Europe and Vienna Marathon 4.19.17

Is two weeks of carbo loading with beer and pretzels appropriate for a marathon? It is when you are in Bavaria! Seriously though, we needed a few extra calories because Brian and I were shivering most of the trip.

We experienced uncharacteristically cold weather in Munich and Vienna. All the locals said the weather was weird for late April. It is true that “April showers bring May flowers,” but we had rain, snow, hail and strong wind! The poor spring flowers that were already in bloom were very confused and so were we! Brian and I did run a couple of four milers at the Munich Olympic Park in 35 degree weather with light snow and it was pleasant. The soft layer of snow on the trees and ground was magical for two Californians!

However, the cold weather brought on some MS symptoms, like creepy, icy snakes crawling inside my shoulder and back, and a stiff right leg. We filled the days with a lot of sightseeing to push the pain out of my mind. We visited many museums, castles, cathedrals, breweries and bakeries. We strolled along grand boulevards and also learned about the atrocities of WWII. While it may seem like a downer to visit places like the Nazi Documentation Center, it adds perspective, not just to the vacation but in life. At the Nazi Center, I was a bit grumpy because I was hungry, but after seeing pictures of bone thin bodies heaped in a pile, I realized my problems were minuscule. I have no reason to complain about being hungry or even having snakes in my arm.

Our two friends from Hannover, Chris and Alex Seider, joined us for part of our trip. Chris is an engineer, drummer in a rock band, marathon runner and a homebrewer, among other things. Alex is an author of a fantastical series of novels, a singer/songwriter and painter. They are an über talented couple! Unfortunately, Chris had a terrible health issue the week before the vacation. His doctors advised him to not run the marathon, but he was cleared for travel and fun. It was great Chris and Alex still joined us and they certainly add an extra layer of adventure to our trip.

These pictures are just a small sampling of some of the sites we visited. After the adventure, when I am not so exhausted from fundraising, planning, travelling and running, I will create a photo gallery.

It was great to have our German friends, not just for their company, but also for translations. On the train from Neuschwanstein Castle to Munich, the train stopped in the middle of nowhere because they discovered an unattended bag. We had to get off and wait for police to come and inspect the suspicious luggage. All was dictated in German and Chris took the pressure off of my overactive mind by translating. I would have been worried about the one hour delay.

One big highlight of our trip was meeting Martin Geicsnek. He is an amazing person. We connected via the Austrian Multiple Sclerosis Society and he wrote a very inspirational email. He introduced himself to me as my twin in Austria. He has MS and not only has run 69 marathons, but he has also completed ultra-marathons, four Ironmen and climbed Kilimanjaro. Brian joked Martin and I are like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Devito in the movie Twins. “Honey, you're Danny!” I laughed and it still makes me laugh because it is so true!

 

We met Martin and his wife Helga, but only for a few hours. The visit was short because they were leaving the next morning for Hamburg to run the marathon. I learned so much from Martin in such little time. But when you are twins, it doesn't take long to realize the similarities and make a connection. He was diagnosed 21 years ago (I was diagnosed exactly half the number of years). We both ran our first marathon in October 2000. We also feel running is saving us from the negative impacts of MS. We have physical challenges, but we know we are luckier than most people with MS because we continue to run and push ourselves to fight the disease. Moreover, we both have incredibly supportive spouses. They make all the difference in the world for us, especially when running those last miles of a marathon by our sides!

The Vienna Marathon extended complimentary race entries to help alleviate the huge cost of this big adventure. I met Kathrin Widu, the lovely lady who helped with the gratis registration, at the expo. I was very happy to thank her in person.

Vienna is a gorgeous city filled with old buildings from the 1800’s. It was fitting to have the carbo-loading party in the gothic-inspired Vienna City Hall. It was also fitting our Kaiserschmarrn was accompanied by a string quartet. Eating this typical Austrian meal of shredded pancakes with plumb sauce to the tune of Ode to Joy was quite a joyful and regal experience!

 

 

Carbo loading did not end there, though. When we got home to our Airbnb apartment, Chris made a batch of Kartoffelpuffer, a typical German potato pancake meal. I guess you could say we had a true International House of Pancakes experience that day!

Grate 6 potatoes and 1 onion. Stir in 2 eggs, 1/3 c flour and ½ tsp salt. Cook pancakes.

I slept pretty well the night before the marathon which was a surprise. I went to bed anxious because the weather was supposed to be in the low 40’s with winds up to 25 mph. When we woke up at 5:30AM the sun was out and I felt positive after my second cup of coffee. I put on my flowered Running Skirt, matching teal top, sparkly teal BIC Band and old, ugly red throw-away sweater which I never threw away!

