20 Miles at Elorapalooza
Today I was up at 5:30 to run 20 miles around the lake at beautiful North Park.
I get to the boathouse around 7 (it’s at least a half an hour drive from where I live) and I see about 10 Team In Training members, balloons and maybe 20 volunteers. This is either a really big Team event or a race. Either way, people come to North Park to run the 5 mile loop and there isn’t much of a way around it. I may be in trouble.
I ask one volunteer what is going on and I find out there’s a 5K, Elora Palooza, starting at 9 am which would benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. She doesn’t know the route, so I ask another volunteer who directs me to “the man in the white hat” who is standing with another man who is wearing a MCM 2007 shirt. Our conversation goes something (very roughly) like this:
Me: Oh! I ran MCM last year!
MCM shirt: Yeah? Me and my dad (he points to White Hat) ran it together last year.
Me: It’s such a great race! I’m training for it again this year. Actually, that’s why I came over. I’m running my 20 today and if I can avoid it I don’t want to interfere with your race- what is the route?
White Hat: We’re just running an out and back. Don’t worry about running around us.
MCM shirt: If you hear a thunder of runners, it’s us on the way!
White Hat: Do you want a donut?
Me: No, I’m okay.
White Hat: No really, you can have a donut!
I ended up leaving them without taking a donut. But, what I did leave with was this incredible impression of very nice people. Early in the morning, trying to get a race together and organizing volunteers, the race director took the time not only to explain the route, but to offer me food. As I ran my first 5 mile loop I couldn’t stop thinking how nice they were. It made me realize how much I love running and the camaraderie. I don’t think you’ll ever meet people who are friendlier than runners. I also thought about how great it was to have father and son involved together not only in a charitable cause, but also as running partners! One day, many years from now, that is the relationship that I want with my child. With all of that milling around, the first five went by quickly and easily.
Before heading out for my second five, I realized that even if I couldn’t run the race, I could still donate. I didn’t have much cash on me, but I donated something and suddenly realized that I’d be finishing up my 20 around the time they’d be closing up shop. As I was filling out the form for my donation, I asked if I could volunteer at the end and they said I could, I’d just need to find them. I was leaving the parking lot for my second loop when I realized that MCM shirt had changed- he was now wearing a bib that read “Elora’s Brother”. This might have seemed transparent, but I don’t think clearly in the morning or while running, so I was sort of suprised by this (maybe Elora’s dad should have offered me coffee instead of a donut?). Running my second loop I couldn’t help but feel so thankful. Thankful for all that I have and my good health that I was able to be out there running 20 miles. I passed a man in Army PT clothing and said thank you. He looked confused until it clicked and he said “You’re welcome.” I cheered on other runners. I don’t know what got into me but I didn’t feel like I was running for me today.
Before embarking on loop three I stop to talk to another runner I had passed several times. We’re both out for 20 but he’s a loop ahead of me. He’s training for Chicago, loves the finish at MCM, and just comes across as another genuine, happy, runner. I really can’t believe my good fortunate to be meeting such nice people this morning. The first three miles of this loop are rather uneventful; if anything they are a little fast. But at mile 4, I intersect with the 5K walkers. I also notice that the mile signs are pictures of a young girl beaming at mile markers. I got extremely choked up. I didn’t know Elora, or her story, but meeting her wonderful family and seeing so many people out in her memory, combined with seeing her sweet smile just broke me a little. I ran towards the finish line with the other runners and walkers, so happy to be peripherally part of such a wonderful event.
The last loop was just a pretty darn uneventful five miles, unless you count man #1 who was running while talking on his cell phone or man #2 who was running with a huge Sunday edition newspaper under his arm. Runners are such a wonderfully quirky bunch. Honestly, what kept me going strong for the 20 was my promise of volunteering at the end of the 5K. I wanted to get back in time to help clean up. I finished my 20 miles in 3:19:47, for a 10 minute pace. A strong run that I was very happy with.
I tried really hard to volunteer- I asked three separate people how I could help. They only told me to take their food. I’m stubborn and I wasn’t going to leave without helping, so finally one woman said that the most helpful thing would be to tell others about the race next year. I told her that witnessing the event was so moving that I was already planning to blog about it. She thanked me and sent me off with some Powerbar meets Sport Bean things.
It was a beautiful day and everyone looked so happy. There were cute little kids eveywhere, as it was very much a family event. They even gave the kids teddy bears, which I thought was such a sweet and thoughtful gesture. From what I could tell, it was really a great event.
It’s a few hours later and with the help of Google I learned a bit more about Elora and her story. Taken from the website, Eloras Hope ,I learned the following: “In April 2006, Elora, a 7th grader in the North Allegheny school district, lost her life after a courageous battle with Leukemia. Elora faced her illness bravely as she had faced so many other challenges in her life. Before she was two years old, she was hit by a car and sustained a brain injury—but her academic and physical struggles did not stop her “can do” attitude and her loving spirit. She loved school but required adaptive education. Elora especially enjoyed 5K Races in spite of always finishing long after the other runners crossed the finish line. This never stopped her from encouraging others along the way. Elora brought out the best in others and Elora’s HOPE Foundation wants to continue this tall order.” Last year the Foundation raised $11,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and also has a scholarship for a college student majoring in special education.
I feel really privileged to have been part of today. A lot of people ask me why I run, but after today I really wonder why other people don’t.
I should also mention that while I was running and being so inspired by those who are helping to fight cancer, I didn’t yet know that my step-Aunt Carol lost her battle with ovarian cancer early this morning. I found out as I was finishing this post. This is the point where I lose my words, but more can be read here.