Monday, December 13, 2010

Running with Crohn's-Vegas Style

I don’t even know where to begin. I feel like last weekend was a turning point for me. On that weekend I took a major step, made a major effort, to make a difference in something that means so much to me…and it feels unbelievably great.

On December 5, 2010, I participated in the Rock ‘n Roll Vegas Half Marathon (that's 13.1 miles) through Team Challenge, Wisconsin. If you don’t know that by now, then you never will because I have been literally talking/blogging/tweeting/facebook updating/interpretive dancing as if my life depended upon it (and maybe someday it will-it’s scary because it’s trrrrue!)
Spoiler alert.... I finished!!!  And look at that bling!
This race exceeded my expectations and the best part was the amazing people I had around me to share the experience with.

I think I’ve been living my life in denial about a lot of things; a defense mechanism that can’t really hold. Or if it does, then you’re living your life as a lie. Bad things happen to people every day; people get sick, people die… we all know someone who has been diagnosed with a disease or has passed away. And while this is a part of life, there are efforts we can do to make a difference.

I was in denial about my Crohn’s disease. I was ashamed of it. As much as I have tried to change that by writing about it on here, telling people I am raising money for it, etc., it all came to a culmination this past weekend.

This long post (sorry for the length but this was as much restraint as I could handle when talking about this) is just about the race experience itself, which only took up about 7 hours of my time when I think about it-getting up, running, and then staying for a extra few hours cheering myself hoarse.  But in that 7 hours, a lot went through my mind.

Okay---here goes.

When I went down to the lobby of Mandalay Bay at 5:45 am (yes, you read that right. I can’t believe I was awake and functioning at that time, okay maybe not really “functioning”), I walked into a party, a celebration. The energy that was bouncing off the hundreds of people in their blaze orange singlets was impossible to deflect. These people are my teammates. They had spent the same countless hours as I had fundraising and training...all for this moment and for the CCFA. The emails, the discussions (“so what exactly is Crohn’s disease?”), creating fundraising parties (and having them fall in your face), and all those miles on the road...they had all done that too. All of the time and energy had all led to this moment. This was it. Race day.

It was still dark out when we walked from Mandalay Bay out to the starting line on the Las Vegas strip. Although much warmer than the temperature in Wisconsin , the 55 degrees still chilled me as I waited in line to check my gear.

I walked to corral #6, my starting line. I had already peed twice from nervousness. And yes, this is that kind of play-by-play. And no, there will not be a picture for this one. Well actually….

Although my standard m.o. is to show up at the race start with one minute to spare, shoes untied while trying to pin on my bib, I was (slightly) more prepared this time. I only had to run frantically back to my hotel room twice to get items I forgot. I then immediately lost my gloves in the hotel lobby. So even though I had plenty of time, I still somehow managed to not be adequately prepared for the run. I brought my ipod to run to even though this was a “rock ‘n roll” marathon because… well because I like it. I was so proud of my preparation in that I had made two playlists-one “race” list exactly at 2 hours so that I would be forced to finish under 2 hours and then one with all of my music, including the slow stuff that I didn't want to have to skip over in a race.

Since I had all this free time to wait around, I decided to switch on my fantastically amazing hard-core playlist. While randomly holding down buttons, I managed to get my ipod stuck on the extremely slow (albeit beautiful) song “Hide and Seek” by Imogean Heep. As I would hit the Next button, I would hear “Oooh what you say, ooh what you say…. “ This was not going to work for two hours. I eventually got it to play another song with an approach I like to call “swear and hit buttons with force”, although I never did figure out how to get to my playlist. Oh well, stupid technology....

Back to the race! I was wearing a blaze orange Crohn’s and Colitis singlet, and I have never been more proud to wear something.  I finally realized the meaning of the words “Team Challenge”. While I was running the strip (and really even when I'm not) every single person wearing that singlet was my teammate and I was so proud of them. We had all made a dedication, a statement, that we will work towards finding a cure to these Inflamatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) and we had followed through on that promise. We stood there together as a team at the starting line….and at the finish line.