When we arrived the marathon site there was no cover from the cold, swirling wind. There were guards inside the U-bhan station shoveling runners out the door. Brian and I thought about using our travel pass to just ride the subway up and down until marathon start. But, Brian espied the perfect shelter from the wind. It was a decagon structure that we could walk around to block the whirling wind no matter the direction it blew. It was perfect!

The marathon start blared a mix of classical and pop music. There was high energy from the crowd. I particularly like that the runners were unencumbered and peed everywhere and anywhere. Unlike Tokyo, I was able to let it go without worry!

One issue I had with the event were the half marathon runners. The half marathon is my favorite distance. However, I do not like running a full marathon with a huge lot of half marathoners, especially when we all take off at the same time. Brian and I started in the proper corral, but there were 20,000 halfers dangerously weaving around the 5,500 full marathon runners. The half marathon is a different mentality and I think it is dangerous to mix the two races into one start line. This was the only part that I did not enjoy about our Vienna Marathon experience. It did stress me out the first 10 kilometers and, coupled with the cold wind, gave me MS pain on the right side of my face, arm and back, but I tried hard to concentrate on the positive. It also helped Chris and Alex were our cheerleaders and gave us encouragement in four spots along the course!

Vienna Marathon is a Gold Label race, which means adhering to requirements like precise course measurements, aid stations situated at the exact meter, and a suitable ratio of volunteers to runners. We really noticed the great attention to detail from the organizing committee and it was much appreciated. The course entertainment came in the form of samba dancers, taiko drums and classical music blaring from speakers as we ran through a lush park. Vienna Marathon is a classy race!

It sprinkled seven times during our run, but each bout was very brief. However, there were times when the wind was so strong I had to change my gait and push off sideways to cut the wind. I knew I would finish under five hours and I had hopes of finishing in 4:42:19. Why? Because I'm a numbers nerd. I'm 42 years old and Vienna Marathon was my 42nd 42.195 kilometer race since I was diagnosed with MS in October 2006. The last five kilometers was into the wind and I was fading. I know a lot of people say it is all mental, but that is not true when you are sucking wind and your knee and hip hates you! Nevertheless, I am extremely thrilled we finished in 4:46:19!

We celebrated our sub-five hour marathon victory at a microbrewery away from the city center (i.e. tourists). As we enjoyed our brews in the biergarten, I was glad we were outside in the cold air. My face started to get hot as emotion suddenly overcame me. I pressed my fingers to my eyeballs to stop the tears. The thought in my mind was, “Would I give all this up… the marathons, the traveling, and the adventure… for perfect health?” If you would have asked me three years ago, it would have been a resounding “Yes!” Now I don't know if I would trade it all for perfect health. It's not that I like MS, but the disease has made me stronger and I hate admitting that. Brian said not to dwell on a wish that I cannot have and he is correct. But, it does make me reflect on the things I have accomplished and it motivates me to look forward to all the things I will do in the future. I’m going for 8 continents!

 

I cannot run at all without my Ankle Foot Orthotic. I want to give a huge thank you to Ara Mirzaian at Hanger Clinic and Wade Bader at Kinetic Research for keeping me in the game.

Thank you Challenged Athletes Foundation for honoring me again this year with a 2017 scholarship. This will greatly help with the next marathon in Christchurch!

Thank you XCom Global for the mobile wifi devices. You powered my daily Facebook posts and the connection was really handy for travel planning.

Thank you Perfect Bar and Nuttzo for fueling our days. We are always on the go and need wholesome food to keep us moving. Perfect Bar was perfect for in-between-museum meals and is also our pre- and post-race nutrition. Nuttzo supplemented our beer and pretzel dinners!

 

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Japan Part III: Back to Tokyo 3.4.17-3.7.17

After Osaka, we took the bullet train back to Tokyo for more meetings and speeches. This time we stayed in the Asakusa ward. This was old Tokyo of the 1600-1800’s and very different than modern Shinjuku, but still just as crowded. When we got out of the subway, we were quite stunned with the hordes of people. We had two rolling luggage, two duffle bags and eight pounds of See’s chocolates to give as gifts. We had to maneuver around all these people for a half mile to our hotel. It was one heck of a long, sweaty walk! Later in the evening, Brian and I took a walk when the streets were empty. There was an orange glow from the lamps and it looked like we were walking in a movie set. It was very pretty and so different than earlier.

The 6th Annual Japan MS Symposium was in perfect timing with our trip. This is one of George’s biggest events of the year and he added us to the itinerary. Because George was very busy with setting up the conference, he sent Mr. Takeshi Kono to escort us to the event. George is like our uncle, always worried about our well-being and looking out for us the whole time.

The MS Symposium was attended by neurologists, researchers, the MS Friends Association Tokyo Chapter, and staff from Sanyei Corporation. Also, Mr. Ueon and Mr. Kawanishi from Mitsubishi-Tanabe Pharma in Osaka came to the event.

