Mary's Going with Guts!

Track my progress as I train for my next Team Challenge half marathon for the CCFA

Napa 2012

Posted by msdon9 on February 17, 2012

After I struggled through the Rock and Roll Las Vegas 1/3 marathon this past December, I thought it might be a good time to take a break from running for a little while. I was hoping for a personal record: to beat my time from the previous two half marathons I had run with Team Challenge. I broke another kind of “record” instead: How many times I needed to stop for a bathroom along the way. After only 5 miles in, it was clear to me that Crohn’s was going to fight me. It did, but it didn’t win. I finished the race in 3:26:21, almost half an hour longer than I’ve run any other race. But I finished.

So, yes… maybe it was a good time to take a break and focus on getting healthy. Or so I thought. But…

Crohn’s Disease doesn’t take a break. As a matter of fact, it’s very much NOT taking a break on me right now. I’ve been battling a flare for the past six months, an ugly one that I will tell you more about in a future post. This is not how I want to live my life anymore. I know that there are at least 1.4 million other Americans that feel the same way I do. The only way we can help ourselves is to find a way to raise the money to fund critical medical research to put a stop to this.

So I humbly ask for your help once again. I’m going to attempt to run the Napa to Sonoma 13.1 race on July 15th, and I’m going to shoot for that personal record. Crohn’s be damned.

I need your help getting there. Will you consider donating once again to this very important cause? I’ll take care of the training and the doctor’s visits. I’ll once again document my journey with this blog so you can see how I’m doing along the way…starting with my first team training in two weeks.

Thanks for reading!



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Virgina 13.1 and DONE!!!

Posted by msdon9 on June 5, 2011

As I sit here and attempt to begin this blog post, so many things are going on with me physiologically. First of all, my stomach KILLS from all of the carbohydrates I’ve been pumping into my system for the past week or so, and I’m sure the chicken & broccoli roll I ate at Sbarro today didn’t help one bit either. Secondly, my lower extremities are so tight and sore that taking the stairs is compromising to my health and well being. Thirdly, the physical and emotional exhaustion sustained from the weekend has rendered me dumb and almost useless, as anyone who ran into me at the grocery store earlier this evening can likely attest to because most of my time there was spent staring and wandering around aimlessly. But, the most important thing going on right now is how FULL my heart is from two things:

1) The incredible HIGH from a wonderful Team Challenge race weekend witth the ever-amazing Team LI.

2) The large number of friends and teammates who supported my efforts by donating to the cause!

Last week at our team sendoff brunch, one of the dedicated members of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s Long Island chapter spoke to the team and explained how important our work is. She also mentioned that with all of the efforts we’ve been making to raise money for medical research and patient education, it’s POSSIBLE that doctors might find a cure for IBD by the end of the decade. Even the possibility of this is huge…. as IBD is a chronic and serious illness that greatly diminishes the quality of life for hundreds of people. I myself have been VERY LUCKY so far… I haven’t had to withstand multiple hospitalizations and countless surgeries like many other Crohn’s and UC patients have, but, I’m certainly not out of the woods. I’ve been feeling mostly good for the last 12 years or so, and as long as I’m physically able to handle it, I’m going to keep fighting to support the amazing folks I’ve met since joining Team Challenge last year.

So about this Virgina race…

I tried to stay with the Wolfpack right at the gun… but trying to keep up with them took too much of a toll on me, and I fell back around mile 3. Once I mentally steadied myself and came to grips with the fact that I was going to have to deal with most of this course by myself, I relaxed and allowed myself to ENJOY the moment. I wasn’t trying to keep up with anyone at this point, so I ran when I felt like I could (the downhills were big helps there!), I walked when I felt fatigued, I used a port-a-potty at Mile 5, I noticed llamas on the side of the road, I stopped running and walked a few moment with some teammates I encountered on my way to the finish, and when things weren’t busy – I turned up the headphones and thought of so many things: the keynote speaker at the pasta party who raised thousands of dollars in support of her 4 year old son who is too sick to play in a ball pit with his friends, the dad on our team who ran with his teenage daughter because his son is sick, my good friend Christina who runs for her husband, my new friend Jill who runs for her best friend, our “team Dad” Bob who blew everyone away with his enthusiasm and desire to make a difference for his daughter, the teammates that couldn’t come to Virgina because they’re recovering from flares, and a ton of people who run for themselves… whether they have IBD or no connection to the disease at all…the fact that they were awake with me at 4:15 am, dressed and ready to board a bus to run 13.1 miles – that speaks volumes.

