I’m not going to speak about the details surrounding the Boston Marathon tragedy. Growing up in a family of competitive runners and triathletes, I’m thankful none of them were there. And hopefully those responsible will receive the justice they deserve.
On May 5, the 40th RXR Long Island Marathon is set to pound the pavement of our Nassau County streets, bringing together both professional and amateur athletes. Some will be running for themselves, others will bring a more competitive edge, and then there will be those who have a story behind their 26.2-mile quest.
Every time May approaches, I think back to 2003. It was my first year competing in the Long Island Marathon — my first time running an extended long distance. I was running with a group in memory of my friend’s father who had recently been killed in a tragic car accident. We chose to compete in the half marathon distance of 13.1 miles and not crossing the finish line wasn’t an option. We had to do it for him. And we did.
In 2004, I decided to run the half marathon distance again, but in a duo with my buddy and quasi-brother Ray. We had been training together for months, running side-by-side, back and forth to Long Beach in order to make sure our mileage was enough to finish the race. We had a continuous 10-mile run under our belts and were confident that it would be enough to get us over the finish line. And it was. But down the final stretch, with the finish in sight, there was no way Ray was going to allow me to cross before him. His pride was too great. He revved his motor as my gas tank ran, literally, on fumes. “Congratulations, you beat me,” I remember saying — with the utmost sarcasm — immediately following the race. But I was proud of Ray. The five-second difference in our finishes didn’t matter — it’s an experience we still talk about nine years later.
In 2005, I got a little nutty. I had only trained for the half marathon and was running solo. Until this point, 13.1 miles was the farthest my guts would carry me. But on mile 11.1, on that day, something came over me. I got a little stupid. As the 3,000-plus half marathoners went right, I veered left to a journey of another 15.1 miles. There was no backing down. There was no turning back. What had I just done? My body wasn't ready for that type of abuse. Was I really that much of a moron? I guess I was.
I remember keeping to myself during most of my trek up and down the Wantagh Parkway. I was hurting. My mind was saying yes, while my body was crying no. But one runner befriended me and suggested a strategy to push me through. Thanks, man, but unless he could quickly implant new muscles in my legs, I was going to drop.
Then, there she was on mile 23, my savior — a woman running directly in front of me, slow and controlled, but with her hands and arms cupped. I couldn’t understand what she was holding until I jogged alongside her and took a look. In fact, she wasn’t grasping anything. The woman runner was physically disabled and 3.2 miles away from completing the Long Island Marathon. Suddenly, the pain, whining and feeling of sorrow for sad-self went away. She was all I needed to get me through.
There was no thought of winning. No sense of breaking any time records. No age group accolades. But there was the motivation of the woman I just witnessed and the lasting memory I will always hold close to me.
Brian T. Dessart is a nationally accredited Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, a New York State Critical Care Emergency Medical Technician and an FDNY firefighter. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter: @briandessart.