Friday, February 22, 2013

Meet Saeed, My TNT Inspiration

I was so pleased to see the amount of traffic to my blog the other day after posting an interview with Marie-Chantal Marchand, our Team In Training (TNT) Honoured Teammate. Thank you for reading her story and for supporting my TNT journey with your encouragement. The very reason for all of this are people like MC.

Saeed after San Antonio half marathon

I want to introduce you now to my cousin, Saeed. I've not seen Saeed in about 25 years (give or take) but we will reunite as we run together in San Diego in June. He is the very reason why I learned about Team In TrainingIn 2010, Saeed was diagnosed with B-cell follicular lymphoma and while undergoing treatment, he got involved with Team In Training, completing two half marathons and raising over $7,000 for his local Leukemia & Lymphoma Society chapter. I admit that we lost touch over the years prior and it was his diagnosis and TNT journey that was the impetus for me getting back in touch with him. It was me recognizing that life is short, unexpected turns can happen at any time, and family should always stick together.

At that stage in my life, I was just getting back into running, having completed my 5km race, looking ahead to when I could run a half marathon again. Saeed's story captured my attention and allowed me to believe in my dream to run long distances again. And I also wanted to learn more about his experience with lymphoma, knowing he would have a unique perspective being in the medical profession. Let's face it, cancer is scary stuff. It's something that's hard to talk about if you don't know anyone well enough to ask questions to. And cancer is unbiased and completely inclusive. Blood cancers can happen to anyone and can't be prevented. There are little known risk factors. I'd always been curious to learn more, even well before I started working at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada (LLSC). I have been very touched by Saeed's willingness to be open with me, and despite the many years of not being in touch, to allow me to fundraise in his honour for the LLSC.

So on June 2, 2013, we will be running together in the Rock 'n' Roll San Diego Marathon & 1/2. It'll be such a special event, and likely quite emotionally charged. Honestly the race itself couldn't be a better setting for this reunion and party to celebrate Saeed's remission and the hard work done in fundraising efforts with TNT. The entire race in San Diego benefits the Society, and the beautiful city is geographically located halfway (more of less) between Vancouver, and Saeed's home in Houston, Texas. His parents and brother all reside in California as well. This race too will be a big party, literally thousands of TNT purple jerseys, a big celebration of the strides we've made in combatting cancer, and a spirit of solidarity, all of us moving forward relentlessly in search of a cure. This race is also the original of the Rock 'n' Roll series and in its 16th year, a history of partnership with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I cannot wait! It'll be really special, AND my first ever international race. Perfect setting for marathon #3, right?

Anyway, please enjoy this interview with Saeed and please follow our journey! I'll have lots to report over the coming months, I am sure!

ZJ:    Thank you so much for your willingness to share and your openness. It's one thing for me to tell people the importance of funding cancer research. I am really curious to know your opinion, both as a cancer survivor and a medical doctor. Can you explain from both perspectives, what the power of this work that the LLS does?  

SA:    Cancer research has made enormous strides not only in improving outcomes, but also in making treatment safer, with less toxicities. Research needs to continue as there is still no cure for many types of cancer out there and many patients still experience horrible toxicities. The general consensus about the Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma I have is that there is no cure other than bone marrow transplant, although it can be successfully treated for some time with relatively long periods of remission in most patients. Though I am very happy to be in remission, it does weigh on me that it is likely that this disease will resurface in the future. I empathize with the fear and anguish that so many patients who don't have good treatment options must experience. 

ZJ:    When we last chatted, you explained to me about how your experience with treatment is an example of how far oncology has come. Obviously we still have a ways to go as there's no cure yet. Yet you said that your experience hasn't been all that bad, relatively speaking. Can you explain how your actual own experience with cancer and/or treatment compares to what your perception of cancer/cancer treatment was prior to your diagnosis?

SA:     During my pediatrics training, I took care of many children with cancer. May of these kids have very rough experiences with their treatment- terrible toxicities including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, painful rashes and oral ulcers, hair loss and other disfigurement. Taking care of those children left a big impression on me. Of course, I always knew that the children I took care of were the sickest of the sick. There were many children who got treated as outpatients who I never saw, since my training focused on inpatient medicine. They did great and were never admitted. However, when I was initially diagnosed with lymphoma, my memory of caring for those very sick children haunted me. My experience so far with chemotherapy has been very mild, such that I almost felt guilty about doing so well, that I had not suffered enough to really deserve remission! :)

 ZJ:     The remission is fully deserved and all yours! I'm so pleased to celebrate it with you. Can you tell me more about why you got involved with Team In Training? What was it like completing those races while undergoing treatment?

