Posts Tagged ‘Two Marathons in Two Weeks’

It’s a funny thing as you grow older.  You live thousands and thousands of days, in my case 16,805 of them, and you are reduced to only a handful of days, moments really, that leave an indelible image on your life.

March 15 – the day I proposed to Dawn.

July 15 – our first date.

August 29 – the day I became a Dad.

September 11 – we all share this one.

November 6 – the day I became a marathoner.

But when August 15th comes around now and forever I will think about the day we lost Dom to Cancer.  It has been three years since that warm, summer day in Pittsburgh when I flew up to lay Dom to rest with family and friends, Dawn staying home in Austin as we were just two weeks away from welcoming Landry into the world and it was unsafe for her to fly.

I was only away for a little more than 24 hours, much of which I spent in an airport, on a plane keeping quietly to myself, not wanting anyone to ask me where I was going or where I was headed as I just couldn’t bring myself to tell the story just yet.  I remember seeing everyone at the funeral home the night before the service, just a short time after I arrived in Pittsburgh, talking with Dom’s family, visiting with everyone I had not seen since being there for the Pittsburgh Marathon just three months before.

August 15th was a rough, rough day.  Anytime you watch parents bury a child it is hard to make sense of things.  But knowing Dom the way I did and thinking about everyone and everything he was leaving behind was especially difficult.  I flew home in my suit, carnation still on my jacket and nobody dare ask me where I had been or where I was going.  I suppose they just knew to leave that fellow over there alone.  I was grateful for the quiet time to reflect and say goodbye to my friend.

Three years later and I still feel much the same way.  I vacillate between sadness and anger.  Still asking myself the same unanswerable question of why this had to happen to someone so young and wonderful with so much at stake.  So much to lose.

There are other days when I feel blessed and so very fortunate that I was able to be there for Dom and his family and I was along for his journey with eyes wide open.  Every day he was sick, we woke up with thoughts of helping his family in our heart.  We trained hard, ran a couple of marathons in 13 days and raised spirits, awareness and dollars for Dom’s family.

Three years later and I am still racing with his initials on my flats, trying to run the marathon that I know I have inside of me.

I am injured right now, pedaling away furiously on the tri-bike hoping to save whatever fitness I had build up training for Cottonwood so that I might somehow still be able to toe the line on Sept. 14th in Utah.  2:59 is now out of the question.  It would take nothing short of a miracle for that to happen, and as much as I love the marathon and how special an event it is.  Miracles don’t happen on race day at that distance.

If we do make it out there the only goal will be 3:19:59 which should be enough to get us into Boston this year with our qualifying time of 3:25:00.

The irony of the situation is the goal at the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2009 that I wanted so terribly to make it to Hopkinton for the first time – 3:19:59.

I haven’t thought of 3:20 being a huge accomplishment in almost 4 years.  But perhaps fittingly so – in honor of our hero Dom – just maybe – that is the perfect goal to chase.

Just because it won’t be our fastest marathon doesn’t mean that it is not a race worth running.  Just getting to the starting line would be a lesson in determination, perseverance and not to sound too corny, but bravery.  Anyone can start a marathon when their training cycle was perfect and they are 100% healthy.

It is a lot tougher to do so when you know that you are “not  right”.  The last time I did that I was in Pittsburgh, licking my wounds from the Boston Marathon 13 days earlier – hoping to somehow hold it together for another 26.2 miles.  It was one of my slowest marathons and probably my most painful.  But it was also one of the greatest races I have ever run.

So Dom, just get me to the starting line in Utah my brother.  I’ll take it from there.

Rest in peace Dom.  We all love and miss you terribly.

P.S. – I really could have done without the flat tire this morning.  Just sayin’.

Last week I was having lunch with a colleague when I received an e-mail that was titled “Running for your friend”.

The message was from a runner in Ohio.  He wrote that although we had never met, he had followed my quest on Daily Mile and this blog over the months leading up to the Boston and Pittsburgh Marathons.  That quest of course was to honor my good friend Dom by raising both money and awareness as he battled to defeat cancer.

This incredible man then shared with me how inspiring he found our story as he trains for his very first marathon later this year.  He wanted to help push me to the goal of raising $26.2 thousand dollars in much the same way I was able to help Gates, Kermit and Father Jonathan finish their 26.2 miles at Pittsburgh.

In an act of true selflessness and sacrifice my new friend and his wife, who have asked to remain anonymous, made a large gift to get us all the way to our goal of $26,200.

What started out back in August as a small idea – to run two marathons in 13 days to help a friend – achieved its goal as quickly and swiftly as it had begun.  Through the kindness and generosity of others, together we all came together to make a huge difference in the lives of Dom, Val, Sierra and Nico. 

My part was truly the easy part – it was each of you out there who did all the heavy lifting.  I have spent the last few days searching for the right words to thank everyone for all that they sacrificed for my good friend.

Days later, I find myself still searching.  Perhaps I’ll never find those words.  But for now all I can say is a heartfelt – Thank You! 

