Update

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It has been quiet here for quite some time. Time to change that. This is just a placeholder for things to come. More words, probably, and maybe some photos, and definitely some additional work with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society!

Two Links

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My stepmom forwarded me this article earlier today, full of several similarities with my leukemia. Same exact subtype, identical bleeding gums symptoms (although hers sound worse than mine), even receiving treatment at the same hospital. Advances in treatment have come a long way in twenty plus years, though -- meaning most of her treatment is out patient. Still, now walk in the park by any stretch.


As a tear trickled down Katie Collier's cheek, she started to laugh.

The touted basketball recruit sat tucked into a leather chair with her long legs pulled up at an angle, her feet resting on an ottoman. She wore a black sweatsuit and her long, blond hair flowed down her right side.

She blinked back tears, but never stopped smiling.

During a time when most 18-year-olds with Division I college scholarship offers are making final decisions, the Seattle Christian senior tried to explain what it's like to have a dream diverted, a decision delayed.

Instead of selecting a school, Collier is dealing with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL). She takes a chemotherapy pill at 9 a.m. and another at 9 p.m. and, until this week, made daily trips to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance for an arsenic drip.

But she isn't upset. She doesn't seem scared. Tears come with the territory, but she leans on laughter.

"It's more important to bring more smiles than tears," Collier said. "Who wants to be there soaking in tears? Not me."

The Seattle Times


Also received a couple of new books from Mom today -- one of which, The Emperor of All Maladies, I'm already devouring. The early pages on leukemia are especially riveting.

The arrival of a patient with acute leukemia still sends a shiver down the hospital's spine -- all the way from the cancer wards on its upper floors to the clinical laboratories buried deep in the basement. Leukemia is a cancer of the white blood cells -- cancer in one of it's most explosive, violent incarnations. As one nurse on the wards often liked to remind her patients, with this disease "even a paper cut is an emergency."

A Few Thoughts on Finishing

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Goals can be a funny thing. I felt as well prepared for this marathon as any I've ever trained for. Was pleasantly surprised, last year, when my attempt at two marathons within three weeks brought me roughly the same finishing times that I'd had ten years prior -- about 4:45.

I was faster this summer. Stronger. Better conditioned. Better rested and hydrated through my taper. Got more 20+ mile training runs in. Felt stronger about everything. The weather forecast was all kinds of awesome.

And yet?

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It just wasn't my day on Sunday. My quads started to hurt around mile 10 or so. And there was a persistent side ache that followed me from mile 13 on. The entire last half of the marathon was a struggle just to run. It didn't really get any better, although walking helped a bit, it was clear that this marathon was going to be a grind.

I didn't really notice much along the second half. Didn't see the gorgeous fall colors. Wasn't excited to see the cathedral near the end. And the finish line? I had to force my body back into motion when I saw it come over the hill, knowing that I had half a mile or so where I couldn't stop. Wouldn't stop.

My legs were trembling at the end.

And as much as I'd maybe like to be disappointed, as much as I wish I would have been closer to my goal pace (or at least my times from last year), I know that the important thing, again, is that I finished. That I took on this challenge five some months ago and stuck with my training for the second consecutive year. That over the course of five different marathons with Team in Training -- dating back to 1998 -- I've managed to help raise more than $45,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

You're not always going to get great, perfect, amazing days where everything works exactly as expected.

What matters is that I finished. My legs are still sore, two days later, but they're getting better.

And I'm already thinking about next year.

It's Time!

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Picked up my race packet from the expo this morning.

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After I'd stopped by the expo, I drove over near the capitol, up the hill to the Cathedral of St. Paul. Wanted to picture, again, that final stretch.

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It's a spectacular sight -- and a fantastic way to hit that 26 mile mark.

Real-time updates can be found here: http://www.mtecresults.com/race/show/507. My goal is to finish somewhere between 4:20 and 4:30, or anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes faster than last year.

I'm excited and nervous but also feeling pretty calm and steady. Training has gone so well, and the weather forecast is absolutely perfect.

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This week has been all about good nights of sleep, plenty of rest, hydration, and trusting that I've put in the hard work over the past twenty weeks.

One More Week

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A quiet week of tapering, which is good, I think. Didn't get any cross-training in, and only had a couple of runs, plus a LOT of walking around at a conference in Orlando (which I'm counting as a four-mile run, even though it was probably more like 5 or 6). Our weekend team run yesterday morning was a comfortable eight miles.

The plan for the next seven days is simple: get lots of rest. Early to bed every day this week. Eat well (no soda, or fried foods, or any other semi-arbitrary rules I'll make up as I go). I'll want to take a few short runs -- no more than two or three miles -- between now and Friday.

Really just want to make sure I'm as well-rested as I can be before the marathon. I know that I'm more than capable of putting in the miles. Let's just see how much better it feels if I'm smart about diet and sleep this week.

Fingers crossed for good weather, too. Forecast looks just about perfect.

