What are you made of?
SIDENOTE: This is a long story, grab a cup of coffee, a blanket and silence your cell phone.
I signed up for the Goofy Challenge (a Half Marathon Saturday followed by a Full Mary Sunday) with my girlfriend this summer. Since becoming single, (my girlfriend becoming another infamous ‘ex girlfriend’) the question I had pondered was whether to follow through with the race or bag it?
Enter my Mom…
In September my Mom (who lives in Tampa) started run/walking before work. She would cover roughly 1-2 miles. I was very proud of her for doing so and coached her on how to evolve to run without the walk part.
She bought a pair of Newtons and set out to improve her form and endurance. In less then a months time she could run 3 miles non-stop and was in love with her new sneakers. It was then she expressed interest in running the Half Marathon portion of the Goofy Challenge asking me “Chris, do you think I could do that?” I told that she most definitely could if she kept up with her running.
A month later she called and told me she was signing up! She would run the race in celebration of her being 20 years Cancer free! The Goofy Challenge was on!
FLASHBACK: When I was 13 my Mom was abruptly diagnosed with Colon Cancer. She hospitalized for over a month. My daily routine would be to go visit her after school in the hospital. It was a very scary time for me, my 2 brothers and my father. She just barely made it and now, she is a nurse because of her experience.
I arrived in Tampa on Thursday, and was picked up by my step dad Richard. The following day my mom and I ran errands and I made my ‘Race Burritos.’ She was a mess! She kept asking me if I thought she would finish? “What is the furthest distance you ran under my training program?” She looked worried and said, “Only 3 miles.” I was a bit worried hearing that but didn’t let it show. I mean, I had only ran 9 miles as my furthest run since November, so we were in the same boat and yes, we are related.
That afternoon we headed out to Orlando, checked into our condo and hit the expo.
At 6:30 we went to a restaurant called Fresco Italian Market. It rocks and my mom found it last year when I ran just the Marathon. It’s like the only non-chain restaurant in Orlando perhaps.
One of my best friends, Todd, who my readers might know as swim coach/partner, local swimmer, college buddy, drinking buddy etc. had his parents come meet us for dinner. They are like my second parents and are always the best hosts when I visit them in Boca. Todd’s dad Mike, who I call ‘Coach’ had asked a few months ago if he could sponsor one of my races, and that race would be the Goofy Challenge. Our agreement was that I would wear Boca Hoops branded gear while I ran, a basketball league he has run for the last 30 years.
…In the spring of 1989, in a kitchen in East Boca Raton, three men were brought together by a gentleman named Joe Murphy. Their purpose was to bring the game of “round ball” to the youth of Boca Raton. Their goal was a simple one, to teach the basics of basketball, while promoting sportsmanship and teamwork. Little did Bob Mullin, Mike Doyle, and Jody Forstot imagine that what would start as a league of 340 children in 1989,would grow to over 1350 children. That 34 teams would evolve into 136 teamsthose 18 gutsy girls would pave the way for over 440 girls and four coed divisions would become 5 boys divisions and 4 girls divisions…
The 5 of us had a fantastic meal… beer, wine and one of my staples Shrimp Fra Diavlo. At 9:30 we left, all of us knowing that we had to wake up at 3:30AM to get to the race on time. Insane! The Disney Marathon weekend has to be the earliest race starts in history. I even thought about staying up all night… but those of you who really know me understand how I can rarely stay up past midnight.
RACE DAY 1: Half Marathon (Saturday)
I was waking up every hour on the hour. I guess I was anxious, regardless I was glad because if I was to fall into a deeper sleep it would have been harder to pop out of bed.
3:30AM is early, so early in fact that I though of people in NYC getting ready to LEAVE the bars and head home for bed.
My mom and I geared up while her husband (my step-dad) helped out by making coffee and keeping us on schedule. We jumped in the car and headed toward Epcot where he dropped us off. It was 50 degrees and would shape up to be a perfect running day.
Coaching my mom, I instructed her to hit the porto-johns before we get into our corrals. There were a lot of people running (27,000) making the scene pretty chaotic. It took us 45 minutes to get to our corral in the sea of runners. While in the crowds we made some friends who liked that my mom and I had matching Newton sneakers on. I had been telling her all these months how cool runners are and she was experiencing it firsthand!
She was in Corral G and as we entered the guy was like “Hey man, what are you doing, you’re in the first Corral!” I smiled and put my arm around my mom and said “I’m running this thing with my mom, man.” Cool. As we stood there it started to fill in pretty quick. Then, Wave 1 set off and fireworks erupted! Every 6 minutes they let another Wave go and after 40 minutes it was finally our time.
We started slowly running and navigating through the throngs of walkers! I couldn’t believe how many people started the Half Mary by walking! I mean, I love anyone out there doing it, but I would save my walking for the end, right? Even my mom was getting annoyed and she started picking it up and bobbin’ ‘n weavin’! It was all quite amusing. We were holding down a steady 12 minute per mile pace and making good headway. We took turns leading.
