Sunday, March 20, 2011

This one goes out to the one(s) I love

On Sunday morning, I ran the Shamrock Half Marathon with 42 good friends and family members.

"What?" you might be thinking. "I didn't know you were running with others. I thought it was a solo event for you."

It could have been. But this race was different. Though I lined up at the race start alone - a fierce cold wind whipping through the corral and threatening to blow off everyone's ball caps, shamrock headbands and tall green hats; feeling sick to my stomach as I worried about my less-than-great training, my clothing choices, my history of injury and my rumbling, sickly tummy - I would soon be accompanied by childhood friends, pals from college, co-workers, relatives, even my deceased grandma and grandpa.

It just took a press of my iPod's "play" button.

Mile 0-1
The first song was "Ready to Run," recommended by my friend and co-worker Lauren K. She's the kind of friend who will read my blog post about being lonely at church and by the next Sunday will be sitting beside me at Mass, offering a hug during the sign of peace. Now - despite a self-proclaimed hatred of running - she was with me in those first steps of the race.

"So Magical"

"The Entertainer"

The idea, which I came up with the night before the race, was to have friends recommend songs I could run to, and I'd think of them as their tune played. I put a bunch of other favorite running songs in between the recommendations. But just a mile into the race, I decided to think of other people, too, based on whatever song came up. It was the best idea I've ever had.

Mile 1-2
"Breathless," recommended by childhood friend Meghan D. She feared it would be a tacky choice - as, you know, I kinda NEED breath during this run - but it was a great rhythm to run to. During this 3:26-minute song, I thought of our days singing together in middle school, wearing those tacky red taffeta dresses in Triple Trio.

"Keep On, Keep On," dedicated to my future marathon. It's one of those trippy songs from "The Brady Bunch," and I have trained many miles with it as I worked toward a yet-to-be-completed marathon. I thought of those hard days. I thought of that future date when I could run to it and the phrase "You can hear the music coming 26 miles away, woo! yeah! woo!" would really mean something.

"Survivor." I thought of my mom, all she's been through and all she's done for me. And because of the phrase "Cause my momma taught me better than that."

"Sexy B--tch," recommended by childhood friend Heather H. A fun song I had never heard before that kept me moving.

Mile 2-3
"The Christians and the Pagans." I thought of dear friend Brianne W. When I first moved to Virginia Beach in 2005, I felt separated from most of my co-workers because I lived farther away (most of them lived in Norfolk). But Brianne would drive out to my place often. We'd chat and chat. She introduced me to this song and I remember her playing it on Christmas Day when she was hospitalized. She's so strong, so kind, and while I don't see her much since she moved away, she ran with me during this song as I thought about all she has done for me.

"Before He Cheats." A nice country tune for a nice country boy, Terry P. He's not the cheating type, but I thought of him during this tune because I didn't have any Randy Travis on my playlist. I thought of my decade of friendship with Terry, our mountain trips, our church visits, his priceless friendship.

"Lose Yourself," recommended by high school friend Susan C. and a favorite running song of mine. I thought of those high school days at White Oak and our circle of friends.

"Beat It." I can still picture myself outside during Stephanie P.'s wedding, hearing Michael Jackson tunes come on and taking off inside to dance. So this song reminded me of her. And, seriously, I almost cried. I miss Stephanie. She moved two years ago, but prior to that, we'd go for short runs in our neighborhood. So it wasn't hard for me to picture her running with me now. "Come on, Diana," she said in my ear.

Mile 3-4
"Born to Run." In a few minutes, Greg R. would be getting ready to run his umpteenth marathon. Of course I thought of him during this song, telling me as we rode to the Shamrock how I'd do just fine, not to worry, to have fun. If anyone was born to run, it's him. Hours later, I would find out that Greg's marathon time of 3:06 not only qualified him for the Boston Marathon, but was three minutes faster than MY half.

"Ain't Nothin' Gonna Break My Stride," recommended by good friend Michael L. As Michael has begun taking up running lately and really loves a good game of tennis, I could easily picture him trotting next to me. I thought of how we met at The Star-News many moons ago, how he bought me a serenity candle when I was particularly stressed one day, how I went to his wedding, how he often calls me up to quote "The Princess Bride."

