“I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.”
Red – The Shawshank Redemption
Thursday night, September 30, 11:30PM EST.
I have been on the flight to Cairo, via a stop in Frankfurt, Germany, for four hours now and have finally mentally disconnected from the outside world of meetings, presentations to stakeholders, and trying to fit 7 days worth of gear into a small bag. This is what has consumed my life for the past few days. And what a week it has been. The article that ran in the Advance on Sunday had me receiving text messages and phone calls from the least likely of friends and past classmates and teammates from my childhood. Because of this, the race has already been worth it, whether I finish in a great time or break my leg on mile 3. The compassion, words of encouragement and love that I have received over the past few weeks has changed me forever. It made me realize that people open up to the vulnerability of others. Since Mr. Gordon wrote the article and my blogs have been run through silive.com, I have received countless emails and messages from friends, some of which I haven’t spoken to in ten years, opening up to me in ways I would have never imagined. Who knew that all I had to do to re-connect with so many amazing people was to sign up for a long run?!
Before imparting on an adventure like this, you start to reflect back on where you have been and what has happened in life to hopefully give you the confidence to complete something like this. For me, it brings me back to afternoons playing football and baseball at Royal Oak Park on Victory Blvd and Royal Oak Rd. This is where I learned how to be an athlete thanks to the kids I played with (conveniently named the Royal Oak Crew), who are now my group of lifelong best friends. It brings me back to playing football at Miller Field for the Staten Island Pee Wee Football League, baseball for Blessed Sacrament and Mid Island Little League, and onto baseball and football for some amazing coaches at Susan Wagner High School. The relationships formed and the lessons learned along the way is what gives me a small inkling of confidence and the motivation to be able to finish this.
With the race rapidly approaching, there are a few things that I need to prepare for and focus on:
1. The Heat – Temperatures throughout the day are expected to be between 100 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit in the desert, which means I am going to have to carefully control my intake of fluids, electrolytes and food. I expect the heat to slow down my pace so it’s important, especially in the beginning of the race, to acclimate my body to the heat.
2. Food Rationing – The people of Staten Island are a lucky bunch as amazing food options abound in every direction. Due to this abundance of deliciousness, I have quite the voracious appetite. In 8th grade, I ate an entire pizza in about 15 minutes at the house of my girlfriend at the time…. we broke up shortly thereafter. I like to think that it was because I was scared of girls at the time and was probably a terrible boyfriend, but maybe she saw that my stomach was going to “eat” a lot of the family budget down the road. After running 25 miles in the heat, I am going to be starving, but I need to promise myself that I won’t dip into a future day’s food supply no matter how hungry I am. This could lead to disaster down the road if I am running low on food by day 4, especially with 58 miles looming on day 5.
3. Emotion– Anyone who has put their heart and soul into an athletic event knows how pumped they are right before it starts. When I was 12 years old, my pee wee football team had a huge game against our rivals under the lights at the Berry Homes off Richmond Road. We were playing a team that included both George Hassel and Mike Goodman, two of the best athletes to play at Curtis High School over the past 15 years. It was hyped by our coaching staff as one of the biggest game in the leagues history because of the strength of both teams. I remember getting in the game and being pumped. In the second quarter, our team was facing a crucial third down. Playing receiver at the time, I did a quick slant and caught a pass over the middle for 10 yards and a first down. I immediately couldn’t breathe and ran to the sidelines. My coach Gene, father of Chris Lopes, hero of the 1999 Farrell Lions championship game, came over and asked me what was wrong. I couldn’t even make out a sentence and was panting. I asked him to help me… Was I dying? Were my lungs punctured? “Calm down”, he said while smiling. “You’re hyperventilating”. Apparently, I had pumped myself up so much that I couldn’t even function on the field. While I don’t expect to hyperventilate out in the desert, that adrenaline can make you take foolish chances and push yourself beyond your abilities, only to die out halfway through the day. Hours and hours of training goes into something like this and to see it actually come to fruition is a pretty emotional experience. Add in the fact that you are in the desert with 160 strangers, you are running for a cause that you feel strongly connected to, and you just had a week that strengthened your belief that the world is headed in the right direction, and you get a sense of the emotions I am going to feel. I’m going to have to wrap my head around something that will keep me from getting too pumped up.
4. Managing the Distance – Before my first marathon, my father reached out to family friend and famous Staten Island track coach Bill Welsh for some advice on how to handle the race. Coach Welsh said three words: “Respect the Distance”. I have never forgotten those words. They have helped me in the past and I plan to lean on them heavily in the Sahara. It’s going to feel natural to start pushing harder each day if my body still feels good as the race continues on. But that 58 miles is always looming at the end, like a lion laying low in the weeds waiting to sneak up on you and take your head off. Writing this two days before the start, I have no idea how to run this distance. The furthest I have ever run is a marathon…. 58 miles is more than 2 marathons back to back. From speaking with past competitors, they tell me that your guts get you through the 58. I hope they’re right because if not, I’m in a lot of trouble. Only time will tell at this point. .
So that is what I am focused on as I travel over the Atlantic in a cramped seat in coach. I want to sincerely thank everyone who has read these posts and reached out to me with words of encouragement and their own personal stories dealing with cancer and losing loved ones. Your stories inspire me and will keep me going when I think I can’t go anymore. We are all writing our own life stories each day and all of you have made your mark on the pages of mine. And I will never forget that.