Despite how slowly I thought I was moving… I still came in approximately 10 minutes faster than last year!

(I just erased a paragraph that was a gushing love fest for our coaches Dave and Loretta, our endurance manager Brian, and the die-hard TC participants who have taken me under their wing. I think they’re all incredibly awesome, and I’ll leave it at that for now).

So the Virginia Wine Country race weekend is over… to date I have run exactly 43.6 miles of races with my team (not counting practice runs), and some very generous people helped me raise approximately $4, 550 for the CCFA.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who contributed. It did not have to be with money… maybe it was with a smile, a word of encouragement, or a warm thought. Thank you.

Till the next challenge…….

You can count on me to find humor in any situtaion.

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Week 12 – Here come the miles

Posted by msdon9 on May 8, 2011

Last weekend, my mother and I arrived at Eisenhower Park at about 7am with butterflies in our stomachs. Hers had to do with walking her first ever 10K, and mine had to do with putting forth a good showing running in my 2nd. My time this year came in at exactly 1:17:00, which is actually about 5 minutes SLOWER than last year! This is vexing me to no end because I actually ran the whole thing this year, whereas last year I did a run-walk combination! No matter… I had a great time and felt terrific after the race. Mom did well, too! She ended up finishing in approximately 1:43.

Stretching before this year's 10K race!

This weekend was something else… For some reason I thought the training schedule said 8 miles, but ohhhhh no – it was 10 miles. Of course I didn’t run THAT whole thing. I would have liked to, but I’m not “there” yet. Plus, after about mile 5 I started feeling that old familiar strain in my hip socket. My calves hurt something monstrous today, but if my hip starts bothering me when I try to run again on Tuesday, it’s back to Dr. Lembo for me!

Now that the miles are increasing and race day is less than a month away, I’m starting to feel a little nervous. For some reason, I felt more “ready” last year. I hit my fundraising goal a little earlier on, and my perfect attendance at the team runs on Saturday held me accountable for keeping up with the schedule. This year feels different for some reason; maybe because I’m a bit busier. Either way, I’m really excited for race weekend and the possibility of beating last year’s time for the 13.1. Hey, even if I don’t, the run is in Virgina’s wine country – so I know what’s waiting for me at the finish line!

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My 2011 Long Island Marathon 10K playlist

Posted by msdon9 on April 27, 2011

I put a lot of thought into this. Of course the whole thing could go out the window if I end up running with the Wolfpack.

Some oldies and some goodies… some of you might be surprised by what I listen to.

I have to say, as much as I can’t stand Britney, some of my fastest miles come during “Till the World Ends.” No lie.

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Preparing for the 10k

Posted by msdon9 on April 17, 2011

Last year, the Long Island Marathon Festival of Races 10K was my first race EVER. I remember that I felt like I had to carb-load the night before, but I was terrified of eating some kind of acidic pasta sauce that would bother my already anxiety-ridden stomach…so I purchased and ate an incredibly oily vegetable primavera dish from an Italian restaurant. When I woke up in the morning, I ate 1/2 portion of instant oatmeal and a tablespoon of peanut butter. Nothing else. At the start line, I forced down half a bottle of Gatorade, a few sips of water, and a couple of Power Bar chomps that a friend gave me. I set my Nike+iPod to track me as I rain, I held tightly onto my PowerGel that I planned on consuming after 40 minutes, and I was good to go.

Team LI at last year's Start Line

Knowing what I know now, I plan on doing a few things differently this year.

First of all…carb-loading the night before is going to include a Gluten-free option loaded with protein and vegetables (with props to my nutritionist Marlisa Brown, featured in THIS CNN article,  for figuring out how to help me).

I’ve become comfortable with my morning pre-run diet. It’s actually quite simple, consisting of a cup of black coffee and a 110 calorie protein bar. On race day I will add 10 peanut butter-filled pretzel nuggets for a little extra energy, which I tried before on a 5k and it worked better than any PowerBar or Gu product. No Gatorade at the start, but I will drink at least 20 oz of water in the morning.

