This past weekend at the Philly Challenge can be summed up in one word “UPLIFTING.”

On Friday Kristy, Caroline, Annabelle and I drove out to Blue Bell, PA for registration pick up and dinner with some Team Jersey Shore Area for LIVESTRONG members.  During registration we ran into some good friends like social media voice of LIVESTRONG Brooke Mcmillan, LIVESTRONG Leader Eric Wenner and his wife Sharon.  It is always great catching up with the LIVESTORNG family.

I registered with $5700 raised for LIVESTRONG.

We had dinner at PJ Whelihan’s near the Challenge location.  We enjoyed the few hours of laughs and conversation with Eric, Sharon and fellow LIVESTRONG Leader Bryan McMillan.  Minus Annabelle’s crankiness all had a good time – even Caroline stayed busy with coloring.

On Saturday morning we were up early for the 5K run.  We got there 1hr early and there was hardly anyone there.  Normally at this time there will be too many people there but this year it seems people came a little later.

As the announcer asked for all participants to the staging area Kristy, Caroline and Annabelle found a prime spot at the start/finish line while I went to the 5k staging area.

The 10K runners went first followed by us 5K runners/walkers.

As the start of the 5K came I was standing next to Mr. Peanut (Planters Peanuts) and that was good knowing that I was about to start of the run with two nuts J!  I could not resist saying that.

The horn sounded and we were off.  It was nice being able to see Kristy, Caroline and Annabelle as I ran by giving a “high-five” to them.  It was not too crowded but I was not able to find my pace until we made it to the road.  There I was able to run at my own pace which I was surprised to find out was a good one when seeing what others were doing.

I think my pace was really set from those around me during the 5k.  It felt great.  I ran the first mile relatively fast, my guess is sub 9 minutes.  At the 1 mile mark I slowed to a fast pace walk for about 20 seconds to catch my breath and then started to jog again.

Throughout the run I did that about 4 times.  My pace seems to be a good one, but I have yet to master my breathing where I am comfortable to keep running, but at least I never stopped.

As I came down the home stretch out of the residential area and into the college I knew I has about ¼ mile left so I just ran the best I could.  A few hundred years away from the finish line I saw one of New Jersey’s finest LIVESTRONG Leaders Tom Donner taking pictures. 

I continued on and saw my family there so I ran over and “high-fived” the girls right before crossing the finish line.  I ran in the survivor lane an received my yellow rose and then proceeded to see my family and friends as they came over. 

It was a feel good moment for sure!

Bryan proceeds to tell me I did good and was about 10 minutes behind his time which was around 27 minutes.  If this were accurate I would have run the 5k in 37 minutes which greatly surpasses my goal of 45 minutes.

I later received the information on the LIVESTRONG blog about the chip times and I ran the 5k in 34 minutes which is a sub-11 minute mile average.  This blew me away!  Feels so good knowing all the work I have been doing is paying off.

Post 5k run my right foot was extremely sore.  I could barely walk on it.  Went back to the hotel to clean up, get lunch and let the girls swim in the pool while I rested my foot.  I will admit I was getting concerns about the ride, but I was certainly still going to do it.

Saturday evening Sal Bongiorno (NJ LIVESTRONG Leader) and I attended the LIVESTRONG Challenge Philly fundraiser appreciation dinner for participants who have raised over $3,500.  It was a great event to hear some emotional and powerful experiences while loading up on carbs for the Sunday cycling event. 

A funny thing happened at dinner.  We randomly sat at a table that already had 4 people from Connecticut sitting there.  We joined them and started talking about the event and fundraising.  I go to mention to them that they should look up one of our LIVESTRONG Leaders, Roger Levesque, and sure enough one of them knew Roger and Roger told her to look at for me and other Leaders.  It’s a small world!

Sunday I was up early to meet Sal for the ride over to the Challenge ride.  Sal had to deliver one of his bikes for the VIP guest speaker to ride so we got there early.  Kristy and the girls would head over a little later so they did not need to get up too early. I told Kristy to come over around 11am as I would probably take a long time. I also told her I would text her a the rest stop around mile 12.

After parking I tested my bike in the parking lot and the gears we remaking a funny sound, but I said go for it and did not worry about it too much (OK maybe a little after breaking down in 2007.)

I met up with Tom Interlante (NJ LIVESTRONG Leader) and his family in the 20 mile staging area.  It was nice to finally meet Marge and Nicole.  We were soon joined by LIVESTRONG supporter Rose Menton and RI LIVESTRONG Leader Mary Asselin.

As the 20 mile ride started I was hyped.  All I could do is remembering breaking down in 2007 so I wanted to finish it this year.  Cross the finish line!  Feel a sense of accomplishment.  Knowing I had the hurt right foot had me doubting at the start, but I was ready.

The first 3 miles was a slow go.  People were bunched up and I was trying to stay with Tom I. and Mary.  I found myself being able to go faster so rather than stay slow I went at it by myself.  I felt bad for leaving Tom and Mary, but one thing people like Sal and Tom D. have told me is “go at your own pace.  Thus I was off.

The first half was relatively easy.  There was only one hill which got the better of me as I had to jump off and run the remaining 20 feet and jump back on the bike and start peddling.  It was funny seeing some of the diehard cyclist jump off so at that point I did not feel so bad, but I also said to myself not to get off again.

After my fight with the hill I did great.  I made up time and passed a ton of people and though it is not a race it did feel good to make up the ground I lost.  I realized at mile 12 that was making very good time, much better than I told Kristy.  So good that I skipped the rest stop and kept going.  I also did not text her.

The way back on Morris road had several large uphill climbs, but none more challenging then the one hill I had faced earlier.  I rode the last 8 miles with a woman whom I never met.  We briefly spoke, but it was great to have someone with a similar cadence/pace as me on the way back.  As we came up to DeKalb Pike I asked her what her name was.  She said it was Sharon.  I said “Hello Sharon.  My name is Brian Dowd.  It was nice riding with you.”

That is when I saw the police officer waiving us on to cross so I sped up to 25MPH as I crossed the rode towards the Challenge location.

As I entered the finish line area I was overcome with excitement and joy.  I was about to complete and cross the finish line of an event that has meant so much to me over the year, but I never finished it when truly competing in it.

I gave a high-five to LIVESTRONG supporter and Challenge volunteer Rich Ehrmann right before crossing the finish line and getting my second yellow rose of the weekend.

It was right at the time of getting the yellow rose that I realized that I finished this much fater than I though.  I looked at my active time on my bike and it said 1 hr 38 mins.  I immediately went down to get some water and call Kristy to tell her.

As it turned out Kristy, Caroline and Annabelle were sitting at the light of DeKalb Pike when flew by doing 25MPH.  They were able to see me.

I waited for them to park and come by and gave out lots of hugs once I saw them.  Nothing better than seeing them and the shock on their face that I completed it so fast.  Though I would have loved seeing them at the finish line I must say blowing away my own expectations for my completion time more than made up for it.

That made two days in a row I exceeded my own expectations.  I hope to do it again next year, but until then I have a Mud Run to get ready for in September.

I walk away blown away by another inspiring and empowering weekend.  Thank you to LIVESTRONG staff and volunteers for the great job this past weekend.