Mentally engaged and conscious marathon runners.Running a marathon is a commitment. It is a commitment physically and mentally – and so much of the effort is in the training. Race Day is the celebration of all the hard work that went into the weeks and months of training. But race day itself is a unique challenge that takes special effort to deal with. I expect to be out on the race course for the better part of six hours. Yup, I’m that slow.

Mentally, that can be as much of a challenge as all the time on the road training. Connecting others to the challenges ahead in a deliberate, conscious way is one path to generate motivation.

Mile Dedications

There is a relatively common practice among fledgling distance runners to reflect on the training and the support of so many others. No one really gets to the point where they can run 26.2 miles all by themselves… it takes a lot of support to make sure the rest of your life isn’t falling apart while you are so focused on something so all-consuming.

I did mile dedications when I ran my first half-marathon back in 2012 and I found it a very productive exercise. So with much nervous, taper-induced energy I have spent a good deal of time this week compiling mile dedications for this Sunday’s race. Once again, the exercise itself was humbling as I spent time contemplating how I got here and who (nearly everyone) in my life has played a part in this journey. On Sunday, I will spend at least a part of each mile thinking of and dedicating my effort to a specific person or group of people. I hope and pray that my efforts and thoughts and gratitude will bring you all as much positive energy as I am sure the thoughts of you will bring to me.

As with any exercise of this sort, I am afraid that I am leaving someone out. If I have done so, please be assured it is not intentional. One of the hardest parts of assembling this list was trying to fit everyone in and NOT forget someone, but even with 27 slots to fill – and tons of nervous energy to burn – I had to make compromises and I tried not to go on for ever in writing up the details. I trust that if I have had your friendship, love and support to this point, I can still expect it if I failed to mention you in this one blog post.

So without further ado, here are my dedications:

Mile 1: Master Marc Jouan and Mrs. Maria Jouan.

The Jouans seemed appropriate to lead off the dedications. They get mile 1 because my journey of physical transformation started in their Taekwondo school. Without their encouragement, I doubt I would have found a path to being more physically active and ultimately healthier. April 2010 is when this journey really started – on the mats at ATA Martial Arts in West Chester.  I am proud to have trained under their instruction and to have learned so much from them both about what I am capable of physically and mentally. I’ve said it before, but Master and Mrs. Jouan believed in me before I EVER believed in myself… before I was even capable of believing in myself. For that I am eternally grateful.

Mile 2: The students and teachers at ATA Martial Arts of West Chester

As much as the Jouans provided the leadership and set the tone, the rest of the staff an especially the other students at ATA Martial Arts did something else… they provided a community of others united in a common goal of improving their health and physical fitness as well as their skill in a challenging discipline. Everyone there was supportive offering advice and encouragement when things were difficult and also praise and reinforcement when I would have a success or triumph. Most of all, I found a group of adult friends outside of work or church. People who were interested in how I was doing and were glad to share a part of each week with me in class together. Thanks to all the students and staff for being a part of my journey.

Mile 3: Master Tim Chewning

I had the pleasure of training with Master Chewning for a while in the latter days of my time at ATA Martial Arts. Mostly, though, by the time Master Chewing came to our school,  I had transitioned to distance running rather than Taekwondo training. He deserves special mention here because of the time two years ago when he used me and my story as an example for the youth students of dedication and perseverance when trying to achieve a goal. In a small slip of the tongue, he told the students that I had set my sights on running a marathon (true at the time) and had stayed focused and finally achieved the goal (not entirely true as I had at the time run “only” a half marathon). I was a bit embarrassed that he had “over sold” what I had achieved, and that has been a little bit of my motivation this year. Well, Master Chewning, sir, I finally have done it. Thanks for the motivation!

Mile 4: John “The Penguin” Bingham

Most people who are runners know of John Bingham. He is a magazine columnist, author and marathoner who came to running in mid-life. In the ’90s and 2000s he helped open space for those of us who are slow to consider ourselves runners. One term he used to describe himself was an “Accidental Athlete”. I liked the ring of that and felt it fit me very well. I never expected to be an athlete, but I totally consider myself one now – even if I don’t fit the traditional mold. Now in his 60s, John Bingham is retiring from active writing and race promotion, and I’m glad to have the chance to complete my first full marathon before he officially rides off into the sunset. I’m sure he is not retiring from being a runner, because as he so beautifully stated: “If you run, you are a runner. It doesn’t matter how fast or how far. It doesn’t matter if today is your first day or if you’ve been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run.” Amen, John. Waddle On!

