This is it… this is where I begin.
Years ago, if someone would have told me that one day I would run a marathon, I’d have said they were crazy. I was bordering on “overweight” and could not even run a full mile without becoming winded and walking.
I entered my very first, official 5K race at the recommendation of friends, as it was set up to benefit the National EMS Memorial Service whose aim it is “To remember and honor those Emergency Medical Services personnel who have died in the line of duty and to recognize the ultimate sacrifice they have made for their fellow man.”.
I did not train or prepare myself for this race, after all, “It’s only 3.10 miles”.
Let’s just say, I arrived on race day unprepared for what this was going to feel like. My performance was less than stellar, to say the least, but I did finish this race, regardless. I never have been one to quit when faced with something I want to accomplish. This race was a reality check for me.
As a Paramedic, someone whose job it is to care for others, I felt that I should be holding myself to a higher standard of health and physical fitness. I did, however, thoroughly enjoy the positive and supportive atmosphere surrounding this race event and all those participating in it; runners, walkers, and volunteers, alike. This event, in and of itself, helped to “light a fire” in my heart…which has now blossomed into a passion for running and racing.
I began to strive to lose weight and become more physically fit, primarily with running, supplemented with weight training for strength. I focused on running another 5K race without walking. Then running another 5K in under 30 minutes. Next, I pushed myself to medal in my age group. This cycle continued, progressing further, to the 5 mile race distance, the 10K, the half marathon in Pittsburgh 2013, and on to the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2014.
In training for Pittsburgh, I began to learn the details surrounding the Boston Marathon. I began to take notice of how different this particular event is; how runners must train hard and qualify to run this race and then hope that they qualified with enough room to spare in order to earn an invite. It was terrifying to watch the events of Boston 2013 unfold, as I paid attention to this historic event for the very first time in my life. I ran the half marathon in Pittsburgh with a tribute “Boston Strong” bib pinned upon my back. The following year, it was incredibly inspirational to watch Meb Keflezighi return to Boston and witness him winning Boston for the people of Boston and the U.S.A..
As I proceeded to take on the marathon distance, myself, here in Pittsburgh, Pa., I began to reflect on what it would be like to be one of the relatively few runners that qualify for and run Boston. I quickly wrote myself off as one of those people capable of doing so, as my finish time in Pittsburgh revealed that I would need to shave nearly an hour off my marathon time just to qualify. I did not believe that this was physically possible for me.
I am not a “fast” runner. “Speed” has never come naturally or easily for me. I am, as we say, a “middle of the pack” runner…and that’s okay. The views from here are beautiful and the experiences profound. Thus the running quote: “Go fast enough to get there but slow enough to SEE!”. I have always been an advocate for such running/racing. However, I have, also, always been the kind of person that needs a goal. I enjoy the commitment, the training, the discipline that comes from pursuing a goal that is just slightly out of reach and requires a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears in order to achieve. The satisfaction gained from success in such personal ventures is unlike anything I have ever known. So, in place of the Boston Marathon, I set my sights on running a half marathon in all 50 states plus D.C., and a very personal goal of breaking the 2-hour mark in the Pittsburgh Half Marathon.
In the years that followed, I ran the Jazz Half Marathon in New Orleans, Louisiana, the Rock & Roll Half Marathon in Las Vegas, Nevada, the USA Half Marathon in San Diego, California, the Presque Isle Half Marathon in Erie, Pennsylvania, and the Baltimore Half Marathon in Maryland. I succeeded in my Pittsburgh Half Marathon goal in 2015 with a time 01:59:56. I then began to pursue a new goal of completing my first ultra marathon, with the help of my friend, Joe (aka “The RocketMan”). Joe plays a very important role in my decision now to chase Boston and to pursue personal greatness on every level – but especially in relation to my running and racing. He is my inspiration, my mentor, my coach, my “father figure”, and my friend. He motivated and strengthened me, mentally and physically, sending me motivational quotes, daily and weekly workouts, as well as, videos to watch to inspire me further; many of them being old boxing matches involving the late, great Muhammad Ali. All through the winter months of 2015 and into 2016, we trained.
On March 19, 2016, we set out on the roads of the North Park lake loop together to complete the Lt. J.C. Stone 50K ultra marathon. It was a phenomenal experience and truly broke through the self-imposed barriers that I had set in my own mind in regards to what is and is not possible for me. Completing this particular event made me realize that NOTHING is “impossible”. This lead me to question my goal of running half marathons in all 50 states. Truth be told, I really had no desire to actually do this. It simply replaced my desire for Boston, and diverted my attention from this, as I had mentally decided that Boston was an unattainable level of performance for me. Joe disputed that mind set with story after story of his own personal experiences of running, racing, and the 17 times he tried and failed to secure his own BQ. He was determined though and he never gives up. He has run Boston so many times since then and every marathon he runs is with the goal of a BQ time. (And he runs A LOT of marathons!)
So, there we were, in the 29th mile of the ultra marathon and I was in a very dark place in my mind, as the final miles of any long distance event are, as I say, ”what nightmares are made of”. This is the point where every runner asks themselves WHY?
“WHY am I doing this? WHY do I care? WHY does finishing this even matter to me?”
The answers here are very personal and matter only to the runner himself/herself. In this pivotal moment though, I never once gave up or gave in. Joe recognized this drive, this spirit, in me almost as if seeing himself in a mirror. At this point, he made the decision to make certain I chased and succeeded in qualifying for and running the Boston Marathon. He took my dream and has made it his own, vowing to not stop and to never give up until WE succeed in my goal.
I once saw a race sign that said: “To run an ultra marathon you have to be arrogant enough to believe that you can and stupid enough to try.”
Well, now that I had accomplished THAT, the only thing left hanging in the back of my mind as an “impossible” thing for me to accomplish was Boston. And so it began… the seed was planted. Joe watered the thought every time we spoke, cultivating the groundwork he had laid in my mind by devising a plan, detailing stepping stones along the way.
Now here we are, starting me out on a base training program to prepare my body for a marathon PR in Pittsburgh 2017, followed by intensified training to help me bridge that gap towards my own BQ. The road will be long and the climb to such a marathon time will be steep, but it is no longer “impossible” in my mind. It will take time, intense commitment, discipline and drive, as well as, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears…but I believe that if I give it my all and never, ever give up, eventually, I will succeed. I believe that I can and I am comforted by the fact that Joe will be here with me every step along the way.
What an incredible day that will be when, battered and bruised, but by no means defeated, we soar across that finish line, eyes on that clock, and can say: “DID YOU SEE THE CLOCK?! WE ARE GOING TO BOSTON!”
And so it begins…