge. I had been warned about it. Several friends, including my Team DetermiNation coach, had explained it in detail. I had done all my hill training, but it was still tough. I tried to remember everything I had learned. I went to my race mantra - You + God = Enough - which was written on a rubberband around my wrist (thanks to a tip from my sister Naomi). But mostly, I just kept my eyes forward and thought of Joe.

Then, after what seemed like an eternity, I could tell that I was finally running downhill. As I could see the bend that would lead me off the bridge and into Manhattan, I heard the first few bars of Don't Stop Believin' come through my earbuds and there was just no stopping the tears. The timing could not have been more perfect for what that song meant to me and for that moment in the marathon. It wasn't just a good running song, it was my Joe calling at a critical moment and it played as I ran past the Team DetermiNation photographer and it continued as I waved at everyone cheering outside Memorial Sloan Kettering where Joe received care. It was one of those moments in life when everything moved in slow motion. I felt like I was the lead actress in my very own perfectly scripted movie. Running just doesn't get much better than that.

Not sure exactly where this is, but one of my
favorite photos from during the marathon.

About 20 blocks later at around mile 18 I came upon the first spot where my parents and Scott were waiting to cheer me on. All along the course, I had plenty of people cheering for me by name (thanks to my parents who helped iron my name on my shirt), but there was something really incredible about coming up on Mom & Dad and Scott yelling for me and seeing Mom with her neon sign that said "Go Anne". It was just the extra boost I needed to press on towards the Bronx.

Somewhere around mile 20 I got another much needed boost when I caught up with Melissa and Paul as they were running through the Bronx. It was so nice to see them and run beside them as I surpassed that 20 mile mark and ran what with each step became my longest run ever.

Once we re-entered Manhattan via the Madison Avenue Bridge I could feel the excitement welling up inside. Five miles to go and the crowds were awesome. I was starting to feel tired and I knew the difficult incline at Mile 23 was coming up. In my mind, I was counting down the streets until 91st where I knew I would once again see my parents and Scott. Somewhere along the way I walked through my first Gatorade stop, stretching out my legs a bit as I walked. Hearing spectators along 5th Avenue cheer for me by name kept me going throughout that very difficult Mile 23, but I knew that I would need an extra boost to finish strong.

As I approached 91st Street and spotted that familiar neon sign I made my way over to my mom and gave her a big hug. She was crying. I was crying. It was another one of those slow motion moments (and not only because I was exhausted!) I will remember hugging my mom during Mile 24 of my first marathon for the rest of my life and I'm sure that every time I think about it I will smile and tear up just a little.

The special Mile 24 hug

After  the hug, it was into Central Park I went for some beautiful scenery and, yes, a few more hills. I walked my way quickly through one more Gatorade station and then somewhere around Mile 25, it was random shuffle to the rescue again as I was treated to a little Pearl Jam. What better song to round out my first marathon than Alive - with just enough grit to push me out of Central Park and onto 59th Street where I ditched my earbuds in exchange for the cheers of what seemed like a neverending throng of spectators. That final stretch was fabulous and as I rounded the bend at Columbus Circle I felt every emotion in the book well up inside me. Five months of training and fundraising and the finish was right there. People were cheering. Big signs counted down every 100 yards for the final stretch. And then I was there. A finisher of my first marathon - the NYC marathon.

Crossing the finish line
In my mind, I had a goal of finishing the marathon in 4 hours and perhaps in even less than 4 hours. I didn't do that and I had a feeling from early on that I wouldn't. Perhaps if I were able to run with a 4 hour pace group (there were none available in my slower corral) I could have done it. Maybe if we all weren't dealing with the wind being so tough that day it could have been different. But really, what it came down to for me was that I wanted to enjoy every minute of my first full marathon. I joked with friends and family afterwards that if I hadn't spent 7 minutes and 25 seconds high fiving kids in the outer boroughs and hugging my mom at Mile 24 then I could have gone sub 4 and there is more than a grain of truth in my jest. Looking back though, I wouldn't have run this race any other way. I loved the energy. I loved the love. And I loved taking it a bit easy and soaking it all in. There was something truly wonderful about this race this year in this city. And I'm not ashamed that I cry every time I think about it. I got to run my first full marathon in memory of my husband Joe in a City that was special to both of us with a Team that was more supportive than I could have imagined and for a cause that is close to my heart. Nothing can top that for your first 26.2.

