Wednesday, April 26, 2006

the Sierra Nevada Endurance Run RECAP - 53.2 miler

WARNING – this is the longest race I’ve ever run and the following is the longest race report I’ve ever written. To read this takes some endurance, so proceed at your own discretion…

To ALL those who’ve supported me along this long training & racing journey:
Here is the long-awaited and oft-requested “race-report” email on my Sierra Nevada 53.2-mile Endurance Run which I completed on September 24th… this is one of my signature LONG-WINDED e-mails complete with links to video and photos. If you are at work, or don’t wish to spend 15-minutes reading an email (right-now) then simply save or delete this message… for those of you who have demanded I send this (ASAP), enjoy… I hope it provides as much inspiration as you need, as you all have inspired me SO much.

Where do I start!? The first question nearly EVERYONE has asked is “why?” Well, actually, it’s been “DEAR GOD, why would you do that to yourself?” But we’ll simply start with the “why” part…

THE DRIVING FORCE BEHIND MY INSPIRATION TO RUN A DOUBLE-MARATHON ON TRAILS, the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run… a 5-min, 12-second preview video link follows...

*If you have trouble downloading the video, or you don’t have “Real Player”, you can check out a different Western States 100 video. Or if you just want to SEE MORE! This second video utilizes “Windows Media Player” or other default players by clicking the following link

The Sierra Nevada Endurance Run
was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, hands down. That is the simplest way for me to sum it up. I have been through a lot in my life, from family turmoil in adolescence, to many marathons, even the emotional pain of physical injury, but that all paled in comparison to a double-marathon on trails, with elevation-change of 10,000 feet spread out over nearly 53.3-miles. Not only was the course “mountainous-trails” but it was 80% highly technical single-track trails (meaning nearly one-foot-in-front-of-the-other look out for rocks, roots, dips, holes, and LEDGES that could lead to a serious spill, cut, gash, or fall). Lucky for me, the Granite Bay-Folsom-Auburn area of California is some BEAUTIFUL country. The weather couldn’t have been much better than it was. I got to watch the sun rise, enjoyed breathtaking views of Folsom Lake and the American River. I pretended I was on a 53+ mile wilderness hike and I just couldn’t resist the pure joy of running most of it. The community of ultra-runners is much like the marathon community, only far more intimate and personal, considering how tightly knit marathoners are that is a BIG statement. There are SO many stories I’d like to share with you, but you know that if I got going on too many of them, this would be a short novel and a 2-hour read! For now, I’ll stick to the basics…

Sierra Nevada Endurance Run Start TO Rattlesnake Bar (Miles 0–12)
The race was to start at 6:00am. I got up at 3:45am and made my traditional “qualifying-race” meal of chocolate chip pancakes and Peet’s Kenyan coffee! After stuffing myself with as many chocolate-chip pancakes as I could get down, we were off to the starting-line. I stayed at my sister Mary’s house in Rocklin, a mere 8-miles from the start of the race in Granite Bay (which is near Folsom Lake). A very funny coincidence, the starting-line of the Sierra Nevada Endurance run was literally only a few miles up the road from the starting-line of the California International Marathon (near the Folsom Dam), where I qualified for the Boston Marathon only 10 months ago! There’s some great mojo for me up there near Folsom! The gun went off right on schedule, and nearly 150 athletes started off on their long journeys… among us were the participants of three races, the Sierra Nevada Endurance Run Relay (a 2-person relay), my race (the 53.2 mile run) and the Rio Del Lago 100-miler. Yes, there are people crazier than moi! I would need a 10-hour- 45-minute FINISH today if I were to qualify for the Western States (the Boston Marathon of ultra-trail-marathons). It was nearly pitch-black when the gun went off to begin the race, so I stayed close to many runners with headlamps on, and I walked the better part of the first couple of miles. The trail was marked with PINK ribbons and glo-sticks, it was chilly, pleasantly cool air in the mid-50’s, which topped out around 79-degrees later that day, simply DREAM-like weather for this area, this time of year. I lost myself in the predawn views of Folsom Lake. I even forgot at times that I was a participant in a RACE, as I stopped aside the trail and started snapping photos of the lake with my cell-phone’s digital camera! Then, I started running to find a good (2-bar) signal on my cell phone so I could picture-mail them to Kate’s cell phone so my family could see these breath-taking sights!!! I had my phone in the air, my arm fully extended as I waited for pictures to upload, and as crazy as these people are, most looked at me like I was from Mars as I ignored the fact that there was a race happening. When I finally arrived at the first “crew-point” to meet my dad, my baby-sister and brother-in-law, and my fabulous fiancée Kate, I was only slightly behind my targeted pace of 12-miles in 2-hours. They all laughed at me sending photos and text messages! I was nearly a quarter of the way through the race, and I was excited to see what else was in store for me! I gobbled down another chocolate-chip pancake and ran after a couple of older gentlemen (Bill & Dana) who I had ran the last mile or two with, and told my family I’d see them at the next checkpoint.

