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About Steve Wagner

My running and athletic career began on an an icy spring morning in 2006, when I found myself at the start of the Fargo Marathon as a newspaper reporter. For more than 10 years, my inclination was to head home from work, plop down in front of the television and unwind from a long day. Weekends might include a round of golf, a little mountain biking and an occasional hiking trip. For several summers, I spent summer weekends on the lakes of Minnesota, chasing walleyes, and I'd take an annual pilgrimage to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. But the start of the marathon changed me, even as a spectator. The positive vibe and contagious energy prompted a simple vow: run something, anything, the following year. A group of co-workers graciously agreed to run the 26.2-mile relay. That experience prompted me to start entering smaller local races and then a half marathon. Soon, against my initial objections, I began training for the 2008 Grandma's Marathon. My journey as a runner began then, serving as a greater purpose than the destination. That journey continues. The path has taken me to the starting and finishing line of 15 marathons. During my journey, I've found a true passion for the path less traveled, particularly country roads, trails and the Ragnar Relay series. To this end, my running isn't about destinations, rather discovering my limits in an experiment of one. It also opened the door to possibilities, and piqued my interest in triathlons even before my first marathon. In July 2012, I finally jumped into the world of triathlons, completing a first sprint event. Now I've set out to compete in more triathlons, while staying true to my running passion. Along the way, I hope to discover new horizons, learn more about myself and break through personal boundaries.

The ending

“For me, a day without running is like a day without eating. It’s like going without food.” – Haile Gebrselassie

A streak only means something to the person chasing it.

And ultimately it only matters if the streak is effective in reaching some greater goal: better fitness, faster times, weight loss, stress relief or whatever a runner needs it to deliver.

In my case, I needed a streak to push through physical injuries, and if I could do that, regain my running mojo. My first attempt at a streak came up short in June. Then, I gave into the fatigued and snapped my effort in July.

But starting July 18, and every day since, I’ve laced up my running shoes and logged more than 4 miles in the buildup to the New York City Marathon.

Until today.

After 103 days, the streak is coming to an end.

As my consecutive days streak extended past August, I struggled to find meaning in its ending. Failing to find some justification or profound symbolism to stop it, I just kept running. It’s possible another one like it may never come again. Along the way, though, I learned a lot about myself and discovered the strength to push past preconceived boundaries.

There were many, many fatigue-filled mornings in which I wanted to let the streak expire. But its ending, I determined, needed some significance. As September offered up exceptional running weather, my goal was to reach my birthday in early October and let the streak end. But with mileage goals firmly set, the early morning runs continued to the dawn of the New York City Marathon.

The following numbers provide some insight on the streak and my training over the past 4 months.

Consecutive running days: 103
Fewest daily miles: 4.13
Most daily miles: 23.48
Total miles: 877.54
Average daily miles: 8.52
Consecutive weeks with increased mileage: 11

Other notable statistics during training
Consecutive weeks increasing long run: 15
Monthly mileage records: 2 (263 in August, 287 in September)
Number of consecutive 200-plus mile months: 4
Weight loss: 26 pounds

Now it’s personal

“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Far removed from adventures on both coasts, and 15 marathons, I found myself at a crossroads just 5 months ago.

Unquestionably, I reached a low point as a runner – weight gain, self doubt, a lingering ankle injury and lack of motivation. Each run brought excruciating pain shooting through my legs. It was going to take a lot of work to regain fitness and a passion for the sport.

A series of events then played out in May:

  • On the morning of the Fargo Marathon, I tried to talk myself out of running the half marathon. With my friend Jason battling cancer, though, I knew there were no good excuses to skip the race, even if it was going to hurt.
  • Next, trips to the chiropractor and a physician helped determine the source of several ankle and foot issues while ruling out structural damage.
  • Finally, accepting that I wasn’t going to be the same runner as I had once been, I decided to just be consistent. Run every day, even if for only a few miles.
Soon my thoughts turned to running as many days consecutively as possible. There were days off, but those made me even more determined. Along the way, my focus turned to enjoying the sport, not running fast race times.

Weeks and weeks passed passed. No weight loss. I bought gym shorts for my workouts because I couldn’t fit into my usual running gear.

My mind raced, covering a variety of topics, while during Saturday long runs on gravel roads south of town. Sometimes I wondered if it was always this difficult. Other times I doubted whether I could run twice the distance to complete a marathon again. At times I remembered Jason’s battle with cancer, moments when my mom was still alive and fun times with Riley, who had ran with me while training for each of my previous marathons.

There were so many times I wondered if I would consider my past good enough. Would I actually be trained enough to run the New York City Marathon? And I vowed that I would not go there simply to complete it – going through the motions is simply not in my DNA.

Along the way, running became very personal to me. Fitness improved but I couldn’t outrun my thoughts. My body didn’t break down during training. Instead, my legs felt stronger each week. The weight began coming off. Running became a little bit easier, even during the oppressive humidity of July and August.

My goals began to build as I aimed to run more each week, each month. I logged two-a-days with the Wild Hog training group on Wednesdays. I fought off fatigue to keep my streak of consecutive running days going. Perseverance never seemed more powerful.

So when my co-workers gave me a big send-off this week for New York, my voice cracked and I struggled to hold back my emotions. Running has become personal. Training for this race has been personal. The journey has been a symbol of what its taken to get to New York, and how I’ve been shaped and influenced in all my life. That history is captured in this video slideshow.

Little pieces

“We may train or peak for a certain race, but running is a lifetime sport.” – Alberto Salazer

In a sport like distance running, there are moments of triumph. There are moments of despair. The highs and lows are separated by quite a bit of solitude, and sometimes, a whole lot of monotony. Along the way, we owe it to ourselves to stop and appreciate the blessings we have.

One of the reasons I wanted to work at the Grand Forks Herald was the sense of family and camaraderie among the people who work there.

In a surprise gathering, the Herald family gathered in our community room, formed a finishing line and cheered me to a terrific send-off for the upcoming New York City Marathon.

When my boss showed up in my office to chat this afternoon, and asked me to follow him to check out something, I was a little bit cynical. As I followed him, I began asking questions about what was going on in the community room.

The advertising department had some going on, the reply came. But why were newsroom people there? I heard something about food. Why wasn’t I invited? Maybe I wouldn’t invite them to the election night pizza party – a longstanding tradition in newsrooms across the country.

My boss used my whining as an excuse to check out what was going on. It took a moment to figure out what was going on, even with all my co-workers holding signs and cheering. I was punked. It finally sunk in. A makeshift finish line awaited me on the other end of the room, with high fives and a water bottle handed to me along the way.

Nothing short of impressed, I took a few minutes to say a few words. I’ve never been to New York, and years of running have set the stage for this opportunity. Along those 26.2 miles, there will be difficult moments. Every race presents its tough stretches. But the support back home, here in Grand Forks, will make the tough moments easier to overcome.

In the coming days, my journey to New York City will unfold, and it will be difficult to describe many of the emotions behind this race for me. Running can be a powerful, and personal, journey. It has been path of perseverance and I will carry little pieces of my life with me through the marathon on Sunday. And some of those pieces, like this unexpected send-off, make it all the more sweeter – thanks to the Herald family.