Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Phases - A Celebration of Life

I tell people that life is a series of phases. When you're growing up, you have a group of friends from school who are your age, so you share a lot of events around the same time. It starts with graduating from high school, followed by college and maybe graduate school. There's the first job phase, the wedding phase, the first kid phase, then the first kids school fundraiser phase. Later on, some of the harder phases come. Divorces, parent's illnesses, kids going off to college (ok, some people would consider that a good thing). Then there are deaths. Grandparents, parents, and sometimes friends from your generation.

2013 was a hard year for our Team in Training group. Working with an organization that dedicates its time to finding a cure for cancer has its stark reality. While you get to meet amazing people who are fighting the diseases, there are some that don't make it. In the last 18 months, Susan Conrad, Remo, Kevin, Justin and DeMaris have passed away.

I had the honor to say a few words at Justin's memorial service last week. I've given a lot of kick-off speeches and motivational pre-race speeches, but never a eulogy. There was a lot to say. I'd known Justin for close to six years. But I struggled with how I was going to boil down what he meant to me and those around him to a five minute speech. What follows is what I had written. I needed thnotes because I knew I wouldn't be able to get through it without breaking down.

Like many of us in this room, I met Justin through Team in Training. My name is Ron Carino. My wife Susan and I coach the walkers on the marathon team. I joined Team without a connection to the cause. In my first season, I met a lot of alumni who wore the names of their honored teammates. Some written on ribbons attached to their hats. Some were written on their shirts. I didn't have the experience of losing someone I knew to cancer like so many of us did so the significance didn't hit me me at the time.

I met Justin in 2009. He was one of our Honored Teammates. His sister Jessica was off to complete her second Nike Half marathon. What struck me about Justin was that he seemed to have come to grips with living with his disease. I never saw any anger in him.  He greeted everyone with a firm handshake and a big hug. He was always willing to talk about his condition and the treatments he was undergoing. It was his matter of fact acceptance that made me realize how brave he was. 

That following year, he came to Nike after a recent treatment wearing a filter mask to prevent infections. The mask was purple and there was a rhinestone "Go Team" ironed onto the filter cover that Jessica had made for him. Like everything he wore, he rocked the look. Justin had a great sense of humor. The only time I ever remember NOT seeing him smile was when he was wearing that mask. Justin never raced with us, but as some of our teammates would tell you, he seemed to show up just when they needed him. There's a point at the top of the hill near the soccer field at Nike, just when the half marathoners are at start running out of steam. I was with Carol Spicer and Kate Allen as they were struggling. And there was Justin. His presence lit them up like nothing else could and he took them the rest of the way. Seeing him on a course or during training was just as much a boost as any cheerleader or TNT coach ever could be. 

Justin was genuinely selfless. I have a picture of him wearing Honoree badges from East Bay Run, Diablo Run and East Bay Walk one season. He made time to visit us all. During the picnics, when he was asked to speak, he'd always turn the term "Honored Patient" around. Saying "you're the ones who inspire ME!" That year he came to Lake Chabot for the honoree picnic after a chemo session and clean shaven head wearing a shirt saying "Does This Shirt Make Me Look Bald?". It was one of my favorite pictures of him.

Sometimes he came to trainings after working into the wee hours that morning.  I loved listening to him talk about the bands that he saw in concert as he was working at Shoreline. There was so much life in his eyes. And while his time here was short, I think he touched more people that than he possibly would have known. 

I was reading through Justin's Facebook page last night looking for pictures of the two of us and ran across a note that I tagged him in three years ago. It was about a day that I found out that another close friend had died of cancer, just minutes before a race. She, like Justin, was taken from this world too soon. I raced that day with anger. With grief. But in the last miles, when I thought I couldn't wring any more emotion out of my body, I felt my mind go quiet. My feet felt light. It was almost like someone was carrying me the last few miles. I finished the note with a dedication to honored teammates like Justin who continue to fight. Justin said 'thank you, that's all I could type through the tears'. And seeing that comment and the pictures we took together, it brought me to tears as well. With him gone, that and a handful of pictures is all I have to remember him by. Justin joins an army of angels who watch over us on our races and in our lives, ready to carry us when we feel like we can't go on.

Jessica called me the week before Justin died. We planned to visit him as soon as we were back in town, but Justin passed away hours before we planned to see him. One of the greatest feelings as a coach is to see your participant finish his race, but the reality is that it's not always possible. You only hope that they crossed the finish line in good shape. Their pain is over and they are on to the next part of their training which is to celebrate completing their event. Part of me will always regret not being able to see him. But I'm glad that the last memories I have of him is his smile and him cheering on his sister near the finish line. I imagine he'll be doing next fall from wherever he is now.

