To anyone that is reading this (both of you), I apologize for not providing more content. And now with that out of the way, here is a new post…well sort of.
On occasion I go to a website called Quora.com where people ask questions and others answer. Somewhere along the line when I registered, I must have opted in and receive emails with topics that they think I might being interested in or willing to contribute to. Yesterday I received this question:
I thought about all of the marathons that I have run and a number of them came to mind. But then I really started thinking it through more thoroughly and which one had the biggest impact upon my life and there really was just one clear winner. So I started answering the question, adding a picture here, expanding on a crucial detail or giving background information there and before I knew it a couple of hours had passed and I was still typing away.
For anyone that knows me, no doubt I have talked incessantly and told just about every detail of my story numerous times.That said, bear in mind that I wrote this response aimed toward a stranger that knew nothing about me so I had to provide just a little background information in order for my answer to make sense.
And when it comes right down to it, I suppose I did this for myself.
What is your favorite marathon memory or experience?
This is a (much) longer story than I had anticipated but it does eventually answer the question and hopefully is rewarding. If you want the short answer just scroll down to the bottom where I put it in bold. If you want the long answer, here is my story.
I was overweight for pretty much my entire life. How obese? Morbidly, as in to die. Here I am back in 2005 with my wife Mary. I was 44 and weighed around 320 pounds. I’m short too at 5″6″.
For pretty much my entire life I constantly tried to lose weight via 100s of diets, weight watchers, various weightloss programs (ie nutrisystems, shakes, pills, etc), hypnosis, etc. None of them worked (I justified they failed me and not the other way around) and eventually I put on more weight than when I started.
At my wife’s urging, I finally went to see a doctor when I turned 45 and after examining me she asked “Have you ever considered gastric bypass surgery?” Of course I had because it was the easy way out and had convinced myself that I couldn’t do it on my own. That said, I was surprised that she being a holistic doctor, would suggest the surgery. Her response? “You are the first person I have ever recommended it to”.
Later on she would tell me that I was also the last.
In order to have gastric bypass surgery you are required to attend a mandatory 2–3 hour seminar about the risks and rewards of this voluntary surgery. Along with about 200 other hopefuls, I sat and listened as they described the surgery and it’s many benefits. But when they mentioned that the mortality rate from the surgery and/or complications from it was around 3%, I walked out shaking my head “no”. That was 2007.
On a Monday in May of 2008, after my annual exam, my doctor informed me that, in addition to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, unending heartburn, and everything else that went with my morbid obesity, I was now a type 2 diabetic. That same week, on Wednesday, I found out I didn’t make the cut for the show “The Biggest Loser” (TBL) which I had somehow convinced myself was my destiny. And on Friday of that same week, I found out that my 9 year old niece Julia, who suffers from Cystic Fibrosis (CF), was going back to the hospital, sadly at this point in her life a regular occurrence.
Here she is with her mom at a CF walk.Unfortunately looks can be very deceiving for someone with CF. #youdontlooksick
That Friday night, after receiving the news about Julia’s impending visit to the hospital, I was out cooking some ribs on the grill (one…maybe it should be two racks of ribs for me? I really need to gain more weight if I’m going to get on the next season of the The Biggest Loser). And out of the blue, I started thinking about my life and how I had abused my body to the point where it constantly debated whether it might be easier to just give up and shut down with one final breath. And as I stood there cooking the ribs, I asked myself a question:
How did I get here…
In 1969 my dad ran the Boston Marathon and he always felt it was one of the greatest accomplishments of his life. Even though I was 7 years old at the time, didn’t know how far a mile was, let alone 26.2 miles, I set a life long goal to someday run it and hold it in my heart as an accomplishment.
Or maybe I was just trying to impress my dad…
Unfortunately, almost as soon as I formed my dream of running the Boston Marathon, I started gaining weight. Not morbidly obese but when I was 10 or 11 while shopping for back to school clothes at a department store in Portland,Maine I distinctly remember being described as “husky” by my stepmother when I asked what size I was.
Oh, I should probably point out that my mom died when I was 15 months old so I never knew her. Here’s the only picture that exists of both of us together, at a family Thanksgiving in 1961, taken ironically in the same town I now live in.
Growing up I was told that she was always above looking down upon me, but as I got older, I started to have my doubts. And as I got older, Mothers Day quickly became a day to celebrate other mothers and not mine. And like the colors in the picture above slowly fading away, my mother left me.
