Wrapping Paper and the Wrap-Up

–Update 1/1/2012–

I’m thrilled to tell you that our final fundraising total for 2011 was $11,115.06!  Thank you again to those who contributed!  May you have a blessed 2012 striving for the goals that you’ve set for this year.  –Ryan


Merry Belated Christmas and Happy early New Year!  I hope you found that glorious peace of the season that we often forget to look for and enjoy. 

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital was a big part of my 2011 and a big part of this Christmas.  Tara gave me a cool ornament that will be a reminder of 11 in 11 each Christmas.  My mom has collected Precious Moments statues my entire life and as such, I’ve bought many for her over the years.  This year she returned the favor and gave me the ‘Hope’ one from St. Jude’s.  And finally, my awesome sister-in-law Lauren made me these canvas pieces of original art. 

I love it and as you can see have already found a place for it in my office.  I wish I could tell that woman in Milwaukee how far the words on her sign have gone for me. 

I’m reminded how blessed I was during 2011 to avoid any kind of major injury.  Remember that calf injury from Memphis?  Yeah, I still haven’t been able to run.  So after averaging about 3.25 miles per day for all of 2011, I’ve got a big fat goose egg for the past 25 days.  I wouldn’t have been able to afford 25 days off at any other point!

On the donation front we’ve had a great outpouring over the past couple of weeks.  We received a donation and a triple match from their employer (as of this posting I haven’t received permission to give the name) totaling $1,800!  We also received a donation from Markquart Toyota in Eau Claire.  Thanks to them for their support!  The grand total raised during this campaign is now $10,115.06 with every last penny going to St. Jude Children’s Hospital!  Online donations are being accepted until 12/31 should you want to be a part of the next $885. 

Again, thank you for all of your encouragement, donations, miles traveled, guest rooms offered, and overall promotion of 11 in11.  We truly did good work together.


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“Boy, You’ve Got A Prayer in Memphis”

10 straight months of staying in marathon shape challenged me in ways I hadn’t been before.  Sure, one marathon is a challenge in and of itself, but it’s an achievable goal—hundreds of thousands of people do it every year.  Leading up to the first marathon in Washington DC back in March, I kept thinking about how I needed to take it easy and use that race as a training run.  Don’t push it—it’s 1 of 11.  I didn’t wear a watch in order to keep my priorities straight.  I ended up running a 3:52, the fastest marathon of my life.

In Salt Lake City, just a couple of weeks after Washington DC, I figured running fast marathons was easy.  I mean, I had just PR’d with very little training.  How tough could this be?  I ran a very trying and painful 4:16.

At Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth I was finishing my 5th race in 9 weeks.  I needed to finish this chapter and get some much needed time off from the roads in the coming weeks.  I figured I could run a sub 4 in decent weather.  I hit a major wall getting into Duluth at mile 20.  The 4-hour pacer passed me at mile 25.  I shouted at myself to suck it up and break this time barrier.  I finished in 3:58.

11 marathons ago I started this over-the-top goal of raising $11,000 for St. Jude Children’s Hospital.  I figured a place filled with that much darkness and sadness really needed our care and resources.  We couldn’t eliminate childhood cancer with $11,000, but maybe we could shine a little light on it.  I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital isn’t dark.  It isn’t sad.  In fact, it’s easy to forget it’s a hospital at all.  On Friday, December 2nd, Tara and I saw with our own eyes what it was I was running for all year.  We were given a tour by ALSAC employee Kaitlin.  It was just the three of us for almost 2 hours of exploring and learning about this incredible place.  The hallways were lined with artwork.  The walls were painted as changing seasons.  It didn’t smell like a hospital.  Doctors walked around with stethoscopes and sneakers.  Think Patch Adams, not ER.  We toured the school and spoke with a teacher.  We saw the teen room.  We saw the medicine room and the admitting area.  But what we really saw was a place where people went to get better.  Not the dark sad place I had expected.  The patients we saw were normal kids.  Some of them didn’t have hair or were wearing masks, but there was nothing else different about them.  The memory of one boy, probably about 2 years old, stands out in my mind.  He kept peaking around the corner to our amusement.  I’m pretty sure he was flirting with Tara.  His shiny head and denim suit are locked into my memory. 

Later on Friday evening Tara and I attended the St. Jude Heroes pasta dinner at the convention center.  Someone told us it was the largest room in all of Memphis.  We were able to hear from the CEO of ALSAC (the funding arm of St. Jude’s), a St. Jude family, and running legend Hal Higdon.  As far as pasta dinners go, I haven’t seen one even come close to the St. Jude event.  After a very busy day, Tara and I headed back to the Marriott to get ready for Saturday’s race. 

