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Note: I originally had this post scheduled to go live the day of the Las Vegas shooting, obviously I pushed it back because I didn’t feel it was the right time. 

The same day I finished the half-marathon in Napa I was ready to sign-up for the next Team Challenge Season. There was this post-race high that I was riding and I felt like I could tackle anything. Run another half-marathon? You go it! Raise another few thousand for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation? Absolutely? Where do I sign?

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The winter season for Team Challenge concluded with the Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon in Las Vegas. I was pretty excited about this because I had never been to Vegas. This race was going to be very different than Napa. Napa had about 2000 runners and the Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon series are known for having 20,000 plus runners. Insane!

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Returning to Team Challenge as an alumnus was a lot of fun, this time around I was a team mentor. I was assigned team members who I helped get through the season in any way I can. I also spent my time helping with recruitment. Volunteering is pretty much a part-time job, but it was something I was passionate about and I enjoyed every minute of it.

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I’m skipping ahead right to race weekend because it was such a blast, and I’m also hoping I can remember everything. It was almost 5 years ago! It feels like it was just yesterday.

Team Challenge participants from around the country all stayed at the Venetian Hotel, famous for the gondola rides. The rooms were amazing, all rooms are suites. I wanted to live in the bathroom, I did get a chance to jump in the jacuzzi tub and enjoy it.

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If you’ve never participated in one of the larger races, be warned, they don’t yell start and everyone goes at the same time. You are put into corrals and they let each corral start in waves. It took over an hour for us just to get to the start line. The slower paced runners are put towards the back, like yours truly. My anxiety was really getting to me. As our group passed a McDonalds I was tempted to run in there and just chill and grab a cab to the finish line.

Unlike Napa, this was a night time race. Well, it started to in the afternoon, but by the time I go to the start line the sun had set. Not long after we started I was separated from my friends, which I expected. We run at different paces and I’m a lone runner, I worry about slowing other people down so I prefer to do it alone. I had gone to the bathroom before we left the hotel, but that was about two or three hours before and now I had a full bladder. I had bypassed the porter potties, because gross, and I was stupid.

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I had gone to the bathroom before we left the hotel, but that was about two or three hours before and now I had a full bladder. I had bypassed the porter potties, because gross, and I was stupid. By mile 3 my bladder felt like it was going to burst and every porter potty I saw had a huge line. Time is not my friend during these races so I kept hoping I would find one with a shorter line. Our Team Manager Rachel found me and ran alongside me for a few minutes and told me there was another bathroom stop just ahead. Perfect, I had no choice at this point, I was going to have to stop and wait in line.

I found the porter potty, which was right in front of the New York New York Hotel. Unlike the other stops, there was only one porter potty and it had a line, but it didn’t seem that bad. There were about 3 people in front of me, all Team Challenge runners. We were all doing that ‘I’ve Got to Pee” dance and we looked at each other and we all glanced at the bushes next to us. Yup. We helped each other squat and pee in the bushes. One of the girls even had tissues with her, it was perfect. I peed on the streets of Vegas.

I started dragging at around mile 10. It was cold, we were no longer on the main strip so there weren’t crowds of insane drunk people cheering us on, the lights of Vegas were behind us. The streets were a little scary, so my hurdle of people sort of drifted towards each other and ran together in the middle of the street, away from the dark alleys on the side. There were cops every so often, but we did run through some sketchy areas.

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At mile 11 the medics were getting rid of their Gatorade, by the bottle. Not just some shitty Dixie cup, a big liter bottle. I needed all the help I could get so I gladly took the bottle and chugged it. Finally the last few miles took us back onto the main strip and I could see the flashy lights of Vegas again.

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I caught up with some of my teammates and coaches during the last few miles as we calmly walked towards the finish line. We were all exhausted but happy the end was in sight. I tried to run but yet again, my bladder was full, so running only made it worse. I decided it was best to just walk the rest of the way. It was safer for my bladder. Then it happened. I saw the finish line and I was so ready to be done. I took a mad dash and as I crossed the finish line with what little energy I had, I lost control of my bladder. That’s right. I peed my pants as I finished the race. I didn’t leave a puddle at the finish line, but I was definitely going to need to shower and change my clothes. My coach told me I was a real runner now.