Nine months ago we vowed to kick cancer’s ass 26.2 miles at a time – and together we achieved something that is pretty darn amazing.  There is no way that I can truly share with you just how incredibly grateful I am for all of your support.  But like all things related to marathon running and training, you have to at least try, I know that much.

So in that spirit, of trying my best, it is time for some formal thank you’s – so strap yourselves in, grab a cup of coffee, this is going to take a while.

To the more than 300 Run for Dom donors and 125 Mile Sponsors – I cannot thank you enough for all of your love and support.

To Nancy at Creative Zip and Pat who gave their time, expertise and talents to launch and host our gift page at www.runfordom.com as well the design work for Run for Dom.  Thank you so much – you are the greatest.

To our more than 720 friends on Twitter, 715 on Daily Mile and the hundreds and hundreds of visitors who stop by this space on a daily basis to encourage and motivate me to “keep on going” – you have no idea how much your support has meant over these many, many months.

To Doctor Jim Fernandez at Austin Sports Medicine who took an injured runner who could not run a 1/4 of a mile in December suffering from shin splints and got him through back to back marathons four months later.

To Danica at Chic Runner, Heather at Run Faster Mommy, Lara at Saturday Morning Zen, Trey at Run on Purpose, Ashley at MS Run the US, Jill at Jill Will Run, Sean at Why I Run, Sara at ThewriteSarah, Runnerdude, Runnrgrrl, Brian A., Winston, Caleb, Steve (British Bulldog), Brendan, Vern, Ernesto, Kris, Connie, Pre and all of my “virtual friends” who have made this such a successful effort.  I can’t thank you enough for your friendship and ongoing support.

To the Go Girls, Moms for Dom, Cass Brothers, Shirely’s Bus Friends, The supporters of Celebrate Hopewell, Sarah and Tedd Gozur and Bailie Tomlinson (who taught all of us something) – you guys are the best!

To Rob who listened to every idea I had – the good ones, the bad ones, the brilliant ones, the foolish ones and the downright crazy ones.  You always took time to help me, support me and truly believed in what I was trying to do.  You even ended up running two 5K’s this year!  Amazing.

To David in Alabama who released me into the land of social media and social networking.  Without you I would have had to ask the 10 people in my life for $3,000 each.  Perhaps they should be thanking you too!

To David Griner who has forgotten more about social media than I will ever know – thank you for your guidance.

To my trainer Kerensa who even though I think you stay up at night dreaming up new ways to punish me – making it to Boston would have been impossible without you.  Thank you for all the hours of motivation and encouragement.

To family.  The Schafers and Marruchellas.  The O’Haras, Chupas, Siveretsens and my sister-in-law Kim.  To Aunt Martha, The Kavinskys, O’Briens, Richeys and D’Eramos.  Without your support, encouragement, help, running shoes, water belts, body glide and running gear – I never would have made it through the races.  Thank you for supporting my craziness.

To the Becks, Strobas, Cunninghams and Jolyn who stepped up and went above and beyond to make a difference in the lives of Dom, Val, Sierra and Nico.

To the students at Boston College, UNC Wilmington, North Dakota, Northeastern, Ball State University and the University of Houston who sacrificed beer money …. I mean, money that could have been used for school supplies to support Run for Dom this year.

To the Boston Marathon crew who were there on-course and post-race to support me taking on the storied course from Hopkinton to Boston.

To the Pittsburgh Marathon crew who braved the wind and rain for more than 3 hours to watch me fight to the end of race number two.

To Renee who held things together from Florida.  To Howie who donated RFD shirts for our group at the Pittsburgh Marathon.

To old friends who I had not seen in years, but jumped in to support like we had never parted.  The Boschis, Egans, Amsterdam’s and Rob Ranzer.  Thank you for your support and faith in me that I had what it took to get to the finish lines.

To our new friends in Ohio who made an incredible gift to help my good friend and his family in a time of great need.

To the volunteer Mark at the Pittsburgh Marathon who got the charley horse in my calf to quiet long enough to push through to the finish.

To the cities of Boston and Pittsburgh who opened their streets and their hearts to help root us to the finish of two major marathons just 13 days apart.

To the big man upstairs who when times got the toughest and doubt began to creep into my mind during that final marathon you gave me the strength and the will I needed to get to the finish.  Trust that I know the exact moment when you made time for me and showed me the way when I needed you most.  I thank you.

To my wife Dawn, who makes me a better person every day just by having you in my life.  I can never thank you enough for all of the love and support that you have shown over the last 15+ years.  I promise, no marathoning for awhile.  (a little while anyway).

I thank each and every one of you for making this effort such a huge success and for helping make a difference for the D’Eramo family.

And lastly to Dom.  I want to thank you for granting me the privilege and the honor to run for you.  You have taught me more about love, family, dedication, honor, bravery and courage than I could have ever learned in a single lifetime.  Keep on fighting Dom, you are the man.