Thank you, New York City, and thank you to all of my friends, family and donors who have supported me on this journey. You were with me for every mile.
Showing off my bling

The NYC Marathon version of "Where's Waldo"...where's Anne?

My donation page for the American Cancer Society will remain open for the next few weeks so if you have not made a donation yet, but would like to there is still time. Thanks again for the overwhelming support you have given me - it has been inspirational beyond measure.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

On Marathon Eve

When Joe and I met up with my college friend Christon at a Cracker Barrel off Route 95 on the way home from  Hilton Head, SC in the summer of 2009 I would never have imagined this day to be in my future. But, in many ways that lunch planted the seeds which now find me 1 sleep away from running the NYC Marathon after smashing through my $5,000 fundraising goal for the American Cancer Society (ACS). I'll never forget how in awe I was that day listening to Christon talk about how she trained for her first marathon and also how obvious it was that crossing the finish line had changed her powerfully. 

When Joe was ill with cancer 2 years later and in what would be his final months of life, Christon ran the NYC Marathon with ACS' Team DetermiNation and raised thousands of dollars for the American Cancer Society, honoring Joe with every mile she ran. Three months after he died, I turned to running as an outlet for my grief and found in it so much more.

Tomorrow morning, I will wake up at a crazy hour and board a bus full of other Team DetermiNation runners bound for the start line of the NYC Marathon. Just typing that gets the tears to well up in the corners of my eyes. Since that very first text message conversation with my friend Melissa in April during which she started "recruiting" me to run the marathon, it has been an amazing journey.

Melissa: When your head feels better I'm going to try to talk you into running the NYC full with us. So that's a thing that will happen.
Me: This fall?!?!
Melissa: Shhhh. Your head hurts. This isn't really happening. It's a dream. Zzzzzzzzzz. (Yes, this fall.)

And, now here I am sitting in Joe's friend Scott's apartment in NYC having just finished my last run before the big race and all those question marks and exclamation points hardly seem like they were necessary. The fall deadline was, after all, not such a big deal. I had a kick ass training season which included Team Determination runs along the towpath and hill repeats at Rutgers, muggy and buggy training runs while traveling for work in Florida, and a whole bunch of fun races with friends and family.

I had the thrill of watching as family and friends, co-workers and acquaintances, people I knew from long ago and even some complete strangers donated to the American Cancer Society through my fundraising site. And I cried tears of joy and sometimes empathy as I read through the countless heartfelt messages people sent me along with their donations and at other random points in my training. I have the most amazing people in my life - people who have spurred me on to the verge of this truly amazing thing.

Last night I was still $585 away from my goal of raising $5,000 for ACS and the honest truth is that I wasn't sure I would hit it before crossing the start line. And then this morning came and with it the unbelievable email that popped up in my inbox around 8am - Congratulations! You have reached your fundraising goal!

And once again, those tears of joy and gratitude. Then, as if I needed more proof as to how fabulous you all are, the donations kept rolling in and are well over $5,100 as of right now. 

As I exited the subway at 53rd and Lexington to walk to Scott's apartment my random shuffle dealt me the perfect song at the perfect moment (I'm sold on random shuffle for tomorrow, by the way, Justin). I was standing at the spot where I had taken Joe for his chemo treatments many times over and looking at a bunch of emails with donations to ACS. The song was Faded by The Afghan Whigs and I have never felt more in tune with the direction of my life than I did right then. This is exactly where I am supposed to be and exactly what I am supposed to be doing. As only happens in the movies, the song ended just as I arrived at Scott's apartment.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thanks for supporting me. Thanks for loving on Domani. And most importantly, thanks for remembering our Joe - and for your simple, but powerful acts to build a world with less cancer and more
birthdays. Tomorrow I will run mile after mile after mile thinking about all of that and all of you.