Rattlesnake Bar TO Auburn Dam Overlook (Miles 12–23)
As I started the second-leg of my quest, I wondered to myself if “Rattlesnake Bar” was named because of a high-concentration of RATTLESNAKES!!! Yikes!! I used to have nightmares as a child of snakes “getting me”, so running this particular portion of the course (which was ALL single track trails with the brush on both sides of the trail grazing my legs at ALL times) a bit creepy. I think I did sub-7-minute miles for a stretch there! When I caught running buddies Bill & Dana, they politely asked me if I’d like them to step-aside so I could pass and I playfully requested that they block me for as long as they could. I told them that I was a neophyte and rookie to the ultra-running community, and that this was my FIRST time venturing past the 26.2 mile distance that has captivated my imagination and soul for the past 5 years. Both guys laughed and smiled and took me under their wing. It was unbelievable, did I EVER run into the RIGHT guys at the RIGHT time! Little did I know, the accomplishments these two guys have amassed, it made me realize yet again how blessed I truly am, and that yet again an angel had led me to THIS race at THIS particular time. These two would serve as my guides for nearly 15-22 miles of the experience! Bill (49) was one of THREE individuals last year (along with Dean Karnazes) to run the WINTER Western States 100. As if Western States wasn’t hard enough, Dean, 5-time winner Tim Twietmeyer, and Bill had run the storied race in January, when around HALF of it was covered in snow! On top of that, Bill had completed 22-consecutive-years of the Leadville 100-mile race, a race as difficult (in terrain) as the Western States, but at a MUCH HIGHER altitude! The Western States has a HIGH altitude of 8,700 ft, and 38,000 ft of net elevation change VS Leadvilles LOW altitude of 9,200 ft (HIGH of 12,600 ft) and a net elevation change around 31,000 ft. They both commented that they were pacing themselves for a 10-hour finish, which I knew would give me some “grace-time” should I melt down in the second half on-way to my necessary 10-hour, 45-minute qualifying time. I told them both of my dream to run the Western States before my 31st birthday which basically gives me until June of 2007 to do so. Dana informed me that not only had both he and Bill WON this race (Sierra Nevada), but he was personally on the 4-person “special considerations” committee that admits athletes into Western States. After telling him of my quest for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and of Sophie Hartmann, he gently assured me that this would NOT get me into the Western States. I fired back, “well, I’ll just have to send you photos of my UCLA co-ed race crew” to which he replied, laughing, “that WILL convince three of the four of us!” That was the LAST we spoke of the Western States until after the race. The LAST thing I wanted to do was be a pest for a couple of hours HURTING my chances to get in. I may be IN a lottery for 350 slots with 1,000-2,000 other people, but it couldn’t hurt to have met Dana when I did. Bill, Dana and I stayed together as we ascended “Cardiac Hill,” between 2-3 miles of vertical climbing that was the most significant uphill of the day, nearly 1,500 ft up. Atop Cardiac, it was a very flat, pleasant few miles to the Auburn Dam Overlook where I got to see my mom for the first time today! She took it upon herself to make sure Kate was taking care of herself while Kate was race-crew-captain for me! The two were an awesome pair. I munched down half a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, had a handful of pretzels, and refilled my bottles with water and Gatorade. ONWARD to No Hands Bridge!

