A life-changing date

Ten years ago today, I did my first race: On Oct. 30, 2005, I walked a full marathon (26.2 miles), the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.

My life has since changed in numerous, wonderful ways. To be honest, it changed even before that date, as I embarked on months of training for the race. Committing to such a goal and working toward it provides motivation and reward at many steps along the way. And I shared so much of that with co-workers who also were training for the event.

Crossing my first finish line was a very emotional experience!

Crossing my first finish line was a very emotional experience!

The goal was daunting, to be sure, but with each longer-distance training walk, I felt stronger, more prepared and more sure that I could do it.

The race day itself remains one of the most emotional and fantastic days of my life, and the memory will never (I hope!) fade.

The Marine Corps Marathon certainly is a great experience for a first-timer — and a walker, at that — because 1) it attracts a huge participant field and you’re never alone on the course, 2) the spectators are plentiful and nearly everywhere, 3) the scenery is pretty impressive (U.S. Capitol … Washington Monument … Smithsonian buildings), and 4) a Marine puts your medal around your neck. How great is that?

Doing this race was life-changing for the obvious reasons — achieving a big fitness goal, learning about what I could accomplish physically, feeling oh-so-proud for doing it.

But that’s not all.

As someone who hated gym class, was never among the first chosen for a team, and finished pretty much last in every meet when I spent one season on the high school track team (javelin, discus and shot-put), I finally found a physical outlet that felt great and at which I could feel a sense of achievement.

I caught the race bug, to be sure. I did a full marathon each of the next two years and then tried my hand (foot?) at half marathons. Before each race, I still felt a few butterflies, but I also felt confident in my abilities. As each finish line came into view and I crossed it, I still felt the same sense of elation and pride. I returned to the Marine Corps Marathon in 2011 to do my fourth full marathon, and on Sunday I’ll be doing my 15th half marathon.

Lots of fun times with race friends!

Lots of fun times with race friends!

Doing races is a great way to visit new places and really see them. There’s nothing like a race course that winds around a city to help you get an overview of somewhere new. Races have taken me to (among other places) Oregon, the Outer Banks, Myrtle Beach, new parts of Pennsylvania, Las Vegas, Florida and Dallas. In some cases, I was participating and in some cases I was there as a team coordinator, but in either case the travel was a great bonus.

Becoming a marathoner has altered my career path as well. It led me to seek certification as a group fitness instructor so I could work with others who were inspired and motivated by the idea of training to walk a race. I can’t get enough of the great feelings gained from doing a race; I love to see others experience it too!

But probably the best part of my race “career” is the friendships I’ve formed with fellow walkers. Preparing for and participating in a race is quite the bonding experience — and it’s so much fun to share it with good friends.

So, I want to send thanks and love to Katie, MaryPat, Beth, Pat, Pam, Rebecca, Jane, George, Kim, Annie, MaryAnn, Lee, Mary, Megan, Lana, Robynn, Bim, Jes, Marianne and others with whom I’ve shared this journey. (Katie, MaryPat and Beth get top billing because they, too, were on that course 10 years ago today, even though I didn’t know MaryPat and Beth very well at that point. Pat and Pam were seemingly everywhere along the course to cheer for us, even though we barely knew each other.) I’ll always have a fond place in my heart, too, for Karen, Polly and Craig, the most organized spectator crew ever on that day in 2005.

Thanks and love go, too, to the guy I call my “personal cheerleader-slash-photographer,” Chris. He’s the most patient and willing spectator I know.

micheleAnd special thanks and love to Michele, whose idea to create a walk-a-marathon training plan and program started it all. Look at how much pride and joy you’ve brought to so many, Michele! THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart (and feet).

A great day in Pittsburgh

Hitting the expo!

Hitting the expo!

Actually, make that a great weekend!

On Sunday, I walked my 14th half marathon, at the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon and Half Marathon. It wasn’t my best finish ever but was far from my worst. I kept a steady pace throughout and finished in 3:05:04. That translates to miles done in the 14-minute range. I would have liked to have come in under 3 hours, but that would have been more likely had I trained a bit longer (and dropped the last few winter pounds first)!


Post-5K (her, not me!)

The weekend served as a race-buddy reunion with seven friends. Some of them have done this race before, and it made for a good centrally located event for us all.

It’s been a while since I’ve participated in such a large race — the entrant field topped 30,000. There are pros and cons to races no matter their size, but I’d recommend this event for sure. Here’s why:

  • Outstanding signage throughout the weekend — at the expo, throughout downtown Pittsburgh directing racers to their start corrals, along the course (the mile markers were impossible to miss!) and in the finish area, too.

    Up and over the Rachel Carson Bridge, approaching mile 4

    Up and over the Rachel Carson Bridge, approaching mile 4

  • A race program jam-packed with info and maps
  • A race app that helped dig up needed info in short order
  • Five bridges crossing all three of the city’s rivers
  • A weekend full of activities for anyone and everyone: a 5K (with a special extra medal if you did that race plus the half or full, as one of my friends did), a relay, a Kids Marathon (a little over 1 mile) that had a HUGE number of participants, the half and full, and even a pet walk
  • A really nice race shirt (in fact, it was the first time I wore the event shirt in a race)
  • Good spectator support and fun spectator signs (to be shared in a “part two” of this post)
  • A manageable time limit for walkers
  • An expo and start and finish lines centrally located to many hotels
  • An entrant field of 30,000+, which makes for constant company on the course as a walker. In smaller races, walkers tend to be a bit lonely as the rest of the pack pulls away. In this race, I never felt like a straggler and kept pace with several run-walkers along the way.

