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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Diaz-Gilbert

10 Days After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis, I Circled With Friends at the 2024 D3 24-hr Track Ultra on Mother's Day Weekend and Placed 7th Female

Updated: Jun 1

At the 7am start at Academy Park High School in Sharon Hill, PA. Photo: Jon Gilbert

I love the Dawn to Dusk to Dawn (D3) track ultras. Runners have the option of circling the track for 24 hours, 12 hours, or a 50K every Mother's Day weekend. I have circled the track in the 24-hr event four times now—2019, 2022, 2023, and 2024.

The first time, I was running healing miles for my husband Jon, and the last eleven hours in rain and wind. Jon crewed me as he prepared for his first cancer surgery on Monday morning. The second time, I tackled it in nonstop rain and gale force winds while consuming only a medically prescribed diet of fruits and vegetables for fuel, along with Vivonex, a liquid form of nutrition made of amino acids, to treat my eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE). Last year, I went into the race sleep-deprived as a result of adjusting to our new hens—Faith and Hope—who need to be let out of the coop at sunrise. It rained but not as much. This year, I tackled my fourth D3 with breast cancer that was caught early and ten days before the race, and was blessed with more rain.

There are a few things that seem to never change at D3 and that you can always expect: the weather, the amazing and awesome runners of all ages and abilities, reuniting with members of the D3 family that show up every year, meeting new runners, and the swag. I think this is why we keep coming back.

2024 D3 Weather

The sun on race day morning was blinding. Puffy clouds adorned the blue sky. The air was crisp. I'm always cold and feel most comfortable in layers that keep me warm. A peek at the weather forecast in Sharon Hill revealed the temps would be in the low 60s during the day to the low 40s overnight. Too cold for me. So I layered up with a pair of black running tights, a long-sleeved shirt, a fleece jacket, and pink gloves.

By 9 am and approaching ten miles/forty laps, the cold air was starting to get warmer so I removed my fleece jacket. By about 2 pm, I was boiling, just how I like it. I removed my white shirt and put on a tank. About two hours later, parts of the bright blue sunny sky turned dark and cloudy. I felt whispers of a gentle wind. One side of the track was warm and sunny, the other side of the track was cold and cloudy. Eventually, the gentle winds turned cold and blustery, and the sun went back to sleep.

I was cold and back in my fleece jacket. To protect my head from the cold wind, I pulled out my winter headband and snuggled it around my head.

Photos: Jon Gilbert

By 11 pm, I had logged 50 miles or so. I was cold. I wrapped myself in the blanket I knitted during Jon's 28 days of aggressive chemo and radiation treatments in Nov/Dec 2022. After being in remission since 2020, the colorectal cancer returned. I knitted a panel with remnant yarn every day for 28 days. I am happy to say Jon is in remission and the heavy blanket kept me warm as I circled the track for a few laps while listening to my Spotify music.

My feet were tired. I wanted to give my toes a little relief. Jon massaged my feet, replaced my socks, and helped me to slip on my hiking sandals. And off I went.

The temperature continued to drop, and by 2 am a few gentle rain drops introduced themselves. It was time to put on my lightweight coral color rain jacket over my fleece. By the 3 am turnaround, more rain was coming down. It was time to trade in my light weight rain jacket for my heavier pink rain jacket. I put it over my fleece, opened my pink umbrella, and got back on track on lane three. It rained until almost 5 am. By now I had collected about 64 miles.

When the rain stopped, I removed the rain jacket and closed the umbrella. Jon helped me to remove my wet hiking sandals and socks. He helped me to push my beaten feet back into my Asics. And I continued to circle the track on a cold Mother's Day morning until the clock ran out at 7 am. The dark clouds hovering above and the cold air made it feel like it was winter.

Everyone was glad when it was all over. We smiled. We huddled in the cold as awards and finishers mugs were bestowed on all the terrific runners of all abilities. Some left with PRs or a course record. My new friend Nica Shields set nine USATF 70-74 age group American records. Congrats Nica! Nica is amazing! While the D3 weather is at times frustrating and a nuisance, the runners and the reunions we have each year makes it all worthwhile.