At mile 3.5 we took a porto-john break. 50 minutes or so had elapsed. This was also the furthest my mom had ever run.
Pressing forward I shed a layer of clothing is the sun came out, heating us up. At the Aid Stations, it was really fun teaching my mom about how to grab the water cups and make a spigot so you don’t get water up your nose.
As we approached mile 5-6 the crowds started showing and cheering us on. Then, we hit the Magic Kingdom (which in my opinion is the highlight on both days). My mom was thrilled seeing all the Disney characters and getting to run through Cinderella’s Castle. I had to tell her “Mom, smile! We are being photographed all over the place!”
A little after mile 7 she asked if we could walk for a minute. Of course. I had told her that today was her race, anything she wanted to do was okay by me. She even asked a few times if I wanted to run ahead so my time wasn’t bad.
She would walk for maybe 100 meters then pick it up again, which I thought was outstanding! All-in-all we maybe walked ¾ of a mile the whole race!
There were lots of marching bands rocking out as we hit certain points. One of them was covering Cameo’s ‘Word Up’ and I couldn’t have been more excited. I looked at my mom and she was like “What? Why are you smiling?” I said, “Mom! That’s ‘Word Up’! You know, that guy with the funny voice who sings ‘Doin the Butt’?” as I attempted to sing the song. She just laughed.
Approaching the 10 mile mark we started hearing fire trucks and ambulances. As I looked back a fire truck was barreling down on us and hopped the median full speed, runners scattering like pigeons! It drove up the road and pulled over where someone was in dire need of medical attention. It was here my mom asked what time I thought we would finish? She assumed maybe 4 hours and was startled when I told her we were close to making 3 hours! She was really excited.
Ascending an overpass, this volunteer looked at me and said something. I looked to my left at my mom and she was smiling and said, “She was talking to me, not you! She likes my style!” My mom began explaining how her pink top matched her running capris because they had a pink stripe. Then, she noted that her bib matched her Newton sneakers. Yes mom, you were stylin.
Passing mile 12 I asked how she was doing. I got a thumbs up and so I said to her, “Lets do this! We’re gonna finish strong! Ready?” With that, I led us forward as we passed loads of runners. I knew my mom was hurting, but I also knew she could do this.
Finally rounding the corner, the finish in sight, we picked it up a little more! As we crossed the finish my mom and I threw our hands up! I looked at her and she smiled and said, “I did it!” I gave her a hug and congratulated her. She stopped me and said, “Chris, thank you for helping me through this. You were a great coach.” No prob mom… anytime.
We got our Donald Duck medals and some water, then exited, meeting Richard. He gave my mom a big hug and then took some photos of us. My mom’s main concern was that she have a nice photo to put on facebook!
Richard cooked my mom and I a huge breakfast while we fielded phone calls and text messages from family and friends wishing to congratulate my mom.
I also gave my mom the necklace I had made by Erica Sara (www.ericasaradesigns.com). Aside from making really beautiful jewelry for everyday wear, she also makes ‘Race Bling’ which are cute pendants with inscriptions on them. I had mine say on the front: 13.1, Disney Half; and on the back: January 2011, 20 Years Cancer Free. My mom was so excited. She hasn’t taken it off since and will probably be buying lots more from Erica Sara Designs! Thanks Erica.
We showered and went to play some mini-golf, a favorite past-time of mine since I was 9. Afterwords we all took a power nap, then headed back out to Fresco Italian Market for dinner. It’s such a good place, why jeopardize pre-marathon dinner. I had linguine and white clams sauce. Awesome! We toasted to our success and celebrated mildly.
In bed by 10:30PM, alarm set for 3:30AM for the second day in a row. Pain.
RACE DAY 2: Full Marathon (Sunday)
I was really groggy and a total ‘space case’. It is rare to see me in this state and I encourage anyone witnessing it to tease me and savor the moment.
After a cup of coffee we were off. Richard met a nice lady named Karin the day before and offered her a ride so she joined our crew. My mom and Richard dropped us off at the start and I made my way to the corrals. I made some pals and our conversation revolved around… yes, running. We started talking about goals for the day and they asked me what I wanted to do? I looked up and just said “You know, I think Sub3 would be fantastic.” Moments later I thought, “Don’t write a check with your mouth that your ass can’t cash.”
The corral situation was night and day (or day-n-nite) compared with the Half. Instead of being in the very back, I was now toeing the start line.
As the national anthem came on I was transported to a moment in time, a memory. The president of our company, Mr. Allen Brill, was very patriotic and was always thrilled to hear of my running adventures. In fact, he is partly responsible for me even running in the first place.
He passed away on Thanksgiving weekend and shocked our entire company. He had been diagnosed 2 months earlier with stage 4 Lung Cancer. I had known him for 7 years which is a drop in the bucket compared so some of my fellow coworkers.
