Head in the Clouds….

This past week, I ran with the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation’s (MMRF) Power Team in the annual Empire State Building Run-Up. It was quite an exciting event, from the training and fundraising leading up to the climb….to the event itself.

Snowy night before the ESB Run-Up!

Brushes with Celebrity:

Got up at 6AM to meet the MMRF crew on the set of Good Morning America – we were mostly ‘background’, but it gave us an opportunity to get our signs and jerseys on camera a number of times. It was exciting to be there to see Robin Roberts, George Stephanopoulos, Amy Robach and Ginger Zee do their job. There are a lot of moving parts you don’t see on camera….and the crew worked hard to make sure everything went off without a hitch.

Dealing with Adversity:

The night before the Run-Up, NYC got 4″ of slushy snow-mess that made walking around the city a challenge.  I stepped on what I thought was pavement….which happened to be a 12″ deep puddle of icy water. As my feet were soaking wet and rapidly turning blue, I started looking around for a store that might sell boots……and socks…..or at least garbage bags that I could put over my feet so that I didn’t get frostbite. Thanks to City Sports‘ winter clearance sale…I got boots,  some dry wool socks, and new running socks…and sprinted back to the hotel to stuff my ASICS full of newspapers and dry the insoles. Not a cheap solution, but a necessary one.

Celebrating Achievement:

I was fortunate enough to join the MMRF folks at a luncheon hosted by Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company – they’re one of the leading companies who’ve developed innovative treatments for myeloma. I sat with some incredibly interesting folks, including Evalyn Merrick, a myeloma patient who did the Run-Up, and Touche’ Howard, a North Carolina firefighter, who raised $30,000…and did the run-up…in 60+ pounds of full firefighter gear. I also got to meet James McKissick, who raised over $30,000 for the MMRF in support of his friend Bo Russell, and Bill McHugh, whose ‘Promoting Global Hair Loss initiative raised over $37,000 for this years’ event. Hearing their stories made attending this event even more special….(and made me wonder how I snuck in).


The Run-Up:

…and they’re off!

As the start time approached, they gathered the ‘burst wave’ (those folks who you see in the pictures scrambling for the stairwell door). I’m more concerned with staying upright than I am being fast, so I held back for the time trial wave – one runner going off every 5 seconds. We saw the burst wave go off….then it was up to the line, one at a time. Finally, my turn came, and the volunteer said, “GO!”. I ran to the door and started heading up.  Immediately, it felt different than my training. The stair runs were longer, the pitch was different…..and I was quickly blowing my heart rate way over my target. I had to work to calm myself down and try to settle into some semblance of a pace.

The first 10 floors seemed to go by fairly quickly, but I could tell it was going to get tough. Floors 11-20….I’m still going OK, but starting to feel it. By the 30th floor, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed – I could continue to do two steps at a time….but I didn’t know if I would make it at that pace……so reluctantly, I went to 1 step intervals. there was a water stop somewhere around the 33rd floor, where I grabbed a cup, and took sips for the next 10 floors.

By the halfway point (floor 43), I felt like I was in trouble. I was WAY overheated, and tried to stop thinking about how much further there was to go. Pace wise, I was on target….but I didn’t know how long I could sustain that. By the 50th floor, I was having serous doubts. The 2nd water stop came at floor 62….and I really needed it. I tried to only think about getting to the 70th floor.

At 70…I thought about just pulling over and taking a break. I didn’t want to stop, because while I’d recover a bit, it would take a lot more mental energy to get going again….so I kept chugging along, pulling up the banister. Something happened around floor 72 – I realized that there were only 14 floors to go…and I only focused on the next floor. 73…(13 to go)…74 (12 to go)…then I was in single digits…..and floors 84-86 seemed hard…but they went by quickly.

At the 86th floor….we came out to dozens of camera flashes and cheers of supporters, race officials and volunteers – WE DID IT! I was finally able to catch my breath and get my finishers’ medal – because there’s not a lot of room up there, we were quickly shepherded to the elevator back down….and got to see runners still queuing up for their turn. As we walked back into the Heartland Brewery with our medals,  it was great to get applause from total strangers.

All done!

Cheers all around:

I had one fundraising goal – to raise $2500 for the MMRF. I didn’t set my sights higher initially, because I had never done fundraising before…..and, if I had to write a check myself, I could take that hit and still survive. Turned out that this story resonated with a lot of people. Being new to this, I got publicity any way I could. I got a story in the company e-mail newsletter, and was able to place a story in the Fairfax Times. The article was re-printed in the Washington Post, and even my hometown newspaper, the Kokomo Tribune. I posted stories on Patch.com, this blog, and my neighborhood Nextdoor.com site. Between those outlets, Facebook, LinkedIn and an e-mail campaign, I was able to reach nearly 80 individual donors – who nearly DOUBLED my initial goal.  I got donations from neighbors, newspaper readers, and friends from all around the country. I even got donations from Germany and Australia. I was very happy with the results…but those paled in comparison to the fundraising efforts of Ellen’s Stardust Diner team, Touche’ Howard, James McKissick and Bill McHugh. I could learn a thing or two from these amazing people. All told, we raised close to $800,000  for the MMRF for a one-day event – all from donations.

All in all, what started as a distant ‘bucket list’ item was now a reality. Thanks to Alicia O’Neill for making the suggestion, and Jane Hoffman for all their help in getting my campaign going and helping me realize it was possible. I’m now one of fewer than 7,000 runners who’ve climbed the ESB. At the same time, I got to be part of something bigger, raising awareness, visibility and funds for the MMRF. Now, when I look at what seems to be an insurmountable obstacle or an unreachable goal, I know I’ve got this in my back pocket as proof I can do something like this…..and when I walk by the Empire State Building….it doesn’t look nearly as tall.

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