Lessons Learned on a 60 mile walk

After the Atlanta Breast Cancer 3-Day in 2008, I limped for a month. I wore my walking shoes every day to try and get to a place where I wasn’t hobbling and popping pain pills. I finally saw a chiropractor about my back and my legs, spent months in physical therapy, got orthotics and learned to be kind to my body. Today is the day after the Chicago Breast Cancer 3-Day. My feet hurt and I have a monster blister on my heel that I’m afraid to look at, but other than that I’m in pretty good shape.

One of the big lessons for me at the end of the 3-Day in 2008 was that I didn’t have to have cancer to take care of myself, the big lesson this year was that I don’t have to injure myself for the cause.

I walked every mile on Day 1 this year – 21 miles. Make that 21 Komen miles which looked more like 25 miles according to the pedometers of other participants. It was raining all day and the temperature was good. It was pouring rain like Day One in Atlanta, so I was happy to walk in the rain. A small blister formed on my heel, so I got a bandaid and took care of it.

That night, my teammate Steph offered me the pull-out couch in her nearby hotel room. I hemmed and hawed, looked at the rain, remembered camping last year and how bad it hurt my back and took her up on the offer. I love the experience of staying in the Breast Cancer 3-Day camp, but loved the idea of a good night’s sleep even better. I took a hot shower, put on my jammies and went to sleep with a romantic comedy on the TV.

In the morning, I swapped my wet shoes for dry shoes and we went to camp. After breakfast, we got on the road and I walked and walked and walked. This time I didn’t force myself to the point of pain or exhaustion and I hopped on a bus that took me from one of the pits to lunch. The spot on my heel was getting worse and it was getting hot. I wanted plenty of time to drink fluids and wrap my ankle.

I walked that afternoon and made it to the final pit stop of the day, then walked about one more mile. My legs were aching, so when I saw a sweep van I put my thumbs down and hopped in. It didn’t matter that it was just 2 more miles, I needed to listen to my body and take care of myself.

That night, my other teammate Tiffiany was coming back to the city and offered me a ride home. Again I looked at the camp and compared sleeping in a tent, packing my gear in the morning, my shoes that hadn’t properly dried out and the pants from the day before I was going to have to wear again. Yes, I took the ride into the city, stripped in front of my washing machine and started day 3 in my own bed with fresh laundry.

Day 3 was the hardest. It was 90 degrees by 9 AM. After walking the first 5 miles or so, again I put my thumb out and got in a van. Too many memories of Band Camp in August heat. There is no reason to kill myself, so I took the can to the pit stop on the lake. For Chicago people – I’d already walked from Lincolnwood to Foster and Rockwell, I don’t think you begrudge me the van.

At that Pit, I had the nurse look at my blister. It wasn’t big enough to lance, but she dressed it for me. Last year by Pit 2, I was practically crying with every step because the muscles in my ankles were strained and felt like they were being ripped apart. To only be worried about one blister at Pit 2 on Day 3 was a major victory for me. I looked at other walkers getting taped, iced and some getting IVs and was grateful that I only had a blister that wasn’t big enough to stick a needle in it.

I walked to lunch which took me through my favorite parts of the lakefront. I joined Steph at lunch, a teammate taking care of herself by taking the van most of the way and walking only when it was safe for her, and then contemplated walking or bussing. I talked to a staff member and said I was on the fence about taking the bus and only walking the final 3 miles or trying to walk the last 7 miles. She said that if I was on the fence, I should take the bus.

I took the bus from Wellington to Navy Pier and walked the last 3 miles. I kept so hydrated that I was searching for bathrooms in between pit stops (in 97 degree heat, that is quite the achievement). While I was walking slow and being passed by almost every other walker, the pain was nothing compared to last year.

Here’s my lesson.

It is your body and the only body you have. Respect it. “It’s not as bad as chemo,” is a great motivator to keep moving, but doesn’t mean you should injure yourself. Listen to your body and take the sweep vans. Listen to the crew and drink water. Eat salty foods. Take care of the little blisters, so they don’t become big blisters. Just because you’re not hurting as much as other walkers, don’t deny yourself medical attention.

The best advice I heard on a Sweep Van this year was, “I’m here to have the experience I want to have. That experience doesn’t include injuries or pain.”

To me this goes hand in hand with my “Permission to Miss Out” theory. I don’t wait in lines at big conferences or stress about getting to the right sessions, because it stresses me out emotionally. I will now also listen to my physical body when I do charity walks and endurance events. The goal, for me, is not to walk every mile, but to have a positive experience. If that means walking half of the miles or a quarter of the miles, then that is what it means.

Oh.

And wear sunscreen.

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