Race day started bright and early with a 6am alarm.  I went to the window and glanced out.  Our hotel, the Memphis Marriott Downtown, overlooked the St. Jude campus.  There was a beautiful purple sunrise beyond the hospital campus.  The forecast was for sunny skies and highs in the 60s.  By 7am I was out the door for the 8am start.  The start was located near Auto Zone Park, home to the Memphis AAA baseball team.  The start line music was great—lots of Elvis, Johnny Cash, and the like.  At 8am the first corral was released.  I was in the 4th corral so I didn’t get started for about 6 or 7 more minutes.  Eventually, I was off to finish #11.

For whatever reason, my right calf was bugging me for a couple of days prior to this race.  I didn’t really think too much about it.  Just a couple of miles into the marathon, I realized I should have paid attention. 

The first couple of miles were in sections of Memphis one wouldn’t generally visit.  We passed the Lorraine Motel and Civil Rights Museum early on.  I was working so hard on starting slow that I missed it.  By mile 3 we were running down Beale St.  It was here on the bricks of Beale that my calf became a great concern.  I figured the pain would go away after I got warmed up—it didn’t.  It felt like a constant, mild cramp.

Just before mile 5 I was entering the St. Jude campus.  There was a fantastic band playing at the entry gate.  Running through the balloon arch I encountered the first spectators.  Some St. Jude families and families were outside cheering us on.  It goes without saying that this was an incredibly emotional experience.  The crowd support was amazing.  This is also the first time I saw Tara.  She was up ahead and I easily spotted her when I read her sign.  It said, “11 marathons in 2011?  Check!”  I gave her a prolonged hug when I got to her.  The entire year seemed surreal at this point.  Man how I wished this was mile 25 and not mile 5!

After exiting the campus the course became quite boring.  A couple of 3 mile long straight-aways and we were back near Beale St. where the ½ marathoners would turn off.  As is the case in most marathons, I’d guess 5 or 6 marathoners sprinted to the finish for every 1 of us that continued on.

By this point my calf was causing some serious issues.  I had changed my gait enough that I was starting to feel twinges in my left leg from overcompensation.  I saw Tara again around the ½ way point on Beale St.  I wanted to tell her about my issue, but didn’t. 

It was somewhere around mile 14 when I saw a sign that stuck with me.  “Blisters don’t need chemo.”   

The rest of the course was again, straight and boring.  I tried to maintain a pace but when the actual cramps started, there wasn’t much I could do.  First it was my right calf.  Then it was my left hamstring.  In the end it didn’t matter—I just kept momentum going forward. 

At mile 25 I saw a group of people standing on a grassy knoll along side the road we were running on.  There was an old man holding a sign that said something like ‘The Smiths appreciate you for what you’re doing.’  In scanning the rest of the group of 6 or so people I realized that in the middle of this family was a young man in a wheelchair with a mask on.  His mother was behind him holding a blanket up to keep him out of the sun.  I remember her smile—she was beaming.  That was it for me.  I lost it.  Full-on, choked-up lost it. 

Rounding the last couple turns onto the warning track at the baseball stadium,  I saw the finish line and immediately beyond it, Tara in the stands.  I finished in 4:19 which tied Green Bay for the slowest finishing time of the year.  But like I said after the Green Bay race, it was a FINISH time.  11 in 11 was complete.

We slowly headed back to the hotel.  I hadn’t felt that much pain after a marathon the entire year.  Even while trying to sleep I’d keep waking up with extremely painful calf cramps. 

We did celebrate later that evening at my all-time favorite rib joint, Rendezvous.  We even spent some time on Beale St.  No dancing for me, though.

This entry is longer than it should be and there is still so much to wrap-up.  I think I’ll do a separate entry in the coming days.  But before I sign off for now, I wanted to update you on the fundraising total.  Ready for this?  The total raised for St. Jude Children’s Hospital is now at $8,085.06!  A special thank you to Scheels for their generous donation.  They’ve joined Kwik Trip as my favorite businesses.    Donations can be accepted for another week or so if you’ve been waiting to see if I’d actually do it. Thank you for your support!

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Race Day

Race day runner tracking is available by going to Http://www.stjudemarathon.org. Type in my name or bib number (492) if you’d like to receive alerts. This link will be available only Saturday morning. Race time is 8AM CST.

I can’t wait to tell you more about our personal tour of the St. Jude campus on Friday!

On our way to the Heroes pasta party hosted by running legend and coach Hal Higdon.

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11 of 11- St Jude Memphis Marathon

Before I get going with this prerace entry I wanted to send a big thank you to Lukas Hoffland for his article in Volume One and Aaron Dimick of WEAU TV-13 for his 2nd story of the year. Their stories have gone a long way in helping us with donations! 

