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Running Fast for F.A.S.T.

Cheesy title, huh?  I must say, I couldn't agree more.  I have been wanting to write about our trip up to Chicago for the F.A.S.T. (Foundation for Angelman Syndrome Therapeutics) Gala, the Santa Hustle 5K and the Scientific Advisory Panel meeting we participated in the weekend of December 1, 2012, but have been struggling though amazing post Gala/race highs - and the crashing lows - that follow highly anticipated, memorable events such as these.

Gino's East Pizza & Beer!
I joke that the race is the easy part for me.  Getting to the starting line, well, that is the toughest challenge.  This trip to Chicago was no exception to that.  I will skip on the details because I don't want to clutter the post with jumbled words and thoughts, but lets just say I somehow made it through security at the airport (including taking off shoes, belt, etc. to go through the metal detector), a 2 hour airplane ride, an adventure on the L (Chicago's rail system), walking up and down Michigan Ave, before settling down at the bar in Gino's East Pizza waiting for a table when I realized it. My husband looked down and commented that he liked my boots, but he preferred the ones with the buckle on them.  "The buckle?" - I questioned.  That is when I looked down and realized that one boot had a buckle on it and the other was buckle-less!  I panicked - "What happened to the buckle on my boot?"  Dave started laughing, realizing the obvious moments before I did.  I was wearing two similar, but completely different boots!

I promise in person they are
almost the same color!

Yes, it had truly been one of those kind of days.  I turned to Dave and asked him to buy me a beer.  He commented, "Aren't you racing in the morning?"  "Yes", I replied, "but clearly seeing that I have been wearing mismatched boots for the past 8 hours, I think I need a beer."

The boots were the perfect icebreaker for the weekend - and unfortunately, what I was recognized for (since I had to wear them all weekend seeing that their matches were hundreds of miles away in my bedroom closet in Georgia).  I was hoping that other Angel parents would remember that I was the triathlete angel mom, or that I ran an incredibly fast race on Saturday morning (details to follow), but alas, my boots preceeded me!  Boots, like children, can humble you, making sure you don't get a big head!

Race morning was unlike any other I had ever experienced - Dave and I woke up, donned our Santa suits, beard and hat included, and headed down to the hotel lobby to meet up with other Angel parents and board trolleys that would take us to Soldier Field and the Start/Finish of the race.  There were Santas everywhere - I believe we had over 50 Angel supporters running, but as the trolley approached Soldier Field, I started to get a true feel for the event.  8,400 Santa clad runners lining up to take on this 5K challenge.  Dave and I took off on a little warm up jog around the backside of the Chicago Aquarium and along the lake shore jogging trail.  Wow- I hadn't laid my eyes on Lake Michigan since I came here to run cross country invitationals back in college, one of our biggest meets of the year.  I used to get so nervous thinking of running in the "big city" back them.  Today, however, there were no nerves wrecking havoc in my stomach.  This was my date weekend with my husband and we were here to have fun, finally meet some amazing Angel parents from around the world who we had connected with on Facebook over the past few years, and learn more about current and upcoming research to hopefully cure our little girl.
Santas ready to fly!
Meagan Cross, me, David McCurdy
I talked Dave into standing in the corral for the 6:30 pace/mile group, only realizing with a couple minutes to go that there was an even faster group lined up in front of us.  I ducked under the barrier tape, pulling Dave along, bless his heart.

I say "bless his heart" because during the next couple of minutes, he was subjected to my self-doubting, insecure, pre-race jitters where I start checking out the competition, sizing them up, and predicting who was going to win.  The super-fit girls lining up, fingers on Garmins (mind you, I was Garminless and my good old Timex was hidden somewhere under my long sleeve and gloves), ready and poised to sprint as the gun went off, versus me, the only female in the lead group who was wearing both Santa hat AND beard, skort and polka dotted Santa socks.  This was the largest 5K I had ever raced and in one of the largest cities in the United States, so of course there were going to be fast runners!  Ahhh - competitive Deanna kicked in right there on the starting line.  So much for a "fun" race! Grrr...

Aquaphor Teammate Jennifer Plaff and me
The pack took off in a full sprint as the gun went off.  Funny when you don't run 5K's, you have no idea what pace is.  The 1st mile was flat to slightly downhill and I kept battling back and forth with a girl in a sports bra top and tight brief shorts who ran more-or-less on her toes.  She was driving me crazy, each time I tried to pass her, she would pass me back.  We battled like this until almost the 1/2 way point of the race, completely missing the splits at the 1 mile marker so I had no idea what the pace was.  I am not one who prides in racing against anyone specifically, preferring to just push myself to see what my own body is capable of and doing my personal best, but my brain makes an exception every once in awhile.

I happened upon target #2 during the second mile - the "Santa Slut" as I dubbed her (sorry for the language, but the mind does strange things to motivate in the heat of the race).  She was wearing a skimpy little skirt and snug top.  Cute, yes, but in my mind, I thought, I don't want someone looking like that to be ahead of me at the finish line, nor do I want to share a finish line photo with her.  Awful, I know, but it served as motivation to push forward. We came through the 2nd mile mark in 11:30 - quick math told me that was fast!  An ever so slight uphill gave me the surge I needed to press on, passing volunteers offering cups of M&M's.  I think this was the only time of my life that I have bipassed the offer for M&M's but at that moment the smell of chocolate made my stomach do a little flip flop!

I passed one more female runner as we turned down the final stretch to the finish and for the first time, was passed back by the same girl just before we crossed the line.  I caught myself slowing down as I tried to process the time on the finish clock, bewildered and taken back, just the opportunity she needed to edge me at the line.  Official finish time:  17:10, a PR by almost a minute (my fastest 5K up until this race was back in 1999, an 18:01).  Good for 4th Overall, 1st in age group.

1st in age group, 4th Overall
Still stunned, knowing I had not been training much at all to earn that time, standing in the finish shoot after being handed water and a candy cane, I was thrown for another loop.  I heard someone ask me by my name what I thought of the race.  Who in the world would know me up here?  I looked up to see the girl, it was the toe runner in the tank top and briefs, talking to me.  I didn't realize she was an Aquaphor teammate of mine who I was battling during the 1st mile of the race!  I am continually amazed at how small the world is!

Maybe I should have Chicago style pizza and beer the night before a race, or maybe I should walk around in mis-matched shoes the day before a race.  Or maybe, just maybe, I should remind myself that these races aren't about speed, finish times, or placement (or what you are wearing on the start line), but rather they are about having fun!   

Hanging out with the other Angel parents after the race and later that evening at the F.A.S.T. Gala, we didn't talk about finish times.  The other parents were in Chicago that weekend for the same reason Dave and I were.  We were there to celebrate us: the sleepless nights, the struggles, the frustrations, and the daily battles we have overcome living with children with such a challenging condition.  We were there to learn more from leading scientists in the field of Angelman Syndrome research, to pick their brains, and fill our hearts with hope that one day in the near future, all of our lives and the lives of our children will be even brighter.  That's what it is all about.
Ursula Cramer (NZ), me, Meagan Cross (AU)
Angel Moms ROCK!


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