The key note speaker was Dr. Kondo and even though he spoke Japanese, we could follow along because the slides had familiar pictures and data. Sadly, Brian and I are much attuned to reading Gadolinium enhanced lesions, T2 lesions and black holes on an MRI. We know all about JC titers and the chance for Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy. And we are very familiar about the platform ABC drugs and the other dozen drugs now available to treat MS, plus their side effects.

What was new to us were some of the cutting edge research presented by three recipients of a JMSS Fellowship Award. The researchers talked about biomarkers and a drug discovery that can help with walking. They showed a video of a disabled mouse induced with Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis (mouse equivalent of MS) dragging his hind legs. They showed a second video of the same mouse, running around, fully recovered after taking the drug. Fingers and toes crossed this can be translated for humans. Well, maybe just my fingers because I can’t move my toes well anymore.

As each presentation went on, the time allotment for Brian and me got shorter and shorter because the other speeches went a bit too long. We worked with our interpreter, Ms. Kazumi Yoshida, to cut our speeches on the fly. That was perfectly fine with me as it was late in the afternoon and I was getting tired.

Translation for this event was different than Osaka. I had to stick to the script. I read one paragraph at a time and paused for Kazumi to translate. I like to make eye contact as I speak and at times I did not follow word for word, and I apologize to Kazumi for not following the exact words! Nevertheless, I felt pretty good about the speech. It helped that Kazumi enacted the same emotion during her translation just as I expressed.

After the speeches, the room divided into 4 groups and George told Brian, Kazumi and me to visit each group for 10 minutes. We spoke with some interesting people, including one lovely lady who is half Japanese and half Spanish. She didn’t speak much English and tried to converse with Brian in Spanish and that comically went nowhere fast! Anyway, we had the marvelous Kazumi to help us converse. This was a fun event for us and I feel like we made a positive statement that it is possible to live a rewarding life despite having MS.

We went to dinner with George and were joined by Mr. Hiroyuki Mitzutani, Chairman JMSS; Mr. Takao Nishigaki, Inspector General JMSS; Dr. Takeshi Tabira, world renowned neurologist; and Mr. Keiichi Tayama, Director Sanyei Corp. It was probably the most entertaining dinner we have enjoyed in a group setting. George again took care of us and made sure we had veggies and even a mini pizza. It was sweet he asked the chef to make foods familiar to us and we also enjoyed a wide variety of Japanese dishes. The comradery shared by the gentlemen around the table reinforces why perhaps the Japanese have long life spans. They work extremely hard, but they socialize and enjoy life at the end of the day. George told us rush hour in Tokyo is 6:00PM-10:00PM because people go to happy hour.

We learned over dinner the Japanese custom of not refusing refills of your drink. It is rude to say no. Potent Sake and Shōchū was flowing, but being Americans, we were allowed to refuse the fourth… or was it the fifth… refill. Whatever we drank, it was enough to finally get Brian to go to karaoke!

George, Keiichi, Brian and I walked to a nearby karaoke house. We rented a private booth and as we rode the elevator to the room, Brian said, “I have no idea what to expect or what to do! This is all new to me!” He was nervous and it was funny!

Before Brian and I could adjust our eyes in the dark karaoke room, George was already belting out “Diana” by Paul Anka! George is a ham and we love him! That set the tone for the rest of the evening. Brian and Keiichi danced as George sang “Oh Carol” by Neil Sedaka. Keiichi crooned like Frank Sinatra, Brian sang Pink Floyd, and I pretended to be Eva Peron. For our finale we all sang Do-Re-Me from Sound of Music. It was a riot! Best night of karaoke ever!

The following morning, George took us to Sanyei Corporation for a meeting that was similar to Mitsubishi-Tanabe. We had green tea in a boardroom with Mr. Ken Kobayashi, President & CEO and had opportunity to speak with his wonderful staff: Keiichi, Ms. Emiko Saito, Ms. Mai Ikeda, Ms. Fuzuki Yuge and Miss Ryoko Tanabe. George brought handouts of all my marathons and this time he told me to only speak for 1 minute about each marathon because Mr. Kobayashi did not have much time. However, I did not feel rushed. Mr. Kobayashi was genuinely interested, asked us questions, and even took photos with us at the end.

That evening we met with George for our first real soba noodle experience. I once bought edamame-flavored soba noodles at Costco and used spaghetti sauce – not exactly the same thing! Later the three of us joined Mr. Takashi Fukutomi and Ms. Akiko Kosugi from MS Friends Association for a concert. I knew it would be a small concert and I was expecting something like the Belly Up in Solana Beach, but this was more intimate. It looked like a Parisian apartment from the late 1800’s was converted into a music room. There was a grand piano, high-tech speaker system, a bar, chandeliers and frilly furniture. It was cozy and glowing with candle lights.  

