I was reading a race report in which the blogger talked about a race being in her top-five favorites of all time, and it got me thinking about what my top-five races would be. I call my blog “an amazing run” because most of my runs are pretty amazing, but if I could choose my favorites (oh boy, this will be difficult!) here they are:
NUMBER 5 – WINNING MY FIRST-EVER TROPHY
I grew up in an era that didn’t give out participation trophies, you had to earn them. Now, I’m not against participation awards, medals, or trophies, especially when it comes to running and triathlon. I’ve got dozens of them proudly hanging on my wall. I appreciate them for what they represent to me – a reminder and reward for the effort I gave to be handed one. Those that say that anyone can have one are simply mistaken. You have to at least get off your butt and complete the task. But when I was a kid, I never earned a trophy. But on July 4, 1993, I ran a 5K in a local race and decided to hang around for the post-race award ceremony. I don’t remember much about the race other than it was hot, and my wife and in-laws were there. But my name was called as the 2nd place winner in the Male, 25-30 age group category. I was 29 years old when I earned my first-ever trophy.
NUMBER 4 – THE DAY I RAN 5 MILES
I had toyed with running for a few years, but it was hit or miss for me. Like everyone else who tries running for the first time, it can suck, and I was no different. I just never stuck with it. After graduating college and finding a job, I relocated about 75 minutes north of my hometown and found myself living in an apartment bored out of my mind. My friends were back home or away at college, and I was too broke to afford golf or bowling. I bought a pair of cheap Macgregor running shoes at Kmart (remember, I was broke) and decided to try running again. The first few efforts were around the apartment complex. I was a fair-weather runner and my runs were typically after work and not any longer than a mile or two. But one lap turned into two and I also was getting a little faster. One day I decided to branch out into the neighboring subdivision and meander around. I felt great and I knew that I was going farther than I had before. When I got back, I jumped in my car and retraced my route, and I was excited to see that I had gone 5 miles! But the most exciting feeling was not just covering 5 miles, it was knowing that I could have run farther. I look back at this day as the day I became a true runner.
NUMBER 3 – WINNING A 5K RACE
You really never know what can happen unless you show up and give it your best. The Lindenhurst Police and Park District 5K was being held for the first time in Lindenhurst, Illinois, the town in which my new bride Kari and I had bought our first home, and was being held along with a little fall festival the town was having. I found this race listed in the local weekly newspaper, as the internet hadn’t really taken the world over yet. Most local racing was listed in the local papers. Since it was being held in our town, I figured why not run it?
When I got to the start line I could sense that not many people had seen the race listing in the paper, with only about a dozen runners nervously pacing around. I started to wonder if I had any competition. The girl in her twenties looked pretty fast, and so did the guy in his thirties. There were a few others, but I keyed on these two for some reason. We toed the line and off we sped, following the police chief in a police car. A weightlifter-type dude shot out to the lead like a rocket, which was somewhat surprising, as I had written him off prerace. But by a quarter-mile into the race, the girl, the guy, and I had reeled him in. My plan was to pace with them for a little while and it wasn’t long before I realized the pace was too slow. I hit the gas around mile one and took off. As I ran I actually overtook the chief in the pace car and I got a little nervous because I had no idea where the course was heading. No worries though, as he quickly got ahead and stayed there. There was a left turn about a quarter-mile from the finish and I took one quick glance back and saw no one within a distance that could catch me. I glided downhill, turned right, and broke my first finish line tape in first place overall. Show up and race all-comers, you might find that you are the best of the field that day.
NUMBER 2 – QUALIFYING FOR BOSTON
Early in my running days, I knew what a marathon was but it was never on my radar. I was happy to get around the block a few times. Marathons seemed impossible. But I finally got the urge and ran my first marathon in 1991. The Lake County Races Marathon ran from Zion to Highland Park, Illinois and it was very local for me, seeing that I worked and lived in Highland Park at the time. When I finished that first one, my reaction wasn’t the euphoria that I had anticipated, I can clearly remember thinking “That’s it? Where’s the fanfare?” I was handed a medal, which I have since misplaced (I’ve looked everywhere!), and ended up in the medical tent getting an IV.
The finish didn’t kill my enthusiasm for marathons, and I ran many more. But there was one that I wanted to do but figured I would never be able to, and that was Boston. Boston has a qualifying time requirement, and I was more than a half-hour away from it in my 30s. It seemed unreachable. But I got older, faster, and wiser, all of which would lead to me getting within striking distance of getting that elusive Boston Marathon qualifying time.
In 2015, I qualified by just a few minutes, but it wasn’t enough. When I crossed the finish line I was elated and deflated at the same time, because even though I had just run a personal best of 3:28, I knew that my cushion time might not make the cut. I missed it by 28 seconds. You can read about it here: 28 Seconds…
The following year I was much better prepared and had an awesome weather day. I cruised to a 3:25:08 finish and felt pretty good about my performance. Now the wait began.
After applying the following year, I got notice that I was in! That’s when the run became special. It took a while to get it validated.
You might ask why isn’t running Boston the high point? The 2018 Boston Marathon was miserable – I was overtrained, and it was a day of constant rain, wind, and cold temperatures. All of that makes for a great memory, but what I cherish most was accomplishing the hard part – qualifying.
NUMBER 1 – CHRIS HEDGES – YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!
I had watched the network coverage of Ironman for many years and was always in awe. I couldn’t even imagine what it took to do what they did. My experience taught me that marathons were hard, how do you do that after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles?! Fortunately for me, I have friends who pushed me into it. It’s easy to say that you can’t do it when you have never even tried. So I tried. Swimming was hard, but I eventually got it down. Biking had its own struggles, but I became a better rider. And running just had to be adjusted to make sure I didn’t push too hard.
I had no idea what crossing that Ironman finish line would do to me. It was empowering. Ironman’s motto is “Anything Is Possible” and that is a sentence not lost on me. After finishing an Ironman you do feel like anything is possible.
Each of my five Ironman finishes are special, but I will always remember that first Ironman in Madison, Wisconsin in 2013. It sent me on a path of new adventures and gave me a feeling that I could do anything.