Attitude of Gratitude
My story starts in March of 2012 when my best friend and best man Chris passed away from Melanoma at the age of 29. At that time, I wasn’t a runner — I considered myself scrawny and unathletic, and I hadn’t run since middle school (with the exception of one or two 5ks in law school that I hadn’t trained for).
For some reason, losing Chris made me want to run again — I think it had something to do with the fact that I was still here and could run.
I think I did a 5k and a 10k in the fall of 2012 but my training was modest — just a few weekend runs and then went out on race day and gutted it out. I didn’t have a group of friends who ran or a team to help keep me accountable or to teach me how to prepare for a race. That changed in 2013. I decided at some point during the winter of 2012-2013 that I wanted to take on the Broad Street Run. However, when I went to sign up I saw that there was a lottery. I had already made up my mind that I was taking on Broad Street, so I didn’t want to leave anything to chance. Fortunately, I noticed that American Cancer Society had a team called DetermiNation that allowed you to fundraise $500 or more in exchange for guaranteed entry. And I would be fighting cancer in memory of Chris. I joined immediately.
Through DNation I found a wonderful team of athletes and cancer-fighters who ran together every Saturday morning in Philadelphia. Our entire team for the Broad Street Run has been around 800+ runners strong the past two years, but it was the core group of 10 to 15 DNation coaches and athletes who showed up to the group runs every weekend that helped me embrace running. By the time the race rolled around I had no doubt I would be able to tackle my first 10 miler. I had a wonderful day on Broad Street in 2013 and I was hooked on running and racing from then on.
In 2014 I ran Broad Street again, but decided that I wanted to continue increasing my distance and take on the half-marathon. I ran the rock and roll half and Philly half in the fall of 2014. That year, I joined DNation as a volunteer coach and committee member, and I was more into running than ever.
About a month before the Philly Half, my last best friend’s dad Gary met someone who would further inspire me to get into marathoning — three-time Boston champ Bill Rodgers. Gary had met Bill in Orlando earlier that year at a short charity run/walk. Bill is very friendly and an all-around great guy, and he spoke with Gary about a shared family connection with cancer and his son Chris. Bill mailed Gary a signed copy of his book “Marathon Man” and a signed pair of Sauconys to give to me. Bill’s book is fantastic, particularly in its descriptions of the famed Boston Marathon course, the New England road running tradition, and how everyone thought runners were crazy in the 1970s. Gary also told Bill that I would be at the Philly Marathon expo and we set up a time to meet at Bill’s booth. Gary and I both got a chance to chat with Bill about running and get pictures with him, and Bill autographed a finish line poster from Boston 1979 for my daughter.
Almost immediately after meeting Bill at the expo, I went to the expo booth for the New Jersey Marathon to sign up for my first 26.2. Race day was at the end of April 2015 and I decided that 2015 would be my marathon year. I wanted to represent DNation Philly in my home state of New Jersey, and I dreamed of getting a time that was close enough to a BQ to make Boston tangible for the future. Around Christmas 2014, I started training on my own, using one of the DetermiNation training plans from the Philadelphia Marathon — which many of my teammates had just finished. Training started out great, but hit a snag in February when I spent two frenzied weeks preparing to handle, and completing, a weeklong trial in federal court — my first trial as a private practice attorney (in ice-covered Easton, PA). Fortunately the case settled while the jury was deliberating and I could once again run during the weekdays. By March, I was back on track with my training.
When race day arrived in Ocean County, NJ, I was incredibly jacked up for my first marathon. I even met two runners from DetermiNation’s NYC chapter that morning. It was beautiful sunny day and my wife, daughter and parents were there waiting for me at the hotel we rented — right at mile 17 (which was also mile 20). Unfortunately, it was a tough race. My stomach didn’t want to take in the necessary nutrition to get through the race (I hadn’t done enough training with nutrition), and my pace slowly started to drop around mile 15. Negative thoughts were creeping into my mind, with way too many miles left. By mile 20, I was alternating between walking and a very slow jog. My legs felt dead. Pace groups were passing me. This had never happened to me before in a race. I managed to keep up appearances, running a little bit around mile 20 on the boardwalk to high-five my parents and get a pretty decent looking picture. And I ran through the finish. But the rest of miles 19 through 26 were not fun.