The headliner was Keiko. She is an accomplished singer and also has Multiple Sclerosis. She arranged this special concert because she knew Brian and I were in town. Keiko negotiated with the venue to keep it a smoke-free concert because George had seen our Osaka hotel reservation requesting a non-smoking room due to allergies. I was amazed by George’s attention to detail and Keiko’s care for my health. Furthermore, the virtuoso pianist turned down another engagement just to come play for Keiko and us.

Keiko is a beautiful lady and sang magnificently. She had a wide repertoire from Michael Jackson to Whitney Huston, plus her own songs. The second act, Rio, came on a couple of times to relieve Keiko. I was captivated by Rio and my one comment was, “Where else in the world can you see a 7 foot Japanese man with long hair sing Edith Piaf songs so beautifully?” To top off the magical evening, Keiko asked for Brian and me to come on stage. The pianist played the Japanese National Anthem and the audience sang to us. Then he started playing The Star Spangled Banner. We took the cue and started singing for the audience. It was the ultimate way to cap off the last night of our vacation.

Actually, we capped of the evening with a good laugh as we walk back to our hotel. George pointed out the Asahi Beer headquarters. He said the locals call it "the shit building” or the "the golden turd." We could certainly see why!

On our last morning, we ate sweet bean-filed pancakes and sakura cookies gifted to us the night before from Takashi and Akiko. George said the freshness date is two days, so we obliged. It was very delicious! We hurried through breakfast to try to get in more sightseeing before our afternoon flight. We visited the Imperial Palace and a couple more museums, and of course, Starbucks. We had to spend the rest of the money on the 24 gift cards we collected for Richard and ourselves. In total, we spent $240 in venti skinny mochas during our two week trip. And it took us two weeks to detox our bodies of caffeine!

We went to the JMSS office for one last good-bye and George and Mr. Yuasa drove us to the airport. George called Mr. Mizutani to let him know we arrived at the airport safely. George handed me his cellphone and I told Mr. Mizutani “Arigato gozaimasu, gozaimasu!” As I spoke, Brian started laughing. Why? Because I was bowing to Mr. Mizutani while talking to him on the cellphone! I think I am ready to move to Japan!

George stayed with us as we checked in for our flight and continued to promote my adventure to the airline agent! Then George walked us to the security line and watched us from behind a glass wall. As we took the escalators down to the gates, we lovingly waved good-bye to George. It was a very sweet moment and I was teary-eyed.

We miss George tremendously and wish we could have stayed longer. It was the best trip ever!

Thank you Hanger Clinic, Challenged Athletes and all of my amazing donors for your support. Your generous donations helped to fund the marathon portion of this incredible journey. Link to marathon review in case you missed it.

Thank you George Nakajima for fundraising for us in Japan. We understand crowdfunding is not common in Japan, but you persisted with pharmaceutical companies and the public to collect 195,000 Yen for this trip. Arigato gozaimasu!

Thank you X-Com Global for powering our entire trip with mobile wi-fi. We were lost a lot and having the reliability of your services helped more than you can imagine.

Thank you Perfect Bar for powering our legs. Peanut Butter Original is our standard pre-marathon meal. We also sustained ourselves with Perfect Bars while sightseeing and running in between meetings and speeches. It was our go-to snack everyday (sometimes twice a day)!

Thank you Running Skirts and BIC bands for the running gear. You two seriously need to break into the women’s running market in Japan. They need running skirts and headbands!

All my love, Cheryl

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Japan Part II: Kyoto, Hiroshima, Osaka 2.27.15-3.3.17

The next day after the marathon we took the 270 km/hr Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto. The ride was under 3 hours and ultra smooth.

We rented a nice Airbnb room and the apartment complex had a mini shrine outside the front door. It was prescient of the many, many shrines and temples we would see in Kyoto. We spent about a day and a half of touring Kyoto. We did have temple fatigue, but when you have this once in a lifetime opportunity you have to keep pushing. We enjoyed the peace and tranquility of it all. We could move slowly, think clearly and live in the moment. It was very different from our hectic lives at work.

My favorite sections of Kyoto were Matsubara Dori and Gion. You could eat your weight in yama-yatsuhashi samples while ogling at the pretty kimonos. I am not sure if we spotted maiko (geisha in training). We saw some lovely girls with the white makeup, wooden shoes and hair ornaments. Even if they were not real geisha, they looked authentic in my mind!

We went on a day trip to Hiroshima and visited a garden and an art museum. We also went to ground zero of the atomic bomb. The structure still stands and the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Museum made me choke up. The story that touched me the most was about a woman who went searching for her husband as soon as news hit that a bomb exploded. She could not go to his office immediately because of the ferocious fires. She checked the relief stations, but he was nowhere. A week later she was able to make it into the city where she dug through the debris to get to his office. She found her husband’s bones in the position of a person sitting in a chair, with his arm outstretched towards his lunch box. Heartbreaking.