I woke Sunday at 4:45 a.m. to start preparations for race day.  Marathon number two in as many weeks was scheduled for a 7:30 a.m. start.  In just a couple of hours we would be standing alongside 16,000 runners in an effort to finish what we started by competing in the Pittsburgh Marathon.  As my alarm clock chirped me awake, already something was very different about this race day than all others.  I realized that I had actually slept through the night.

Never before had I actually been able to sleep straight through until morning on the eve of a marathon.  Usually I am a bundle of nerves, obsessing about a small injury, the weather, the course or my race plan. 

There were certainly some things to be concerned about on Saturday evening when I went to bed.  My last images were staring at a very ominous radar weather report showing a line of thunderstorms headed our way from Ohio and a predicted starting temperature of 73 degrees.  My body was still a bit beat up from the race at Boston two weeks prior and I had really no idea what to expect on the course.

On another day I’m sure I would have been stressed out about the battle that would ensue the following morning.  But as I left our pre-race dinner on Saturday evening with family, friends and our guests of honor Dom and Val, I was remarkably calm.  Sunday was going to be a difficult day physically, but a great day spiritually.  I was determined to enjoy every last minute of it.

The race plan that I developed on Saturday afternoon as I relaxed alone at the hotel was pretty simple.  Run like you would run any other marathon as well as you can, for as long as you can.  When your body begins to fight you, slow down and tough it out.

Whether that occurred at mile 6, 8, 12 or 20 so be it.  I knew it was going to change from a physical test to a mental one.  I was ready for it, and in a strange way, looking forward to it.  Running two major marathons in the span of 13 days wasn’t going to be easy.  That was the point.  It was never supposed to be.  So let’s get on with it and start the battle.

After my pre-race breakfast of a bagel and a banana, I had my last drink of water at 5:30 a.m. (two hours before the starting gun) and dressed for the race.  I knew it was going to be a wet, wet day out there – and moisture is the enemy for marathoners.  A ton of friction builds up over a 3+ hour marathon.  Skin rubbing against skin develops blisters and sores.  Especially on your toes and feet, which can mean big trouble late in a race.

I carefully applied body glide over all of the usual culprits.  My feet, toes, waistband, armpits, neck, nipples and my calves as my feet sometimes scrape the insides of my calves when I get fatigued.  I even went with the “old school” application of band aids over my nipples in case the rain made my singlet so heavy that it put extra downward pressure on my chest area.

The last thing I wanted to do is to start battling small irritating pain along with the soreness that was sure to return from Boston two weeks before.  I had no idea how long I would “feel good” – but I wanted to be as far along the course as I could before my body rebelled.

I had a feeling it would be a matter of how long before the pain returned not how far I had traveled.  So I would run my typical race pace and get as far out on the course as I could before the fight really began.

I asked my wife Dawn to write 4 DOM in blue sharpie down each of my arms a reminder as to what this day was all about.  I tucked a small note in my left shoe that read, “run like you’ll never run again” that my friend Ashley had said to me prior to race day.  We were ready.

Dawn dropped me off at the start area and I made my way to the corrals.  I spoke with a few dozen marathoners which is always one of my favorite parts of race day.  Some were first timers, some were marathon veterans, some were running for a cause and some were chasing “a Boston time”. 

I met one such runner named Kermit wearing bib number 666.  I teased him a bit about his number and told him I wasn’t sure what to make of it.  That it was certainly an “evil” number for the event.  With great confidence he told me that he had prepared to run a great race and was bound and determined to get that 3:10:00 he needed to qualify for Boston next spring.  We would see Kermit again later in the day.

Crowd at Starting Corrals

As I walked away from Kermit I thought to myself, “that was me” exactly one year ago standing on the same Pittsburgh street with dreams of a Boston time.  It dawned on me then just how much my priorities had changed over the past 12 months and how very different my goals for the day were.  I crouched down below all the other runners as the PA system announced one minute to the start.  I could feel the emotions building inside of me.  It was getting harder and harder to hold them in check.  I thought of my friend Steve who had also run at Boston two weeks ago.  Had he not had a family commitment he would have made the trip to Pittsburgh with me to run for Dom.  I stood back up, took a deep breath and got ready to take our first strides onto the course.

A couple stray tears found their way down my cheeks, I’m not sure where they came from being the “tough guy” that I am.  I smiled to myself, punched my GPS and off we went.

Miles 1-4 – Strip District

I took my first steps across the mat after not running since Tuesday and immediately I could tell my legs felt great.  “Thank goodness” I thought, as I now knew I wouldn’t be fighting the course all day long – perhaps only the last 10K?  I ticked off the Strip District miles in 7:12, 7:16, 7:15, 7:20.  I was running free and easy and my leg turnover felt great.  I covered the first four miles only :13 slower than last year’s time on the way to our PR of 3:17:43.

The first raindrops starting falling on me at mile 3.  It was just a drizzle, but dark skies loomed.  I had told Dawn to bring my running hat with her to our “check point” along Ft. Duquesne Blvd on the way to the Clemente Bridge.  Because the temperature was so high at the start I did not want to wear my hat the entire way in an effort to stay cool.  However with the rain drops hitting my face and washing sweat into my eyes, I was hoping I would see her to retrieve it.

