Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Boston Worthy Journey

I’ve been asked by a few friends to put my thoughts down on just what the qualifying for the Boston Marathon meant to me. It is hard to just do a simple race recap and leave it at that because the qualifying for the Boston Marathon at the 2012 ING Hartford Marathon was the culmination of a journey, not just a race. 

Me and My Girls right before I started to lose Weight.

Every good story has a beginning, and mine is no different. Let’s go back to August of 2008. My daughter’s Emma was almost 3 years old and Abby was just born. At this time I find myself weighing close to 310 pounds and sitting in a doctor’s office getting a yearly physical. The doctor takes my blood pressure multiple times and tells me that my blood pressure is borderline high and if I don’t change something, he was going to put me on Blood Pressure medicine and also warned that I was heading straight toward Diabetes. So I leave the doctor’s office faced with a split in the road. I have two young daughters and a wife that I love dearly and I must decide if I can change my lifestyle or roll the dice that I would be fine. I was scared of the thought of having a heart attack and dying a young death. It frightened me greatly. So the right choice was pretty easy, as they usually are.   

Now that the choice was made, the hard work had to begin. I had no idea how I was going to lose the weight. I had dieted multiple times before and lost significant weight to only gain it back. I knew that in order to succeed, it had to be a total lifestyle change, not a diet. Coincidentally, a new 24 Hour gym was opening at this time, so I joined it. I knew I had to do cardio work and since I KNEW that I couldn’t run because I had a bad knee from playing football in high school. It meant that I should do the elliptical machine. Let me say that starting to do cardio for 30 minutes a day was the most painful thing I had done in a long time. I had also decided to follow the weight watchers point system in hopes to teach me moderation. I knew that I could not give up all the foods that I liked or else I would come crashing down like I had every other time I have tried to lose weight. I had no weight goal, just the hopes to get myself in shape and get my blood pressure down.

Funny thing happened those first few months of changing my life…I actually started to enjoy going to the gym and sweating my butt off. It made me feel better. I gradually increased my time spent on the elliptical machine as I did the level I worked out on. By about 5 months in, I had dropped noticeable weight and I was regularly spending 55 minutes a day on the elliptical machine at the highest level. I became an early riser, getting to the gym at around 4am. Some people at the gym started to call me Elliptical Eddie. I was a constant on one machine from 4-5am. We had a standing reservation. My diet was going well and I stopped counting points by this time. I had also lost 50 pounds at this time. I was well on my way, and for the first time, it was starting to really feel like a lifestyle change. I was doing more things outdoors such as walking / hiking and being so much more active with my family than I ever had been. My quality of life was increasing. At this same time, my tastes as far as food went were changing. Sure, I still had things I liked that were not healthy, but there were a lot of things that I loved such as fast food, that I didn’t care for any longer. I was starting to make healthy eating choices out of instinct.

In the Fall of 2009, I was still cranking along, down almost 110 pounds and routinely hitting the elliptical machine for about an hour a day. I had my first brush with running. I talked about wanting to give running a try to the Dad of Emma’s best friend, Roger Ortega. He had once run a marathon several years ago and was interested in giving it a try again. He had a miserable experience with running his first marathon and gave it up right after that, but was willing to give it a second go. We both live in the same neighborhood, and is wonderful in that it offers many running options and one of the most popular is called the “Mirror Lake Loop”, an almost 5 mile loop that circles the entire neighborhood. We decided that we would do this loop weekly. We met every Saturday and ran that loop for about 3 months. We always talked about signing up for a half marathon, but never did, and running fizzled out almost as quickly as it began. I never really enjoyed running at that time. I did it. I noticed it got easier each week, but I wasn’t enjoying it at all. I always had concerns about running much more than this because I was still convinced it would lead to another knee injury, so I was fine with letting running go and saying that at least I gave it a shot. 

