Friday, December 31, 2010

Gratitude for 2010

As I sit here on the last morning of 2010, contemplating heading out in the rain for one last run of the year or enjoying one more cup of coffee, I am reminded of how blessed I have been this past year....numerous notes from old and new friends wishing me a Happy New Year.

This has been a year filled with highs and lows - as I suppose every year is - but the difference in 2010 was the growth in continued friendships and the many new connections I have been so lucky to make.

And, let's not forget the new discovery of ME.  The past few months have been about self-discovery and becoming happy with what I can control, about making decisions for me first.

As I head into 2011, I see a year filled with possibilities.  Opportunities for more great times with fabulous and supportive friends; watching my children continue to achieve their own goals and grow into independent, thriving individuals; and continuing to build on the momentum of gratitude and achievement I've felt in myself at the end of 2010.

My past posts have shared a great deal about the "new Barb" and although this new attitude is one that some could see as being somewhat selfish, I am internally grateful for those old and new friends that made this "Babitude" (as one close friend coined it) emerge.  Unconditional love and support from all of you have made 2010 VERY SPECIAL.

I wish I could toast the new year in with all of you but instead, from my kitchen in Illinois, I raise my coffee mug to all  - "Cheers to a 2011 living each day to it's fullest with optimism and gratitude."

LiveSTRONG my friends.....and as 2011 knocks on my door, I'll be RunningStrong for Hope....knowing I have the best safety net I could ever ask for, supportive and loving friendships.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Vegas Half Marathon....13.1 down, 186.9 miles to go

In the words of Conan O'Brien (yes, Conan is my philosopher today), "Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get, but if you work really hard, and you're kind, amazing things will happen."  Wow...this simple statement applies to every aspect of my life.  My life has turned out quite differently that I expected but somehow things always turn out okay, partially due to the amazing friends I surround myself with.  How true this statement is when applied to my solo adventure to Las Vegas to run the Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon.  A trip that had a lot of additional meaning to it, as I've mentioned in previous posts.

I often say "things happen for a reason" and I have several friendships - with many of you by the way - that happened under strange and unusual circumstances.....circumstances that required so many other circumstances and events aligning up prior to our meeting to have occurred.  More recent occurrences are meeting a new friend at a Chicago Marathon Team LiveStrong event just because we happened to sit at the same table and while talking, discovered we have a mutual friend.  Another while running the 5K at the Philadelphia LiveStrong Challenge with my daughter and a stranger (now a dear friend) starting conversation with Rachel because of her birthday hat.  And meeting two cool LiveStrong fundraisers from Michigan while dodging the Austin LiveStrong Challenge 5K runners to get to the finish line refreshments.  So I am a true believer that someone is watching over me and that things do happen for a reason.

I happened to experience one of these "things happening for a reason" on my flight to Las Vegas.  I was flying on Southwest (because is there any better airline??) and, for those of you that you that have missed out on flying the best domestic airline, seats are not assigned, you just pick your preference as you board.  I am a window seat person and will go all the way to the back of the plane to sit by a window even if there is a open seat closer in the front.  I just prefer to look out at the clouds, the buildings and hopefully some majestic sights on occasion.  In this case, there happened to be a window seat open near the front.  I assumed it was taken but when I asked the aisle seat occupant, it was wide open.  So I plunked myself down....and as in the true Barb fashion that mortifies my children, I started chatting with the woman on the aisle.  And we kept chatting.....until someone asked for the middle seat - even though there were lots of window and aisle seats still available.

But, the chatting did not conclude....instead, it was as though we were three long lost friends that reunited on the plane.  As we continued to talk, we realized we all had a lot in common.  All three of us were going through some "personal rebirth" of sorts.  My new friend in the middle was also a widow and her husband passed away suddenly about the same number of years ago as Brian.  Granted, Brian didn't pass away suddenly but I would consider a two week span from diagnosis to passing as sudden in the cancer community.  However, at least I was able to say goodbye and come to terms with it - if you can call it that.  Other similarities, we both were living in communities with great friends for support but no family, both had relocated halfway across the country to the Midwest (her from CA and myself from PA), both had children still dealing with the loss of their dads and at different stages, both were in the process of accepting that we needed to make decisions for ourselves,  and both felt a bit guilty for being ready to move on with our lives.  I have NEVER since Brian's passing had a conversation with someone that understood my struggles of being a widow raising children as she did. 

