Running for others, running for self

Endurance runs are an amazing opportunity for goal setting, exercise, fundraising, and reconnecting to self. My friend Carol Chlystek recently completed a half-marathon, and she was kind enough to share her running adventure…..

The nerves that woke me up at 3:30AM started to ease somewhat as I stood shoulder to shoulder with other runners on that beautiful Sunday morning in June.

We were about to start the North Shore Half-Marathon and this was my first endurance race. There were many things to be nervous about the night before…..Would I find parking? Would I get lost on the course? And most of all, Would I finish the race?

Over the past five months I had been training with Team in Training, an organization that raises money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS).

When I received the postcard in the mail from LLS in January saying they were looking for runners for the North Shore Half, I decided to take on the challenge after overcoming an injury that kept me from running for several months the previous year.

I was excited to be back to running and I wanted to do more than run the 3 to 4 miles a day a few times a week. I also have a friend, Denise, who had been diagnosed with leukemia in 2009 and received treatment and a bone marrow transplant in 2010.

She was recovering and doing well, so I thought I would run in her honor. Also, my mother-in-law passed away from leukemia in 1995.

We started training early on a Saturday morning in February. The temperatures were brutally cold, but several people showed up to meet the coaches and others involved in Team in Training (Team).

I met some truly remarkable people. The coaches and mentors (all volunteers) were dedicated to their tasks and some of them had been working with Team for years, which meant they met almost every Saturday to work with people to guide us down the road to an endurance event.

One man lost his mother to leukemia when was a child. He’s run in and coached marathons and half marathons for years to raise money for LLS. At every training, he was friendly, encouraging, and often funny, as were the other coaches.

Besides training, the other aspect of Team in Training is fundraising for LLS. While we were in training, we committed to raising money that is used by LLS to do research about blood cancers and help families affected by blood cancer.

I feel it is an important cause because the treatments that my friend Denise received were much more advanced than they were when my mother-in-law was diagnosed in the 1990s. LLS is an important player in that research.

While there were several sacrifices I made during the five months of training, such as leaving the house early on Saturday mornings to run with the group and missing my kids’ soccer games – but I also gained a great deal from the experience.

I made friends with other runners, and I had a project that was just for me and not for my immediate family. This might sound selfish, but I liked having somewhere to go and a goal to reach that I owned.

They supported me and my husband was my biggest contributor for fundraising, but the running was all about me. As a stay-at-home mom of two kids, having my own “thing” was gratifying.

On race day, when the starting horn sounded, I couldn’t even hear it because the crowd was so large and noisy. I only knew that the race started when the people in front of me started walking, then slowly increased to a jog, then a run.

When we crossed the true starting line, I hit the start button on my watch and pressed the play button on my iPod. I was thrilled to be there! My nerves were still with me, but not debilitating and I eventually found a comfortable pace.

The course was through pretty neighborhoods and there was no way to get lost because so many people were running.

Unfortunately, I lost my friend from Team that I thought I might run with before going to the start line. I didn’t mind running alone though, and I kept my pace, even after a tough hill at mile 7.

The last 4 to 5 miles were hard. My legs were very tired, but I kept going, thinking of my friend, Denise, and all she had endured during her treatment.

During the last mile, several people were walking, but I pushed through to the end and crossed the finish line, still running. I reached my goal and although my legs burned and I felt exhausted, I was exhilarated at the same time.

It was an amazing experience that I will always cherish, but I’ll still go back to running a few miles a day – I’ll save the endurance runs for another year.

The people I met along the way will stay with me because they taught me so much – not just about running, but about dedication and altruism.

For more information on the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and Team in Training, visit the website

Carol Chlystek is a wife, mother of two, volunteer and runner living in Elmhurst. You can email Carol at

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