Along mile 4 I saw my friend Jason Cass.  He made the trip from Austin to root on his brother Brian in the half marathon and yours truly in the full.  A mile sponsor and great supporter – it was so great to see Jason.  I flashed him the PR sign with my fingers and laughed to myself – fully knowing that it was a facade.  There would be no PR’s for me today, but I felt like I had already won just by being out there fighting.

Miles 5-7 – The Bridges

At this point of the race we crossed the 16th street bridge and the rain had really started falling heavily.  I was soaked, my feet were squishing and I had a was having “ear bud trouble”.  My trusty Arriva ear buds had become “deformed” a bit when I packed them for the race.  They are flexible and quite comfy – but I just couldn’t get the left bud to settle in as I ran.  With all the additional moisture and wetness in my ear, the rubber was just too slick to stay put.  So at mile 6 I took off the earphones and decided to run “quiet”.   There would be no more music for me.Approaching Ball Cap/Water Bottle Hand Off

It was the best decision I made that day as it would pay off with huge dividends later in the race.  As I turned the corner coming back into downtown on the 7th street bridge, just as we had planned I saw my wife Dawn.  She had my Boston Marathon running hat and we executed a professional hand-off.  I pitched my first water bottle into the street as my Mother-In-Law Momma S handed me a fresh one.  It was actually a thing of beauty to witness and a runner a few strides later remarked, “Man, that was pretty sweet”.  Damn right it was.  I still felt strong and now after seeing my family as well as Dom and Val along the course – it was time to go to work.

I ran miles 5-8 in 7:27, 7:20, 7:18, 7:27.  A full :25 seconds faster than last year over that same stretch.

Miles 9-12 – The Stadiums and get ready to climb

Dom Watching Runners pass by along course

The runners went past the Pirates ball park, the Steeler’s football stadium and a small commerce area.  The crowds were very thin over this section of the course as there really wasn’t any way to get there and park.  The rain was still falling heavily and the wind was gusting.  Not optimum conditions for spectators – but the volunteers were out there doing a great job.  They were giving out oranges, water, Gatorade and vaseline on a stick.  As I passed the vaseline I thought, man I hope the rookies are taking advantage of that with all this rain.

Miles 9, 10 and 11 ticked by at 7:34, 7:34, 7:37 but I was starting to feel my hips heating up.  I stared at the first climb up the on-ramp at mile 12 and knew it was about to get tough.  I pushed up the on-ramp and over the West End Bridge at 7:47 pace.  Only :15 slower than a year ago, but it was starting to hurt a bit.  I was nearing the half-way point and the battle was about to begin.

Miles 13-16 – The Hills

This is the part of the course that really gets tough.  You climb for almost two straight miles.  There are two major hills on the course, immediately after the Birmingham Bridge at mile 13 and then to the top of Forbes at the University of Pittsburgh campus at mile 15.  Miles 12-16 are “my miles” during a marathon.  I feel my best and strongest and can really stay strong and fast.

I think that is why Pittsburgh set-up so well for me in 2009.  The most difficult stretch of the course came when I was at my strongest.  I dominated these hills in 2009, running them in 7:50, 7:30, 7:26, 7:38.  I had that confidence to lean on as I took to the hills, but I simply didn’t have the leg strength after Boston.  Not this year.

I stayed smooth, focused on my leg turnover and passed a lot of runners on the way up.  I was fighting my hips however as that soreness from Boston returned and now it was only a matter of time.  My splits over this section this year were 8:06, 7:54, 7:46 and 8:13.  We would not run another sub 8:00 minute mile on Sunday.  In fact I would run only 4 more miles in the 8:00’s.  But we battled to the top of Forbes and smiled for the course photographers.  Things were about to get really tough.

Miles 17-20 – More hills

This part of the course is rolling and hilly.  There are a few “downs” to help stretch your legs out, but it is mostly climbing.  Some of the best fans on the course are here however as they know this is where the race gets difficult.  I began to recognize a lot of landmarks from a year ago and reminisced about my race in 2009.

At this point last year I was cruising. I felt great, looked great (as great as I can look anyway), and turned in sizzling splits of 7:35, 7:20, 7:33, 7:34.  There would be only 10K left at the 20-mile mark and I was way ahead of my Boston time.  It was a blast last year.

But it was now 12 months later on the very same course and the same miles were taking me down.  My legs were starting to rebel with every stride.  I decided to go to my arms in an effort to help my legs and draw on my core.  If one part of your body falters, use another.  I stayed tall in my posture and kept turning the legs.  My splits were falling off badly, so I decided that I would no longer fight it.  I would run some “9:00’s” and enjoy the rest of the race.

I covered these miles in 8:22, 8:14, 8:42 and 9:00 at mile 20.

Miles 21-24 – What was that?

