I have always been a runner. For a majority of my life, I was never really interested in competing, but instead fell in love with the enjoyment of clearing my head and getting lost in the city, suburbs, or anywhere I was running.
My athletic background began with baseball and basketball, and progressed to college tennis and eventually CrossFit. I have always looked to push myself in every sport I did, and was constantly searching for something new, something tougher. During tennis off-season, I casually ran two half-marathons alongside friends, but still was uninspired by the idea of real competition. For years, I decided to stick with running for fun and keeping track of my yearly mileage for my own motivational purposes.
But once college came to an end — when the real world hit me — I got restless. I needed to find my next big challenge. After landing a full-time design job at Spartan in 2021 and talking to racers in the Spartan community and friends who had run the 2021 New York City Marathon, I caught the running bug. I knew then what my next big undertaking would be: running my first marathon.
All Roads Lead to (and From) Boston
Soon after making such a monumental mental decision, I proceeded to qualify for the fall 2022 NYC Marathon through New York Road Runners' 9+1 program, which provides guaranteed marathon entree for runners who race in nine NYRR races and volunteer for one. I had conquered just two out of nine of my races in the snowy dead of winter before a family friend reached out to me and asked if I would interested in fundraising for and running the 126th Boston Marathon in April 2022. I simply couldn’t pass up the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and just like that, I was running a marathon far sooner than expected.
The Boston Marathon been a bucket-list item of mine for as long as I can remember; it's the oldest and hardest route going straight through my hometown of Natick, Mass. But in order to do it right, I couldn't approach this race as I had the others in college: with a lack of proper training, poor recovery tactics, and the haphazard nutrition plan of a college student. I had to take my training to the next level. There were to be no shortcuts with this race.
Training for My First Boston Marathon
From January to April, I was a disciplined turtle in my shell. The focus was on training for something that was out of my comfort zone, which meant waking up at 5 a.m. to run 8 miles before work and staying in Saturday nights to recover from long, double-digit runs that day. I didn’t see many of friends, and I cut alcohol out completely. I wanted it more than anything else. Some call it crazy, but I call it tunnel vision.
When you're training for the Boston Marathon, you have to be mentally tough. No one wants to wake up at 5 a.m. to run when it's pitch-black outside and -1 degrees. But you have to ask yourself, “How bad to do you want this?” You have to push through the pain and the doubt and know that it’s all going to be worth it when you cross that finish line. And all of that hard work did pay off on race day.
Completing the Boston Marathon
Race Day was a perfect 57-degree, mid-April day with complete sunshine. The spectators' energy was absolutely electric, and my friends and family screaming my nickname, “Dilly Dilly," gave me the fuel that I needed with every mile, every step. As I cruised into mile 9 — right through my hometown — I got instant goosebumps, thinking to myself, “I can’t believe I’m running through my town, after all of those years as a little boy watching the runners pass by. I am that runner now."
Facing Heartbreak Hill for the first time around mile 20, I was expecting the absolute worst. It sucked, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. One step at a time, I climbed the three small hills to get into Cleveland Circle where you could see Boston. When I entered Brookline at mile 23, my hips started to give out and the pain was nearly unbearable, but my mind was locked in because I knew I was close to the finish. The engine just kept moving.
Then, I headed into Boston. You could feel the energy. It felt surreal to be surrounded by crowds of people yelling. I made a right turn onto Hereford Street and a left on Boylston, the finish line was so close but yet so far. That was the longest quarter of a mile of my life.
Finally — finally — I crossed the finish line, and I have never felt so much pride and pain in my life. I got my medal, but I needed to sit so bad. My legs felt like jello. After 5 minutes, my family found me, white as a ghost and so dehydrated. I left it all out there and had nothing left in the tank.
As my dad gave me his jacket and slung his arm over me to keep me moving forward, he told me that — although I had been in too much agony to realize it — I had smashed my goal of finishing in under 4 hours, running at a 8:40 pace. For a first-time marathoner, I smashed it. (And even more importantly, I was a marathoner.)
Recovering From the Boston Marathon (and Bouncing Back Fast)
The post-race high was electric, but short-lived. Perhaps naively, I had committed to running a Spartan Beast — a 30-obstacle half-marathon — just 13 days after the marathon.
I visited my chiropractor right after the marathon and informed her of my plans. She strongly advised me not to go 100% all-in at the race, explaining that “it takes 26 days to fully recover from a marathon.” Newly invigorated by my recent victory, I agreed to disagree, and set my sights on what my coworkers informed me would be the fifth-hardest Spartan race in the country: Vernon, NJ. With over 5,000 feet of total elevation gain across the 13-plus miles (plus a summit elevation of 1,480 feet, obstacles, mud, you name it ...), this would be nothing compared to Heartbreak Hill at Boston's mile 22 in the marathon, right?
Going into the weekend, I had no idea what to expect and I was fine with that. After a couple of days of recovering from the marathon, I was back on the road running, lifting in the gym, easing my way back into CrossFit WODs, and practicing some weighted, inclined power walking on the treadmill. I was ready.
Running My First Spartan Race, the Spartan Beast
My body and knees felt ready for the Beast. The first few miles — grinding through the uphills of black-diamond ski mountains — were INSANE, but my engine was still moving. Even though I missed most of the obstacles, I took them as my rest period before getting back on the course and moving again. Running with the Spartan HQ team and my friend, Justin, our heads were focused on the ground to avoid twisting an ankle on the technical descents. While we still were tripping over everything, we got right back up and kept moving after every fall or misstep.
As we neared the end of hours out on the course, we were covered in mud, blood, sweat, and tears. The adrenaline kicked in and we were moving faster and faster until — before I knew it — I was clearing the Fire Jump and the finish line with my friend. The clock read 4 hours and 40 minutes. We weren’t tired or sore (yet), but we stumbled to the grassy ground, realizing how long this race truly was, and coming to terms with the amount of ups and downs we had just tackled. It was a successful day with team and I wouldn’t have done it any other way (Plus, I earned more epic hardware for the collection at home!)
From conquering a marathon to a Spartan Beast in just a few months, my body definitely began to feel the pain as I began to recover, but it’s a good pain — a sense of satisfaction — in knowing that you put in the work. I always tell myself, “Pain is temporary, but pride is forever."
And since most who set out to "just do one race" rarely stick to it once they've experienced the post-race high, my next goal is to finish NYRR's 9+1 and race the New York City Marathon in 2023. (Hell, maybe I'll even complete the Abbott World Marathon Majors: Boston, New York, Chicago, London, Berlin, and Tokyo.) My biggest takeaway from this months-long, self-imposed journey of pain is that if you want something, you have to put in the time and work, one mile (and one step) at a time. Take it all in, and just have fun!