Yuna and Mohsen, Saeed's 2 beautiful children

SA:     Well, I first got involved, thinking it would be a good way to both stay in shape and give back for all of the care and support I was receiving at MD Anderson Cancer Centre. I trained while undergoing chemotherapy and though tough at times, it really helped me get through those months. My wife was pregnant and my son was born during that time, and on all my training runs I would visualize that I was staying strong for them. There is a hill at the end of the San Antonio half marathon, which is really a bit cruel if you think about it, but I was able to sprint up through the end. I had this huge adrenaline rush, thinking about all I had been through in the last six months, about how I so wanted to be healthy and strong for my family, to be with them and grow old with them. I didn't expect it to be so emotional, but I finished the race with tears in my eyes.

ZJ:    I'm already getting emotional thinking about running with you! And I can't wait to meet your wife and kids too. I bet you're excited about running the San Diego race with your awesome cousin, me :-) Right?

SA:     I am really looking forward to it! I have been really touched by your support and caring and so honored that you would think of me- can't wait to meet and catch up and run the race with you!


If you wish to make a donation toward my fundraising efforts in Saeed's honour, please visit to make a secure donation. My goal is to raise at least $5,000 and I'm getting closer with your help! Thank you to everyone who's contributed so far.

Do you want to join us? Consider joining Team In Training and train with the help of supportive teammates and a certified coach to complete your own endurance race while raising lifesaving funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Meet Honoured Teammate, Marie-Chantal

This is a quite overdue post. I had the pleasure of interviewing our Team In Training (TNT) Honoured Teammate, Marie-Chantal Marchand (or as I will abbreviate here, MC) a couple weeks ago. She gave me so much great material, I needed a good quality session with my computer to make sure I captured it all here appropriately to share with you.

Honoured Teammates are very special individuals who have battled, or are battling, a form of blood cancer.  TNT participants train and participate in endurance events in honour of these courageous individuals. So often people are asked to raise funds for a charity with very little understanding of how valuable their efforts are.  By honouring a member of our own community, and hearing their story firsthand, participants are able to understand the extreme value of their efforts.

For me it's been a real pleasure to get to know MC. She has a beautiful way with words, a real spirit for Team In Training, and has inspired me to no end. I also really appreciate her willingness to not dance around the truth of her cancer journey as she shares her thoughts candidly. Her blog is one that I follow closely. It provides me with inspiration and perspective I need to understand the value of the work we do at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada. Please take a moment to read MC's blog, bookmark it, subscribe to it, and read the interview here. MC will be one of the names on my TNT jersey at my upcoming marathon and will be a huge source of inspiration for me as I train, especially on those grueling long runs. I'll remember her words, "one step at a time."

Marie-Chantal Marchand was diagnosed 4 years ago with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL). April 2010, the disease began progressing from her bone marrow into her lymph nodes. After the initial treatments proved ineffective, she began chemo in August 2010. By October, further tests indicated a gene mutation, along with an aggressive disease transformation into Richter Syndrome, a life-threatening development with a very poor prognostic, seen in only 3% of CLL patients. At this point, research indicated that a stem cell transplant was her only option. So, on February 25, 2011, she received a life-saving stem cell transplant, generously donated by her brother.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Race Report: Pacific Roadrunners 'First Half' 1/2 Marathon

Great race! It was a cold morning, but beautiful and sunshiney: perfect late winter racing conditions. I mentioned in my previous post that I hadn't given this race much thought, so I wasn't entirely sure of the route or what to expect of the race itself. I didn't realize it was as big as it was. I assumed smaller given how quickly it sold out. And after looking at the map briefly, I imagined it going exactly in the opposite direction that it did. Haha! In a way, it was nice to have given such little thought to the race leading up to it. I knew there was a half coming and trained accordingly, rested accordingly this week too. But I didn't get tempted to over-think it or question my preparation. It did help, I think, although I still arrived with a normal dose of pre-race jitters.

I started out well and strong but I was getting really annoyed with the number of people on such a narrow course. It took about half the race before the crowds thinned out to a point where I felt like I had the space I needed. I remember there being a crowd even when I crossed the 10km split mat. There were many instances of feeling like we were all constantly cutting one another off and it was hard to find a proper groove. While this was a fast course and a great race to start the year with, the crowds are reason enough for me to consider whether I want to do this one again next year. We'll see. I also arrived to the start line a little later than I would have liked so I was near the back of the pack to start, meaning I had a lot of slower runners to pass at the start of the race.

Don't get me wrong, I had fun! Just wasn't ideal racing conditions at all times. There was a great atmosphere, a great energy, good race organization, quick race timing results, great post-race 'party' (food and prizing!), and an unparalleled "flatness and fastness" for a race course. And of course, there's something special about being part of the very first half marathon of the year!! But I didn't like the narrow course with the number of runners there. I also didn't like how congested it got at the aid stations; I carried my own GU Brew in my bottle and didn't need to stop at the aid stations at all, but with all the congestion, there was no way to simply continue running through. I lost a few seconds and lots of momentum at every one because of people ahead of me slowing or stopping to drink. And the swag, I'm always happy to get a free tech shirt and a medal. In fact for some races, that's a major factor in drawing our attention. But here, neither of them for this race were anything to write home about.