I thought I was going to have a fun weekend in Vegas and I ended up getting so much more out of the experience. More than I ever anticipated. It seemed that as much as I wanted to pretend this wasn’t a big deal, my body decided it was.

The horn went off for my coral and we all started running. I couldn’t help what happened next. All of these emotions that I had no idea were there came out and poured over me (see, denial). Running underneath the blues brother cover band with all of the dancing Santas could make even a grinch smile…but what kept that permanent grin on my face for the next 13.1 miles was much more than dancing Santas (okay not the entire 13.1 as it did start to hurt around mile 8, but you get the idea). I teared up (okay borderline cried) during basically all of mile one. I know what you’re thinking; “I didn’t know someone as bad-ass as you had emotions?” And while you usually would be correct, this moment was a rare exception.

I wanted to enjoy every second of the run, all 13.1 miles. I have always run for myself and because I like running and never really thought much more of it. I can tell you now, that running for something so much bigger than yourself (and no, for once that is not a fat joke), is unbelievable.

That sign isn't really there; after finishing my drawing, I realized that these need some labeling.

I wasn’t even trying for a certain finish time. For the first 7 miles, I don’t even think my feet were touching the ground. It felt like I was flying. Anyone wearing blue or bright orange got a high-five and a cheer from me. I was probably more obnoxious than the supporters.  But if I am running 13 miles and have more energy than you fan/supporter/cheerer-oner (I made that word up), then what is wrong with you?! But honestly, I was sort of freaking out.  And by sort of, I mean barely keeping it together or I was going to burst with joy.  The “I’m going to high-five strangers and hug babies so hard their mom’s get scared” kind of freak out. I must have looked like a crazed maniac. Messy hair, snot running down my face, a blur of blaze orange. Oh man it was awesome.

I am an expert snot-rocketeer.  I might or might not have hit someone during this race.
We first passed Luxor and Excalibur on the left, followed quickly by Tropicana and MGM on the right (roooar!). The Statue of Liberty waved us on at New York, New York. Next came the City Center, the new casino Aria (which smells like vanilla by the way), and the Cosmopolitan, which I think opened this past weekend (reunion anyone?).

Here at the heart of the strip, we passed Planet Hollywood, Paris, and Bally’s (been there, done that). Next came the Flamingo and O’Sheas, which looks so much more frightening in the light of day.  We passed the columns of Caesar’s Palace and the sketchy Harrah’s (which reminded me of Crazy’s indiscretions-now there is a motivator to run faster!), and so many countless other casinos, bars, and shops.

I stole this picture-guess where from?

When I passed Treasure Island, which was on my left, the water and fire show was going on and I could actually feel the flames and the spray of water from all the way on the other side of the street. Ahhhhh-mazing!!!! I thought to myself, now this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Couples ran through the “Run-Thru Wedding” (with some of the cutest outfits-loved the tuxedo shirts and short white dresses) on the bridge at the Venetian, which had a pretty decent sized crowd. I contemplated taking the plunge, but I couldn’t stop my legs!! And the people that do this run?  Elvis, Fairies, Fred Flinstone, naked Amazon guy?, Karla with a K’s cape….the people are amazing!

After we ran past all of the major casinos, the last being the Stratosphere, I would say the quality of the buidlings went downhill fast.  The north side of Vegas seems to be the old shop/wedding chapel section.  We took a sharp right and were all of a sudden in the middle of nowhere.  Where were we?  I thought I had somehow missed a turn and was running the full marathon.  As excited as I was, I was not up for a spontaneous marathon.  I pulled down my headphones and asked someone around me. This instantly created mass hysteria because then a lot of people started getting freaked out thinking we were all running the marathon. I bet they were glad they were running by me.

But it was a false alarm, I just hadn’t looked at the course map in advance (how could I, I only had about 6 months to?) so I didn’t realize we were running off the strip at all.  So once someone had finally convinced us all that we were going the right way, I settled back into my steady pace of happiness.