As I entered the water stop at mile 20.5 it felt like someone had shot me in the leg.  A charley horse grabbed me and as I looked down at the knot in my left calf all I could think of was Dom.  I went up on my left toe to take pressure off of the muscle that was in full spasm and asked a volunteer if he could help me rub it out.  His name was Mark, he looked me in the eye and said, “no problem man – I’ll get you back out there”.

He rubbed the knot out and I took a moment to thank him for helping me – I told him that today was a day where we couldn’t DNF (did not finish).  No matter what happened we were getting that medal for Dom.  Mark patted me on the back and I got back underway.

I had gotten back after it and at the mile 21 marker I looked at my GPS – 13:02 was my split.  Wow.  I had lost about 4 minutes getting that charley horse to calm down.  But as disappointing as it was, a great sense of relief came over me.  Time no longer was an issue.  It simply didn’t matter. 

Overcoming set-backs and conquering obstacles that you can’t control are all things that Dom has been doing for the last year.  I quickly mumbled, “get over it” to myself and looked up ahead to the next section of the course.  I would never look at my watch again.

At mile 22 I saw a runner walking in the middle of the course and drifting to the side.  Short hair, stocky build, red singlet, Kermit?  Sure enough number 666 was struggling in front of me.  I slowed to ask him if he was doing o.k., and with a blank expression he said, “no man, I’m really not”.

I had been prepared to hear a quick, “yeah, I’m fine” or a “just a cramp”, but this was very different.  I slowed to a walk, put my arm around him and asked if he wanted to walk a little bit with me.  He said yes and we walked for a minute or so.  He told me how disappointed he was and that he wouldn’t make Boston.  I told him that he would get there and that the humidity and heat just bit him today.  No shame in that as it was a brutal day with rain still falling on us.  He learned a lot and would get that Boston time in his next race.

Kermit thanked me and after another minute or so when I knew his legs were back under him I asked if he cared that I run on.  He told me to go for it and that he would be fine.  Off I went and started to get into my groove going again.  Shortly afterwards at mile 23 I ran into another pair of struggling runners.

One was pacing the other and I asked if I could join them.  They introduced themselves as Father Jonathan and Father Patrick.  Father Jonathan was also going for a Boston time, but had fallen off badly.  The weather and course was really eating up the runners.  As we ran together they asked me, “Who’s Dom?”.

I shared a short version of the story and Father Patrick said that we should run mile 23 for Dom.  They both said a prayer in his name.  Well, at this point your emotions are at their breaking point during a marathon and I lost it.  I sniffled like a little boy and we ran the next mile and a half chatting about what today was all about.

The pace was a bit too slow for me to hold however and my calf began tightening – I said goodbye, thanked them and told them I would catch them at the finish line.

Miles 20-24 were completed in 13:02, 9:39, 10;22, 10:53.  Some of the finest miles I had ever run.

Mile 25 – Alone again

I ran most of mile 25 alone and started reflecting on what the finish would be like.  We had come a long way since last August and I really wanted to enjoy these final moments.  I knew my wife, family and friends must be worried about me as I should have finished the course by now.  But we were just fine.  Better than fine.  We were about to finish our second marathon in 13 days and honor my good friend fighting for his life the way I wanted to.  Fighting, scratching, clawing – doing anything we could to get to the finish.

I ran mile 25 in 8:43 and felt remarkably good in doing it.  I found myself smiling as I ran.

Mile 26 to the Finish

As I entered the final mile I saw a runner that I had started the day with running virtually identical pace for the first 10 miles.  He was on the side of the course walking with his head down.

“No way” I said to myself – he ran beautifully today and one way or another he was coming in with me.  I asked how he was doing and he shook his head.  Bad cramps in his legs he told me.  He had remembered me too from earlier and as I introduced myself while we walked along he told me his name was Gates.  He was a third year Med Student in Pittsburgh.  He asked about my friend and I told him the story.

Ironically he said that it’s all about mind over body.  He believed that attitude could help a cancer patient beat that disease almost as much as modern medicine.

I smiled at him and told him that it was the same for marathoners and that we should get going and finish this thing right.  He laughed and we started moving again.  Gates was going to finish his first marathon and look good doing it.

As we prepared to make the final turn to the finish line I spotted my friend Jason again and his brother Brian who had finished his first half marathon about 1 hour and 45 minutes earlier.  I yelled to Brian to join me on the course and we ran in the final .25 together.

Final .10 Mile

I was running the final 1/10 of a mile of Run for Dom and I was having a blast.  I couldn’t stop smiling and started to egg on the crowd at the finish.  They had waited in the rain for well over 3 hours and they deserved something to cheer about.  As I waved my arms up and down they started to yell and cheer for us – just as the Run for Dom team wearing their Run for Dom T-shirts did in the grandstand at the finish.

3:42:32 the clock said as I crossed through the line.  20 minutes slower than two weeks ago at Boston, 25 minutes slower than my effort one year ago.  There wasn’t a person there sharing the moment with me that could have cared less.  Myself included.

No matter how many marathons follow in the coming years I know one thing for sure.

