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.

The epic and the unknown

“But I also realize that winning doesn’t always mean getting first place. It means getting the best out of yourself.” – Meb Keflezighi, winner of the 2009 New York City Marathon and 2014 Boston Marathon

There is no other event like a marathon: the energy, excitement, personal triumph and inspiration are unrivaled. It peels back the layers to reveal the best of the human spirit.

At the same time, there are no guarantees for the runners, and numerous unknown factors, from training, weather and whether the body can withstand 26.2 miles, no matter if one has completed the distance before or not.

A large marathon is a marvel, and I’ve been fortunate to run them in Duluth, Fargo, Twin Cities, Huntington Beach, Phoenix and Chicago.

I’ve never forgotten the excitement, grandeur or magic of Chicago, among the world’s major marathons and one of the largest.  After the 2010 race, I set my heart on running the New York City Marathon. Last December, after 3 consecutive rejections, I received guaranteed entry into the race.

There’s no city like New York – it represents America and freedom in a special way. And there’s no race – the largest marathon in the world – like the one the city hosts on the first Sunday of each November. Last year, more than 50,000 people finished the race. It’s the most international race – about 51 percent of its participants annually visiting from a country other than the United States.

Four years in the making, the New York City Marathon journey is nearly complete. Through training, I’ve attempted to repair my body and renew my own spirit – the process has proven to be redemptive and reassuring. Along the way I’ve encountered many miles and roads to rebuild myself as a runner. Now all that’s left is to embrace the epic New York City experience and conquer the unknown of my 16th marathon.

Here’s a video slideshow recapping some milestones and moments of my journey since last December.