Mile 5: Ben Davis

Blogger/Author Ben Davis achieved some fame among runners with his blog and his youtube video of his journey from sedentary life to physical fitness back in 2010. I had the chance to meet Ben Davids in 2012 and go for a group run 5K along Kelly Drive in Philadelphia with him… afterward sharing a meal at the Whole Foods near the Ben Franklin Parkway. I found him to be a genuine guy and he was excited at the time about a book he was writing on his story. In the two years since then, Ben has had his ups and downs as we all do. His running suffered at the hands of changing jobs, getting married, relocating across the country – twice – but he continued to blog and share his experiences with his followers online and earlier this year he seemed to be getting back into the swing of things with exercise and healthy eating. Unfortunately, his blog has fallen silent with no activity since the middle of August. There have been periods of silence before, but nothing like the 3+ months that have passed since he’s been heard from online. I hope that he is okay and that the dedication of this mile to him might bring him some positive energy.

Mile 6: Facebook Friends

I hate to say it, but this is the sort of “catch all” category. But that is a good thing from my perspective because there are an awful lot of “all” to be “caught”. This originally was no fewer than three distinct groups of people – each planned for their own mile, but ended up being collapsed together. My Facebook family consists of many different sets of friends. The unifying theme in this group is that all of them are folks I would likely have fallen out of touch with if it weren’t for Facebook itself. Many, if not most, of them I HAD fallen out of touch with for many years, but reconnected online and each day when I check in on Facebook, my life is a little bit richer for seeing what you all are up to and discussing topics both light and serious. Mainly this group is composed of friends from St. Peter Celestine School, Cherry Hill East High School, Drexel University… the three major eras of my life before I got married and settled in West Chester. Along with those groups are people I’ve worked with over the years that I am fortunate enough to keep in touch with. Throughout the last few years, as I’ve shared struggles and successes on Facebook, you’ve all been supportive and encouraging. I never really knew I needed that support until I felt myself lifted up by it. I’m not going to try to name names, as I would SURELY leave some of you out, but know all of you on my friend list are there for a reason. Thanks so much!

Mile 7: The Couch 2 5K Forum Members

Along the lines of Facebook, I have a great support system online through several other running-related communities. The difference here, is that I have met very few of these people in person. They are no less a part of my success and my running story, though. C25K was the gateway to running for me. After nearly 3 years of running, I am still amazed that I can do it at all… and that is because of C25k. Along with that successful program came an un-official discussion forum related to Couch 2 5k. I stumbled my way into the forum in February 2012 as I was just a few weeks into the program. I have never felt to welcomed and supported by total strangers as I did in that forum. To this day, I maintain that there is not a more welcome, tolerant, open and encouraging community on the internet than the folks at C25K. A couple I have had the fortune to meet in person and share a race or a meal with, a few others have become close enough beyond the forums that they are friends on Facebook, but many more are still there on the C25K forums helping others out just as they have for many years, being interested and supportive when I drop by and update my progress. A unique community in my experience and one without which I could not have come this far.

Mile 8: The RWRunStreak and Marathon Traning Academy groups on Facebook

These two groups on Facebook deserve a special mention because they have become my sounding board and source of information as I have prepared for the marathon. RWRunStreak came first – with the challenge to run every day from Thanksgiving to New Years last year. That challenge got me back into running after I had been burned out for a while. The folks in this group, especially Katie, Lisa, Will, Ralph, Kim, Kristi and so many others are supportive and encouraging of all runners and especially those of us with the slightly crazy idea that we want to run EVERY DAY! Thanks so much for the support. MTA meanwhile has come along in just the last few months as I have been formally training for this race. Again, runners are the best group of people… always encouraging and full of ideas… sharing experiences of what has worked and what hasn’t worked for them. Special thanks to Angie, Trevor, Dan, Foti, Lee and everyone for the support!

Mile 9: Bonnie B

Bonnie is a friend from the C25K forum. We both decided that this would be the year to tackle a full marathon and have been training all year in parallel. Bonnie’s race is next weekend and I think it is really cool that we’re both going to achieve this long-sought goal so close together. Thanks for sharing your story Bonnie, it helps to have another newbie along for the ride.

