NOW THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT!

12.01.2013

Jetola (Turbojet) Anderson-Blair

Today we have a brand new Guest Blogger, Turbojet by name. Actually, Turbojet by Marathon Maniac ‘handle’, but actually known most of the time as Jetola Anderson-Blair. Although there is some coincidence in the timing with the running of the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K, it is mostly because it was at that event in 2012 where your faithful blogger met Ms Jet and because she professes it to be her favorite.

Here’s the formal stuff. Important, I think, because we so often only know each other as runners. Jetola Anderson-Blair was born in London, Enlgand of Jamaican parents.  She grew up in Manchester, Jamaica and Westchester County, New York.  She ran track in high school as a sprinter but did not begin long distance running until she was 48.  She trains with a hybrid Hal Hidgon and Jeff Galloway training plan. She enjoys encouraging and helping other runners achieve their personal goals.  She’s a former ambassador for the Houston Chapter of Black Girls Run!  She’s a member of the National Black Marathon Association, Half Fanatics, Marathon Maniacs and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.  When she’s not running or engaged in running-related activities, she spends her time taking care of her family and giving back to her community through projects with her sorority and her church, Friendship Community Bible Church.  Her favorite marathon is the Reggae Marathon in Negril, Jamaica.  In addition to running the Boston Marathon, her goal is to run all the world majors and maybe a half marathon in all 50 states.  Her dream job is to be Bart Yasso’s Bag Carrier.  [Ed Note: Bart, are you listening? Bart is a contributor to Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes.]

A journey of a thousand miles begin with a single step. Lao Tzu

In January 2009, I lost a dear friend to leukemia two days after she was diagnosed.  Her death left a gaping hole in my heart and a raging sense of helplessness.  Sometimes I would start crying abruptly when I thought about how I never got to say goodbye to her.  For months following her death, I just had this sense of sadness and a desire to honor her memory in some meaningful way.  The problem was that I had no idea how to do that. For the next year or so, I just went through the motions of living while hurting so deep inside that I couldn’t even describe my pain.

In the spring of 2010 I noticed that a friend was fundraising on her Facebook page for Team in Training (TNT) as she trained for the Rock N Roll San Diego Half Marathon.  I was unfamiliar with the organization but her posts were so inspiring and it felt good to know that there was an organization dedicated to raising funds for leukemia research.  (TNT is the fund raising arm of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.)  When she posted the pictures from the race, I was smitten and a light bulb went off in my head.  I started thinking that maybe I too, could do a half marathon.  The operative word here is “do” as running was not a part of my lifestyle.  The year before, I had started an exercise regime using Leslie Sansone’s Walk at Home DVD’s in my living room and eventually took it outside. By the time I first considered the notion of a half marathon, I was walking regularly on my neighborhood trail and my longest walk was 8 miles….not exactly 13.1 miles.

I reached out to my friend and shared what I was thinking.  She told me more about the organization and raved about her experience.  Basically, each participant signs a contract to raise a certain amount for TNT.  In exchange, the organization provides a coach, nutritionist and training program with regularly scheduled group runs.  My interest was genuine but I was also intimidated…both by the thought of fundraising under contract and completing 13.1 miles.  I filed the idea in the back of my mind but every now and then it would pop up to the forefront.  One evening when I got home from work, there was a TNT post card in the mail announcing an interest meeting in my area.  I told my friend about it and she encouraged me to attend the event.  She also said, “Don’t think about it.  Go ahead and sign the contract.”  Throwing caution to the wind, I signed the contract to raise $1,900 in exchange for a slot in the Aramco Houston Half Marathon in January 2011. 

When we started training, I could only make it to the Saturday morning group runs so I trained by myself during the week.  At the group runs, I was always at the very back of the pack walking as fast as I could, trying to keep up.  The miles were not as intimidating as I initially thought they would be, but the pace was another issue.  In order to count as a finisher in the event, the race required participants to maintain a minimum pace of 13:44 with a finish time of at least 3:00 hours.  My biggest problem was that I could not reach that pace, no matter how hard I tried.  On the few occasions when I did, I could not sustain it and consistently fell back to the 14:10 – 14:14 range.  One morning I voiced my frustration and discouragement to my coach and she uttered these magic words. “Try running for a minute of each mile and that should improve your pace.”  The woman was a genius!  I followed her advice even though it was like climbing Mt. Everest in the beginning. 

By adding the run intervals, my pace increased dramatically; so much so that I ran a 5K at my job and clocked 36:00 with an 11:35 pace.  I was beyond excited!  At last, I felt that I would be a qualified finisher. I found that I really enjoyed running and so the run portions of my intervals were getting longer and longer.   I continued training and fundraising with new zeal.  The fundraising was successful beyond my wildest expectations.  In fact, I raised $8,000 and was recognized as a top fundraiser by TNT.  Race day was fast approaching and I was nervous, scared and excited.