Like my last half marathon race, I felt strong throughout. I definitely feel like I have more overall strength and even when pushing myself, I have the ability to keep good posture and good breathing. This distance is now one I'm more than comfortable with and anytime I sensed I was slowing down (or my Garmin told me I was), I was able to dig in easily and find a surge of energy. I was consistent with my pacing until the 18km mark. I was slow for that km, and I recall telling myself to push knowing how close the finish was. I was able to speed up, but had a slow 20th km too with the tiniest of inclines getting me after 20km of pancake flat course. These were the only kms the entire race where I needed more than 6min. The rest were consistently around the 5:25-5:35 mark. Those two kms of "weakness" are ones I can learn from, and avoid next time.

Once I turned the corner and could see the finish, my watch chimed to tell me I had reached 2 hours. It willed me to run as hard as I could to the finish. My friend Quinton was there at the finish doing timekeeping so he was able to give me my official time right away - 2:01:38. So no, I didn't get a sub-2-hour half marathon, but I'm so close now, I know with absolute certainty that I can do it. I took almost 2 minutes off my previous best half marathon (at the Fall Classic last November), which is pretty substantial after only 3 months. I have no fear of my running plateauing - I continue to improve.

With my newest race bling for my collection.

Next half marathon will be the April Fool's Run on April 7th. That one I plan to run more as a fun training run, as its nestled right in the heart of my marathon training. There won't be any opportunity to taper or rest beforehand. In fact, the race will be an "easier" training run, being shorter than my long runs in that segment of my training calendar; I think I'm running 26+km each of the Sundays on either side of this race. So I might somehow find it in me to push harder than a training run, just not go quite at race pace. We'll see!

I'll have the Fall Classic again this year to try for sub-2, but I would like to try to find one more race where I can give it another go. Maybe something in the summer, between marathons. November is simply too far away!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Between the races

There has been a lengthier pause between blog entries than I had planned. It's partially due to a busy schedule, and partially because I have so much to say these days, it's hard to just sit down and focus on one topic. 

Quickly I'll summarize my training status as it's going very well. I'm continuing to be able to say that I feel "stronger than ever". Every day I work hard, and I am seeing and feeling results. 

Lindsay has me on a new routine again for my weight training, and everything is pointing in the direction of progress. I was noticing larger numbers on the scale than I'm used to yet clothing fitting better than ever and people commenting to me that I look like I've lost weight, or that I look more athletic. I determined that I had burned fat and gained muscle, and given the weight/density differential between fat and muscle, that was why I had gained weight. But of course knowing my history, it did freak me out a little. This isn't a weight-loss blog anyway, so it's ok that I gained a bit. Or so I told myself to feel better. Stepping on a body composition scale further reinforced that everything is actually very positive. I'm down 2% body fat content, meaning I'm way up in lean muscle content, and measurements show I'm slimmer everywhere as a result! Well, my shoulders are larger from all my upper body work, but everywhere is else is showing a leaner, meaner me.  I definitely feel a difference when I'm running too - much stronger posture.

And now I find myself between races. I'm starting to think about my current training as training for my next marathon, in June. I did a short distance race in January, the Steveston Ice Breaker 8km race. I neglected to write a race report simply because it took up until now to see my official results. They're in now finally, and I'm pleased with what I see. You'll have to wait for my race report for the details. But it was a really fun race for me, and a neat challenge, trying to hold an uncomfortably fast pace in the cold weather, with brisk air hard to breathe in at that pace, sustained over 8km. I experienced such a runner's high after that one, and I'll definitely be incorporating short distance races into my training moving forward. Just have to pick a few more and see how I can make them fit. This one was tricky to fit in as I was 2 weeks away from tomorrow's race and in need to squeak in one last long run. I was stuck taking a day off work to get it in the day after I raced, and that was hard to do! My legs were sore to begin the long run, rather than rested. But I feel it must have done me good.

Tomorrow I run my second race, but my first half marathon of the year: the "First Half" Half Marathon. Surprisingly, I've not given it much thought. My eyes are focused on the marathon, I suppose. I have trained specifically for this race, but it took up until now to look at a course map and learn where the start of the race is. I'm starting to get excited and starting to think about how it's time to cook my pasta and think about turning in tonight early. I hope to write here on Monday with my race report. Maybe both race reports even! We'll see!

Here are some blog posts you can expect in the near future:

- "Race Report" from the Steveston Icebreaker 8km race
- "Race Report" from the 'First Half' Half Marathon race
- Interview with Team In Training honoured teammate, Marie-Chantal
- Interview with my cousin, Saeed - one of my personal honourees for my Team In Training journey

If you wish to sponsor me as I train for my next marathon, please visit my online fundraising page. My goal is to raise $5000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada