It started before dawn on Friday, with 900 walkers plus countless crew and support staff gathering in the shadow of Browns stadium in downtown Cleveland.
Water bottles were filled, pink bunny ears were distributed, and port-a-potties were visited. The sun rose, the opening ceremony was held, and we were all psyched and ready to go!
We weren't doing it alone, though. Spaced out along the 60-mile route there were official cheering stations where our friends and family could come to support us. They were there with candy, and water, and cheers, and candy, and signs, and candy ... did I mention the candy? I'm pretty sure nobody lost weight on this walk, thanks to all the proffered Tootsie Rolls and Jolly Ranchers.
The crew and support staff were right with us, too, keeping pace with us in "sweep vans" that would take walkers to the next pit stop if they didn't feel up to walking the distance. Each van had a different theme - here's my favorite, the Boob Marley, complete with enormous pool-noodle dreadlocks on the back and reggae music blasting from the sound system.
Not all of the cheering went on at the official stops, either. All along the route our families and friends - and even complete strangers - set up unofficial cheering stations in front yards and parking lots. They made signs, put up balloons, wrote messages in chalk on the sidewalk, set up sprinklers to cool us off, and even handed out things like beer and cinnamon rolls (although not at the same stop - that would have been gross).
As we walked, we carried dozens of flags used in the opening and closing ceremonies. Each listed ideas or people that we might be walking to honor. One person would carry a flag until they had had enough, and then leave it at the next pit stop for another person to take up. I grabbed the "My Daughter" flag on the second day, because part of the reason I walked was so that Liza won't have to worry about the disease when she grows up.
My support system was incredible, with Jason taking full responsibility for Liza while I trained and did the walk. He chauffeured me back and forth each day (because I wasn't about to sleep in a tent when my comfy bed was only 10 miles away) and made sure that he and Liza made it to as many of the cheering stations as possible. It really helped to know that there were friendly faces waiting for me twice a day, and more than once I decided to skip the Sweep Van so that I could walk into the cheering station under my own power. By day 3 he had managed to supplement his abysmally pink-free wardrobe with a pair of ginormous pastel Crocs that were a gift from another spectator. He says they're amazingly comfortable. He even wore them to mow the grass today. Now that's something I never imagined I'd see!
My friends came out in force, too, with signs and hugs (and candy, and popsicles). They've had to listen to me for months as I yammered on and on about my training and mileage and blisters and the wonders of Epsom salts. They didn't shun me when I tried to guilt-trip them into signing up to walk with me, and several of them went out of their way to keep me company during training. I couldn't have done it without your support (and indulgence) ladies!
By the third day I was barely trudging along, so it was a good thing one of my training partners was able to join me for a couple miles along the route. The fact that the route went right past my house could have been a problem (bed! air conditioning! pizza! quiescence!) if she hadn't been there to make sure I kept on going. Thanks for all the miles and support, Tab!
Why yes, I am wearing socks and sandals, thanks for asking. As you may remember, I was having some, ahem, issues with my blister-prone feet during training. About two weeks ago I decided that I was either going to have to take a knife to every blistery part of my sneaker (i.e. the whole damn thing) or walk in something that didn't give me as many problems. I had a pair of "hiking" sandals in my closet that seemed to fit the bill, but my feet were already torn up enough that I didn't trust them to go barefoot in the sandals for 60 miles. So I bandaged and taped up all of the known problem areas on my feet and wore my sandals with my best walking socks. Worked like a charm, with one exception, which I'll get to later.
My most frequent training partner was too young to walk with me during the event, but her hugs at the cheering stations helped me stay strong. Liza clocked countless miles in the strollers at the mall, and in the wagon in our neighborhood, while I was training for the event. She rarely complained (especially if I bribed her with enough hot pretzels and brought along enough Magic School Bus books), she pestered me to go walking when I didn't really want to, and she told all of her friends how I was walking "to help save breasts."
It was hard. It was grueling. It was boring, and funny, and sad, and motivating, and depressing, and uplifting. I was thirsty, sweaty, hot, cramped, and blistered. I've never been thanked or blessed or hugged by so many people. I have never been so happy to see a frozen Peppermint Patty in my life (frozen chocolate? Served at the bottom of the big hill we had to climb out of the park? Bless you, anonymous supporters in the park!). Only professional athletes get more high-fives than we walkers did this weekend.
I perked up every time I heard Lady Gaga music, which meant the Kids' Crew was coming down the street with speakers taped to the roof of their dad's minivan and kids hanging out of every door and window, waving and shouting. I cracked a huge grin every time I heard Jerry's voice, hoarse from shouting his football-coach-style encouragement to his wife and all the other walkers as he popped up in random places along the walk all three days.