  • 3 runs for 16 miles (long run of 8 miles)
  • no spin classes or other cross-training
  • 3 days of rest
Longest run to date: 20 miles (twice)
Total training miles since 05/12/2011: 394.5 miles

Week 18 Summary

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Funny. So tapering didn't really start until today, with our shortest long run since July 23rd. Our mid-week team training run was a great series of Yasso 800's. Ten sets of those -- a quick two laps around the track (aiming for a 4 minute half-mile or less) plus a third to walk/jog -- gave us about 7 1/2 miles on Wednesday alone.

Today was a cool and wet out-and-back along the last six miles of the marathon course. It felt great. Kept up a really good pace throughout.

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By the end of the week, I'd finished with three runs for a total of 24 miles, which also makes eight consecutive weeks with at least three runs and 24-29 miles. The next two weeks combined should see about the same mileage as I'd put in this past week.

Perfect.

A nice, easy, restful way to approach the marathon.

  • 3 runs for 24 miles (long run of 12 miles)
  • 2 spin classes
  • 2 days of rest
Longest run to date: 20 miles (twice)
Total training miles since 05/12/2011: 378.5 miles

The Power of Research

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This is a great article that provides more details about the recent breakthrough in gene therapy -- specifically modified T-cells that have been re-engineered to fight CLL.


The trial was a Phase 1 study, meaning that its main goal was to find out whether the treatment was safe, and at what dose. Of course, doctors and patients always hope that there will be some benefit, but that was not an official endpoint.

Mr. Ludwig thought that if the trial could buy him six months or a year, it would be worth the gamble. But even if the study did not help him, he felt it would still be worthwhile if he could help the study.

When the fevers hit, he had no idea that might be a good sign. Instead, he assumed the treatment was not working. But a few weeks later, he said that his oncologist, Dr. Alison Loren, told him, "We can't find any cancer in your bone marrow."

Remembering the moment, Mr. Ludwig paused and said, "I got goose bumps just telling you those words."

Source


Obviously way too early to tell how effective this might be, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.

Tapering? Tapering!

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With only three weeks left before the marathon, it's officially time to start tapering! Well, after one more long run this weekend, that is. After a last-minute change of plans that meant I wouldn't be running with the team on Saturday, I met Crystal at Lake Calhoun to do two laps around Isles, Calhoun, and Harriet.

This morning's run was a perfect example of why I'd wanted to get 20 miles done at least a couple of times earlier than today. This was it. The last weekend before tapering. If there was any reason at all that would have kept me from getting to 20 today, I'd wanted those previous weekends in my back pocket.

Which is pretty much exactly what happened. Lots of reasons why --unseasonably warm weather, crowded lakes, general fatigue -- Crystal and I opted for 16 miles instead of 20. Still happy with the distance, though.

That makes seven consecutive weeks of long runs between 15 and 20 miles.

And now, it's time for a well-earned taper.

We've got twelve and then eight miles over the next two weekends. And then the marathon!

  • 3 runs for 26 miles (long run of 16 miles)
  • 1 day of cross-training
  • 4 days of rest
Longest run to date: 20 miles (twice)
Total training miles since 05/12/2011: 354.5 miles

September Schedule

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Sixteen Weeks

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Another long run done, another month in the books, and exactly one month left before the Twin Cities Marathon.

This weekend's long run was also along much of the marathon course. I like that our coaches schedule these locations near the end of our training. It's a great opportunity to once again familiarize ourselves with the route. Between the past two weekends we've covered most of the first 22 miles of the course. The weekend after next -- tapering, finally -- will be the last handful of miles.

I've been happy with my consistency for the past six weeks, following my early plan to run three times per week, do some kind of cross-training (usually spin class) twice a week, leaving two days for rest. When in doubt, I've chosen to sacrifice a day of cross-training instead of a run. In fact, over the past sixteen weeks, there's only been a single week where I ran for less than three days to go along with four weeks where I put in an extra day of running. Mixed in at least one day of cross-training in all but one week.

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I've also put in just about as much mileage in the past six weeks (and 19 runs) as I'd done in my previous ten weeks (and 32 runs). So while my runs have all been in the range that I'd hoped for -- 13 - 15 a month -- my mileage has steadily increased with each passing month.

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The consistency and mileage is way better than last August. Then, I'd only run three times a week once, got nothing more than Wednesday and Saturday team runs in two different weeks, and another week only saw me get my long Saturday run in.

Even though I had a stretch of several consecutive lousy long runs -- mostly through our super hot July -- I feel much better prepared for the marathon this year. And last year, I honestly thought I'd done a really good job of getting ready. That's the good thing about baselines: you have something to measure against.

  • 3 runs for 29 miles (long run of 20 miles)
  • 2 days of cross-training
  • 2 days of rest
Longest run to date: 20 miles (twice)
Total training miles since 05/12/2011: 328.5 miles

Week 15 Summary

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A very good week overall, especially our Saturday long run. This was the third consecutive week where I've felt that the distance and pace were both really solid. Jan had wanted us to cut back this week, in preparation for only two more weeks of significant mileage before we taper. We were joking about it a little during the run, how nice it is to use the words "only" and "fifteen miles" together.