But I digress.
There are a number of excuses that I used to defend my weight gain (the “fat” gene, slow metabolism, body type, etc etc etc) but simply put I was eating bad and didn’t like to exercise. This trend continued throughout my life and as I got older, the dream of running Boston slowly faded away, remaining only as a small smoldering ember deep in the corner of mind.
It’s a very long story but after a life long decision deciding to not follow in my father’s footsteps and immediately go to the medical school I had been accepted to, I finally found the courage to call my father and let him know. Even though I had paid my way through college, I feared that I had become a huge disappointment to him and he confirmed it when informed of my decision. The entire conversation is pretty much a blur, but I do remember when he said “Good luck with life college boy”, hung up the phone, and cut off all communication with me. #wellthatwentwell
Eventually, after a few years, we started talking again, but the son that he admired and encouraged to walk in his footsteps as a doctor was only a painful memory and I had failed him. In retrospect, very soon after the falling out is when I really started gaining weight. Not an excuse but just a fact.
That was in 1986 and a few days following the conversation, I moved back to New England from Texas. And even though I moved back East sharing the driving duties of the truck with my brother who had been by my side pretty much my entire life, I still felt alone. Very alone.
I met Mary at a party after I had moved back up to Boston. Even though I was self conscious about my weight and all my other flaws, Mary saw past them and somehow found the good in me. I think this video kinds of sums it up.
And eventually, to the amazement of my friends and myself, she agreed to marry me. #bestdayofmylife
Life moved on, I started working 60–80 hours a week, conveniently forming excuses why I was forced to eat bad and not enough time to work out. I justified my weight gain by convincing myself that I wasn’t THAT fat and that a 54 inch waist wasn’t THAT big.
Regardless if it was for fear of hurting me, frustration, or simply love, Mary never really pushed me about losing weight with the exception of the subtle “Lets join a health club after New Years”, “Maybe we should go to Weight Watchers (again)”, etc. I gave up and this was the result. #whoisthatguywithmywife?
Sorry for the “brief” detour but finally we can get back to cooking the ribs in May 2008 that started this story.
It was a Friday night and as I was covering the ribs with honey BBQ sauce, I had an epiphany of sorts. I came to the realization that I would never get cast for The Biggest Loser. Thanks to the sad state of my health, I might not make it to 50 years old (I was 47 at the time). And Julia might not make it to 15 years old. And that is when the small smoldering Boston Marathon ember that had hidden itself deep in the crevices of my mind so many years earlier, suddenly burst bright with new life, almost screaming for me to do something with my life before it was too late.
And maybe I could win the love of my father back.
I went inside to tell my wife of my plan, she looked at me and I saw her tears as she said “I think it is really important. I will have a friend at every mile”. Might sound contrived but the words still resonate with me and I still get emotional typing these words.
I immediately started going to a club I had joined, started watching what I was eating (only one rack of ribs…) and within 2 weeks had lost about 12 pounds. Obviously I had no idea how to train for a 5K, let alone for a marathon, but fortunately my friend Rick offered to train me. When I asked how much he said “I don’t want any money, just 100% commitment” and that was our agreement.
For my first assignment, Rick told me to find a 3 mile loop and walk it every day for a week. If I did, he would know I was serious and would drive the hour it took him to get to my house the following week.
I drove my car down the driveway, in search of a location 1.5 miles away that would mark the halfway point. When I reached the end of my street, I made a last second decision to go right and proceeded to drive toward the next town, Wellesley. Rick also suggested that my route have a sidewalk on it so when the sidewalk turned left up a street, so did I. As the odometer neared the 1.4 mark, I instinctively made a right hand turn into a cemetery, headed up a steep hill, and made a right turn that I had made maybe 10 times in my entire life.
The odometer clicked to 1.5, the halfway point. I stopped the car and stared at the stone staring right back at me.
A few years ago I received an email from someone in Canada asking me when I knew I would be able to finish my first marathon and I replied that it was the day I found the halfway point.
To those reading this, it may just be simple word or name etched on a stone, but to me and my siblings, this stone and the name “Hope” was known by another name: Mom. And it was on that day, after all these years, that I realized she had never left me, and when I needed her most, she led me to her side. I drove back home content, knowing that she was watching over me. #happymothersday
To be completely honest, when I initially posted this response, I made a decision to leave this portion of the story out because frankly I was concerned that people would find it hard to believe. Until that day, I had never been a strong believer in fate, but everything changed that day.
