Many of us are driven by an innate desire to achieve, to do something special, perhaps something very few other people have ever accomplished. As the smallest kid on the block, I knew early on in life that it was going to be a difficult, if not impossible, battle to go head to head athletically with the big boys. Instead of giving in, I decided to simply take another path. I wasn't even a teenager when I started setting my own personal goals.
At the early age of twelve, I knew I needed to challenge myself. I needed to do something that no one else my age had done. I made the decision on the morning of my twelfth birthday (August 22nd) that I was going to go out and run twelve miles to celebrate the day. I ran two laps around Spot Pond in Medford/Stoneham and to and from the loop for a total of twelve miles. It was then I vowed to run my age in miles for as long as I lived or at least unitl I just couldn't do it anymore whichever came first.
It is now 34 years later and I have kept true to my commitment. I think that is mainly because I have involved so many other people and have told so many others that I was going to do it. You see, if you really want to do something in life, tell someone who is close to you. It is almost impossible not to do it then as none of us want to disappoint someone who is important to us.
Running my age on my birthday gives me the opportunity to maintain a connection with my past without making the mistake of living off of my laurels. The distance isn't as much the challenge as is the challenge of maintaining a level of fitness and health this specific time of year, every year. It is obvious that we can't stop the aging process chronologically, however, there is no reason we can't try to slow it down physiologically.
There are many intriguing stories to tell having done this for the past 34 years. When I was 25, I did the entire run on a track. In 1978, while running across the United States, I turned 24-years-old Since I was running almost two marathons a day then, I ended up surpassing the 24 miles, for a total of 53 miles that particular day. Similarly, in 1981 while training for a 24-hour run, I ran 60-miles on my 27th birthday. Thus, I have given myself the option of only having to run 24 miles on my 53rd birthday and 27 miles on my 60th birthday…yeah, right.
On my 40th birthday, I decided to invite a few friends over to run with me, 150 to be exact. I ran the first 36 miles pretty much by myself. I was then joined by about 75 friends and family members to finish up the ordeal. This was the first time I recall not actually doing my run on the exact day of my birthday (my birthday was the next day, a Monday), however, I figured it was the only way to get all my friends to show up was to run it on a Sunday evening.
Then there was the period I kept on running the Boston marathon course. When I was 28, I started at the 2-mile mark of the marathon, ran back to Hopkinton, touched the starting line and then ran the 26 miles back to Boston. When I was 29, I started at the 3-mile mark, ran to Hopkinton, turned around and treked back to Boston. At age 30, I started at the 4-mile mark…well, you get the picture. I did this until I was 36-years-old and began to realize how difficult it was to run west on the marathon course to Hopkinton. Whew…all up hill. By the time I got to Hopkinton to make the turn and head to Boston, I was zonked. It was time to try somewhere else!
The toughest without a doubt was my 41st birthday. I was going through a very painful (that is an understatement) divorce. Two little boys were involved. I was clinically depressed and at times questioned whether it was worth continuing. It would take me two hours many times after I awoke just to get out of bed. I didn't want to face the world. I buried myself and my self-esteem under the blankets and was suffocating both.
I set the alarm for 6:00AM, hoping that maybe something would click and I would gain the strength just to get out of bed, let alone run 41-miles. Not even close. It took my best friend to drag me out of bed at 10:00AM and force me out the door - yelling at me not to give up on this, too. I felt like I
had lost everything else, what was the sense of continuing with this foolish birthday run. But, I gained enough inner strength to realize that if I could do this run one more time under these conditions, perhaps I could climb totally out of this deep depression. Eight hours later I had number 41 in the bag. I can honestly say, as crazy as it may sound, that birthday run practically saved my life.
Interestingly, too, to make it even more challenging, I rarely train for the birthday run. There is something to be said about having a base, knowing that I once ran 120-miles in one day and knowing that I ran 40+ miles everyday for 80 consecutive days across America that leads me to think that I should be able to do just one of these a year.
This year (last week), I ran my 45-miles in Falmouth at the Falmouth Road Race. I'm always looking for some unique twist to keeping it interesting and somewhat exciting. I started at 2AM and ran back and forth on the Falmouth course with a few friends (Josh Nemzer actually ran the entire way with me - now that's crazy!) with the hope that I could run my last 7-miles as a participant in the race. I arrived in Woods Hole just as the starter's gun was going off. Perfect timing.
I am sure all of you have set similar personal goals, whether it is consecutive days running, running a particular time or simply staying fit. We all don't have to win the Boston Marathon in order to feel good about ourselves. Everything is relative. But remember one thing, if it is important to you, it is important.
Through all of this, I have learned two important lessons. I have learned to stubbornly ignore the standard as we might just create a new one. Finally, I have learned, too, that we should always live our dreams and that people who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.
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