I’m not sure if I want to mess around with Gels this year. Pre-run they are nothing but bad news…upsetting my stomach and causing me to need to use the bathroom. I have enough issues with that, so no thanks! However, for some odd reason, they don’t bother me MID run… so I can take one 4-5 miles in and it will have the desired affect. Or… I could skip the Gel in favor of what I had used a little bit of last year: Jelly Belly sport beans. I hadn’t used them mid-race, only in the beginning. They didn’t bother my stomach at all at the start, so maybe I’ll see how I feel after eating them in the middle of the run.

I’m not going to count on Nike+ this year. It didn’t track me last year at all… in fact, it seems to crap out on me during races for some reason. So I’m simply going to make a playlist of my favorite songs and not worry about tracking. I’ll let the chip in my bib take care of that for me.

My goal is simple: improve my time from last year. I don’t think that should be an issue because I’ve been running, on average, 45-60 seconds per-mile faster than last year. However, I’ve been slacking on the training a little bit… turning what should be 45 minute runs into 30 minute runs, and maybe skipping a day per week because of my schedule. Whoops… I need to work on that!

I’m really looking forward to this year’s 10k, which will be on Sunday, May 1st at Eisenhower Park. My mother is going to walk it, which is kind of cool for her because it will be her biggest race yet;  she’s done a 5k before, but I don’t think she’s prepared for the magnitude (both size and distance) of what awaits her on this race!

Next post: Race Day Playlist. Last year I ran the 10k solo, which was a great experience. I ran the half marathon with two of my Wolfpack girls: Janine and Christina. I’m not sure what this year will bring or even what I will prefer… but I’ll provide some of the rationale behind what goes into my playlist and why, even if I don’t get a chance to listen to it!

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Poo Poo Pee Do! Ta daaaa!!!

Posted by msdon9 on April 10, 2011

I left my car parked overnight in Queens- right on 31st street in Astoria underneath the elevated tracks for the N and Q train. When I returned to it this afternoon, I found it in this condition. Since I didn’t know of any car washes in the area, my plan was to get the car back to my neighborhood as quickly as possible so I could take it to the ghetto-riffic Bubble Brush 24 hour self service car wash on Bayshore Road – JUST to do some PRE-CLEANING before I can take it to a full service wash tomorrow.

As luck would have it, the Mets game was about ending as I began my journey home – so the Grand Central Parkway near Citifield was jammed. As I inched forward in the left lane of traffic, ever-so-slowly, focusing straight ahead so I would have to make eye contact with anyone who could potentially laugh at me and my avian-restroom of a vehicle, a man in a beautiful new Acura rolls up next to me, rolls down his window, and makes like he wants to say something. Not able to judge the expression on his face, I was SURE I was going to get yelled at for something…. did he catch me texting? Did I inadvertently cut him off? Did a clump of poo fly off the back of my car and hit his? I prepared myself for a lashing of epic proportions.

I rolled down my window for the bad news. I considered not even waiting around to listen, thinking that just ignoring him and driving away would be my best defense. I was so ashamed! Then he said, “I just gotta make one comment. Even with ‘all that’ going on, you still look damn good in that car!”

Instantly the color returned to my face. I smiled sheepishly and said, “thank you” as he drove on, relieved that someone saw some humor in the situation.

Just a little while ago, I broke my Facebook-Lent fast and posted the photo online. I figured the picture and the story would make some people laugh. It did, and I was happy. In fact, a Team Challenge teammate of mine, Jon Cheris, posted a comment under the photo and said, “Mary, you found the rare flock of birds in Queens that have Crohn’s disease – congratulations!!! This is a clear good luck sign!”

That’s what gave me the idea of updating my blog this way tonight, because that’s essentially the kind of person I am… I try to find humor in every single humiliating situation I find myself in. I guess I learned this skill while navigating through my childhood and young adult years as a Crohn’s patient.

As I started typing this entry, I thought back to some of my top 10 most embarrassing experiences with Crohn’s. Of course the very top of list has to be that time in 12th grade that I got sick on a coach bus filled with my entire varsity cheerleading team and a group of parent fans coming back to Long Island from an away game in upstate Vestal, NY. I didn’t find any humor in the situation on that day. Instead, the very NEXT day, I quit the team. I couldn’t handle the pressure anymore… and it wasn’t until many years later that I made the connection that emotional distress causes the disease to inflame. Oh, so that’s why I ended up in the hospital a week before my first high school cheerleading competition. A, ha!

As my 2nd half marathon with Team Challenge is less than 2 months away, I often find myself thinking about what led me down this road to become involved with such an amazing organization with amazing people. I’m also very grateful to the people who have donated to the cause to help me reach my personal fundraising goal! Without you, I wouldn’t be able to cross that finish line.

And to that random man on the Grand Central Parkway… thanks for giving me a reason to smile this afternoon!

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Posted by msdon9 on April 2, 2011

Wow – so much is going on this week!

First of all, I want to send a great big THANK YOU shoutout to three very important people: my cousin ANITA NORTON, my longtime friend in the cheerleading circuit, LISA WILSON, and my sorority pal LESHA BLAIR for their generous donations to Team Challenge in the past two weeks. If you recall, I said I’d offer a homemade wine & chocolates basket to the next three people who donated $50 or more! But – I’ve decided that I’ve got ONE MORE to give away!

So who wants it?? All you need to do is donate $5o or more by clicking here and a delicious bottle of Long Island wine will be shipped to you, alongside a bunch of chocolate-covered goodies!

Please…. I have to get this chocolate out of my house. I KEEP EATING IT!

My Team Challenge Clothing Sale is also going really well! I have long-sleeved bedazzled Tees and pullover screenprint hooded sweatshirts, both with the Team Challenge logo on them (though the hoodies are EXCLUSIVELY for Team Long Island). Click the “Team Challenge Clothing” link above for more information about those. 40% of the proceeds are being donated back to the charity to fund much needed medical research.

I ran 5 miles today before heading to Mama Clark’s house for our halfway-point team brunch. I missed the brunch last year, but I was so glad that I could attend this year. It was so inspiring to hear so many stories of WHY people are doing this. Around the room, there were people running for their friends, for their spouses, for their sons, daughters, mothers, nieces, and for themselves – to challenge themselves while doing something for a cause, even if they didn’t know someone with Crohn’s and Colitis.

I’m about to leave here and check out a Dance-a-Thon at Stony Brook University hosted by two of my TC mentees, Kent & Kathi! I have a feeling that the event is going to be a tremendous success and I can’t wait to see how it’s going! Tomorrow, Renee is hosting a Sunday Funday open bar party at The Republic in Farmingdale! I also hear that two more mentees, Sandra and Jessica, are planning a bowling party in about a month. I’ll be renting a lane and challenging everyone I know to a game (hint: you will likely beat me…)

Sleeping in on Saturdays is so over-rated. Running in the freezing cold is what it's all about!

Thank you to all of the wonderful friends, family members, and colleagues who have donated to the cause in the 2011 season!

I still have a long way to go to reach my goal. It’s going to take more than running to cross that finish line! Today I re-committed to cross that finish line in Virginia. Please help out if you can! Every donation counts…. $5, $10, $20 – you name it! Each donation is fully tax deductible. I’ll do my part to push my body to cross that finish line… will you help me get there?

Don’t forget – if you’re the next person to donate $50 or more, your next bottle of wine is on me!!

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Want to win a homemade wine gift box? Of course you do!

Posted by msdon9 on March 18, 2011

Hi Gang!

As I’m progressing into Week 5 of my training for the Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon to raise money for the CCFA, I’m noticing that while my running is picking up speed, my fundraising certainly is not. So, I’m prepared to go into stealth mode to reach my goal to support my team and raise much needed funds for the CCFA!

In looking around my house to see what kind of goodies I can offer, I’ve noticed that my personal wine collection happens to be full at the moment. If you know me, and if you know anything about my affinity for wine, you KNOW I only drink the good stuff!

So here’s what I’m proposing:

The next 3 people to donate $50 or more by clicking this link will receive a CUSTOM HOMEMADE WINE & CHOCOLATE GIFT BOX from me!