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Vegas lived up to the hype and was insane. I’m glad I did it. Seeing the see of orange jerseys along the course was so uplifting. Knowing that all of those people were in the same fight with me, running this race to help find a cure for a disease that has taken so much from me. There’s nothing like it and my words will never do it justice.

For more information about Team Challenge please visit www.ccteamchallenge.org.

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I surpassed my fundraising goal. I completed my training. I made it to California with my team. I made it to race day. Now here’s the story of my first half-marathon.

I didn’t know anyone in my corral, but we were all chatting before the race began. There were several Team Challenge runners and we automatically grouped up together. I was extremely nervous, I had no idea what to expect. Yes I had done my training and our coaches did prepare us, but my mind goes to extremes sometimes. I kept picturing myself getting picked up by the sweepers and being laughed at on the sad bus (not the actual term for the bus, but that’s what I called it).

It really helped that the weather was perfect. It was nice and cool, high 50s – low 60s with overcast skies. I was used to running in the South Florida heat in June. Once the race began I realized this wasn’t so bad, just one foot in front of the other. The course immediately begins with a steep hill, which is nicknamed “But Burning Hill.” My pace slowed down going up the incline, naturally. This woman next to me, her name was also Julie, told me if I was going to walk the entire time I needed to walk quickly. She had completed one half-marathon before so naturally she talked like she was an expert. Insert eye roll here. Chill madam expert, I’ve got this.

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Other than that, most people I talked to along the way were super nice and encouraging. There is such a great community among runners, they may be strangers but not on the course. They will help you no questions asked.

Team Challenge coaches were running up and down the course, even if they weren’t your coach they still checked on you. I lost count of how many coaches ran along side me talking to me checking on my progress. You are never alone. Every mile or so there was a cheer station of Team Challenge staff decked out in blue, orange and crazy outfits screaming their heads off for you. It really does help, I noticed every time I passed them my pace would increase a little bit.

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The thing about the course in Napa is the roads have lots of pot holes and are in desperate need of repaving. The roads were uneven and after about 10 miles of running/walking on the same side I noticed my right hip and right foot were killing me. I didn’t compensate for the uneven road and I slowed down. One coach from Texas started walking with me and I told him I would be fine as long I can just walk the rest. For about two miles he stayed with me and I was telling him my story. At one point after realizing that I had been near death in a hospital and now was running/walking in a half-marathon I started crying. Tears flowing down my face. All of a sudden three more coaches were there making sure I was okay and I told them these were good tears. They did notice I was limping a little and I said I’m not getting pulled off this coarse I’m going to finish.

My coaches found me about a half-mile away from the finish line. They were worried, I was the last one in my team, but I was still going. They helped me that last stretch and guided me right over the finish line. My entire team was there cheering me on, which was again, overwhelming.

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My cousin was there and had my mom on the phone. A volunteer approached me slowly, as if I was a wild animal, and told me he was going to cut of my tracker from my shoe. Another put my medal on me and then before I knew it was guided to a chair and had my feet soaking in ice. Without even asking someone gave me a burger and I inhaled it and asked for another. 13.1 miles works up an appetite.

There is a natural high I had after I crossed the finish line. It didn’t matter that I was in pain, or I had blisters on my feet, or that I was physically exhausted. I was on top of the world. Every early Saturday group training, every thing I did leading up to this was worth it.

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For more information about Team Challenge go to www.ccteamchallenge.org

I still have a few more Team Challenge adventures to write about. Stay tuned.

 

This is the second post in my Team Challenge series. If you haven’t already done so, please read Adventures in Running Part 1.

Before I knew it the Team Challenge season  winded down and race weekend was upon me. I was excited and extremely anxious and nervous. I mentioned before how I was not athletic and not a runner. Even though I had trained and prepared for months, I was still freaking out internally about crossing the finish line.

Let me recap my first event weekend by taking you back to Summer 2012. Carley Ray Jespen’s Call Me Maybe was on the radio non stop and everyone was talking about the upcoming Summer Olympics in 2012. Now that I was with my team and gearing up for a half-marathon I felt like I could totally relate to the Olympic athletes. I may have also been a little delusional. It was a good time to be alive.

