Walking has been the one constant in my life with respect to exercise and has kept me in pretty decent shape. Over 12 years ago though it truly changed my life and took on a whole new meaning. In the aftermath of my friend Bonnie's passing I made a commitment with one of our oldest friends, Annette to participate in the Susan G. Komen 3 day 60 mile walk in San Diego - www.3theday.org. I had heard about this from a co-worker who had participated many times before. It was a shared spontaneous moment based on the realization that life was forever changed for Bonnie's family and friends and we wanted to do something to make a difference.
MY JOURNEY BEGAN...
We had no idea what we were in for. It was not only a physical challenge, but mental and extremely emotional as well. No amount of training could have prepared us for what was ahead. 1st time walkers, me and Annette taking a lunch break (smiling because we had no idea the steepest hill of the walk was just ahead):
I'll never forget making our way out of the ceremony area - a huge crowd slowly and methodically narrowing down to a thin stream of walkers so they could scan our badges as we left the gate. People on both sides lining the path thanking you and touching hands as you walked by... random hugs from that one person who could see the tears in your eyes. Men, women and children cheering you on - and we hadn't even started walking yet! I remember thinking, "why are they thanking us?" Such a diverse group of people bonding over one horrible word... so many stories.
Wanting the full experience we opted to stay in the tents provided on the camp grounds each night. Each morning we would rise, have coffee and eat at their huge breakfast buffet then head down the path for the 18-20 miles ahead of us for the day. Along the way were perfectly timed rest stops with drinks and snacks to go, as well as port-a-potties. First aid for every need. Lunch was provided every day. There are volunteers who watch you and provide the pick me up at the right moment - loud music, megaphones, or stop to give you a ride if you were struggling to ensure you would make it to the lunch or back to camp by a certain time. It was an extremely well executed event. It is overwhelming to say the least.
I'll never forget rolling into camp just a little after the sun had gone down that first night feeling so accomplished but aware we needed to find our luggage and still setup our tent. We came across not only our luggage placed for us but our tent had been set up as well. Wow... I couldn't get over how well organized this event was for being so large and the kind volunteers - who were these amazing people? If you've never experienced camping there, it was well worth it (once lol.. more on this later).
If you are going to walk 60 miles, I cannot think of a more beautiful place - San Diego is amazing. The community was so welcoming and supportive. It was common to walk through a neighborhood and have people waiting outside with candy, a snack, or even ice cold beer shots. One kind lady even offered her bathroom to walkers. Being from the Bay Area, it was especially awesome to see the San Jose PD representing - they used to volunteer their time to be a part of this event - wearing their pink proudly and so committed.
We did not organize teams, but many people do. You will see men and women of all ages on this walk. You can organize teams or walk solo which I did a few years. I wasn't sure how I would feel about it, but I found it so therapeutic and good for my soul. I personally enjoyed the solitude to be alone with my thoughts, but coincidentally met one of my dearest friends on a solo walk who lived in my city - shout out to Marianne! What are the chances of that happening in the midst of thousands of walkers - it was meant to be!
These guys are at every walk showing their support!
The final ceremony is, well, there are no words. Hopefully, one day you will get to experience it yourself. I stayed one extra night in San Diego the first time and remember waking up and just feeling like a badass! I actually walked all over downtown San Diego for hours.
I walked my 5th 60 mile walk on the 10 year anniversary of losing our dear friend - it was a special walk as I also walked for my sister-in-law who was cancer free 5 years. My daughter Brittany walked with me as a gift for my 50th birthday, and our friend Joanie also walked her first 60 mile! I have been blessed to have shared this experience with friends and family who have walked with me, supported me emotionally and helped my fundraising over the years on this journey. I am forever grateful. My last walk symbolized many milestones in my life and it was bittersweet feeling as it may be my last 60 mile journey, however it is now a part of me and I will forever be connected to the cause. And, will never say "never" as there may just be another walk in me.
Me and Brittany after walking up a steep neighborhood hill.
Joanie, Brittany and me :o)
Here are a few things I learned and wanted to share:
1. Sleeping in the tents - I do believe everyone should experience this at least once. I'm sure many do so every year but for me however sleeping on the ground was harder on my body then walking. Since the walk is in November it can get cold at night and is dark earlier so rolling into camp and navigating the cold, showering in portable showers, is just not that enticing for me. You can spend time at camp enjoying the amenities, eat dinner (they provide entertainment), etc. and stay elsewhere. Year 2 I had a system - My husband would pick us up when we arrived back to camp, take us for a good dinner and cocktail, then to a motel close by so we could sleep in a cozy bed and have a warm shower. In the morning we would be dropped off early enough to eat breakfast at camp, grab coffee and head out as soon as they allow. NOTE: They do have to scan you in and out of the campsite so they can keep track of walkers so they will ask you to check out if you stay outside of the camp. Every year they do lose a few who choose to party a little too hard outside of camp but I don't recommend it. There is lots to do at the camp as well as entertainment and a hot meal :o)
When you arrive at the kickoff ceremony in on day 1 you will bring your luggage (if you are staying at the campsite) which they organize by last name and take off your hands. Their volunteers are amazing as I mentioned and will spend hours setting up tents and distributing your luggage before you arrive at camp. Sharing tents and more on all of this is also on the website.