Mile 10: Melissa B

Melissa is the most badass runner I know. She’s another C25K forum member and I’ve gotten to watch from afar as she has progressed from distances that real humans run (5k, 10K, half marathon) to distances that only super-human people run (50K, 50 mile, 100K and most recently 100 miles). Yes, Melissa is now an accomplished ultra-marathoner (if I do say so myself) and an inspiration to many, including me. Thanks for showing me what can be accomplished with persistence and dedication.

Mile 11: Dan and Christy Cosgrove

I met Dan and Christy through ATA Martial arts. They are both runners and a prime example in person of what I have found online: runners as a whole are AWESOME people. Dan and Christy have both been so encouraging of me in my training… being sure to call out support as we pass on the trails (or even just on the streets of our neighborhood). They are both always quick with an inquiry about how my running is going. That kind of sincere interest is SO important when you are a beginning runner and it makes me feel good to know that at least a couple of local runners are interested in how I am doing.

Mile 12: Susan C

One of my friends from grade school and junior high at St. Peter Celestine, Susan is one of the Facebook friends mentioned above, but as an marathoner herself, she has supported me online as I’ve asked for advice about training programs and general questions on running. Susan holds the distinction (I am pretty sure) of being the only one on my list of dedications to have a Boston Marathon Qualification on her running resume and she’s training to run her first Boston Marathon next year. Susan is also running the Philly Marathon on Sunday. Susan, I haven’t seen you in person in nearly 30 years, but one of these days I want to run a shorter event together (one where I won’t cross the finish line a couple of hours after you) and buy you a beer to celebrate.

Mile 13: Mike K

Mike is another marathoning friend. He sits at the desk next to me at work and has been running marathons for as long as I have known him. He combines travel and marathoning, having run marathons as far away as Iceland and Denver as well as Marine Corps, NYC and Philly several times. Mike has helped several other members of our department achieve their goals in distance running. Mike has always been there with advice and encouragement that I can do more in my running.

Mile 14: Chung W

Chung is a friend from high school. He’s a marathoner as well, and continues to run. Chung, your comments and posts on my runs have helped me stay loose and not take the tough runs too hard. Thanks for helping me keep it light… it is only running after all.

Mile 15: Todd and Sofia W

I met Todd the first day of high school and we have remained friends ever since. Todd was the best man at my wedding and I was honored to be a a part of his wedding when he and Sofia got married. Both of them have been supportive of me over the years and Todd’s concern for my health and wellbeing is truly one of the things that I look back on now and appreciate more than I did at the time. I love you Todd. I’m sorry it took me so long to start paying attention and I’m grateful you never gave up on me.

Mile 16: Melanie and Doug L

We met Melanie and Doug through Todd first… and then several years later we ended up getting to know them much better through ATA martial arts. Both of our families trained together and we have grown to be close friends. The kids get along, we get along and all enjoy being together and doing things together. Melanie and Doug have been a huge support for me in particular and for us as a family. The end of this mile is where I head out into uncharted waters and I’ll have the thought of you guys to help see me off.

Mile 17: WellSprings Congregation

A large group again – too many folks to list individually. WellSprings is our Unitarian Universality faith community. It is no small coincidence that many of the changes I’ve made in my life have been since we found WellSprings. The love and support I’ve felt there and the vibrant beautiful ways in which that love is shared and grows continue to amaze me every day. I said when I became a member of WellSprings that I’ve been a UU my whole life, but I just never knew it until I found this place. If there is a place for each of us in this world, I’m lucky in that I found the faith community to which I really belong.

Mile 18: Erin

My cousin Erin has been a support for me. She’s a runner as well. We’ve run a couple of races together – and by “together” I mean we have been in the same event and started at about the same time – she always finishes WAY ahead of me placing in her division and even winning, whereas I am lucky to not be last overall in some races. Erin and I have trained on the same trail a lot for this race – she’s running Philly as her first marathon also. See you at the finish line, Erin!

Mile 19: The Burke Family

I have always felt lucky to have married into Kathy’s family. Her Mom and Dad accepted me into the family and her sisters have always been so supportive. The love that this family shows is a great example of loyalty and support. I’ve felt that support throughout my journey and especially in my training for this race. If I were to count up all of the “likes” on Facebook of the countless training runs that post automatically to my status, I’m certain that Sue (Kathy’s Mom) would be far and away the person to have liked the most of them. Thanks for the support guys! See you soon.