"The Impossible Dream." Oh, this was a tough 3:53 minutes for me. Not physically but emotionally as I thought of my late grandparents. During all 13.1 miles, I grabbed tight to a green knitted bracelet, a remnant of my grandma's handiwork that I squirreled away during a visit when she was still alive. During all 13.1 miles, I thought of her and prayed to her for strength during the miles. But during this song in particular, I thought of her and my grandpa traveling from Italy with their large family to make a better life for them. Grandma and Grandpa didn't run with me (I just couldn't picture it) but I could see them sitting side-by-side on their orange floral couch and saying in their thick Italian accents, "Hello Diana." I cried.

Mile 4-5
"Shattered (Turn the Car Around)." This song will forever remind me of spin class at the YMCA, as my instructor used to play it a lot back in the day. So it was during this song that I thought of my current spin buddies Colleen M. and John R. During this mile, the race had us running up a gradual hill on Shore Drive. So I put Colleen and John to work, picturing John pulling me up the hill with a rope and Colleen pushing me from behind. They've been a huge support system in my life and wonderful friends, so picturing them doing this was easy. I'm so lucky to have them in my life.

"Church Rulez." Oh Roselee P., my dear, dear friend. I thought of her during this song because it's one we've shared before as fellow Catholics. She's been with me through everything, and I thought of all the moments we've shared over the past 15 years. Roselee knows how much I wanted to do a marathon but also knows how much the training hurt my body. So during this song, I thought of her reminding me to listen to my body, don't push it, be careful. I promised her I would.

"Bad Romance," recommended by friend and former co-worker Becky L., who has been so supportive of me over the past few months via Facebook. Who knew this Gaga song would be such a great running song?

"Avenue Q theme/What Do You Do..." Well, of course I thought of my sister, and by extension, my brother-in-law. Every time I hear an "Avenue Q" song while I'm running, I think of her singing solely to me and she gets me through the rough patches. My sister and brother-in-law are the most supportive, loving people and are my biggest cheerleaders. So I pictured them holding signs and cheering (sans puppets).

Mile 5-6
"Man of La Mancha," dedicated to friend and former co-worker Amy H. I also pictured her crooning Irish ditties to me, with her dog Dugan.

"Extraordinary." Great song, inspiring and during my race dedicated to friend and former co-worker Sherry J. Sherry has done amazing things this past year, transforming her body and her spirit and inspiring everyone around her. I thought of her struggles, past and present, and told her as we ran together how extraordinary she is every day. She ran with me for those 3:25 minutes and I saw her surge ahead and knew she'd be just fine in her continued journey.

"Walking on Sunshine," recommended by Katrina M. Oh, this was a fun one. During the song, Kat linked her arm in one of mine and her husband, Jamie, took the other and we ran arm-in-arm like school kids as the song happily played along. Kat and Jamie have always been insanely supportive in my weight-loss journey and I'll never forget their kindness and support.

"It's Your Life." This song is an anthem to those who want to take control over their lives. It reminded me of my good friend Jana C. and all she has done for me since the day my weight-loss journey began. I thought about the day she came over to help me choose what to wear to my high school reunion, when I had lost the first 30 or so pounds. How she told me she was pregnant and the day I held her son when he was born. I thought about saying goodbye to her when I moved and the many trips she took to see me since then. How, when I was training for my first half marathon, she sent me inspiring letters in the mail. And called the front desk of the hotel I was staying at in Alaska to wish me good luck before that first race. And while we don't see each other much these days, I realized as she ran with me how very lucky I am to have her as a friend.

Mile 6-7
"Eye of the Tiger," dedicated to a most awesome runner and friend, Lori K. We talked about running a half marathon together later this year, but that might not be possible now. Luckily, we had this time together, and I enjoyed every step, thinking of this amazing person, what a true hero she is to me and what a true hero she'll be to her baby.

"This One's For the Girls." I immediately thought of great friend and co-worker Laurie V., who had left me a message the night before to wish me good luck in the race, even though she wasn't sure I was signed up. She's always supported me and my running, even coming out to my first Shamrock ages ago to cheer me on in cold weather. She's the kind of friend who naturally planned - without being asked - to come to the Marine Corps Marathon to cheer me on, even though she was quite pregnant. She's an awesome mother, an awesome friend and one of those runners who can whip me in a race without even training. But this time, she ran side-by-side with me.