Auburn Dam Overlook TO No Hands Bridge and BACK (Miles 23–31)
In the previous section of running, I had taken a nasty fall where I JAMMED my middle toe on my left foot. Not to long after that, Bill bailed, and Dana joked that he was next. He was! At the top of Cardiac Hill, he took the worst spill of the three of us, falling and hitting his hip hard, and scraping up his palms. Dana had trouble getting into a running rhythm after that, and as we left the Auburn Dam Overlook, he fell back. Before Bill and I knew it, he was nowhere to be seen (or heard). We stopped and yelled back for him, but someone else answered back. Hmmm. As experienced as Dana was, Bill mused that he’d be fine and we should continue on, as we’d likely see him again at No Hands Bridge. Bill informed me we were just about to cross a magical threshold, onto the last few miles of the Western States 100 course! I was giddy that on our way back, I’d be running the last few miles of the course in the same direction as in my current “dream” race. Granted, if the DREAM goes as planned, I’ll be running this section in pitch black darkness aided by a headlamp, as I will strive to finish in under 24-hours, or sometime between 3am-5am. It was between Auburn Dam Overlook and No Hands that runners began flying by in the other direction! Bill and I began to count… there’s the RACE LEADER! 2nd place. 3. 4, 5, 6, 7, first girl at 8! 9, 10, 11, 12… we were ALMOST to No Hands, which we could see in the distance… 13, 14… Bill and I were in 15th place together when we reached the turn-around point. It was now 10:40am and I was 4-hours, 40-minutes into my Western States qualifying quest! At Mile 27, I had 6-hours to complete the final marathon, which was more downhill than up on the way back the EXACT same way we came up. We had about 600 ft to climb in the next 2-miles to get back to the highest point in the race, but I was ENERGIZED! As we made our way back over the bridge, Dana emerged from the trees running with another guy, smiling and looking great. He let us know he was feeling GREAT again and he just had to make a necessary “pit-stop” in the bushes. He said, “I’ll catch YOU, Bill, later. Jimmy, have a GREAT race and I hope to see you at the finish!” Bill and I stayed stride for stride together all the way back to the Auburn Dam Overlook as he told me stories about the many people in the race that passed us, he seemed to know EACH ONE personally!!! When we finally arrived back at the crew point, Kate was eagerly awaiting. This was the point in the race that “pacers” entered the picture. A member of your race-crew could be designated a pacer, and run the last 21+ miles with you to make sure you didn’t get lost, delirious, hurt, or plain pass out. I was feeling PRETTY good considering I had just run a 50k (31 miles) on trails, and I was with Bill. So I told Kate that she wouldn’t be joining me. I knew she had HER big qualifying race (for Boston) in 21-days (the Long Beach Marathon), and in front of us was the DOWNSIDE of Cardiac Hill, and another 23 miles of pounding. While Bill and I refueled, Dana caught up to us. I introduced them both to Kate and my mom, and this HUGE mountain-man looking guy walked up and said HI. Bill and Dana introduced me… Gordy – Jimmy… Jimmy – Gordy! I darted them a look, and they both nodded. This was Gordon Ainsleigh! THE man credited with starting the 100-mile trail run craze by running what is NOW the Western States course in a race VS horses!!! I couldn’t believe it. The FOUR of us took a photo, and it was quite possibly one of only a couple photos where I’m laughing (or even smiling). You’ll see that picture (and more) in a post-email photo-slide-show that my mom put together. I grabbed another half-PB&J and ran after Bill and Dana, who were already jogging away. There was ONLY one more crew-point left between me and the finish, a mere 23 miles to go.

