NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk’s Debbie Moran will run her 10th marathon on the 10th anniversary of her first 26.2-mile race in Sunday’s ING New York City Marathon. The memories from her 2002 race, however, will never be duplicated.
Moran completed the race that year 15 months after being diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. On Dec. 31, 2001, having completed chemotherapy and heading for radiation, Moran made the commitment to run the race. She got in through the lottery in June and completed the race. Moran, a kindergarten teacher at St. Aloysius School in New Canaan, will stand on the starting line for the race for the fourth time Sunday. She will run to raise funds for Livestrong. Her donation page is online .
“It was a long journey there,’’ said Moran, who was 33 at the time she was diagnosed. “But it was a thrilling moment. I was so inspired and intent on finishing. It didn’t feel like it was that much effort. I was going on pure adrenaline.”
Moran had running experience but never at that distance. She began by walking. She pushed herself through the winter, jogging and walking to build up mileage. Even when she took 35 straight days of radiation treatment, Moran pushed to exercise.
“I would walk as fast I could,’’ she said. “It was February, it was cold, it was me against the wind. It was just putting one foot in front of the other. It slowly became easier and more fun. There was a lot of trauma to my body and a lot of emotional trauma. Running is a great thing to do for your psyche.”
When she got in via the lottery, she took that as a sign that the she was destined to run the marathon. Moran finished in 4:40 and raised $20,000 for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
“At Mile 24, my legs felt like they were going on me,’’ Moran said. “I just tried to use positive reinforcement and started looking at the crowd. I had my name on my shirt, and instead of running in the middle of the street I ran on the edges. I tried to garner some enthusiasm from the crowd. That gave me the push I needed. Crossing the finish line was amazing. I remember being wrapped up in this mylar blanket by a nice woman and thinking that New York is a great race.”
Her husband and son ran their own marathon that day, taking the subway to see Moran at eight points in the race. “I felt like I had a lot of support the whole way,’’ Moran said. “I didn’t do it for personal achievement. I did it for charity, so that was a great beacon of support for me.”
Since then, Moran has run marathons in Chicago, Boston, San Diego, Philadelphia, Lake Placid and Washington, D.C. She said she was inspired by a book by Lance Armstrong, "It’s Not About The Bike," that talks about his battle with cancer.
She decided months ago to race for LiveStrong, which supports cancer patients as they return to healthy lifestyles. She made the commitment before it was revealed Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs to achieve his seven Tour de France cycling victories. “I am committed to running for Livestrong even though there is all that controversy,’’ Moran said. “I am one of those that they work for.”
Moran runs all distances, and coaches young runners at St. Aloysius. She broke her kneecap running last year, and Sunday’s race will be her first marathon since 2009. Her memory of the 2002 race triggers every time she steps on a race starting line.
“You never forget your first one,’’ Moran said. “It’s great motivation for the other marathons that I run. Knowing that I could get through it in that state, I’m always hopeful that subsequent marathons have the same success.”