One of my last memories of him was being called to his office the Monday after the NYC Marathon. As I entered he looked weaker than normal and I knew he was sick. He was standing, smiling and shaking his head, “Three hours, one minute and fifty-nine seconds. Good god man! That’s outstanding!” We chatted some more before I left, happy, but worried about his health.
Another clear memory that popped into my head. The Friday before the NYC Marathon he called me as the day was coming to a close. “Mr. Baker, it’s Mr. Brill. I understand you will of course be running Sunday.” Yes, of course!” I cheered on. “Do me a favor. Run it for me.”
I didn’t run the NYC Marathon for him that Sunday. I ran it for me, but as I stood there in the cold night, in my bubble of thought, I looked up and said “For Allen. I will run THIS race for him, in his honor and for his love of sport.”
And with that, the gun went off and the race began.
The first mile was pretty uneventful. I was getting warmed up and summoning my energy, feeling my body… was it okay after a half mary the day prior.
I was speeding up and I knew it. Voices rattled in my head, “Negative splits.” “Don’t start too fast.” “Make your bed.” I felt great and was excited to be opening up my pace, passing loads of runners. Miles 2-5 were run at a 6:30 pace and as I thought about slowing down, being ‘logical’, I decided to run this race all heart. I thought, “If I’m running this for Allen, he is going to get a great race.”
The first 8 miles are super boring. Straight up highways where they have bands and clowns or whatever. It’s still boring. I got to see the same band that played ‘Word up’ which helped I guess. I also ate half of my ‘Race Burrito’ without slowing down so that kept me busy.
A few miles before the halfway point we entered the Magic Kingdom which is the highlight of the whole race. I saluted and waved to all the Disney Characters, especially Sleeping Beauty.
Of course, running through Cinderella’s Castle was sweet, especially because I was the only one in it for the Marathon. Exiting the Magic Kingdom was sad, because I knew that dark times were ahead. I was, however, looking forward to sunrise which was in the next 30 minutes.
During miles 15-16 this really cute blond gal and I were running together. The sun came up at this moment too and I tried to not get to overwhelmed at how beautiful it was because, well, I was racing. She was admittedly faster and just toying with me I think because at mile 16 she took off never to be seen again. I ran that mile in 6:22, I’m such a sucker.
Miles 16-18 are in the Animal Kingdom which sounds cool, but I never saw any animals. 19-21 are like th
e worst for this course and they were coming up, so I was frightened. M legs were on fire and hurting pretty bad. I thought, “Make it to mile 19 and then walk a bit.”
I ate a Honey Stinger and munched on my ‘Race Burrito’ some more. As 19 approached I slowed down and walked maybe 5 paces. Looking at my Garmin I realized at this moment that a Sub3 Marathon was within my grasp, but how? I was in so much pain, natural pain albeit. I thought about Allen and ran. I ran hard, tears being choked back as I thought not of him, but of my mom, and her battle with cancer and how proud of her I was.
I did something I have never done before in a race, although it’s such a simple principle. As I picked up my speed, legs burning, I said to myself, “This pain is temporary, it is only your brain telling you to stop running. You will be okay, you always are. Run to the finish,don’t stop, no matter what.” And I did.
The last few miles were excruciating (as all you runners know) and I kept busy by watching my Garmin. My mantra was to look at it and the yell, “Come on! Come on Baker!”
FUN ANECDOTE: At mile 23 you round a lake that is part of a Disney Resort, it’s very scenic. To my left was water and to my right, a grassy hill where something was moving towards me. It jumped into the middle of the sidewalk right in front of me as I dodged stepping on it. I simultaneously realized it was a fuzzy baby duck and yelled “CUTE!” I then looked back to see if my competition heard me say the ‘cute’ thing, worried about my street cred.
As the last mile was coming to a close, I realized that my ultimate goal of running a Sub3 Marathon was about to happen. I was thrilled. Crossing the finish I threw my hand up and yelled, “YEAH!” I was given my Mickey Marathon Medal, then walked over to the Goofy area where I got my 3rd Medal.
I saw my Mom and Richard who congratulated me, excited at my time. I had ran the Full Mary faster than the Half Mary, which in itself is bizarre, ironic, mysterious (if you don’t know the story) and straight up awesome.
We checked out of the hotel and headed to a Cracker Barrel at my request. We don’t have them in NYC and wow, I miss their breakfast.
That night we celebrated by having a fantastic steak dinner cooked by my Mom and Richard. I don’t often eat meat, but this was a celebration for my Mom as well as me. Many toasts were made as we reminisced about the races.
I left the next morning, returning to NYC with an overwhelming amount of joy.
“Battle Stations was called as we woke from sleep. The battle, it was real, and we came out of it triumphant.”
Triumphant does not even begin to describe the weekend. To see my Mom cross that finish line, with the look of a child who just discovered Christmas morning, is unforgettable. She beat Cancer, and now she achieved what she thought was unachievable. I am so proud of her. ‘There are only possibilities.’
Thanks to Boca Hoops Summer Camp for sponsoring me through this race.
Thanks to Richard, who put up with 2 crazy runners all week and was our unfaltering helper.