After Kyoto, it was all about business! We transferred to Osaka and met with many people. George arranged two meetings in one day and, besides the marathon, it was one of the most interesting days of our trip. First, I have to digress and talk about how awesome the bathroom was in our hotel because it really was interesting!

The Toto toilet in Shinjuku included a bidet and a control panel to adjust things like water direction and water pressure. The Toto toilet in Osaka had the same features, but more! There were buttons for water temperature, drying and extra deodorizing! The toilets made me happy and added an extra level of excitement to the trip.

 

George took us to the pharmacy district in Osaka (it is like Pill Hill in Seattle). First stop was Mitsubishi-Tanabe Pharma Corporation. We sat in a meeting room with some very important people: Mr. Teruo Ueno, Mr. Mitsuru Kawanishi, Mr. Kouji Kawabe and Mrs. Kazuko Hamada. George made handouts with pictures for each of the 5 marathons that I had completed to date. He spoke for a bit in Japanese, then turned to me and instructed me to talk 5 minutes on each marathon. I was a little intimidated, but when the “big boss” (George’s words) looked directly at me spoke Japanese, in a kind and soft tone, I knew he was encouraging me.

After the meeting, we went to the company cafeteria for lunch. Brian and I had udon and it was very comical because my chopstick skills are pathetic. Mr. Kawanishi tried to teach me proper technique, but I'm hopeless! Fortunately we were eating udon, so the goal was to get some part of the noodle into my mouth and I could slurp up the rest!

Next, Mrs. Hamada gave us a tour of the company museum. Tanabe was founded in 1687 and is the second oldest pharmacy in the world (Merck est. 1668). It was cool to see hundred year old scales and balances. It was also cool to learn that in 1882 Tanabe had sole distribution rights for salicylic acid and sold to it sake brewers as a preservative. I wonder if it also helped for hangover prevention!

When we were saying our good-byes at the front of the building, they told Brian and me to look up… they raised an American flag on our behalf. We were slack-jawed! Arigatou gozaimasu, Tanabe-Mitsubishi!

Our next stop was Takeda Pharmaceutical Company. Upon arrival, we were taken into an auditorium where Brian and I met with the interpreters who would be translating our speeches. They told us to speak slowly because they would be translating into headsets worn by the attendees. These people included Takeda employees and Friends of MS Association, Kansai Chapter. The meeting started off with George saying a few words, then each of the twelve MS members briefly spoke about their disease and welcomed us to Japan. We were presented with gifts and a generous donation to help with our travel in Japan!

When it was my turn to go on stage, I was not nervous because the audience was so warm, but speaking with an interpreter is hard! I tried to speak slowly and I could actually hear out loud the translations in the headsets worn by the audience. It sounded rapid and I wondered if I was too fast. Some people in the audience spoke English and laughed at my jokes, but for the people listening to the translation, the laughs came a few seconds after I spoke. It was funky and I am happy I got some laughs!

Brian’s speech was really sweet. It was his first time going on stage to talk about my MS and our adventure. I loved the last line of his speech:

“And we never forget that my wife is not defined by MS, but her resolve to fight against it.”

The audience was also swept away by his speech. At the end when we had Q&A, people commented on our strong relationship and particularly Brian’s sacrifices, not just for 7 on 7, but for all my needs. One researcher from Takeda said he would work more to talk to his wife to build a stronger relationship. One woman commented to me she was hesitant to come because she is not a runner. She said she was happy she decided to attend because “we are the same.” We are both affected by this nasty disease and we share the same struggles, frustrations and hardships. She also made comment she would make more effort to look on the bright side. I feel like Brian and I affected many people in a positive way. I was proud of us!

It was a long day of meetings and speeches. We had a chance to unwind with George, Mr. Akira Nishimura and Ms. Yuki Shinohara over dinner at a small restaurant. We had a fun time talking about 70’s music, the Osaka's Hanshin Tigers baseball team, and my obsession with mochi and Toto toilets, and learning more about Japanese culture and customs.

Although our two nights in Osaka was very short we really liked the vibe of the city. It does not feel as crowded as Tokyo, but has the same charm. I could definitely live here! I'm even getting used to eating raw fish!

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Japan Part I: Tokyo and Tokyo Marathon 2.22.15-2.26.17

Our trip to Japan was so different than any other vacation we have taken. We were deeply immersed in the culture because we met a lot of people and made new friends. This was all thanks to Mr. George Nakajima, Secretary General of the Japan Multiple Sclerosis Society (JMSS).