"I Feel Fantastic," dedicated to good friend and co-worker Brian C., who introduced me to this song on a recent trip. He's one of the best people I know.

"How Far We've Come." I thought of friend and former co-worker Sherry R. who walked with me daily this summer on a visit to Norfolk. When we were having dinner one night, this song was playing in the background. I kicked it up a little during this mile, just for her.

Around this point, I had to start skipping over songs from my playlist because I was actually running faster than I had expected and wanted to stay on track with the recommended songs.

Mile 7-8
"Livin' on a Prayer," dedicated to college friend Jodi D., who is the kind of friend who lights up a room with her inside and outside beauty. I thought of the days we hung out in Manly Dorm, her incredible kindness, corny jokes, beautiful heart.

"Afternoon Delight," recommended by college friend Duane W. I laughed and laughed as this song played and remembered laughing much with Duane during my last year at UNC. I remembered feeling very alone living on my own after I graduated and receiving letters in the mail from him, which always brightened my day. He is a great runner, and it was great to finally run with him.

"You Know My Name," recommended by college friend Mark B. As the song is from a Bond movie, Mark said he always imagined being chased or chasing someone as it played during a run. I was feeling a little tuckered at this point so I wasn't about to chase anyone. But I did run, just for Mark, who was behind me, supporting me. He's always been the most wonderful friend: From our days working at Kerr Drugs, to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and breakfasts at the Waffle House, to meeting his beautiful future wife to holding his baby daughter, I thought of this awesome guy. I also thought of his awesome family and the hilarious stories his wife posts about their children on Facebook.

"All I Need." I thought of Lori again and the time we sat in my living room singing this Jack Wagner classic and bonding over "General Hospital" memories.

Mile 8-9
"Super Hero," dedicated to my super hero, wonder woman Rosemary T.

"Not Afraid," recommended by high school friend Amber J. I had never heard this song before, though I'd read about it. I loved it and can't wait to run to it again. Throughout the lyrics, I thought of Amber's amazing, inspiring journey, and I thought of my own and how I need to press on, no matter the stumbling blocks.

"Schadenfreude," dedicated to the hilarious Pilot night desk. I truly can't imagine working with a better group of people.

"Viaje Infinito," dedicated to fabulous runner and friend Megan R. During a particularly good run last year in D.C., this song played and I remember rocking those "four minutes." Well, Megan lives in D.C., so, hence, I thought of her, and she was my running partner during this part of the race. It was like the old days, when we ran together back in North Carolina. She's ultra speedy now, so it was great to run with her for "four minutes."

Mile 9-10
"Glow in the Dark," recommended by high school friend Brian G. I pictured his big smile, his beautiful wife, his kids, whom I've never met but can imagine to be little versions of him. I thought of our days at White Oak. I remembered posing with him at a park for our yearbook's "Best All Around" photo. It was quite an honor to be named that with a true best-all-around: a handsome, hilarious, smart, athletic guy. One of his e-mail addresses contains the word "blacktoe," so I also pictured him telling me during the run "Hey, I know a thing about black toes! Move faster!"

"Hey Julie," dedicated, of course, to good friend Julie VK. I always think of Julie during this song. She's the most amazing athlete I know. "I'd never make it through without you around, no I'd never make it through without you around."

"Against the Wind," in honor of a great supporter, Betsy. I love, love running to this song. It's when I most relax during a run and just enjoy being out there. I thought of Betsy, whom I have never met but has supported me ever since my weight-loss journey began in 2003. She still reads my blog and is always, always there to encourage me. I don't know how she does it - she just never gives up on me.

Mile 10-11
"Born this Way," recommended by running buddy and great friend Laura M. She's my constant: a fabulous friend, a steady running partner, a support system. She's the kind of friend who, when I was worried that my appendix was causing my side pain, said she'd keep her phone on all night in case I needed to go to the ER. She ran with me, again, during this song and didn't even mind when I had to stop for a walk break.

"Beat It," a repeat for Stephanie again.

