A different kind of marathon experience

Team Tiara on the run!
It was last year at this time -- I was training for the Boston Marathon through the cruel Chicago winter, and finally managed to squeak by the qualifying standards and earn my spot at the starting line.

After years of speed work, long tempo runs and the apprehension of starting every race with qualifying in mind, I was ready to approach this race with a relaxed attitude.

I wouldn't have to keep track of my splits, didn't need to obsess about pre-race nutrition or worry over what would happen to my time if there weren't enough port-a-potties. Every time I went for a long run, the mantra "have fun" circled in my head.

Visions of tiaras

During one 20 miler, after the batteries in my MP3 player died early on, the idea of a tiara popped into my mind. I'm not certain where it came from, but the more I thought about running in a tiara, the more I thought it sounded like fun.

A tiara ... something to "cap" off my Boston experience; the opposite of sweating, straining, pushing, muscles, messy hair, melting make-up (if there is any makeup), smelly tights and salt-encrusted singlets stained with Gu. A tiara seemed like the opposite. And, judging from the silly smile I couldn't seem to wipe off my face, it seemed imperative.

Like all wacky ideas, I decided this one would be even more fun if I could find someone else to embrace it along with me. A colleague from work, also training for Boston, thought it was perfect. I convinced a volunteer group I was involved with to don the tiaras, en masse, in public.

Strangers approached us, asking, "What can I do to get a tiara?" Soon it became apparent that many of the women I knew were looking for a reason to plop a crown on their heads. I felt like I was on to something.

Girls on the run

My first partner in tiara-wearing and Boston-bound buddy, Heather, was running the race to raise money for Girls On The Run, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating and preparing girls for a lifetime of self respect and healthy living.

Girls On The Run trains 8- to 12-year-old girls to run their first 5K race, and teaches life skills that help the girls develop healthy habits and an active lifestyle. Through this program, the girls are challenged physically, mentally, emotionally and socially.

The Boston Marathon seemed like a perfect opportunity for Heather and I to don tiaras on behalf of the girls and raise funds -- and the fun level -- together.

We ran a few training runs in tiaras, to ensure that there was no chafing, and found some pink running skirts that looked truly fabulous with the fluffy boa on our tiaras. Our athletic, tomboy, runner sides got in touch with our girly sides. Along the way, we thought, why can't we be both? We were dressed, trained and ready to run.

An unforgettable experience

On race day, Heather and I made our way to the starting corral in matching tiaras, skirts and shirts. Our outfits drew curious looks from the runners around us -- it hadn't occurred to us that we'd be doing this at the granddaddy of all races. I'm sure our wide smiles made it apparent that we meant no disrespect, and our muscular runner's legs and official Boston bibs made it clear that we belonged there too.

This race was one I'll never forget. Like all marathons, it had its moments of pain and exhilaration. For me, there's nothing like running with thousands of others and fulfilling my dreams in the company of like-minded souls. I love running.

This race was different. I was wearing a tiara; a small, silly little thing, right? Not quite. Over the entire 26.2 miles, I never felt alone. I never went more than a few steps before someone from the crowd yelled, "Hey princess" or "You go, diva!" Children jumped up and down for us. Little girls and women gasped delightedly when they saw us.

My cheeks hurt from smiling and my arm was sore from all the high-fiving hands offered my way. My husband and family, there to support me, found me easily among the runners and cheered more loudly than ever.

Beyond the finish line

Usually my favorite part of the marathon is the finish line, not only because I get to stop, but because it's a place where the word "impossible" simply doesn't exist. I wish I could live every moment of my life in that space.

My favorite part of the Boston Marathon came later. Heather and I got our pictures from the race. They show us, two tomboys turned tiara-wearers -- a different kind of diva. From that picture, Team Tiara was born.

Last fall, at The LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon, 77 athletes came together with tiaras on their heads and running shoes on their feet. These amazing women (and a few men!), embraced our idea and ran with it, raising over $50,000 for Girls On The Run.

Team Tiara is now the official charity running leg of the organization, and we're looking for new members. There are many great reasons to join us -- special benefits for Team Tiara members, making a difference in the lives of girls, and the support of a fantastic organization.

But one of the best reasons is the ability to do something that's different and out of the ordinary -- something like running a marathon for a great cause, wearing a tiara and a hot pink singlet. It just might be the experience of a lifetime.

For information about Team Tiara,
please contact teamtiara@girlsontherun.org,
or visit the Girls On The Run Web site at www.girlsontherun.org.

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