Sunday, June 05, 2011

Avon Walk for Breast Cancer

This weekend was the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, which Dave and I have trained for (and fundraised for) for months. It was a very powerful experience and had mixed successes, so I'll share them all here, and you'll forgive me for being honest.

In the morning, we arrived just in time for the opening ceremonies next to Soldier Field, where we did some stretching and warming up. There we learned that the walkers had raise $6.1 million as of Friday night, which is awesome. My generous donors helped me reach my $1,800 goal, as did Dave's, and we felt honored to be a part of that large total.

There were pillars for all the walks that were happening around the country - pillars that travel to each city's walk - and I signed my name, along with the name of a very nice person that I knew who died of breast cancer. (All other people I know who've had breast cancer are survivors.)

The first few miles of the walk were easy, predictably - we walked up the lake shore from Soldier Field to Belmont. We were drinking plenty of water and skipped the first few rest stops, but definitely stopped at the Belmont one, where we had a few snacks and some Gatorade.

All the way up the lake shore, the line stretched as far as we could see in either direction. I still haven't gotten the final numbers on how many people participated, but it was in the thousands. It was really sad to see that people were walking in honor of someone they had lost - I saw quite a few that read, "For my beautiful sister." It was a great reminder of why we were doing the walk.

Along the way, there were hilarious breast puns ("The Breast Friends," "Tutus for Tatas," etc.) and really fun biker guys directing traffic for us at the intersections. The lake shore walk was easy, but the biker dudes really helped when we started to walk in more disjointed groups through the stop signs and lights of Chicago's neighborhoods.

From the beginning of the walk pretty much until the end of the walk, it felt like everybody was walking faster than us. I felt like we were doing a pretty good 3 mph clip for most of the walk, and I didn't see how others could keep up a quicker pace for the full marathon. But then again, I don't see how someone could run a marathon, either, but good for them.

From Belmont, we walked back down the west border of Lincoln Park, then through the Gold Coast for lunch at the same baseball field I played the Municipal vs. Law Division game at last summer. This was about mile 10. I wasn't able to eat much of lunch; I was starting to get a little nauseous from all the heat, and I've been having an aversion to meat lately, so Dave had to finish my turkey sandwich.

At lunch, we met a really nice girl, Maria, from Elgin, who was walking in place of her sister, who had the flu.

We walked with Maria down to the main Loop and over to the west Loop, where we had our halfway point break at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Here's a picture of us with Maria at Mile 13!

At this point, we could have caught a bus to the Wellness Village and finish line if we had wanted, but we decided to keep walking. Oh, my folly. But more on that later. Maria's shoes didn't fit right and given that she hadn't trained, she stopped at about mile 14 and I didn't see her again. I hope she went back for a bus.

It was still very hot at this point as we headed into UIC and Greek Town, and I heard it was 93 and that some walkers had already been hospitalized. In fact, I heard from my mom today that there was a half marathon run going on at the same time as our walk, and that a 30-something seasoned runner died in the heat. But we just kept hydrating and pouring on sun block, and kept walking.

From Greek Town we walked up through the Gold Coast again and up into Old Town, and somewhere around Mile 18 or so, it started to pour and the temperature dropped about 20 degrees. We had umbrellas, but our feet were still getting soaked. I started to think that trouble was a-brewing.

Here's the photo of Mile 20, deep in the crappy weather section of the walk:

Just nasty. At this point, the wet socks and shoes started creating blisters in my feet, and my arms were hurting from straining against the umbrella and holding the huge tub of Gatorade. And miles 20 through the end (26.2) were the longest of the walk, predictably.

As I have posted about, Dave and I have been training for months, two days at around 20 miles. But we had never trained in heat this severe, and when it was raining this badly, we usually went indoors. So I guess we weren't fully prepared.

Here's where my brutal honesty comes in. I was in the most pain I've ever felt in my life. My knees were creaking, feet and hands were swollen, thighs ached, arms hurt, back hurt, and the bottoms of my feet were burning with blisters. Oh, and I had heat rash. I am a wimp. Dave is better with working through long-lasting workout pain than I am, being a distance runner, but man oh man.

These are all problems that most of the other walkers were experiencing, too (including Dave), but I say all this with the qualification that I am a wimp. As I get older, I am simply unwilling to put myself through much physical discomfort whatsoever.

The weather was clearing up as we made it back into Lincoln Park again, walked through DePaul, then up into Wrigleyville and past the stadium, then up into the Southport corridor and north toward Horner Park, the finish line in the Irving Park area.

So, from all the heat earlier, and also probably a lack of eating enough, I was starting to feel a little loopy. To be honest, I don't remember some of it. I know I was saying over and over, "No, no, no..." and "Stop, we have to stop" and "This was the worst idea I've ever had." I was pretty much crying from mile 23 until the end of the walk. I think this was when Dave and I began to have some doubts about whether I'd be able to stay overnight and do today's half-marathon.

We made it to the finish line, I'm proud to say. We were behind this really annoying group of yellow shirted people, who were shouting insults at each other. I might have thought it was funny earlier in the race, but at this point I was barely keeping it together.

Here we are at the finish line!

I had collected quite a few pink Mardi Gras beads along the way, and still no sun burn, but I was pretty messed up. In the end, we did 12 hours of walking - from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. - with some breaks along the way. Wow.

When I limped over to the assembly tent, Dave got our stuff and I scoped out my feet. I was covered in blisters, some skin had already come off, and my calves and feet were covered in heat rash. I was walking like an old lady and I knew that my body was telling me to stop - sleeping in a tent and walking a half marathon the following day would be a very bad idea for my physical and mental health. I knew that none of my sponsors would want me to endanger my health, and that I had already completed a full marathon in the first day, so I decided to quit.

Faron was our savior, coming down and taking us to Soldier Field, where our car was parked for an allegedly overnight stay. We chatted on the way, where she called our walk "The Bataan Death March for Cancer," which I thought was hilarious, because along the last five miles of the walk, Dave and I had compared the walk to "The Long Walk," by Stephen King, the Trail of Tears, and others.

So, we went home. I did the first full day, a marathon, but went home in quasi-defeat. But I don't really think it can be called a defeat if we both raised $1,800 for breast cancer research and patient support! Many women, most of which do not have health insurance, will receive mammograms as a result of this weekend's walk, and we all know that early detection greatly helps the patient's prognosis.

In the end, I'm glad I did it, and I'm glad I had such a great walking buddy. Dave was there for me in all ways, and I was happy to be raising money and awareness for such a good cause. On the flip side, walking that many miles was a heavy challenge for me, and I don't think I'll ever try to do that again. I want to support people who do, because I see how nice it was to have cheering stations along the way. But honestly, walking a marathon is really hard, and I can't imagine how someone would run one. I have the utmost respect for anyone who is able to!

So that's about it; I'm recuperating today and I'll hobble into work tomorrow. My feet are all bandaged up and I'm walking less like an old lady now. Good job, Avon Walkers, and next year I will be out there with buckets of ice for you at mile 17!!

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