It was six months of hard work and determination that helped North Fork resident Kathi Ward cross the finish line after running her first marathon and crossing it off her bucket list. She flew all the way to Anchorage, Alaska just to do so, running to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Ward got involved with LLS through a friend who lost her husband to leukemia. Together, Ward and her friend walked two half marathons. The more people Ward met who had lost someone to leukemia, the more she wanted to become involved. So when Ward heard about the Alaska marathon, she signed up.
Never having been a runner, Ward took advantage of LLS' free coaching. She joined a run team that she ran with every week in Fresno, and when she wasn't there she was running along Road 200 or around Bass Lake. Rain or shine, Ward was out running six days a week for six months. Coaches offered everything a variety of tips from nutrition and injury prevention to what socks to wear and how to hold your arms.
"If anyone was wants to be active and think they can't, you can be a total couch potato and they (LLS coaches) can make an athlete out of you," Ward said.
Ward said people from all walks of life participate in these marathons -- even seniors.
"It's a good way to raise money and makes you healthier and more active."
Ward joined 2,000 racers for the 2012 Mayor's Marathon in Anchorage this summer. Almost like a trail run, Ward said the race began on a beautiful, clear day "completely out in the boonies." Runners ran up mountains, crossed bridges, passed an army base, saw a clear view of Mount McKinley, and finally finished the race in the city.
Ward initially wanted to complete the marathon in five hours, but upon realizing that the first 14 1/2 miles were uphill, Ward didn't think she was going to make her time. She said she never at one point thought she wasn't going to finish, but at mile 25 she saw a leukemia survivor standing beside the trail with a sign and that was all the inspiration she need to complete the next 1.2 miles -- running 26 miles in five hours and 16 minutes.
"It's good to remember the reason you're doing it when it gets hard," Ward said, adding that when the going got tough, she'd think of one those people whose name was on her back -- someone that had suffered from leukemia.
"I never thought in a million years I'd run 26 miles, but it's addictive," Ward said. "It's kind of like cheap therapy and puts things in perspective. It makes you physically and mentally stronger. You realize there are people that can't do this and it made me really appreciate my health."
Ward enjoyed running the marathon so much that she said it was all she could do to stay off her smartphone while vacationing with her husband, Brian, for the next 11 days -- all she could think about was getting on her phone and signing up for another race.
Ward is now training for the Tinker Bell half marathon at Disneyland in Anaheim in January. She plans on being a mentor for the next full marathon in San Luis Obispo.
"I highly encourage people that want to be more active to join team and training," Ward said.
Mark Dorman has been part of LLS' Team In Training for about four years, assisting coach John Volkum, and was one of Ward's coaches. He said he became involved when his wife "conned" him into it.
"The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society sent out postcards and she saw it and got excited and thought how great it would be to run a marathon," Dorman said. "Me, myself, was terrified because I knew how long a marathon was."
Dorman said that after high school, he became a "couch potato," but decided to give marathon training a chance.
"I remember my very first day of training. We were told to run two miles and I thought I was going to die," Dorman said. "A few months later I crossed the finish line after running 26 miles and had an extraordinary time."
During that time he also lost 60 pounds, but gained a love for running, the organization, and the people in it.
Since then he's run 35 marathons and 12 ultra marathons, including a couple 100 mile runs and a 200 mile run. He is running the New York marathon in November and will run the Boston Marathon next year.
Dorman has also coached hundreds of other people training to run for LLS in order to raise money for leukemia and lymphoma research. Dorman says the benefits of joining LLS' Team In Training is that not only can you raise funds for research, but you'll make friends that will help keep you motivated and focused on your goal.
Rosemary Mahoney, LLS campaign manager, said Team In Training is the number one endurance training program in the nation.
"The great thing about the program is that we take people from all different athletic backgrounds," she said. "We take people off the couch that have never done this before to people that have done a marathon or half marathon and want to decrease their time or do it for the cause. It's not about finishing in a certain time, but finishing for those that can't do this. There's nothing like crossing the finish line for someone else."
For information on joining the local chapter, visit www.teamintraining.org/cca