Mile 20: The Howe Family

My own family has been no less supportive of me… and by this point in the race, I feel I’m going to need that support. The mythical “wall” of endurance running comes somewhere around mile 20… I’ll need the support of my Mom and Dad as well as all of my brothers and sisters and sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law and I’m sure I can rely on it as I always have. I’ll be thinking of you all as I turn around in Manayunk and head back toward the Art Museum.

Mile 21: Stephanie Z

Stephanie is the friend from the C25K forums who has given me the most support and advice. When I’ve had a question or challenge in running, she is always there with thoughts, advice, plans, analysis, encouragement and a fresh perspective… and also a constant reminder to listen to my own instincts when a challenge has arisen. I used to feel I was too much of a novice at running to trust that voice, but through her support and demonstrated success, I’ve been able to gain confidence in myself as a runner. The Philly marathon in 2012 was her second full marathon, and I had the pleasure of running with her for most of the first 10 miles (before she dropped me and headed out on her own ;). It was my best run ever and I was glad I got to share it with her. Stephanie, I wish you were here, but I know you will be here in spirit.

Mile 22: Ken Beldon

Ken is the lead minister at WellSprings. He has been guide and example to me spiritually, emotionally, ethically, culturally and – yes – even pop culturally. There are many on this list without whom I don’t believe I’d be here today, running this race but none has had a greater impact on me than Ken. The call to awareness, to contemplation and to action that I feel hearing your messages has truly changed my life in more ways that I can count. Though we come from different backgrounds and traditions there is a kinship – perhaps born of 70s and 80s music and Saturday morning cartoons – that I felt almost immediately. I am truly blessed to be a member of your congregation and lucky to consider you a friend. Hopefully we will get to run a half together some day.

Mile 23: Stephen and Jill

My brother and sister in law started running a couple of years before I did. They were a model that you could come to this endeavor at any age and succeed… as long as you were comfortable doing so on your own terms. You two have helped me to know that running can be fun, can be a family activity and can be a way to balance out the rest of life. The best run of my life was the 2012 Philly Half Marathon which I shared with Stephen. We ran together nearly every stride of those 13.1 miles and crossed the finish together – hands held high. It seems most of my best runs come when we get to run together. The one thing I have regretted about training for this Marathon has been the way it has interfered with the running together this year. I’ll miss you tomorrow, Stephen… you’ll finish way before I do, but we’ll be back together running races along side one another soon.

Mile 24: Joy

Time to dig deep here… only three miles to go. No one can bring a smile to my face in quite the way Joy can. Her name is so truly fitting. Joy has artistic talent that I know certainly didn’t come from me and a dry, sharp wit that I’d like to think does come at least partly from me. When Joy came along, we knew our family was complete. Ten years later, I still know that it would have been woefully incomplete without her. I love you Bunny.

Mile 25: Grace

Grace was responsible for one of the biggest changes in my life… the day she arrived, I became a father. Perhaps my biggest aspiration in life – the one I held in my heart – was to be a father and while it isn’t always the easiest or most enjoyable role I have it is one of the most fulfilling. Grace, you are kind, funny, smart, strong and capable. You impress me with your willingness to risk yourself and step out when it might be easier to stay inside of yourself. Now that I’m done with marathon training, I can’t wait to go for some runs with you again… assuming it warms up enough sometime soon. I love you Goosie.

Mile 26: Kathy

The luckiest day of my life was when I met you. I have no doubt that I would not be here today if it were not for you. I don’t know where I’d be, but I am sure it would not be anywhere near as beautiful of an existence. The patience you showed for so many years of me not being willing or able to take care of myself physically has not been lost on me. It took me so long to come around to paying attention to my life and to my blessings that I’m pretty sure I would have given up on myself – and you never did. I’m not running today to make you proud, but I hope you understand that part of getting to today has been about demonstrating a commitment and an ability to see it through to completion. In no uncertain terms, you are the most important person on this list… you are my partner, my lover, my best friend. I love you Kathy.

The final 0.2 Miles: Me

The last 385 yards are mine. If you’ve read through this whole list you know that I can’t have gotten here by myself. By the same token, I am the one who had the dream, the one who planned out how to get there and the one who ran all those miles to prepare. They say that completing a marathon changes you, and that may be true, but I can definitely say that training for one has changed me. It has shown me how much I can accomplish and it has made ever more clear how much support and love I have in my life.

When I started writing this journalistic piece, I had no idea it would be this long. If you have read all of it, I have to say you are a marathoner in your own way.

Thanks again to everyone, you have my undying love and gratitude.