Your box will include:

  • A bottle of red or white, your choice

  • an assortment of my homemade chocolate-covered treats (includes chocolate covered pretzels, oreos, marshmallows, and peanut butter surprises)

  • FREE SHIPPING (if you live far away)

  • a tax-deductible receipt from the CCFA to show your tax man next year!

  • warmth in your heart for supporting me and this great cause!

So what say you? This offer will run until I receive three more donations of $50 or more! Oh, and the bigger the donation…. the bigger the gift box. Use your imagination! For $100 or more I’ll include a 2nd bottle of wine!

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Team Challenge Clothing Sale !!

Posted by msdon9 on March 12, 2011

I’ve been working with two local companies to put together a clothing sale to help raise money for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. The first option (pictured at left) is from Rock the Bling, and is a custom long-sleeved tee (short-sleeve option available) with orange and blue rhinestone embellishment Team Challenge logo. Each shirt can be customized with a name on the back in clear rhinestone for a small additional fee. This picture really does the shirt no justice! You have to see how it hits the light – amazing!

The second option is a special “Team Challenge Long Island” logo on an ash-gray hoodie.

Both are just $30. A portion of each item sold will directly benefit the CCFA.

FLAT RATE SHIPPING AVAILABLE! $7 to anywhere in America no matter how many items of clothing you buy!


E-mail me for details and an order form:

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Group Mentality: “F*&% this hill” and other stories of motivation

Posted by msdon9 on March 6, 2011

Getting ready to speak in my "Mission Moment"

In training for a half marathon, it’s important to run fairly often to build up speed and endurance. I run 2-3 times a week on my own and then participate in a long run over the weekend. I actually like running alone during the week… while I won’t lie and say that I ALWAYS look forward to hitting the pavement for 30-45 minutes on an otherwise busy, busy Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, sometimes the run is a great way to play some good music in the headphones, sort out my thoughts, and do a little brainstorming.

I do REALLY love, and look forward to, the Team Challenge training runs that typically come on Saturday mornings. Running with the team is kind of like running with your own personal cheering squad: especially with our little group… it’s not just about friendly waves and words of encouragement – we often SCREAM each others’ names and cheer loudly every chance that we get. It really is such a motivation boost, and the feeling of camaraderie that pumps through my system as we round the miles adds a whole OTHER dimension to why I’m doing this. It’s not JUST about raising money to find a cure – it’s also about being with a group of people who are focused on the same exact goal.

Kathi and Kent - two of my awesome Team Challenge mentees running for a cure in 2011!

In my Mission Moment speech this week, I talked briefly about how difficult it was to live with Crohn’s in my first few years of college. I told a few jokes about being the “phantom pooper” who went from floor to floor to use the restroom so “nobody would ever know it was me.” Ironically… later that morning, a whole bunch of teammates approached me and said things like, “It’s funny…you just described my entire college experience to a ‘T’.” Never before have I been able to share such a humiliating experience with a group of people who could identify with it AND find humor in it, just like I did.

I also think there’s some truth behind the idea that running with a group helps to improve performance. Over the past several months, I’ve noticed that I am less likely to slow down or stop when I am accountable to the person next to me. Likewise…hearing that very same person cheer me on as we’re running up a steep incline (F*&% this hill, as Christina always says…)

One of my favorite running buddies, Christina Lang, keeping me going with laughs and motivation!

I’m providing a link to a YouTube video here (created by our awesome Endurance Manager, Brian) which captures just a tiny bit of what the group runs are all about. There’s even some video footage of me and fellow TC mentor, Jill, speaking a little bit about our own experiences with Crohn’s and Colitis and why we’re one of the 65 or so crazy people who wake up so early in the morning to run around in circles. I hope you get a chance to check out a little bit of it!

I’m also happy to report that my webpage was voted MENTOR FAVORITE by my Team Challenge buddies. Thanks, guys!!!! I can’t wait to drink my bottle of wine 🙂

And thanks to all of you who have been reading and following along with my story. If you have some ideas about topics you’d like for me to discuss as I make my way through training for my second race, please feel free to comment below and offer ’em up! I’m learning a lot from our awesome crop of coaches, fellow mentors, Team members & newbies, and CCFA/Team Challenge staffers. Without them, this really would just be a bunch of crazy people running around in circles…

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