Traveling alone allowed me to make these new friendships.....and I know I would have missed out on this amazing connection if I had been with a group.  It was this realization that "good things happen when you meet strangers."  But, in order for these good  things to happen, you need to make yourself open to them.
This was one of the quickest flights I've ever been on.  When we landed in Las Vegas, I didn't feel as though I was alone....not the least bit lonely but stronger than I was when I boarded the plane and excited about the continued possibilities of this weekend adventure.

The Rock 'n Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon.....the real reason I was on this begin my "2011 LiveStrong Coast to Coast Tour"....RunningStrong for Hope - hope for those 28 million worldwide living with cancer that cannot run a full or half marathon to kick cancer's butt.

Saturday was a typical day before a race.  I checked into my hotel (The Wynn, which is an amazing hotel and casino) and received the most outstanding level of service.  It was as though I was the only guest or maybe the staff could see that this was a life changing trip for me?  I have a feeling the level of service is typical for every guest, but boy, did I love it!  I received an upgrade - perhaps I looked like a big time gambler....boy were they fooled!  I headed up to my room, relaxed a bit then headed over to the expo and met up with a few friends that were also in Vegas for the race.  Once I picked up my packet, checked out the booths, I headed off to to have a carbo loading dinner and my typical night before the race glass of wine.  I landed at The Mirage and while having dinner, enjoyed watching all the "cowboys" in town for a Rodeo.  What a interesting pairing....runners and cowboys.  Looked like a lot of the cowboys were still celebrating Movember - wearing the face of men's health with a variety of mustaches.  I have a feeling many of them were not aware of the significance of their facial hair, but I thought about the importance of Movember and wondered how much more money could be raised if we recruited some of these cowboys. 

A few rounds in the casino - proving I am not a big time gambler  -  and I headed to my room for the pre-race prepping.....bib on shirt, chip on shoes, lay out items for morning - watch, gloves, hat, etc, pack a bag for post-race....check, check, check and check.  Then off to sleep on the 59th floor with the lights of Vegas blinking outside my window.

The alarm seemed to go off a bit too early but I actually had one of the first restful and relaxing nights sleep in several days.  After I made my typical race day statement "whose idea was this" and "I don't want to get out of bed to run", I dragged myself up with the darkness looming outside my window.  Once dressed, I headed down to the lobby - and met three men from Milwaukee who had also recently run the Chicago Marathon.  You expect to arrive in a lobby filled with runners, but of course this was Vegas.  As I headed to the shuttle, I was greeted with cheers of "Run Fast!" and "Good Luck!" from the casino tables.  This lobby was filled with those still enjoying their Saturday night.....and hopefully having some luck that could rub off on me!

The weather conditions were a bit chilly for Las Vegas but perfect for a race.  It was in the low 40s but then again, the sun still hadn't risen.  Once I arrived at the start, I found a McDonald's to seek shelter from the chilly morning, bought a coffee and settled in a booth for the next hour.  Apparently this was not a novel idea.  Soon the restaurant was filled with other runners.  Quite a melting pot - I met two runners from Mexico (who looked prepared to run the Chicago lakefront in January), two from Canada (dressed much differently than the Mexicans), and others from across the US.  It was quite a social scene.

Soon the sun began to rise and time to line up at the start.  I waited until the last moment then headed over to Corral 8, where I promptly noticed a Fabio wanta-be dressed in a Speedo swimsuit next to me.  I'm sure he'll appear in many of my race photos from the start - but I suppose that won't be as bad as my friend's photos from the Chicago Marathon finish with a giant male body part behind her.  I started chuckling when I saw him and noticed a woman next to me doing the same.  We talked for a minute or two before the start and it turns out she was also here by herself from L.A.  None of her friends were interested in running/traveling to Vegas so she just decided to go alone.   Bizarre that we were both there under the same circumstances and standing next to each other among the 30,000 runners at this race - a third of which seemed dressed as Elvis.