Our South Florida Team Challenge group met up at the airport and flew together to San Francisco. We were all in our Team Challenge gear and super hyped up. It reminded me of trips I used to go on back in high school.

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We had a bus chartered to take us to Santa Rosa from the San Francisco International Airport. The following morning we all got up for a 3 mile “fun run.” Fun and run, two words I never imagined using together. The weather was amazing. It was July and I was used to training in South Florida, and if you don’t know our summers are brutal and disgusting. Humid, hot, sticky, awful . . . just a few words to describe it. In the morning the weather was in the 60s, I felt like I could run for miles, which was good because the following day I would be running 13.1 miles.

The small town of Santa Rosa was overtaken by a sea of orange and blue (Team Challenge colors) as everyone was taking an opportunity for a quick run in the scenic area. In fact, as I was running I heard two women yell “Semicolon girl! Julie!” I looked up and I spotted some of my twitter friends, who I hadn’t yet met in person. We ran and hugged each other, it was such a cool rock star moment.

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Mary, Chelsea, and Jill. Mary and Jill were from Team Long Island, Chelsea was from Team Texas. I had connected with them on Twitter and now got to meet them in person.

After exploring the town and enjoying a team lunch at a nearby restaurant we headed to the Pasta Party. There were buses shuttling us to a private winery for our very own Inspirational Pasta Party. There were some emotional moments and wonderful speakers who did a great job at reminding us all why we were there.

 

Once we returned to the hotel we had a team meeting where our coaches went over last minute tips and our Team Manager Rachel gave us our bibs and final instructions. We all got a chance to speak and again it got very emotional. Lots of tears.

I don’t remember what time we had to wake up, but it was VERY early. Maybe 3/4 a.m.? We gathered in the lobby in our gear, I had “Screw You Crohns” on my ass. Plenty of photos were taken and last minute questions were answered. We didn’t have much time until we were being shuttled to the start line.

There was a bag check, which was on a bus. The course route was not a loop, the finish line was in Sonoma, we were in Naples, 13.1 miles away. I packed in my bag flip flops and some other items I would need post race. I didn’t eat much in the morning because my stomach was always angry that early. You are told you have to eat before a half-marathon, so I munched on a very plain bagel, no cream cheese and prayed that my stomach wouldn’t freak out on me. It was like walking on ice.

It was overcast and a bit chilly, but I didn’t wear anything to keep me warm. I knew I would warm up during the run. Us Miami folks were freezing, while most people were fine in the high 50s. Some people wear a “toss-away shirt.” A toss-away shirt is an oversized t-shirt that you don’t care for. You wear it at the beginning of the race and take it off when you have warmed up and toss it to the side of the course. Volunteers come by after and pick up the shirts and donate them to a local charity.

After taking a few final pics and a stop at the port-a-potties, we all split up according to our corrals to head for the start line. I was in the last corral because I’m slow, super slow. The Napa-to-Sonoma Half Marathon has about 2,000 runners, which is a great crowd size. It’s not insane, you pretty much start at the same time as everyone. The larger mega half-marathons and marathons have at least 20,000 runners and it takes over an hour to get all the corrals through the start line. I experienced that in Vegas, which I will get to in another post.

I didn’t know anyone in my corral, but all the other Team Challenge runners grouped together. We are easy to spot in our orange race shirts. We chit chatted and tried to calm our nerves. I seriously could have used a Xanax, I was so worried about falling behind and not making it to the finish line. After everyone has crossed the finish line there are always “sweepers.” Sweepers pretty much walk behind the last person to make everyone is going to finish in time. If you fall behind the pace, usually is no more than a 16 minute mile you will be picked up by the bus that trails behind the sweepers. This terrified me. I didn’t want to fail and get picked up by the shame bus.

We didn’t have to wait long before they made a few announcements (I couldn’t hear I was all the way in the back) and officially begun the race. It was exciting, I was about to start something I had never done. I couldn’t wait to cross the finish line and also to find out if I could do this.

The story of my first 13.1 miles will be in my next Team Challenge post. Stay tuned.

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That’s just me, freaking out before the race. It’s blurry because my phone was in my arm band.