Auburn Dam Overlook TO Rattlesnake Bar (Miles 31–42)
Dana, Bill and I worked our way back towards “Cardiac Hill” and in the back of my mind, I knew that would likely be the last couple of miles we were together. Dana was feeling better, Bill was telling me of his notorious bad endings to this race, and both of them were asking me when I would FLY away, and I think Dana was slightly annoyed that I called my friend Sara to see where she was (she was driving up from Davis to hang with Kate and my mom and cheer me on). I think Dana called me a “whippersnapper” and said “okay, THAT’S IT!” When we hit the Cardiac Hill decent, I began to open it up. There was a split-second when I took my eyes off the trail to see how Bill was doing, and I lost my footing and slipped OVER the ledge… WHOA!!! I scrambled to grab hold of something, and JUST caught myself. As Bill caught me he gave me a very relaxed, “nice recovery!” and “good thing you didn’t fall, I was going to have to report you for cutting the course.” We both laughed, but adrenaline was coursing through my veins. Couple that with the fact that my competitive self was beginning to surface… I was in 15th place with 20 miles to go!!! Could I crack the top 10??? I said to Bill, “Have a GREAT race, see you soon!” and I bolted. The next 9 miles were a back-and-forth between bliss and exhaustion. I was beginning to labor. I caught my first runner! He politely stepped out of the way as I flew by at around a 7:30-per-mile pace. I tried to speed up, or at least maintain pace to hold off any attempt by him to stay with me. Before even slowing down, I had caught another runner! I was now in lucky 13th place! I thought of my dearest Kate, who’s birthday and favorite number is 13. I was now only 6 or 7 miles from Kate at the next crew station. On my way there, I caught two more runners and was now in 11th place! I saw a sign stating that I was now LESS than a mile from Rattlesnake Bar. Only 8-10 minutes until I’m there, right? I got lost!!!! There were these “off-roading” driving paths that crisscrossed a FEW intersecting horse/hiking paths, and I was exhausted and borderline delirious. I started around a corner, and saw the crew point, but I also realized if I walked up to the crew-point from the wrong direction, I could be disqualified for cutting the course (or at least going off-course). I had SO MUCH TIME to finish in under 10-hours, 45-minutes, as my time was NOW at 7-hours, 15-minutes. I had 3-hours, 30-minutes to cover the final 12-miles. I backtracked about a quarter mile until I found the trail again and came back to the crew station ON COURSE. I was frustrated, exhausted, aching, and READY to be done. Kate bounced around like an eager puppy dog wanting to be let out. She let me know that she had found out it was OKAY for her to “pace me” from the 12-mile point in. I agreed to letting her come, deeply relieved that I’d have someone with me for those final TOUGH miles.

Rattlesnake Bar TO Twin Rocks (Miles 42–49.2)
As Kate followed me into the final major phase of the race, my mom YELLED after her, “remember, you CAN’T TOUCH HIM!!!” The rules of the race stipulated that a pacer could NOT act as “race crew” in between crew points. This means she couldn’t help me up a hill, give me anything to drink, she couldn’t even give me an Advil or carry my water bottles for me. She playfully smile back… who, me??? Kate ran right on my heels for miles. It was a gently rolling 7+ miles to the last aid station at Twin Rocks. We passed a guy who (with his pacer) had been kicked by a horse, and REFUSED aid. He was VERY disappointed to be passed by Kate and I, as he was proud of his top 10 positioning. We sped up to drop him. I was ACHING, throbbing, and in agonizing pain at this point, but we pressed the pace anyway. We caught the guy in 9th, who was doing fine, but his PACER was hurting and apparently was ill-prepared for a hilly-mountainous 21 miles. As we passed them by, the pacer was sitting on a rock with his shoes off, and the 9th place guy looked bewildered. We pressed on. I was in 9th place and I prized the idea of being in the single-digits! But EVERYTHING hurt. We got to Twin Rocks after what seemed like HOURS. I had 4.1 miles left. As we finished filling our bottles with ice, Gatorade, and water, the guy who was previously in 9th, now 10th came FLYING around the corner to the Twin Rocks aid station. He looked fresh, strong, relaxed. I was toast. But I couldn’t let him know. We hurriedly left and it was my goal to RUN the rest of the way.

