Monday, January 1, 2007

Welcome To My Running Biography!

Inspired by the "Road To Boston" & "Road To Chicago" blogsites, and by the fact that I love to write almost as much as I love to run, I figured I'd give this blog a try. Let's see how long I can keep this up!

Okay....So Where Should I REALLY begin?

The earliest recollection I have of running, was when I lived in the Briarwood section in the borough of Queens, in New York City. Sorta' tucked in between Kew Gardens and Jamaica, I lived in a building called the "Briarwyck" which faced the northbound side of the Van Wyck Expressway. What I remembered, was that I was telling my grandmother that I was going to run away. I did. But she caught up to me.....I was 3 years old at the time.

My grandmother also remembered telling me that when I was in the First Grade, that an African-American boy, who was a bully, kept harrassing me in school. One day, he said something to me outside by the church (Immaculate Conception in Jamaica). I guess I must have finally been fed up and told him that he looked like a monkey (most 7 year olds don't know about racism-it was just an innocent reaction). Well, lol, after about what seemed like an hour of chasing me all over Hillside Avenue, he finally gave up. It didn't hurt that ran in fear of my life, and that I hid at the bottom of the steps of the 179th Street subway station either.
A couple of weeks later, he and I became close friends. We also were the fastest runners in our class too. :-)

When I was 13, I started my High School academia at St. Francis Prep. Located in Fresh Meadows, NY (again in Queens), and along the nearby Cunningham Park, it was a great place to join a track team.

While I was no star of the St. Francis Track Team, I did earn a few accolades along the way. One of them was a beautiful medal in which I came in first place in a 4 x 880 relay race, that was held indoors at the armory in Manhattan. I was the anchor of the team, and it felt exhilirating to break the tape!

My SFP coach, Franciscan Brother Kent, would always ask me if I was okay after a run. I think he was very concerned because of the way I looked at the end of a race. I was like ultra-white in color, and completely winded. This was because I never held anything back when I ran...and I still don't to this day. I'm no Steve Prefontaine, or anyone else as gloriously gifted, but I totally understand Pre's unrelenting effort, and why he "left it all out on the track" when he raced.

After that first year in High School however, life became pretty complicated, and the running was one of the first niceties to be squashed.

Four years later, and I was living in a Hewlett, NY. We had just moved there the previous year. I was attending Hunter College, and wasn't really sure what I wanted to do with my life. But I did know one thing. I was out of shape.

To summarize my life back then was to say that it was very chaotic. I had a lot of good times and high moments but also a lot of let downs and disappointments. Perhaps, the basement of my lows, included a heartbreak situation from a girl who I had fallen in love with. I had met her on my first day working, in of all places, a McDonald's on Main Street in Flushing. Her name is Patricia (Trish or Tricia for short), but I will leave it at that because last I heard, she was "happily married", to the same person that she broke my heart for so many years ago.

Anyway, I must have hit my low when my stepmother, Carmen, who was not an athlete, outran me one day at the Hewlett High School's oval track nearby our house. This occurred on Friday, April 13, 1984. I was 18 at the time, and weighed only about 123 pounds.

It was then, that I suddenly had a purpose, in what had been a mostly confused, and sometimes meaningless life. The motive was to be happy with myself, and the means?


I started off with a pair of Nike's (didn't we all?). I began to run, nearly every day, in the early evening. Within two weeks, I was averaging a run pace of 7:44, and within 3 weeks, I had done a long run of 15 miles in 3 hours. That happened when I missed my LIRR train. So I decided to chase it all the way from my part time job at Iberia Airlines (97-77 Queens Blvd) to my home in Hewlett (26 Ives Road). Of course, I never came close, but it was something else to go that far.

Later on, I did the same run to my house, only this time I started it in Central Park. 23 miles. According to my log book, it took me 3 hours and 47 minutes to do it, with a 45 minute rest somewhere in between.

My stepmother, totally impressed with my enthusiasm over this healthy change in my life, told me about a 10 kilometer race. The course? Running the airplane tarmac at JFK International Airport. It was my first race, post High School. And my first race ever where I was running for myself and not for a team. The event took place on May 20, 1984. It was 68 degrees and cloudy. It took me 41:17 to do it, including my first mile in 5:41.

I came in 3rd place in my age category, a feat, I would best the following year, when I placed 1st and did my first mile in 5:05, my fastest mile ever. 5:05! Considering how hard it is for me to do a mile in less than 7 minutes, 5 minutes is a dream at my age now!!

One race followed by another and another and another. I grew obsessed and started logging everything:

(gee, not much has changed, has it?).

