Week 19: Avon 39 – Walking 39 Miles to End Breast Cancer
I was at mile 20 when my leg cramped badly. We’d been walking almost 7 hours and had 6.2 miles to go to finish they day’s goal of 26.2 miles… a marathon. Tomorrow we’d walk another 13.1, a half marathon.
My co-worker Carrie and I had registered to participate in the NYC Avon 39 – a two-day, 39-mile walk to raise funds for Breast Cancer research and programs. Before the walk began the announcer told the crowd that the NYC event had over 3,000 participants from 45 States. Together we’d raised over $6.4 million dollars that would go towards Tri-State area grants for Cancer patient and nursing programs, screening programs and equipment, mobile mammography and breast cancer research.
We’d started at Pier 97 on the West side of Manhattan and walked a beautiful route past the Intrepid, into Chelsea and Greenwich Village, past the Wall Street Bull, near the 9/11 site, over the Brooklyn Bridge and into Brooklyn Heights. Each neighborhood had unique architecture and character. We were entertained and motivated along the way by cheering groups of supporters and enthusiastic event volunteers.
There were HUNDREDS of volunteers. Some lined various sections cheering us on. Some helped us cross busy streets. Some drove Booby-mobiles (vans decorated with giant bras and funny sayings like “grope a wife, save a life”) that drove up and down the route cheering for us and picking up anyone who could not continue. Men and women were all dressed in some kind of pink, many in costumes…. from tutus (yep, even the men) to gorilla suits, to a cow suit and winged pink fairies. Some rode alongside us on bicycles adorned with pink, complete with stuffed bras attached to their helmets and handlebars. Hospitality volunteers stocked frequent water and rest stops with snacks, food, water and Gatorade. Every few miles massages, PT, Chiropractors, Podiatry specialists and medical personnel treated the wounded and offered Advil, Motrin, Tiger Balm and more. All these volunteers worked sun-up to sun-down to ensure we were supported. It was amazing!
Day One continued through Williamsburg and over the Williamsburg Bridge back to Manhattan. It was when we were making our way up the East Side of Manhattan, along the waterfront at mile 20, that I felt serious shooting pains. Stretching did not help but I was determined to get to the end. Carrie was a supportive and encouraging companion, equally determined to make it and to help me continue.
Getting through those last 6 miles on Saturday was the hardest physical and mental challenge I’ve ever faced. Shooting pain from my knee, blisters on my feet the size of Oreo cookies, my right calf and thigh cramping. I felt pain in muscles I didn’t even know existed. But I persisted, motivated by others around me who were walking for mothers or sisters or for themselves because they were survivors (like Carrie). Some walkers were currently in treatment. Men walked with wives and girlfriends who were survivors, or in honor of wives and girlfriends who’d lost their battles. The Avon 39 Youth Crew met us throughout the route. This group of 10-16 year olds had each lost mothers and grandmothers to Cancer. They were cheering for us and giving us high-fives and hugs. Young lives touched by this devastating disease… How could I not finish?
Every 2 minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. 85% of these have no family history of it. More than 40,000 women die from breast cancer each year. These were the figures we’d learned at the kick-off event and were swirling around my head. So I kept going, step by step.
Mile 26.2….. After 8 hours of walking Carrie and I crossed the Day One Finish Line. We felt powerful but exhausted! My leg was throbbing. By the time we were on the bus to the hotel it was seizing up and hurt to touch. Pain shot up my hip and down my foot. At our hotel room my knee had grown to the size of a grapefruit. I had chills. I became seriously worried I may not be able to complete this journey. The thought of another 13.1 miles the next day seemed daunting.
I skipped dinner, took a hot shower, wrapped my entire leg with ice and bandages, raised my feet and fell asleep hoping for the best.
WHOA…. that 5:30 alarm came WAY too soon! I was surprised to find my knee was no longer swollen and I could move my leg. I was very stiff, but I could walk. After a little backwoods treatment of my blisters, I bandaged and stuffed my swollen feet into my sneakers, downed a cocktail of Motrin and Advil and was ready for Day Two. I hoped the searing pain of the blisters would become numb after a few miles. I had not come this far not to try to finish! Carrie had fared far better. Her hips were in pain but she said she felt pretty confident about Day Two. She was motivation for me!!
Day 2 found us walking around the edge of Central Park and then down the West side of Manhattan. Any pain I had was forgotten as we walked with crowds of others who were equally in pain yet determined to make it to the end. We were all motivated once again by the cheering groups of supporters and the wonderful event volunteers.
I realized around mile 31 my legs were warming up and felt better. By mile 35 Carrie and I were excited – we knew we were going to make it. At 37 we were incredulous: “Wow… We GOT this!” Even if we had to crawl we promised each other we’d make it to the end.
Then… Finally… Mile 39. WE DID IT!!!! That mile marker took an emotional toll on us. Exhausted but feeling FIERCE we crossed the finish line together.
This weekend I learned I am capable of digging deep for mental focus, strength and perseverance in the face of an extremely challenging, painful situation. I also learned the power of a motivating environment. There is no way I would have finished if it were not for the support of Carrie, the other walkers and the volunteers at the event.
Would I do it again? We met many repeat-walkers, some who’d done the walk 5-10-15 times. I could see why – it’s a very well-run event with lots of support and instant bonding with the other participants. Plus, you feel a huge sense of achievement when you finish. Walking 39 miles is no joke!! However, it’s only been a few days since the event so I’m still achy and swollen. My legs are still cramping. I may sign up for an Avon 39 in a different city (there are 7 events) but I think I’d better spend more time training before I trying it again!
Update on the Avon39… This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I needed a mental tenacity that I was not sure I had and because I conquered it I now have an inflated sense of my abilities….. like I’m still talking about wanting to do that “Naked and Afraid” tv show ;-). I was so fortunate to participate in the walk. Especially since it was the last Avon 39 ever…. they’re still teaming up to do a walk but going forward they are hosting 3-5 mile walks in local communities, hopefully with the same fundraising impact! If you’d like to check out the walks in your area please visit https://secure.acsevents.org/site/SPageServer/?pagename=strides_find_event They’re going to have the same amazing celebration atmosphere, plenty of swag to purchase, lots of fun and snacks. Check it out and register today!!