As agreed, I walked the three miles every day and as Rick agreed, he came out to walk the 3 mile course with me a week later. We had walked 2.5 miles and we were heading home when out of the blue Rick said ” Run!”. I looked at him with a ‘seriously?’ look on my face and he responded with a similar ‘seriously”? look on his face as well. “Uh, yeah, you’re going to be running the Boston Marathon”.
I made it 10 yards and had to stop as I was out of breath and my heart was pounding out of my chest. Again I looked at him, holding back tears, feeling defeated and he calmly said “Every day, start where you started and add a telephone pole”. And that is what I did.
Here I am on June 7, 2008 after a 3 mile walk. On that day (I have an obsession with numbers and the date is 06.07.08) I decided to start keeping track of my weight loss and post it on my (old) website, along with a picture of me wearing the same outfit on the 7th of each month. I did this to keep myself accountable.
Each day I added another telephone pole or two and 45 days later I ran the entire 1/2 mile home with Rick by my side. I started adding more running and less walking and about 45 days later, even though I had only run about a mile nonstop, forced myself to run the entire 3 miles. There were times during that run that I justified taking a small walk break but I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone and never stopped. I am not embarrassed to say that I wept as I walked up the driveway to my house.
I added in swimming, spinning and weights and started keeping track of everything that I ate. For the first time in my life I looked at food as fuel for the body and not seeking happiness from my fat addicted mind. I also added mile after mile along the Boston Marathon route which fortunately is 2 miles from my home.
Was it hard? Absolutely! But I constantly reminded myself that I needed to change and convinced myself that this was my last shot. For the first time in my life I committed 100% to a goal, running the 2009 Boston Marathon, and I focused on it everyday. Helping to keep me motivated, I thought outside myself and embraced that I owed Rick for his guidance, Mary for her undying love and support, and Julia for her inspiration.
Ironically, even though one of my primary objectives was to lose weight, that slowly faded to the back of my mind. Instead, becoming as strong as I could and complete the marathon in a respectable time became the primary motivating factor of my training.
It was no longer enough to FINISH the Boston Marathon: I wanted to RUN the Boston Marathon.
From June 7th 2008 to April 7th of 2009 (10 months) I lost 113 pounds and found myself at 163 pounds. No drugs, no surgery. no tricks but just a simple desire and commitment to right so many wrongs in my life.
And finally, the answer to your question:
On April 20, 2009 I ran all 26.2 miles of the Boston Marathon nonstop. Just before I crossed the finish line, I looked up to the grandstands and saw my friend/trainer Rick, my wife Mary, my niece Julia and my father all smiling at me. And from above I felt my mom, Hope, looking down on me. And that will always be my most memorable marathon memory.
Congratulations to anyone who made it through the story and thanks for reading!
Just in case anyone was wondering, I continue to run marathons and will complete my 50th full marathon (26.2) in November (New York City Marathon). Why do I run so many marathons? For a couple of reasons:
- To let people know (people use the word “inspire” but I’m not really a fan of that word) that you CAN change your life at any point and to live life to it’s fullest. Nothing is impossible if you truly commit yourself.
- To help others, be it helping them get healthy, attaining a goal or running a marathon. People reach out to me (see video below), and just as Rick did, I voluntarily train or give them advice, and if they stick to it, run a marathon with them regardless of where they live.
- To continue raising money for Cystic Fibrosis support and research. I now raise money for the Boomer Esiason Foundation.
- To keep healthy and challenge myself to run faster. If I put the weight back on, I honestly believe I would be used not as an example, but as an excuse for others to not take that first step.
Julia is now 17 years old and unfortunately spends way too much time at Childrens Hospital in Boston. Here’s a recent picture. As I said before, looks can be deceiving as she spent 3 weeks at Childrens Hospital about a month after this was taken. If you want to help support CF you can find a link to my donation page at my website www.RFME.org (look for “DONATE”). I hate posting the link as I am honestly not soliciting donations but a “just in case”.
Finally, below is a video I made to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis when I ran my first Boston Marathon is 2009. It showed my progress and I sent it out to my friends and family in order to solicit donations. About 1.5 years later I received an email from a friend asking if he could repost/rename it. I agreed, as long as any money he made went to CF, and he called it “The Most Inspiring Video You Will Ever Watch”. As of today it has almost 8 million views! Only posting link to put video with the above story. Again thanks for reading.