And then the idea struck me...why not run New York City Marathon? After all, my newfound hero was Alberto Salazar. So, I entered in the lottery, and to make a long story short, I was accepted, and ran it in 4:31:02. Crossing that finish line was one of, if not the greatest, achievement in my life.

I would do two more NY Marathons, but with my getting wed, moving to the Bronx, and working in Westchester, the times to run fell by the wayside. Add to that mix, much stress with my wife, my job, trying to be a great father for my beautiful daughter, and subsequent divorce to my wife, and suddenly, voila, 8 years of your life are suddenly, and cruely, gone. I did make one comeback bid though in 1990, but it ended up in over-extending my life to the breaking point, resulting in a curious condition known as CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) that lasted for months, ending my bid at doing my 4th NY Marathon. I did run the last 10 miles with my then friend, Gerard, but it was bittersweet for sure.

Divorce, led to 'singledom', but I was right back at it with relationships, and before long I was re-married. Years flew by, 2 more beautiful children came into light, and before long I was already in my late 30's.

As I had mentioned in my "about me" profile, I then went 14 years without running (1990 to 2004). The 123-pound, 18-year old boyish frame of mine, was now tipping the scales at 185 pounds, some 20 years later. I was in horrible shape, much worse than when Carmen outran me in Hewlett. Having been exposed to secondhand smoke for many years, I not only had contracted asthma, but was always getting sick. I also ate recklessly too. The result of that was a high cholesterol rate of 239, and a frequent dose of heart murmurs/palpitations, that could be triggered just by trying to climb one flight of stairs. I was absolutely miserable, in every aspect, emotionally, financially, spiritually, and it wasn't going any better. Perhaps, the greatest challenge of all was that the girl that I fell in love with, was no longer the same person, but I guess she had every right to say the same of me too. Despite, my efforts, I realized in the end that it was best that we went our separate ways to salvage whatever we could of the friendship. It was the one thing that she was always afraid of that would be damaged, even before we started dating. I promised her that I would keep that promise, and although there was a lot of the typical fighting that people usually go through with divorce, things had gotten much better since.

Soon after we filed for divorce, I was a man without a home. Desperate, and penniless (as most divorced men who care for their children wind up to be), I wound up at the mercy of my friends. Taking pity on me, they gave me shelter in the basement of his mother-in-law's basement. The situation however went from stressful to worse. NEVER, I REPEAT, NEVER, OVERSTAY A WELCOMED HAND FROM A FRIEND OR YOU MAY VERY WELL LOSE HIM/HER. Of course, this assumes that they are your friend. Perhaps they were at the start, but only 5 months later, I was kicked out, and left for dead. Gerard Murphy, Dorothy McGrath and Treacy Murphy stole not only some of my belongings, which included my 3 priceless, and irreplaceable, NYC Marathon medals (1984,1985 & 1986), but destroyed what I thought had been a great friendship at times. A footnote to this: I had sent a heartful apology email to them last year, on April Fools Day asking for their forgiveness, without even so much as blaming them for their part in all of this. They opened the email, but never responded. In short, it became the ultimate lesson for me to realize who my true friends really were. And if you are them, and you have googled this. I would like my medals back please. Especially, and as a practicing Catholic, it is the least that you should do.

For the second time in my life, I found running as an outlet against all my grief. Even a month later, when I lost my job due to downsizing, I still stayed true to my course to better myself as a human being. I joined the New York Road Runners Club, and did what I needed to do to qualify for what would be the crowning achievement in my life: to make the inconceivable comeback that took only 19 years to accomplish.

To get back in there, and run a marathon at the age of 39, after spending half of your life in sub -health condition was no small task. But after running some 30 races in 2005, I accomplished my objective on November 6, 2005. I completed the New York City Marathon for the first time since 1986.

Now, I know that I can't predict life. I've been around too long to know otherwise. But I do know this. I like to run. It's been the common denominator for me when it comes to happiness. It's my way to cope with heartache. And it's my answer to a joyous situation too.

I look at the stories of all of the people who run, and why. I am nothing compared to them. Their stories of courage amidst their challenges, make mine pale in comparison. Whenever I see someone running, whether I am or not, I will always give them the victory sign. Going out there and running is a victory and I am blessed to have the opportunity to do the same.

There's much that I have to do to get my blog up to where I want it to be. But it will be a slow go, because I am a person that is happily in high demand right now. For one, I have a much-waited-upon side project concerning a sweet 16 video, which I had near completion....when my primary and backup drive crashed and burned, as they say. I am forced to having to redo the entire video, and for my client's patience, I cannot in good faith expect to receive final payment, so I had it eliminated, and their balance is now zero. Once I am done with their video, I will dedicate my full 100% free time to improving this site.

Thanks for reading this post, and although I am not overly religious...thanks to God for giving me the ability to run.

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