So winter of 2011 rolls along, I have lost all my weight at this point, just over 120 pounds. It has come to maintaining and toning up at this point. I decided to add weight lifting to my daily routine in hopes that it would help me transform my body, especially since I had flabby areas and stretch marks that were on my sides are now close to my belly button. So I adjust my workout schedule to start 3:30 in the morning and I added an hour of strength training. I was now staying at the gym later and making some new friends. One of those happened to be another big Disney Fan such as me, Alex Armas. We would often talk about Disney and other things when we would see each other. Alex was also a fan of running. He talked me into joining him a couple times in the spring of 2010 to do the loop with him. I joined him for a few times. Once again, I was not a fan of running, much less that early. Early that summer, Alex mentions to me that he was going to do the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon and proceeds to talk me into signing up for the race with him that was going to be ran at the first October. I knew about the race from listening to Mike Scoopa from WDW Today Podcast (A Disney World Podcast), and I had a good expectation of what to expect from a Disney race. I thought, you know what, why not. It could be a bucket list thing. But I had never run much over 5 miles and much less 13.1 miles. Every time that I had finished the loop I was tired and glad it was over. I had to have a game plan that would allow me to finish this race. Still being convinced that running excessive miles outside was bad for my knee, I formulated a plan that involved me spending 2+ Hours every Saturday on the elliptical machine going at it hard on the highest level. It was a sweat fest each time I did that, but I felt like I could at least finish the race by time it got to race day.

Alex and I Before the Wine & Dine Half Marathon

So, it is time to run the Wine & Dine Half. I’m completely unsure about anything that is about to happen. I’m studying over the Final Race instructions and reading the runner’s etiquette list that Disney provided in hopes to not make a full idiot of myself. I see on the race map that they have this stuff called “GU” at around mile 8. I have no idea what the heck this was. I knew that this race was going to be an adventure. I’m a newbie in every aspect. I’m even wearing the shoes I worked out hard on the elliptical machine that were nothing more than an old pair of shoes that happened to also be qualified as a running shoe. I get to see Alex before the race started. He was in a better corral than I was, so we went our separate ways. I set out on that race, planning to walk part of it since I was heading to the land of the unknown, and completely unsure of what to expect. What ended up actually happening was transcending to me personally. I have never felt so much energy and enjoyment by being around so many people wanting to tackle the same goal at once. It just felt right. For the first time ever, I was having fun running. I ran that whole race, just about gagged on that “GU” stuff and was able to finish standing up. I was amazed that I was able to run the whole thing. Hitting that finish line was so emotional for me. I can count 3 times I have felt that in running, and this was the first. I finished in just under 2 hours and I had no idea what finishing times meant. I just knew that I was completely exhausted. There was a party after that race in EPCOT, I managed to prop myself up on the stroller, exhausted and sore from the race, but in the back of my mind, I already knew that this chapter was far from being completed.  I was the sorest I had ever been in my life the next day. Every muscle hurt and ever stair felt like a mountain to climb or go down. 

My first Age Group award at the What If 5K

So what do I do when I get back from Wine & Dine Half? I immediately start signing up for the next two Disney Half Marathons (Marathon Weekend & Princess Half) along with about a 5k almost ever y week all the way to Christmas. I convinced myself that it would be ok to run once a week. My knee felt good from the race, so once a week wouldn’t kill me. I start running these 5K’s and I started seeing my time improve every race and even start placing in my age group at some races. I started thinking I’m not too bad at running. Who knew?  I actually decided to add some long runs in and then set out to run my 2nd Half Marathon, again at Disney World. I was starting to believe that I might actually have some decent speed, but I wasn’t sure how that translated to the longer distances. Now, if you remember, I started running originally with my friend Roger. He has also signed up for Disney Marathon Weekend, but he actually signed up for the Full Marathon. Our families have become really good friends by this point, and I would often get teased about running half the distance he was but my response is that I was only Half as Crazy as him. We head to Disney, and I was able to go out and run a very good race finishing at 1:34. I decided to get up the next morning and go cheer Roger on in the Full out Crazy race. A race that up to this point, I knew I was never going to attempt. And I have to say, watching Roger run that race and all of the other finishers, I was moved and inspired yet again. If they could do this, then I could too.

So we get back, and I immediately told Roger I’m in. Let’s train and run a marathon together. This is where my crazy training schedule started. We were going to run 4-5 times a week. I refused to give up my elliptical and strength training, so I decided from that point to get up at 3:10, head to the gym and put 20 minutes on the elliptical and 40 minutes in on strength training and then immediately go run after that. Roger and I start immediately setting an ultimate goal of Boston Qualifying. Every run, every elliptical & strength training session had a purpose. I was determined to make myself better every day. The Boston Qualifying Goal was the ultimate cherry on top goal. There were steps along the way. Roger and I decided the first Marathon we would do together (my first) would be the Georgia Marathon in March. 