It didn’t take long after that race for me to start looking for redemption. The first thing I did was find a coach. Fortunately I didn’t have to look far. Matt DiCarlo of Cadence Cycling and Multisport was already involved with DetermiNation, and had coached one of my closest DNation friends, Roy “Attitude of Gratitude” finish multiple triathlons, including a 70.3 mile half-ironman, in his 60s.
Everything that Roy does is inspiring, and everything that Matt does is fast. Last summer, I signed on with Cadence and Matt to start to get ready for my redemption race — the Philadelphia Marathon. My primary goal was to run the entire thing, but I couldn’t resist the urge of trying for a BQ.
On Halloween, with the help of Matt’s training plan, I set a 6-minute PR at the Rock and Roll half-marathon — well under BQ pace. My training was better and more consistent, and I avoided any major injuries (just a few aches and pains here and there). When it came time to talk about the race plan for Philly, Matt encouraged me to go for a BQ time and laid out a detailed mile-for-mile strategy for how to get there.
From the beginning, Philly felt different from New Jersey. First of all, it was cooler. Instead of training in the cold and not being acclimated to warmer weather, I had trained in the heat and was feeling faster in the fall air. I went out close to exactly on pace — maybe just a few seconds per mile too fast, but nothing drastic. The first 13.1 were perfect. Our DNation co-chair Ashley (herself an Ironman and accomplished endurance athlete who is running Boston in 2017) captured a picture of me at our Mile 12 cheer station, waiving and flashing a goofy smile. I knew the back half would be tough, but I was still holding onto my goal pace through 18 miles. Even better, I had caught up to and was running with the 3:05 pace group, giving me a shot at a BQ if I could stay with them and pass them at the end. Around 16 or 17, Matt ran down from Manayunk to run alongside me and encourage me. It was perfect timing, as I was starting to struggle as the 3:05 pack crossed the Falls Bridge to do the short loop on MLK drive. Matt kept telling me that I could stay with the pack, but even then I knew it was probably better to slow down a bit, regain my breathing rhythm, and avoid any situation where I would have to walk. It seemed to be working — I was 30 seconds slower than goal pace through Manayunk, but I was still moving and hadn’t “hit the wall." After the mile 20 turnaround at the end of Manayunk, Matt was still with me, so I decided to use a trick I had heard about from another DNation friend, Jana. I told Matt to talk to me about something, anything — except running. He agreed to do so, which got me to about mile 22, still running. Then Matt had to leave — he was going off to support another one of his athletes, Jennifer. (I later found out that Jennifer got a BQthat day).
After mile 22, I was alone, but not for long. I knew that DetermiNation had another cheer station set up around mile 23 and my friends would be there. What I didn’t know is that they would run with me. First, our head coach Chad (himself a 3:06 marathoner running Boston in 2017) joined me somewhere between mile 22 and 23. Around this time, my memory starts getting a little hazy. What I do know, for certain, is that during part of the time Chad and I were running together I was still running around an 8-minute mile pace. My mother-in-law, who was near mile 23, snapped a picture of Chad and I running in perfect stride. Meanwhile, Chad was talking to me about things not related to running (probably his cat). Jana’s plan was still working.
At some point after that, I was joined by fellow DetermiNators Emily and Rachel. Emily had made her way from the 12-mile cheer zone to the back part of the race. I was slowly fading but I didn’t want any of them to know the extent of it, so I kept pushing. To give you an idea of my mental state, I later forgot that Rachel had ran with me — I felt terrible about it, but she was one of the last people to run with me, and things were getting fuzzier.
The rest of the race I had to piece together using my Garmin data, and pictures. I know that, with just about one mile left, I was by myself again, but I was still moving at a sub-8 minute mile pace, even a bit faster at moments. I’m guessing I was sensing the finish line as I passed Boathouse Row.
