After 12 weeks of training in all kinds of weather on the local running trails in Arlington, VA on Saturday mornings and at the Stuart High School track every Tuesday night, it was finally RACE DAY for the Fall 2007 Cancer to 5K Team!
And the rain came pouring down...
We arrived at the Merriweather Post Pavilion at around 7:30AM to set up a meeting spot for our Team of runners and volunteers. I was expecting 15 people total and they all showed up!
The main group included myself, Coach Bob, and our first time 5K runners Ben and Cheryl. Unfortunately our third runner Jess was unable to make it because some scheduled surgery was pushed up by more than a week. She had surgery two days prior to the race and her sister came out to join us and race in her place. Along with our core group of 4 were all the Workout Pace Leaders (5 in all) who had been training with us all season. These volunteers are seasoned runners who came out to offer support, advice and company for the entire 12 week session. Having them at the workouts gave the new runners some folks to train with and gave Coach Bob the flexibility to work individually with people as necessary.
Added to the this core Team of 9 were an additional 6 volunteers. These are our Race Day Sherpas. They are running volunteers who didn't necessarily have the free time to workout with the group for the 12 week period but who were willing to come out and race with our runners on race day. The job of the SHERPA is to escort the Cancer to 5K first time runners on race day, providing support, maintaining a good pace and keeping an eye on the runner throughout the race itself.
So on a rainy morning, in Columbia, MD - 15 members of Team Cancer to 5K toed the line along with Lance Armstrong, Doug Ulman and a few hundred other runners to run the Ulman Cancer Fund's 10-THE RACE 5K. The event was a celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults.
After a brief speech by honored guest and fellow competitor, Lance Armstrong, the 5K was underway. My sister Heather, boyfriend Jim and I stayed at the finish line coral so we could get pictures and award some medals to our runners as they finished their first 5K.
First medal recipient to cross the line, in a solid 4th place, was Lance Armstrong. I asked him if I could present him with a Cancer to 5K finishers medal and a team shirt and he said "Of course" and so Lance became an official Cancer to 5K runner and teammate.
Next across the line about 4-5 minute behind was Doug Ulman. He was also presented a Cancer to 5K finisher medal and team shirt. He stayed and talked with me for a few minutes, congratulating us on getting the program started and thanked us for being part of the race.
Third medal recipient was our very own Coach Bob who finished solidly in the front of the pack. He is a fellow skin cancer survivor and was not expecting a medal. It was wonderful to be able to surprise him after all the hard work that he has done for the program.
Coach Bob then turned around and headed back out onto the course to find our first group of SHERPAS and Ben. While Heather, Jim and I rang our cowbells and cheered many 5K finishers into the finish line. Just as the race clock hit 39 minutes, I caught the first glimpse of bright yellow and white at the top of the last hill. It was Ben and Monica (Jess's sister), accompanied by Coach Bob and 6 of our 9 Pace Leaders/SHERPAS.
The sight of Ben, coming over that last hill and up to the finish line, sent chills down my spine. I was so proud of the hard work that he did over the last 12 weeks to get to this point and so happy that I could have been a part of that accomplishment. Ben crossed the finish line with a big smile on his face and then nearly fell into my arms as I presented him with his Cancer to 5K medal. He left nothing out on the course and laughed later when recalling all of the hills on the "scenic" course.
Ben and his group of runners headed just beyond the finish line to cool down and grab some water and refreshments. Coach Bob, again, headed back out on the course to join Cheryl and her group as they approached the finish.
With more cowbells passed around the Team rang in the Kid's Fun Run while we awaited the arrival of Cheryl and her SHERPAS. Just as the last child crossed the finish line, we saw that tell-tale flash of yellow surrounded by white that was Cheryl, Coach Bob and her 3 SHERPAS. With florish of cowbell and big cheers, we cheered Cheryl into the finish. She even ran the last 200 yards uphill to the finish line! I presented Cheryl with her finishers medal and we took some groups pictures at the finish and then everybody headed to the tents for food and water as the rain finally began to let up.
It is nearly impossible for me to put in to words, how it felt to watch Ben and Cheryl cross the finish line. They're smiles said it all. They came to the group 12 weeks ago, not sure that they could finish a 5K race, worried they would be too slow or last. All that worry was washed away slowly by the weekly workouts and that early morning rain on race day and I know that crossing that finish line opened a whole new world of possibilities for both of them.
While it was sad that Jess was not able to join us on race day after 12 weeks of training, while undergoing chemotherapy. The surgery was an important step in Jess's fight with cancer. Jess plans to join the Spring 2008 training program - to finish what she started and race 5K with the Team. Ben is talking about "what his next race should be" and hoping to go faster and then longer next time and he wants to volunteer as a Workout Pace Leader for the spring. Cheryl is considering joining the Spring team again, to keep working out with a group and do another 5K.
This is exactly the outcome that I dreamed of when the Cancer to 5K program was just an idea in my head. A program that for 12 weeks, introduces cancer survivors to running/walking and regular exercise and that in the end, opens them up to the endless opportunities that exercise can bring to their lives, in spite of cancer.
Life is Good! Live STRONG!