It wasn’t my fastest, but it will always be my Personal Best.

Family Reunion Area – Post Race

One of the most memorable post race periods I have ever had.  I saw Gates in the finishing chute and was able to give him a fist bump and congratulate him on finishing his first Marathon.  I ran into Father Jonathan and gave him a congratulatory hug and thanked him again for his thoughts and prayers about Dom.

Kermit showed up about 5 minutes later – he had managed to push through and finish his race.  Not a Boston time, but I know he will be back to fight again another day.

Then I started to see my family and friends – Dawn, Nancy, John, Jason, Brian, Val and Dom.  We laughed a little, cried a little, hugged a lot and I was able to have just a few private words with Dom.

Joe & Dom Post Race

We shared a few tears, made a few promises to each other and thanked one another for the gift of the day.  Dom thanked me for running for him and I thanked him for letting me.  I thanked him for teaching me about what courage, honor and bravery are really all about.

I passed my finishers medal over to Dom which was something I had been looking forward to doing for more than 9 months.  It felt better than I could have ever imagined as this day was clearly all about him.

Dom With His Finisher's Medal

It was a long day, a tough day and an emotional day.  Most of all it was a day where we all stood a little taller, smiled a little easier and felt like we had all been part of something special. 

It felt that way because it was true.  I’m not sure when the next time I pin a number on my chest to run a race will be.  The only thing I do know is that it will never be the same again for me.

Thank you for showing me the way Dom.  Sunday May 2, 2010 is a day I will never forget.

 

You know how you think you know what something is going to be like?  You visualize things in advance, try to picture how you will feel, the sounds you will hear, even the smell in the air.  Then the actual event comes along and it is nothing like you have it pictured in your mind.  Sometimes there is a let-down, and you wish that the experience was more like your vision than the reality.

5:30 a.m. Reminder

Well today, that could not be further than the truth.  The Pittsburgh Marathon was everything that I had hoped it would be and more.  A lot more.  I will be posting a full-race report later this week when I have a chance to really sit back and reflect on the race.  Right now I just have images, snapshots and emotions battling for attention inside of me.

My flight over to Minneapolis tomorrow morning for a work trip will hopefully give me some alone time to reflect fully on today’s events.  But tonight I just want to share.

I’ve been blessed so many times over with more love and support than any one person deserves.  Many of you have read every word that I shared about training runs, injuries, personal set-backs, Dom’s battle through surgery, rehabilitation, more surgery and even Dear John letters I’ve penned to my retired running shoes.

You have played along from start to finish.  Your comments have made me laugh at times, cry at others and keep me going always.  I really can’t thank you enough.

Joe on Course

So what was the race like?  In a word – incredible.  I have never had to fight so hard as my body betrayed me after a punishing Boston Marathon just 13 days ago.  We fought valiantly for 13 miles running a race very similar to last year’s all-time best.  But as I crested Forbes Hill just past the half-way point, my body started to fight me.  A charley horse that would return in the finisher’s chute about knocked me on my rear end at mile 21.  I stumbled a bit and thought of the words tucked on a note in my shoe.

“Run like you’ll never run again.”

We got it back together and kept moving and as I started focusing more on what today was about I started making friends.  I ran with Father Jonathan for two miles as he was fading and struggling to hold on to the finish.  I met Gates who was walking on the side of the course at mile 24 and asked him if he would like to run in together.  I got Gates going again and he made it all the way in.  I continued to talk to as many first time marathoners that I could and help them reach an amazing goal.

I felt like the pied piper at one point and actually spotted my friend Brian Cass who had run the half marathon (his first ever) on the side of the course at mile 25.5.

I shouted to Brian, asked him to come onto the course with me and we finished together.  Here is a picture of Brian and I in the final .10 miles as I started to egg the crowd on and get them cheering for the finishers.  It was the greatest tenth of a mile I have ever run – and that includes Boston’s final stretch two weeks ago.

The greatest 1/10 of a mile in marathoning

Then there was Dom.

I have to admit we cried a little at the finish – that’s what us Italian guys do – but it made every step of those 52.4 miles over the last 13 days worth it.  I thanked him for allowing me to honor him in this way, and he thanked me for all that I gave today on the course.  If we never speak of it again – that is also what us Italian guys do – we’ll never have to.

Joe & Dom - Look at that Medal on Dom!

Our time today – 3:42:32 – 601st overall.  Honestly, and this is big for me to admit as many of you know me well.  I couldn’t have cared less.  I actually forgot to shut off my GPS until I was out of the shower in the hotel – sacrilege if you are a runner right?  Doesn’t matter. 

We put ourselves out there, did our very best and made a huge difference in the process.  During the race we passed the $20,000 mark for Dom and his family pictured here:

Dom, Val, Sierra & Nico (future Steeler Linebacker)

Our goal when this all started was to raise $26,200 in honor of the 26.2 marathon distance.  Deep down I know we still have a shot.  The last 6 miles of any marathon are the toughest, everyone knows that.  You just have to put your head down, keep fighting and find a way.  I still have a little fight in me yet.  6 Miles to go?  Let’s strap those shoes back on.