On the morning of January 30th 2011 (two days before my 49th birthday), I stood at the starting line near the back of the pack with my heart pounding like a drum.  It was chilly and drizzling and I was woefully overdressed.  (I had not learned the dress for 20% warmer than start line temperature rule.)  It took about 10 minutes to make it to the starting mat and that was more than enough time to second guess myself.  The start line excitement was electric.  It was equally easy to spot the pros and the nervous newbies like myself.  I was so grateful that a friend who’s a doctor stopped by to check on me, give me last minute advice and pray with me.

The going was very slow at the beginning because of the crowd.  My primary focus was foot placement and making sure that I did not trip and fall in the mass tangle of feet.  I ran for as long as I could and when my breathing became labored, I walked until I felt better.  At mile seven I saw one of my friends who came out to cheer for me.  I ran over to hug her and she told me that I was looking strong.  I wasn’t sure how strong I was feeling, so I was grateful for the encouragement.  I kept going and reminded myself of why I was participating in the madness.  At mile 9, the marathoners split off from the half marathoners and we were now headed in the direction of the finish line.  My friend popped up again at mile 11.  By then, I was hurting and exhausted but my only option was to keep going and I had to tell myself I only had 2 miles to go. 

I was dragging for the last mile but when I entered the finishers’ chute and heard the roar of the cheering crowd, my energy was renewed.  I crossed the finish line in 2:43:01.  When they hung the medal around my neck, I felt like an Olympic champion.  It was one of the proudest moments of my life because I had gone up against a scary monster and prevailed.  By the time I met up with my family and made it to the TNT booth to claim my finisher’s pin, I was hurting all over but I was floating on adrenaline. It was the most difficult yet most exhilarating physical and mental challenge I had ever faced.  I think I fell in love with running and racing at that moment.

Thankfully, I had scheduled two vacation days for recovery because the next day I felt like I had been run over by a truck.  Every inch of my body hurt and I could barely walk but I could not stop grinning.  When I returned to work on Wednesday still walking like a cowboy, I sported a black turtleneck and my medal.  I regaled anyone who dared to comment on it with the endless details of my amazing feat.  One of my clients asked me if I’d do it again and without hesitation, I declared, “Oh, yeah!”  She then told me about another half marathon coming up in a few weeks in one of the area suburbs.  I thought about it for a few days and registered shortly after.

On March 27, 2011, I stood at the start line of the Sugarland Half with my heart pounding but not as badly as it was the first time I attempted such a challenge.  Completing my first race provided an amazing source of self-confidence and greatly reduced the fear of the unknown.  My new mantra was, “You’ve done this before so you can do it again.” That race changed my running life forever.  How? I met a lady who was doing the Galloway Method (i.e. Run/walk intervals with scheduled walk breaks.)  I started running with her at about mile 4 because she was moving at my pace.  We were having a good time chatting and getting to know each other but then she stopped abruptly.  When I asked what she was doing, she explained the technique to me.  I decided that I’d hang with her and see how it went.  We ran/walked the next 9 miles together and I crossed the finish line with a whopping time of 2:18:27!  I was absolutely floored but I did not have time to ponder the miracle that had just occurred.  I hurried to my friend’s house, showered and made it to church before the praise team took the stage.

My bigger surprise was yet to come.  The next day I woke up and nothing hurt!!  I went to work like it was just any other ordinary day.  I wasn’t as obnoxious with the second medal.  I hung it my office and only discussed it if asked about it.  Galloway proved to be the miracle that my running needed.  Instead of running to the point where I felt like collapsing, I started to schedule my walk breaks and take them faithfully, even if I don’t feel like I need them.  It was no longer just about coping with my grief. I was truly having fun.  Both running and racing became a healthy addiction for me. 

Over the summer, I ran several shorter races (including the Peach Tree Road Race in Atlanta) and I was steadily getting faster.  I decided that I wanted to run a marathon before my 50th birthday.  I was on vacation in Italy when the lottery for the Houston Marathon opened so the time difference and limited internet access created a challenge. Things had just gotten real so I had to put my fingers where my mouth was and make the commitment.   In the middle of the night, I used my friend’s laptop to register while praying that I would score one of the coveted spots.  I kept training as if I were already confirmed and at the end of June, I received the e-mail confirming that I was in.   I had 7 months to prepare for my debut in January.    In the fall, I ran 2 more half marathons, a metric marathon (26.2K) and a 30K.  My personal best time for a half was down to 2:02.  While I was impressed with my improved pace, I was fascinated by my fast recovery after each race.  Nothing hurt, so no more Cowboy Stagger for me.