    The start line is up ahead ... somewhere!

    The start line is up ahead … somewhere!

All in all, I don’t have any complaints about the event and would recommend it. (Well … I have one complaint, but it’s not the race organizers’ fault. My FitBit seems to be poorly calibrated and said I only did 10.24 miles for the day. What?! Add up 13.1, plus the to-the-start walk and from-the-finish walk, and my total should have been closer to 15. Cheated by technology!)

Happy walking!

Wind-blown … and proud!

Pacer ID

Pacer ID (disregard the Penske truck!).

Half marathon #13 is in the books for me, as is my first bout as a pacer.

It can be challenging to keep a pace different from your usual and sustain it over such a distance, especially when contending with 20 mph winds along the race course. (But at least it wasn’t raining!) The plus is that it gave me the opportunity to talk with some first-time half marathoners along the way, which is always wonderful.

And I’m so very proud of Walk With Joelle client Michele K. Today was her first half marathon as a walker, and she rocked! She finished strong and fast — and earned an award for her efforts!

The race, the Delaware & Lehigh Heritage Half Marathon, featured a walker division and awards for the top finishers among the walkers. Michele K. finished 2nd in her age group, 5th among women and 10th overall! I’ll just have to warn her not to get used to it, that walkers don’t usually earn awards in half and full marathons because so few races recognize us as a category. (Let’s hope that continues to change, and thanks to walking coach Michele Stanten for making it happen in this race!)

Volunteer Louie -- greeting walker Alicia at mile 8 -- was a terrific part of the day, biking along the course and putting in time at mile markers. His spirit was contagious!

Volunteer Louie — greeting walker Alicia at mile 8 — was a terrific part of the day, biking along the course and putting in time at mile markers. His spirit was contagious!

The other great thing about this race was that several of my friends also participated, both as pacers and walkers. It’s fitting because marathoning brought us all together in the first place. Nearly 10 years ago, in my days at Prevention magazine, I was involved in its program to train readers to walk half and full marathons. Some of our readers became intimately involved with the program and were integral to its success — and the success of so many fellow race participants! And along the way we spent a lot of fun times together at races across the country. That grew to doing races “off-duty,” so to speak. And although the magazine’s program ended, the deep friendships did not.

So I’m always especially happy to spend a race weekend with friends — friends who know the time invested in training, who know the frustration when a race doesn’t go as planned, who are inspiring and motivating, and who know the joyous emotion of completing a race, whether your first or 10th or 40th (and cheer for you just as loudly from race to race). Thanks for another great weekend, ladies … even though it was too short and not a complete group reunion! And congratulations to all the walkers today too!

A huge number of miles has been walked by these seven pairs of feet!

Race friends: Countless miles have been walked by these seven pairs of feet over the past nearly 10 years!

One million bucks

That’s about how much was raised by participants in the Alliance for Lupus Research‘s 5K walk for lupus in New York City on Saturday.

I participated in the walk and I’m proud to say that friends and coworkers of mine donated $503 (yep, $503, not $500) toward the cause on my behalf, which I augmented with a donation of my own. One hundred percent of donations will be used toward research efforts. (And it’s not too late to donate, even though the walk has occurred: Click here.)

30-year friends, walking for a cause

30-year friends, ready to walk for a cause

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I signed up to participate in this event to support one of my oldest friends, who has been battling lupus for 13 years. I’ve seen the ups and downs she has experienced with this tough illness — which include severe joint pain, extreme fatigue and other symptoms that have an awful impact on quality of life — and was pleased to join her in this event.

It seems counterintuitive, but exercise is vital for helping people with chronic conditions (in most cases) have better health and mobility. People suffering from joint pain, for instance, might feel that to go out for a walk would make the pain worse. But the opposite is generally true. (Refer to my recent post, “Walking and arthritis,” for more info.)

The event day was sunny and beautiful, and the 5K crowd, in the thousands, was varied. Many people had formed teams, and team captains spoke before the walk’s start about how they were there to support loved ones who are fighting lupus or even have lupus themselves. The walk’s course started at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum on NYC’s west side, went south to the Chelsea Piers complex, and back.

It was so inspiring to be a part of this cause, to help contribute toward research efforts and, most of all, to support my dear friend. I’m already thinking ahead to next year and how many people we can get to join us on event day! A two-person team is just a start.

Walking for a cause

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve done full marathons (four) and half marathons (12) as a walker. I’ve never done a 5K — until now.

A very worthy reason presented itself and that’s what prompted my registration. One of my oldest and dearest friends is battling lupus, for which there currently is no cure. I am joining her in a 5K walk with the Alliance for Lupus Research, from which 100 percent of the proceeds will go toward research into a cure for this debilitating illness. The event is Oct. 18, just two weeks away.

I want to see my dear friend (and others with this diagnosis) feel less pain and less restriction on her quality of life; I want her to regain her good health. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of and damage to the joints and other parts of the body, including organs. Learn more here.

Won’t you consider a donation, even a small one? It’s tax deductible and you’ll be helping fund research into a cure. You can find my fundraising page here.

Thank you so much!