I probably should have mentioned this earlier, but you could wear another bib specifically for the CCFA that said “In Honor Of” or “Living With” with a blank below it.  I was hesitant to wear this, but when I saw others wearing it, I ran back up and got it.  I somewhat unsuccessfully tried to cross out Living and wrote Running, so that it read “Running with Crohn’s Disease”-here’s a pic. No, I didn’t draw this-you can tell because although slightly more realistic, it's still not quite as awesome.

Look at that penmanship--yep, that's where these art skillz come from.

I had a woman come up to me around mile 6, which started with “so, you have Crohn’s?”  Well lady, read the shirt. Okay I didn’t really say that. She told me about her mother’s friend who was living with Crohn’s and the problems she had.  I told her about Team Challenge and we chatted for another couple minutes.  That alone would have made the race worthwhile.  To me, this is exactly why I participated in Team Challenge and why I wore that bib.  Awareness is vital.  And to me, getting people to talk about these diseases is the first step.

So needless to say, I had a blast.  After I started to get tired/dizzy/my knee was giving out on me, I figured it was too late to slow down and I may as well stick with the pace.  For those last 4 miles, all I could think about was why I was doing this, and all of the people I was running for.  I thought about every person that donated money to me, who read my ramblings, who cared enough to ask about what I was doing… I have never had such purpose behind every step that I took and it gave me the strength to keep going regardless of how my knee was killing me or how it felt like my heart was in my throat (and on fire).

As really icing on the cake, I got a new personal best for a half-marathon at around 1:51:30.  That means one hour and fifty-one minutes and 30 seconds for you non-runner lingo peeps. Although I am not sure of my exact time since my chip time didn’t work (probably because technology knows how much crap I talk about it on here), I am estimating my time based on when I passed the 1:52 pace group (although Zappos says they're looking into my results, so who knows).   Either way, a new PR by a couple of minutes! The last two half marathons I have run, I have beat my time by 2 minutes…I am hoping to keep up this trend.

At the end I thought yes, I am dehydrated and I had thrown up already 3 times since in Vegas (Apparently Vegas, Crohn’s, traveling, and food buffets aren’t a great combination), but then I thought…every person that I passed and saw the “Running with Crohn’s” on my back… thought, oh man! She has Crohn’s and she is kicking my ass!  And that kept me going.

After finishing, I knew I was going to hurt. Maybe that is the "Challenge" part of Team Challenge.  I had gotten goosebumps in the final few miles even in the sun, which I knew was a sign I was dehydrated.  And sure enough, as soon as I was done and did an extremely horrible/scary interview for the Team Challenge camera (which I hope to God they don't use), I could feel my "happiness" coming up. I was just hanging out, playing it cool by one of the garbage bins waiting for it come.  A medic approached me to ask if I was okay.  I guess I was eyeing up the garbage can a little too much.  “I’m like, yeah, it’s cool-I’m probably going to puke.” I think I freaked him out by how calm I was.  But what he didn’t know is that it was all from happiness.

This is what it would have looked like had I puked.  That is a chain-link fence; that is all I remember staring at/leaning on for awhile.
I somehow managed to keep everything down and got my finish line pic with a Showgirl! What an experience-only in Vegas!
This is what I look like when I'm near puking.  And I purposefully went to the showgirl in neon pink. Looove it.

We had over 1700 people there for Team Challenge and raised $3.75 million dollars for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation from the race alone. 

I ran with pride and I ran for a purpose and for my friends and family. I went from being ashamed to have an inflammatory bowel disease to literally wearing it on my back. And it was the best damn race of my life.

Thank you for being a part of my team.
Here is another stolen picture; priceless.  Well actually it isn't priceless, which is why it's stolen.


  1. Great race recap. I'm proud to say that I was one of your Team Challenge Team mates!

  2. I had no idea all the throwing up you did in my presence was from excitement... I am flattered!!! :-)

  3. What can I all bring out the best in me!!

  4. omg Nadia...I love you! This was awesome ;)

  5. What an amazing experience, Nadia! Congratulations on your new personal best for a half marathon! And thank you for being such an awesome part of Team Challenge and Team Wisconsin.

    It's been an honor training and running alongside you (well, okay, training and running several miles behind you most of the time)!