The race went really well....surprisingly well.  The conditions were perfect - flat (and I mean FLAT), lots of support along the way, great views between the strip and the mountains beyond, great music, enthusiastic volunteers at the aid stations, weather couldn't have been better, considerate and friendly runners,.and just a well run race.  I felt great along the way and every time I looked at my watch I was watch must have been impacted by the large numbers running and the buildings....there was no way I was running this quickly.  Not after nursing an injury the past few months and only training on the treadmill.  But, I kept thinking I better not take a chance....maybe it was right.  I was feeling no pain - all those trips to the chiropractor obviously were working and perhaps the runs on the treadmill were really acting as speed work for me.  Maybe I was running this fast afterall.  As it turns out, I was ran my fastest half - took a full minute off my previous PR.   Not what I was expecting, but I;m not complaining!

Of course, this isn't why I was running - to beat a personal best time - but I'd take it!  The real reason - and I kept these thoughts with me all along the way - was for the 28 million that cancer was causing havoc to their lives.  For those that were suffering and fighting a very awful and unfair opponent, for those Survivors that flattened their opponent and for those that put up a great battle but unfortunately couldn't last another round.  I have loved ones in all these categories and I kept thinking along the way how the pain I was feeling was absolutely NOTHING compared to the pain that #$%& cancer was or did cause them to feel.  This is why I was running this race....why I'm embarking on this 2011 challenge....every step of the way.  To let cancer know who is in charge.....US!!!

13.1 down.....186.9 to go!

Please support me in my RunningStrong fundraising efforts to provide hope for the 28 million living with cancer

Friday, December 3, 2010

Barb & Barb's Excellent Adventure....Vegas Here I Come!

Tomorrow marks the start of an adventure for me....a soul searching journey.  Or maybe the conclusion of a journey?

What is so special about tomorrow?  I am headed to Las Vegas to run the Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon.  The first race in my "2011 Coast to Coast LiveSTRONG Tour" - a half marathon each month (with the exception of March and November when I'll run the LA & NYC Marathons - hence the coast to coast).  The two marathons and my May race - the Dick's Pittsburgh Half - will be as a participant on Team LiveSTRONG.  The rest will be solo, but all for the 28 million worldwide that are suffering from cancer, to honor those that have survived their battle and those that have not.  Cancer sucks....there no other way to state that, and this is my way of kicking cancer's ass.  Every step I take, every mile I run while training and racing will be to kick cancer's ass,  all while raising funds for LiveSTRONG so they can continue to reach out to the 28 million fighting cancer each and every day.  I hate cancer; hate that it kept my children from having a lifetime with their father, that it kept him and I from fulfilling all the dreams we had together, that I grew up without my own mother, that my niece and nephew lost their beautiful mom much too early in life, that I occasionally still reach for the phone to call my sister or father but can't.  Cancer took all these wonderful people from our lives.  This is my motivation to take on this challenge.....I don't want others to endure what my family has endured.   Vegas will be the first of 13 consecutive races I will run for LiveSTRONG over the next 12 months.....what better way to start an adventure?

An adventure no doubt but also a soul searching journey.   One that began on October 25th in the Austin airport while waiting for my flight home from the Ride for the Roses LiveSTRONG Challenge Weekend.  At some point I was asked what was next on my agenda.  My response was "not a thing."  But that was really not the case.  I did have something.  I was scheduled to run a half marathon in Las Vegas with friends in December.  But, as is typical in life, conflicts arose and suddenly I was the only one available to go.  So, it was assumed - by both myself and my friends - that I was not going to run in Vegas. 

As I waited for my flight, I began to think.....why wasn't I going to Las Vegas?  Because I was going alone?  I just went to Austin alone and had a great experience.  Yes, I went alone but I met fantastic people and reconnected with others.  It was a weekend that rejuvenated and inspired me.  So, why can't I do that again?  Why not keep this momentum going?  It was at that point the light bulb went off.  If I want to really live life, I need to make plans for myself....and welcome the company of anyone that wants to join me, but no more waiting.  What exactly was I waiting for?  As I experienced with the unfortunate deaths - that damn cancer again - of my sister and husband, life can be taken from you without much notice. 