At about this same time we started training in early January, I started to become a running addict. I was signing up for Half Marathons left and right and I was craving info on the sport and I was fortunate to find a podcast that showed me a whole different side of running, “The Marathon Show”, hosted by Joe Taricani. It showed me a side of running that I really attached myself to, and it was that anyone can run a marathon if they try and you could actually have a lot of fun doing so. Joe also had a line that I completely sympathized with, and that was “It is about the Finish Line not the Finish Time.” Coming from where I had been, I could not agree more with that statement and philosophy. During this same time period, I had studied up on a running team of Disney fans that ran with a purpose to fight Breast Cancer. I knew that I wanted to give back, and having cancer affect my family directly, I could not think of a better group of people to try and be a team with than Team AllEars. It was co-captained by Michelle Scribner-MacLean and Mike Scoopa. I started to hound Michelle about membership and to make sure I wouldn’t miss the 2012-13 team roster. Open enrollment for the team came up and of course I joined. It was probably the best running decision I had ever made. Being a part of this team has meant so much to me. I now have so many more friends that I love to follow. It feels like a family and I cherish all the new friendships. I have also been fortunate to make several friends from simply being a fan of the “The Marathon Show” and the Facebook interaction on the show’s page.

Roger & I after the Georgia Marathon

So Roger and I trained hard for the Georgia Marathon. Training was going well, so we signed up for another marathon, the Nashville Country Music Marathon in April, just about a month and a half after the Georgia Marathon. By the time this marathon gets here, I had already run 3 more Half Marathons since the Disney World Half. I still was struggling to see how I was going to be able to keep a good pace for 26.2 miles. Every half ended with me finishing glad that I didn’t have another mile to go. We get to race day and Roger and I were able to run a majority of the race together.  I ended up letting him go the last couple of miles. It was an experience that I would never forget. I had to actually stop and walk for the first time ever in any race. I was able to finish my first marathon in 3:30. Roger and I decided to add an additional day of running to take it to 6 days a week following the Georgia Marathon and I proceeded to run the Nashville Country Music Marathon in 3:29. Boston was the goal and the fall was when I wanted to achieve it. I was driven to achieve this goal but I was also somewhat lost on what I should be doing training wise:  whether it be training pace or distances to run. At this point, I decided to take the guess work out of the equation, and I hired a Running Coach, Steve Carmichael, whom I had become familiar with from an excellent running podcast he produces, the “10 Minute Marathon Training Podcast.” Steve does a great job of giving you the “why” behind the actions in his podcasts, so it was an easy choice to hire him as a coach. I started working with Steve in April and it paid huge dividends for me, but not without some doubts.

Running in the summer became a new challenge to me. The heat and humidity would zap me good and Steve had me picking up my normal training pace by about 30 seconds from the get go. By about middle of June, I started to hit a wall. I was getting fatigued and struggling. I had to remember that running was supposed to be fun and that whether I made Boston was irrelevant. As long as I gave my best effort, I was going to be satisfied with whatever the outcome would be in the fall. When I started making my training runs fun again, I started to see improvement in my training pace. Things were getting easier. I was getting confident that I could indeed do this. I ran my first Atlanta Peachtree Roadrace (biggest 10K you will ever see with 60K runners) on July 4th and I finished in top 1,000. I was starting to see the improvement. I went to Chicago just a couple of weeks after that race and ran my best Half Marathon up to date in very warm conditions with a 1:32 finish. I was able to add a sub 19 5K finish and a sub 1:30 Half Marathon finish by the end of September. I was really starting to click. Things were coming into place running wise with my long runs and training runs that instead of shooting for a Boston Qualifier in November at Savannah as originally planned, I decided to go for it in October at the 2012 ING Hartford Marathon.

Just Crossing the Finish Line and Qualifying for Boston

The 2012 ING Hartford Marathon was something that I originally signed up for as a) a training run for Savannah and b) because I had a Team AllEars member, Rich Gairing running his first Marathon that race. After I signed up, we had two more team members, Michael Miller & Charlie Gessner sign up to run that weekend there as well. The day was a cold one, with starting temps hovering around 34 degrees. I was worried how that was going to play with me, but too late to turn back now. In order to qualify for Boston, I needed to hold a less than 7:10 pace. At this point in training, 7:10 was a very easy pace to keep. I wasn’t sure if I needed to go out and stay close to that or go with a slightly more aggressive pace. I decided to feel it out and see what happens. At the beginning of the race, we went under an overpass to the interstate with a sign saying “Boston” and the direction to turn. I knew then it was going to be my day. I started out strong and was able to hold a 6:57 pace the first 20 miles. I knew that I was well under the required BQ pace and I wasn’t quite hitting the wall that I felt in my first two marathons. I decided to slow it down a tad and finish strong instead of going for broke the last 6 miles. My strategy paid off.  I was able to cross that finish line in just under 3:06. I was so emotional crossing that line. The fact that I had Boston Qualified meant so much to me for various reasons. I understand I’m one of a handful of people to have this kind of journey and make it this far. It is something that is not lost on me. I also know that Boston Qualifying doesn’t mean I’m better than others. It just means that I’m fortunate and that I put in the hard work to meet the talent and ability that I never knew I had. It is more of indication of my drive than anything else. 