The big day was approaching fast and I was nervous but I had put my heart and sole(s) into my training and I was as ready as I was going to be.  Ironically, I remember having lunch with a runner friend a few weeks before the race and he said, “One day you’re going to qualify for Boston.”  I laughed and told him that Boston was for the Bosa Nova runners, not mere mortals like me.  He did a little Zen Meister smirk and said, “Just wait; you’ll see.”

Race day came and things started off well enough but by mile seven I started to feel a dull pain in my right hip.  With each mile, the pain escalated a little bit more.  By the time I reached the half way mark, my hip felt like it was on fire.  I made a classic rookie mistake and took a Tylenol with codeine which didn’t help very much.  I had fleeting thoughts of quitting but I told myself there was no way I was giving up after working so hard.  The second half was marked by more walking and crying than running.  I was hurting bad and it was hard to miss my agony.  The sag wagon kept hovering by my side like vultures waiting to attack the carcass of a dying animal.  I told them to leave me alone because there was no way I was going home without my medal and finisher’s shirt.  I prevailed and made it to the finish line with a time of 5:00:24 but ended up in the medical tent in distress.  That spring I ran the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon as a redemption race to see how I would do if I were injury-free.  I finished in 4:42 and felt pretty good about it.  I took home my first age group award at a local half marathon.

 Let’s fast forward to the fall of 2012 and my story changes.  I ran the Marine Corps Marathon with the simple goal of beating Oprah’s time of 4:29:15 (a very popular goal among marathoners) but instead of just beating her, I came within 7 minutes of qualifying for Boston!  I was bug-eyed for days.  That race gave me the confidence to believe that I really could BQ (i.e. qualify for Boston) so I set out on a relentless pursuit of said goal.  On February 24th, 2013, as I approached the finish line at the Rock N Roll Marathon in New Orleans, my knees almost buckled when I saw the clock because I knew that the moment I crossed, I’d have a new identity as a runner….a Boston Qualifier.  Somewhere the Zen Meister was smirking with that knowing twinkle in his eyes.

In September, I endured the agony of the registration process and the ensuing waiting game to see my name on the confirmed entrants list.  When it happened, it was an incredibly surreal moment.  Once again, my running identity had changed.  I was no longer a Boston Qualifier; I was now a Boston Entrant.  I’ve had friends and other loved ones try to discourage me from registering because of the bombing at this year’s race.  I had to explain to them that if I didn’t go, then the bombers would win.  That may be hard for non-runners to understand but I know that the running community understands, even though it seems crazy.

In addition to qualifying for Boston, I had a few other running goals, including reaching Iridium status in Marathon Maniacs, completing a 50K, running a 1:43 half (i.e. shave an hour from my first half) and running 1,013 miles.  I am thrilled to say that I have achieved all these goals.  By the end of 2013, I will have completed a total of 13 marathons (including 5 BQ’s) and 28 half marathons.  What is my motivation for continuing to run? The answer is a combination of different factors.  I still do it in honor of my loved ones who are no longer here so I dedicate every run and every race to them.  I enjoy the challenge of pushing myself physically and mentally to achieve new goals.  I enjoy traveling and spending time with my running friends from all across the country.  I love cupcakes and often reward myself with the delicious treats.  Most importantly, I truly enjoy the mind-clearing physical act of running.  I was recently paired with a running buddy through www.whoirun4.com and she is now a new source of inspiration for me.

To sum it all up, I am glad that I found a technique that helps me to get faster while remaining injury-free and having fun.  How long will I keep running?  When it’s no longer fun, that’s when I’m done.

 

Editor’s Summary. There you have it. A very personal account of something quite amazing. Jetola is a very humble person and while I know she loves and revels in her running, I’m not 100% sure she yet grasps what she has accomplished in just a few short years. It has been a pleasure to be able to present her story. I hope it inspires everyone who stops to read it, especially anyone who has ventured here wondering just as she did, whether a half marathon or marathon, or any other challenge is possible.

 

Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes is now also available in e-book format through Trafford Publishing. 

4 responses to “NOW THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT!”

  1. ReggaeMarathon RunninGuy
    12.01.2013 - 10:04am

    Really nice blog post Dan and Jetola. I remember the good times on the beach in Negril last year. Don’t worry Jet…Dan and I will do our best not to let the running and sunning side down this year at Reggae Marathon 2013

  2. RITZadmin
    12.01.2013 - 4:53pm

    That we will Runnin’ Guy, that we will. And, since mostly all I did was the mechanical stuff, I too will say congrats to Jet on a great post.

  3. Donna Abate
    12.02.2013 - 1:41am

    Way to go J…so proud of my sweet friend!

  4. Deborah Crimes
    12.03.2013 - 3:11am

    You’ve come a long way baby and it just gets better and better. Awesome story! Love you my Diva sistah!