Who’s with me?

http://www.runfordom.com/donate.html

Just a quick pre-race update as it is time for me to get a little rest and prepare for tomorrow’s race both mentally and physically.

The physical part is actually much easier for me at this point.  Stay off my feet, a little massage this afternoon, an hour or so of ice on those sore hips and shin area and we’ll be as good as we are going to be for tomorrow’s race. 

Mentally however, the day before the race can be tough.  Lots of sitting around, waiting for things to happen and some mild “obsessing” about tomorrow.  I find it therapeutic for me to pour over the course maps, think about the various challenges I will encounter, landmarks and where I can anticipate looking for Dawn, family and friends.

Looks like tomorrow the Clemente Bridge at the 10K point will be my best opportunity to see some loved ones along the course.  That will be a perfect spot as I may be able to swap out a water bottle for a fresh one if I’m lucky, grab a quick high-five or two and push on for the remaining 20 miles or 2 hour+ battle.

I should have a good feeling at that point as well regarding what kind of race we are capable of tomorrow.  Especially how much of a toll that Boston course took on our body.  It’s sure going to be interesting – but a lot of fun too.  I find myself facing a lot of the unknowns that I stared down in 2006 at my first marathon.  I have to admit I’m really looking forward to testing myself tomorrow.

But this morning it was time for a little fun at the expo.  I ran into two very special people on Saturday.  The first who I consider my “mentor” when it comes to marathoning Hal Higdon.  Hal was the author of the very first training plan, running book and web-site I ever consulted when preparing to become a marathoner.

Following his training plan he got me to the finish in my first marathon fighting off an IT Band injury in 3:58:08.

Two years later Hal coached me to my Boston Qualifying time of 3:17:43 at last year’s Pittsburgh Marathon.

Saturday he was kind enough to talk with me about my “double” this weekend and posed for a quick picture at the expo.

Joe & Hal Higdon - Pittsburgh Marathon

Meeting Bill Rogers was pretty special the day after Boston two weeks ago.  But I have to say – finally meeting Hal in person was a real treat.  Thank you Hal for everything I quite literally would never be here without you.

Moments later at an expo with more than 5,000 people milling around I felt a hand on my shoulder and it was young Brian Cass.  The young man whose story I shared with everyone here a few weeks ago.  Running his first ever half-marathon this weekend with Run 4 Dom proudly displayed on his Bib.

Brian is someone I have been happy to “mentor” myself this year as he tackled training for his first half-marathon.  Brian did all the hard work, I just checked in on him once in a while and passed along some of the lessons I learned the hard way.  But I can honestly say that I am so very proud of Brian and it will be an honor to race with him tomorrow.

When Brian reaches mile 12 tomorrow it will be extra special as not only will he be 1 mile away from his first half-marathon medal, running a distance he has never run before even in training.  But he will be running a mile that he sponsored himself as part of Run for Dom.  Thank you Brian for all that you have done for our cause and I can hardly wait to see you at the finish with that medal around your neck.

For those of you who are going to be at race day along the course I wanted to share a picture below of our “gear” for the day.

Pittsburgh Marathon Race Gear

We will be wearing royal blue Under Armour gear tomorrow and a white Boston Athletic Association ball cap if the weather forecast holds true and there is rain.  Dawn will be kind enough to wake up early with me and apply a reminder on both arms of who we are running for tomorrow.  So look for 4 DOM in Royal Blue swinging by on both arms.

My favorite bit of gear this year however is my Bib.  I’ve had some good ones over the years – but this one is pretty special.  You don’t have to look very hard to see what tomorrow is all about.  Just check out the graphic above the number.

If you are not able to make it to the race you can follow race progress by following me on Twitter.  The Pittsburgh Marathon is utilizing “Tweet My Time” this year, where my twitter account will automatically send out “tweets” with my progress from the course as I pass each checkpoint and the finish line.  All you have to do is logon to Twitter and follow me at:  https://twitter.com/joe_runfordom

This time tomorrow it will all be over.  It will be time to look back on the race, and really the last year to burn some mental images that will last a lifetime.  We’re not done yet, still another battle to be fought and a medal to be earned for Dom.  Fundraising continues until after the race – so if you’ve wanted to make a gift and just haven’t had the time yet, please do so as we’re closing in on the finish line.  http://www.runfordom.com/donate.html

I’ve had a lot of people ask me what’s next after Pittsburgh?  I keep responding that I really haven’t gotten that far yet.  May 2nd is the date we’ve been working toward and it’s always smart as a marathoner not to look too far ahead.

It is starting to become a bit more clear now as we sit here on the cusp of marathon number two.  Please know I’m not going anywhere nor is our hero Dom.  We both plan on being around for a long, long time.

Well, we’re now less than 24 hours away from race day at the Pittsburgh Marathon.  Usually I will go for a quick 2-mile “shake-out” run the day before a race to burn off some pent-up energy from the taper period.