Twin Rocks TO the FINISH (Miles 49.2–53.28+)
As we started (fast), we clipped away between 8-9 minute miles (I think). I kept thinking about 10th place, I thought MAYBE I could run hard enough to catch the NEXT person, so if Mr. 10 caught me, I’d still be in the top 9! lol Things started cramping. Kate commented on some turkeys, and I pleaded with her for no more talking. Everything was irritating me at that point. With about 2 miles left, we caught the next person, the girl leading the women’s race! She nervously asked Kate if she was in the double-marathon, Kate smiled and said, “don’t worry honey, I’m just a pacer.” We almost got lost a few more times as we looked down each of the long forks in the path for the pink ribbons tied to tree branches. The last 2-3 miles took FOREVER. We came out of some trees and over the next set of trees I saw what looked like a school building. I literally thought I might be hallucinating. That COULDN’T be the end. Must have been another school. Then we came up on THE field where I started… I was 200-yards from being DONE! I picked it up to 6:00-mile pace! I stared at the finish line in disbelief. My mom, sister, brother-in-law, and baby-niece all cheered me along the final 30-yards. 9-hours, 28-minutes, 19-seconds later, I was done, and totally spent. I was filthy, bleeding (from a fall in the last few miles) from my thumb, I had scrapes and scratches all over my legs that were coated in dirt, and I could barely walk. I had finished in 8th place, and as they put the stickers on the finisher’s board, it turns out I was also the first person between the age of 18-29, taking 1st place for my “age group.” A woman approached me and asked what she could get for me, and the best-sounding thing I could think of was Red Bull on ice! I drank the two best Red Bull’s I’ve ever had, and I didn’t really care for Red Bull (UNTIL NOW!). We headed back to the hotel, and I had the BEST 15-min ice bath I’ve EVER experienced. It reduced my deep-aching-pain by about 80%. After cleaning up we went to Islands for burgers, and Mary talked them into letting us into a private party and giving us FREE dinner with appetizers!!! After dinner, Kate and I went out with our friend Sara to a bar for drinks. We got home at 1:30am, and 22-hours after waking up, and 54-ish miles later, the day was done! I can not WAIT to do it again! My mom almost immediately emailed us a photo-slideshow of the day…

Here is a list of people I am GRATEFUL to, and whom without, I could NOT have done this:

  1. Kate “the GREAT” Martini – my love and crew chief, who supported me through every training day, and every step of the double-marathon
  2. My family who has supported me ENDLESSLY, been behind me no-matter-what I do... my mom, dad, sisters (Mary & Sarah), brothers-in-law (Stan & Reuben), and cute-as-heck-nieces (Alexis, McKenna & Gabrielle)
  3. Sophie & Vivian Hartman – the inspiration to endure ANY pain and continue to fight on… Sophie continues to fight her fight at the UCLA Med Center, her 2nd bout with leukemia, and I am inspired by ALL the other SURVIVORS (Alex, Virginia, Van, Kendall, Melanie, Jeff, Audrey, and so many more)
  4. My grandparents – the memories of James & Margaret Freeman moves me to this day, they are my role-models and idols, my example of living a life about love and family, passion and commitment
  5. The Team In Training San Gabriel Valley Marathon Team – seeing such amazing people put themselves on the line, doing something they previously thought they could not do, and quite possibly still don’t fully believe they can do, both FUNDRAISING to make a difference in the lives of others and pushing their own physical limits, I am SO blessed to be in the presence of these angels constantly… I LOVE these people with all that I have
  6. My incredibly supportive friends, training partners, and (now fellow) ultra-marathoners who’ve provided advice, support, and motivation… Sara, Travis, Emily, Greg, Murray, Katie, Amber, Teresa, Theresa, Marnie, Gareth, Gionne, Archie, Sonia, Yoshi, Neil, there are SO many I’ve failed to mention, but who played a crucial role in supporting my quest

I shall find out on Saturday, December 3rd, if I have been selected (by lottery) to participate in this year’s Western States, which shall take place on June 24th-25th, 2006. If I do NOT get selected for Western States, I plan to complete the Angeles Crest 100-mile Endurance Run (in the San Gabriel back country) from Wrightwood to Pasadena mid-late next September, 2006...