Your race is over Justin. And while some people gauge their journey on how long they've raced, I choose to look at the quality of the time and many lives you've touched during the miles you've travelled. You're not just a name on a ribbon, or a name on our shirts, but a name written indelibly on our hearts. When our race is over, I hope to see you at the finish line and greet you with a firm handshake. Or better yet, a great big hug.

Godspeed, my friend.

It was meant to be a celebration of life. Justin never seemed to fear the disease, so I did my best to honor his courage and his resolve to move forward. His goal was to complete an IronMan triathlon in 2015 once his treatments were done. While he won't be able to do that now, I suspect that where ever he is, he's starting to train for a whole new race of his own.

Justin was born in 1981 and attended Woodside Elementary, Oak Grove Middle School and Ygnacio Valley High School. He was active in the Boy Scouts of America as a member of Troop 380 where he fell in love with the outdoors, hiking and camping and was inducted into the Order of the Arrow. He graduated from UC Davis with a Bachelors degree in Technical Theater in 2006. 

He was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2008 and began his association with Team in Training. Justin was a fighter. He decided that he would do whatever it took, chemos, radiations, drug trials. And that's what he did. He continued to speak out with Team in Training and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to encourage others to help fund the search for a cure. ~ from the memorial program, Justin Daniel Estrada

Monday, January 6, 2014

Susan and Ron's Top Ten Marathoning for Life Memories of 2013

2013 was our 8th year on the circuit. Every year seems to bring us new perspectives and powerful new memories. I know a lot of people who race 10, 20 or 50+ times/year so a race by race review can get really busy. If you have a top 5 or top 10 blog, let us know. We'd love to see it!  

With that, our 10 most significant events of 2013:

10. Boston Marathon Bombings – Senseless acts of hatred that brought the marathoning community even closer together than ever before uniting us with a common goal – Boston Strong, Runners Strong, the World Unites because good will always overcome evil.  

9. RnR Brooklyn 10k – Seeing the Statue of Liberty from the train after Susan completed her first race on her own without Ron. Sensing a new found freedom of never being alone when you’re surrounded by fellow race participants. Having an acquaintance, George Melichar, become an even better friend and being adopted by his friends and their two dogs before and after the race.

8. American River Half Marathon – Having the honor of getting photos taken with overall winner Nicki (1st), Joe (2nd), Ron (3rd), and Susan (8th) as four age group winners in the walk division. The first age group win for Susan and Ron's second.

7. RnR St. Louis Half Marathon – Starting the race with frozen toes and a spectacular sunrise behind the St Louis Gateway Arch. Seeing our maid of honor, Jennifer (in a boot), cheering us on at the finish line discovering how much fun it is to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll groupie. Ron completing his 50th half marathon. Finishing the day together in Busch stadium seeing Ron's team, the Red Sox, win game 4 of the World Series.

6. RnR Cleveland Half Marathon Expo – Exiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Kevin into a driving rainstorm. Susan screaming when lightning struck just before our feet. Running to nearby bus stop when thunder roared through the town immediately thereafter. Shuddering to realize that Susan's race shoes for the next day were now soaking wet.

Cleveland RnR Half Marathon – Overwhelmed by the crowd support for Susan's 50th half marathon with a multitude of congratulations that carried her through the course to another personal best time.

5. One good deed leads to another and another – Thank you TNT for having great people like Victoria sign up for our marathon walk team. Thank you Victoria for remembering us and introducing us to your colleague Erin. Thank you Erin for seeking us out and giving endurance walking broader exposure via the San Francisco Chronicle. Thank you Lisa for noticing the online SF Gate article and in turn interviewing us for the November issue of Runner's World on how to complete your first half or full marathon relaxed. In parallel, thank you Competitor Group for inviting us to speak at the Portland RnR Expo and inspiring us to launch the Marathoning for Life blog and Facebook page so that we can in turn inspire a whole new generation of endurance athletes.

4. Nike Women’s Full Marathon – Spending an entire season with the TNT San Francisco Bay Area walk coaches being convinced that Sue was not training fast enough to complete the full marathon without being turned early. Hearing that Sue had successfully gotten past all of the cut off points for the full marathon. Susan catching up to her at mile 22 and walking with her honored hero for the next three miles. Witnessing her determination to finish and finish strong and realizing that everyone deserves to have a dream come true especially when they believe in themselves even if others don’t believe in them.

3. RnR Chicago Half Marathon – Recognizing Beth’s Get Back UP sign. Susan introducing herself to Barbie and Rick. Having tears well up in her eyes hearing Barbie’s life story and how she overcame the disability of a paralyzed foot with the Allied brace. Becoming determined to help her beat the cut off times this year while witnessing Rick successfully complete his first half marathon (without training but with a lot of determination to be there with Barbie at the finish line). Susan is not sure she can live up to her nickname, Angel, but she is convinced there was a Heaven on Earth that day for all three of us.