2. What to Bring - The Susan G. Komen website www.the3day.org provides great detailed information and checklists of items to bring with you. Keep in mind you do have to carry whatever you pack, so beware of how heavy it is. I'm not a fan of fanny packs (do they still make those?) only took a small lightweight sack similar to these.. http://www.slamglam.com/sport-sacks. This is what I carry:
Extra pair of socks, ibuprofen, lip balm, sunscreen, money/debit card, my phone, sunglasses. If you carry a water bottle you can fill it up at the rest stops. If you don't like to carry one, you can grab water and sports drinks at ever rest stop also. They provide bandaids, and other first aid items at rest stops throughout but I also carry a few. I like to travel light and know my limitations, but you should read the lists provided and decided what is best for you.
Lots of people carry small radios or play music off their cell phones. I tried using an arm band to hold my phone one year but my Galaxy is so large it turned out to be more of a pain and not worth the hassle. I would much prefer wearing a flip belt below now that I know how comfortable they are and there is a variety available now.
3. Safety - For safety reasons they do not allow earbuds and frown upon texting, chatting on phones, etc. You can always step aside to make a call if you need to. Remember, there are thousands of people walking so depending on your pace and the area you are walking through sidewalks and paths can be very crowded.
San Diego PD on the hill at camp next to the pink tent which honors those we've lost to this horrible disease.
4. Weather - One year I experienced a downpour. There isn't anything to really protect you in this situation. You just power through. Each day we arrived back to camp drenched Having a rain poncho just in case will definitely help and of course due to the crowds umbrellas are just not an option. Needless to say you can expect to get wet so I highly recommend having a spare pair of shoes. Check the weather before you go!
5. Clothing - The weather in November in San Diego is beautiful and typically a cool breeze will be present, however it can also be extremely hot. Mornings and nights will be cold but days can be extremely warm. I typically wear yoga pants or workout leggings, a thin long sleeve shirt with a short sleeve or tank top underneath or in my sack just in case. The walk starts early a.m. and it is cold but once you get going, if the sun is present, you will warm up quickly and probably start taking off layers. I never wear a jacket as I don't want anything I will have to wind up carrying, unless it is so thin it fits in my sack. I always wear a hat and sunglasses. Again, remember to check the weather for rain, as that will impact what you wear. Camp will be cold at night, so bring warmer clothes in your suitcase to walk around camp.
6. Costumes - It has never been my thing to dress up for the walk, but for many it is the norm and you will see some really elaborate costumes and decorations on people. They are abundant, outrageous and really fun and extreme outfits, and decorations are pretty common. I always wonder how comfortable it is to walk wearing all that stuff in the heat though as some of the hills are grueling and well, I just prefer simplicity. Just do YOU.. whatever that is!!
7. Training - I did not train, but I walk regularly and have been doing so for years. They have coaches that arrange "training" walks in various areas. Of course good shoes, socks, and tips for preventing blisters are all things to consider. I can say I walked 4 walks and never had a single blister but my last walk had a few extremely painful ones - I had done nothing different that year so you just never know. I've had friends also encounter the same thing.
8. What if I don't finish - You have registered, raised money for the cause and showed up! You will Finish!! Finishing together is most important so along the way if there are parts of the walk you cannot complete, they have "sweep" vans that are constantly looking for walkers in distress so they can pick you up. Even if you cannot walk a full day, you can still complete the walk and participate in the closing ceremony.
9. The Closing Ceremony - every year I've walked my parents make the trip to San Diego to wait for us at the finish line. There is a holding area at the end of the walk where you check in and collect your t-shirt, take pictures, etc. You can meet family and friends there. You have done it and should feel so proud! It will be overwhelming so be prepared. After the last walker has arrived, all the walkers are organized to walk the last 1/2 mile to the ceremony site together. I will not share anything about the ceremony as there are no words for how powerful and emotional it is. You can experience this for yourself.
I cannot say enough good things about the Susan G. Komen 3 Day. It was well organized and well executed. The volunteers and staff are amazing and always smiling and encouraging. Anything you could possible want to know including routes, preferred hotels, etc. is on their www.the3day.org website - but the above are some things I learned along the way.
If you are looking for a cause or a challenge - you will not be disappointed :o) Feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions - firstname.lastname@example.org