25, Tarpon Springs
GOAL: Run the Disney marathon (26.2 miles) and raise $1,750 for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
WHY I DID IT: "Why on earth would you want to run 26.2 miles?" When you put it that way, the endeavor sounds ridiculous. I wanted to run 26.2 miles because I am fortunate enough to have a healthy body that can. Patients battling blood cancers around the world would love the opportunity to embrace their healthy bodies in such a way, and I am honored to have the chance to do it for them. As a member of Team in Training, I raised money for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society while training for and running my first marathon. Throughout the entire process I was reminded that I did this for a reason, and that's what got me to the finish line.
Cancer entered my life when my father, Christopher Conologue, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. For four years he struggled, and my family and I stood by his side. When I was 10, cancer took my father's life; he was only 37. From then on I never wanted anyone else to have to deal with losing a loved one to cancer. Joining Team in Training became the perfect way for me to help those battling cancer and keep the memory of my father alive.
HOW I DID IT: Thanks to Team in Training, I had help every step of the way. I was set up with a training schedule for five months and put on a coached team. Every Saturday we would meet to do our long runs together, making the process fun and the runs bearable. Everyone on the team was facing the same challenges: training for a race and fundraising. Together we all achieved our goals and became great friends.
Fundraising turned out to be much easier than I expected. The Team in Training staff was always there to help with great ideas. I raised the majority of my funds by sending out letters to family and friends explaining my goals and asking for their help. The response I received was amazing. The letters offered me the added bonus of reconnecting with people who knew my dad. I also hosted a fundraiser at Painting with a Twist. I managed to surpass my fundraising goal and raised $2,729.
HURDLES: Training for five months was difficult and demanded a lot of time and energy, but I am proof that you can train your body to run. Prior to joining Team in Training to run my first half-marathon in 2012, I ran less than twice a month and never more than 2 miles. Before running this race, I completed two half-marathons and two 5Ks. I am not fast, but I managed to run/jog all of my training miles and the entire race just by following the training schedule. I ran my weekday runs alone and my Saturday long runs with the coach and team. The training schedule called for running four days a week for the first seven weeks, then five days a week until the week of the race. The miles gradually increased from 11 to 39 miles per week.
There were days when I swore I would never run again, but once I remembered why I started, I managed to push through. Getting up for a training run at 6:30 a.m. every Saturday was rough, but the "mission moments" that preceded every group run made the run seem easy. "Mission moments" are when we share at least one reason why we are fighting blood cancers. We shared stories of young children who lost their lives, people who relapsed, and those who finally got word that they are cancer-free. For the race, I decorated my shirt with pictures of my dad. This served as a great motivator. While running the race, a fellow runner ran up to me and said, "thank you" and pointed to his shirt that said "Leukemia Survivor." That sped me up and helped me forget my aching legs. Most importantly, my Team in Training coaches were on the course, too, and ran beside me during the last difficult miles.
GOING THE DISTANCE: Running is now a part of life for me; it helps me deal with stress and introduces me to great people. I'm still deciding what race I want to do next, but I know I'll definitely do other races with Team in Training. For now, I am going to stick to local races, running in my neighborhood and helping cheer on other Team in Training participants.
BEST ADVICE: If you are contemplating starting to run, my advice is do it! I highly recommend doing your first race with Team in Training. Team in Training gives you everything you need to get started and you don't have to train alone. I never would have run a marathon without the support of Team in Training and my wonderful family and friends. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity and look forward to running for years to come. My only wish is that one day I will be running to celebrate the cure for cancer.