I don't want a life full of regrets so right then and there I decided I was going to run a myself.  Of course, if anyone wanted to join me, they were more than welcome, but I wasn't waiting for anyone else to make my arrangements.  The next day (after making sure Grandma and Grandpa were still available to spend the weekend - by the way, I have amazing in-laws who provide unbelievable support) I booked my flight and hotel.  Once all the arrangements were in place, then and only then, did I share my plans with others.  Of course, the first question  always asked is "who else is going?"  My response is always "I have no idea....but I'm going."  Most were surprised....although I've taken weekend trips to Chicago running friends know I don't like to run alone, or at least arrive at the start line alone.  Half marathons have always been something of a "group" event.

So, yes, a conclusion to a journey - one of deciding to make decisions for live life to it's take each day as it comes to me and make the most of it.....all because I was sitting in an airport with time to think. 

My last trip alone I boarded the plane with trepidation.  This time I'm boarding it with excitement.  I can't wait to enjoy the company we most likely forget about - ourselves!  This trip to Vegas is all about me, myself and I.....along with putting cancer on notice of my ass-kicking I'll be giving it throughout 2011 for those 28 million that can't go run 13.1 or 26.2 miles.

Stayed tuned!  I am sure I'll have stories to share....well, maybe....what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas.


P.S.  If you want to join me in supporting LiveSTRONG and those 28 million fighting cancer, please consider making a donation on-line using the link below:

Saturday, November 13, 2010

How LiveStrong Saved Me From The Tilt-a-Whirl

Three weeks ago I boarded a plane headed for Austin, TX to attend the LiveStrong Challenge and Ride for the Roses (RFTR) events.  Although this was the second year I qualified for the RFTR  and had participated in LiveStrong events in the past (Austin 09, Philly 10 and Chicago Marathon 09 & 10), I was feeling anxious.   I was going through some tough personal lows and traveling alone...which is silly for me because I've traveled alone before...but I just wasn't feeling like that strong independent woman my friends all view me as.

It all started in August, which is always a difficult month for me due to the anniversary of my husband's passing from cancer.  This year the 6 year anniversary fell on the same weekend as the Philly LiveStrong Challenge.  Very fitting actually since we spent the first 11 years of our life together in Philadelphia.  Brian and I moved there the summer after we graduated from college   We reminisced about that first apartment often and I recall sharing laughs together in the hospital days before Brian passed away.  Our two boys were born in Philadelphia and my younger son joined me at the Challenge - along with his sister who was celebrating her 7th birthday (yes, you've done your math correctly...her first birthday was the day after her dad past away).  It was fun but also very bittersweet as we ventured into the city.  Memories that had not crossed my mind in over a decade came flooding back.

The comradery that surrounds a LiveStrong challenge is amazing.  And this comradery is what helped me through what is usually a very difficult day, weekend and week.  My daughter often gets short-changed on her birthday because Mom is usually a bit emotionally under the weather.  This year though there were thousands on hand to help her celebrate.....and her brother made sure she was geared up for it.  My teammates on the Friends Fighting Cancer team - old and new friends - made sure she had a special day and welcomed my children with open arms.  It was amazing to watch how complete strangers opened their arms for these children.  One in particular will be a friend for life and approached my daughter as she trotted through her birthday celebration 5K (can you believe they held a race for her.....or at least that's what she was thinking!). 

So a rather easy weekend after all.....phew....this is getting easier each year I recall thinking.  It is always tough.for me to leave the east coast and especially tough to leave a city (I'm a city dweller....I've always loved the hustle and bustle of a city).  So, it was no surprise to me as we continued west and the cornfields became more plentiful that I was getting a tad bit melancholy.  I miss the skyscrapers, the close proximity to the ocean, the trees, the rolling scenery.  None of that the sadness always begins to set in....but a few days after returning home it fades away.