I buckled down and kept walking, no matter how much my feet hurt or how much I wanted to quit, especially when I saw the walker who was 31 weeks pregnant (I asked) and the other lady who did the whole event in a walking cast. Every time I felt sorry for myself and my aching feet, I saw someone ahead of me with bigger blisters, more swollen legs, or even more weight pounding down on their feet with every step. I realized that while I didn't have to walk the whole way - that's what the sweep vans are for, and there's no shame in admitting you need help - I wanted to, more than I wanted to stop. And so, with metered doses of Advil, caffeine, and some really stubbornly vehement walking meditation (thank you, Frank Herbert, for the Litany Against Fear), I made it all the way.
Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Decided to skip the closing ceremony, which wasn't going to start until more than two hours after I finished the walk. I was hot, sore, and really wanted to treat my injuries someplace that wasn't right next to a horse paddock or a port-a-potty. Compared to what some of the other walkers suffered, I got off pretty easy. The toenail I damaged during my training doesn't hurt at all, and trimming off the dead bits every few days is kind of fun in a sick way. It stuck around for the whole trip and never complained even once. Way to go, mutilated toe!
My heel, on the other hand, suffered a bit. The sandals that I was wearing were my usual shoe size, and as all long-distance runners and walkers know, you have to get your athletic shoes at least a size larger to account for all the swelling your feet will experience during the event. I didn't have time to break in a larger pair, so I went with what I had. This meant that the very back edge of my swollen left heel was sort of hanging off the edge of the footbed of the sandal, so every time my heel struck down the edge of the footbed sort of poked the very back of the callous that was already there. A couple of long-distance training walks thickened the callous up nicely, and while it wasn't super comfortable, it was a lot better than dealing with the Sneakers of Multiple Very Painful Blisters.
After the first day of the event I had an even thicker callous, but it still hadn't crossed over from "uncomfortable" to "painful." It certainly hurt less than the blister I got on my pinky toe from the sneakers I changed into for the last four miles of the day. By halfway through day 2 things were the same (or so I thought), and at one pit stop I decided to go ahead and change into sneakers to give my heel a break. I pulled down my sock and found ... a stealth blister I didn't even realize I had!
From what I can tell, the area underneath the callous was so irritated it tried to form a blister, but the skin was so thick it wouldn't stretch out to accommodate the fluid (or break to let it out). So the pressure from my heel hitting the footbed forced the fluid up into the softer skin at the back of my heel, where it formed a completely useless, completely pain-free blister of epic proportions. My first thought upon seeing it was, "AAAAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHH," followed closely by, "Where's my camera, I've got to show this to my blog readers!" The other walkers got a good laugh out of me photographing my injuries before treating them.
Needless to say, I wasn't about to put a sneaker on over a blister that was maybe 1.5" across and almost 1/4" thick, so I did the rest of the event in the sandals. I drained the blister on Saturday night (several times - I'm a prolific serum producer, apparently), modified my shoes a bit to change my gait so I might have a shot at avoiding a repeat, and I hit the trail again on Sunday. Sucker puffed right back up like a balloon, and even got a little larger. It didn't weep serum all day like the blister on my other pinkie toe did (squish), and it didn't hurt, but it sure was impressive to look at. I named it "Hercules." Herc was at least 1/4" thick and about 2" across at his widest point, and had a lovely translucent quality that was really fun to poke at.
Somehow, after walking for 60 miles, sitting on the ground under a tree with untreated blisters and nothing to read or knit just didn't appeal when I had more important things to do at home ... like take a shower, wear anything other than a sports bra, and eat huge amounts of barbecued ribs and corn. So Jason came and got me, and Hercules and I went home. Mission accomplished!
I slept in on Monday, then I spent most of the day staggering around like an arthritic drunkard, but by the end of the day I was doing much better. It's now two days after the event, and aside from some lingering stiffness in my behind (which isn't any worse than after a long day of gardening), I'm pretty much back to normal. I've got all the blisters deflated, and as disgusting as it sounds, cutting the top off of Hercules was one of the most satisfying moments of my life. Don't know if it's a sick fascination with cutting off part of my own body, or just the knowledge that with the opened blister on my foot I won't be able to put on a pair of socks for at least a week or so, but daaaaamn, that felt good.
Every single person I've talked to since the walk has asked one question after they've finished with the congratulations and high-fives: Will I walk again next year? I honestly don't know. If you had asked me while I was walking, I can guarantee I would have said no, then smacked you and possibly kicked you in the private parts (if I could have lifted my leg that high). My thinking during the walk was that I would try to crew next year, which would require a lot less of an up-front time commitment (no training walks!) and no minimum fundraising quota. And I still may do that, especially if I can get together a few friends to crew with me. But the idea of walking again does have a certain appeal. I enjoyed the training walks, enjoyed watching the town come to life throughout the spring and summer. I enjoyed parts of the actual event, especially the parts that passed through sections of town I didn't even realize were there. I also found the house I will force my husband to buy me next time he gets a promotion (or I get a really, really high-paying job in radio - ha!). I think if I could find a really, really good pair of shoes (or sandals) the walk would be a lot more comfortable. And I think if I was there as part of a group the time might have gone by a bit quicker. And training walks would be easier to do this year, with Liza in school all day ... assuming I'm not working at that high-paying job so we can afford the house I found, of course.