 

 

I originally intended to do this in one post, but there was just too much to talk about. I’m going to attempt  a series of posts around my experience and adventures with Team Challenge.

What is Team Challenge? Team Challenge is an endurance training and fundraising program. All funds raised go towards the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s mission in improving the quality of lives for those with Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.

Team Challenge has a summer and winter season that end with a half-marathon. Summer Season ends with the Napa-to-Sonoma Half-Marathon and Winter Season ends with the New Orleans Rock n Roll Half Marathon (it used to be the Las Vegas Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon).

I was never athletic. I loathed PE back in school, it was torture. Getting sick didn’t help, but lets be honest, if I didn’t have Crohn’s Disease, I still wouldn’t be athletic. Completing a half-marathon was never on my list of possibilities or goals. The only marathon I did was TV. Spoiler alert: I ended up completing three half-marathons and numerous 5Ks with Team Challenge. So if I can do it, anyone can.

I first heard of Team Challenge on twitter back in 2011. I had just undergone my third surgery, my first colostomy was reversed, albeit still a major surgery. I was doing well physically and also had recently become involved with the IBD online community, mostly through Twitter. SemiColon Girl was born in the summer of 2011 when I was anxious about my upcoming colostomy reversal.

During event weekend in December 2011 I was following a few tweeps who were completing the Vegas Rock ‘n Roll Half-Marathon. Two people in particular who are now friends and both of whom have Crohn’s Disease, Lauren from Chicago (pictured below) and Jon from Long Island. They both tweeted their way to the finish line and followed up on their blogs. I was so inspired by what they had accomplished I couldn’t wait to join Team Challenge.

I signed up for the first information session I could get to, which was the following month. I met Rachel, the South Florida Team Challenge Manager and Coach Bob. Every team has a manager and a coach to help get you to the finish line. You have a fundraising goal and a training schedule and all the tools to help you.

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Here is what my training schedule looked like

Every Saturday morning we would meet, bright and early, really early. Even though I’m not a runner, I would walk fast and do intervals of jogging, I really enjoyed our weekly meets. After the run we would have some snacks and Gatorade and Coach Bob would go over important information for us new runners, like nutrition and stretching. It was always a great start to my weekend because I felt amazing after.

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Watching the sunrise on Hollywood Beach during our runs was always worth the early morning wake up call.

Each participant is assigned a Team Challenge Mentor. A mentor is another participant who has already completed at least one season successfully and is there to give you advice and encouragement. They volunteer their extra time to spend with you and help you in any way possible. There is support coming at your from every angle.

Throughout the season you are encouraged to have fundraising events. You can do one on your own or with a few other participants. The best example is to have a happy hour fundraiser. You reach out to a local bar/restaurant and ask them to donate drinks and appetizers. You charge people $20 and they get a drink and a raffle ticket. You also reach out to certain businesses for prize donations, gift cards are always the best. You can reach higher and try and get hotel stays donated and have a silent auction to help bring in more money. Many bars are open to this, you are bringing in customers who are more than likely going to purchase more than just the one drink.

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Just another Team Challenge Happy Hour

Social media posts are the easiest way to reach out for donations. Now a days it’s super easy to schedule a bunch of posts and sit back. People who know you may have a personal interest in making a donation. I’m never annoyed by people on my Facebook news feed who ask for donations, I may not always be able to give, but I wouldn’t unfollow someone for posting a lot about a worthy cause. My advice is to post all the time with constant updates. Your training updates and hard work can motivate people to donate, especially when they see how dedicated you are to the cause. I always linked donors in a “Thank You” post, this would encourage others to donate as well.

Pictured above is just a sampling of some of my social media posts. Can you tell I was a fan of Pic Stitch? Post run selfies were always justified and a good way to keep reminding people what you are doing. Trust me it works.

Over the several seasons I participated in, I raised almost $15,000. It was such a great part of my life, it felt like I had some control again, even after Crohn’s Disease has taken it away from time to time. I have served as a Team Challenge Mentor and even sat on the National Team Challenge Alumni Committee for two years. I’m happy to answer any questions about the program you may have.

I plan to do several posts in a Team Challenge series, stay tuned because there is more to come.