Monday, April 24, 2006

the sights of a great run

The Santa Monica Mountains overlooking Santa Monica & Malibu... clouds / fog covering the Pacific Ocean.

Sometimes a single run will stick with you forever. Or more specifically, a single moment of a single run, almost like a freezeframe of a movie. If you are lucky and you catch a visual that catches you, you might have a camera with you (but how many of us ever go running with a camera? )... which is now the simple JOY of having a cell-phone-cameras and a good cell phone armband on a run. This has saved a few moments that I'm glad I'll never forget...

Folsom Lake in Northern California, near Sacramento, watching the sun rise on the morning of my first double-marathon (I stopped in the middle of the run to briefly observe and photograph this moment)...

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Boston & 100 - Sophie's Story

This is the story of young Sophie Hartman. She has an important story that may do more than inspire fundraising to save the lives of others; Sophie might just inspire you to live, like she inspired me…


Sophie Hartman: Guardian Angel
It was a gorgeous, sunny autumn day in November, but from the inside of the Pediatric ICU at the UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital, much of its splendor was lost on me. I was visiting young Sophia Hartman and her mom Vivian, my third visit in a week. To say Sophie (as we all called her) wasn't doing well was a bit of an understatement. She had more tubes, probes, wires and equipment hooked up to her than the nicest surround sound HDTV entertainment center I'd ever dreamed of. I don't mean to minimize her condition; it was just such a horrific sight that you had to try to think of something else to even bear it.
Sophie had been diagnosed over a month before (10/7/04) with leukemia, still the number one cause of death of children in the United States. After a month of aggressive chemotherapy, her condition had only worsened. She was so heavily medicated that she couldn't speak most of the time. If she could nod and shake her head to communicate, it was a good day. But those good days were behind us now. Sophie's nurse Ester had informed me that the leukemia was a very rare form, loosely described as "Refractory Leukemia", meaning it was not responding to any of the treatments they had administered. This cancer had a life of its own and it was taking the life of a very precious 11-year-old girl rapidly. I fondly remembered the day in mid-October only a few weeks prior, when Sophie and I had talked about the finer qualities of Hilary Duff (her favorite singer) and Britany Spears (my favorite bubble gum pop queen). I came to visit as much as I could, as much to try to cheer Vivian up as to see Sophie. I would sit at her side, tell her running stories and goof off.
Sophie was a runner. There was a picture of her finishing a race above her hospital bed, a huge smile on her face and a full head of hair, a day now long past. I would tell Sophie of my dream to qualify for and run the Boston Marathon. I would tell her about my races leading up to the California Int'l Marathon (in Sacramento), and I brought her a 2nd place medal I won at the Puente Hills Turkey Trot 10k right before Thanksgiving, which we hung on her IV stand. I told Sophie to fight, that her mind and spirit could keep her body alive. I told her that it was just like running the marathon, when your body begins to break down and you're so tired, you just make up your mind to keep on going because you know you will be smiling at the end. I told her that I believed in her and I knew she'd beat this (even though there was this terrible feeling in my gut, wondering if it was really possible). Ester told me the statistics… Sophie had a 1% chance of surviving 'Refractory Leukemia'. Even more disturbing; she had a meager 3% chance of seeing the outside of this ICU again. It seemed hope was nearly lost. But Vivian and I never gave up hope.