But wait.....this time it didn't.  The sadness hung around.  The sadness started pointing out the loneliness that resides in my life at times.  The sadness threatened to take over.  The sadness interfered with my training.  Darn it....I had a marathon scheduled in October for LiveStrong.  I had raised a lot of money and committed to running the Chicago Marathon for Team LiveStrong....the sadness was getting in the way!  Then a nagging injury kept nagging me....which caused self doubt, and no training reduced the endorphins we runners love, all of these just fed the sadness even more, and throw in a bit of work stress and kids starting school stress and for good measure, add a little pinch of some extra stress for pretty much everything else that seemed to be falling down around me.  It was a vicious a ride on the Tilt-a-Whirl when you've had enough spinning but no matter what you do, the car doesn't stop spinning.  That is exactly what September and October felt like....a never ending Tilt-a-Whirl ride. 

I was bound and determined to run the Chicago Marathon.  I did it but it was a rough weekend due to several reasons. I dreaded spending time alone because at this point, I couldn't get myself off that darn Tilt-a-Whirl.  The self-doubt and loneliness just kept coming around.  The more I was alone, the more time I had to think.....and I really didn't want to think anymore.

Where did independent, strong Barb go I kept wondering, and how do I get her back?  I wanted off the Tilt-a-Whirl!

My trip to Austin was approaching......a trip truly alone.  With trepidation I boarded that plane.  I arrived in Austin rather late that night, shuttled to my hotel and dragged myself into bed.  Exhausted but as was typical for the last few months, my mind and body couldn't wind down.  I tossed and turned for hours.  Anxiety of the pending loneliness I would encounter all weekend dwelling.  

After a few hours of fitful sleep, I arose to a dreary overcast morning.  This was not good.  I headed down to the lobby to grab a much needed  coffee.  Low and behold, I ran right into a Friends Fighting Cancer (FFC) teammate.....lucky me!  The first person I run into is someone I know....and a friendly soul at that!  Just what I needed.  Later that morning in the lobby, I ran into several other FFC teammates....all greeting me with smiles and hugs.  I could feel the Tilt-a-Whirl slowing down a bit.

Being alone that weekend turned out to be the best thing ever for me.  It caused me to reach out to others and meet new people.  The hotel and events were filled with what seemed like long lost friends.  The common bond of why we were all there created that feeling.  These people understood what I was going through.  They had been there before, had their lives thrown on the Tilt-a-Whirl by cancer.  I became rejuvenated.  The strong independent Barb began to resurface.

Although there was some melancholy saying good-bye to everyone at the end of the weekend, I instead returned home very inspired and excited to really live life again.  Enough wallowing and self-doubt!  I boarded the return flight home a completely different version of Barb than the one that landed in Austin 4 days earlier.  Independent, strong Barb was coming back....a newer and better versions.

I met so many amazing and inspiring new friends that weekend, many who have continued to reach out to me.  This is what LiveStrong is all about.....helping people survive.  I had always thought of that as helping those fighting cancer survive but that weekend in Austin  made me realize that the LiveStrong community is there to help ALL survivors.  Although I have never had cancer, the loss of my mom, dad, sister and husband has been difficult.  Those of us left behind because of cancer also have a need to survive.   I was reminded of that countless times in Austin.  To those of you that reached out to me in Austin, THANK YOU.  I will always be incredibly grateful for your kindness, friendship, inspiration and strength you shared with me.

Thanks to all my friends - in and out of the the LiveStrong community - for helping me survive.  You may not realize how important you are to me but you truly make an impact on me each and every day.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Barb, exactly why are you doing this?

A dear friend of mine recently asked me "Why are you embarking on this challenge for 2011?"  Huh?  Seriously, you don't know?

He understood the LIVESTRONG (LAF) connection....that was no surprise as I've been a LIVESTRONG advocate for several years.  Fundraising for LAF has been a no-brainer for me.

"No, that wasn't the question. I understand that part if it." he said.  He wondered if I was doing this for other reasons.  My initial response was "No, just an idea for my fundraising this year."