"Dirty Little Secret," dedicated to runner and friend J.J. E. I don't know of any "dirty" little secrets of J.J.'s, but he had been holding a pretty big one back for awhile, so I suppose that's what made me think of him! I thought of what a great dad he's going to be, because he's already a wonderful partner and friend.

Mile 11-12
"You're Only Human (Second Wind)," recommended by high school friend Becki L. I can only say, Thanks Twin! Becki knows what a big Billy Joel fan I am, which is why she recommended this song. But I had never even thought of it as a running tune. It turned out to be just what I needed around mile 11 when I certainly needed a second wind! As Becki ran with me, I thought of our fun high school days and her unending support.

"No More Drama," recommended by friend and former co-worker Deirdre M. Wow, another great song for running I had never heard before. I particularly liked the "no more pain" part. I thought about my very first job out of college, when I felt like everyone around hated me. Except Deirdre. She took me under her wing and was a friend when I needed one most. She got me through some rough times.

"F--K You." This one was dedicated to The Race and how I expected to feel about it around mile 12.

Mile 12-13.1
"It's the End of the World As We Know It." I really didn't think of anyone, just that I didn't think I could take one more step and that it just might be the end of the world as I knew it.

"The Ecstasy of Gold," recommended by friend and former co-worker Nafari V. I thought of her incredible kindness and her running accomplishments. And Pittsburgh.

"What Are You Waiting For," recommended by friend and co-worker Barbie D. I love Barbie, a fabulous friend and talented designer, but I have to admit that at this point, with the finish line taunting me, I couldn't think of anything other than Just Keep Going. It was at this point, when I almost stopped, that a man on the sidelines read my name on my race bib and said (incredibly convincing) "Diana, I am SO proud of you." What was I waiting for? I kept running.

"Dirty Diana." Funny. The last song was supposed to be "What Are You Waiting For," and I threw "Dirty Diana" on afterward just to have some extras. I didn't realize how significant it would be to have this song be the last one playing as I approached the finish line. Scratch that. As WE approached the finish line.

Because, you see - and this wasn't planned - as the last song came on and I saw the King Neptune statue signifying the end of the race, everyone gathered around me and we all ran down the Boardwalk. Lauren and Meghan and Mom and Heather and Brianne and Terry and Susan and Stephanie and Greg and Michael and Grandma and Grandpa and Colleen and John and Roselee and Becky and Stephanie and Craig and Amy and Sherry and Katrina and Jamie and Jana and Lori and Laurie and Brian and Sherry and Jodi and Duane and Mark and Rose and Amber and Megan and Brian and Julie and Betsy and Laura and J.J. and Becki and Deirdre and Nafari and Barbie. And it was at this point that I got choked up to the point where my chest heaved and my face squinted and I cried. I was so thankful at that moment. I was surrounded by so much love and I realized that I HAVE been surrounded by so much love during this whole journey. It was amazing to finish that race feeling so blessed, so loved.

Postscript: My time of 3:09 was not my worst half marathon performance (that was 3:20)! I beat the time I was shooting for (3:15), didn't hurt in any way, and while my stomach continued to hurt post-race, I will rank this race high in terms of feeling good. All because of my new running buddies.


  1. I miss you, too, Diana! And I am so proud of you!! We will try to visit again, soon.

  2. Congratulations on a great race!!!

  3. What a fantastic idea! I definitely teared up reading this, and will be adding Viaje Infinito to my running playlist as well!

    Congrats on feeling good and finishing strong!

  4. Awe, Diana, this made me cry, but they are good sweet tears. Congratulations! You are so amazing!

  5. Diana, you are an amazing person. I'm so proud of you. I knew you'd do great! Love this post. Heck, I love the idea. Brilliant.

  6. I'm all weepy, too. You are the best! Also, now I'm humming "All I Need" and jonesing for some Billy Joel. And don't discount that OBX half marathon, I say.

  7. This is very sweet, and such a great idea. Thanks for including me, and WAY TO GO!

  8. Sounds like it was a great race! Good idea with the playlist. I'm stealing this for my next race! Way to go Diana!

  9. You have always been an amazing writer and this was quite the read. I love you my twin. Although we may no longer have the birthday bell, we will always have each other. I am so proud of all that you have accomplished and am glad that I was able to play a little part of another accomplishment.

  10. You rock! Nuff said...