I met Lance Armstrong once, about three years ago.
Our conversation went exactly like this…
Lance: “Hi. I am Lance Armstrong.”
JW: “I know. (Awkward pause) It’s nice to meet you.”
I am such a smooth talker. But I wasn’t there to talk. A new marathoner, I was there to listen to arguably the greatest endurance athlete of all time. Instead, I heard from one of the world’s most famous cancer survivors. His passion on the topic was contagious, but I must admit that I quickly forgot most of what he said.
And then my sister-in-law went in for a routine mammogram and came out needing a double mastectomy.
I remembered Lance and his speech and I Googled “Livestrong.” Livestrong is of course Lance’s cancer awareness and fundraising organization. Through it I found a small way to help. I could do what I do best. I could run.
The course was flat and fast, winding through downtown San Jose. I am not sure what interesting landmarks we passed, if any. I was racing. My eyes were either counting the people in front of me or quickly glancing at my pace. I was the second female to cross the finish line.
Not a typical 5K, the event was one of four Livestrong Challenges that take place annually around the country. As I ran, Lance was riding in the Tour. We were watching it live while getting pre-race coffee and water. Someone wondered aloud if Lance even knew our little hometown race was happening.
With Lance off raising awareness on the world stage, former HP CEO and cancer survivor, Carly Fiorina, stood in as our Grand Marshall. Up on stage she looked very petite and pretty with her hairless head and simple black shirt and leggings. Nothing like the power-house photos I had seen in the Wall Street Journal and San Jose Mercury News.
I felt out of place as I made my way toward the start line. More strollers, dogs, and little kids lined the coral than I had expected. I think half the field was sporting Starbucks. Posters and bibs announced, “I am a survivor.” There were no time chips. In fact, there was no timing at all. The announcer reminded the crowd, “This isn’t a race. It’s just a run.”
I asked myself if I should go easy. Was it poor form to have a goal time? I looked up and down in search of runner’s legs and well worn shoes. Excusing myself through the crowd, I inched closer and closer to the front. I finally saw a young man warming up, back and forth across the start line. Ahhhh, clearly this gentleman is going to try to go fast. I found maybe 30 people, out of maybe 200, who looked like they were up for some speed. I stuck with them and we shot out of the gate.
I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I ran a 5K. Maybe before I moved to England? Maybe my 5th grade Turkey Trot? It was such a short distance that I had trouble judging what speed I should be running. I still had something left at the end. I think I could have gone faster, but not fast enough to win. That honor went to a woman from Iceland whose husband has cancer. She beat me by a good 60-90 seconds.
I will do this again next year. It was not only a touching environment, it was a beautifully run event. The run was just the icing. The cake was actually the cycling. There was a 10K, 50M, 65M, and 100M ride. The cycling would last all day. On the contrary, I was done in just over 21 minutes and off to breakfast.
I raised a little money and ran this year’s Challenge to support the people I love who have battled cancer. I have reached an age were that list seems to be rapidly growing. My sister-in-law and hometown best friend both combated breast cancer this year. My sister’s father-in-law died from lung cancer just last month. One of my favorite friends from work beat cancer twice before she hit 40. I don’t really know how to help other than to offer my love and support, my babysitting services, and to run.