Back on my birthday, April 27, I ran the longest run of my life. I ran 27 miles to support Laura Baumgardner and her Pontiac, Illinois high school students' annual Run for Respect 5k. My run wasn't a part of a sanctioned race. There was no t-shirt or medal or timer or finish line. Just me and the road and a day of reflection on what it truly means to love and respect others.
I guess it's fitting, then, that a few months after that event, I received a package in the mail from a man I deeply respect. I respect him because he makes it a priority in life to honor people. He makes ordinary people doing seemingly ordinary things feel like heroes. And he rarely does it without pouring his time and heart into delivering that message.
So I wanted to share this package with you. I wanted to show you what it means to go above and beyond the call of love your neighbor duty. The gifts my buddy Bill Manning sent me are priceless. I will keep them forever. But more than those gifts will symbolize my efforts, for me they will serve as the identity of friendship and thoughtfulness.
As I write this, I feel like calling out "Robert, Robert, Robert!!!!, akin to Missy Hepp , trying to get your attention at the Meg's Miles Memorial a few years ago.
I apologize for the lateness of this getting to you, but the old wheels sometimes turn more slowly than I would like, as do the ideas that come into my head.
But, I wanted to take the time to recognize a very important accomplishment of yours, and pay forward a kind gesture bestowed upon me back in 2009.
A very kind and dear friend, Emily Woloszyn, once told me that a marathon should never be completed without a well-deserved and earned medal. And, I was given such a handcrafted medal, much like this one, which I still hold dear to this day.
I am of the firm belief that, aside from ultra marathoners, no one should run 26.2 miles unless it is indeed a part of an organized event. The distances are long, the training is difficult with lasting after effects, and most of us have only a limited amount of them in our bank to complete in our running lifetimes.
So with that being said, please accept this certificate of achievement and accompanying finishers medal.
And here is the backstory:
Date line, 2009. My life back then was indeed on an upward trajectory after some dark days. I was dating my future wife, and even though we were living more than 2,800 miles apart, all was looking up. It was time to start planning on my fall marathon as well as other life changing things. The Philadelphia Marathon was on the horizon for me. The timing was right and I had plenty of time to train. Throw into this the opportunity to travel to Maui over Thanksgiving to spend time with my future wife and family, and it was even better! The plan would be to drive to Philly, run the marathon, and then fly to Maui the next evening.
Challenge #1 - when I went to register for the race, it was - yes, that's right - sold out. And the options for another marathon were very bleak at this time of year. Completing one after a Maui vacation and training in the winter months was not appealing to me in the least.
Challenge #2 - So, after some problem solving and creative thinking, I decided to organize and run my own marathon in Syracuse a week earlier than Philly. The plan slowly came together, and a date was set: November 15, 2009. The course would be an out and back along the Erie Canal Towpath and would be a certified distance course measured and marked by a local certifier for a fee. It even had a name: The Inaugural Left Out in the Cold Marathon
In 2009, Facebook and other social media were just starting to take off, so my options were limited. I advertised on the local running store message/chat board, something along the lines of "come run a local, certified marathon - date, time, and no cost (and no frills either).
Well, as you can imagine, few folks were lining up to take part in this adventure. It was a bad time of year, many had already run their fall marathons, or no one wanted to get involved in this seemingly crazy scheme. All except for one, very interesting and unique stranger that since has become a very good friend - and expert on all things chocolate - Michael Woloszyn!
So, November in Syracuse can be tricky, and can potentially bring all kinds of weather. Race morning came - it was an early start - maybe 6-7 am. There was just one other car in the parking lot when I arrived at the start - I had to assume that this was the only other entrant into this marathon. And, indeed it was. We finally got to meet after weeks of emailing and the like. He presented me with an Official race T-shirt, which I have to this day and have attached as a picture. What a great way to start a race.
We could have not asked for a more perfect day to run a flat and fast marathon. As we started our race in the pre-dawn hour, we came upon something across the canal path. We weren't sure just what it was - something discarded or some trash. But as we approached, this pile - later discovered to be a sleeping bag WITH someone inside it that moved as we ran up to it - it sure got the adrenaline pumping as each of us jumped to either side!! (I found out later that that was one lucky sleeping bag inhabitant........)
They say you can learn a lot about a person from running with them, and this was no exception with Michael. We talked about so many things over that marathon that we never would have had the opportunity/comfort level to do otherwise. Mile after mile went by on a beautiful Fall day.
At about the halfway point, my Mom, Laurel, and my Sister, Peggy, met us along the way with water and fuel. What a great crew and welcomed sight that was! They met us again at the turnaround, and then again at the first point. My sister even ran a little way with us. It was a great recharge as we headed back towards half #2. They also kept Laura Lee informed from the other side of the country of our progress, as no tracking was available.
The only downside to this course was that we had to overshoot our cars and then turn around and finish where we had started. This proved to be a mental challenge that I hadn't counted on, but we forged ahead! I walked a bit, and urged my friend to continue on. But in the true runner camaraderie, the reply was, "we started this together, and we'll finish it together."
My time for that marathon was 4:27:49, and I do know that I came in second place overall and won my age group. But that was not the biggest takeaway. Yes, this was before Facebook and running apps and smart phones, but it was indeed an official marathon on a certified course with a credible witness, so I have always claimed it as one of my accomplishments, as should you friend.
So congratulations Keith on a well deserved accomplishment. It was fun recalling this experience, and I trust you will enjoy retelling of your 27 mile Birthday Marathon in the years to come.
Best wishes as the running and the adventures continue.
Life is like running.