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It was also a chance to run a good stretch of the marathon route -- starting near the Walker Art Museum, winding through some of the neighborhoods north of Lake of the Isles. We ran along the marathon route until we were well south of Lake Harriet, then turned around and came back.

I was able to stick to my modified training schedule earlier in the week: a solo run on Monday, spin class on Tuesday, team training on Wednesday (Yasso 800's at the track), and another spin class on Thursday. With a rest day on Friday, and a good night of rest, I've found that my long runs on Saturday are much more manageable.

  • 3 runs for 24.5 miles (long run of 15 miles)
  • 2 spin classes
  • 2 days of rest
Longest run to date: 20 miles
Total training miles since 05/12/2011: 299.5 miles

Week 14 Summary

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I'd initially thought that maybe this week wasn't that great. Maybe a little sub-par. And, true, it's the first time since mid-May where I've had more rest days than running or cross-training. But three days of runs is still pretty solid. Saturday's long run, in particular, more than made up for any missed days of cross-training this week. I didn't hit twenty miles last year until three weeks before the marathon. I'm hoping to get at least one more weekend of at least twenty before this year's Twin Cities.

  • 3 runs for 29 miles (long run of 20 miles)
  • 0 spin classes
  • 4 days of rest
Longest run to date: 20 miles
Total training miles since 05/12/2011: 275 miles

Cancer Sucks

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It really, really sucks.

Jamie (one of the team mentors this year, and a participant in last year's TCM) had been doing a great job all summer of keeping us up-to-date on one of our fall marathon "honored teammates" -- a nine-year old girl named Alie. She'd been battling leukemia since she was only three years old. Three!

Recently, she'd been on oxygen because of some fluid in her lungs. Her CaringBridge website was updated regularly, and both Jamie and our coach Jan regularly asked us to leave comments for her. Alie wasn't able to attend the team picnic this past Saturday, because she was still in the hospital. Jamie handed out pink and purple ribbons to tie to our shoes -- Alie's favorite colors.

She passed away yesterday.

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Another young life cut way too short because of leukemia. And not for lack of effort, or love, or strength, or courage. One can only hope that she is in a better place now -- and I continue to hope that research gets us closer to a cure.

Week 13 Summary

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Thirteen weeks already? Time flies. And I have to go all the way back to week 8 to find a long run where I actually felt good about the distance. Even a week before that and we were already feeling the heat -- six consecutive weeks of summer weather making the runs more difficult than they needed to be.

But I remained hopeful that all of these difficult conditions would ultimately prove to be a good thing. Get through the worst days of summer, just get the mileage in, and it'll have to feel better once things start to cool down.

Well.

Today, finally, was significantly cooler. We started in a cool, steady drizzle, and had to focus for the first three miles on slowing down the pace -- almost as if we were trying to outrun the rain. After that, though, the rain stopped, cloud cover remained, and we were able to settle into a comfortable "long, slow, distance" pace.

Two weeks ago I really struggled with the heat and humidity: 16 miles in 3 hours and 30 minutes. Last week felt a little better, running the same distance in about 3:15. Today felt as good as it has in over a month, adding one more mile but still finishing in 3:15.

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And I can't believe I'd never discovered the Midtown Greenway before today! What a great combined running/biking trail! Cuts through some of my favorite lakes and ends up right next to the Mississippi River.

  • 3 runs for 26 miles (long run of 17 miles)
  • 1 spin class
  • 3 days of rest
Longest run to date: 17 miles
Total training miles since 05/12/2011: 246 miles

Last Year vs This Year (with Numbers)

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So the first thing to remember is that I actually ran two marathons last October, so the number there is a bit inflated. I really, really should not have such a precipitous drop in running days between July and August. Nor should I have thought that cross-training in spin class was a good substitute for runs when I was, you know, training for a marathon.

"Active" is just the total percentage of days in a given month where I was either running or cross-training. Is it any wonder that I felt a little burnt out by the end of last July? Sheesh.

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The real test this year will come over the next two months. My goal is to still have somewhere between 13-15 runs each month (roughly 3 days a week, times four weeks, plus a couple extra to make up the difference between 28 days and 30-31 days).

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But it's felt much more balanced this year. And I don't know if it's getting more rest days, or starting ice baths sooner,or the foam roller punishing my IT band a few nights a week, but I really do feel much, much better heading into the home stretch than I did in 2010.

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A Few Notes

robert (now and then)
(hover to see RKB in 1990)
After running two marathons in October 2010 with Team in Training, I've decided to "slack off" with just the one marathon in 2011.

This year will be in memory of Siona Shah, an amazing young girl who spent the final third of her too-short life battling leukemia with courage, grace, humility, and smiles.

It will also be in memory of my step-grandmother, Ruth, who passed away on June 15th after a recurrence of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

I'd originally started using this site to tell my story -- roughly eight months of treatment in 1990, as well as the impact leukemia had on me in the years that followed. Much of that story is still available through the "Table of Contents" below (starting with my initial diagnosis while I was studying in England).

 - Robert K. Brown
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