Anna and I Before the Tower of Terror Race

As my title suggested, the road to Boston Qualifying was a journey. It was a journey that I started way before I actually knew where I was headed. This journey means so much more than just running a prestigious race in Boston in April. It represents so much more. The highlights of this journey do not include any of my finish times. What it does include is all the friendships I have made and time spent with my friends whether it be hanging with Alex & Julie Armas after my first Wine & Dine Half to Laura Ozo, Holly & Dave Aulen of Team AllEars and Richard Peete in Chicago, to having a great friend that laces his shoes up with me most every morning to hit the pavement together with, to meeting and hanging out with Joe Taricani and the Voice of America Rudy Novotny and meeting a ton of team Members at Tower of Terror Race to being in Hartford with Team AllEars members Michael Miller, Charlie Gressner and Rich Gairing in Hartford. This journey has been of epic. I have seen my Mom and Dad recently get motivated to lose weight and start running which saw them running their first 5K this past August. I mentioned there were 3 finish lines I got emotional at. The first and third involved me finishing. The 2nd one involved watching my wife Anna finishing her first Half Marathon this past February. She was never going to run anywhere, but now she has run 2 half marathons and several 5K’s. We have set such a good  and healthy example for our kids to the point that both my daughters love to run races. I pray that this will lead to an active lifestyle filled with much happiness for them. 

Hanging with Joe Taricani of the Marathon Show at the Tower of Terror Race

As you can see, when you come from where I was to this point, you cannot tell it in a short blog post and convey the meaning it has to you. I hope that anyone that reads this comes away believing in themselves like I do and also know that if you put yourself in a cage, you are likely never going to leave that cage. It is ok to believe, try and maybe come up short than it is to never believe and never try. There are so many awards along the journey that your ultimate goal will be like mine….just a cherry on the top.

With my Parents right before they run their first 5K


  1. Eddie, thank you for writing about your amazing journey to a healthier, active, and exciting change of life! What you have accomplished is truly inspiring! I was getting choked up as I continued to read through the post. Losing the weight, getting more fit, and becoming such a strong athlete is all about internal focus, drive, and faith. And you have those three in bucket-fulls!

    As I keep walking (and running) along my own path towards a healthier lifestyle, I look at what you have achieved and remind myself that where I want to go is possible (with or without the pixie dust)! Thank you for being a friend and encouraging presence in my journey. You are amazing!

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words!

      I'm so fortunate to call you a friend and I'm inspired by your journey as well. We are never alone on these journey's, even if it appears that way at times. It takes good friends and encouragement to keep you moving along. Keep doing what you are doing and I have no doubt you are inspiring a bunch of people as well.

  2. You know, you can probably beat me in the 100 yard dash now; but don't forget I'm 61. Of course, I can still beat Michael.

    Great story; loved every line. So very, very proud of you.


    1. It took several years, but I might be able to close in on you even if I can't beat you at golf / bowling / tennis or any other sport ;)!

      It takes a great family to make everything possible and I'm truly blessed in that department. Love you guys so much!

  3. Eddie, I am both, proud of you and inspired by your achievements. Your blog was written with humility and appreciation for those who have helped or encouraged you along the way. The only problem I see with it is that you don’t give yourself enough credit for the unbelievable tenacity and hard work you’ve put in to do what so many think is impossible for them because of age, weight, or other obstacles.

    Since I have known you, you have demonstrated to me, through your actions, evidence of a dedicated husband, a loving father, and a hard worker. Your journey from 310 lbs of obesity to Boston Marathon qualifier is, I believe, merely an outward glimpse of your true nature and dedication to family, friends, and what you believe in. These things make you a great example to others, and frankly I wish more people I knew were like you. You are a high-value person and I’m privileged to have you as a friend. “Set aside everything that hinders you…and run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Heb 12:1

    1. Alex- I feel very blessed to have your presence in my life as well. Your family and you are such a shinning example of all that is right and good in the world to me and others. You convinced me to run, something I was very skeptical that I could do. There is always something that pushes you to make decisions in life...thanks for pushing me.

      Thanks for your very kind words. It really means a lot.