This Saturday marks the 11th and final marathon of the 11 in 11 series.  I anticipate a very emotional run.  Before I get into the details of the trip, here is some info on the race itself.

The St. Jude Memphis Marathon course traverses most of historically rich Memphis, TN (and some of it twice).  I will run past sights such as Beale St., the Gibson Guitar Factory, the Lorraine Motel and National Civil Rights Museum, The Orpheum, The Pyramid, Peabody Place, and most importantly—St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  The terrain in Memphis promises some pretty good hills. I guess that should be expected from the birth place of Rock and Roll. 

 The weather looks very promising with lows in the 50s and highs near 60.  Other than some nasty wind at a couple of races, I have been blessed with remarkable weather this year!

Tara and I will arrive in Memphis on Friday morning.  The Memphis Marriott Downtown was kind enough to donate rooms to St. Jude Heroes.  A big thank you to them for their generosity!  After the expo but before the pasta dinner we’ll have the opportunity to tour the hospital.  I’ve been looking forward to this all year.  In fact, I’ve thought about it frequently during the 40 hours of marathon running I’ve done since March.  I look forward to sharing that experience with all of you next week.

What’s left to say?  I’m as nervous for this race as I’ve been for the other ten. 26.2 miles is still a long way.  My body feels abused—but as long as I’m upright I’m not stopping now.  And I’m incredibly thankful to all of you who have made 11 in 11 the success it has been.  To date we have raised $7,510.06!!!!  We’re still accepting  donations at http://11in11.org/donate/.

Did I mention how much I love Memphis style BBQ ribs?

Check back next week for the recap!

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Thanks for Giving


As 11 in 11 winds down I can’t help but reflect in this time of Thanksgiving. We all hold our families a bit tighter this time of year.  But what I’ve learned since the first marathon back in March is that we need to seize every day.  There are no guarantees for another start line. I think back to the sign in Milwaukee—There will come a day when you will not be able to do this anymore. Today is not that day.  I’m thankful to be in a position to accomplish the goal that was set last December—of running 11 marathons in 2011.

But more than that, I’m thankful for all the support I’ve received–first and foremost from Tara.  Without her there wouldn’t be 11 in 11.  She inspires me every day.  She inspires me to do the crazy stuff and then, more importantly, makes me believe I can.

I’m thankful for all of the donations to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  As of today we’ve raised over $6,700 !  There are people on the donor list I’ve never met and probably never will.  Your generosity has made me so grateful.

I’m thankful for the work of St. Jude’s not only for kids, but for their free-sharing of medical technology.  One of our donors recently found out that a pacemaker they were having installed was based on technology developed at St. Jude’s.  They didn’t know that when they made their donation.

I’m thankful for all of your words of encouragement, for letting me sleep in your guestroom, for traveling with me, and for not calling me crazy to my face.

This is a video I shared on Facebook this past week. It’s a real life illustration of how to be truly thankful.  It also demonstrates beautifully what St. Jude’s is all about.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Marathon #10 Recap

“Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”  -Peter Clemenza in The Godfather

My friend John Lamberson should have been a dietician.  After making up a reason why consuming carrot cake the night before the Paavo Nurmi Marathon would actually be good for me, he scored again with a cannoli recommendation on Friday night.  After a wonderful dinner at Vin Santo, I was talked into eating a highly nutritious (and delicious) cannoli for dessert.  I’ll let the results speak for themselves—I finished my 3rd marathon in 5 weeks in a swift 3:56.

Saturday was a BEAUTIFUL morning in Middleton for the 2nd running of the Haunted Hustle Marathon.  The race time temperature was a perfect 30 degrees with clear skies.  As the sun rose the frosty course glistened.  Streams steamed.  We ran through the Pheasant Branch Conservatory (miles 6-9) at the perfect time to see the sun rise over the trees and illuminate the valleys and fields within.  I’m not exaggerating when I say it was stunning.  For those of you who read Runner’s World, it reminded me of a picture you’d see on page three for the ‘Rave Run.’ 

The views were a nice distraction from the fact that I was not able to run with Tara and the Lambersons as I originally had planned.  While the full and ½ courses do mimic each other for the first 8 miles, the start times varied by 30 minutes.  I did get to see them at one point on the course where we were going opposite directions.

After the beauty of the Conservatory we began what I thought was the most difficult part of the race.  We traversed county highways which were filled with quality hills.  Some were long and gradual, others were quite steep.  At mile 13 we encountered the worst of the hills.  Anyone who has run the Pure Water Days 1/2 Marathon or the Frigid 8 in Chippewa Falls will know Pork Chop hill.  The hill at mile 13 in Middleton was as steep as Pork Chop but seemed to be longer in distance.  At the top I saw a volunteer holding a sign that said ‘Caution!  Thin air.’ 