 

Planning for Japan started a year in advance. I contacted JMSS in April 2016 because I needed help getting into the Tokyo Marathon. The race is highly impacted like London and New York City. You can enter via lottery, join a tour group, or fundraise for a charity. George contacted the marathon organizers and pled my case to pay for a guaranteed spot, but they would not budge. So I went with a charity and ran for the Japanese Para-Sports Association. I am glad we decided to run for a charity because it turns out that 321,459 people entered the lottery and there were only 26,370 spots available! The chances for Brian and me to both get into the marathon were slim to none.

 

During the year, George and I exchanged over 200 emails. He helped me immensely with the logistics of travelling in Japan, and he also orchestrated several meetings for me to present my story. I do get nervous when I speak in public, but I was a lot more anxious about Japan because I have zero knowledge of the language. My sweet coworker, Kinuko Kanda, coached me a bit before leaving for my trip: good morning, hello, thank you very much, and where is the bathroom. I was even more worried because my speeches started and ended with some Japanese pleasantries because I wanted to show respect, “Konnichiwa! Minasan ni oai dekite ureshii desu. Minasan ogenki desuka? Cheryl to moushimasu. Douka Yoroshiku onegaishimasu. Arigatou gozaimasu. Kyou wa ganbarimasu.” Kinuko spoke the phrases into my iPhone and I listen to it over and over on the 13 hour flight from LA to Tokyo.

Upon arriving at Narita International Airport, we were greeted by George and a huge welcome sign! At first I was not sure if I should bow to George, shake his hand or give him a hug. I did all three and so did Brian. George did not seem to mind. After all, we were already like old friends!

We checked into our hotel in the Shinjuku prefecture at 4:00PM and by 6:00PM, Mr. Hideki Saito from Nippon TV was there to interview me! We filmed inside our tiny 194 square foot hotel room. It was cramped with 5 adults, but we had fun. “Tokyo Marathon. Ganbarimasu!” My interview aired on Saturday afternoon, the day before the marathon.

In the days leading up to the marathon, we tried to acclimate and fight jetlag by keeping busy and touring as much as we could. We visited many shrines, temples, museums, shops, prefectures and Starbucks. Yes, Starbucks. Our friend Richard Brook collects Starbucks gift cards and he has really turned us on to collecting them, too. In Japan, you cannot just take the cards for free. You have to put 1,000 yen (about $10) on the card and you can only spend the money in Japan. So, we were highly caffeinated for the trip, which may or may not have helped with jetlag. It truly was a cultural experience. The stores have different designs and artwork; they have Japanese-specific specialty drinks; and the Japanese flock to the stores, from students to business men to women clad in kimonos!

We were lost a lot of the time. Our launch pad for sightseeing was the Shinjuku Train Station. It is the busiest train station in the world and serves 3 million people per day, and there are over 200 exits. Even though we managed to get back to our home station after a day of touring, we would walk several hundred meters trying to figure out how the heck to get out of the train station!

 

The city layout is also confusing. Streets intersect at many angles and I think even the Google Maps App was confused. For instance, our friend David Tay, a race director from Singapore, was staying at a hotel only 1.5 kilometers from us. Brian and I walked for 45 minutes, in what seemed like circles, to find it. At one point we stopped at a Starbucks for directions. What we did not realize we had to climb stairs and walk an upper street to get to the hotel. Oh geeze! David found a shortcut and walked us back to our hotel in less than 10 minutes!

We met with George a couple of times before the marathon. One day we went out to lunch for our first real sushi experience. We went to a little place where the chef puts the sushi on a conveyor belt and you pick up the dishes you want to eat. George is a very lively character and talked it up with the chef. Suddenly many plates of different sushi came rolling our way. I am not sure about half of the food I ate. Some was squishy (giant tuna eggs?), some was rubbery (octopus?), some was mushy (fatty tuna?) and my soup was filled with shells (baby clams?). It did not matter that I am vegetarian and did not know what I was eating, having an authentic meal with George was great!

Marathon day was filled with excitement and nerves, just like any other marathon, but there was added pressure. Nippon TV asked me to meet them at the host hotel before the race. I thought it was for a follow-up interview, but no. They assigned two men, Mr. Takashi Yamaba and Mr. Kazukata Yamashita to run with Brian and me for the entire 26.2 miles! They did not carry cameras. It was their job to follow us and alert the news crew along the course for possible interviews. I felt bad because Takashi and Kazukata are 4 hour marathoners and they had to run really slowly with me. I know it is hard when you cannot run your own pace because it changes your natural gait.

Tokyo Marathon was a very emotional for me. Ten years ago I ran the New York City Marathon. It is every runner’s dream to be in that race, but it was a nightmare for me. I was newly diagnosed and I fell almost a dozen times. I had to run with my head hanging down, looking at the ground, ready to catch myself in case I fell. That was the day I realized I had a serious disease and I ran with a heavy heart because I felt defeated.