Running Reunion

When I first tackled D3 in 2019, I knew one or two runners that I had shared the course with at other ultras. Five years later I continue to share the course with D3 runners. It is always a wonderful reunion. We share laps, exchange stories, motivate each other, have some great laughs, and catch up on our lives.

First row: With Michael "Gagz" Gagliardi, Kristen Rothenberger, and Debra Horn . Photos: Jon Gilbert Second row: With Dave Johnston and Bonnie Muetterties. Photos: Jeremy Fountain. With Laurie Dymond and Ray Krolewicz. Photo: Jon Gilbert

Food for Fuel

The camaraderie of fellow runners helps to nourish our spirits as we circle with full energy in the beginning and then with diminished physical and mental strength as we stay focused on the finish in any of the D3 ultras, whether it be the 50K, the 12hr, or the 24hr.

Calories count too, and so does hydration. I made and packed organic chicken soup (by organic, I mean no preservatives, additives, food coloring, steroids, hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, and insecticides) with cabbage, potatoes, onions, cilantro, oregano, garlic, pepper, and sea salt. I baked the most delicious chocolate babka made with organic flour, yeast, raw sugar, butter, cinnamon, and I baked artisan bread. I consumed pieces of scrumptious babka and bread throughout the twenty-four hours.

Jon made organic dark chocolate chip cookies with almond flour. He heated my soup and made grilled cheese with my bread in the concession kitchen. I also enjoyed the leftover baked vegetable casserole that Jon made the night before— layers of organic kale, red and green cabbage, potatoes, onions, beets, and cilantro.

To stay hydrated and avoid any potential cramping, I drank lemonade flavor Key Nutrients electrolytes, seltzer, and took SaltStick electrolyte chews. I also had ginger ale made with seltzer and ginger root tea that Jon brewed at home. It was very helpful when I felt a tinge of nausea.

Another Mother's Day Weekend, Another D3 Finish, and a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

It's been a very eventful month of May so far. May marked the first anniversary of my book COME WHAT MAY, I WANT TO RUN: A Memoir of the Saving Grace of Ultrarunning in Overwhelming Times. My 2019 D3 experience, my first track ultra, makes an appearance in my book. I want to thank all who purchased a copy of my book.

Signing my book for Nica. Thank you Nica and Jen for your support. Nica's photo by Jeremy Fountain. Photos of Jen and me by Jon Gilbert

The 2024 D3 24-hr event was my 39th ultra at age 65. I was hoping to surpass my 2023 70.32 miles. Instead, I finished 2024 with 69.88 miles for my healing. But last year I placed 9th female and this year I placed 7th female. WINNING! I was happy. There's always a silver lining.

Crossing the finish. Photo: Jon Gilbert

And I am even happier and so blessed that my breast cancer was caught early. I am very lucky! I'll be writing about my cancer journey, the events that led to the mammogram I should have scheduled last October, my upcoming surgery, raising awareness, and more on my website blog. Please don't delay your mammogram. Schedule it today.

Thank you for all your prayers and positive vibes as I head into surgery in a couple of weeks followed by appointments with the medical oncologist and the radiation oncologist. I am fine. I will remain fine. This is just another blip on the radar.

No doubt about it—ultrarunning is truly my saving grace. And God gives us only what we can handle. Apparently, God thinks I'm a badass!

Super Swag

And while we cannot know what tomorrow will bring, I know that three things are constant every Mother's Day weekend—rain at D3, awesome runners, and super swag. This year's swag—a hoodie to keep us warm, a knapsack to carry all the goodies, an ice bandana to keep us cool under the hot sun, a long-sleeved shirt to protect us from rain, sun, and cool temps, and a mug to enjoy hot soup or our favorite drink as we recover. All useful and practical.

My D3 swag and my finisher's coffee mug with co-race director Bill Schultz. Photo: Jon Gilbert

And this is why I keep coming back. It's the unknown, the rain, the swag, the camaraderie, and the shared joy and suffering that comes with circling laps on a track where we are never alone.

See you next year!

Selfie with Jon.

See the 24hr, 12hr, and 50K race results here.

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