The rest of the course was in the city of Middleton.  Until mile 22 I was looking at possibly going under 3:50 for the first time ever.  The final 3+ miles of hills did me in, though.  I guess I didn’t feel so bad when I finished just behind the official 3:50 pacer.  He couldn’t hold the pace either, and finished around 3:54 (luckily he didn’t have any runners with him!).

Up to this point the Haunted Hustle had a chance to be the best marathon I had ever participated in (it was my 20th since I started running in 2005).  I’m not talking about my performance, but the overall marathon experience.  The course was that nice.  But upon finishing, I found out that all of the ‘premium’ post-race food and refreshments were gone.  No pizza, no brews from the Capital Brewery—all that remained were halved bananas, sliced oranges, and water.  I finished 194th out of 511 runners—what about all the people that finished after me?  Anyway, while not a deal breaker, it definitely put a dent in their perfect score. 

On a humorous note—this marathon was pushing ‘going green’ by promoting a new water system called Cup-Free Racing.  It’s basically a plastic cup that you clip to yourself and carry with you for the 26.2 miles.  There are modified Gatorade jugs that are supposed to fill the cup in just a few seconds at the aid stations.  I did notice a handful of people using this new system.  The coolers were poorly marked, though, so people had to stop and ask the aid station volunteers where the special jug was.  This took the volunteers away from handing out Styrofoam cups of water and sports drink.  Yep, I said Styrofoam.  I must be missing something about the ‘green’ movement.  Until I fully understand, and I see fewer problems with filling and spilling, I’m going to continue to marathon without wearing a cup.

Tara, John, and Cori finished the half with a great time of 2:01:52.  Tara, as most of you know, had a stowaway.  He or she was decked out in the appropriate cheesehead, though, so as to not go unnoticed. 

Overall, it was a fantastic weekend with great friends, a great event, in a great town.  I have a feeling we’ll be back.  Special thanks to my parents for taking care of the kids while we were away.

Five weeks until the grand finale in Memphis—The St. Jude Memphis Marathon.  Our fundraising total as of Monday morning stands at a whopping $6,036.40Thank you for your generosity in support of St. Jude Children’s Hospital!  If you’d like to donate, please click here.  And remember, the donation link goes directly to St. Jude Children’s Hospital!

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Marathon #10—The Haunted Hustle Marathon—Middleton, WI

I’m a bit spooked to say that this Saturday will mark the 10th time I’ve laced ‘em up for St. Jude Children’s Hospital since March of this year.  In that amount of time we’ve raised $6,000 to support their cause and mission

Those of you who have followed this blog since the beginning have heard me use words like ‘excitement’ or ‘challenge’ or ‘spirited.’  I’ve told you when I’ve become emotional while running and what triggered those times.  I’ve tried to be as transparent as possible; sharing with you the joy I’ve experienced during this challenge.  Unfortunately, as I type this entry I don’t feel those emotions.  I feel ‘tired.’  I feel ‘anxious,’ knowing this race will be at least as difficult and probably more so than the last.  I haven’t run without pain or dead legs since finishing the Lakefront Marathon on October 2nd.  I have spent much time away from my family for both racing and training.  This has officially become very hard.  Don’t misunderstand me—the mission and goal remain.  My passion for achieving that goal has never been stronger.  I will finish the 11th race in December and I will continue on with our goal of raising another $5,000 before then.  Perhaps having Tara and the Lambersons as companions this weekend will be just what the doctor ordered.

Saturday’s Haunted Hustle is a themed race and there are contests for best costumes.  There is even a pumpkin carving contest.  I considered getting out the Steve Prefontaine costume from a few years back, but I shudder at the thought of running for 4 hours with a wig.  Not to mention, I don’t want to take any unnecessary chaffing risks with short shorts and a tight Oregon singlet.  I’ll leave the costumes to the ½ marathons and the 10k runners.

Speaking of ½ marathoners…my wife Tara, and great friends John (see Paavo Nurmi entry) and Cori Lamberson (see Eau Claire entry) will be running as well.  Because the ½ and full courses mimic each other until mile 8, I will be able to run with them.    The course seems a bit hilly and full of variety.  A map can be found here .  I don’t recall ever running a race that has such a variety of running surfaces (concrete, pavement, packed gravel, and bike trails).  It should be a nice change of pace.

As always, if you’d like to bless the socks off a kid you’ll never meetplease click here.  Even if you can’t donate, think of 5 people who might—and email the link to them.  Thank you for your support!

Check back early next week for the race recap!

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