2. Passings: Women’s Half Marathon/Eye-Q Twin Cities Half Marathon Nov. 7, 2010 – Receiving the news on the race course that their dear friend Michelle passed away that morning from Ovarian cancer leaving behind a loving husband Rob and two twin daughters Rebecca and Sarah. 2013 – Losing our TNT honorees Remo, Justin and DeMaris. With every life lost, growing in gratitude for each moment yet to come. Relying on the strength and words of wisdom that Coach Al gives all his TNT participants closing with Shout Outs and “Too many damn names” of our loved ones who we’ve lost to cancer and who continue their fight each and every day. It is an honor to walk in memory of those who have touched our lives and inspired us to live life to the fullest.

1. SA2LV RnR San Antonio and RnR Las Vegas Back-to-Back Half Marathons – Realizing that completing two half marathons on the same day in two different states was just a means to an end. Sharing an amazing once in a lifetime experience with Al, Caryn, Beth, Jim, and Kamika that will never be forgotten.

2013 was a memorable year . Wishing you many safe and healthy miles ahead in 2014.


Thursday, January 2, 2014

It Only Took Us Two Years to Finish These Races - Brazen New Year's Eve / Brazen New Year's Day Half Marathons

We've heard about Brazen Racing, our friends have done Brazen races, there is even a Brazen race held in our backyard at Quarry Lakes every year. But it wasn't until we needed to do some trail training for Antarctica that we signed up for our first Brazen race – Brazen New Year’s Eve Half Marathon on December 28 (our last race of 2013 – Honest!). We were quickly roped into signing up for the companion race Brazen New Year’s Day Half Marathon so that we could earn that all important bonus medal. After all, it’s really all about the bling even though we’re running out of places to put all of our race medals.

We’re very happy to report that our first Brazen experience from registration to completion of the second race was a very positive experience. For an organization that hosts 24 races in a year, many that sell out, we shouldn't be all that surprised that they know what they’re doing. The website is informative and helpful. Once you register, Brazen kept us up-to-date with a series of emails on the particulars about race day.
We picked up bibs early at Fleet Feet in Pleasant Hill Thursday and dropped more money on Antarctica gear and Allied Medal holders. Race packets and shirts for both races were lined up all around the store so it was really convenient to get everything at once. Brazen also has race day pick up at Lake Chabot as well as race-day registration if the event has not sold out.  

Race morning was chilly by California standards - high 30's, warming into the mid 50's, but the Lake facilities were more than enough for the small race. Come early if you want to park in the lot ($5 fee) or park free on the street and warm up a little on the walk in. Sweat check was very efficient to shed extra layers.

Deja Vu! New Years Eve and New Years Day. Ron needs to do something about the wrinkles, but Susan looks fabulous as always.
Count down with a megaphone (honoring park rules) set us off on what would be quite a hilly adventure. The New Year’s Eve race circumnavigated Lake Chabot counter clockwise with the equivalent of approximately 250 flights of stairs. The New Year’s Day race took us around Lake Chabot clockwise on the same course.
The weather was ideal for a winter race. No rain (although the Bay Area desperately needs rain) and  the temperature at 7:30 am was 39F. Those in shorts and t-shirts were chilly at the start, however, those of us in long tights and multiple long sleeve tops got hot after climbing a few hills and had to start shedding layers with temperatures climbing into the 50’s.
The small field size ensured that the trails were not overcrowded. Those needing up to 4.5 hours to tackle the challenging course could take advantage of an early 7:30 am Hiker Start (note that Hikers must reach mile 9.16 by 11:30 am). The regular half marathon started at 8:30 am followed by the 10K at 8:55 am the 5K at 9:10 am. This comfortably spaced out the participants on the narrow trails. Quite of few of our future Team in Training kids (Taj and Teo and the Ladrillonos) cleaned up on the 5K medals!

Some unique sounds entertained us on the race course. Unlike Rock ‘n’ Roll races with bands every mile, Lake Chabot is forest land that is peacefully quiet and serene (other than mid-way through the course where you hear repeated gunshots from the Chabot Gun Club shooting range). You also pass the Lake Chabot Golf Course where golfers were also enjoying the sunny winter day. The only other human made sound came from the racers who every time they looked up, they groaned because all they saw was another hill to climb.