However, his question continues to haunt me.....I have thought it over several times and I think he is on to something.  Yes, LIVESTRONG is my reason for this venture.  But, I've come to realize that I'd be lying if I told you it's the only reason.   I'm also doing it for me.  After losing the love of my life to this dreaded disease 6 years ago, there are still days when I have a hard time being upbeat and positive....and have invited myself to a pity party or two (sorry, your invitations must have been lost in the mail).  The original turning point for me was New Year's Day 2006.  I finally decided it was time to make a change or my life would be miserable.  So, what started out as just a hit or miss trip to the gym turned into 15 half marathons, 2 full marathons, numerous 5 & 10Ks, and a Muddy Buddy thrown in for good measure.

Running saved me.  It saved me from a life of sadness and loneliness.  I have built great relationships out on the trail - amazing how much you can learn about people when you meet at the crack of dawn.  Those of you that know me well, know how I hate to run alone.  There are days when I feel like the easier option is to pull the blanket over my head and just stay in bed.  As a mother of three, there is always another load of laundry, another trip to grocery store, another school project, etc. on my to do list.  Plus, I am ALWAYS alone without other adults.  I love my kids dearly and I love their company, but it doesn't replace adult conversation and friendship.

Having a race lined up always keeps me focused on my training.  There have been races in the past that I haven't been able to train 100% for (unlike other runners) because life's "to do list" gets in the way.  Having a goal always allows me to make time for me, no matter how little extra time I have.

I am not a cyclist, as most LIVESTRONG fundraisers are.  I am a runner that owns a bike....a bike that gets dusted off once or twice a year to attend a LIVESTRONG Challenge.  My running gear on the other hand is warn shoes are always in the back of my why not use my running to help others, since running has helped me so much?

Oh, and not only has running saved me, it has saved my children.  Being a happy parent and raising my children in a positive atmosphere gives me strength.  Who wants a household filled with depression.  If I am happy, they are happy.  What goes around, comes around.

So, yes, I am doing this for reasons other than LIVESTRONG.....I'm doing this for me because even though Brian, my parents and my sister Janet, are not kids and I am!  We survive together!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

200 Miles to Kick Cancer's it all began

Ok, I'll admit, I'm not a techy person.....I know how to log on to my computer, read my e-mail and reply....but that's about it.  Writing a blog is new to me so please bear with me!

Let me tell you a bit about me.....I am a widow that is fighting back on the disease that has robbed my children of a lifetime of memories with their father, the plans made for my own lifetime with the man I loved, as well as the untimely and early passing of my mother, father, aunt, sister and several friends to this terrible disease.

I am a big supporter of LiveStrong - a wonderful organization that provides hope to those fighting cancer....hope of survival....something that was greatly missing for every one of my family members during their fight.  I just couldn't sit back and do nothing so for the past two years, I've participated in fundraising efforts to benefit the LiveStrong organization.

2011 is no different....however I've decided to kick it up a notch!  An avid runner (although not necessarily the fastest runner), I have completed numerous half marathons over the years and as a member of Team LiveStrong the past two Chicago Marathons.  Seems like alot....especially while raising 3 active children - one in high school, junior high and elementary school - but the running has provided me a great outlet to the stress my life is surrounded by on a daily basis due to the unfortunate circumstances that cancer has created for my family.

So for 2011, I've decided to run at least one half or full marathon a month in honor of the 28 million fighting cancer worldwide and specifically, in memory of Brian, Mom, Dad, & Janet....while raising funds to help great folks at LiveStrong continue on with the awesome work they do in each of our communities.

Approximately 200 miles run in races during 2011 = approximately the combined ages of those near and dear to me that I've lost.

Again, I'm not a writer, not a blogger.  Just a single widowed mom trying to kick cancer's butt one step at a time.  I'll use this blog to provide at least weekly updates on my training, etc and would love to hear from those of you that are in similar situations.  Thankfully I've never met too many people that are in my position but I know you are out there!

Gotta go lace up those shoes.....LiveStrong my friends!