“You can do a lot in a lifetime
If you don’t burn out too fast
You can make the most of the distance
First you need endurance”
“Marathon” Neil Peart – Rush (1985)
Back in the day I was a runner. A long-distance runner, at that. I started my running journey when I was an Admissions Counselor at SUNY Buffalo State in 1998. My goal was to lose weight (I weighed 220 pounds at the time). Shortly after I began, a colleague told me about the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training program. This was a fundraising effort that allowed participants to raise money and run in a high profile marathon. I had always dreamt of running a marathon. I was on the cross country team in high school and even had hopes of running the Detroit Marathon when I was a student at General Motors Institute. But these plans were dashed against the rocks once I got involved with drugs at the school.
So, when I learned about the Team in Training program I signed up. Mind you, I hadn’t run more than five miles, but I was bound and determined to achieve this feat. I decided to run the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. in October 1999. There was a formal training program which took inexperienced runners and trained them to go the distance.
If you’ve ever run a marathon then you’ll know that it isn’t just the race itself, it’s the training that it takes to run 26.2 miles. We had an 18-week program that was led by coaches who provided tips and helped to pace us.
When it came time for the race, I felt prepared. My training had gone well and I was excited to achieve a lifelong dream (I was 37 at the time). The money we raised also was used to pay for our flight and accommodations the night before the race. I made it a family affair and was joined by my wife, Suzy, my dad, and my 4-year old daughter, Sarah, and 1-year old daughter, Lillie.
It was a cold, crisp morning with the temperature at start time being about 38 degrees Fahrenheit (roughly 3 degrees Celsius). It was a scenic route that wound through D.C., including Georgetown, and along the National Mall. One of my most memorable images I recall was a homeless man lying on top of a subway grate that had steam rising from it.
In the marathon world, “The Wall” is the metaphorical example of when a person hits an invisible barrier that is enough to break you down. The Wall on the Marine Corps route was at the 20th Street Bridge. This was another memorable moment. I was struggling at this point and I saw a woman runner walking on the side of the course and I said to myself, “That looks pretty good.” So I started to walk. I ran most of the way back and took occasional walk breaks. At the finish of the race, we entered Arlington Cemetery and we ran through a narrow lane that was bordered by screaming supporters. I was walking and at one moment when I turned the corner, Suzy was there with a camera – Busted! So, I started running. The ending was remarkable. The finish line is at the top of a hill and when runners cross it, a Marine places the finisher’s medal on them. I felt elated.
I ran another marathon, Columbus (Ohio) in 2003, with the Fleet Feet Running Store training group. I was attempting to qualify for the Boston Marathon, however I fell short by 10 minutes of the qualifying time (I ran a 3:30). I experienced severe cramping in my calf that made me have to stop periodically to stretch on the side of the road. I was really disappointed but still very grateful for the experience.
I continued to run for many years, however, eventually, my body didn’t tolerate the pounding that caused lower back issues.
The thing that I appreciated so much about running was not only the physical benefits, but the mental and emotional ones as well. For all the years I ran, I never had any manic or depressive episodes. I also developed a love for pushing myself physically. I also enjoyed running with others and developed a bond with special people as we talked along the way.
I eventually transitioned to cycling and rode (and continue to ride) in a Buffalo area cycling fundraiser, Ride for Roswell, which raises money for cancer research and is the nation’s largest fundraiser of its kind. In 2017 (at the age of 55) I rode the 102 mile “Century” ride, which was another feat of perseverance.
All of these endurance events are symbolic of life itself, especially for those of us who live with a mental health condition. It requires a level of dogged persistence and a “never give up” attitude.” It also entails setting goals which requires a person to stretch beyond their comfort zone. This , for me, is what it’s all about. When I have a physical goal, I am able to translate it into the other areas of my life. So, on I go along the road ahead that I’ve never traversed before.