As I jogged through Central Park on a dark and cold ING NYC Marathon morning it occurred to me that perhaps the last time I was in a similar position in Manhattan was over a dozen years ago when I was almost a hundred pounds heavier. My first race was New Years Eve 2000 when my sister and I rang in 2001 with thousands of other New Yorkers at New York Road Runners’ Midnight Run. It was so cold that night the sparkling cider on course froze! I had no idea at the time that ten months later my second marathon would be the incredibly emotional post 9-11 NYC let alone that a decade later I would win my first USATF 100 Mile National Championship.
October was a bizarre month for my family, me, and my running. It was bittersweet to be back on the East Coast with my family. We celebrated the marriage of my cousin Becky only to put my father on hospice and mourn his passing a couple weeks later. I ran but I wasn’t able to race. I am familiar with loss and death. Losing my father though was different because he was around since as long as I can remember. He nicknamed me the “Champ” when my head, not the ego I have now, was so big the obgyns had to use forceps to pull me out. The most painful part wasn’t my own grief but having to watch my sisters lose daddy and my mother lose her husband.
I skipped UROC: Ultra Race of Champions to spend time with my father. I ran every day, sometimes twice. I needed the runs. Barefoot speed sessions on the high school soccer field across from my father’s nursing home and exploring the trails of Tarrrywilde manor in Danbury allowed me to be happy and present for my father and sisters. My dad and I listened to Reggae music and Ian Corless’ Talk Ultra program. Memories of those weeks are precious as the beautiful autumn weather cooperated with our pizza picnics so my nieces could enjoy time with Papa Ed. I will always remember my dad as the ambitious happy father who hiked into the Grand Canyon with me as a kid with no plan as to how hard the hike up would be. When his blood sugar dropped I had to run ahead to get him some orange juice and candy bars.
The irony that I was running at the moment, 8:01 am, my father took his last breath isn’t lost on me. I didn’t know at the time as I was only at mile 9 of West Virginia’s Freedom Run Marathon. The federal government shutdown forced Mark and his crew to modify their course. The double out and back run was not as historic or scenic as the course where I won my 2010 Road Runner’s Club of America West Virginia State Marathon Championship but it did allow runners to support each other. Wardian won and I ran solid at a pace I planned to use the next weekend in Pennsylvania at the USATF (USA Track & Field) 50 Mile Road National Championship. After a week of services and tears though I could not bring myself to race Tussey Mountainback. Instead of lacing up my flats and trying to better my 2010 silver medal 5:52 performance on a faster course I supported my family and watched my niece sing her first song in choir at church, this little light of mine. I am glad I decided to sit out. Family comes first.
The week leading up to the Marine Corps Marathon was refreshing but also emotionally draining. Peter Zander’s film crew picked me up for shooting pre dawn. Experiencing the behind the scene making of an artistic driven piece of my experiences through a cinematographer’s eye was emotional. Visiting the places Jen and I called home with a camera following me around was strange but I feel Peter’s story will inspire. Allowing him access to my soul and memories though was exhausting emotionally as the wall I build up through running was torn down. To Peter’s credit his professionalism shown through as he confirmed my availability in the midst of our mourning.
Working with Team Red, White, & Blue was also a healing process for me after my father’s death. After clearing out my father’s room at the nursing home I got to run with members of the CT chapter and a few days later participate in a Row-a-thon. The chance to cheer runners on in our Nation’s capital was a huge motivation. Having marines on the course handing out water and thanking us for running was very special. The morning after as I jogged through Georgetown I teared up a bit. I remembered how my dad and I traveled together looking at colleges when I was seventeen ultimately deciding on College Park. My father was a rock for me in my early years of my life. He was a role model to me the way he balanced family and career. “It ain’t fair you died to young” are the words of a country song that resonates in my heart.
A visit to the Arlington National Cemetery to pay my respects to my father’s parents was followed by a tour of the Under Armour headquarters on Baltimore’s Harbor with Gabe, my Team USA teammate from 2011 & 2013. After a late lunch where I tasted some delicious pumpkin beers we headed up to the lake in Pennsylvania. A good nights rest in the peace and quiet of the country at the lake house was followed by a chilly morning run on the frost covered trails and dirt roads. An afternoon with my nieces picking out their pumpkins for Halloween ended a great weekend a very special friend, my Barbie Doll 🙂
When an alarm goes off at three in the morning something big is happening. I have run enough races and done enough shift work in my life to almost be tuned out to the early mornings, but when the chance to run with Team RWB’s founder arises you can’t help but be fired up. Ten pre dawn miles out and back over the Bear Mountain Bridge from West Point was a great way to start the day. We talked about Team RWB’s growth and mission to enrich the lives of America’s veterans through healthy physical and social activity. Trail Running Camp in Texas and the Old Glory Coast to Coast Relay were also topics as Mike Erwin’s contagious energy pumped me up enough to go visit and wake my sister before her classes. Later that night a very long day came to an end as we paid our respects to my sister’s best friend’s father who also passed on. After as I shared a drink with my best friend Ray I realized how lucky and blessed I am to have such supportive friends and such an amazingly loving family.
Over a dozen years ago my baby sister, Cynthia, would wait for me on runs when I was overweight and out of shape. Both her and Jen were big reasons and inspirations I decided to take the necessary measures to improve my health at twenty two. The ING New York City Marathon week was amazing as always but maybe even more so because of Hurricane Sandy and the tragedy at the Boston Marathon in April. Thanks to Achilles International mand New York Road Runner’s Athletes with Disabilities program I had the chance to guide blind Chilean runner Christian on his tour of the big apple. The most memorable parts of my time with Christian wasn’t his incredible race day performance but the pre race perpetration. The guy can flat out run too as he dropped solid 6 min miles effortlessly through Brooklyn & Queens.
The expo was packed as I stopped by the Hoka One One and Polar Heart Rate Monitors booths. Dinner with Christian and his guides at the Achilles function was an incredible experience. Saturday morning came early as retired Marine Tim McCall gave me a ride back into Manhattan to join Team RWB NYC as the NYRR partnership was announced. Saturday afternoon my niece has another bouncy castle birthday fiesta, and by Saturday night as I tucked into bed for another three in the morning alarm I felt like I had already run the marathon.
I am off traveling again on what promises to be yet another epic adventure to Texas and Costa Rica for La Ruta. Two months on the east coast with my family and old friends was an experience and a journey in its own right. As I board another flight I wonder if my roots and the leaves from the trees here in the tri state area will bring me home for good? I am not sure if it is time to slow down my life in the fast lane but I know I will be back in time for the turkey and stuffing, and a certain special five year old has talked me into helping her open Santa’s presents after Christmas.