As you roll back your mileage transitioning from “training” to “taper”, your body rebels a bit.  As your legs feel stronger and stronger you want to run further and further.  But because you are loading up your glycogen stores for race day and trying to heal those small bumps and bruises from training, you cut way back on your mileage.

For me leading up to the second of back to back marathons my Pittsburgh “taper” really was more of a recovery from the rigors of the Boston Marathon course just 12 days ago.  So this morning I decided to forgo my final pre-race shake-out and opt for another day off from running.  Instead Dawn and I are headed over to the race expo in a few minutes to pick up our Bib Number and race bag – shop a bit, and then get ready for my pre-race massage at 1:30 p.m.

Sounds pretty cushy right?  Well, I have to admit today is going to be pretty low-key.  But tomorrow morning that won’t be the case.  It will be an “all-go, no-quit” kind of day tomorrow and quite honestly I am chomping at the bit to get back out there.  We have a little bit of un-finished business on the agenda, just me, the elements and 26 miles, 385 yards.

Before I left for the morning I just wanted to thank all of you for your amazing outpouring of love and support over these many weeks and months leading up to this final race day.  As of this morning our new fundraising balance crept over the $19,000 mark to benefit Dom and his family.  That is an incredible total and I can’t thank everyone enough.

I set a lofty goal when the idea of “Run for Dom” first struck me during a training run along Brushy Creek Trail, 1,500 miles away from here back home in Austin.  I wanted to run two major marathons in just 13 days in the hopes of raising $26,200 (in honor of the 26.2 mile challenge that is the marathon) for Dom and his family.

With 24 hours to go we sit just $7,000 away from that goal.  Will we get there?  Honestly, I’m not sure.  The only thing I can do is run the best race I can tomorrow to honor my good friend and his family.  They are saying it will be hot tomorrow.  They say there will be thunderstorms.  They say the winds will be blowing strong and it will be pretty rough out there.

Whatever.  What the hell do “THEY” know anyway?  One thing about us Italian guys – we’re pretty stubborn.  I know Dom has a lot of fight left in him as he continues to battle.  With each set-back in treatment he has come back stronger and more determined than ever to fight this terrible disease.  There is no quit in that boy, I know that in my heart.

As for me – bring it on I say.  I plan on having a tremendous day tomorrow.  One of the greatest in fact of my 42+ years.  So I’ll take an “easy” day today if I can get it, because tomorrow we race.  There won’t be anything easy about that.

There is still time to help!  http://www.runfordom.com/donate.html

The closing miles of a marathon are a pretty amazing experience.  It really doesn’t matter if it is your first race, your fourth or your fortieth.  There is something magical about those final miles – pushing yourself toward the finish line that stood 26.2 miles away more than three hours before.  You have good miles and bad ones, easy stretches and difficult ones.  You find yourself smiling at times, grimacing at others.

You question why you are doing this to yourself.  In your next race you question why you are doing this to yourself again.  Better still, why for the second time in 13 days? 

Three plus hours, that’s a long time to be alone with your thoughts.  Despite wanting to quit at times, you find a way to dig deeper than you have before and you keep on going.  In a strange way as your body grows more and more weary, your resolve grows stronger and stronger.

You have thousands of people around you – many in the same situation you find yourself in.  Yet, you feel very alone.  Fighting, scratching and clawing – using any means necessary to keep on going.

Now imagine doing that for 12 months.

I can’t begin to imagine what the last 12 months have been like for my friend Dom.  Some days when I would be out on a training run and I would think of Dom it would bring a great sense of pride and accomplishment.  I would remind myself that I was training for a great reason.  To honor a close friend and do all that I could to help make a difference in not only his life, but that of his wife, daughter and son.

Other days I would find myself choking back tears as I ran – wishing that the news I had heard the night before was better.  That my friend was getting stronger and that his cancer was being kicked to the curb.

Some mornings I would wonder what May 2nd would feel like when I came through the chute.  After fighting for more than three hours through all the soreness, fatigue and pain to get that finisher’s medal. 

Will I be able to find the right words as place it around my good friend’s neck and thank him for allowing me to do this for him?  What do you say to the bravest man you’ve ever known?

Tomorrow (Friday) morning, Dawn and I will be heading to Pittsburgh, off to tackle a second marathon in less than two weeks.  Packing my race bag last night I’ll be the first to say that the emotions of this trip are really starting to get to me. 

Frankly, it’s hard to write about.  I can only imagine what Sunday morning will feel like standing in the starting corral surrounded by more than 16,000 runners, but very much alone.  Finding myself more than three hours away from the faces of family and friends, hugs and tears.

The only thing I know for certain when I cross the starting line is that no matter what happens along the way, I have to keep going.  I have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and never quit.  It’s simply not an option.  Not this time, not this race. 

Thank you Dom for teaching me that.  It’s a lesson that I promise to never, ever forget.  This one is for you on Sunday.

Clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose.

To help please visit:  http://www.runfordom.com/donate.html

Dom, Val, Sierra, Nico