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 trip....to 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 surprised...my 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