Tokyo Marathon is similar to New York City. It is one of the “Big Six” and everyone wants to run it. The course takes you through diverse neighborhoods with temples and cheering crowds along the way. Brian and I felt like we were part of something big. I was able to run with my head held high and enjoy the marathon without that nagging fear of falling. It was redemption!

My running norm now includes a heavy leg, a numb foot and a weak hand. However, at this marathon, I did not experience any MS pain like electric shocks or burning feet. Brian had to help me open my Gu packets and Takashi had to flag down a medic on a bicycle for Vaseline. My right knee was screaming at me the last 10 kilometers, but I managed to push through and be happy!

One thing I wish I could improve about my marathons is to shut off my bladder! I always have to pee in the middle of the race. In the case of Tokyo, my one break added 25 minutes to our finishing time. We had to run 300 meters off the course, stand in line behind 33 people for two port-a-potties, then run 300 meters back to the marathon! Normally, I would pee behind a bush, but I did have Nippon TV watching me and public urination (even during a marathon) is not tolerated. The toilet facilities were grossly lacking and the complaints were made known in the newspapers the next day.

Brian and I also had our own cheering squad! George; the President of JMSS Mr. Hiroyuki Mizutani; and representatives from Sanyei Corporation: Mr. Yoshirhiro Yoneda, Mr. Akira Ishikawa, Mrs. Emiko Saito and Mrs. Fuzuki Yuge cheered for us at three spots along the course and met us at the end. We had our own entourage! One concern, though, was that I was stinky and sweaty and hugging everyone at the end. Phew!

Speaking of being stinky, our hotel room, although small, had the most amazing bathing room. There was a huge shower next to the bathtub for washing your body clean. The bathtub was reserved for soaking after showering. It is brilliant! I have always wondered why people take baths. It is gross to wallow in dirty water! It was nice to have a calming soak after the marathon!

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White Continent Marathon 1.31.2017

If I did not have pictures, I would not believe Brian and I actually ran a marathon on Antarctica. The whole experience was surreal. At times I felt like I was floating in the sky watching myself as in a dream. I suppose I was loopy due to jetlag (12 hours of sleep over 3 days) and dehydration. Or perhaps it was the mysterious polar vortex that gave me the lightheaded feeling. In any case, we ran in Antarctica!

Marathon Adventures tour group coordinates the White Continent Marathon.  I chose this company over the others because Marathon Adventures flies to Antarctica from Chile, rather than taking a nauseating 10 day cruise from South America through Drake Passage to Antarctica.

Together conquering one marathon at a time! 

We stationed ourselves in Punta Arenas, Chile for 8 nights from 1/28/17-2/5/17. The plan was to fly on the first opportunity of good weather. I was very anxious about this. I’ve read stories where a group was set to fly, but waited in the airport for 11 hours because weather suddenly turned bad in Antarctica. Another group was within 20 minutes of landing on Antarctica and the plane had to turn back to Punta Arenas because the weather unexpectedly changed. Then another group was in the middle of running the marathon and had to be pulled off the course because the temperature was dropping dangerously low. They all eventually ran the marathon, but I did not want to have to deal with the drama.

Our first chance to fly was at 3:00AM on 1/31/17. It pushed back to 9:00AM which worried me since it would mean running in the afternoon when MS fatigue usually kicks in. We arrived at the airport at 7:00AM and it was very relaxed. We were able to pass full sized water bottles through the Chilean version of TSA. Or maybe liquids were not allowed, it’s just the security agent was busy chitchatting with her coworker while our bags went through the scanner.

 

Our flight was only delayed by 30 minutes and we were in the air before 10:00AM. I still did not want to believe we were on our way to Antarctica. I did not want to get excited until we actually landed.

With about 30 minutes to landing, everyone started changing into their running gear. I had to negotiate putting KT Tape on my feet and Brian prepared his three layers of socks. We also had our pre-race peanut butter Perfect Bars and coffee. Before I could finish strapping on my ankle-foot orthotic, the plane skidded onto the Great White Desert.

Antarctica was not what I expected. It was all black rock and dirt with patches of snow on the hillsides. There was no place for me to make a snow angel! It was not white and pristine, but I suppose it is summer in January and most of the snow had melted. There was also a lot of moss and lichen. I did not know it would have flora. The temperatures were in the 30-34F range with a 15-20 mph steady wind that made it feel like the mid-20s. I anticipated running closer to zero degrees, so I was pleased.

Are we there yet?

It was almost a two mile hike from the airplane to base camp. We had to carry all of our gear and that was hard. A few of us feel that should have been added to the mileage count for the marathon! When we arrived at base camp, the sleeping tents were still being set up and the porta-potties were not ready. A bunch of us just took the pee buckets and hid behind tall rocks. There was big hurry to start the race and we did not have much time to double check our race gear. It didn’t matter, I guess, since the race course would pass base camp 12 times.