Then the wheels started to fall off. Between 25.5 and 26, I was getting slower and slower. At a little after mile 26, my legs gave out from under me and I was on the ground. I remember not wanting to stop, but my legs were not able to stand, so I crawled a few paces.
Then an amazing thing happened. Two guys (were they runners? volunteers?) came alongside me and picked me up. Somehow I started moving, and actually started to run again. I know this mostly from looking at pictures and video from the finish line. The video shows me coming around the last turn, with actually some semblance of running form. But my sunglasses, and my right glove, had disappeared. I have no recollection of why or how. My headphones had fallen out and were hanging out of my shirt, swinging from side to side just above my knees. I remember wanting to turn my music back on but being unable to do so because my hands were numb. Of course, both knees were scraped too.
As I approach the finish line, several things happen in succession. First of all, you see the police motorcade crossing the finish line while Mayor Nutter thanks the first responders. What a cool moment to be finishing with a motorcade! Of course, I have no recollection of this — just a hazy memory that this was, in fact, the end and I could stop running. Secondly, as I get about 5 yards from the finish, you see Mayor Nutter raise his hand to give me a high five. I don’t reciprocate — instead I start slowing down just before the finish. As I do, I start to awkwardly waddle, as if my legs were about to give out again (my finish line pictures do not resemble running photos at all). When it becomes clear to the Mayor that I am not going to high-five him (in fact, I don’t think I even realized he was there), he lowers his hand, points directly at me, and yells “medic!” I stumble to the barrier gate at the left of the finish line, almost cutting off another runner who had just finished. I avoid another fall by bracing myself on the gate. It didn’t take long for a volunteer in an orange jacket to come right up to me and ask if I was okay. I probably said I was fine, but I’m sure he didn’t believe me. I think he gave me some warm broth and told me his name. I tried to remember it — I think it was Jason. He didn’t let me leave and accompanied me to the medical tent. I was still in a haze, but as I started eating and drinking I slowly started to feel better. After maybe 30-40 minutes, I limped to our DNation post-race tent to rejoin my team, continue warming up (I think my core temperature had dropped) and start piecing together what had happened. As it turns out, I accomplished a 32 minute marathon PR, and was less than 15 minutes away from a BQ in my age group (10 minutes from my BQ in my current, older age group). It was a much better race than my first marathon, and a much better story.
As time has gone by I’ve collected some great mementos from this race — my race bib that was chewed up by my cat a week after the race, the wonderful liberty bell medal that really rings (it reminds me of the bell from the Polar Express — it will ring as long as you believe), my medical tent bracelet, my toenail that fell off several months later, and the Garmin data illustration that my daughter helped me create last week. I didn’t tell her to color the tough parts of the race brown — she chose that color on her own.
Last Hannukah, I got one of the oddest, but cool running gifts - a life-size PVC cutout of my picture from mile 25-and-a-quarter (one of the last times I was moving well that day). My late friend’s father Gary gave it to me, along with a 8x10 photo of me and Bill Rogers - with Bill Rodgers' autograph stating “good luck qualifying for the Boston Marathon.” These things are constant reminders of Philly 2015 — not a perfect race for me by any stretch, but one I’m proud of. I believe that the reason my results were so much better was the support of both my coach, my teammates, and random strangers that I’d never met before in my life (and probably won’t be able to track down to thank). Being on home turf didn’t hurt either.
When I saw your picture, it was amazing — another piece of the puzzle! You must have captured the photo after I finished, but before Jason came up to me. I’m near the left barrier, so I probably just let go of the barrier and was trying to waddle forward under my own power. Your photo also shows my DNation temporary tattoo on my cheek. Usually, only the girls on our team wear the tattoos on the cheek, but since the girls on our team are badass, I wanted to copy them for this race. Another great detail - you can just about see the beginning of the words “ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE” on the back of my DNation shirt - Roy’s motto that I have also adopted.
Unfortunately, I’m recovering from a stress injury to my foot and can’t run right now, so it was a welcome sight to be reminded of this race! This fall, my quest for Boston will hopefully resume.