For us road racers, the hills were a welcome change from the constant pounding of pavement. Walkers have to be particularly careful to pick up their feet more than usual to avoid tripping over sticks along the trail but we like to think we have a particular advantage climbing with the hill technique we've developed. Runners enjoy the down hills and the soft trail. This led to the typical sea saw passing of nearby participants for long stretches of the trail. At times, we were alone on the trail with no one in sight ahead or behind us. Fortunately, the course markings were very clear with color-coded tape for each race distance hung from nearby branches and on the ground. Mile markers were clearly color coded with double anchored flags (a different color for each race distance). Flour was used to mark arrows signaling the correct direction and blocking off side paths so that you didn't make a wrong turn accidentally. These course markings were on par with those marked by Coach Rudy for our TNT training – Rudy’s renown for having the best course markings in all of the land.
Top left: A hill. One of many. Top Right. Lake overlook - this may now be my favorite woodlands half!
Bottom Left: Katrina on the rickety bridge (NYD). Bottom Right: Jasmine and Zara near mile 10 on NYD.
The Wolf Pack was out in force this week!
The water stops were well placed (at the top of hills) and were well staffed with at least a half a dozen volunteers. If you volunteer for a Brazen race, your next Brazen race entry is discounted (and sometimes free). Not only does this help racers afford more races, this also means that the volunteers are race savvy and participant friendly. Water stop supplies were well stocked including pretzels, oranges, Gu, Jelly Bellies, water, and Ultima. Participants tended to congregate for a few minutes at each water stop relishing the opportunity to take a quick break, say hi to friends and fellow participants, and everyone generally looked like they were have a good time.

Speaking of good times and leaving lasting positive impressions, Brazen had It’s-It ice cream sandwiches at the finish in four flavors (vanilla, chocolate, cappuccino, and mint). I’m not sure if we were more excited about the large race medal or the It’s It ice cream sandwich – it’s kind of a tie! We had heard that it was easy to eat the equivalent of your body weight at the end of Brazen races and now we know why. Even though we finished within the last hour of the race, there was still plenty of food available including Dixie cups filled with pumpkin pie, pecan pie, apple pie, carrot cake, red velvet cake, birthday cake, and M&M’s. There was popcorn, bagels, Nutella, peanut butter, etc. We didn't get in our protein after the race but we certainly got our 200 calories in and then some plus a sugar rush.

Not shown: 4 styrofoam coolers full of It's-It Ice Cream Sandwiches. *drrroollllllll*

Brazen also provides pictures free of charge. Though they are not indexed by bib number, they're in time order so you can actually see a short stop motion clip of yourself at various points at the race. Complete albums found here.

Would we do a Brazen race again? It depends. Some of the more difficult steep races are probably not going on the bucket list right away but some of the flatter more scenic races might creep into our race schedule in the next few years. The Quarry Turkey Half goes along the Alameda Creek Trail where we usually train, so we'll definitely add that (and the Nitro Turkey in Sunol) to our list around Thanksgiving. We’d definitely look forward to volunteering at a future Brazen race; it looked like a lot of fun! Kudos to Brazen race organizers. We were impressed all around and would definitely recommend this race series to anyone at all levels and any distances.
Deja Vu... again?  Thanks to Lance Null and Belinda Agamaite for taking the pics!

The Brazen New Year's Eve and Brazen New Year's Day offer half marathon, 10K and 5K distances. You get the same medal for completing any one of the three distances. There were 415 participants on NYE (median half marathon finish time 2:34) and 388 on NYD (median 2:32). Results are posted here: New Year's Eve Results, New Year's Day Results

The course was modified slightly between races this year. New Year's Eve was posted as a 13.36 mile race (though Ron had it exactly at 13.1) and New Year's Day was 13.17, eliminating a small loop near the start/finish. Both Susan and Ron had a much faster time for the second race, but it probably had more to do with the slopes than the change in distance.

Registration fees are very reasonable ($43 for the 5K to $65 for the Half) with discounts if you sign up before mid November. Brazen does a great job of honoring the "Streakers" - people who participate in all 24 races in the year by racing or volunteering. The shadow box below holds all of the 24 medals plus a bunch of double-race 'connectors'. Picture here on their Facebook page of Streaker Tuan Ha.

Weather (2013): Chilly for California. Both races started in the high 30's and warmed to the mid 50's by the 11:30 finish time. There wasn't a cloud in the sky on either day.

We had to take off early after New Year's Day to join our neighbors who've been wanting us to join them at Golden Gate Fields for the last 15 years. Our $20 starting stake lasted us for 6 races and we walked away with only losing $8 (plus $2 to tip the valet). We ate more than our fair share at the buffet.

Bonus note: Corrigan Sports 10-Miler/5K Series will hold their first race in Foster City on January 12th, 2014. Completing this and the other two races in Marin County (May 25th) and Santa Clara County (August 24th) earns a bonus medal. The last price increase is on January 6th, but you can get a $5 discount if you use CARINO in the coupon code for registration. Ron plans to use it as a taper for Rock 'n' Roll Arizona the following week. Hope to see you there!