Sunday morning December 5th arrived, and it was time for me to make my 3rd competitive attempt at qualifying for the Boston Marathon. Only 26 months prior (10/13/02), I had fallen 12 seconds short of qualification at the Chicago Marathon with a 3:11:11, a mere half second per mile slower than the necessary 3:10:59 to qualify. On race day there was hope in the air: hope for qualifying for a long-time dream, hope for life, and hope for my little angel Sophie back at UCLA. I ran a solid race, a tactical race, maybe the best race of my life… until Mile 21. I hit the wall a little after 9:30am, and I hit it hard. I had this painful sensation, like there was a little jackal enjoying a ride on my left leg, sticking the teardrop muscle of my quad with a syringe every time my leg hit the ground. After a mile of very fast limping, it was clear my hope for qualification today was nearly gone. I crossed the Mile 22 mark in 7:48, a solid 33 seconds per mile slower than I could afford. I needed to run this 26.2 mile stretch at an average 7:15 pace, and I now faced the prospect of needing to run even faster than that for the final 4.2 miles. After running the first 21 miles (at a 7:15 average) somewhat fresh, the prospect of 4.2 miles even faster than that in agonizing pain, the worst pain I have ever had running, was a devastatingly discouraging feeling. Makes you want to run marathons, doesn't it!?
At that moment I thought of Sophie fighting for her life. I remembered I had told her to keep fighting no matter what, and I felt like such a fraud. I was crying, but I couldn't tell if it was the pain in my left leg, the sobering reality of not making my goal, the thought of letting Sophie down or a combination of all three. I suddenly felt the strength of anger… how could such a sweet little girl die such a horrible death!? I told Sophie I would run for her and I would be damned if I didn't give every last bit of me to that race. I ran faster and after another mile my IT band felt like that jackal was now sticking a dull rusty knife in the outside of my left knee. Mile 23 – 7:15! I ran harder and harder, I desperately had to make up time, I had to do this for Sophie. The miles ticked by, 7:16, 7:14, 7:04… I had less than a quarter mile to go and I might still make it! As I turned the final corner I read the clock… 3:10:01, 02, 03, 04… I was going to make it!!! I crossed the finish line and collapsed into my fiancée Kate's arms. I had finally done it!!! I was fulfilling my dream of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I couldn't wait to get back to LA and share the news with Sophie!
Tuesday afternoon, December 7th, I walked (or limped) as fast as I could to Mattel Children's Hospital on the UCLA campus. I hit the button for the 3rd floor and darted to the ICU. Most of the nurses and staff had come to recognize me from my frequent visits and they smiled and checked out the cool marathon medal I sported around my neck. When I arrived at the ICU I scurried to the back where Sophie's private room was… my heart sank when I realized it was not Sophie, she was gone. I rushed back out of the ICU fighting to hold back the tears. I pleaded with a nurse to tell me where she was; that she was okay… the nurse calmly responded that Sophie had been transferred to the east wing. Her condition had improved! She was out of the ICU!!! I sprinted down the hall to get to her room! Numerous doctors and orderlies told me to slow down but I didn't care. I rounded the corner and I saw Vivian, Sophie's mom! After a big hug, she asked me how the race went. I told her I qualified for Boston and she then shared with me Sophie's marathon story…
"Sunday," Vivian said, "I reminded Sophie that it was your race day and that we had to pray for you that the angels would carry your legs from 7:00am to 10:10am. At around 9:30 in the morning, seemingly asleep and totally quiet, Sophie started to talk to you while her eyes were still closed. She started to say, 'faster Jimmy, run faster!' "
Chills shot down my spine. I pulled out my running log and looked at my mile by mile splits… it was 9:32am when my left leg gave up on me and my pace slowed. It was then that Sophie had spoken to me and I had the strength of 1,000 angels to continue through great discomfort. When I told Vivian this, tears filled her eyes. "Sophie said she ran WITH you, Jimmy." Maybe we were each other's guardian angels?
Less than a month later I was sitting at Vivian & Sophie's dinner table, enjoying a hearty dinner with their family. Sophie had been discharged from the hospital just before Christmas to enjoy the holiday & New Year's at home, since her condition had so dramatically improved. A month after that, she was diagnosed in complete remission, a miracle and memory that I shall always cherish. Sophie would call me 2 – 3 times a week and this joyful girl made me laugh every single time. She had this lightness about her, a zest for life that everyone needs and very few possess. Sophie represents so much for me and for those who knew her; she is the powerful embodiment of hope, the power of love and prayer.

