Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Stupid Idea

In 2001, on my daughter’s first birthday, I launched my inaugural grassroots fundraiser for America’s Blood Centers by mailing more than 600 letters to friends, family members, and former colleagues. In it, I shared the story of how hundreds of volunteer blood donors saved my life following Clare’s birth, and I asked everyone to sponsor me in the upcoming New York City marathon by giving blood or money, both if they were so inclined. The response was immediate and overwhelming, and soon my mailbox filled with checks and words of encouragement.

And then I received the reply form from a bestselling biology textbook author with whom I’d worked during my publishing career. This is a stupid idea, she wrote next to my bold declaration to run a marathon. Then she proceeded to list all the physiological reasons why it was too soon after my medical ordeal to put my body through such a challenge. I promptly dismissed her concerns and continued training for race day.

Eight months later, I would learn just how right she had been in her assessment of my stupidity. Less than seven miles into the 26.2-mile race, the impact of the street surface on my feet was crippling to my body, which had never completely recovered from the beating it took during my near-fatal illness. By mile 12, I allowed myself to walk – something I’d never done in any of my previous marathons. Somewhere around mile 19, I got a wicked charley horse and limped to the side of the road. I lay on my back on the cool sidewalk and watched the sun set behind the trees above, as my husband massaged my aching feet and cramped calves.

“Should we quit?” Jeff asked, though I knew that what he really wanted to say was We should quit. (I feel it is only fair to state that Jeff categorically hates running; he only ran that marathon with me to ensure my safety should something go wrong.)

“I’ve never dropped out of a race,” I said to Jeff after a good 15-minute rest. “And I’m not about to start today.” I laced up my running shoes, allowed Jeff to hoist me to standing, and limped back out onto the racecourse.

Finishing place in the marathon: 22,756--woo hoo!
By the time I shuffled across the finish line, the sky was pitch black, the bleachers in Central Park had been disassembled and stacked for removal, and most of the fans and race volunteers had departed. My body was broken, my legs could barely support me, and everything hurt.

But, I thought to myself, I did it! I finished what I started!

And then, the prophetic words of my textbook-author friend began to manifest themselves. My right shoulder locked up and remains “frozen” a decade later, my right arm unable to reach above shoulder height. One by one, the rest of my joints – ankles, knees, elbows, my other shoulder – began to deteriorate over the ensuing years. Arthritis set in, surgery was performed, pain medications prescribed, joint replacements discussed.

So okay, I’m finally willing to admit it: Running that marathon was a stupid idea. And once in the race, yes, I should’ve dropped out when it was clear my body was not doing well. With the benefit of hindsight, age, and arthritis, I now understand that not all races are meant to be finished. Sometimes, for the sake of our long-term health, the best course of action is to quit.

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun while it lasted. 

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Lauren's book, Zuzu's Petals: A True Story of Second Chances (In The Telling Press, 2011), was the #1 Top Rated memoir on Kindle for 7 straight months. Hardcover copies are available at, or signed copies can be ordered at Happy Reading!


  1. Nothing wrong with the idea of wanting to give back to those who at one point put out for us. But, it's also a story about what we all tend to do - we chose sleep rather than being present. Sleep takes different forms, but all are equally as devastating. Thank you for the reminder of the urgency to Be in NOW.

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