Published October 12, 2017
Waking up at 4:30 a.m. to a deafeningly loud rooster named Alexis while lying on the unforgiving floor of a high school gym in Nebraska is nobody’s idea of a relaxing summer. But while many of her classmates may have spent their mornings cozy in bed, UB student Patricia Lorquet’s early-morning awakening was just part of the routine.
Lorquet, a senior majoring in biological sciences, traded in a summer of internships and resume-boosting for a pair of running shoes and a spot in the deceivingly named 4K for Cancer.
But instead of 4 kilometers, this race spanned more than 4,000 miles, with Lorquet and 28 teammates running from San Francisco to New York to help raise money and awareness for the Ulman Cancer Fund, an organization dedicated to helping young adults affected by the disease.
Each runner was asked to raise a minimum of $4,500 before the run began on June 18. Runners had their own personal fundraising page and access to program coordinators and alumni to help kick-start their personal campaign. Lorquet raised $4,820.
Runners were part of a team based on the city in which they wanted to cross the finish line. As a member of Team New York, Lorquet and her teammates were able to raise $180,000, giving their team the highest fundraising total of the six teams.
“We visited cancer facilities and got to interact with patients,” Lorquet says. “So it was cool to actually see what our money and hard work was going toward.”
Lorquet ran cross-country while attending Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, Queens, and has continued as a recreational runner. But the 4K for Cancer is no high school meet. She trained seven days a week, and unlike high school, she really would be running across the country. To increase their endurance, she and her teammates ran a minimum of four miles a day during the week, with runs that could go up to 13 miles on the weekend. Cross-training also was done on non-running days to promote strength and flexibility in muscles not used while running.
But even with the countless hours of preparation and increasing demands on her body, Lorquet found this seemingly foolproof plan could only prepare her so much.
“When we were actually running, we couldn’t take into account the temperature and the elevation,” she says. “Those are the type of things the training plan couldn’t prepare you for.”
Case in point: As a New York City native, Lorquet is accustomed to running in a relatively flat and humid environment. Consider running through a dry heat wave in San Francisco, or facing a 900-foot increase in elevation over only two miles near Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California.
“The most elevation I’ve encountered is probably 100 to 200 feet,” she says. “So going up 900 feet within two miles was crazy.”
Lorquet and the other 28 members of Team New York were divided into two 15-passenger vans. The 15 in each van then were split into pairs, with the extra person driving the van during that cycle. The first van started from the city the team had stayed in the night before. The first two running partners were dropped off along the route for their two-mile stretch, and the van continued along the route to wait for the first two runners. Once a pair finished its two miles, the next two runners would hop out of the van and begin theirs. Each runner ended up running anywhere from six to 16 miles per day.
The first van continued this routine until it reached the midway point of that day’s route, where the second van was waiting. The first van then drove to the designated host site for the night, while the runners in the second van began running their two-mile increments until they reached the host site. Host sites consisted of churches, YMCAs and high school gyms.
This routine lasted for 49 days; the teams ran on 39 days and rested on 10.
Days were long and physically exhausting. For Lorquet, having a partner to run with made all the difference.
“Having someone with you, having someone to take your mind off the run, especially in excruciating conditions, was definitely comforting,” she says.
There were discouraging times. One day in Wyoming at the beginning of a two-mile interval, Lorquet’s Achilles tendon began to give out. The support in the heel of her shoe had weakened due to wear and tear. She thought she wouldn’t be able to finish, but her partner stayed by her side, doing her best to keep Lorquet’s mind off of the pain.
The runners switched partners every day. New partners meant different running abilities, ranging from novice recreational runners to avid marathoners. But their backgrounds and expertise didn’t matter as much as the reason for being there.
“We were all there for the same reason,” Lorquet says. “We weren’t there to compete with each other or run a PR.”
She says that each morning after breakfast, all the runners gathered in a circle, and one would read or tell a story about a cancer survivor or someone who had lost the battle. Afterward, the runners would go around the circle and name a person they were dedicating their day to. This daily routine was called the dedication circle.
Dedications ranged from a loved one to someone they had just met the day before. Dedications could be repeated or changed each day. Lorquet dedicated most of her days to her cousin, McKenzie, who died from leukemia at 17.
After the dedications, the runners wrote the names of the people they mentioned on the back of their legs in black marker.
Lorquet says the dedication circles helped the runners stay motivated and brought them closer as a team, connecting them with the people they were running for.
And not every day consisted of early risings and long days on the road. The runners used the 10 rest days to sightsee or catch up on sleep. On five of the rest days — called service days — Lorquet and her teammates had the opportunity to visit a cancer center and talk with patients, tour the facility and drop off chemo care bags.
The chemo bags consisted of fuzzy socks, a puzzle book, a notepad, a pen, a backscratcher, a blanket, information about the organization and Lemon Heads, candy that is said to counteract the metallic taste caused by chemo treatment.
Lorquet remembers being moved and motivated by the patients’ stories and their overall resolve to keep fighting.
“After months of fundraising and advocating for young adults with cancer, it was great to meet people the Ulman Cancer Fund was helping,” she says.
On the final day of the run on Aug. 5 — with 26 miles to go — the runners were given the option of taking a shuttle to the last two-mile interval, which started at the Brooklyn Bridge, or running all 26 miles. Lorquet says every runner decided to try to run the distance, and she ran 20 of the 26 miles that final day.
The entire team ran the final two miles together. In familiar territory for the first time in 48 days, Lorquet was at the head of the pack.
“I knew I was home when I started seeing familiar sights and interacting with rude cyclists again,” she jokes.
Upon finishing the last two miles, she was met by several family members and friends. Pictures were taken at a closing ceremony. Runners accepted medals and exchanged memories.
Now well into her senior year at UB, Lorquet is adjusting to student life, eating three full meals a day, going to class, studying — not to mention sleeping in an actual bed. She welcomes her daily routine, but says she’s not done yet.
The demands of the 4K for Cancer could have driven a less-motivated person to stay on the sidelines, but Lorquet is back on the road again, training for the New York City marathon next month.
“The experience let me use running as a way to help others,” she says. “And that was a rewarding experience.”
For more information about the Ulman Cancer Fund, 4K for Cancer and other fundraising trips, visit the race website.