Chilean Research Base
Base Camp
Chinese Research Base

The course was out-and-back 6 times. One turnaround was at the Chilean research base and the other turnaround was at the Chinese research base, and our base camp was about the middle. On or first out, Brian and I realized we were over-dressed. I had three layers and he had four. On our first opportunity, we dumped our top layers at base camp. This would be the first of 10 visits to base camp during the run. We had to stop so many times because I needed water, Perfect Bars (extra hungry in the cold) and porta-potty breaks, plus Brian had to change out his shoes. All the stops added a significant amount of time to our run.

Painful Rocks
Huge Painful Rocks

I overestimated the cold and wore a lot of layers, but I underestimated the terrain. It was extremely rocky, which ranged from pebbles to boulders. The heel on Brian’s shoe tore off and fortunately he had an extra pair of running shoes at base camp. We walked a lot of the marathon. The rocks made our footing very unstable and it was so harsh on our feet. I formed a ½ inch blister on the side of my left heel (such an odd place) because my feet were sliding a lot. We realized we had to play it safe by walking on the hard parts to avoid injury. We still have three marathons left on our adventure.

Hills were also a difficult factor. Total elevation gain according to my Garmin was 4,150 feet. The steepest hills were definite walkers!

There were times when I was disheartened during the run. Before going to Antarctica, our race director prepped us to leave no food wrappers, garbage, or human waste behind. Zero impact. Even when Brian’s shoe heel fell off, we searched for it while running and brought it back to Chile. However, I saw litter around research bases. One had broken bottles all over the ground as if there was a drunken party the night before. I also saw a big sea bird pecking at a Styrofoam box. That was disturbing.

Penguin Spectators!

Despite the rocks and trash, we tried to remain happy and positive. We felt extremely lucky to be able to run on Antarctica. I told Brian several times during the run that I could not believe we were there. Again, I felt like I was in a dream with penguins as our cheerleaders!

It was also really nice that it was an out-and-back course because we could see our running friends throughout the run and we cheered for each other. 

Tough run on harsh terrain
I could not do any of this without the love of my life... and my AFO!
Slowest Marathon EVER!

We were extremely happy to complete this marathon. It was by far the hardest event we have ever accomplished.

My MS symptoms were in check during the whole run. I was so fearful of my body rebelling due to the cold because I do have pseudo-exacerbations in extreme weather. The main issues I had were electric shocks in my upper back and arm weakness that lasted most of the night, but I was so tired (and I took NyQuil) that I was able to ignore it and fall asleep.

I also cannot believe we camped in Antarctica. This was my first camping experience EVER! We bought 5 degree sleeping bags and they were very warm. However, the sleeping pads provided were pretty thin and I could feel the cold, rocky ground. Sunset in Antarctica was 11:00PM and sunrise was at 4:00AM. Needless to say, we did not get to sleep in.

White Bucket!

I’m not sure if I will be a camper. It is awesome to say I camped in Antarctica, but the zero impact thing is tough. At our orientation meeting, we were instructed how to use the porta-potties. Pee in the white bucket and poo in the black bucket lined with a plastic bag. We had to dump the pee in a big oil drum. The poo bag had to be tied and pushed into a poo tube. I made sure to take a lot of anti-poo pills. I know that is TMI, but you lose modesty when you’re a marathon runner.

The next morning, we toured the Chilean research base. The scientists must commit to two years and they are allowed to bring their families. Consequently, they have a schoolhouse and when one child has a birthday, the entire town attends. The woman who gave the tour grew up on the base and she said it is a very tightknit community. Our guide said the only "flower" in Antarctica is this lichen and it takes 100 years to grow!

 

Chilean Research Base Tour
Russian Research Base
Russian Orthodox Church - Interior
Russian Orthodox Church - Exterior
 

We also visited a Russian Orthodox Church on the Russian research base. The interior was gleaming with gold and it was such a stark contrast to the cold, dark exterior. It was almost symbolic of my marathon experience. I ran in cold weather on top of black rocks, yet my spirit was beaming with gratitude for this amazing opportunity!

A heartfelt thank you to all my sponsors and donors for making this trip and all my other marathons possible. A HUGE shout out to Hanger Clinic for reaching out to the race director to directly pay my registration fees! I could not make this dream happen without your support. Perfect Bar kept me well-fueled before, during and after the run. Thank you XCom Global for keeping me connected while in Chile and powering my Facebook posts. You are all so awesome!

The first photo of Brian and me, as well as the picture of Brian, me and my AFO, are courtesy of Rachael L. Hatch Photography. The photo of Brian and me running in the Chinese research base was taken by Rob Horton. Thank you Rachael and Rob!

 

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