Yet Sophie's story doesn't have a happy ending. After nearly 6-months of remission, the leukemia returned and Sophie was re-diagnosed with AML (Acute Myelogenous Leukemia). Sophie never left the hospital again. On October 14th, 2005, we lost 12-year-old Sophia, a young girl that we will never, ever forget. For those of you who needed another reason, this is why I run. Running is my way of maintaining hope. My belief that someday soon, we'll have eliminated these terrible diseases so beautiful children like Sophie can grow up to be beautiful people, giving the world their own form of joy, hope and love. My fundraising for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society may be a small piece of the overall picture, but it's an important piece, because I strive to inspire others to do the same. The last marathon team I coached raised over $239-thousand dollars (a new SGV team record)… and I am joyfully reminded that we are all in this together. So much more together than we ever realize… we are fellow humans, doing what we can to enrich humanity. We must each do our part to keep hope alive.

In memoriam Sophia Hartman (4/11/1993 – 10/14/2005)

With Love and Relentless Hope,

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Sharks feeding frenzy in LA...

5 - 0 baby! FIVE - LOVE...

Kate and I went with our good friends Anita & Eric to see the San Jose Sharks POUND the Los Angeles Kings into near submission at the Staples Center on Thursday night. It was an equally important, no, it was a DESPERATE game for both teams. SO important/desperate that I (for the FIRST time ever) donned my Pacific teal, silver and black face paint at a Sharks road game, in an 'enemy building'. I typically get yelled at, taunted and pelted with peanuts when we go to Sharks games at Staples Center, due primarily to the fact the Sharks OWN the Kings (they are 6-1 this year vs the Kings and have 15-wins, 2-losses, and 1-OT loss in the last 18-games vs LA, 31-out-of-36-possible-points!). WE LOVE LA in more ways than one!!!!
I made an important addition to the face-painting this time around... BLACK EYES and LIPS... made me look a bit crazier and a bit meaner. Surprisingly enough, there were NO LA fans who said a WORD to me this time around. I got many curious stares, but not ONE comment was made. Not ONE peanut was thrown. And that was even more impressive considering the can of whoop-ass the Sharks opened up on the Kings. It was one of the most THOROUGHLY enjoyable hockey games I have EVER seen. Kate has been a Jonathan Cheechoo fan for 3 seasons now, and he did NOT fail to impress, scoring two more goals to bring his season total to 48 (tied for 3rd in the NHL right now). I am becoming more and more of a Steve Bernier fan myself. Might have to go out and get a 2005-06 Sharks home jersey, alternate jersey OR road-white jersey to have Bernier's rookie uniform!!!


Crazy 8's... psychosomatic, addict, insane...

5 days 'till BOSTON. The 'BOSTON'. The race to end all races. The OLDEST continuously-held footrace in the world. This year will be the 110th running of the Boston Marathon, held annually on Patriot's Day (a Massasschussets holiday that commemorates the midnight ride of Paul Revere). I have only had a handful of races THIS BIG (i.e. with this much emotion, pressure, and significance) in my life...

1. Meet of Champions / State Qualifying Meet, Cross Country - Nov '94
2. California State High School Cross Country Championships - Dec '94
3. Chicago Marathon - Oct '02
4. Cleveland Marathon - Apr '04
5. California International Marathon - Dec '04
6. Boston Marathon 2005 - PART I (Apr)
7. Sierra Nevada Endurance Run 53.2 Miler - Sept '05
8. Boston Marathon 2006 - PART II (Apr)

I need to PACK and SLEEP. So much to do and SO soon...